The Steam Sale Dollar Challenge

My brother and I threw down the gauntlet last night in what has been called the greatest battle since Captain Crunch and Count Chocula duked it out for America's heart. We decided on a fight to the finish, a gaming challenge so devious, so devastating that neither of us would ever recover entirely. That challenge? Buy each other the shittiest game humanly possible for under a buck. Each person would have to play the other's gifted game for a half an hour. Photographic proof would have to be taken, either through videos or Steam screenshots.

Folks, I scoured the sales for hours last night. I enlisted the help of fellow moderator and all around Steam scholar MB in finding a site that helped track the prices of games. I checked reviews. I had Metacritic pulled up in a tab, waiting for me to enter that next shitacular gem into its search field. By the agreed upon time of the ass crack of noon, I was a sweaty, highly caffeinated mess, snapping at strangers, snarling at the sunlight filtering in through my window, and wondering not if I was going to win, but if I was going to survive.

Noon. A wet, dreary day. Fat, low hanging thunderclouds rolling over the mountains. Birds chirping carefree, unaware of the horrors that were about to be unleashed as brother met brother in a virtual battle of bad taste.

We greeted each other online as gentlemen, him with a cautious greeting, me with a virtual tip of my cap. Our digital daggers sheathed for a moment, we took a minute to discuss the details... and do some bullshitting about the day's sales, but that's besides the point. Soon, our polite veneers wore off and we agreed the time was nigh. Cue the music.

War and Fruit and Fish

I sent my game first, but only by moments. The lone bullet in my gun (damn, there's a lot of not-so-sublte phallic imagery in this blog)? Fish Fillets 2.

Fish. Motherfucking. Fillets. The sequel.

Sure. I could've been gentle and gone with something like Legendary, which was mediocre, but still had some shiny graphics. Sure, I could've picked a connect 3 puzzler, of which there are roughly 20,000. But this was not a battle I was taking lightly. There would be no brotherly love shown. No fraternal mercy. I was aiming for a gut shot, something nice and painful and drawn out.

His response was swift and brutal. When that Steam incoming game message came up, I swallowed what spit (and Diet Pepsi) I had left, and I clicked that button with as little trembling in my finger as possible (I really had a lot of caffeine this morning. Damn you, sale on two liters of Pepsi!).

Gut shot? I should've expected it. No. He went for the nut shot. And that Amish-bearded bastard, he succeeded.

The game I'd have to play was Flora's Fruit Farm.


The Agony

While my brother dealt with the pain of his wounding by cowardly running to pay bills and deal with real life stuff, I had no such escape. I decided to end my torture quickly and installed Flora's Fruit Farm. I thought I might have time to prepare, to wash my face with water, to to stare at myself in the mirror and try to psych myself up. But holy hell, my friends, those 50 mbs downloaded fast. I rolled my shoulders, grabbed my mouse, and dove into that apple-scented level of citrus-infused hell.

Immediately, I was greeted with... well, no audio whatsoever. At first, I thought I'd managed to mute my game, but nope. It appears as though the audio in that game is just flat-ass busted, as with just about everything about that game. I shuddered through naming my character, opting for the always classy MC Herpes as my handle for this siege upon good taste and fun. Then, I was greeted by the game's hazing phase, a brutal tutorial that made me sit through an insufferable ten minutes of handholding while glossing over the game's "deeper" points. Mind you, this is a game called Flora's Fruit Farm, so it's not exactly rife with complex ideas or gameplay.

By this point, my loyal pug and sometime video game companion was cheering me on by snoring heartily next to me on his chaise lounger (let's face it, all furniture belongs to the dogs). Revitalized by his resolve and window-rattling log-cutting, I decided to forego the rest of the tutorial and brave the game on my own.

At its heart, Flora's Fruit Farm is a watered-down Root Beer Tapper. You grow a tree, from which a handful of fruit grow. You cut down said fruit, drop them off at a stand, and then give the fruit to customers who stand around getting all antsy about buying apples and mangoes and shit. That's it. That's the entire game in a nutshell. There's a day/night cycle, you unlock more fruit to grow and sell, and there are a handful of different environments to unlock.

I wouldn't wish it on anyone. That's a buck you could spend at Taco Bell. It's a buck you could spend on some gummy worms at the dollar store. It's also a buck you could probably tuck away and use to save towards something, but who the fuck saves anymore?

In any case, I survived. Barely. I'm a lesser man now, having been broken and refitted together poorly. I suppose I'll go drown my sorrows in Odin Sphere or SMT: Raidou versus King Abaddon or Kentucky Route Zero. They won't be able to wash away the stain upon my soul, but God willing, they'll ease the suffering.

The Enemy's Take

Here's my brother's video on Fish Fillets 2. He may have wounded me to the core, but it's worth a look anyways.

I don't think there was a winner here today, folks. Mutually assured brotherly destruction is a terrifying concept.


Sparky's Update - E3 Predictions

Heya folks! This is lifted directly from a FB conversation with friends about E3. Since I'm lazy and don't want to rewrite anything ever again after this week, I've just gone ahead and copied it verbatim. No, "verbatim" isn't slang for a sexual act involving a donkey, a banana, and a monkey wrench. It means... oh, forget it.

Don't let me catch a bazillionty of these posted to the forums. Not because I'll lock them down or anything, but because it was so obviously my idea first, because no one in the history of blogging has ever come up with E3 predictions, ever.

Here you go:

Here's my list of predictions of big games to be announced at E3. Some of these are educated guesses, some are wildly speculative, all are hopeful and at least semi-realistic (obviously we're not getting Full Throttle 2 or Shenmue 3, et cetera).

Fallout 4 - Makes perfect sense to announce this now or later this year, as Bethesda just released Elder Scrolls Online. Logic dictates that they wouldn't release three ES games in a row after Skyrim and ESO, so their next announcement will be a major new IP, Fallout 4, or nothing at all. They do still have Wolfenstein in the works as well, so no new announcements from isn't a stretch.

Just Cause 3 - This one's a bit questionable as to its actual announcement date, but we know it's coming, so why not have a teaser at E3? The only real question is if they'd split their development team from the Mad Max game the developer is working on. My guess is we'll see Mad Max get released first, with Just Cause 3 seeing a fall of 2015 release. Therefore, we still might not see an announcement until later this year or beyond.

Saints Row 5 - Another no brainer, but it's questionable when we'll actually see an announcement, as it's unlikely we'll see another Saints Row game this year. Fingers crossed that they take their time with this one and develop it solely for next gen consoles.

Tomb Raider 2 - This is probably the most likely of all the announcements, save for Forza Horizon 2. Square took some losses on the original, but with the positive reviews and huge numbers of sales, it's inevitable. Inebbbitttaabbble!

Forza Horizon 2 - Even Horizonerary - This is the most "no duh" game on this list, as the Forza games are basically printed money for Microsoft at this point. I'm guessing they'll ditch Colorado for somewhere probably more tropical and varied, but they could go pretty much anywhere with the series.

A new turn-based console RPG from Square - Partly wishful thinking on my part, but given their recent acknowledgment that the sales of Bravely Default made them rethink their stance on classic turn-based RPGs, I'm guessing Square will announce a game for XBL and PSN that will be a test of sorts for player response. Normally I'd say this would be announced at the Tokyo Game Show, but Square's been bringing some of their biggest stuff to E3, and with the focus on PSN and XBL games, I'd be surprised if they didn't have something in the works.

A sequel to Deus Ex: Human Revolution - I have no reason to think this is actually happening. I just think it's a great idea and one of those "wild card" guesses I usually get wron


LTDW - The Doctors. For realsies this time.

Heya, folks, and welcome to my third blog on the modern incarnations of Doctor Who's, uh, Doctor. I wrote a great big fat blog about Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith, John Hurt, and the fiftieth anniversary special of Doctor Who (which looks to set the tone for the show's future). Truthfully, it was too long by half, and got way too deep into the specifics of a lot of unnecessary episodes. It was lost to the ethos when I posted it, but it probably deserved to have almost all of its fat trimmed down into a slim, succulent cut of meat as opposoed to the snorting, mud-covered pig it started off as.

I'm too frustrated to go into everything I'd like to, particularly when it comes to the histories of the actors themselves (all of which I brushed up on for the blog, except for John Hurt, whose work pre-Doctor Who I was familiar with). I'll hopefully delve a little bit into Peter Capaldi's history just a touch (as, like Tennant, he'd actually done work on the Doctor Who universe before starring as a Doctor), but I won't be going as much into the other actors' pasts. Besides, you have IMDB for that. I'm not going into as much depth about the still-questionable mystery around Eccleston leaving the show either, which took up a surprisingly large chunk of yesterday's blog. If you're interested in that story, I'm happy to share the links I dredged up and you can give them a brief once over. Nor will I be going as deep into the various plots of the best and worst episodes of each Doctor, but I'll still try to flesh out the important bits as much as I can.


Christopher Eccleston

Largely, this blog is going to seem kind of harsh about Eccleston's run as the Doctor. I don't want to give the wrong impression here - I think Christopher Eccleston is a terrific actor, and I'm genuinely curious about his stage work. He claims to focus his career on television, but I'd bet dollars to doughnuts he'd have a fantastic stage presence. And given the short time he had as the Doctor, I think he did a fine job. Unfortunately, his performance just doesn't hold up in comparison to David Tennant and Matt Smith.

Eccleston, along with Billie Piper (not to mention the show's writers and directors), was given a herculean task in revitalizing the Doctor for a modern audience. Doctor Who had been off the air for over nine years at that point - and the last time it had aired was for a one-off television movie. The new show had to spark a Doctor Who revival. In that regard, the decision to cast Eccleston and Piper was a complete success.

The first episode - and really, that first season - of the returning Doctor Who revolved mostly around Rose as a window for the audience into the crazy world of the Doctor and the TARDIS. At that point, the show perhaps was just a bit too cheesy in spots and aimed at a lower common denominator than later episodes, but given the show's history of being aimed at a younger crowd, it's completely understandable. This cheesiness mostly eminated from the season's villains, and in that first episode, we got the particularly eye-rolling Plastic Men. Imagine store-front dummies coming to life and threatening London. Yup. Dig into the big ol' bowl of cheese for a second and let it settle.

Billie Piper, as noted elsewhere, performed admirably well as her disbelief slowly gave way to fear and wonder at the amazing world the Doctor opened up for her. Eccleston, for his part, chews up and spits out the scenery pretty all right, but there was always this hint of hesitation in his performance, as though he didn't ever really want to fully commit himself to any of the particular absurdities. Of course, that's purely personal opinion, but compared to the way Tennant and Smith hurl themselves into the role, it's glaringly obvious that he never either had the time to settle into the role or just didn't want to.

Of course, that's not to say Eccleston is terrible in the role. He's not. But that first season, aside from the Rose Tyler/Bad Wolf story arc, is filled with some stinkers - in one episode, literally. In one of the series' worst episodes, the show relies on fart jokes from a gassy group of villains. The Slitheen were not among the show's finest villains, that's for damned sure. It would have been hard for any actor to suspend his disbelief and throw himself completely into the role. And given the material he was given, Eccleston did manage to have quite a few shining moments, particularly in the more quiet, introspective episodes "Dalek" and "Boom Town," definitely the two highest marks of his run.

I'm going to pre-empt "Dalek" by going into a bit of Doctor Who lore. Before Eccleston's incarnation of the Doctor, there was a Time War, a war so terrible it apparently necessitated the Doctor wiping out not just a race of war-mongering aliens called Daleks, but his own race of people as well, leaving him supposedly the sole survivor of the war on either side. Now, of course, it doesn't take long for the Doctor to find out there were surviving Daleks (and later, Time Lords), one of whom is confined to a bunker. When the Doctor learns of its existence, he goes berserk, wanting to take its life despite its imprisonment. After Rose comes in contact with the Dalek, it begins to change and grow feelings, but the Doctor still wants to kill it. Of course, the obvious question becomes which one was truly the monster, as the Doctor's fury was only held back by Rose. Ignoring for a moment the eye-rolling Dalek design, it's a great episode designed to give us an idea of this new Doctor's mentality as well some crucial bits of lore and setup for the future of the show.

This theme of the companion being responsible for keeping the Doctor in check is common to all the incarnations as well. It's seen in its most extreme during Tennant's run, but we'll get to that in a second. The season does a great job of setting up the Doctor's need to have companionship, not just to have a friend or a love interest, but to keep his ego and mind in check.

"Boom Town" features the return of one of those eye-rollingly awful Slitheen, but in a really fascinating way. She's the sole survivor of a family of aliens who disguise themselves by wearing the skin of humans. Sounds grotesque, but it's really a clever way to not have to feature the awful design of the Slitheen too often (they look like a cross between the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man and a Ninja Turtle), one we'll see with a lot of other alien races throughout Doctor Who's history (the Glue, Satan, the Plastic Men, and about a half dozen various abduction stories, among others). In any case, the Doctor catches her in the midst of a plot to blow up a town and decides the right thing to do would be to fly her to her own people to stand trial for her crimes. Since the TARDIS needs to recharge (apparently - it's a plot mechanism used fairly often whenever the show needs a convenient way to get the Doctor to stay put in one area), the Doctor takes the Slitheen out to lunch, a last meal for the prisoner, more or less. As they dine, the Doctor and the Slitheen talk about the morality of his "no violence" rule if she's to be executed anyways. It's a fantastic look at the Doctor's morality, a necessary character examination. The Doctor might be opposed to violence, but he's not above seeing the demise of an enemy if it's for the greater good. After all, he committed genocide - to two races.

Eccleston makes the most out of those two episodes, giving the Doctor a few quiet, somber moments in stark contrast to his bouncy enthusiasm. He does a terrific job of giving the Doctor a bit of rage as well, something we'd see off and on from other incarnations as well. All of these little bits of groundwork for the character are still there today, thanks to Ecclestone's great work.

But it wouldn't be until Tennant's run that a great deal of it would be believable. No greater example of this is to be had than with the Doctor's blossoming relationship with Rose Tyler. Again, most of the time, Ecclestone and Piper have great chemistry, but there just wasn't the great emotional wildfire of Tennant and Piper or Matt Smith and Alex Kingston. Of course, most of this can be attributed to the necessity of laying down the groundwork of the relationship - Rose is in a relationship with Mickey for most of the first season, and it's only out of necessity that Ecclestone's Doctor lays one on Rose at the end of their time together. I can't help but wonder if this would be a complaint if Ecclestone had one more season, but like a lot of my questions about his run, we'll never know.

Just as important as the introduction of any incarnation of the Doctor is his sendoff. Ecclestone's featured a memorable plot wherein Rose Tyler took in the energy of the TARDIS and became omnipotent, bringing to life the fallen Jack Harkness (and making him apparently immortal in the process), as well as eradicating a Dalek threat. But the energy threatens to consume her, so the Doctor kisses her and draws in the energy himself. The moment of the kiss itself is absurd as all getout ("You need a doctor." No shit. That's the line.), but it's kind of so stupid that it's delightful, as is often the case with Doctor Who. His regeneration lacks the emotional punch of Tennant or Smith's, but it's not terrible. And so we're introduced to a tall, gangly Scot who would take the show by storm...

David Tennant

...but not right away. In a clever move by the show's writers, Tennant doesn't actually do much save for sleep throughout the first half of his introductory Christmas episode, allowing for the focus instead to be placed on Rose's wariness about the new incarnation of the Doctor and her reluctance to trust him. When the Doctor wakes up, we get a glimpse at the boisterous swagger Tennant brought to the role. It was clear from that moment they'd picked the right man for the job, as Tennant was immediately likable, throwing out jokes rapid fire and hustling right along.

The plots and villains of Tennant's first few episodes were, by and large, mostly ignorable, but watching the new chemistry between the Doctor and Rose was a delight. They found a rhythm early on in their relatively brief run together and never quite let it go. With episodes like School Reunion, it seemed as though the show was headed for more of the generic, broad comedy of the early parts of the first season, which was made mostly okay by the marked improvement in the show's dialogue. Still, when it came time for the emotional episode The Girl in the Fireplace, it was a bit of fresh air to see Tennant (and the show) do dramatic moments well too.

The Girl in the Fireplace is a fascinating one-off episode. The Doctor and Rose wind up on an alien ship wherein robotic crew are trying to make repairs by assimilating human parts. The villains themselves are fairly laughable, but the plot isn't. The ship contains portals to various points in the life of Madam de Pompadour, the final target of the robots. The Doctor saves her life at various points, only interacting with her for moments at a time, but she grows infatuated with the Doctor, and he, in turn, a bit with her. But each time the Doctor returns to the ship, years pass on the Madam's side. For him, what seems to be just moments spent aboard the ship turns out to be great big chunks of time on hers. As their mutual attraction grows, the Doctor promises her a chance to become his companion, but he returns too late to save her from illness. It's a somber tale, the likes of which we really hadn't seen, and it allowed Tennant to show his terrific range.

The second season was full of hit and misses, but the highest points of the show as a whole came during this period. Episodes like The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit demonstrated that the show's writers could do elements of light horror. Love and Monsters hardly featured Tennant or Piper, instead featuring a character named Elton who became part of a Doctor social group. It was a conceptually great episode that showcased some of the collateral damage of the Doctor, by showing that even those who he touched just a little could face happiness and tragedy as a result.

The highlight of that second season though has to be the emotionally charged farewell between Tennant and Piper. Due to some alternate universe shenanigans, she was forced to live in an alternate universe apart from the Doctor. By this point, the tension between the two characters was so damned palpable you could about eat it like pudding. Piper's Rose breaks down and sobs to a holographic image of the Doctor that she loves him, and just as Tennant's about to return the words, their connection breaks and the two universes are sealed from each other.

It's a powerfully written and acted scene, made only possible by the huge amount of chemistry between Tennant and Piper. By this point, Tennant had won me over completely as the Doctor, so I was shocked that they'd seperate the two in such an emotionally brutal way. That wasn't the last we'd see of Billie Piper, but for the moment, it appeared things were over between the two and we would have to move on to a different companion.

It's weird, in retrospect, to examine Tennant as opposed to Freema Agyeman. While her character was fairly wasted throughout her run on the show, Tennant had some of his more brilliant, character defining moments in that third season. There's a remarkably long string of strong Tennant-centric episodes from Human Nature to the season's close in The Last of the Time Lords. Human Nature, as mentioned elsewhere, featured a pretty novel plot. The Doctor, on the run with Martha from a warmongering alien family, wipes his own mind and implants memories of being human. He hides out as a schoolteacher in a military institute for young men, and falls deeply in love with a human women there, never aware that he was a Time Lord or who he actually was. As the aliens threaten the Doctor's loved ones and the school, Martha tries to get him to come to his senses, but the Doctor clings to his human life, wanting nothing more than to settle down with his loved one and remain a teacher. But as the threat of the aliens proves too much, he finally lets go of his human life and becomes the Doctor once again - and enacts some shocking justice to the alien family, damning them to various eternities of imprisonment.

Human Nature and Family of Blood weren't necessarily the most entertaining of episodes (they involve a lot of setup and huge chunks of exposition, and the villains are mostly ho-hum), but Tennant brought a hell of a performance to bear. The episodes allowed him a huge range of emotions to play with, ranging from happiness to terror to a great weight of sorrow. The cold fury of the Doctor at the end is also a bit of a foreshadowing of the darker days of Tennant's run as the Doctor to come in the fourth season.

I've gone into some detail about the Donna Noble era. From Tennant's side of things, this was another remarkable season - it's just such a damn shame it had to be opposite the atrociously annoying Donna. Right up until the two-parter that reunited him and Billie Piper, Tennant's best moments of the season happened mostly when Catherine Tate was offscreen, as was the case with the classic episodes Silence in the Library and Forest of the Damned. Not only did these episodes introduce the awesome River Song, they allowed Tennant to focus more on interactions with a group of individuals apart from Catherine Tate. It doesn't hurt that these episodes were fantastically written, either.

One of the best one-off episodes I've failed to really get into so far was the superb Midnight. The episode featured the Doctor on a bit of a vacation cruise aboard an intergalactic tour bus while Donna was off on a spa day. The episode is remarkable for its everbuilding tension, as the bus-shuttle-thing is invaded by a Thing-like alien, hidden possibly in anyone, including the Doctor. There isn't anything flashy here - most of the set is what could be the interior of any small plane or a travel bus. The alien is never actually seen, only felt, so the entire episode is reliant upon the performances of Tennant and the handful of side characters trapped with the Doctor. It's fucking fantastic.

I've written a little bit about Tennant and Piper's emotional reunion, but I want to reiterate again how much payoff there was in the excellent "Journey's End." It wasn't the last of Tennant's run, but as the season finale, it was a great payoff to two years of plotlines. This was the last great big hurrah for most of the Tennant/Eccleston era side characters. Some would return for the conclusion to Tennant's arc, but most were given a few moments to shine throughout the episode and then largely written off the screen to make way for Tennant and Piper to reunite. It's a terrific moment for the show, both hugely rewarding and still a bit tragic.

But it's the following specials and conclusion to the Tennant era wherein the very, very best of Tennant's run as Doctor happened. The Waters of Mars could have been just any other special, a nice one-off TV movie-esque adventure for the Doctor, showcasing some neat makeup work and a neat, light horror plot. But by this point, the Doctor had been warned of his impending death by the Ood, a psychic race who seem linked to the Doctor in many ways (most of them violently - I'm starting to think the Ood are the redshirts of the Doctor Who universe). Left stricken by his impending end and his second parting from Rose, the Doctor is alone and facing down a fixed moment in time as he watches events in a doomed Mars colony unfold. The "fixed point in time" thing means that events needed to happen without the influence of the Doctor, or else universe shattering paradoxes would occur. The colony must fall so that the granddaughter of one of the colonists would lead the charge into deep space exploration. Facing despair over the futility of their situation, the grandmother is informed by the Doctor about her granddaughter and the great deeds she'll do because of the woman's death. But the Doctor, faced with the choice between saving the colonists and abandoning them, decides to risk it and save the colonists. The Doctor gloats to the grandmother that he understands he could do anything from that point forward, save anyone, do anything. Horrified, she retreats to her house, and as the Doctor prepares to leave, he hears the sound of a gunshot. Time had rewritten itself, but only instead of the woman dying on Mars, she'd taken her own life - her granddaughter would still reach out to the stars. The Doctor, horrified at what he's caused, flees.

Whew. It's a powerful scene, built upon in Tennant's two-part conclusion as he talks with Bernard Cribbins's Wilfred Mott about his need for a companion and his fear about his impending death. This two-parter, "The End of Time," is nothing short of extraordinary. To give Tennant's incarnation a sendoff, the showrunners brought in not just David Simm's The Master, but also Timothy Dalton as a power-hungry Time Lord. The conflict between the three could have been enough to make this a great episode, but oddly, it's neither Dalton or Simm who help Tennant truly shine. It's Cribbins, a powerhouse - if subtle - actor who helps Tennant knock his conclusion out of the park. Wilfred gets locked inside a radioactive chamber, which can only be vented if Tennant takes his place and floods his own containment chamber with that radiation. The Doctor realizes his fate and tries to hate Wilfred for being weak and dooming him, but he gives in to his own true nature and tells Wilfred it would be his honor to save him. It's a beautiful spot of redemption for the Doctor, and the whole scene is just fucking incredibly well acted.

I draw this section to a close withTennant's emotional, powerful moment of regeneration, when he tears up and cries out, "I don't want to go." We didn't want you to, but holy crap, what a way to go.

Matt Smith

I liked Matt Smith's introduction as the Doctor quite a bit. After the seriousness of Tennant's conclusion, we needed a breath of fresh air, some levity to lighten things up a bit. The rapid fire gags of his first episode weren't all hits, but they were plentiful and usually charming, and things were set up nicely for the big overarching plot of the fifth season.

That said, the first half of that season had a few misfires, particularly when it came to the early love triangle nonsense between Rose, Mickey, and the... wait. I'm sorry, got confused there - I meant Amy, Rory, and the Doctor. It's an honest mistake, since the two first halves mirror each other. Even Smith's Doctor seems to take a bit too much inspiraton from Tennant's jovial early performance in season two, leaving me with an uneasy feeling of "been there, seen that."

Thankfully, though, the smart writing (under the direction of Steven Moffat, then the new showrunner), and the charm of Smith eventually won through, especially once it was firmly established that Rory and Amy were the couple, not Amy and the Doctor. I've covered a great deal of the best of what season five had to offer under Rory and Amy's section, but I wanted to point out again how great the episode "The Pandorica Opens" was. It's a good showcase for Smith's bravado.

Season six is probably one of my favorites of the entire series, as it's definitely one of the more evenly written. As Smith, Gillen, and Kingston settled into their roles, the show became like a familiar old friend again, spinning out a terrific plot circling around the relationship between Amy, Rory, and River. Smith really came into his own in this season, knocking out a bombastic performance highlighted by his chemistry with Alex Kingston. His Doctor's never quite too serious, never darkening the lines like Tennant's Doctor did. And you know, that's perfectly okay. Certainly, Smith got a lot of chances to show his own range (though not quite to the highs of Tennant's own shining moments), but the show really became a collaborative effort between all of its leads by this point.

I"m a bit hesitant to list out the best of Matt Smith's episodes for that very reason - most of his best moments are intrinsically linked with the performances of his costars - but when the show does occasionally focus in on Smith's Doctor, he manages to carry the load nicely, as with "The Big Bang" and "The Doctor's Wife." "The Doctor's Wife" in particular showcases Smith's bubbly Doctor, as he brushes off sadness with a sort of childlike abandon.

Smith also had a great deal of chemistry with his later costar Jenna Coleman, but their run together was brief. That seventh season is pretty spectacular, finally allowing for Smith to show a little gravity by its conclusion - and just in time, too. As Smith's Doctor rescues Clara from his own internal timeline, she witnesses the Doctor in all his forms, save one - a shadowy incarnation with his back to them. The Doctor explains that this is the incarnation that killed the Time Lords and the Daleks. And so, we're introduced to...

Wait. Don't we have to say goodbye to Matt Smith's run first? I suppose that would make sense, wouldn't it? Okay, okay. After the events of the fiftieth anniversary special, Clara and the Doctor find themselves on a world under siege by some of the Docto'r fiercest villains, including the Daleks and the Cybermen. It's a hudrum episode by and large - the Doctor keeps the planet's inhabitants safe, but faces seemingly endless besiegement on all sides, and so he grows old there. Due to some Doctor Who lore nonsense, he can apparently only regenerate a certain number of times, and it looks as though his final death is imminent. In a frustrating (but still kind of emotionally satisfying) moment, Clara, through a crack in the universe, manages to get word to the trapped Time Lords of Gallifrey to send the Doctor aid. They send their own regeneration energy to him, revitalizing the Doctor and allowing him to rid the skies once and for all of the alien threat.

His goodbye isn't nearly as tragic as Tennant's, but it's still a good moment for Smith. The show leans a bit heavy on the cheese at the end, bringing back Amy Pond for a brief vision by the Doctor as he begins to finally regenerate. It's my opinion that the show would have been better served by a vision of River Song instead, but eh, what the hell do I know?

John Hurt

Home stretch, boys and girls. With the fiftieth anniversary of the Doctor, we're introduced to a mysterious incarnation who would've existed shortly before Eccleston's in the great scheme of things. Facing the fall of Gallifrey and the horrors that the Time Lords want to unleash against the impending victory of the Daleks, John Hurt's Doctor must make the uneasy decision to pull the trigger on destroying Galifrey and the Daleks.

Since I don't want to go into any more spoilers than that, I'll say this - John Hurt's a terrific, well-established actor, and he brings his A-game to a role that, honestly, most actors with his long history wouldn't have bothered with. But he does a fantastic job with the few minutes he's given, and his interactions with certain cast members who shall remain nameless were absolutely riveting.

Whew. Okay. One last section, and then I'm calling it quits.

Peter Capaldi

Since we know next to nothing about Capaldi's Doctor save for his memorable, "Do you know how to fly this thing?", I'm going to use this section to speculate briefly - very briefly - on where the show is going.

-From a plot perspective, the obvious choice for the writers would be to eventually see the Doctor return to Gallifrey. This could open up some fascinating plotlines, but I kind of think we've got too many familiar elements of the old series. I want to see more alien races become a prominent part of the universe, not just the old tried-and-true.

-Given Capaldi is a middle-aged man, I'm guessing the show will deal with him as a more mature, if slightly doddering, Doctor. This could be great fun.

-Similarly, I'm guessing that age difference will mean Clara is out as a romantic interest, which is fine by me. We could definitely go a season or two without a love interest for the Doctor.

-I'm also betting that at some point we see the Doctor develop a long-term friendship apart from his companions. This makes sense, particularly if the character is a fellow Time Lord who can regenerate (and thus not have to rely on the same actor). The Doctor needs a Felix to his James Bond.

OK. Whew. That's it. I'm done. It's not quite as long as I'd originally intended, and I've had to cut down tremendously on Matt Smith's run because I'm getting a fucking migraine, but there it is. The end of my Doctor Who bloganza. I hope you enjoyed reading, and if I convince one person to give just one episode a chance, I'll be happy. Take care, folks.


LTDW - The Doctors. Again.

I lost my seven thousand word blog on the Doctors. So here it is in a handful of sentences. Because I'm super pissed. I'm going to rewrite what I can remember sometime soon, but not today. Probably not for years. Because FUCK.

Eccleston's a good actor, did a decent job as Doctor Who, but left too early to make a real impact. Deserves props for bringing the Doctor to modern audiences in a good way, sometiems felt like a bit of a square peg in a round hole.

Tennant's the fucking man, his farewell was tragic, and he humanized the Doctor. I love the man's work.

Smith tried a bit too hard to be like Tennant in the early goings, but once he settled into the role, the writing and the River Song/Amy Pond/Rory arc of the sixth season became utterly fantastic. His work with Jenna Coleman was fantastic too.

I wish we could've seen more of John Hurt as the Doctor, but as it stands, it's fuckin' John Hurt. He's awesome, the fiftieth Doctor Who special was terrific, and seeing the band mostly back together again was pretty great.

Capaldi looks to be like a fascinating version of the Doctor. Having not seen any of the older gentlemen who played the Doctor in the original series, I can't wait to see the direction the series takes. I'm betting Jenna Coleman stays on for one more season, makes guest appearances after that, and this Doctor takes on more of a kid-friendly role. Wild guesses at best.

Back your shit up as you write, ladies and gentlemen. Always back it up. I'll come back and revisit the Doctor Who blogs in the future, to write more thoughts about the big three and the fiftieth special as well as Smith's mediocre sendoff, but for now, I'm done.

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LTDW - The Companions: Clara, Miscellany

Today's Doctor Who blog brings us to the latest companion, Clara Oswald, played by the ridiculously attractive and talented Jenna Coleman. Since Clara's entry is short (I really ought to have tagged this on to last night's entry), I thought I'd discuss a bit of random stuff related to the show before we close the blog out tomorrow with a look at the five (yes, five) modern Doctors.


Right out of the gate, Clara Oswald (or Oswin Oswald, as she's originally named) is one of the most fascinating Doctor Who characters to date. Getting into the character's history is a bit tricky, because on a very technical level, Clara has been a part of the Doctor's life since his original incarnation, when she nudged him the direction of the TARDIS he should "borrow." Through the Doctor's various lives, she's helped push him in the right direction, saved his life innumerable times, and becomes "the only mystery worth solving," as Matt Smith's character puts it. And yet, she's completely human, neither Time Lord nor anyone of particular note save that she's vitally important to the Doctor's life.

Fantastic, right? It gets better.

We're first introduced to Clara in the first episode of the seventh season, in the terrific episode Asylum of the Daleks. She's locked in the heart of an asylum for insane Daleks, seemingly driven a bit pleasantly mad by isolation after having crashed into the planet some time before. Her interactions, both with the Doctor and with the fourth wall, are delightful. She's a firecracker of a character, reminscent of River Song in her sauciness, but with a youth and fire all her own. It's far and away the best single character introduction of the entire show, and that's including the Doctors, as it's sharply written, funny, and intriguing.

And that comes to define Coleman's Clara - she fires out lines as well as any of the Doctors, has a terrific seventh season story arc, and she chews up every scene she's in. It's a bit early on yet to tell where she'll fall in terms of the companions, but I'm guessing if the writing keeps up, she'll be even more popular than Rose Tyler. Fingers crossed.

I'm not sure how far into Coleman's story arc I really want to delve, as revealing much more of what makes her tick would give away massive, massive spoilers for the big Doctor Who fiftieth special, which should be watched by just about everyone who's even remotely interested in Doctor Who. I think I'm going to leave you a list of Clara's best episodes and call it. If you'd like to talk more specifics about her plotlines, I'm happy to, but let's do so in a PM or with great big spoilery tags.

For Clara's best episodes, well, watch all that she's in. But for the very best, definitely check out the 50th Doctor Who special Day of the Doctor, Asylum of the Daleks, The Rings of Akhaten, Journey to the Center of the TARDIS, and The Name of the Doctor. I'm a bit hesitant to add The Time of the Doctor, because other than the last few minutes of Matt Smith's sendoff episode, it's really not a standout episode. But I'd watch it regardless if you're interested in the furthering of Clara's companionship with the Doctor, as it contains some key moments as well as the introduction of Capaldi as the next Doctor.


- Probably the weakest aspect of Doctor Who in general lies in its hokey villains. Most classic enemies like the Daleks and Cybermen look like the cheap, cheesy versions they started out as in the original series. That said, some of the classic and modern Doctor Who enemies work really well with the show's mixture of drama and the absurd.

My particular favorites include the Weeping Angels, who are stone only so long as you look at them, and can move supernaturally fast when you aren't. Whether or not they actually kill depends on the episode you're watching - in several episodes, they send their "kills" back through time, feeding on the temporal energy instead of the actual victim, who is left very much alive, just displaced. In another episode (the pretty great Time of Angels), they actually do kill, usually by snapping the neck of the victim, and can adopt the victim's voice. You kinda have to take the sudden changes in the show's mythos as par for the course.

I'm also fond of season six's the Silence, even if they look absurd. These are aliens who've lived on Earth and guided us from the shadows. They can only be remember when they're seen, and when someone turns away, the Silence is forgotten about. They come into play in a bit of fascinating throwaway lore in a later episode of Doctor Who, as it turns out they're clerics of sorts. Neat.

As for individual Who enemies, I'm not sure they get much better than David Simm's The Master, who has several episodes in Tennant's run. He's a maniacal genius of a Time Lord who hears a never-ending beat of drums in his mind. The drums have driven him viciously mad, though he's of calm enough mind to enact several plots to assume control over Earth. His story arc is powerful, and as mentioned in Martha Jones's chapter of this blog, he manages to be the centerpiece of one of the show's few sociopolitical episodes. David Simm is a terrific actor, giving a grandiose, Shakespearean performance dotted with some quiet, more subtle moments. The character is fantastically written, too.

- For some reason, I'm not usually overly fond of the show's historical episodes. Partly it's the inconsistent anachronisms, partly it's because of the Doctor being the influence behind history's greatest minds, and partly it's because most of them make caricatures out of deeply complex people. I get that I'm a bit uptight about all this, but truthfully, I'm just not fond of them, save for a very, very few like the episode featuring Vincent Van Gogh.

-I wish John Barrowman was a part of the modern seasons again, but I can appreciate the need to reboot itself every few seasons. It's smart to introduce whole new casts of characters and develop new fan favorites. Similarly, I love the direction of the show since Steven Moffat took over as executive producer. It's become less stupid, the characters are much more evenly written, and while it lacks the superb highs of the Tennant era, there are far, far fewer lows. If you found yourself kind of tuning out during Eccleston or Tennant's runs, try giving the show a real shot from season five onward.

-I want all the TARDIS gear I've found on Amazon. I hope to God I don't get drunk one of these nights and wind up buying all that shit.

Hmmm. I feel like I'm leaving out some big chunks here, stuff I meant to talk about but didn't. I might revisit the miscellany part tomorrow, but we'll see. I doubt I missed anything of importance. Tomorrow, we talk the Doctors, and wrap things up with some predictions about Matt Capaldi's run and where I think the show is headed. See ya!

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LTDW - The Companions: Amy and Rory

Today's entry in my Doctor Who bloganza covers two of the more complex companions of the modern Doctor Who universe. With David Tennant leaving the show and the showrunner torch being passed to Steven Moffat, the potential was there for some rough seas as Matt Smith took over and the show sort of re-rebooted itself. Gone were all the prior companions, the supporting cast, and much of the UNIT/Torchwood storylines. And for the first season of Matt Smith's run, right up until its phenomenal last two episodes, things were indeed a little rough around the edges. Thankfully, though, the show smoothed itself out and, by the second season of Matt Smiths run, had developed a terrific bit of flair and mystery to the proceedings as the mysteries linking River Song, Amy Pond, and Rory continued to develop.


And plus ten cool points if you got that. Plus one hundred if you are wearing a fez as you read this.

Amy Pond and Rory Williams

I thought about seperating these two out, but their stories are so intrinsically linked that it seemed hardly fair. Even when Rory isn't a presence on the screen (he was only in a handful of episodes in the fifth season, but became a regular in the sixth), he's certainly a presence behind the scenes.

We're introduced to Amy Pond as a child (who, in real life, is actually Karen Gillen's cousin - fun fact for you there). She's praying for someone, anyone, to come help her with a crack in her wall, a crack that seems to be growing bigger. Of course, she winds up with the Doctor, who crashes a bit unceremoniously in her garden. Both he and the TARDIS are in the final processes of regenerating, so the Doctor experiences everything through eyes. And a new stomach.

This is definitely Matt Smith's showpiece moment, his time to win over the audience or risk losing them, but it's also the time in which we're introduced to a brilliant new sidekick in Amy Pond. There's a bit of mystery to her and her surroundings, something that isn't really explored until the tail end of the season and throughout season six. As the Doctor is reintroduced to Amy Pond later in life, we're immediatelly drawn to parallels of Rose Tyler, which is a bit unfortunate for Karen Gillen. Both characters were facing down unsure relationships when they met the Doctor, and both develop a bit of a love triangle. But whereas Rose took to the Doctor, the Doctor takes steps to make sure that Amy winds up with Rory, often jamming them together uncomfortably and awkwardly.

Unfortunately, for most of the first few episodes, this "who will she end up with" was the focus ofor Amy Pond, and it takes some time to get the stench out. Love triangles always inevitably make one of the party look immoral, but the show manages to right this ship and create a firm bond between Rory and Amy.

In a curious twist, Rory ends up actually dying midway through the fifth season, but he's brought back to life as a plastic Roman centurion, meant to draw the Doctor and Amy into a trap in the friggin' awesome episode The Pandorica Opens. This episode, the first of a two-parter, is the moment when all three characters leave an indelible mark on the show, drawing together threads from throughout the season and giving each character (along with the always-terrific River Song) some brilliant moments - and that's not to mention it's done while the show's writers weave one of the best bait-and-switch moments in Who history.

Unfortunately, the show then shifts much of the focus back onto Matt Smith solely, which wouldn't have been a bad thing had it not glossed over Rory's defining moment, when he decides to stay with an imprisoned, unconscious Amy Pond for two thousand years to protect her. It's given, at best, a minute of the show's running time. A tiny hint of the time is explained by a museum tour guide, explaining that Rory protected her and her prison from war and fire, but it's not given nearly the time or attention that such a feat would deserve, and we don't get to see how the passage of time has affected Rory.

Thankfully, things spring back for both Rory and Amy in the show's spectacular sixth season, Having been married at the end of the fifth season, Rory and Amy were now firmly esconced as a couple (albeit shakily on a few occasions). Not having to deal with the shitty love triangle nonsense freed up the show in its sixth season (and bits of its fifth) to explore the history of the Doctor's relationship to River Song, who more or less became a regular throughout the season. You'd think this would lead to some lessening of the focus on Amy Pond and Rory, but it actually kind of helped, as all four became intrinsically linked to each other.

The best parts of season six are tied into some pretty heavy spoilers, which I won't go into here. But the four heroes, together, form the best group dynamic of the show in its modern incarnation, thanks to excellent writing and planning as well as superb acting. Once the various actors settled into their roles, the show left behind any feeling as though it were rehashing old ground and began establishing that aforementioned sense of cool. The enemies felt less ridiculous, the plots felt more plausible, and while there's an annoying little gotcha moment at the tail end of the season, it's by and large one of the most solidly written, solidly acted bits of Whoville.

While the characters don't leave the show until midway through season seven, I feel like The Wedding of River Song is more or less Rory, Amy, and River's farewell. From there, it's just letting go. What's remarkable about these characters is that while they're bold and at times broadly acted, they're far more firmly anchored than any of their predecessors. I like Rose Tyler just a touch more than Amy Pond, mostly due to the lackluster fifth season and the initial feeling of "been there, seen that done better," but truthfully, Amy is a bit more of a fully fleshed character, and I could definitely see someone making the argument that she and Rory were their favorites.

For the best Amy episodes, watch Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone (S5, cannot recommend these episodes enough for Who fans who know a bit about the Weeping Angels), Vincent and the Doctor (S5), and The Girl Who Waited (S6). For the best Rory/Amy episodes, watch The Pandorica Opens and pretty much the entirety of season six minus The Curse of the Black Spot, which was a piss-poor one-off episode. Most everything of theirs after The Wedding of River Song can be kind of written off, but they're all pretty good-to-great episodes.

Special - River Song

No one, save for David Tennant, has knocked a Doctor Who role so far out of the park as Alex Kingston. I can't imagine anyone else playing the role of River Song. The idea is simple - she's the Doctor's wife, but they never quite meet in the right order. In fact, in their first meeting, she dies. She's also a time traveler on a pretty much as-necessary basis, and it's implied that she and the Doctor have many adventures off-screen.

What makes River Song so extraordinary is both the mysterious air of the character (it's established and hinted at very early on that she's a murderer) and the spark between her and Matt Smith that develops throughout the fifth and sixth seasons of Doctor Who. Smith, for his part, is a pretty decent actor, but it's Alex Kingston who is responsible for the bulk of the show's success in its sixth season. Kingston herself said that she drew inspiration from Indiana Jones and Ripley, and it worked. River Song swaggers, winks, and dazzles, and the show had a tendency to draw on the thrill of her character. I believe Kingston was in her forties when she played the role, making for a fresh-feeling dynamic between her and the younger Smith. And while Kingston is certainly a lovely woman, she's definitely not the waif in a short skirt type, bringing a sort of mature allure to the show we don't often see in television or movies.

If it feels a bit like I'm gushing here, I am. River Song's story arc is what drew me back into Doctor Who, and it's what's caused me to get so excited for the future of the show. If we even catch a glimpse of characters this well written (and we have - Clara has been a superb character so far), we're in for a wonderful time. I hope this isn't the last we've seen of River Song in Doctor Who, but if it is, she went out on a high note.

I'd be hard pressed to pick out any singular episodes of Kingston's run with the show. Seriously, they're all that good. Every episode she's in, she brings the fire. If you're wondering what Doctor Who has the potential to be, start by watching Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead and then skip ahead to the beginning of season five. As rough as the early goings of that season were, you'll find a lot to enjoy, particularly as the show begins to hone in on River Song's story.

And that's it for today. Tomorrow, I'll cover the relative newcomer Clara as well as some odds and ends beore we start on the big finale as I examine each of the modern Doctors and make some predictions about Capaldi's run as the Doctor. See you then!


LTDW - The Companions: Martha Jones and Donna Noble

Welcome, one and all, to the second part of my Doctor Who bloganza. Yesterday, I talked a little bit about the Doctor's return to television and his first companion, Rose Tyler. Today's blog is going to cover his second and third modern companions, Freema Agyeman's Martha Jones and Catherine Tate's Donna Noble. It should be noted that while Martha Jones would join the cast full-time first, Donna Noble would make an earlier appearance between the second and third seasons for a Christmas special, making her technically the second companion to... you know what? I don't particularly care. I'm calling Martha Jones the Doctor's second companion and Donna Noble the third. If you have a problem with that, know that I understand the technicalities and don't give a hoot.

The Doctor's companions tend to serve multiple roles, often all at the same time. They can be love interests, friends, or allies, but most of all, they have existed in the modern series to be his anchor and often his conscience. Rose Tyler served as both a love interest and as a mender of his broken spirit after he destroyed two entire races of beings, including his own. Both Martha Jones and Donna Noble served very specific roles for David Tennant's Doctor, with varying degrees of success.

Martha Jones

We're first introduced to Martha Jones after the Doctor has left behind Rose Tyler in an alternate universe and the events of the horrible Christmas special that followed (more on that in Donna Noble's section). She's a nurse, studying to be a doctor, who encounters the Doctor first in the street and then in the hospital in which she works. This episode, Smith and Jones, does its job functionally well, setting up Martha Jones as a family woman, exasperated by her siblings and parents, but with strong ties to them nonetheless. It also sets up her infatuation with the Doctor, as at one point he kisses her firmly to transfer some of his DNA in order to fool an alien race. Her infatuation is, of course, one-sided, as the Doctor is still grieving over Rose and hardly seems to notice Martha until she finally asserts herself at the end of their run.

Unfortunately, that's about as much character development as we get with Martha Jones. She serves primarily as a rebound companion for the lost Rose Tyler, although being black, the character's story arcs also allow for the possibility to explore racial issues of the past, present, and future. Unfortunately, Doctor Who, being still a family show (more or less), never quite takes advantage of those opportunities, instead opting to display the past with rose-colored glasses, showing people of color in prominent roles in society and blatantly disregarding the travesties and moral crimes of the past (as seen in the earliest parts of the tepid Shakespeare Code). It's meant in earnest, meaning to portray equality in all people, but it genuinely feels like it's trivializing centuries of racism and equality issues by glossing over the topic.

But Doctor Who is meant for entertainment, and so we should turn to a study of whether or not the Martha Jones chapter of the Doctor Who series entertains. Unfortunately, while Freema Agyeman's performance is fine, her character just never quite sparks. As mentioned, her character development peters out, leaving her as a lovestruck companion who will never see her love returned, as the Doctor by and large ignores her feelings. There could have been some room to play with this, perhaps with some resentment and jealousy on Martha's part, but again, it never goes anywhere, leading to a limp resolution of her character and several halfhearted attempts to give her a happy ending in future episodes.

It's sort of fitting then that she would ultimately wind up with Rose Tyler's ex-boyfriend Mickey of all people. Both characters loved someone they couldn't have, were ultimately wasted by the show's writers, and never amounted to more than footnotes in the Doctor's long history of companions. Given just a bit more effort and balls by the producers, Martha Jones could have really shined as an entertaining character as well as serving as a glimpse into history's uglier side and our triumphs over racism and bigotry. Instead, she was, at best, a way station for the Doctor. Sad.

That said, Freema Agyeman's performance is terrific, given what little room she has to explore the role. Her run features some of the better one-off episodes in the whole of the series, and one of the best mid-season two-parters in Human Nature, in which the Doctor wipes his own mind and creates a human backstory for himself in order to hide from a warmongering family of aliens. The two-parter is notable mostly for Tennant's performance, but Agyeman's heartache over watching the Doctor fall in love with someone else is palpable, and she plays the role perfectly. Also of note are The Lazarus Experiment, where Martha's love and frustration with her family is put on full display alongside a great Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde villain and the two-parter The Sound of Drums and Last of the Time Lords, which puts Martha front and center as she finally comes into her own. Sound of Drums and Last of the Time Lords also features the greatest modern Who villain to date in David Simm's The Master. The episodes also feature a thinly veiled story about slavery and rising up against oppression, easily the best sociopolitical episodes of the modern Who universe.

Donna Noble

I dreaded writing this section. I can't bring myself to care for the characterization of Donna Noble, but her episodes are deeply critical parts of the Doctor Who lore, and feature some of the best writing of the series to date.

Much of my irritation with the character can best be summed up by her introduction in the stunningly dreadful The Runaway Bride. Technically, her character made her first appearance in the last moments of the second season, but she wouldn't get to know who she was until that Christmas special. Donna Noble is introduced as a screeching, loudmouthed, braying jackass of a character, barely able to speak a sentence without shrieking or shouting. It really, really didn't help matters much that the villain, some sort of arachnid thing looking to give birth to thousands of little spiderlings, was even more brash and annoying than Donna Noble, not so much acting as just bellowing lines and making funny faces at the camera.

Thankfully, the writers took a sabbatical from Donna Noble for an entire season, opting instead to make Martha Jones the Doctor's full-time companion first. It was a smart move, because had they continued with Donna in that direction, I'd have quit on the show. I've no question of that in my mind.

When Donna Noble returned for the surprisingly smart and funny Partners in Crime, it became evident we were stuck with her, even if just for the short term. This is where the show really lost me the first time through, when I became more of a sporadic watcher than the Doctor Who binging maniac I am today. Donna Noble became sort of an emotionally polar character, alternating from terrific moments of seriousness and occasional spats of wit to a shrieking, breathless, buffonish caricature. The wildly uneven characterization is, in part, due to Catherine Tate's own comedic background, but having watched her run on The Office, I know she's better than Donna Noble.

It's too bad that the more dramatic moments are outshadowed by Tate's annoyingly aggressive loudmouthedness. The character is honestly well-written and deserves applause for her outstanding and incredibly sad conclusion (well, sort of). While the majority of her one-off episodes can be written off, she has some outstanding moments and particular episodes, easily among the series' best. Her overarching story plot is crucial to the Who universe, and she winds up actually feeling like an important character in the great scheme of things as opposed to a trivial one, like Martha Jones. The idea that her fate has been decided, that every psychic or knowledgeable person knows she's coming to a tragic end, it transcends the awkward half of the characterization and focuses the attention of the viewer on the dramatic side of things, which is where Tate shines.

Ultimately, I guess you could say that Donna Noble herself served mostly as a catalyst to get the Doctor and Rose Tyler back together, but doing so dismisses what's great and awful about her character. Take, for example, The Fires of Pompeii. This would have been a thoroughly awful episode of Doctor Who, featuring absurdly overacting psychics (including, oddly enough, Karen Gillen, who would portray a later Whopanion) and a dreadful, overly "oh my God!" performance from Tate for most of the first two acts. But then... then things get serious. The episode's villains are a race of fire-rock creatures stranded on Earth and sheltering under Vesuvius. The Doctor and Donna manage to make it to the center of the creatures' lair, where they realize, in one of the series' most haunting moments, that the creatures are actually hatling Vesuvius from erupting, but will take over the entire planet. Therefore, the Doctor and Donna must choose to blow up Vesuvius, causing the destruction of Pompeii and costing tens of thousands of people their lives at the expense of saving the world. The Doctor lays his hand on the trigger, and Donna Noble, in easily her most powerful moment, lays her hand on top of his and pushes down. Their anguish, their choice, and the consequences thereafter define Donna Noble as being much more than the awful, screeching thing of the first half of the episode.

It's such a shame, then, that the breathless, loud side of Donna Noble is the one we're stuck with for the bulk of the run, because honestly, she had a chance to become the greatest companion of the Doctor in the modern era. But there's only so much bellowing I can take, and eventually, it becomes immensely gratifying to see the Doctor finally leave her behind with her family.

For the best Donna Noble moments, you'd have to pick and choose very carefully among the bulk of her episodes, and even then, I'd recommend you keep the mute button handy. For the best overall (and evenly keeled) Donna Noble episodes, check out Planet of the Ood, Silence in the Library, and Forest of the Dead. All three are Doctor Who classics. And despite its Tate-isms, I'm also fond of Turn Left, an episode that barely even features the Doctor at all, as Donna experiences what life would have been like if she hadn't met the Doctor. It's a strong character study, if not exactly the most entertaining of episodes.

Special Companion - Wilfred Mott

I hemmed and hawed about including Wilfred under Donna's section, as he's not actually a true companion to the Doctor, but rather a recurring character throughout Donna Noble's arc. He's Donna's grandfather, a simple man who dreams of the stars and loves his granddaughter dearly, often acting as a buffer between Donna and her vicious mother.

For reasons I don't want to spoil here, it becomes clear that Wilfred is instrumental in the Tenth Doctor's fate, as Tennant's Doctor continues to bump into him, even without Donna Noble around (as seen in the Titanic Christmas episode and Tennant's sendoff episode The End of Time).

I bring up Wilfred because of the tremendous performance of Bernard Cribbins, particularly when it came to the End of Time episodes. There's a small scene between Cribbins and Tennant in a diner, wherein they discuss the Doctor's impending death and Donna Noble's lost memories that stands as the best moment in the entire show. The dialogue between Cribbins and Tennant is heartbreaking and best shown, not told. Tennant breaking down is the definition of the Doctor, his sadness and exhaustion showing through the cracks in the Doctor's facade. Check it out for yourself, though be warned, it does contain some pretty major spoilers for Donna:

Wilfred becomes absolutely crucial to the emotional sendoff of David Tennant as the Doctor, and it couldn't have worked without such a powerhouse of an actor behind it. The last twenty minutes' of Tennant's run as the Doctor owes as much to Cribbins' excellent work as it does to Tennant's own skills as an actor. It's a beautiful swan song, full of tragedy, sorrow, and a little bit of redemption for the darker turns the Doctor had taken.

And that's about it for today. Tomorrow, we'll delve into some shaky territory as I talk about the good and bad of Amy Pond and Rory, the Doctor's next two companions. I'm going to need to gauge the length of that blog before I decide, but it might also include a bit on River Song, the eleventh Doctor's love interest and one of the serie's best characters. See you then.


Let's Talk Doctor Who, Part 1 - The Companions: Rose Tyler

This year's been a bit odd for me in terms of games. I've certainly been playing them, as evidenced by my incredibly original and charming What I've Played in '14 list, but nothing's yet grabbed me in terms of games I really want to talk about. But for my long-time readers who have been vociferously clamoring for (in my head, at least) a return of Sparky's Update, here's three months for you. Bravely Default was a mess of really great ideas and classic PS1-era feel with a lot of piss-poor execution. Batman Arkham Origins is just more Arkham City (which is a pretty darned good thing, if you ask me, but it's dull to talk about). Telltale continues to pump out great games that I love dearly. News of Civilization: Beyond Earth turns me on to eleven. I'm kind of meh about Borderlands 2.5, which I know I'll play the shit out of, but would much rather see the resources devoted to a full-on sequel.

And that's really about it. Three months of games in a few sentences. I've been trying to think of some intelligent opinion pieces or articles to write like fellow bloggers @gamer_152, @chaser324, or @dankempster, but most of my writing these days is devoted to putting together a short story collection or to the ephemeral novels I keep braying about to no one in particular. I reckon I'm pretty excited to lay my hands on a PS4 at some point, maybe as soon as next spring, but honestly, there just hasn't been anything that's grabbed me yet, so I'm content to play last year's leftovers and revisit games like Civ V and Skyrim in the interim.

That huge and mostly unnecessary wordy intro aside, I thought I'd start devoting blogs to other media I'm enthralled with, particularly books and television. I don't watch many movies these days, but expect to see some of those occasionally covered too. What I'd like to start with is a blog about a show I'm admittedly geeky about - Doctor Who, for those who can't bother reading blog titles but have somehow waded through this much horseshit.

I think I've been a fan of Doctor Who since about 2006 or so, when I was making money hand over fist and could afford to upgrade my stupidly priced satellite to include BBC America. Middle class thuggin' and bumpin', ya'll. I caught the premiere (over herein the States, anyways) of the revamped series, and found it in its early days to be a corny, silly show which I just couldn't stay away from. I watched the first season fairly regularly, but throughout the years, I'd only catch sporadic episodes until I could catch up on all of them through Netflix and BBC America (which became my addiction when I first started watching Top Gear in about 2011 or so, despite the endless Graham Norton ads. PS - fuck you, Graham Norton).

By now, though, I think I've watched just about every episode and special of the modern Doctor Who at least once. I tend to favor the bigger, more serious arcs and stories, and I used to put my mind on autopilot through most of the one-offs and just about the entirety of the Donna Noble era. Lately, though, I've been making an effort to go through each episode with an open mind, a task that's been a lot of fun with only the minor annoyance or two. Again - see Donna Noble. OK, that's a bit unfair, and you'll see why in a few.

My love for Doctor Who has really grown and changed throughout the years, from finding it a bit too hokey to realizing that its absurdities help anchor it down, in a way. I hope to impart some of my reasons behind these thoughts into this and future blogs. I think this will likely end up being a three-parter, with the first focusing on the modern Doctor's companions. Future blogs will talk about the incarnations of the Doctor themselves - obviously, again, this will be in reference to the modern Doctor, since I have little experience with the old Doctor Who episodes (but will endeavor to watch those as well) - with the last blog I have planned being a bit of a potpourri of thoughts and nonsense.

So... whew. With all that, let's get on with it. Warning - there will be MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD. Read at your own risk.

Rose Tyler

Played by the lovely and talented Billie Piper (who you might also know from Secret Diary of a Call Girl, and if you're like me, you might regularly confuse her for the female lead in Coupling), Rose Tyler had to be the anchor for the audience of the modern Doctor Who. Audiences (and myself) weren't going to follow the exploits of some simpering damsel in distress, and thankfully, Rose Tyler was never displayed in that light, save for her beginning.

The series starts with its second-most ridiculous Whollains in the Plastic Men. Only the Pig Men seem more absurd (and cheap) in their design, and like the Pig Men, the Plastic Men were only featured for a brief moment. Billie Piper did an excellent job here of creating as much tension and fear as she could with the material she and Christopher Eccleston were given, and the damsel in distress facade didn't take long to disappear, as she became instrumental in aiding the Doctor and saving the day by the end of the very first episode.

Piper and Eccleston couldn't have been more opposite in nature. Make no mistake - both are quite talented actors, but Piper always seemed quite believable, even in the most ridiculous of moments - and in Doctor Who, there are plenty. Eccleston, who we'll get into later in a future blog, never quite matched Piper pound for pound in terms of his comfort with the role and his surroundings, and therefore, the first season suffered a bit. Rose Tyler and the Doctor's relationship, fairly awkward at first, never quite felt right until the inimitable and truly awesome David Tennant took over.

Really, that entire first season in retrospect falls on Billie Piper's shoulders, and she carried the load admirably. She's the audience's first (modern) window into the bizarre and delightful universe of Doctor Who, and she nailed it. She experiences the joys of travel, the thrill of the mysterious Doctor, the pain of the great losses he and his companions must suffer through, and a growing sense of attraction, all within a handful of episodes, all while reeling from the alienness of it all. As silly as the show might be, the role of a Doctor's companion requires a huge amount of range from its actors and actresses. Watching Billie Piper now, she grows and adapts to the role, making it her own, while Eccleston continually tried to fit a square peg into a round hole with pure brute force - mostly successfully, but still... polar opposites.

With the still-mysterious leaving of Eccleston from the show after its first season (I'd kill to know the story behind that, as I think a second season might have done his Doctor a world of good), that meant the Doctor needed a regeneration, which led to the fulfillment of the Bad Wolf storyline. The first of Rose Tyler's major stories, it saw her become a deus ex machina by absorbing the energy of the TARDIS into herself, destroying a Dalek threat and helping resurrect a sometime companion to the Doctor by the name of Jack Harkness (still a personal favorite of mine). Eccleston's Doctor reabsorbs the energy back into himself and then the TARDIS, effectively ending his life and causing him to regenerate into a tall, skinny, ridiculously charming version of himself that remains my personal favorite of all the Doctors to date.

Almost from the get-go, Billie Piper and David Tennant didn't have so much a spark as they did a forest fire. Their on-screen chemistry is terrific, their story arcs full of tragedy and a wounded hope. Their run also greatly benefitted from some of the show's best strings of episodes, including The Girl in the Fireplace, a tale about Madame de Pompadour that is, to me, one of the best one-off episodes in the entirety of the show; the dark Impossible Planet and Satan's Pit, in which Doctor Who comes deliciously close to real horror; and the tragic end of their run in Army of Ghosts and Doomsday, two terrifically emotional episodes for Piper and Tennant (as well as for me) which end in the tearing of the fellowship between the two, leaving Rose stranded in an alternate universe while Tennant's Doctor soldiers on, heartbroken and beginning to show hints of the self-loathing and sadness that eventually made his run as Doctor Who so remarkable and personal.

Rose came back in a series of mysterious visions to Donna Noble in the fourth season, leading to the ridiculously satisfying reunion of the Doctor and Rose Tyler in a pair of episodes meant to send off Tennant's Doctor's companions with a bang. It's hard to argue with the logic of putting the Doctor and Tyler back together, as it doesn't diminish the sadness of their parting in any way (it's actually a human version of the Doctor who gets to walk away with Rose, while the real Doctor slips away in his Tardis). That wasn't the end of Rose Tyler, either, but she wouldn't be seen for several more seasons.

All in all, Rose Tyler is easily my favorite of the Doctor's companions (with the caveat that I really, really look forward to seeing where the show goes with Jenna Coleman's Clara, who had the most intriguing beginning to all the companions I've seen). Billie Piper brought a magnetism to the role and it's stupidly hard not to get attached to the character. While her early relationship stuff with Mickey is questionable, once her relationship solidifies with the Doctor and Mickey is given strong material of his own, Rose easily becomes one of the most relatable, most human characters of them all. It doesn't hurt that the second season of the show is far and away the most evenly written of the series.

For the best Rose Tyler episodes, I strongly recommend checking out Dalek (S1), The Girl in the Fireplace (S2), Impossible Planet/Satan's Pit (S2), Army of Ghosts/Doomsday (S2 - Army of Ghosts is a weaker episode, but its culmination in Doomsday is tremendous), and The Stolen Earth/Journey's End (again, the first episode isn't quite as good as the latter). Feel free to argue with me in the comments below or post your own favorite Rose Tyler moments and episodes.

Whew. I fully intended on this being a complete look at ALL the Doctor's companions, but I think that's enough for one day. I'll look at the next companion - Freema Agyeman's woefully underwritten Martha Jones. See you then.


Sparky's Briefs - TV questions

Heya gang. Due to the awesome low cost of my recliner and my even more awesome parents chipping in, I was able to buy this Vizio TV today. I have some basic questions for all of you, and since this is my first HDTV, these are going to be kind of dumb.

First, I'm going to want to hook up my PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, PS2, and satellite box to this thing. I reckon I can hook up my PS3, 360, and satellite via HDMI cables. Am I correct on this point? I know I'm going to need an HDMI splitter, so do you folks have any recommendations, particularly with an eye towards buying either a PS4 or an Xbox One sometime in the future? Does the satellite box require anything special to hook up to an HDTV? It's about a four year old receiver.

Second, are there any special things I should know about HDMI cables in general for gaming? Any particular brands I should buy or avoid? My setup still isn't ideal, as I will continue to have my TV on a desk while the consoles and satellite sit on a chest next to it, so the cables will need to be lengthy.

Finally, I should be able to hook up my PS2 and Wii somehow with those yellow/white/red cables,, right? I mean, it won't take some sort of other kind of device?

Thanks for putting up with my dumbass self.