Sheep have great potential.

People whose arms were stroked by a robot nurse named Cody felt more comfortable if they believed Cody was cleaning them than if they believed Cody was attempting to comfort them. People who have low serotonin levels underestimate the intimacy shared by couples they do not know. The children of depressed fathers are four times as likely to be spanked, and the brains of depressed mothers are less responsive to the cries of the mothers’ children. Mental illness was going largely untreated among American babies. Test subjects experienced fear when they were given a third, prosthetic arm and researchers threatened that arm with a knife. A connection between violence and happy hour was noted in Wales, where officials planned to move ahead with a badger cull in Pembrokeshire and to rebeaver the countryside near Furnace. In England, Slimbridge scientists surveyed the fatness of swans’ behinds, and doctors treated a three year old for alcoholism. Welsh mountain sheep were deemed capable of following rules. “Sheep have great potential,” said Jenny Morton of Cambridge University. “They’re not as daft as they look.”

Chemists discovered why Van Gogh’s yellows were fading; a Dutch ornithologist remained unsure whether the yellow breasts of great tits change with age but found that the offspring of older females are likelier to die young. In Finland, tawny owls were evolving from gray to brown and sperm quality in humans was deteriorating. Religion was going in extinct in the Czech Republic. A sacred soft-shelled turtle in Hanoi, one of only four species left in the world, was gravely ill yet continued to evade capture. A female mite preserved in amber with her mate was observed to have been controlling the terms of their copulation. Florida could be up to 50 percent older than previously believed. Astrobiologists hypothesized that the first multi-cellular animal resembled cancer. Tonsillectomies make children gain weight. Weight-loss surgery makes children lose weight. Doctors touted the benefits of removing the gallbladder through the vagina. Texas scientists cut holes in the hearts of baby mice; the hearts then healed themselves.

The passages above are from the “Findings” section in the May 2011 issue of Harper’s and were written by Rafil Kroll-Zaidi.

See previously: here, here, here, here, and here.

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.

So, a very, very, very long time ago, there was this massive explosion. It’s just a cosmological theory, but it’s also been accepted as fact. Our universe was so incredibly hot and dense for a finite time, and it just exploded and expanded and it was bigger than anything ever, because it is everything and it’s always expanding and cooling…

…and it happened. How do we know? Because you’re sitting there, right there, right now, in your comfy chair, or on your couch, or perhaps laying in bed, or wherever or however you read your friendly neighborhood Counterforce. Well, or so we think. It sounds nice. Exploding into being, from essence to existence by way of KA-BOOM! That sounds good, right? But this thing, which we can call “Event One,” it happened, and because of it, the universe as we know it was created.

And then something happened. A serious of events that lead to the total and utter collapse of the universe and all reality. Well, they didn’t just collapse, but they began a severe process of collapsing. But the universe is big and vast and this took a little bit of time. How long? Well, roughly 2,000 years in theoretical time, but in subjective time, about 45 minutes or so.

And all of that happened, and then happened again in tonight’s season finale of Doctor Who’s fifth series, “The Big Bang.” Following last week’s ridiculously intense episode, the universe collapsed, or rather, began the process of collapsing until there was a second big bang, and everything was re-created again.

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The oldest words in the universe…

…are these:

Last week on Doctor Who we got James Corden and low fi crazy roommate drama and this week, but this week as “The Pandorica Opens,” we got possibly one of the biggest, craziest episodes of the show ever.

Somehow the stakes are even higher than they were in “The Stolen Earth” and “Journey’s End” and all the teases from this past season and from across time and space start to coalesce into something, like a puzzle assembling itself. Much like the Pandorica itself, a nasty puzzle box that was dreamt up in the mind of a little girl and can unlock itself from the inside…

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Ordinary people going nowhere.

Last week it was all about fighting invisible chicken monsters from outer space and getting inside the lonely, tragic head of a challenged painter who didn’t realize how important he would be in the eyes of all those who looked upon his works…

…and this week on Doctor Who it’s about the lives of ordinary people, in a pretty simple lo fi episode as we gear up for next week’s two part season finale…

And that’s this weeks’ episode, “The Lodger,” written by Gareth Roberts and featuring James Corden, whom I don’t think many outside of England will know, and I don’t know much about him either, except that he was going to be in this episode and, of course, was recently a dick to Patrick Stewart:

A lot of times after viewing an episode and before I write one of these things, I’ll do a quick scan online to see where my feelings fit in with the rest of the online, er, “community,” and usually, it’s a match. Well, for the most part. This week, I have to say, I was quite shocked to find that most of the viewers loved this episode, and perhaps more than loved it. In the typical fashion of any television show reaching the conclusion of it’s season, there’s the slow down before the great big ramp up and exit, and many online compared to this to “Love And Monsters” and “Fear Her,” and how much better tonight’s episode was compared to those, though I didn’t dislike those episodes or look upon them negatively at all. At least not “Love And Monsters.” Though none of them will compared to “Utopia,” of course.

And don’t get me wrong, I certainly didn’t hate “The Lodger,” not at all. It was quite fine, actually, but I’m starting to notice perhaps the tiniest thread of disconnect between myself and other Doctor Who fans out there. Many, it seems, are quite eager to proclaim this new season the best yet (since the revival started, I imagine, and probably before as well), and I don’t know that I would go that far just yet.

That said, I really did like this episode, maybe not as much as others, but it was very good. The Eleventh Doctor, left behind by a manufacturing TARDIS, and having to spend a few days pretending to be a normal human as he figures out and tries to stop whatever it is that’s interfering with his time machine. Brilliant set up. I tend to like all forms of (good) sci fi, but especially that which pulls it out of space and tentacle rape and girls with three tits and brings it down to Earth in a normal setting, showing humans dealing with the fantastic. And this episode did that, even though it appeared to be more of a showcase for just how weird Matt Smith’s incarnation of the Doctor is.

That and, in case  you didn’t know, that Matt Smith was just this close to becoming a professional footballer (that’s soccer for those of us stateside), until an injury derailed that and set him down the path towards acting.

Even more interesting to me is that the initial story to this episode started off as a comic strip in the Doctor Who magazine, and I always love that this show will mine other sources for it’s stories and adapt them. For example, Moffat’s own “Blink” was initially a short story starring a much younger version of Sally Sparrow, and the lovely two parter “The Family Of Blood” and “Human Nature” were based on a previous Doctor Who novel. Those two episodes, in particular, make you wonder why the Doctor would choose to go by “The Doctor” in this episode rather than his go to nom de plume of “John Smith.”

From what I can surmise though, the initial comic strip featured a then new Tenth Doctor getting separated from Rose and the TARDIS and having to move in with Mickey Smith for a week. Interesting enough, the angle of the comic strip was apparently how normal and more human-like David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor was than his predecessor and how much of an irritant that was to Mickey Smith, how that split him from Rose even more. And I think that’s a more than valid point, especially since Tennant’s Doctor was so likable, and in such a human way, and was more prone to walk into any situation and master it within moments and get everyone on his side.

from here.

And I think it’s interesting how they flipped that with Smith’s Eleventh Doctor, almost making him the exact opposite of his predecessor, all bow ties and weird hair and an alien understanding of the normality of the humanity he seems so obsessed with. Whereas Tennant’s Doctor read the last Harry Potter book and cried or loves chips (french fries), Smith’s Doctor can’t tell how time progresses for normal humans or how to properly greet someone in a particular era. He has blithe, slightly telepathic conversations with cats and, thanks to slightly rushed feeling writing, head butts people in a rather slapstick fashion to pass along quick psychic infodumps.

from here.

And for a quirky, amusing story, I should add that the humor wasn’t unwelcome, but as I believe I said last week, I’m eagerly awaiting next week’s return of Moffat and the deadly seriousness he can bring. In my wildest dreams, Moffat would write like ten out of a given series’ 13 episodes. I know, I know, that’s insane. But just imagine it.

That said, again, liked the episode, but thought parts of it were a bit rushed feeling. The silhouetted villains at the top of the stairs and the flickering lights were brilliant, but let’s face it, kids are fucking terrifying. At least to me. I thought the notion of an alien ship trying to built itself a TARDIS left me more curious and intrigued than the episode probably meant to do and I liked the cameo of Van Gogh again (on the fridge)(and rumor has it that another Van Gogh appearance is slated for next week).

And despite all his quirks and brain being in a million different places other than right here and now, the Doctor seems a bit lazy and pedestrian (again, perhaps that’s merely the writing) in tackling the unseen menace upstairs. And in that infodump of the Doctor’s history, we get yet another roll call of previous Doctors. Makes you wonder if the show is still struggling to cement Matt Smith’s place in the history of these other incarnations or if it’s going somewhere next week, with the Doctor perhaps finding himself erased from history…

And if the episode had one major flaw, it’s something the last few episodes have shared: Not enough Amy Pond. She started off so strong this season and then was a bit wasted. But now’s found the engagement ring hidden there in the Doctor’s coat and perhaps she’s remembered Rory? Or perhaps it’s something else all together, but either way, part of me is glad this season is ending now. It’s been a fun ride and especially after tonight’s brief landing with a group of ordinary people who are fine going nowhere in their lives, I’m happy to follow the Doctor and Amy Pond and River Song as they zoom off into time and space and adventure…

Next time: Time and space and adventure! River Song returns and accompanies the Doctor and Amy to Stonehenge. The return of a whole slew of nasty monsters and villains. Rory the Roman! And perhaps, at last, the Pandorica opens…

At eternity’s gate.

Last week the Earth was in danger from it’s original inhabitants crawling from under the surface, but this week on Doctor Who, we’re more in what one of the greatest painters ever sees, be it in himself, or in his future, or in the eyes of a scary looking creature staring out from the windows of a church…

And that’s this week’s episode, which bears the rather low key title of “Vincent And The Doctor,” written by Richard Curtis of Four Weddings And A Funeral, Notting Hill, and Love, Actually fame.

The plot is relatively simple: The Doctor is showing Amy a good time, trying to make up for the loss of Rory in small ways, but it’s more about alleviating his guilt over what she can’t remember. They go to the Musee D’orsay in Paris and notice a scary face staring out from a window within Van Gogh’s painting, The Church At Auvers, and after finding a approximation of the date the painting was done, decide to back and pay Van Gogh a visit in his final and incredibly product days and do a little investigating. And adventuring.

It’s kind of interesting in that all of Moffat’s previous episodes of Doctor Who during the RTD run of the show dealt with things of an auditory nature, repeated scary catch phrases and noises of monsters, and this series it’s primary more about what is seen. And Van Gogh, dealing with his madness, is the only person who can see the alien creature rampaging through Provence, possibly because of his temporal lobe epilepsy (the part of your brain where God and other wonderful monsters live, as the God helmet taught us), and that monster itself happens to be blind.

The episode is pretty light on the plot and much more character-driven and kind of hauntingly wonderful in that regard. I didn’t dislike last week’s episode or “The Hungry Earth” before it, but ultimately I feel that it may be rather forgettable in the long run, and possibly “Vampires In Venice” as well (this episode was shot in the same Croatian village as that episode, standing in for France this time, rather than Venice), but this one is an odd keeper. And that, in itself, is interesting because a quick scan online has shown me that quite a few have actually hated this episode, which I think it’s a shame. It was lovely in a tragic way, but also rather life affirming of the beauty of both the good and the bad we experience in this brief and temporary life, especially since the Pandorica will be opening in a mere two weeks.

The rumored original title of this episode was supposedly “Lend Me Your Ear,” which is just too funny.

I can’t say enough good things about Tony Curran’s rendition of Vincent Van Gogh, who didn’t have a lot to do in this episode, not really, but did all of it with such incredible weight. The way he delivered the line, “When you leave, as everyone always does, I will be left with an empty heart and no hope” was beautiful in an incredibly touching way that just stabbed at you, and was in an amazing contract with the tears that streamed down his eyes as Bill Nighy’s curator character explained the effect that Van Gogh had on the world of modern art.

Also, keeping his natural Scottish accent and having him then assume that Amy Pond was Dutch as well was brilliant.

And then there was that beautiful scene of Van Gogh laying in the grass with Amy and the Doctor, having them look up at the night sky and seeing it from his perspective, the literal transformation from the real into a starry night.

And Karen Gillan was again, of course, beautiful in this episode, and again, felt somewhat wasted. I quite enjoyed her stuff at the end, after her and the Doctor showed Van Gogh how he changed the world of the future, and the way she hoped that they had had an effect on him that would’ve changed something in his life for the better, perhaps helped him to deal with his demons and live longer…

…but finding that their time with the artist only gave him the strength to carry out his life exactly as it already played out.

From her perspective, that is.

And the perspective of a time traveler can certainly be an interesting thing, I think we’ve seen so far this season.

It’s interesting watching Matt Smith’s progression as the Doctor this series, not so much in acting, but in writing. Part of that has to do with the showrunner, Stephen Moffat, writing more episodes at the start of the series, but there’s certainly much more of a weight to episodes like “The Eleventh Hour” and “The Beast Below” and, of course, in “The Time Of Angels” and “Flesh And Stone.” Life literally felt like it was on the line in those episodes, the situations were certainly more dire, and the actors/characters shown a lot brighter, and I’m looking forward to next week’s episode, but I’m really anxious to see Moffat return in two weeks as River Song returns (along with Rory and a whole host of baddies, apparently, if supposed spoilers are to be believed), the Pandorica opens, and silence falls…

Next time: The Doctor takes the slow path for a week without the TARDIS, becoming a lodger, playing a little soccer, and discovers the mystery of the staircase that people can go up but never come down.

Journey to the center of the Earth!

Last week the original inhabitants of the planet – homo reptilia – came up to the surface of the Earth as a prelude to a war and to kidnap our loved ones, and a challenge was left to the human race, to be the very best example of what they could be…

…which is easier said than done we discovered this week on Doctor Who in “Cold Blood,” the concluding two parter of the return of the Silurians.

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The surface of the Earth.

Last week we were five years in the future of our dreams and being attacked by the alien elderly from our nightmares, and this week we’re ten years into the future, humans are drilling into the ground, drilling deeper into the planet than anyone has ever drilled before, but little do they know that someone or something else is under there, and that something or someone is drilling up…

And that’s this week’s episode of Doctor Who, “The Hungry Earth,” which is the first part of a two parter.

The episode itself was solid, as everything this series has been, but with not too much in the ways of frills and thrills. We’re in Wales (again, of course), and Amy’s got a good reason to be in short skirts (again, of course). “Something for the dads” in the audience, they call it. It’s an episode that has a concept that fills Moffat’s proclamation that each episode’s premise should make a good feature film, of course, but it just feels… lacking, in a way. Somewhat rushed, perhaps. Not complete, basically. Personally, I blame this all on Torchwood‘s Chris Chibnall, and I’d suggest that you do the same.

The cast is solid enough, especially Meera Syal, who was fantastic fun in Moffat’s brilliant Jekyll, but who is just kind of there here. There’s a lot of ideas bouncing around, so hopefully she’ll get a little more play in part two, which looks a vastly more interesting, but at least she got to take a ride in the TARDIS this week. Technically, I think that means that she’s a bit of a companion, right?

As for the Silurians, I don’t know much about them other than what I read in other people’s reviews, but they’re an intriguing concept for a “villain” of a species. Seemingly they’re not considered all that “classic” by old school Doctor Who standards, but they certainly seem to be more exciting than the fucking Sontarans, right? Unless you’re the type to find Mr. Potato Head just terrifying. Who wouldn’t want to see homo reptilia transformed into femme fatales?  The prosthetics there are certainly impressive, as they usually are, and the captive Alaya’s assurance that not only will there be a war, but that it’ll start with her death in captivity at the hands of the human apes was fascinating and intriguing. And her “I know which one of you will kill me” was incredibly chilling. I want to start saying shit like that just to freak people out. I’m assuming that’s why Jesus said it, you know, just to fuck with people’s minds.

from here, What if Doctor Who were a Disney movie?

Two things. The first: Is it me or does it seem like Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor spends quite a bit of his time asking and pleading for people to trust him? Is that because he feels so young (and looks it too, certainly) and feels that people don’t take him seriously? It’s an interesting character flat, possibly, especially when you stack it up alongside David Tenant’s Tenth Doctor’s constant need to tell everyone he met that he was sorry, so sorry.

The second: Amy and Rory in the future come to see themselves landing in the past with the Doctor and wave? That seems interesting, but only in the sense that it has to be a terrific red herring, right?

Especially since, and this is just my theory, mind you, but I think that something bad is going to happen to Rory next week. There seems like there’s quite a bit happening in part two and I wouldn’t surprised if Rory gets lost in the mix. Perhaps fatally. At least until the two part (“The Pandorica Opens” and “The Big Bang”) finale.

from here.

What do you think? And I feel like the lack of Amy Pond in this episode was really felt, so it’s easier to examine Rory on his own. Do you like Rory, regardless of his lack of chemistry with Amy or not, and want him to stick around or would you rather he fell off the surface of the Earth?

Oh, and this is a bit spoiled from being in so many trailers, but is still brilliant dialogue…

Little kid: “Are you afraid of monsters?”

The Doctor: “No, they’re afraid of me.”

It’s similar to the line the Doctor says to the young Madama De Pompadour in “The Girl In The Fireplace,” but that’s okay because it still just works, you know?

Oh, and I should add: Loved the spooky graveyard stuff, but thought it was wasted terribly. And I really liked that last image.

Above is a nice tease of a picture, featuring Richard Curtis (who writes the Van Gogh episode this series), Steven Moffat, and Neil Gaiman, who is holding up the finished script for his episode next series. Notice how he is of course keeping the episode title obscured, but it was originally “The House Of Nothing,” which features nicely into old Gaiman mystique. You can also find Gaiman writing about Ray Bradbury, and meanwhile,

I’ll still be crossing my fingers at the idea of Phillip Pullman writing an episode next series. Or maybe Warren Ellis. I’d love to see his take on the Doctor, who would most likely go around shouting at his companions for being stupid, ordering them to get him some tea, and then bonking things and people over the head with a cricket bat. But that sounds genius to me.

Next time: Can the Doctor prevent a war between the original inhabitants of the planet of the Earth and the current occupants, and can he also find Amy Pond, that little kid’s dad, and that little kid as well?