Free Comic Book Day 2019

I have been going to Free Comic Book Day for a few years and I had a good time this year. It was a sunny and beautiful day, warm, but not too hot like last year. I wore my Doctor Who trenchcoat and a Doctor Who t-shirt and I was comfortable. The line was long, wrapped around the corner, but it moved quickly and everything was managed extremely well.

I choose three free comics.

Doctor Who The Thirteenth Doctor The Journey of a Lifetime Starts Here by Titan Comics

I love Jodie’s Doctor and I’m looking forward to her series by Titan Comics. Doctor Who The Thirteenth Doctor: A New Beginning will be released by Titan on May 7, 2019. There is also Doctor Who: The Road to the Thirteenth Doctor which I picked up today, and coming soon Doctor Who the Many Lives of the Doctor. The FCBD volume has the Doctor and her fam, Ryan, Yaz, and Graham, landing near a giant amusement park. But the Doctor and her companions’ vacation is cut short when Graham tries out a carnival game and ends up with more than he bargained for. The Doctor quickly comes to the rescue. This is a fun short story, light-hearted, and an enjoyable read.

Lady Mechanika by Joe Benitez

Lady Mechanika is an independent Steampunk comic book. This book introduces the characters and world in one story, plus includes excerpts from other graphic novels in the series. There is information on the six volumes, so far, of Lady Mechanika included as well as the short story and excerpts. The first story has some sort of “monster” upsetting a small Victorian town. Lady Mechanika catches up with the “beast” and is surprised he can talk. He is scared, hungry, and hurt. Lady Mechanika offers him some food, and in return, he offers her a clue to her identity – something she desperately wants to know. But before he can offer much more, the locals show up and he is shot dead. Lady Mechanika is upset and even seeks some non-lethal revenge. The excerpts give one a real feel for this series. The art is beautiful, with sepia and mono-color pages, and detailed panels. Lady Mechanika has mechanical arms and legs and has lost all memory of who she used to be, where she’s from, her family and background, etc. She makes a new life for herself as a detective and paranormal investigator. This series sounds fascinating and I really need to pick up some of the graphic novels.

Riverdale – Archie Comics

Riverdale has both Jughead’s running monologue (which I read in Cole Sprouse’s voice) and characters who are drawn to resemble their counterparts on the CW TV series. The story involves “Picture Day” with Betty and Jughead covering the events of the day for the Blue and Gold school paper. Someone switches out the typical superlatives for the school yearbook (e.g. “Veronica Lodge Most Reformed Snob”) with terrible, but accurate, attacks on the students. However, this conflict isn’t resolved. Meanwhile, Archie and Betty meet for their annual gift exchange. Archie gives Betty a new camera case – Betty gives him a new guitar case. But Archie had sold his guitar to buy the camera case, and Betty had sold her camera to buy him a guitar case. References to O. Henry and the Gift of the Magi abound. Riverdale was cute and fun but doesn’t have the teeth of the actual CW series. Still, I don’t regret picking this one up.

Free Comic Book Day is a great event and I enjoyed attending this year. There were two girls in front of me in line dressed as Carol Danvers and Goose from the movie Captain Marvel, which was awesome! There were also additional folks in costume from local costumers guilds and from my local comic book store. Free Comic Book Day exists to promote independent comic book stores and to promote Geek Culture. Give it a try – you’ll have fun!

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Day 5 with No Power

I live in Western Michigan, and last Wednesday, February 6, 2019, we had an ice storm – but our power stayed on. Thursday, February 7, 2019, at 12:20 pm EST, after three hours of the power blinking out and then coming back on – our power went out. On Monday, February 11, 2019 – we still had no power. Because we live in a rural area, no power meant no heat, no running water, and no stove. Even though we have a propane gas furance, it has an electric fan and starter – so the heat went off with the power. The house gradually lost heat, but by Saturday it was as cold in the house as outside – and Friday night the temps were about -7F. We have a well with an electric pump – so no running water. And the stove is electric, as are all the other kitchen appliances. Saturday we finally were able to contact my brother and I bundled up my cat, Moxie, my dog, Gouda, my elderly parents and we drove 45 miles away to my brother house for shelter.

Which means only my tablet and phone for Internet and no computer (I have a desktop at home). This is why there have been no posts for a week. Hunt and peck on my tablet pop-up keyboard screen is a lot harder than really typing. I hope to get power today! Probably late.

So update – power came back around 2:30 pm yesterday (2/11/2019). We headed home. Fortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any damage to the house such as burst pipes. We do have a lot of work to do – the dishwasher and washing machine (for laundry) were both going when the power went out. Everything in the refrigerator and freezer is toast. There’s all the storm damage on the property to clean up. My own car, which I park in the driveway, was nearly hit by two trees and that needs to be cleaned up. It’s a mess. But no lasting damage so I’m thankful for that.

Living without power for five days, and on the kindness of both strangers and family is a humbling experience. It’s like being a refugee in your own town, but we could go back. And, as I said, house and contents were intact – no damage. Imagine having to leave everything behind, knowing you can never go back. I literally cannot imagine what that was like, and my own grandmother was a war bride who left her family, changed religion, left her country, and was only able to take with her what fit into a steamer trunk and a small suitcase. I cannot imagine. We need to assist refugees. We need to help them. Demonizing people who have already lost everything with false accusations is not what this country was founded on. I just went through five days with no power and three days of crashing with family. It was unbelievably difficult (though once I finally convinced my father to leave the house things actually improved). It is much much worse for refugees around the world. Let that sink in.

Free Comic Book Day 2018

Free Comic Book Day is an annual event to promote independent comic book shops and the art and stories of comic books for all ages. I’ve been attending Free Comic Book Day for three or four years now, and I usually really, really enjoy it. This year, unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy it as much – but that’s nothing on the site of the event or anything – I ended up getting sick, and that made it really hard to have a good time.

I met up with a friend of mine – at 8:30am. The plan was to go to his favorite coffee shop and then to the event at our local comic shop, Vault of Midnight. Well, we got to the shop before it even opened, so of course, there was a very long line. I’d been expecting this. And it was very warm and sunny, which I figured would be an improvement on the cold of last year. Sigh. Well… First, my friend started to complain of not feeling well, not that we could do much about it since we were in line. Then I started to not feel well myself. So by the time we were at the front of the line, which wasn’t really that long, considering, both of us ending up going through the store as fast as possible to pick up our free books, and I picked up my pull. I also bought Bombshells, which I ended up loving! After leaving the store we ended-up at a nearby restaurant to use the facilities and I sat at the bar and drank three glasses of water and an iced tea in about 20 minutes. The verdict was: dehydrated and too much sun. And because I still didn’t feel great – I went straight home. But with all of that, the event was still great. I love Free Comic Book Day – and, all things considered, I had a good time, I just really wish I hadn’t been so sick. The staff at the comic book store were great – couldn’t have been better.

FCBD 2018 – Doctor Who from Titan Comics

I always pick-up the Titan Comics Doctor Who offering and this year was no exception. The book this year offers three stories, which stand alone but also wet the appetite for the next year in Titan’s many Doctor Who series of books and graphic novels. The first story is, “Catch a Falling Star”, Gabby is falling through space, reflecting on her life and her imminent death. It’s a good character piece, even though I found myself lost a bit as I’m currently way behind on my Doctor Who graphic novels. The end is wonderful, and I won’t spoil it, though I will say that I hope it means what I think it means.

The second story, “The Armageddon Gambit”, has the Seventh Doctor and Ace running into a war-like species, whom the Doctor defeats with cleverness and skill. The Doctor then gets a message from Captain Gilmore and his Counter-Measures team. The story ends with a “to be continued in Operation Volcano!” information box. I hope this means that sometime next year, Titan will issue a Classic Doctors graphic novel featuring the Seventh Doctor and Ace – one of my favorite Doctor-Companion combinations.

The final story, “Midnight Feast” features the Eleventh Doctor and Alice. It’s a fun story of the Doctor in search of the perfect Midnight Snack – only to discover a plain tuna sandwich made by his companion is exactly what he’s looking for.

The final page of the book is a splash page introduction of Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor – answering the question of whether Titan would be doing a 13th Doctor series (yes!) and the inside back cover announces the new book’s creative team: Jody Houser (writer) and Rachael Stott (art). I’m looking forward to the new book, but as usual, for Doctor Who comics from Titan, I will probably wait for the graphic novel. Although the three stories were short, and all meant as introductions to future volumes of Titan’s various series, I enjoyed the book.

Riverdale – Archie Comics

Next, Riverdale, from Archie Comics, based on the CW television series. I’m behind on Riverdale as well, but this story is outside current continuity – so there were no spoilers. In “Chock’Lit Shoppe of Horrors”, on a dark and stormy night, no less, Betty goes to Pop’s to interview Pop about the history of his restaurant and Riverdale. Pop obliges her with a series of stories: famous celebrities who have stopped by Pop’s, the story of Sweetie the hidden monster of the Sweetwater River, and finally a mysterious stranger who gave him some advice which saved Pop’s – but at a cost. It’s a wonderful story, and completely self-contained. I enjoyed it very much. The final pages of the book include informative advertisements for other books from Archie Comics both classic all-ages books and modern books for older (teen) readers.

The Mall – Scout Comics

The Mall I picked up solely because of the cover. With the grey, black, white, and hot pink – it screamed 80s Noir, and it caught my eye. I ended up really enjoying it. I hope this book comes out in a collected volume. The Mall is about a typical 80s shopping mall, a hang-out spot of typical suburban teenagers. Well, except for the fact that the “typical” nerd is the illegitimate son of a mobster, and already working for the mob, picking up money, delivering cash, and running odd jobs. He’s fallen for the cheerleader, and when he hears her complaining how her date ignores her to play a kung-fu arcade video game, our hero jumps in, telling the cheerleader he can beat her boyfriend. The bet is arranged, and Diego wins – not only humiliating Chauncy (the boyfriend) but winning a date – dinner and a dance with the cheerleader. Diego also has a sideline with the Cubans, so his dinner date is a bit complicated with business – but it all works out. I enjoyed this story. It’s self-contained but would also work as the first chapter of a larger story. The book also contains short previews for several other books from Scout Comics, many of which sounded very interesting.

DC Nation #0 – DC Comics

DC Nation # 0 is the first preview issue of a new DC Comics news and feature magazine. The cover cost of the first preview issue was only 25 cents, and per the information in the book, new issues will be free. I hope so – because this was an enjoyable read! This issue contains three stories, all of which are previews of upcoming events or new books in the DC universe.

The first story is Batman in “Your Big Day”, The Joker has taken a random guy hostage in his house and states he is waiting for an invitation in the mail to Batman’s upcoming wedding. There’s a great deal of tension between Joker and this random guy, who goes from insisting he has a daughter so the Joker shouldn’t kill him, to asking the Joker to kill him to get the tension over with. Finally, the mail arrives, and the Joker claims he received his invite. But it isn’t an invitation at all – it’s a letter from the daughter’s school. Not that random guy knows that – because the Joker kills him.

The next story features Superman in “Office Space”. Clark returns to the Daily Planet in time for Perry White’s declaration that he’s done printing suspicion, innuendo, rumor, and fear-mongering about Superman. He insists on facts and good reporting. He also gives Lois’s office to Clark, since she’s quit the Daily Planet. Clark insists he doesn’t want the office but doesn’t explain. Perry also introduces Robinson Goode, formerly of the Star City Sentinel, the new city beat reporter. We later see Robinson in a bar, talking to someone, and it seems she’s up to no good, pardon the pun. This is a preview of the new Man of Steel series.

Finally in the “No Justice” prelude, the Justice League, or rather, Leagues, led by Batman are up against an intergalactic threat. This short story introduces the four teams who will fight the Omega Titans, “giant beings who absorbs galaxies for energy”. The teams are: Justice League: Team Entropy (Lobo, Deathstroke, Lex Luthor, and Beast Boy); JL: Team Mystery (Martian Manhunter, Superman, Starro, Starfire, Sinestro); JL: Team Wonder (Wonder Woman, Raven, Doctor Fate, Etrigan the Demon, and Zatanna); and finally JL: Team Wisdom (Cyborg, Atom, Robin (Damian Wayne), The Flash, and Harley Quinn). It’s an introduction – but it sounds like an awesome, complex, galaxy-spanning story.

Overall, I enjoyed the books I choose at Free Comic Book Day. The event was enjoyable, though I would have enjoyed it more if I’d been feeling better. Still, that most certainly wasn’t the fault of the store or the event organizers. I cannot wait for next year! Recommended – if there’s an FCBD event near you next year, make it a point to go. You’ll not be disappointed!

International TableTop Day 2018

This was my third year going to an International TableTop Day event sponsored by my local comics shop, Vault of Midnight. I always enjoy the event very much, but with Free Comic Book Day following the weekend after, and working full time, I often don’t get a chance to blog about the event. But regardless, I always have a very good time and this year was no exception.

I go into International TableTop Day, hoping to play some old favorites, as well as wanting to learn new games – and for three years, this event has not disappointed in satisfying both those goals. Also, I tend to be a bit shy in new situations, but the staff is welcoming and inviting, helping to get new games started and always welcoming one into a new game. I really, really appreciate the staff and both how hard they work and their helpful, welcoming attitude. It’s a great relief and makes the event tremendously fun.

This year I played four games, which is a good amount for a 5-hour event. Those games were: Bunny Kingdom, Settlers of Catan (classic), Ex Libris, and Hive. Bunny Kingdom was a great game. Each player is dealt ten cards to start, and plays two – but then hands his or her cards first to the left, and after the next round to the right. Play alters in direction until all ten cards are played. There are four rounds then the game is scored. Players earn points for controlling territory and completing quests. It is far better to complete quests than hold territory, though holding territory is often needed to complete the quests. And the scoring is incredibly complicated, especially for a family game. But it is fun. The image header for this entry is our completed game board. Now that I understand the mechanics, I’d play the game again.

Settlers of Catan is the classic game, one I’ve played since the 90s, and that I really adore. I usually play one of the expansions, such as Seafarers of Catan or Traders and Barbarians of Catan, so it was nice to play the classic edition. One builds settlements, roads, and cities, in an attempt to be the first to achieve the required number of Victory Points. My two co-players were new to the game, and we did have a good time.

Ex Libris was a game set in a library, and the point is to put your books on shelves in order. I didn’t like the mechanic of there being no deals of new cards after the first one. I also found my special ability utterly useless and actually a negative for gameplay. But, on the positive side, the cards look beautiful, and if I played the game again I might enjoy it more. It’s also a very, very, long game – the longest by far that I played.

Finally, with only a half-hour or so left, I played Hive, a two-player game. It’s sort of like a basic form of Chess, with bees and insects. Your object is to surround your opponent’s Queen – and each of your insects moves in a different way. I played two games and I won once and my opponent won once. It’s a fun game, but one that might become boring after a while. On the other hand, it doesn’t have a board and can be played on any flat surface.

Overall, I enjoyed International TableTop Day very much, but then I always do. It’s a great event. I highly recommend finding a local event in your area and going.

The Joy of Watching TV on DVD

I enjoy watching and collecting television on DVD, as the large number of reviews on this blog can attest. There are certain advantages to watching any television show on DVD. I usually watch one series at a time, watching the entire season (or DVD set), in order, and then reviewing it. Back in the day, before DVRs, before DVD, before Blu-Ray, I actually often did see a lot of programs “stripped” in daily syndication. That meant the program was shown, every day, at the same time, Monday through Friday. Weekend syndication meant the show was shown every week at the same time on Saturdays and Sundays or on just Saturdays or just Sundays. It would become a habit to watch the same show every day at a certain time. Not that I couldn’t miss it to do something else occasionally, but it was common. So, I find I can concentrate on a series better, and pick-up more, when I watch all of it at once – or at least a full season. Watching a show on DVD (or Blu-Ray) means I can see the entire thing, in order, in good quality, without missing anything due to pre-emptions for sports or due to bad weather. Writing reviews gives me blog content, but it also, like my book and audio play reviews, it is a way to process what I’ve seen before moving on to the next show. I also get a sense of satisfaction from finishing a DVD season set, and I really get a sense of satisfaction from finishing a TV series. It’s the same sense I get from finishing a long novel or a thick non-fiction book.

When I started purchasing DVDs, I was only buying the programs that I really liked. Either older ones that I remembered watching, or the previous season’s shows that I currently enjoyed. But now it’s different. Now I buy a mix of shows that I have previously seen, such as classics I remember watching in syndication or even when they first aired or current shows; and shows that I haven’t seen at all. Because DVDs and even Blu-rays are relatively inexpensive – I now often try out a series that I haven’t even seen based on recommendations from friends, reviews and chatter online, even people tweeting about it! (such as Game of Thrones, Ms. Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Call the Midwife, and I plan on trying Yuri on Ice at some point). If a friend likes something, I reason I might like it too. If there’s a lot of chatter on Twitter or Facebook or on entertainment websites (Hollywood Reporter, The Mary Sue, Bustle) about the show, I may want to see what the fuss is about. And I have seen friends on Facebook actually ask for recommendations for what to add to their Netflix queue. I can’t do Netflix for technical reasons that don’t bear exploring at this juncture, but when half a dozen friends rave about how good something is – I take notice. That’s how I found Ms. Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, which I do like and I plan on buying the remaining seasons when funds allow.

If I have never seen a show, my one rule is I only buy the first season to start. That way, if I watch the season and it’s not to my taste, well, I’m only out the $20-$30 or less that it cost to buy the season. And I can always sell or give away the copy. And if I like what I see, I often will go ahead and purchase the rest of the series that’s available and start watching it with the next season (iZombie) or add it to my “must buy” list (Outlander – because even if I was willing to add another premium pay station for one show – my satellite system doesn’t carry Starz).

Also, television these days is being written for the DVD/Blu-Ray market. In part because of shorter running times on commercial stations, and because some network executives actually have realized that the audience is smart enough to follow a series from week-to-week and thus they can do a continuing story – a lot of series play better on DVD. Game of Thrones is the ultimate example of this, as it’s a complicated story with dozens of characters and locations and each episode is like a chapter in a novel, rather than something stand-alone. But the superhero shows on the CW also, probably due to running length, work just like the books they are drawn from. They are continuing story lines. And also, like DC Comics, periodic crossovers are a staple. As is bringing in guest characters. Much more so than the DC Extended Universe films – the DC Shows on the CW really do give you the feeling of watching a DC book. Reading the monthlies (or as is the case now – the biweeklies) and watching the weekly shows – really are very much the same in feel. And, like their printed counterparts, each season builds on the previous one. In this aspect, watching a show on DVD in some cases makes more sense. When I watch a show on DVD (or Blu-Ray) I usually watch at least one episode per day, sometimes more if it’s the weekend or I have a day off. This compresses a show a lot. Many of the cable stations, both commercial and premium run short seasons. A sixteen-episode series I can watch in a couple of weeks. A ten-episode series often in a single week. Even a traditional “full season” of 22 episodes I can watch in less than a month usually. So something that runs an academic year (September through May) I can watch – in a month. It is inherently faster. And I get a sense of satisfaction from finishing off a season or a series.

There is one major drawback to DVD though. Watching television is no longer a communal event. We no longer have everyone watching the same thing at the same time. It’s out of sync. If I watch something two or three years after it originally premiered – I’m going to miss out on the Internet activity about that show. The smarter networks are trying to counter this – with live-Tweet events, contests, and contracts that require their actors to be on Twitter promoting the show when it’s on. But if you miss all that – it’s gone.

And the days of fans all being attracted to the same show at the same time are also more or less gone. In a sense, if you watch most of your television via DVD (or Netflix or On Demand I’d guess) it’s almost more like reading books in terms of finding fellow fans. You experience the media product separately. But you still want to come together with fellow fans to talk about it and burble happily.

This is compounded for series from the past, especially series from over a decade ago. I often found great shows of the past (Wild Wild West (weekend syndication); The Man from UNCLE (daily syndication); even classic Star Trek (weekend syndication)) through re-runs. Today, there is very little in the way of re-runs. Most of the cable stations are running original programming – and they program to very specific audiences. This is a double-edged sword. The breadth of the new broadcasting landscape means that more audiences are served, there are more opportunities for writers, directors, producers, and actors (as well as below the line talent), and more audiences can find what they want to watch. But it also means that, with very few exceptions, there are no longer shows that “everyone” watches. Which also means, younger audiences are not even being exposed to the “classics” of television. Some one who is, say 30, might see the new Man from U.N.C.L.E. movie because they like the cast, or the director, or even because the trailers looked cool – without ever having seen an episode of the original series. And they really have no incentive to watch it. This isn’t young people being “stupid” – it’s just how it is. If you were born in the late 60s, how much incentive did you have to watch the Westerns that your parents liked? Did you enjoy the endless re-runs of The Big Valley and Bonanza? I know I was completely turned off to Westerns as a genre, as a kid, and I had no desire to watch any of the ones that my Dad liked. But I watched every spy show I could find running in syndication: The Man from UNCLE, I Spy, Get Smart, and even James Bond (though those were movies – I vividly remember watching every single one on HBO when we first got cable when I was a kid and I lived in a much more urban area than I do now). I even watched all of the British series The Prisoner and a little bit of The Avengers (the British spy series starring Patrick MacNee and Diana Rigg), and when I was a bit older, The Saint (starring Roger Moore) on A&E. But people who are in their 20s and 30s today – they have no opportunity to watch any of those shows. They aren’t being run in syndication. And, as I pointed out, few people would seek them out when there are so many other entertainment choices out there.

This is one reason why I post reviews of everything or nearly everything I watch as I watch it – no matter when it was made, not just the new stuff. It’s an opinion on a show made in a time with some context to that time, that might just interest someone who either hasn’t heard of it or, more commonly, has heard of it but never seen it. Just like I will take a chance on something my friends rave about that I haven’t seen.

Doctor Who Episode Review – Deep Breath

  • Series Title:  Doctor Who
  • Story Title: Deep Breath
  • Story Number: Series 8, Episode 1
  • Original Air Date: August 23, 2014
  • Cast: Peter Capaldi as The Doctor, Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald, with Neve McIntosh as Madame Vastra, Catrin Stewart as Jenny Flint, and Dan Starkey as Strax

“I am alone. The world, which shook under my feet, and the trees and the sky, have gone. And I am alone now… The world bites now, and the world is grey, and I am alone.” – The Doctor (Peter Capaldi)

“But he is the Doctor. He has walked the universe for centuries untold, he has seen the stars fall to dust.” – Madame Vastra

“I wasn’t. I didn’t need to. That was me talking. You can’t see me, Can you? You look at me and you can’t see me. Do you have any idea what that’s like? I’m not on the phone, I’m right in front of you. Please, just… just see me.” – The Doctor (Peter Capaldi)

I remember, just barely, watching “Deep Breath” in the movie theater for the premiere. And, of course, watching it and the rest of the season on BBC America and later still on DVD. See my review of Doctor Who Series 8. But I’ve decided to re-watch Peter Calpaldi’s Doctor Who from the beginning. If you have been reading my Patrick Troughton Era reviews, this means I very well may skip “The War Games” but I did review the rest of his stories that are available on DVD. Anyway, I have seen series 9 and 10 on BBC America, but not watched them on DVD so those reviews will be forthcoming eventually. What is amazing about “Deep Breath” is that although it in much more subtle than the Matt Smith era, it does set up themes that will be returned to over and over throughout the Peter Capaldi Era.

The opening of “Deep Breath” is in essence merely a McGuffin. As cool and as incongruous as a dinosaur in Victorian London in the Thames is, and as silly as said dinosaur vomiting up the TARDIS which caused it to be transported, that is merely a McGuffin – the dinosaur bursts into flames immediately upon the Doctor promising to save it. This leads the Doctor and the Paternoster Gang to investigate a series of similar murders, which leads to the Doctor discovering a restaurant of clockwork people, which is really an ancient spaceship.

This spaceship is the S.S. Marie Antoinette, sister-ship to the Madame de Pompadour, which the audience knows from the David Tennant episode, “The Girl in the Fireplace”. So the audience knows about it’s clockwork occupants who replace parts with human (and in this case, dinosaur) parts. The Doctor, however, keeps insisting that he can’t quite remember why it is so familiar.

My the themes of identity and obsessions with endings and even death link this story with the entire Peter Capaldi Era. From Clara not recognizing the Docor, not seeing him as the Doctor, and being freaked out that he regenerated, he’s “renewed”, but his “face has lines” and “he’s old”, to the “broom speech” where the Doctor is ostensibly talking about the droid leader, but he could easily be talking about himself. When he’s “translating” for the dinosaur who is so alone, the Doctor could be talking about himself as well. And in the last scene between the Doctor and Clara, he practically begs her to “see him”. Capaldi’s years as the Doctor would feature many more references to both the Doctor’s great age, and his almost being ready to give up because he’s fought for so long. This is what is very good about this episode – it introduces a theme, which will be returned too again and again, not so much in Series 8, but usually at least once a season during the Capaldi years. And even his final Christmas special is as much about whether or not he will regenerate as anything else.

However, independent of the season and the era, even though it looks very good, the plot of “Deep Breath” isn’t that impressive. The opening gambit with the dinosaur is used more as an elaborate joke and then as a McGuffin to introduce the real plot as anything else. I actually felt bad about the dinosaur exploding, but it’s a sign of bad writing as well. How do you get rid of the extraneous character who’s only purpose was to get your characters together so they can solve the mystery? Why making that character yet another victim in the series of crimes. Goodbye, dinosaur.

But worse, the central plot is lifted straight from “The Girl in the Fireplace”. Even the Doctor remarks that droids using human parts, a hidden spaceship that crashed eons ago and is looking to return home “the long way around”, and the name of the ship, S.S. Marie Antoinette, sister-ship to the Madame de Pompadour, sounds familiar. And for anyone watching, unless they never saw “The Girl in the Fireplace” – it does sound familiar – it’s the same plot. Steven Moffat is literally stealing from himself. And this isn’t the first time he does it – Amy Pond’s entire characterization and her arc plot are identical to Reinette in “The Girl in the Fireplace”, from first seeing her as a child, to Reinette/Amy’s steady belief that the Doctor will always be there for her (something Clara also does in “Deep Breath”). Moffat doesn’t so much write original stories, as re-write his most popular ones over and over again, changing only the character and maybe the setting. This something often found in genre writing such as mysteries or romantic suspense. It works for awhile, but sooner or later as a reader, one realizes it’s the same story over and over and over again.

Still, having re-watched Patrick Troughton’s Era on DVD, I’m excited about re-watching the Peter Capaldi era again.

 

Everyone’s Doing a Musical – What Makes it a Good One?

The Musical episode. Something that sets many a fan’s teeth on edge. Or, something that is eagerly anticipated. But what makes a musical episode good? And what makes the inevitable songfest not so good?

First some good musical episodes: Buffy: the Musical – the one that started it all, or at least made it easier for genre television shows to do musical episodes. Once Upon a Time the Musical Episode – they didn’t miss a step or a beat with this one. Batman the Brave and the Bold “Mayhem of the Music Meister” is a brilliant episode. And for contrast, one bad musical episode: The Flash “Duet”.

First, the musical episode should be integrated into the show – it should fit with the show it is in. Batman The Brave and the Bold‘s musical episode works because it is just like any other episode of that show – in animation style, it the way that the plot works, in the almost stylistic way the plot unfolds – it’s just like any other episode. Plus the villain, the Music Meister, uses music to control people, so it makes sense that it would be a musical episode.

Once Upon a Time also fits their musical episode into both the season-long arc and the typical style of the show. The musical episode opens in the Enchanted Forest with a scene that looks like a live-action interpretation of Disney’s Snow White. As the story moves along, the musical and tempo become more modern, to fit with the style of the show. The last two songs take place in Storybrooke, as we see Emma use her song and a finale.

To be honest, it’s been a while since I’ve seen Buffy the Musical, and I’m more familiar with the soundtrack to the musical than the television episode itself. However, like Once Upon a Time, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a character wakes up and suddenly is singing. And, as the characters in Once Upon a Time also briefly do – in Buffy the characters try to figure out why they are suddenly singing. But in Buffy it’s a demon that uses “truth in song” to get the characters to be honest – yet also breaks them apart. In Once Upon a Time, the singing is caused by a wish on a star (and fairy magic) but it brings the characters closer together.

Not only does the musical episode need to be integrated into the plot, but the songs need to fit the characters. Every musical episode I’ve seen tends to be character-based. There may be a number or two that is used to resolve or fix the plot, but the big numbers are used to illustrate character. Once Upon a Time, in the tradition of the great “sung” musicals (where every line is sung, including plot) uses songs to advance the plot as well as giving major characters a song just for them. This is different than a musical such as Meet Me in St. Louis where the songs tell you what a character is feeling but not who they are. When Julie Garland sings “The Trolley Song”, we know she’s in love. When Zelena sings, “Wicked Always Wins” we know she believes she will beat her sister and be better than her.

Finally, it helps if the music and the songs are original. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Once Upon a Time, Batman: The Brave and the Bold – they all have original music written for the characters and the plot. Once could have used existing Disney songs – but they did not, and the musical is better for it. It’s possible to write, edit, direct, and choreograph a good musical with existing music (such as Moulin Rouge), but especially for television, new music wins out.

So my single example of a bad television musical is The Flash “Duet”.  Oddly enough, the villain in “Duet” also is the Music Meister, the same villain from Batman: The Brave and the Bold. But unlike in the animated series, where the episode is like any other episode, except for the music – in The Flash, Barry and Supergirl (Kara) are knocked unconscious by the Music Meister and sent to a fantasy world, where they meet other members of the cast, who are other people. Guess what? We don’t care about these other people. It’s like Barry Allen had a bad nightmare where he was trapped in the cast of Guys and Dolls or West Side Story, with Supergirl along for the ride for, in essence, no good reason. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I like Kara, and she and Barry have good chemistry, but I really don’t think sending the two to dreamland worked as a plot device. Second, instead of causing havoc and controlling people, the Music Meister seems to think he’s cupid – because the entire point of the episode is to get Kara back together with Mon-el and to get Barry back together with Iris. To me, the only song that really works in the entire story is when Barry sings “Run to You” to Iris and proposes to her. Because yes, not only is “Duet” set in a fantasy world – none of the music is original except “Run to You” which Barry sings to Iris in the real world! Honestly, if they’d had Music Meister controlling people, making them sing, and do what he wants (Can you see the Rouges like Captain Cold singing?) and kept the story in Central City like normal, it would have worked better.

So there you go – some opinions about how to do and how not to do a musical episode. What do you think? Do you like musical episodes? Why or why not? What are some of your favorites? Please respond in the comments.