I’m So Over Apathy

It takes courage to say what you like. Maybe more than it takes to say you don’t like something. Saying “I don’t like that.” puts you at risk of being called negative, but when you like something that’s unpopular you are at risk of having bad taste, of being seen as complacent. Just look at the language that’s tied to both ideas.

People who tend to dislike things can be seen as negative, snobbish, a wet blanket. On the positive side we say they have discerning taste. They’re a critic, a skeptic. There’s a perception of higher intelligence. On the other side we have terms like easily pleased, Pollyanna, positive, optimist. There is an undercurrent of condescension to this term, a feeling of simplicity. When did we decide that intelligence was tied to negativity, that positive people are somehow missing something?

Kelli O’Hara can explain it better:

In Nellie’s case, her optimism is also a stand-in for naivete, and she can’t seem to find the bright side of finding out that her true love has two biracial children. Apparently privileged white women leave their optimism outside the plantation gate.

In Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events he says

“Optimist” is a word which here refers to a person…who thinks pleasant thoughts about nearly everything. For instance, if an optimist had his left arm chewed off by an alligator, he might say, in a pleasant and hopeful voice, “Well, this isn’t too bad. I don’t have my arm anymore, but at least nobody will ever ask me if I am right-handed or left-handed”, but most of us would say something more along the lines of “Aaaaah! My arm! My arm!”

So maybe optimism doesn’t always require intelligence, but it certainly requires courage. As a director, one of your most important skills is to inspire your team, to make them feel like you’re on the right track. I don’t know if you can somehow run out of positivity. One of my fellow directors hasn’t run out of it yet, and she’s still producing absolutely beautiful work. Though she is certainly an optimist, she’s by no means unintelligent, and she can critique performances more articulately than many of the more negative directors I know.

I wonder sometimes if we forget that seeing the good doesn’t mean not seeing the bad. In one of the Fourth Doctor episodes of Doctor Who, K-9 defines optimism as

Optimism: belief that everything will work out well. Irrational, bordering on insane.

Though Doctor Who characters’ optimism may seem irrational, but much like in Shakespeare in Love, it usually turns out quite well in the long run.

See what I mean by turning out well?

Quite well indeed.

Ultimately optimism comes from believing the best in people, truly caring about them. It’s hard to do that all the time. It’s tiring, and ultimately it’s depressing.

This is the continuation of the conversation with K-9 in “The Armageddon Factor”:

The Doctor: Oh do shut up K-9! Listen Romana: Whenever you go into a new situation, you must always believe the best until you find out exactly what the situation’s all about. Then believe the worst.

Romana: Ah. But what happens if it turns out to not be the worst after all?

Doctor: Don’t be ridiculous. It always is. Isn’t it, K-9?

K-9: Master?

Seems like even two Time Lords and a tin dog can’t reconcile optimism in the real world, but it’s certainly what keeps all of them going.

Fountain of wisdom.

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“I’m not trying to be rude, but you died.” : Hercules, Buffy, The Doctor, and The Problem with Immortality

[Note: This post contains spoilers for the Doctor Who episodes “The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone” and “The Pandorica Opens.” And a few Superman storylines. You have been warned.]

Lillian, you might say, you’re just trying to tie Doctor Who into Hercules, because you want to put in a plug for Alcestis. And you’re partly right. So myths yadda yadda come see my show in New York that is influenced by Neil Gaiman, Batman, and Gladiator, written by Euripides. That’s a plug for Alcestis. Buy tickets now!

But let’s talk for a second about why the villains imprisoned the Doctor rather than killing him in “The Pandorica Opens.” The Doctor is not exactly as invulnerable as Superman (though they share several other similarities), but his regenerations give him a kind of immortality. This flawed invincibility connects him to a much more ancient hero, Hercules/Heracles.

Now Hercules’ list of adventures is about as long as the Doctor’s. (One of those adventures includes the myth that Euripides’ Alcestis is based on.) Heracles is the son of Zeus so he’s supernaturally strong and he can solve most problems by hugging them to death. But he’s also immortal, so the whole dying thing was never an issue for him.

….until his wife Deianira accidentally poisoned his robe with the blood of a Hydra he’d killed, and he couldn’t wash the acidic blood off, and he was in such huge amounts of pain that he wished he could die. Continue reading

How to Destroy Superman: The Doctor, Batman, Senility, and the Pandorica

[Note: This post contains spoilers for the DC Comics’ The Death of Superman storyline, and The Dark Knight Returns (among others), and Doctor Who Series 4 and Series 5 including the episode “The Pandorica Opens.” It has not yet aired in the United States. You have been warned.]

I am going to tell you right now that Batman is the greatest superhero of all time, precisely because his only superpowers are a bank account and psychological trauma. He is the superhero that is closest to the reader, even more so than Stan Lee’s everyboy Spiderman, who fulfills all of our empowerment fantasies, but always shows us the best in ourselves. Batman is a triumph of the human will to fight back in the face of unbearable pain in order to inflict that pain on others. He is our darkest fantasies brought to life.

The Ninth Doctor bears a strong resemblance to the pre-Frank Miller era Batman, a man who has found new purpose as a result of losing almost everyone he loves, and he slowly creeps toward the darkness and thirst for vengeance that belongs to both the Tenth Doctor and The Dark Knight we see in The Killing Joke, The Long Halloween, and The Dark Knight Returns.

Dark Knight Returns is an interesting topic to bring up, because it shares so many connections with the Doctor’s current [Eleventh] incarnation. The Dark Knight Returns is set in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic world where a formerly retired, middle-aged Batman dons the cowl once again to bring down Two-Face after the treatment Bruce Wayne funded fails to cure him of his psychopathic tendencies. But the Gotham police force is a little less grateful than usual. They’re not sure Batman’s vigilantism has a place in this world anymore. He’s become outdated. (Remember Eleven’s “I’m stupid.” statement? How often has he been missing things lately, making the wrong calls?)

Batman’s reappearance also pulls the Joker out of a catatonic state in Arkham, suggesting that the hero attracts, even rebuilds his villains unintentionally. (iDaleks anyone?)

“You’re like iPods. One in every color.”

(Dark Knight Returns also sports a female Robin who rivals Amy Pond in terms of quips and needing to be rescued.)

The interesting thing about the Doctor is that he is both Batman and Superman. As of the 2005 revival, he has a dark trauma in his past that gives him the purpose and drive to save the universe again and again (because he failed to save his own people.) Like Superman, he is an orphan of a dead culture, and grew into the individual we know and love as a result of his “adoption” by humans. (I know it’s hard to think of William Hartnell as a baby Clark Kent, but just go with me on this one.) The Doctor’s companions softened him from a persnickety old man to a formidable clown whose cartoonishly long scarf or piece of celery in his lapel hid a dangerous brand of competence. (We are going to ignore Colin Baker’s silly costume.)

Pay no attention to the man in the tacky outfit. 

This paradox of the Doctor as both Batman and Superman was brought to a head with the most recent episode of Moffat’s new series. Continue reading

Doctor Who and the Plea for Unconventional Beauty

[Warning, this post contains spoilers for the Doctor Who episode “The Lodger.”]

I am going to say right now that “The Lodger” was one of the most enjoyable episodes of Doctor Who in a long time, especially for Matt Smith lovers. We got to see the Eleventh Doctor play football (soccer for those of us who are two weeks behind on episodes), come out of the shower, talk to a cat, and generally do good for fan service everywhere.

Fan service win!

So in general I loved it, but there’s something that’s been bothering me for a long time. Why does this dude,

Oh Craig...

end up with this chick?

Craig and Sophie

Don’t misunderstand me. There’s something really sweet and charming about Craig. He’s funny, he’s kind. I might even date him. But they’re not exactly the same level of conventional hotness.

"Are you really going out with him?"

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I Want Bill Nighy to Say Nice Things About Me Someday: Musings on “Vincent and the Doctor”

[Note: This post contains spoilers for the Doctor Who episode “Vincent and the Doctor,” the tenth in series five. It has not aired in the United States yet. Read at your own risk.]

This is going to be one of those “dark night of the soul” posts, folks. So sorry in advance. I’ve been missing thanks to a particularly rough patch of what the Elizabethans called “melancholia” and busy-ness (a combination about as ill-advised as mixing tequila and Everclear.) And then there was the moving back to New York just in time to say goodbye to one of my dearest friends who had to return to her homeland, Leeds. (In my mind, she wanders the moors like Catherine in Wuthering Heights, except less obnoxious and prettier.) And now Glee is becoming uneven and boring and even kind of problematic at times.

The good news is the essay for Smart Pop has now been proofed and sent for formatting, so you can look for the book, which is a kind of post-mortem dissection of Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse edited by (Whedon family writer and creator of Warehouse 13) Jane Espenson, in October 2010. I’m still sort of in awe about that happening, but I’m also getting all kinds of anxiety about it now. It’s stupid really. It’s just one essay in a book of 18 and it’s not saying anything (too) offensive and sometimes it’s funny, which is great, and the conclusion is actually kind of powerful (I think.) But I guess my anxiety has a lot to do with Doctor Who and Vincent van Gogh. Ready for a dramatic leap? Here we go!

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The Fifth Stage of Mourning Ten(nant)

Just a little update for everyone on the mourning Ten front. After “The Beast Below,” I think I’ve finally reached acceptance. The episode was remarkably well written, funny, and poignant, and Amy and Eleven are starting to develop a relationship that is different from anything we’ve seen before. (Somehow Amy manages to create more sexual tension than Rose while maintaining the can-do, take no prisoners attitude of Donna. I think I might be in love with her.) Matt Smith’s Eleven ain’t too shabby either. He is at once an old man and a child and manages to pull of the condescending tone we’re used to from Doctors like One and still be unbelievably lovable.

But what really helped me heal was this interview from the AV Club. In it, Matt Smith shows this amazing sensitivity and charm (plus he reveals he was a soccer player, another plus for me). He is humbled by the role, and just intimidated enough to do a good job.

AVC: Based on “The Eleventh Hour,” it seems like if anything is starting to set you apart, it’s that you use a lot more physical movement to your performance as The Doctor. Is it tough to be physical in tweed?

MS: [Laughs.] I don’t know, man. I think tweed lends itself to being physical, because it looks just a bit odd. I do hope he’s quite a physical Doctor, because I think that’s quite an interesting way to play the comedy of it, actually. I’ve always been interested in physical actors like Peter Sellers. I’ve always been interested in the body. There’s a French [performer and acting instructor] called Jacques Lecoq who’s always interested me, his theories and stuff. So I hope I continue to explore his mad physical side, because it’s this alien inhabiting a human body. It’s quite an odd concept.

AVC: You were an athlete before you were an actor, right?

MS: Yeah, I was a footballer.

AVC: Do you draw on that at all?

MS: Yeah, definitely. I think there are definite parallels between sport and art. There’s a real sense of sacrifice. There’s a real sense of dedication that is needed in sport that I think you can attribute to art. I think so much of it is about bravery and courage, being an actor. I think similarly, these things can be applied in artistic roles. It’s about having the courage to follow your instincts, and also having the discipline and dedication to sacrifice the things in your life that you need to sacrifice to get the best out of yourself artistically. So I learned a lot of valuable lessons as a sportsman.

AVC: The series can be any genre from week to week. Have you found, at this early stage, a preference for a certain type of episode?

MS: No. I guess one of the great liberations as an actor is that the show can go anywhere and do anything and be anyone. It’s ever-changing, and the worlds are completely ever-changing. There’s never any world that you can’t inhabit. I like the fact that it’s always changing. Once every 12 days, you’re in the future, then in the past. We filmed an episode called “Vampires In Venice.” We filmed it in Croatia, and that was rather wonderful. But then, of course, we went way into the future, and the sets are just mad.

AVC: Doctor Who has always been more of a cult sensation here in the U.S. than in Britain. How would you describe the series to someone here who has never seen it before? What would you say it’s like?

MS: I’d say it’s about a 900-year-old alien who travels around time and space in a blue police box, which is called the TARDIS, having adventures, saving the world, and defeating evil. It’s not bound by space or time or logic or genre, and therefore creatively it can go anywhere and do anything. You can be in the past with dinosaurs one week and in the future the next week, as the world is about to explode. I think it’s full of heart and humor and wit and invention. I think Doctor Who improves your life. And I mean that. It’s not just, like, my mission statement. I do, as a man who’s come to it late on, as well. It’s never too late to get into it. I think we’ve got a new team and a new show, and I think now is the time to start watching.

I totally agree, Matt. I totally agree.

………………………

Don’t get me wrong. It still hurts a little. I still tear up when I watch this,

but I’m getting more used to our new Time Lord.

I mean, how could you say no to that devilish glint in his eye?

The Five Stages of Mourning the Tenth Doctor

So’s you know, (and frankly, if you’re reading this blog, I have a feeling you do), David Tennant is no longer the star of Doctor Who. As a fan, this is really depressing for me. As someone who has had a crush that verges on obsession on David Tennant ever since I recognized the new face of Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor as the simultaneously magnetic and repulsive Barty Crouch, Jr. in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, it is devastating. I had also seen a random episode of Taking Over the Asylum at that point, but couldn’t reconcile the wild-eyed cockatoo that was the Tenth Doctor and Barty Crouch

See what I mean. Wild eyes.

with the sleek haired manic-depressive kid from the obscure British TV show.

Oh 1994. You make even David Tennant look awkward.

The point is, David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor was one of the most powerful characters on television, mostly thanks to the combination of Tennant’s comprehensive RSC training and his good-natured love of all things geek. D10 is tragic, witty, charismatic, and terrifying. Mercurial in the truest sense.

I’ll admit my crush is stupid, a combination of my love for anyone who can handle Shakespeare well and my love for sci-fi, but there’s a real sense of loss here, and I’m not the only one feeling it.

As evidenced by the current trends in this poll in The Guardian, as much as io9 wants to say that we’ve forgotten D10, a lot of us are still recovering. So, without further ado, here are the Five Stages of Grief for Doctor Who.

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