The Mark III Travel Machine

For many people, Tom Baker was the quintessential Doctor Who, so naturally the release of one of his best stories on DVD should be a double celebration: a great story from a great Doctor. So when Genesis of the Daleks came out a couple of weeks ago, there was much rejoicing.

Baker wasn’t my favorite Doctor, but I liked him and when his stories were good, they were outstanding. Genesis would be one of the two Doctor Who stories I would show to someone who had never seen the show and was curious about it. This particular story is intelligent, suspenseful and imaginative, and the special effects are (for a change) generally quite good. (Well, the rather silly giant clams don’t contribute to a suspension of disbelief, but they’re a very minor element. The British knew early on that their effects, while imaginative, weren’t all that convincing. They compensated with excellent writing.)

Genesis is not without flaws. An example, here, of something that just didn’t work would be the entire Sarah-Jane-escaping-from-the-Thal-Rocket bit. It seemed like something thrown in so Elizabeth Sladen could have something to do. Unfortunately, it adds nothing other than running time, and in fact makes Sarah seem far weaker than she’s appeared in the past. (Not to mention thoughtless—a lot of people died on her watch.) Still, I would agree that the dynamic of the scenes in the bunker would have been thrown off had she been there with Harry and the Doctor.

But the positives far outweigh the negatives. This is probably the best presentation the Daleks themselves have ever had; I can’t recall them seeming so dangerous and threatening. I think in the main is because they don’t appear all that often in the story, so when they do, they are used very wisely. They’re always in motion and frequently seen in near-silhouette, sometimes shot from below to make them look larger.

Also, they don’t talk very much.

Now, I love the Dalek voice as much as anyone, but the more they talk, the more ridiculous they become. Have you ever seen a scene where two Daleks hold a conversation? Their staccato, barking, chopped-up talk makes anything longer than “EX TER MI NATE!” go on forever and forever. The more they talk, the less of a threat they appear; in fact, they start to seem just a bit ridiculous. Which is why the introduction of Davros in Genesis was a stroke of some kind of genius; at last, the Daleks could have a spokesman who could actually speak.

Davros, of course, is the creator of the Daleks. He’s also one of the great villains of Doctor Who, precisely because when he talks, he sounds so damned reasonable. He dismisses “democracy” as being the creed of those “who will listen to a thousand viewpoints and try to satisfy them all,” concluding that it is the preferred system of those who have no power.

Davros himself values power and strength above all else, precisely because he is virtually without either (he’s practically at death’s door as it is). He is obsessed by power, making obtaining complete power the key to his entire philosophy. He thinks that he’s doing great work by unleashing the Daleks, because they will stop wars and aggression through sheer strength; no other force will be able to oppose them. “When all other life forms are suppressed, then you will have peace,” he purrs.

That’s a perfect phrasing of a particular viewpoint; by not making Davros a ranting advocate of destruction, one can apply this reasonableness elsewhere, in the real world, and see how sincere people of opposing viewpoints can come to hold those viewpoints—it’s not about good and evil, it’s about what should be done, which method is best. (Granted, we can still disagree with those viewpoints and resist them; I’m not telling us to hold hands.)

This is so far beyond the typical, cartoonish “I will destroy because that is what I do!” villains that it’s almost refreshing. Finally, we have a bad guy who outright dismisses the idea that he might be evil, and does what he does believing he is working for good. Which is the way all villains view themselves—I doubt that even history’s worst monsters looked in the mirror and thought, “Damn, I’m evil!” (Of course, I do that all the time, but I don’t have any power…yet.)

Of the other scripts Terry Nation has written for Doctor Who, none come close to the thoughtfulness and complexity of Genesis of the Daleks. The story seemed to engage him like no other. (In truth, I rather suspect the hand of script editor Robert Holmes, who was probably Doctor Who’s greatest writer.)

Genesis is a great illustration that science fiction is a literature of ideas. Though the program has scenes of horror, thrills and special effects, it’s the ideas here that make the show compelling. Rather than the hyperkinetic thrill-rides that George Lucas provides, quickly forgotten after a day or two, this show is imaginative and can resonate with one long after it has ended. It can cause ideas to form in those who watch it. Ideas for good, or for evil? Only the future can tell us that.

Highly recommended.

NOTE: The above was originally the first half or so of the original piece, with the second half veering into notes on creativity and limitations and how art is defined by choices made. However, it got rambling and stupid–even by the standards here–so I culled it. That doesn’t mean it won’t eventually appear here or elsewhere. Maybe.

The Tyranny of Miscellany

There have been a number of things I’ve thought about posting here. But, of course, you know the problem between me and thought (we haven’t gotten along, it’s a long story, I hear there’s a series in the works).

The problem is that my thoughts on various subjects refuse to coalesce into coherence. Coherence is generally my goal (depending on how drunk I am, natch). I snatch the words out of the air and nail them into place, but like dead flies, they remain pretty unappetizing (you’ll have to trust me on this) and won’t write themselves into appropriately dispensable paragraphs. In the end, I’ve got a couple of documents full of dead flies and I tell myself, I can’t post a whole bunch of dead flies.

I’ve ordered Misaki Chronicles from the Anime Corner Store, so when that arrives, I may have more to say about breasts (Misaki Chronicles is Divergence Eve part two).

I’ve come up with a possible explanation for those breasts, by the way. Shorthand notoriety. Imagine that the women in Divergence Eve have normal breasts, and we can further imagine this conversation between two anime fans. We’ll call them Dave and Ed, though in fact their names are Roger and Phil.

Dave: I was watching Divergence Eve last night. It’s a pretty good show.
Ed: The title sounds familiar. Tell me something about it.
Dave: People use battle robots to fight alien monsters.
Ed (sarcastically): Wow, that really narrows it down.

With the version of Divergence Eve that we all know and love, the conversation goes like this:

Dave: I was watching Divergence Eve last night. It’s a pretty good show..
Ed: The title sounds familiar. Tell me something about it.
Dave: Biggest breasts ever.
Ed: I know exactly the show you’re talking about.

Great as the show is, it still feels like the sort of thing that no one would ever see you watching—more like something they would catch you watching. Any defense of the show you present will be seen as an excuse. Like, “I only buy Playboy for the articles.”

Oh, by the way, I think a Misaki action figure would be pretty cool. I just don’t know how she would be able to stand up….

A Couple Points on “Divergence Eve”

Good lord…*choke*.

“Divergence Eve” is an interesting and entertaining anime series set on a space station, a super-structure built around Saturn’s moon Titan (which has been pulled apart at the center). Titan, you see, happened to have a black hole at the core, and it was discovered that it could be used for interstellar travel. Unfortunately, someone on the other side of the black hole had the same idea, and the personnel of Watcher’s Nest (the space station) are in a continual war with giant, powerful creatures called Ghouls.

The writing is pretty good, the characters are well-rounded and the story holds interest throughout. The integration of CGI is a little clunky—the Ghouls and the fighter robots look and move very stiffly (sometimes, it looks like someone is waving a cut-out in front of the camera). On the other hand, I don’t recall any I’ll-just-stand-here-stock-still-while-music-plays bits that seem to be prevalent throughout anime. The CGI is a shortcoming that’s easy to overlook, since it’s treated as a storytelling tool and not a “Gosh, look computer animation!” element. Overall, it’s a smart and fun series. It could be considered “Neon Genesis Evangelion” done better and more concisely.

If you’ve seen any stills from the show, you might be wondering why every female character has a couple of extra air-tanks stuck to the chest of her spacesuit. Well, believe it or not, those aren’t air-tanks. They’re breasts. The biggest damn breasts you have ever seen. These are breasts that would give Russ Meyer pause. When I said the characters were well-rounded, I meant it.

The strange thing is, these breasts are completely gratuitous. No one ever comments on them or even notices them; there’s no scene where some rookie guy suddenly rounds a corner, comes face to, er, face with these developments and gets that stretched face that anime guys get when they’re embarrassed or shocked or something. And every single female has this gigantic chest (with the exception of the android, who has the body of a ten-year-old girl). It’s as if evolution just took this sideways jump, all at once.

It’s bizarre to watch this thoughtful, interesting series while being constantly bombarded with breasts. I can’t think of a good analogy; the closest I come is imagining an episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” in which every character wore a black cape and had fangs, but these were not plot elements or even addressed in the episode; no matter what happens in the story, I’d be thinking What the heck is going on the entire time.

Of course, if the story involved the crew turning into vampires, that would be one thing. Similarly, if the gargantuan breasts were commented on once or twice (“Hey, it’s the hundredth anniversary of that comet that enlarged everyone’s breasts!”), that might at least put them into a context. But no, they remain a textbook example of “gratuitous.”

Now, I understand the concept of “fan service.” And certainly, big breasts would seem to fit snugly into that category. But they’re not really treated as erotic objects. I mean, sure there’s some jiggle and a couple of bits of nudity, but not to the extent one would suspect, given the character design. For all the attention given them, the series would not be substantially changed if everyone had thumbs that were over a foot long.

Now, it may not be my fetish, but these breasts don’t really look erotic. They look preposterous. But different strokes and all that.

This begs some questions, though. Or rather, variants of the same question.

Who was this series aimed at? Who was the intended audience? When the film-makers made their pitch, who did they say they thought would watch?

If you knew nothing of the series and saw the box in Best Buy, you’d think it was a fan-service comedy. Here are these smiling, uniformed women with huge breasts. What else could it be? But I have the feeling that people who watch or buy it for that reason are going to be disappointed. Aside from the breast presence, nothing happens in a sexual or even romantic fashion. The one kiss in the series is a diversion; the guy gets smacked for it afterwards.

No, I think a person watching this for fan-service is going to find a great deal of plot, counter-plot, grim atmosphere, horror elements and other stuff getting in the way of ogling the breasts.

On the other hand, those who want a cool science fiction/horror story, those breasts sure get in the way. I mean, how would you recommend this one—and I do recommend it—without adding at least one, “Oh, by the way, I should probably warn you…” caveat?

Normally, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend something like this, even to older kids (twelve and up). There are a couple of graphic deaths (largely implied rather than shown, but nothing worse than a typical video game) and (as mentioned) a bit of nudity. Nothing that a relatively mature kid couldn’t handle. But then there are those cyclopean chests. You just know the kid would turn to you with a quizzical look, and all those awkward questions you hoped to avoid would come to the forefront. Your plan of letting them learn all that stuff on the street corner would be in ruins. And then what would you do?

Incidentally, this series has closing credits that have got to be the most ridiculous I have ever seen for a show of this nature. Over a happy, bouncy pop song, Misaki (the lead character) is seen trying on clothes, looking over desserts, and (for the most part) having fun at the beach (lots of her in a bikini). None of which ever happens in the series. None of which ever even comes close to happening. After watching robot-armored women battle ghouls, this ending is a massive head-scratcher. If you watched this bit, you would have no idea what the show was like. No, let me amend that. You would have the completely wrong idea what the show was like. You’d think it was a fan-service comedy. And we’re back to square one.

Somebody in charge of making decisions for this series made a couple of seriously strange ones.

(Incidentally, I got interested in the series after reading Steven Den Beste’s review.)

UPDATE: Mr. Den Beste was kind enough to note my somewhat scattered thoughts, and he also pointed out a factual error: Watcher’s Nest is actually on the other side of the wormhole, some 30 light years from Titan. D’oh! And it was on the test, too!

I think I’ve also found a parallel to the series: the scene in Alien when Sigourney Weaver strips to her underwear. Someone watched that and thought, Man, I am going to make an entire series of nothing but this.

To alter one of my favorite quotes, “The Japanese are not only stranger than we suppose, they are stranger than we can suppose.”

PaintBlog II: Julywork I

Happy Fourth of July to everyone, and happy 230th to the USA. Below, I’ve got photos of the progress so far on panel three of PaintBlog II.

Here, we have the two canvases side by side, so as to judge horizons and line-ups and such. Masking tape was duly placed over the areas that I wanted to keep sky-free, and panel two was put back up on the wall.

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Below, we have paint applied directly to the canvas. I usually find this is quicker than trying to brush it on bit by bit.

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Then, the initial smearing.

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Right around now, I realized that the blue was slightly different than the blue on the second panel. So found another shade of blue and started blending them in. Here, in this flash photo, you can see…well, since I used the flash, it doesn’t look like they’re different at all. But they are. The one below has a slight hint of green in it.

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Anyway, some more shots of the paint being blended, then detailed. Trying to match cloud areas with panel two.

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Finally, the tape is removed. Voila.

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Here they all are on the wall together. The photo is pretty dark; sorry about that. As you can see, I need a bigger wall. But I think they look pretty good together.

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I’m not exactly certain where to go next, so I may put this work aside for a while. Maybe a day or two, maybe a month or two, maybe even longer. It all depends on where it wants to go.

PaintBlog II: Junework II

If you read the previous entry, right below this one, you might have seen a vague whirl of something near the top of the photo area, clinging to one of the support beams (in the work). I mentioned yesterday that we’d get to him soon, and that soon is now.

Also as mentioned, I don’t have any overview shots of the previous stage. I do, however, have a shot that shows this guy’s tentative origin. It’s right here:

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That’s him in the lower-middle-left, right below where the ladder joins the support beam. I can’t recall why he was added, though I suspect it was done to hide some spillover of raw umber onto the surrounding sky; I’m sure I had some brilliant scheme in mind. I tend to, you know.

Well, in one huge rush of work, he went from what you can kinda sorta see above (if you look really hard) to this:

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You can also see the tentacle and the floating slabs referenced in the previous chapter. I’m not sure if the tentacle is part of the guy, or he’s part of something larger below, or if they’re two separate creatures. There are other possibilities, of course. Viewer’s choice. Here’s a picture showing the overall view of the work thus far. You’ll note that the lower part of the canvas is priot to the state we left it in last chapter.

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Much as I liked the guy above, he seemed incomplete. How about another structure, yellow and white this time?

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Now this is starting to look good, I think. It looks almost fungal. Like this guy’s clambered up these supports and got himself comfortable, and is sprouting a fruiting body. More of that could only be better, right?

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And even more, including some dark structures inside, to give the idea of anatomy.

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He ended up with a few more white filaments reaching toward the ladder, but this is the last of his closeups. This is pretty much what he looks like now. (Except for the glare on the paint, of course.)

Speaking of the ladder, it got some highlights:

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Now, we come to the overview shots. These were taken at various times during the work on both the floating slabs and Mr. Fungus.

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Now that I look at these, they all seem to be the same damn photo. Oh well, I guess I was trying different exposures or something. Mr. Fungus, in the last photo, has had some more personal growth, so at least that’s a difference. That’s how the work currently stands as well.

(Okay, I went back into PSP and looked at the photos. In the second one, the ground area in the lower right has been darkened up some. Some highlighting was added in the same area on the organic thing in picture three. And as noted, Mr. Fungus had his hair done in the fourth. So they’re all different, just not much different.)

What was really surprising was how well it all looked. Here’s the worst photo of them all, showing the two canvases together on the wall (behind a lamp) as they’re meant to be seen. Only in a better photo. This one really needs an apology but I’m tired of issuing those.

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Actually, the lamp works pretty well in that photo, doesn’t it? I’m going to try to get a better picture…someday.

I like the look of these, though they are a little bit Time-Life-ish. Time-Life would do these paintings of environments with dinosaurs or sealife, and then in the corner they’d have the painting as a black and white outline, with numbers to identify all the beasts therein. That’s what this reminds me of.

It said something else, though. It clearly said, I’m not finished. And I knew the direction in which I needed to go.

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That’s right. PaintBlog II has gone from being a diptych to a triptych. Cool.

More when it happens.

PaintBlog II: Junework I

Working on paintings that are supposed to be representative of some kind of reality (as opposed to simply realistic) is something that can’t be forced, which is why Paint Blog II has taken as long as it has. Since its beginning at the end of 2004, I’ve begun and completed other works while this one waits patiently, knowing that its day will come, then go, then come back again, until one day it will stand complete. It’s important to get it “right” in the aspect of an environment; other, more abstract works can have some invention inflicted on them, usually with positive results.

When we last left this work, it was back in March, right here. (One thing I’ve found out was that I have no shots of the overall appearance of PBII as of the time I last worked on it.) At the time I put the brush down, I made a couple of tentative marks along the bottom of the canvas that would become further structures. Here they are (this is the lower left hand corner of the work):

Apologies for the lousy photo. Most of the photos in this update are pretty lousy, the reason being that it’s a pretty dark work (lots of raw umber) and hence needs a slower shutter speed to see anything other than a dark mass. But a slower shutter speed means the possibility of blur, so one has to be steady. Here’s another photo of the same image, slightly lighter to show the (ick) detail better.

Sarge, they’re dropping packing foam on us again. In a word, ecch. So let’s add some details, roughen them up so they look like old concrete or stone.

Not bad, well, at least I can stand to look at them now without groaning. Of course, they’re floating in mid-air, but we’ll deal with that later. Here’s a wider shot of the tableau, the details added a bit more. You might notice something in the upper center of the picture, clinging to the central support. We’ll get to him in due time. Right now we’re going to concentrate on the bottom of the painting and the work done there.

Let’s add a support under the floating thing at the right edge, and add a tentacle or two while we’re at it.

More tentacles would be good; they always are.

Some “stuff” that might be sprouting these tentacles. Just vague enough to be interesting, and then (later) reworked to be even more vague.



And below, a wider shot of this, showing some ground details and some added roughening of the floating slab to the right.

Back to the original two slabs, I then added some supports for them, so they are no longer floating. These were supposed to look metallic, but I liked the way they almost look organic, like they’re legs for the slabs, so I kept them vague-ish (this photo is much lighter than the actual work).

More ground details added. Highlights on the eath, more (and reworked) highlights on the organic mass, some details on the floating slab at the right.

The floating slab on the right, closer.

This shot’s pretty dark, but it’s the ground near the red area.

Another dark shot–man, was I drunk or what?–of the red area itself.

Finally, the area where the tentacle grasps the support beam. Some subtentacles were added and highlighted.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at the guy in the middle, and get an overview of the work so far. Plus, a surprising new development.