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Oh no, Russel T. Davies, no!

Speaking of SF on television, while round at $FRIEND's place for the traditional December 25th protein'n'booze overdose, someone insisted on switching on the telly for the Queen's speech Dr Who Christmas Special.

I do not normally watch Dr Who for much the same reason that I don't habitually dig up my grandmother: I have fond but distant memories of her and don't want to spoil them by renewing our acquaintance (aside from some casual necrophilia when the rebooted series was just getting under way). But it's hard to say "no" over a glass of port when everyone else wants to watch, so watch it I did.

And very picturesque it was, too, with lots of good actors over-emoting, plenty of SFX, and a chunk of anime/fanfic service ... if you could switch your brain off and ignore the giant plot holes stalking the land that cliches forgot.

I mean, WTF? We are deep in the grip of attention-deficit plotting here, veering wildly between disjointed lectures, Ancient Prophesies (always a bad sign), and bad dreams foreshadowing the return of respawning enemies. Our narrative viewpoint is all over the road, round the bend, and driving with one foot floored on the accelerator while guzzling a bottle of Bucky. I headcrashed painfully during the seamless chase (on foot) from a scrapyard to a shipyard (paging Continuity, Continuity to the white courtesy phone): but the coup de grace was the re-invention of The Master as a bizarre cross between Sauron, a Bond villain (of the more psychotic variety) and I. R. Baboon in the Disease Fiesta episode of I Am Weasel. (Which is not on YouTube, and the Cartoon Network ain't running repeats right now. Why is I Am Weasel not on YouTube? Bring me my Cow and my Chicken! Now!!)

Ahem. There is also the small matter of fifteen minutes of infodump in a forty-two minute slot, narrated by Timothy Dalton as, er, [SPOILER], and a spavined nag of a pantomime horse of a plot (that sagged in the middle) to consider. SPANK.

The resurrected, rebooted, Frankensteinian stitch-up that is the new Dr Who was never going to be a particularly sane construct, but in the hands of RTD it has clearly hit depths of self-referential up-its-own-arse-dom that I — in my televisually impaired state — could barely imagine existed: then it donned a helium-oxygen technical diving rig and merrily proceeded in the general direction of the floor of the Marianas Trench, there to pull out the magical plot-shovel of self-immuration and attempt to dig itsself a Mohole to hide in. It's eyeball candy, but it rots your critical teeth — not to mention making you go blind and putting hairs on the palm of your hand or something from all the fan-wank. I mean, with Dr Who, extreme silliness is part of the package: but to take on the Bond canon while stealing a plot McGuffin from Maxwell Atoms is beyond barking.

I need to go pour myself a stiff drink now, to burn out the relevant neurons before they lay down permanent synapses and I'm stuck with the resulting memories.

Meanwhile, in another corner of the multiverse, a million fanfic writers' keyboards begin to smoke as they get to grips with the logical consequences of the Master and the Doctor's smooch.

The horror, the horror ...




I've always wondered about Doctor Who. I've "been exposed" a few times. It didn't resonate. I supposed, up until now, that it was a cross-atlantic cultural "thing".

Interesting that you react in somewhat similar fashion that I did.

I didn't care much for Monty Python either.


You don't like Monty Python?


(More seriously: Monty Python is intentionally surreal. Dr Who, alas, is unintentionally surreal. Not to mention, in this Christmas surfeit episode, bombastic, crass, and self-indulgent.)


Meanwhile, in another corner of the multiverse, a million fanfic writers' keyboards begin to smoke as they get to grips with the logical consequences of the Master and the Doctor's smooch.

I'm pretty sure they've been, erm, grappling with that for a while now. That it's now canon hardly matters.


I does my heart good to see references to I AM WEASEL coming from this quarter. Merry X-mas!


"I am Weasel" is brilliant. In fact, everything I've seen by Maxwell Atoms is brilliant. He understands his genre tropes at a very deep level and isn't afraid to turn them upside down and inside out.

For some reason, all the really good SF I've seen on TV in the past few years has come via the medium of cartoons. (I include anime in this category, although the production constraints appear to be somewhat different -- not just the characterisation and plot conventions.)


Well, Dr. Who is still better than most of what is on TV and yet simple enough to grab the masses that do not like to think too hard. The quality of the plot in the special episodes is lower, however, as all the glitter of FX takes over the budget.

P.S. Can we have an Avatar review? :D


Algars: I haven't set foot in a cinema in about two years, and don't have functional binocular vision, and have already read enough reviews of "Avatar" to know that it mashes a tone-deaf hand down hard on several of my hot-buttons, so ... I Don't Think So.

(Hint: I am not American. Your white-man-helps-the-noble-savages sub-genre is not part of my cultural zeitgeist, and clashes horribly with my Conradian Heart of Darkness -- not to mention my cynicism. Also, your American ethno-politics set my teeth on edge. Yes, I liked "Apocalypse Now", especially the later director's cut. But something about most American movies sets my teeth on edge. It's the high fructose corn syrup, I guess. Want ethnic politics? Try "My Beautiful Launderette". )


OK - I guess that's why you don't watch much TV... :)

Yes, the entire thing was so self-referential that it is guarenteed to make sod all sense to anyone who didn't watch the entire last 2 series.

Yes, it was recycle the trope time to the max.

And yes, it is well up it's arse to the point I'm personally convinced RTD is out to kill all his bastard children (see: Children of the Earth - which really DID annoy me and would probably have had Charlie chewing on the carpet or similar, because even a pathetic consumer of populist crap like me can spot a really reallly shitty plot when my face is rubbed in it).

That said, I have to admit I enjoyed it, if only because John Simm was obviously having so much fun.

Come to think of it - how about ditching Dr Who and making an entire series of "The Master"? ("What are we doing tonight Master?", "Same thing we do every night, taking over the universe").

Alas decent SF on TV died years ago. People make occasional brave attempts to ressurect the genre, but anything halfway decent will get canned before the first series has been aired. (Defying Gravity I liked because at least they tried with the science - even if the plot was 2001 recycled, so of course it had to die.......).


I was stuck between thinking this is Doctor Who - yay! and this is shite - leave. I nearly got up twice - for the boatyard bit and the "TimeLords are back" bit of bollocks. I can only hope the second half and the transition to the neuDoktor is managed better than the first half. Because it was RUBBISH...


We just have to get through this RTD Tennant ending two parter and then we get the Steven Moffat Who, which might be worth waiting for!


I tried to like it while I was watching it, but you're right. It was all over the place. The episodes written by Steven Moffat are always much better, and I think he's taking over for the next series. We'll see.

By the way, I got the first three Merchant Princess books for Christmas. I should stick to reading for the rest of my time off.


Moffat is WAY overrated and just relies on lumpen emotion and even more preposterous plotting most of the time: see Girl in the Fireplace. Anyway, it was a bit erratic even for Who but then i think the end of series/special episodes never really live up to expectation. Still, RTD always manages to throw something in like the cafe scene and completely floors you; that was the highlight. If you're coming at this not having watched the revamp then sure you'll focus on the minutiae, that's fair enough! But have you seen...

Aliens of London
Boom Town

To name a few. Probably not but well worth it.


Moffat wrote the episode "Blink", which was the first really advanced (and logical) use of time travel in a long-running series about a time traveller. Out of the gate he's demonstrated better plotting ability than Russell Davies. But all of the later Doctor Who series have to compete with the last season of the Tom Baker Doctor, when Douglas Adams was script editor.


I believe I see sharks lining up for the ski-jump, if they are not already airborne. And I'm only half-way through the "End of Time" episode.

My main complaint with most episodes is that the resolution is entirely "doctor ex machina". My secondary complain is why does he always arrive right after something that he wanted to prevent has already happened instead of showing up three days prior or having a leisurely time of it? Or go further back in time to bribe the architect who designed the building into adding a trap for the Master? He does have a time machine, after all.

I thought "Blink" was pretty good, although it was another Doctor-in-the-nick-of-time ending. "Gridlock", meh. "Midnight", pretty good for a one-set "12 angry men" style piece.


I admit it, I was a teenage American Dr. Who fan. Even went so far as to try knitting a scarf, the maroon/magenta one, got to a foot and a half and quit. Couldn't stand Colin Baker's version, especally his redheaded sidekick (Why are all the redhead female sidekicks on the show so obnoxious?) Thankfully the US Fox version was stillborn, and wasn't too sure about the new version.

The first few seasons weren't too bad, I rather liked the shaved head, leather jacketed Doctor with a bad attitude. Then they changed him, still not too bad. But then they brought back the Master, without his goatee! Just not the same. I was hoping they might be able to keep Derek Jacobi, oh well knew it was unlikely. Another problem with the new show is limiting the stories to one or two epsodes, instead of the original's longer story arcs.

I don't have cable so I only get to see it occasionally, and don't expect too much, so I still watch when I can.


In total agreement with #10. One more episode, and Steven Moffat takes over...

#14: Is that a reference to Curse of the Fatal Death? In the Comic Relief special, the Doctor actually does go back in time to bribe the architect. It was written by Steven Moffat. (Another reason why I hope the show will get better with him running the show.)


I'm an American, so watching Dr. Who was this weird late night cult event. The show was not a serial, instead broken into maybe 2 sections, other times just one long episode. Often shown late at night in the summer. For me, it's always a show about heat waves and huddling around air conditioners while smarty-pants British people ran down the same 2 corridors over and over again.

I guess I have no expectation for Doctor Who to make any real sense. Even the "classic" episodes (City of Death) are kind of wonky don't hang together as coherent fiction. It's about mood and having a laugh and often some talented actors devouring scenery as if it was covered in very delicious jam.

There's a preview up for the final episode in Davies run. Honestly, tell me that Timothy Dalton isn't having a ball here yelling at the top of his lungs "I WILL NEVER DIE!"



I watched the old ones, which also make no sense, but somehow don't annoy me as much as the new ones. I did sort of like the first season of the new ones, but then lost interest.

I have watched a few on Netflix streaming though, and I also recommend "Blink" from Season 3. Although it also makes no sense, the acting and pace are just fine. If they'd made more along those lines, the series would be watchable.

Even though it makes no sense.


Think of it as aversion therapy to remind you why you don't watch it or pretty much anything else the rest of the time. I've been in Taipei the past two years where the only time I get to see any stuff from back home is either Channel Four news online or the occasional bittorrented show I absolutely definitely know I'm going to appreciate.

Don't know if you read Charlie Brooker, but I watched his end-of-year show on 2009's TV shows and it was like a window into the freaking apocalypse - if the apocalypse is made up of wall-to-wall reality and talent shows. When I get back to the UK in the spring, the telly's going in the bin. I can't believe I used to pay a TV license so the BBC could produce dribble like Doctor Who.


As an aside, Cartoon network's sub-network Boomerang *is* showing Cow and Chicken, it even has an episode or two on their site. It's unfortunate that Toon network has a bad habit of burying shows never to be seen again. So does Nickelodeon for that matter, it's led me to believe that I'll never see a DVD release of Rocko's Modern Life.


If one good thing's come out of the whole experience, it's that you've introduced me to the TV Tropes wiki. The last hour just disappeared in a blur, and I think it's the first of many to come.


In the words of Supernatural "The way I look at it, it's really not jumping the shark if you never come back down."


The start of that episode had me cringing as well. Awful. Had to leave to eat Christmas dinner, so still not seen the rest of it, but I don't have high hopes.

New Who is very up-and-down — although to be fair a lot of old Who was as well. (Bertie Basset WTF?) All the new Who Christmas specials have been cringeworthy, and I don't really think it's fair to judge it by them. (Same goes for any other show for that matter.)

Seek out the Moffat episodes if you want to see new Who done properly. Or The Fires of Pompeii, if you can get past the Catherine Tateness. (It also has prophesying, but done right.)


My 8 year old niece loved it; and anything that kept her quiet for the only period on a completely mad day is good in my books too.

I try to avoid any logical thought with an RTD story, as they never make sense and just treat it as a spectacle. I get something out of it then.


Sorry, but I think ... wait for it ...
Hartnell and then Pertwee were really good "Who"'s ....

As for "Avatar" - thnk you, that's saved me a lot of effort. Also the US-guilt/ethnic bit as explained in the linked review also tells me a lot.
Also explains why the US could never synch with the British Empire, which was (usually) run on very different lines.
We (usually) preferred to sign treaties, and occasionally cheat as well.
People forget that well over half of "India" was still internally self-governed by the Princely States, for instance.


I do understand that someone is treading on your childhood memories, but... new Doctor is apparently a sff comedy. Not Red Dwarf, but leaning in that direction.

I haven't seen old Doctor episodes, and I really like series one - mostly due to the fact that Eccleston has this crazy way of playing the Doctor. I've watched seasons 2-4, but with time the amount of drama and weak plot ideas was increasing, while craziness and surrealism of the episodes was decreasing. So let's just say I'm not having any kind of high hopes for any new episodes. Well, apart from the fact that Moffat has written some of the scenarios, so at least part of those will be funny :)


Nobody can break something down quite the way you can Charlie, that's why I check this blog every day!

As far as Avatar, I must admit I just started hearing all this "White man vs native" stuff yesterday, would it have been better if the Corporate leaders were Chinese or Indian? I also read it was a statement about taking care of our own planet. I don't know what he was trying to say and honestly it didn't matter to me, I was there for the CGI immersion into a beautifully done, if not implausible, world. It was a spectacular visual event.


It would appear that I'm the only one who got Charlie's John Ringo reference. I am now taking five minutes out to feel superior.


What John Ringo reference?!?


Probably this:

David Hines reviews a couple of John Ringo's books, finds them completely (awesomely) horrific, and does this, in order to keep reading:

"I do, however, have a finely-tuned defense mechanism: whenever something trips my circuit breaker, causing me to cringe away from the page, I utter aloud a cry that resets my noggin. You will probably need it yourself, so I provide it here, as a public service: "OH JOHN RINGO NO."

Oh, and it's on tvtropes, too:

It does resemble both your title and, maybe, some of your experience with tv...


I got the, apparently unintentional, John Ringo reference too. "Oh John Ringo, no" is about a negative review of a particularly nasty book he wrote - and his response to it and can be found here:


I'm pretty sure you wouldn't like the book that's being reviewed.

As for Avatar, which I haven't seen yet, it sounds very much like an SFX-laden version of Dances with Wolves (I've called it "Dances with Smurfs" in the past) and as a non-American myself, I'm another who really doesn't find the story resonates.

I did see "My Beautiful Launderette," and while completely lacking on the 3 S's that normally appeal to me in movies (Superheroes, Space Battles, and Sword fights) I thought it was very good.


@7: When will we stop fetishizing Native American ethno-politics? When it stops paying, of course. It's not confined our side of the pond, either, and we do also fetishize, oh, scots too. Among other things (Cough Braveheart cough).

Of course, a lot of people who like democracy think the modern form came from ancient Greece. Those who do might want to check out the Iroquois Great Law of Freedom, which many of the American founding fathers were quite familiar with. There's a reason democracy protesters put on war paint and pound the drums at rallies.

Anyway, thanks for the warning about the new Dr. Who episode. I'll avoid it like I do most others. I'll probably get sucked into the Avatar maelstrom, though.


Sign me up for another Eccleston fan. Something about the mania overlaying a deep depression maybe, like he knows that sooner or later mom and dad are going to show up and insist he stop slumming around while he insists these are the best friends he ever had . . . and deep down he knows they're right.


I guess I have no expectation for Doctor Who to make any real sense. Even the "classic" episodes (City of Death) are kind of wonky don't hang together as coherent fiction. It's about mood and having a laugh and often some talented actors devouring scenery as if it was covered in very delicious jam.

Not only so true, but also applies in spades to certain sf stories. I know they're bad in some objective ratings sense, but I don't care: it is, as you say, about a certain mood. An example for me would be Laumer's "Night of Delusions" for it's scifi noir and Chandleresque plot convolutions. Are there any written works that do this sort of thing for you? Something I feel about strongly about, obviously, but I'm surprised that more people don't point this out.


I think Mr. Tennant is looking rather better as Hamlet on BBC2, though I am advised that the Last Act is a fundamentally unsound tactical situation.


God, I love these rants. I think we should get one every Christmas. (And if the BBC has anything to say about it, we might.) In fact, I think this might be a good addition to the non-fiction book: a whole section called "In Which I Systematically Annihilate Everything You've Ever Fapped To, Ever," featuring appearances by The Tenth Doctor and, I don't know, Uchiha Sasuke.

This also lends me inspiration for my own "Quit chugging the blue Kool-Aid, Avatar is not the second coming of Christ" post. Thank you.

Also, Charlie's completely correct re: most of the best recent SF coming in animated format. We re-watched Voices of a Distant Star last night, and it does more for the consequences of FTL than I've seen in any live-action film, ever. It was made in seven months by one man on a Mac, lasts a half hour, and still gets the job done better than most full-length live-action features. Shinkai, Watanabe, and Kamiyama depict futures I'd actually like to live in, which puts them pretty far ahead of the game when I consider watching SF TV in my own language.


Indeed, James Padraig (#15), the Master spends so long as a slag-faced thing or without any body or struggling his way back from various rifts/abysses, he finally gets a bit of stubble and he doesn't trim it into a goatee? Is this supposed to show how he has degenerated into pathetic insanity from the gentleman supervillain of Roger Delgado?

I have watched most of these new ones as my landlady has a 14 year old lad. It is difficult to stop my outbursts of disgust tainting his innocent enjoyment. "Electricity does not do that - invent forces if you want but don't lie.... Sorry, shall I rewind it?" I frequently predict plot points five minutes before the neon-flashing signposts that the writers put up.

Considering Tennant's Doctor lets so many people die because he can't run fast enough shouldn't his massive intelligence have shown him an answer? A flying machine that fits through the doors of the Tardis. The Sky Segway must have been invented before 5 billion AD. He always looks so stricken when he lets people die through his incompetence and amateurishness.

Pertwee was my Doctor, he had the dignity you might expect of a Time Lord. Tennant behaves like the Time Nouveau Riche. Any character who remarks so often that "I am brilliant" while people die around him is unbelievable.

Eccleston was good, though the stories were mediocre. The next doctor appears to be a floppy-haired foplet.


I, for one, thank RTD for resurrecting Dr Who after it's serialized demise. The new format and tighter stories have generally worked well and some of the new episodes have even won awards.

Like everything, time and repetition will cause the content to implode. Imagine trying to write non-referential Laundry or Clan novels for forty odd years...

I haven't watched this particular Xmas special, but I have observed that the specials have become quite spotty - "The Dead Planet" being particularly poor, IMO.

However, I would suggest to you that any art form, being subjective, is perceived differently depending on who you are. As a self-proclaimed avoider of movies and tv, you are somewhat in the position of a naive declaiming that Picasso cannot paint. This is most apparent in your use of Annalee Newitz's agendered review of Avatar to decry US movies with "most American movies sets my teeth on edge. It's the high fructose corn syrup." I have to ask, what is it you think you know about US movies, indeed any movies, given the small sample you claim to have seen? Perhaps best to leave it as your opinion and move on.

In regards to Avatar, I would have to say that it should be seen in the same frame of mind when originally seeing the original Star Wars (A New Hope), Alien and Jurassic Park. Cinematic visual treats first, plot way, way second. (2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner were treats, but with something more substantial to say as well).


Alex: Up Your Arse.


I don't like either Dr. Who or Monty Python, but I do recognize a lot of Python catchphrases.

As to Avatar, the WashPost's black columnist who writes about black things compares his ideas to bloggers and he thinks some of the natives are meant to be black.


Charlie @29: Damm. Now I'll have to spend another five minutes feeling superior. Oh well, somebody has to, I suppose....


Charlie@38 Still hung over are we, if that's the best rebuttal you can come up with? :)


Madeline @35: the release version of Voices of a Distant Star most people have been exposed to is somewhat different to the first version Shinkai-san hacked together on his Mac, but a lot of it is his handiwork (including the barely-adequate 3-D CGI scenes where giant robots Blow Stuff Up). His story-telling abilities are above average for the manga and anime world though but he can be somewhat one-note about loss and separation -- see the over-long The Place Promised to Us in our Early Days, or the 5 Centimetres per Second trilogy where he rubs it in endlessly and finishes up somewhat ambiguously.

I understand he's working on a new feature-length project now he's back in Japan -- given that the title of the work is probably going to be "Sayonara" I suspect we're in for more loss and separation.



Robert @42: It's entirely possible that I have a kink for loss and separation. The other names I mentioned, Watanabe and Kamiyama, aren't exactly known for their cheery storylines. My point was simply that I find Shinkai's short film a hell of a lot more compelling from an emotional and scientific standpoint than the majority of the SF that my cable provider brings to my screen. Perhaps I'm just not paying enough for that cable, and should invest in some more premium channels, but I really doubt that yet another Monster of the Week will take me to the same places that a crack team of Tachikomas already has.


Madeline @43: You might consider investing in a Bittorrent client... Most broadcast anime in Japan is lowest-common-denominator chewing-gum anime but there's some good stuff out there too. You seem to have acquired a suitable set of authorial filters, people who do stuff you like may not let you down with their next production and this can be useful.

Coming up next year (no release date yet announced) is Despera by the same creative team that brought us Serial Experiments Lain. My trust in Yoshitoshi ABe's vision and craft has only been abused once with the execrable Texhnolyse and even his minor efforts such as Niea_7 had a deeper edge than the surface plot originally revealed (the flagrant racism I can overlook; you know going in that Japan is xenophobic as fuck). The man has much credit in my eyes just for Haibane Renmei, always.


Hmm...I find that almost without exception film and TV requires the installation of an 'ignore the seams' attitude to take any pleasure in it what so ever...

The historical piece which tinkers violently with the timeline of the characters involved, the war-film that has the wrong vehicles/ships, side, tactics etc.

Criticising Dr Who on the grounds that it doesn't actually make complete sense is shooting fish in a barrel!

They are trying to tell stories of a grand scope in a startlingly small compass...two hours of mass-market TV is a tiny canvas.


Yes. I agree there's crap plots, too much unnecessary specatcle, everything you say, but I would rather watch this and give them as made it some encouragement to do more and better.
I still have hope that telly is somehow savable as an entertainment medium. If who goes, theres...?
Maybe we can have a future who chosen by a reality tv competition! /joking


I almost forgot BBC America was showing "End of Time" tonight.It was the Longest Setup for a bad pun ever! Still better than "Reality TV" but Master Race,sheesh!


@ 37 "braveheart" more US-led anti-English bashing, and lies from beginning to end, as well .....

Generally, everyone ... erm, Sturgeon's Revelation - remember?


One of my main disgruntlements with the Russell TD scripts is the way the Doc is treated as a semi-messianic figure leading to the already-mentioned Dr-ex-machina resolution. But then, I dont watch Dr Who for plot consistency, rather as part of participation in the Great British Overmind Experience; well, I write from home so I'm not expected to come up with chitchat at the water cooler, but its worth it to keep tabs on the mass-mind. Its that or watch Drecks-Factor or Celebrity Barfchugger, or whatever...

Avatar? - aye, it was another Amerikan Future narrative template. The cinematography, though, was something special. I'm just looking forward to seeing what other directors do with Cameron's developments.

Just been to see Sherlock Holmes, and it was very fine, high-octane bubblegum of a superior grade. Loved it, wanna see it again! Wanna see the next one! Now now now!


I really enjoyed 'Blink' too, and the WW1 'Family of Blood' episode was also particularly good - I have, overall, enjoyed most of the series - but the finales have always grated - RTD seems to be compelled into making each finale more and more over the top - the end of the world, the end of matter, the end of time.

The problem is that rather than the threat of something bad occurring, which the Doctor must prevent, instead we get to see the bad thing, and then somehow the Doctor has to reverse it.

Or even when he doesn't, everyone seems to have forgotten about the thousands of deaths / rebuilding of London required after the invasion of the XXX. (I think it's only with the Tocolfane and the first Dalek invasion that all events are actually reversed)


Greg Tingey @48 My historian wife says that Braveheart was pretty accurate. Certainly pro-Scottish and anti-English, but not "lies from beginning to end".

OTOH, "The Patriot" plays far more loosely with the facts in this anti-English Revolutionary War drama.

Your use of the monolithic term "US-led" is completely wrong. Movies are made by companies, often with the director's vision, and are therefore not reflective of the country as a whole, even if they hope to tap a rich vein of sentiment. It is like denouncing the US over the Vietnam War and forgetting that there were huge anti-war protest movements in the US. The same can be said of the UK's Falkland's War which split the country.




In brief, the history in "Braveheart" is absolute garbage.


OTOH, Snog, Marry, Avoid is great reality TV. Can I coin the phrase 'chugging with disapproval'?


Further to Alex T @51; I have read comments on the web from 'real american patriots' to the effect that hollywood is a liberal comunist jewish conspiracy.


Steve @52. I stand corrected. I also note that Wikipedia states that the movie is so inaccurate that:

"In 2009 the film was second on a list of "most historically inaccurate movies" in The Times."


Alex Tolley- *Cough splutter*

*Picks self up off floor*

Ummm, could you explain what your wifes historical expertise is in?
I know several people who are waiting for Mel Gibson to visit Scotland so they can have a quiet word with him in a dark alleyway for setting back the cause of actually teaching people real scottish history by a decade.

Other major errors include:
The plaid - not invented until the lat3 14th/ early 15th century during the upheavals of that time in the Highlands. People in the lowlands wore the same as everyone else in north western europe - a shirt, tunic, braes, single leg hose, hood or hat. Many of which would have been dyed a nice colour other than mud.

A battle of Stirling bridge without a battle.
The Princess was a small child when Wallace was executed.
Then there's the more subtle stuff about anglo-norman knights being pals and seeing their real interests being in having english estates rather than all this nationalistic crap.

Gadgeddlar had a nice evisceration of the film on their website but they folded last year, so the site appears to have gone.


@47, 51, 55, et al: Your point being? Aside from The Fast Runner, I can't think of a film that deals honestly and accurately with Native Americans. Just remember, everything gets distorted in movies, from male and female figures, to ideas about appropriate relationships, to science--X-wings howling through the vacuum anyone? Red matter?

Why should race and politics be exempt?

Anyway, let's look at Avatar from a logical perspective. After swallowing the small implausibility of FTL being a) cheap enough and b) isolated from other technical developments (like matter transmutation) so that it's reasonable to go to another planet to mine some element rather than make it in an accelerator, we get to the point where science can make a human/alien DNA hybrid thingie and understand both human brain and human/alien brain hybrid consciousness enough that they can produce an avatar, yet they can't fix the spinal column of a paraplegic marine, despite the fact that this is an area of very active research at the moment.

Logic? Who needs logic? That's not what movies are about. Why should anyone expect the political subtexts to be reasonable either? It's art! Or something, anyway.


heteromeles@57 - While we don't expect historical movies to be documentaries, there is some expectation that the history should be accurate. Recall the laughable anachronisms in the Costner version of "Robin Hood". OTOH, Tarantino's "Inglorious Basterds" is a fiction that eshews any historical accuracy, other than WWII happened. The biggest concern about inaccurate historical movies is that they become the basis for what people "know" about history. Not a good thing at all. It isn't just movies that distort the truth. As we know, history isn't distortion free either, although historians increasingly try to minimize bias. From a simple story telling viewpoint, the reader/viewer/listener needs to identify with the protagonist otherwise there is no engagement. And there must be engagement to sell the product. So in that sense, movies not only distort reality, they must distort reality to be successful.

Avatar is a fantasy. (BTW - they could fix Sully's spine, indeed that was the price of his working for the company/military on Pandora). Point taken about the rest of the movie. But isn't that the same with almost all these movies, whether Star Wars or Dune. Some high tech and lots of "missing tech". Usually the same with the biology of fantasy worlds, they are far too sparse.


Whilst I agree that filming will always produce some distortion, I feel there is a good bit of wiggle room on exactly how accurate the history can still be. For the Wallace example, the locations and clothing used could have been accurate enough (The Victorians managed it after all) without any great effect on the direct story; the silly bits like the foreign princess could have been replaced with some more local woman falling in love with him and being spurned. And it wouldn't be so far from the possible truth to have Bruce getting in the way of Wallace or leading off the nobles on horseback at Falkirk as the battle is being lost. (Although I don't believe he was at that battle)

To myself and many others I know, it seems odd that film makers like to change history to suit themselves or some ideal of entertainment or interest, given that the real history has much bigger and more exciting characters and actions than in films. Thelife of William the Marshal could do with big screen treatment, plenty of drama, blood and gore for everyone, without changing anything atall.

Dammit, in my previous post I wrote "A battle of Stirling bridge without a battle" rather than without a bridge. Ooops.


Whilst I agree that filming will always produce some distortion, I feel there is a good bit of wiggle room on exactly how accurate the history can still be. For the Wallace example, the locations and clothing used could have been accurate enough (The Victorians managed it after all) without any great effect on the direct story; the silly bits like the foreign princess could have been replaced with some more local woman falling in love with him and being spurned. And it wouldn't be so far from the possible truth to have Bruce getting in the way of Wallace or leading off the nobles on horseback at Falkirk as the battle is being lost. (Although I don't believe he was at that battle)

To myself and many others I know, it seems odd that film makers like to change history to suit themselves or some ideal of entertainment or interest, given that the real history has much bigger and more exciting characters and actions than in films. Thelife of William the Marshal could do with big screen treatment, plenty of drama, blood and gore for everyone, without changing anything atall.

Dammit, in my previous post I wrote "A battle of Stirling bridge without a battle" rather than without a bridge. Ooops.


... science can make a human/alien DNA hybrid ... yet they can't fix the spinal column of a paraplegic marine

Actually the hero was promised that this would be done if he got the indigenes to move off the epicentre of the valuable mineral deposit.

('How fire can be domesticated': http://www.eagle.ca/~gcowan/ )


@59: The life of William the Marshall has been done: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Knight%27s_Tale_%28film%29

Of course, it helps to have the perspective of being pleasantly surprised by an element of the film that happens to be realistic, rather than vice versa.

Also, it's generally a bad idea to reconstruct a film you haven't seen from a review by bat-shit US ethno-culture warriors. You can, if you want, view _Aliens_ as being really about flame-throwering people of other races, _Star Wars_ as really about the inherent genetic superiority of the nobility, and so on ad tedium. It's just kind of strange that people who would laugh at those interpretations of other films suddenly take them seriously when there is a big-budget film which just happens to have plot logic that requires a recognisably future-US military to be the bad guy...

3D-aside, the film is practically an adaptation of le Guin's the word for world is forest.

Again, realistic expectations: ok, that novel came out in 1973, and le Guin reportedly regards it as something of a period piece.

But has there been a big-screen adaptation of a non-retro, far-future sci-fi novel more recent than that?


@58: Thanks Alex, I haven't seen Avatar yet, so I didn't know that detail. Nice to see that us Yanks still haven't come up with national health care in the future either, and you've got to sell your soul to The Company to get decent care. Typical.

Anyway, I'm totally unsurprised by any distortions that Hollywood makes. I became totally disillusioned by an episode decades ago. I was going to visit an employee at a state park that was coincidentally being used as a set for a TV series. The TV techs were busily chainsawing branches off some local trees and nailing them to 2x4's to make the "shrubbery" along a road for some scene or other. These trees were rare, and they were not supposed to touch them (they were, in fact, a major attraction of the park). Moreover, they could have gone a quarter mile up the road and gotten a shrub-lined road to shoot the scene. The ranger turned red and stormed off to yell at the crew. Idiots.

Anyway, I've come to the conclusion that moviemakers hold little, if anything, sacred. Even when they could improve the movie by, oh, making it more historically accurate (as several have noted with regards to Braveheart), or simply by paying attention to detail, they seem to be serving their creative visions more than anything else, whatever those visions are. I suspect said "creative visions" are a mix of random bright ideas, various psychoses (drug induced and otherwise), the result of various dominance games played amongst the executives, and the fact that directors, for the most part, got their notions of history from earlier movies.


heteromeles@61 there is also a very long history of art depicting idealized, but historically inaccurate, scenes. Art serves other purposes. Other disciplines best serve historical accuracy. I don't blame the movie industry for inaccuracies (unless they are inaccurate whilst laying a claim to accuracy), that isn't their job. Don't forget that the Sully not getting his treatment may well be a social commentary on the US of today, just as the general theme is a commentary on our current approach to resource acquisition.

I would actually applaud movie makers, like any artist, for holding nothing sacred. I do draw the line at destroying tangible things rather than just ideas. Your anecdote shows a tv crew displaying an appalling lack of care.


@63: You do make a reasonable point. The problem with most groups that hold nothing sacred (see sacred clowns in various societies) is that they tend to reinforce the dominant order through their mockery, rather than challenging it.

I do, however, blame them for sloppy, poor quality work. If you're going to gore a sacred cow, might as well make a good job of it.

see sacred clowns in various societies

I would pay to see a sacred clown. Sacred cows, however, are boring.


ALex Tolley @ 51
The actual true claimant to the Scottish Throne was The Red Comyn (one reason that name turns up in "Darkover") - traitorously murdered by Robert de Bruis ....
Does "Braveheart show the actual enormous screw-up perpetrated by Edward I of England, who (correctly) nominated Joh de Balliol as Scottish King, but then couldn't resist interfering, so that he became known as "Toom Tabard", and effectively resigned?
As for the Falklands War "Splitting the country" - dead wrong again.
There was suppressed fury at M. Thatcher for PROVOKING the war by unnecessary defence cuts - which allowed the Argentine Junta to think they could get away with it (they nearly did- if they had waited another 18 months/two years, they would have)...
NOR the disgarcaeful attempt by the US to (initially) support the Argies, because of the "Monroe Doctrine" - it was only when reminded that the US bases etc on Ascencion Island were there on a BRITISH lease, they chnaged their tune.
Your assertions are like those of the US claiming to have rescued the UK in 1940 (as opposed to being FORCED into the war on Dec.'41) - entirely spurious.


Speaking of white actors in painfull awkward roles, why the hell is jake gyllenhaal playing "a prince of persia"?



Rescuing the UK in 1940-entirely spurious, except for all the material FDR threw the UK's way or how he tried his damnedest to provoke Hitler into giving him a pretext for getting past Congress. Rescuing the UK in 1944, however, pretty much true. Does the motive change the result?

Also, I am sure the Britsh mega movies about the Polish Air Force in the Battle of Britain and the Polish work on ENIGMA are already well into production. They're not? Hmnh, curious that. How 'bout all that Waterloo is more important than Borodino jazz? Sharpes Rifles, anyone? Agincourt was about the doughy English yeoman and his trusty Kentucky yak rifle, I mean longbow; and not about greedy French nobles rejecting their professional military consultants advice because it would cost them hostages. Every country has fantasies about itself. America's just get trumpeted over a louder megaphone.

I think the Gibson anti-British sentiment is more of an Australian thing, see Gallipoli, but he did get American studios to make it. You have to remember that the plurality of Americans are of German descent, much like your Royal Family. Throw in the Irish component and you can imagine what a hard sell WWI was for Wilson. However, that has all been flipped over after our great Alliances: we love you all, especially your tiny tots and pregnant women. I say this as a proud Dolphin American whose family only had to carry a few mines against Soviet submarines during the Cold War in order to get our naturalization papers.


BTW if it matters to anyone, Pandora is supposed to be a moon of one of the gas Giants orbiting one of the three stars of Alpha Centauri which is less than five light years away and their supposed journey took five years, implying that they may have just been very close to C, not exceeding it.


To respond to the actual subject of the post, yes New Who has been mostly wank, one might even say jingoist Anglo(Welsh) wank, while Old Who was mostly silly, but fun. There is a difference and I prefer the latter. I have no intention of seeing Avatar, despite that notorious pro-USA imperialism cat's paw Peter Watts' enthusiastic recommendation of its glorious 3D effects which apparently pleasurably numb the brain to the point where ever the most perspicacious will lap up its wafer thin story.

Best Who actors, as opposed to eras: Eccleston, Troughton, Tom Baker and Pertwee, in descending order. Best eras, probably Pertwee and then Leela/1st Romana.


Count me as another Eccleston fan -- dark is good, even if some of those episodes should have been sponsored by Pfizer. Hopefully now that RTD is outta there there'll be more actual writing, although I don't know what I'll think of the new Doctor.

Re Avatar -- I don't think Americans are particularly enamored with the noble-savage BS either. This is just the latest incarnation of the Jerry Bruckheimer model, which consists of lots of pretty FX and no plot.


GT@67 re: Falklands War splitting the UK. Who am I going to believe, your words or my lying eyes? My memory isn't that bad...yet.

re: US involvement in WWII. Please reference where the US believes it rescued Britain in 1940. I've never read of such a claim. Winning the war in Europe, yes, but saving Britain in 1940, no.


The only question I have about 'Avatar' is where do the blue meanies stand in the Uncanny Valley?

I have no intention of seeing it. Just the fact that they use the name Unobtainium is enough reason, but I also can't stand military SF in general (with exception of Stargate). And I've not liked Cameron since his performance when he won his Oscar.

Another Doctor I particularly liked was Sylvester McCoy, sure he started off clownish but got more broody along the way. And he had one of my favorite companions (the word I couldn't think of before); Ace, she was wicked!. Though Tom Baker will always be my first Doctor.

guthrie @56; half right, plaid type fabrics have been around for centuries. The idea of a clan tartan has only been around 200 years, though regional/family tartans had been around since the 1500s. So, no they shouldn't be wearing kilts in 'Braveheart' (which as a Scottish-on-my-father's-side Jew, I refuse to see.)


Just saw that io9 is quoting Charlie.


Um, when Mr. Stross has already expressed his disapproval of Bondian elements in Dr. Who, those of you who hold up the Pertwee era as the pinnacle aren't helping matters. (Not to mention the use of "foplet" for the Eleventh Doctor when one's favorite wore a velvet smoking jacket, ruffled shirt, and opera cape.)

My secondary complain is why does he always arrive right after something that he wanted to prevent has already happened ....? ... He does have a time machine, after all.

Blinovitch Limitation Factor. Deploy additional waving hands as necessary. This actually gets something of another lampshade hung on it in the episode, when Bernard Cribbens' character wonders much the same thing.

Anyway, I'm also glad that RTD has departed. I confess that I sorta liked the particular deus ex machina of "The Stolen Earth / Journey's End," not least because Catherine Tate dialed things back as the season progressed, but every other season-ending rabbit out of a hat has been ... less than optimally executed.


For what it's worth, I liked the first part of End of Time (clearly I'm too easily satisfied to hang around here...)

Doctor Who has always been full of plot holes, daft contrivances and with-one-bound-he-was free. Just one example - as there was no series this year, to fill the gap I watched (with my 10 year old son) "Genesis of the Daleks" on DVD. I think that is a classic series if there is one, yet look at the number of times the Doctor and/ or his companions get captured and escape to provide cliffhangers for all the separate parts. At least the RTD version doesn't suffer form this need, in general. I think you just have ignore the silliness. (I agree with whoever above pointed up Blink as one of the best recent episodes. For me, the worst was the one with the unconvincing Time Beetle, but even that prop was no worse than many "classic" ones).


What still gets me is that RTD has to use Doctor Who Confidential to explain what his story is about.

What he says about the Time Lords, and their previous appearances, that's a comment on the apparent history. But talking about what's going on in a character's head, that's a sign that he's failed as a writer.


But he seems so proud of his writing ability in Dr Who Confidential that it just makes one feel sorry for him.


"But he seems so proud of his writing ability in Dr Who Confidential that it just makes one feel sorry for him."

Yes, because it's utterly inconceivable that the head writer of the BBC's flagship drama might feel the need to talk his show up as part of his basic promotional duties.

In fact, interviews with RTD show he's keenly aware of both when he's failed as a writer and how the conditions of Christmas television dictate a narrative style at odds with the desires of the SF snobberati (excluding Charlie, I must say -- I think he's right about the weaknesses of this particular installment, though I don't think they typify modern Doctor Who as a whole).

The point of the Christmas specials is that they're silly, illogical and bonkers, and are massively, stupefyingly, critically and publicly successful. And they allow the season proper to include far more serious and edgy episodes such as RTD's own "Midnight" or any of the Moffat episodes.


heteromeles @63, re: "creative visions", see http://wiki.killuglyradio.com/wiki/Cocaine_Decisions


>The only question I have about 'Avatar' is where do the blue meanies stand in the Uncanny Valley?

Strangely enough they don't (your mileage may vary though). They're either so well done that they might as well be real or strange enough to sit on the edge of the valley.

To me they seemed real but I'm not nearly as fussy as some. The whole mighty whitey plot is a substantial let down, I expected much better from James Cameron. It's like they hired an amateur to write the story and experts to make the film. I dunno, maybe he went back over some old scripts from the seventies when he was starting out and just recycled them into Avatar.