Thursday, December 4, 2008

classic who: ark in space

Let me just say that two adventures in, this is a pretty good season.

Ark in Space picks up where Robot left off, with the Tardis landing after abandoning the poor Brigadier without so much as a goodbye. And they land on a space station.

By walking through three rooms and a really neat hallway, they surmise that they're on a station meant to hold the remains of humanity after some global disaster-- they're all in cryo, waiting to be revived 5,000 years after they went under. Only it's been at least 10,000 years, and there's something weird and green and slimy lurking about the place. So, as the designated Ankle-Twister, Sarah-Jane gets herself in trouble and spends most of the first episode or two unconscious, first from oxygen deprivation, which almost gets Harry, too, but doesn't do much against the Doctor (I love when he doesn't act human)-- then gets transmatted away and put in cryo by a computer glitch that assumes she's one of the ones that are supposed to have already been there. So they have to find her, and then find out what to do about her.

Looking for a revival kit of some sort, they find the mummified husk of a giant bug, and then Vira, cheif medical officer, is awakened by the computer and tells them what's going on-- and they tell her what's gone wrong.

So Sarah's saved, and wearing something other than that horrible purple dress in the previous episode, and they have to go up against the bug-slugs, which are the larval stage of the big husk they found-- and which reach the adult stage by taking over human bodies, and who plan to use the sleeping remains of humanity to do just that. The Doctor has to save the few people who've already awoken, himself and his companions, and do it in such a way that the rest of humanity is safe, too. Luckily, the commander of the mission, though taken over by the bugs and fully transformed, remembers that his human self was in love with Vira, and leads the bugs atray when he realizes he can't get her to come across and stay with him, eating the people they were supposed to protect.

A great story, The sum-ups at the beginning of each episode only went back a few seconds instead of whole minutes, and action happened right after getting off the tardis-- good signs of a solid plot with alot to say. The Doctor widgets with the wiring, Sarah Jane travels through very small conduits because she's the only one who can, Harry gets to learn a little of futuristic medicine, and all the conversations are dense and engaging and useful to the plot. And, again, the Doctor shines in caring about the fate of his companions as much as he cares about the fate of humanity, and his fondness for Ms Smith makes him utterly charming, while his disregard for Harry so far makes him amusing.

At the end, Sarah Jane puts on the first of what I know will be a long succession of ugly raincoats, and they head down to the surface to check things out before the colonists come back down.

classic who: robot

First Doctor Four story! And he's running, right off the bat, sometimes literally. I always liked Four. He's so cheerfully unconcerned with the possibility of total annihilation of himself, and swings between overly interested in events and concerned with the fate of humanity, to jolly and joking with monsters and their makers while still gathering information and getting things set up.

So there's this robot, see? It's been killing people and stealing things with no regard for human life, so they figure it must be inhuman-- and track down a robot-maker whose plans have been revived in the form of a 7-something foot tall silver bit of coolness that I want an action figure of so bad. Well, Sarah-Jane tracks it down and finds Ms Winters, the villain, who demonstrates that the Robot couldn't have killed anyone by ordering it to kill Sara-Jane. And that's the first cliffhanger.

Of course it doesn't; it's got the Azimov Laws that prevent it from harming people. But it gets fond of Sarah-Jane because she wants to understand it and treat it like a thinking creature, and as the plot develops and it realizes it has been killing people by taking out the 'threats to humanity' they've been sending it after, including the crazy scientist who did build it after all, it decides to kill all people-- except Sarah-Jane.

The Doctor, of course, has been leading UNIT around, trying to track it down and save Ms Smith, and mostly proves what and excellent new Doctor he is while SJS handles the nitty gritty of the plot-- but it's no less interesting for all that.

Over all, I really enjoyed Robot. Four is amazingly interesting to watch, even when he isn't doing much of anything, and I just love that the very first story he's in, he's the same wonderful lunatic as he was in the much later ones that I've seen. And Tom Baker never forgets that the Doctor is fond of both the Earth and it's people, and especially fond of Sarah-Jane. The story is compact, without much running around and getting captured again, which, as we know by now, is the mark of added-in scenes to extend the story. And it all makes sense. All the characters have reasons for being what they are.

And at the end, Sarah-Jane and Dr Harry Sullivan head off with the Doctor on off-world adventures, and the Brig looks sad in a 'I never get to go in the Tardis' way and says something about waiting around. Poor Brig.

This leads directly into the next story: Ark In Space.

books: UnLunDun, by China Mieville

Yup, ladies and gentlemen, I finished UnLunDun first, and I'm kind of sad because now it's over and I can't look forward to there being more story when I go to bed each night. (It's been replaced by Frek and the Elixir, which it weird and entertaining so far in the first two chapters, and fulfills this month's imperative to read a book I already own.)

Let me say up front: I loved this book. I almost cried at the end because it was over. I did cheer at how it was over. I went up to my roomies and told them they have to read it.

And here's my favorite part: It's a classive 80s fantasy movie turned on it's side and rotated a bit. Zanna and Deeba are normal little London Chavs, going to school, living in Estates, using poor grammar, being teenagers-- and then they realize that animals keep taking special notice of Zanna and soon they find themselves in UnLunDun, the oter side of the coin that is London, what's called an abcity. All the major cities have them, and they all have clever negation-names like Parisn't and Old York. Everything lost and unwanted in London winds up in UnLunDun where everything is weird. Bus conductors are sworn guards of the people, the people aren't always people, trash has a life of its own, puns abound in clever and useful ways, and the smog is the worst thing the city has ever seen. It seems there's a prophesy that means Zanna will defeat the Smog, and the whole thing is mapped out in the Book they have to go consult to tell them what to do and how to get home...

And then it all goes a bit hinky. I would have loved it if it stayed entirely on track, having gorwn up through the Age of 80s Fantasy and being very fond of it, but I love it more because it's aware of all those things, all those tropes and expectations, and it comes at them sideways. Zanna, the chosen one, gets infected with smog and comes out of it with no memory and bad lungs-- leaving Deeba, who wasn't even mentioned except as a 'funny sidekick' in one line, to find a way back and to help. She kidnaps the Book and teams up with Hemi the half-ghost, who everyone is convinced is a minor villain, the heads out on the quest Zanna was supposed to make and decides it's too long and cuts right to the end-- using her brains and her heart to get through the challenges, and making friends along the way. The weapon they get is amazing, a big gun that does UnGun like things, and the final showdown is one of the best I have read.

The book is gorgeous. A dozen or so characters, and probably more minor characters are all individual and strange, the plot is very well-handled and polished, with no loose ends that I can see, and the bit at the end where Deeba has to go home and they're all pulling that 'we'll never see you again' thing the new friends always do? Priceless. I want to read this book to my kids. It makes me sad that it didn't exist when I was a kid. It's like Alice in Winderland and NeverWhere and Labyrinth and NeverEnding Story all thrown together with a bit of MorrorMask and some Stranger Than Fiction (just a pinch), and it's so visual that I have no problem comparing it to movies.

And it's written like it's aimed at kids, but it assumes they're smart enough to get the jokes and understand the consequences, and that makes it amazingly readable by adults.

So go read it.