Monday, April 29, 2013

Review: Journey to the Center of the TARDIS

I've got mixed feelings about this episode.  On the one hand, it was enjoyable seeing areas of the new TARDIS, which included a glimpse at the swimming pool, the library, an observatory, and even the Doctor's store room of cherished mementos.  On the other hand, the story was mediocre, which is to be expected from a show run by Stephen Moffat, and the ending was another "it never happened" cheat that abused time travel as a storytelling aspect.

Yes, I just gave you a major spoiler.  Considering how awful it was, you're not missing anything by knowing how the episode ends.

Okay, the plot revolves around the Doctor, Clara, and a trio of space salvage brothers as they try to save themselves from hideous burnt-mummy-clay-things.  At the same time the Doctor sets the TARDIS controls to a level Clara is able to handle, in an effort to bring her and the ancient time ship closer together, the salvagers lock a powerful tractor beam on the exterior, which happens to be materialized in space, heavily damaging the TARDIS.  Upon waking up from under the junk pile where the salvage team's spaceship dropped the exterior, the Doctor then proceeds to threaten them to help him locate Clara, who is lost somewhere inside the TARDIS, by activating a self destruct sequence.  And as is quickly evident, the five are not alone, and soon five become four.

There were a few nice touches, such as when one salvager removes a console panel only to hear the echoes of voices from the past, bringing us another reminder of the classic series, and another when Clara discovers the library and, irritated and impressed at the same time, reacts with the line, "now you're just showing off."  Also, while there, Clara makes an interesting if predictable discovery that, really, shouldn't have been included -- at least not the way it was in this episode.

So we have yet another contrived ending that once again leaves us feeling robbed of what should have been an epic moment in the development of Clara's and the Doctor's relationship.  I give "Journey to the Center of the TARDIS" a C- for poor writing.  I give Stephen Moffat a big fat F for his atrocious handling of Series 5-7.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

LOLing All Over the Place

Remember how in my last post on the topic of craptacular Firestorm Viewer, I reported that development team head Jessica Lyin' claimed that even though they have a workable release, her team wasn't going to release it until after Linden Lab officially rolls out Server Side Baking?  Well, it looks like she got tired of fielding complaints about having to wait an indeterminate time for the next release because she went ahead and released it anyway...and no surprises, the new release is as full of bugs as ever.

Users are reporting the usual crashing-on-startup, voice not working, and now the entire viewer screen going black with no way of resolving the problem.  After replying to a few complaints with links to her never-responsive JIRA, Lyin' finally gave up on answering questions about the bugs and told everyone to just file a JIRA instead of posting their problems in the blog.

Now, this comes after Jessica Lyin' claimed the testing went through no fewer than three phases before release.  Somehow I doubt all that much testing was done.

Rubbing salt in the wound: lying and saying they've worked hard to make Firestorm look like Phoenix as much as possible, when they obviously haven't, and telling people to go use some other third party viewer.

Review: Hide

This was a 'monster in the house' story that turned out to be something else entirely.  No one actually dies.  I know.  It's a rarity, right?  Anyway, get ready for a lot of spoilers.

It's 1974.  Professor Alec Palmer (Dougray Scott) and his assistant, psychic empath Emma Grayling (Jessica Raine of Call the Midwife fame) try to summon the ghost of a woman who haunts the mansion they're working in when there is a knock on the door.  It's the Doctor and Clara, who identify themselves as "ghostbusters" sent by military intelligence to help find out what's going on.  The Doctor gives away Palmer's past as a military intelligence operative, contradicting the professor's story about having been a POW in World War II.  This would make more sense if actor Dougray Scott, who is forty-seven, wasn't too young to have held such a position in a war that took place over thirty years prior to the story, but for some reason writer Neil Cross felt compelled to give a nod to Third Doctor Jon Pertwee's service during WWII and didn't feel any need to get his chronology correct.  Damn lazy bastard.

As things start to get weird, and then comically frightening, the Doctor and Clara take turns playing matchmaker to Alec and Emma, who have feelings for one another but are each too timid to express themselves to one another.

So basically, it's really a love story set against a haunted house.  But there are some darker elements thrown in.  The TARDIS, still not fully liking or trusting Clara, gets under her skin by using a holographic interface to irritate her.  Clara's response: "Oh, you are a cow!" was hilarious.  It was kind of creepy and funny at the same time.  And when the Doctor reveals his true reason for coming to the mansion to Emma, grilling her about her impression of Clara, which turns out to be quite normal, his disbelief, his refusal to accept her for what she is, suggests hostility on his part toward his own companion, masking it in his usual friendly, buffoonish demeanor.

My favorite part came when Clara, after having witnessed Earth in its distant past, near-past, and far-flung future, practically traumatized by the weight of it all, confronts the Doctor about how he must view human beings: we're all ghosts to him, because from his perspective he's seen everyone come and go — literally.

And yet for all those smaller, brilliant moments, there were obvious flaws in the story that kept me from enjoying it as much as I did "Cold War", the preceding episode.  Writer Neil Cross's bad chronology, for starters, and the lack of any real tension or fright, just didn't mesh well with the ending, and when we learn who the "ghost" is and what her relationship is to the mansion, Alec, and Emma, it all felt very contrived and fake.  "Hide" is only slightly better than Cross's other episode script, "The Rings of Ahkaten", but that's not really saying much in its favor.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Review: Cold War

Alright, nothing bad really to say about this episode; I actually couldn't think of any major problems I had with it.  I did enjoy it, so count this review as a positive one.

The year is 1983.  A Soviet nuclear submarine is performing a launch drill somewhere near the North Pole when it is interrupted by Professor Grisenko (played funnily and brilliantly by David Warner).  The first mate opines to the captain that the Americans' aggressiveness is an indication that the Cold War is about to become a hot one, and that they must continue with further drills.  The older, less hot-headed captain informs him that the crew has practiced enough for one day and orders a stand down.

A little later, we see a sailor thawing out a block of ice in which some kind of specimen, thought to perhaps be a mammoth, is trapped.  Suddenly an armored hand bursts through the ice and grabs the sailor by the neck.  The submarine soon begins to sink, and it is then that the TARDIS appears on board with the Doctor and Clara exiting thinking they've landed in Las Vegas.  And from there "Cold War" really kicks into gear as we get to see an Ice Warrior for the first time in almost forty years!

Doctor Who contributing writer Mark Gatiss did a very good job with this episode, and director Douglas MacKinnon handled the story quite capably.  Gatiss had apparently been wanting to do one featuring the Ice Warriors, and after much begging finally convinced head writer Stephen Moffat to let him give it a go.

The rest of the episode revolves around trying — not always successfully — to negotiate a non-violent resolution to the crisis at hand, mirroring the handling of the Cold War itself.  The Ice Warrior, a famous Grand Marshall named Skaldek, is compelled by Martian law to go to war against any who attack an Ice Warrior, and having been attacked upon waking after 5,000 years in a block of ice, he's understandably cranky.  The episode really did a good job of playing on this as a reminder of the Cold War during the 1980s.  Although it was actually winding down at this point, with Russia going bankrupt as a result of overspending on its military and growing disillusionment with Soviet-style communism, paranoia and rhetoric on both sides were still running high.

David Warner as Professor Grisenko illustrates this disillusionment with an almost carefree attitude and a love for American pop music, which he listens to through his headphones.  By contrast, First Mate Stephashin is all too eager to see nuclear war break out, figuring that the Americans will launch their missiles soon so the Soviets might as well beat them to the punch.  Captain Zhukov, played by Cunningham, represents the middle ground between these two extremes.

Also well handled was giving us, the viewers, for the first time, a glimpse of what the Ice Warriors look like underneath all that armor they wear.  Although the CGI makes him look a bit silly, the practical effects are much better, and thankfully the CGI isn't used too much.  Check this out and tell me what you think:

"I floss my teeth with the tendons of vanquished foes."
Actually looks kinda badass, doesn't he?  The creative team wisely decided not to deviate too much from the classic design, opting simply to give him a gigantic size and body-builder physique (as opposed to the barrel-shaped costumes worn in the classic series).  Actor Spencer Wilding, standing at 6'7", was the perfect choice to portray the Ice Warrior Skaldek, having previously acted the part of the Minotaur in "The God Complex" and the Tree King in "The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe".

All in all, I give this episode a B+.  For another take on "Cold War", Den of Geek's review.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Review: The Rings of Akhaten

I'm not quite sure what to make of this episode.  A lot of it reminds me of "The Beast Below", meaning the alien marketplace set, the kid in distress, the new Companion saving the day instead of the Doctor.  I hate it when Moffat recycles stuff.  Can he not come up with anything new?  On the other hand, there were moments I liked that made the episode worthwhile.  And so, swiping Jayne Gudkov's format once again, here I go...


The Doctor stalking the latest incarnation of Clara through time as he tries to figure her out.  His exclamation, "She's not possible!" revealed his frustration upon realizing who and what she might really be.  It conveys once again that, as usual, the Doctor is several steps ahead of everyone else.

Showing how Clara's parents met, establishing before our eyes that, yes, she is — at least on the surface — pretty much what she appears to be: a normal human woman.  That this stands in stark contradiction with what the Doctor might or might not know about her only adds to the mystery surrounding the character.  I like a good puzzle!

The TARDIS doesn't seem to like Clara, much as it doesn't like Captain Jack Harkness (who is a fixed temporal "fact" because of the actions of Rose Tyler in her brief time as the Bad Wolf entity).  The reason for this might seem obvious: this is a woman who has existed with the same body and name at three different points of space and time, for reasons yet to be revealed.  The TARDIS, being temporally aware of the past, present, and future, knows who and what Clara is even if she and the Doctor don't.  I can only guess, but she's got to be the product of an entity similar to Bad Wolf, possibly even Bad Wolf herself.  Think about what the entity is capable of: fixing things and people throughout space and time as a message to the Doctor and her past self.  Why wouldn't this be something along the same line?  Is it possible that Clara or someone who knows her somehow morphed into Bad Wolf II by absorbing energy from the Time Vortex, just as Rose did, and orchestrated the events within the story by replicating Clara throughout time and space?  If I'm right, it's Moffat recycling things that have already been done in recent memory, and it's a huuuuge cheat for which he may never be forgiven.  On the other hand, depending on how it plays out, it could be epic.  We'll just have to wait and see.


That whole speech toward the end where the Doctor tells the monster about everything he's seen and experienced.  Matt Smith revealed again just how awesome a choice he was to fill the role.  I couldn't help but get misty-eyed.


You just know I'm gonna have problems with anything in a show run by Stephen Moffat, but this one is (relatively) minor.  When the Doctor and Clara rush to an asteroid-based pyramid to save a little girl, they take time out to buy a space moped instead of using the TARDIS.  HELLO!  I understand Neil Cross, the writer of this episode, wanted emotional moments, such as Clara having to trade her mother's ring for the moped (the people on this planetoid use things that have sentimental value as currency).  But really, this whole not using the TARDIS just because it makes things more difficult for the Doctor and Clara and allows the excuse of making the episode longer, doesn't work at all.  Shame on you, Moffat, for letting this plot point be used.


The smiley face on the monster gas giant.  LAME.  That Clara and the Doctor essentially snuffed out the star or "mother" planet around which at least seven inhabited worlds orbited and it had no apparent devastating effect (thanks, Jayne, for pointing that out).  That, in defiance of the laws of physics and what we know of the vacuum of space, Clara and the Doctor are able to ride a hover-moped through space with no protection from the vacuum of space whatsoever and not freeze or die of asphyxiation.  It is unforgivable that a science-fiction show completely ignores good science, and presents horrendously bad science, so frequently.  Come on, people!  You can do better than that!


The Doctor: I've seen bigger.

Clara: Really?

The Doctor:  Are you joking!?  It's massive!


"Cold War", featuring an Ice Warrior on a nuclear submarine in the 1980s.  David Warner guest stars.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Jessica Lyin' to Firestorm users: Don't Expect Working Update Any Time Soon

Well, at least she's not springing any big surprises on anyone.  Jessica Lyin' posted an entry on her blog April 5th stating flat out that there will be no usable update to Firestorm any time soon.  With server side baking coming at some undisclosed date in the near or not-so-near future, disgruntled users asking questions but receiving no honest or real answers, and as usual, Ms. Lyin' is, well, lying.

On the one hand, she says that the "coming Firestorm release DOES support Server Side Baking."  Then she turns around and says that she and her team of suckups won't release the new viewer now "[b]ecause Linden Lab has not released their viewer with Server Side Baking yet. And if we release Firestorm now, and then LL realizes there needs to be more code changes for Server Side Baking that will affect both their viewer and ours, then we will have to do yet another release immediately after."

Okay, so where, you might be asking, is the lie?  In the first sentence of the blog entry, Lyin' says flat out "that the release is quickly approaching."  Define "quickly."  If we go by the timeline Linden Lab has traditionally adopted, "quickly" could be six months or a year from now, or two years from now, or maybe never.  That's not what any reasonable person would call "quick".

So basically, Jessica Lyin' is telling Firestorm users that although the next update will be ready to roll out very soon, if not now, they're going to wait to release it until Linden Lab officially rolls out Server Side Baking, which could be a while in coming.

Commenter Bear Silvershade rightly called B.S. on this one, stating:

I had to think about responding to this thread, because invariably, the small number of people who voice an opposing view get bashed or labelled a troll. Sadly, that is likely to happen to me, but I am so frustrated.
So let me see if I have this right. You are not releasing a version of Firestorm you have, that you feel is stable, and would likely include the long awaited snapshot tiling fix, because… you don’t think it would be cool to have to release an update a few days to a few weeks after this one?
I admit I am not a loyal firestorm user. Though I think it is one of the best viewers available, the infrequency of updates to take advantage of newer code or newer features has always been a concern. That came to a head in December when the tiling bug fix came out. Since one of my main activities in SL is making images, that was a major fix, and one that many others had been waiting for as well.
That’s when Firestorm lost me completely. It’s now four months without that fix being implemented. The absurdity of including William Weaver’s phototools to make this an ideal viewer for image makers, even starting a flickr group to show off images made with it, but not getting out the tiling fix as soon as possible still has me shaking my head.
Other viewers, including LL, release regularly. Are you saying that you can’t even come close to living up to that standard?
More annoying, it appears from one blogger’s comments that there was a stable beta available some weeks ago, apparently only available to a select few.
Now we have to keep waiting, even though you have something you feel is releasable? I am sure I am not alone in being willing to update my viewer a few days after a release. It happens with all kinds of software.
Now, before the putdowns start, you really want users avoiding posting for fear of retaliation or otherwise being shut down or disregarded? Or would you rather have an inclusive group where users feel like they are contributing and their concerns are honestly being listened to.
I will likely try the new viewer when it comes out, hoping that it lives up to the wait, though I have some concern that it won’t.
But that’s as may be. The fact is, in the end, there are other viewers out there, including the Lab’s, that do offer regular updates, so problems are dealt with and new features/fixes are available.
Jessica, I applaud your and the team’s commitment to quality. But it’s time to leave this no beta model/favoured few model behind and show a little more respect for your user base.
Naturally, Lyin' went on the attack with her patented brand of lies combined with condescension and dismissal.  Bear replied:
Perhaps you could try not trying to pack so many changes into each release? You will always be chasing the next feature, and if you are waiting till a whole bunch is perfect, well this is the result, that needed working features aren’t released, because you are waiting on something else.
As to regular releases, well, I am not worried about how popular the viewer is. Exodus, like Zen, appears to have ceased development, though while they were developing, offered nightly builds. Singularity, when the tiling fix and others features/patches came out, got a baseline viewer out that they plan to build on, in a reasonable time frame.
But Dolphin releases regularly, usually every two weeks or so. Niran, while I think it goes too far wit UI changes, also releases regularly.
But as to “irresponsibly releasing a build” that’s what a system of development and beta releases are for… let us decide, instead of adopting this paternalistic and, frankly, somewhat condescending attitude. If I am trying a LL dev build, as I often do, and it has a problem, I don’t get angry at them, it was my choice. I’ve never got to report a bug, since others usually find them before me.
Though you say you are not dismissing my concerns, frankly, that is exactly what you are saying in your final sentence. “We have reasons, you just don’t understand” is how that comes across to me.
Maybe if I say it more clearly.
1) It is disrespectful of your larger user base to release betas to a special few so they can enjoy the benefits (and, yes take the risks)
2) It is a poor model that ends up with four months between releases, leaving users without fixes that are ready to go.
3) Incremental releases allow us to decide what level of chance we are willing to take.
4) Contrary to your comments, many viewers, including LL and TPVs, release more regularly, getting improvements into the stream as they are available.
More lies, condescension, and dismissal from Jessica Lyin', followed by a disheartened final response from Bear.  Again, no big surprise there.  The baseline response from Ms. Lyin' and her merry band of suckups is always to go on the attack, dismiss any and all criticisms no matter how legitimate, and engage in rampant dishonesty.

User Sorrow made the following observation:
Only issue is they generally don’t screw up either. Every CoolVL weekly patch has worked flawlessly, every Singularity Alpha build aren’t problematic, same as Nirans, etc.
Only up to date released problematic and buggy viewer is Firestorm.
With firestorm updates being so slow, by the time this next version is released, it will already fallen 1-2 months behind the Official, CoolVL, Singularity Alpha, etc as the other viewers are already far ahead in development with the next batch of LL Patches, code, and new features..
It’s almost like, instead of thinking ahead like other 3rd party developers and working with LL developmental code and beginning to code and enact their own version of the LL future development, instead you wait until the official LL viewer to implement it, then barely start working on it, while on the other hand, the other 3rd party viewers have already released their own updates as they already completed development of the new features.
Sorta like this Server Side baking.. it’s been talked about for months and months, implemented on the developmental viewer then beta viewer for months as well, however it doesn’t seem like the FS team bothered* to begin working on it during this time (like the other developers), instead waited all the way when LL was ready to roll it out on the official viewer, thus months behind everyone else.
“viewers with such a small user base can afford to screw up where we cannot.”
you should follow CoolVL’s or Singularity’s model, have weekly or bi-weekly (even monthly would be better than nothing) releases labeled as “Alpha (Use At Your Own Risk)” no matter how small the patch, having regular releases, even if they are alpha or beta versions, this will more likely keep everyone satisfied, plus help your team locate and identify bugs if you have an alpha version JIRA rather than previously where the bugs end up being located within the official major releases (much better idea than this “Preview Idea” as a few days probably isn’t enough to locate all problems in a viewer.
I put the key parts in bold-type. *: I corrected a grammatical error so the sentence conveys the writer's meaning.  Anyway, Sorrow makes a very good point: Henri Beauchamp and Siana Gearz update their viewers much more frequently than Jessica Lyin's team does, and their crews are smaller.  They do, however, have the benefit of being more talented programmers, and they stay ahead on the updates.  Lyin' is basically dismissing these and other TPV developers as being too small and insignificant to emulate so as to better serve her users.  Do you feel insulted by that attitude?  I am, and I don't even use Firestorm.

So there you have it.  Jessica Lyin' has what she claims (probably falsely, as usual) is a workable update to her crappy viewer, but won't release it until after Linden Lab rolls out Server Side Baking, which means it could be any time between now and never.

Oh well.

By the way, for any of you programming wizards out there who might be interested, I managed to download the code for Phoenix Viewer (not Firestorm), so that it can be updated and resurrected under a different title.  I have no programming skills, but I can pass on the files for you to work with.  What you do with them is up to you.  Send me an e-mail or reply in the comments to let me know if you're interested and I'll find a way to share the files with you.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Review: The Bells of Saint John

So the Doctor has finally found Clara Oswald, after what appears to be (from his perspective in time) a very long search.  If you want a better review than this, I suggest going here.  I'll take a page from Jayne Gudkov's style and give you a breakdown of what I liked, what I disliked, and 'best' moments.


The banter and on-screen chemistry.  Jenna-Louise Coleman and Matt Smith work really well together.  It's great when actors have a genuinely good working relationship, and it shows on the screen.  It's like Coleman is River Song (played by Alex Kingston) with twenty-five years taken off.

The mystery of Clara Oswald.  Who is this woman?  Why does she keep popping up throughout time, same face, body, and voice, dying only to reappear somewhere else in time and space with apparently no memory of her previous existences?  Moffat, if you screw this one up, you deserve to be sacked from the BBC.  Don't use your usual throw-away, non-stick explanations.

The reintroduction of the Great Intelligence (and other old school foes).  As we head into this November's fiftieth anniversary episode, the writers are wisely bringing out enemies from the classic series — not rebooted or alternate dimension versions, but the actual enemies.  The Great Intelligence has resurfaced now in two episodes of the "new" series (which is now in its seventh season, so it's hardly new anymore), and I can tell right now that its presence is tied up in some way to Clara, though we won't know until the Big Revelation.


The Doctor (and Clara) riding a moped again, a nod to the 1996 television movie featuring Paul McGann.  Oh, and he used the moped's anti-grav feature to ride straight up the side of the London Shard skyscraper.  Brilliant!

The Spoonheads robots.  They looked like something straight out of a cheesy 1940s sci-fi serial.  Awesome!


Are you seriously telling me that police boxes are now so rare in Britain that almost no one remembers them?  There are still a few scattered throughout the country, such as the one at Earl's Court, a location that was referred to in the episode when the baddies were looking for the TARDIS's familiar police box form.  So why does no one refer to the exterior as a police box, and instead call it only a "blue box"?

The lack of originality.  Didn't we already see people being downloaded into a network of monitors in the Series Two episode "The Idiot's Lantern"?  It's already been done before.  No need to repeat that.


The Doctor keeps lying about his age.  During Sylvester McCoy's run as the Seventh Doctor, the Time Lord's age was established as being 953, give or take.  Then, when the series was revived in 2005, fifty-two of those years were shaved off — a writing error, no doubt, but one they felt compelled to stick with to maintain some continuity.  Besides, as he goes through his lives, the Doctor obviously feels much older than, say, a Time Lord might in his or her early lives, so it's understandable that he would want to lie to make himself younger than he really is.  But it's already been established in the episode "A Town Called Mercy" that he is now 1,200 at least.  And it's obviously been quite some time since he lost Amy and Rory.  So why, when he and Clara escape the Spoonheads and find themselves on a runaway airliner, does he give his age at 1,000?  Now he's shaving centuries off his age!  C'mon, really?  Dude...


The Doctor:  "Human souls trapped like flies in the world wide web, stuck forever, crying out for help."
Clara: "Isn’t that basically Twitter?"
Clara calling the TARDIS a "snog box".

(Thank you, Jayne!)