A Geeky Soundtrack

Co-written with the lovely Suzanne Walker. You can find her over at Cognitive Recalibration
SPOILER ALERT for endings of Doctor Who series 2 & 4, and Battlestar Galatica generally. 

So what if you leave us in floods of tears? That's good television. That's great television. 
Benjamin Cook, in Doctor Who: A Writer’s Tale

If there’s one thing we love, it’s a movie or show that tugs at our heartstrings, that almost begs us to love it. Of course, there are many of these pieces, and many ways to do it. But we would argue that there is one absolutely brilliant way to do it -- and that is through music. Movies or TV with marvelous, inspiring soundtracks are still not an everyday occurence, so when the brilliant ones come along, we take note. And these are ones that deserve much notice.

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Doomsday by Murray Gold

In terms of number of tears shed, it’s hard to beat the series 2 finale of Doctor Who. And a good portion of that is due to Murray Gold’s stunning work here -- so simple, yet so elegant and effective. Starting with a simple piano keeping time alongside vocals perfectly accompanies the devastating moment when the Void closes, the Doctor trapped on one side and Rose on the other. You can almost see their faces pressing up against the wall that won’t let them through. The bass added provides a gorgeous segue to the time that passes for Rose, the driving, the final meeting with the Doctor on Bad Wolf Bay, and the utter heartbreak that happens there.

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Song of Freedom by Murray Gold

But Murray Gold can write happy music as well. And if there's anything happier than this, well, I don't know it. The universe has been saved. All the Doctor's companions are flying the TARDIS back home with him. There are hugs, smiles, laughs, and for one moment, one shining moment, you can believe that everything will be alright, and that this show won't tear our hearts to pieces again.

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Concerning Hobbits by Howard Shore

Professor Tolkien, always known for his brevity, wrote ten pages at the beginning of the trilogy concerning hobbits. This track of the same name manages to do all that Tolkien did and more, in less than three minutes. From it's opening notes, the music itself takes you skipping and running through the lush green forests of the Shire and jumping into Gandalf's arms. It's homey and whimsical sounds fade to more serious themes as Gandalf begins to worry, and then to the simple joy of children, and of being alive and home at Bag End.

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The Return of the King by Howard Shore

Such a grand tale as the Lord of the Rings does not end neatly, nor all at once. It's the beginning of the end, the start of a new age, a grand day of coronation, as the splendor of Gondor is out in full force with grand orchestration. But all instruments drop away for the key moment -- Aragorn's invocation of Elendil's words when he set foot upon Middle Earth -- splendidly sung by Viggo Mortensen. Arwen's theme returns for her entrance and acceptance, and then it returns to the gorgeous sweeping theme of the Fellowship as the king, and thus the entire kingdom, bows to the four honored and surprised hobbits. The journey back again takes place under Frodo's narration, with the flute theme of "May It Be" coming in as they enter the Shire once more. Sitting in the Green Dragon together, it's almost a sad moment as the four hobbits, who have been through so much, toast amidst their fellows who have seen so little. That is, until Sam spots Rosie, and the familiar bouncy theme of the Shire comes back, and all is well with the world.

The Ballad of Serenity by Joss Whedon

One can argue that this isn't a soundtrack, it's a theme song. And you'd probably be right. But I don't care. Because in the beauty of this simple, Western-sounding ballad is the struggle to survive. Firefly does not pretend to meet with noble people, to see great battles, to do grand deeds. There is no claim to conquer the universe, no attempt to tame the wild, no desire to boldly go where no man has gone before. All there is is a yearning to be free, in the sky. As Mal says, "We're still flying." Simon replies that after all that's happened to them, "That's not much." But, "It's enough."

Roslin and Adama by Bear McCreary

I'm usually not one for love themes. Far too often they're cheesy, over-the-top, what have you. But Roslin and Adama deserve--and receive--so much more than that. This is simple, haunting, tragic. It conveys the extent to which these two care about each other, the yearning that they have for each other even as they're confronted by Roslin's illness or any crisis of the day they face as Admiral and President. And, in the end, it conveys the simplistic beauty of their love. I think about it whenever I think about any of my OTPs, nowadays. And it still gives me chills every time.

Will and Elizabeth by Klaus Badelt

Pirates of the Caribbean music is so much fun, you guys. Every time this soundtrack comes on my iPod I get into a fantastically swashbuckling mood. But I think this one is my favorite, if only for the swordfighting scene it accompanies. "And I practice with them...three hours a day!""You need to find yourself a girl, mate."

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Fireworks by Nicholas Hooper

If any song were to describe the Weasley twins, of course it would be this one. It's madcap, and fun, and speaks so well to all the things we love about the Wizarding world. Because of course, if you can't stick it to Umbridge in a serious way, you're going to do it with explosions, sparks and color. And this captures that so well.

The Pointy End by Ramin Djawadi

Again, I love the entirety of the Game of Thrones soundtrack, but this is my absolute favorite, if only because it so accurately conveys what it should be like for Arya, the water dancer, to learn swordplay from Syrio Forel. It is lilting, slow, but oh so very deliberate. It is a dance, and a deadly one. Gorgeous.

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Wander My Friends by Bear McCreary

F*ck you, she's awesome -- Part Two

Co-written with the lovely Suzanne Walker. You can find her over at Cognitive Recalibration

Because our first edition was so successful, and because you can never do enough to cheer for these women.

Also, as we said in the first post--any ladies you think should be on our ever-growing list? Which other women are too awesome for words? Share with us! 

Laura's list

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4. Eowyn of Rohan

The original shieldmaiden, Eowyn was one of the first women in fantasy to openly complain about being constrained by gender roles. In the dark hopeless world of an approaching end to Middle Earth, hardly anyone wants to wait at home, tending their elderly and sick bewitched relatives, or worse, watch as those relatives recover and then sentence them to stay home again. Not to mention sticking around all those years while being sexually harassed by her uncle's advisor. And so she takes things into her own hands, disguises herself in the time-honored manner, and rides to war. Oh, and she strikes down the King of the Nazgul. No big deal. Some people see it as a betrayl, when she falls in love with Faramir, and then decides to hang up her sword. But I see it simply as a change in personality. She was born into and lived through a world of conflict and war, and fighting was the work that needed to be done. Now that Sauron is defeated, the world needs to be healed. And she recognizes that she is right for the work that needs to be done. There are other fish in the sea besides Aragorn, and a man who is king perhaps is not really right for her. She realizes glory is not what lasts. But her work does.

3. Hermione Granger

There are so many things I could say about my favorite member of the Potter trio. I could talk about how much she changed and matured from the know-it-all of Sorcerer's Stone to the talented, capable friend of Deathly Hallows. I could talk about her development as a witch, about her relationship with Ron, about her gradual rebellion. But what I think makes her so awesome, and such a valuable friend to Harry and Ron is her insistent love for both of them. If these seven books have taught us one thing, it is that Harry and Ron are both idiot teenage boys. They both have the capability of being incredibly callous and cruel, and are to Hermione on multiple occasions--the entire second half of Prisoner of Azkaban being the most prominent example. And yet, her love for them never fades or diminishes. No matter how irritated or angry she might get at either of them, no matter how awful their fights are, she never stops loving. She never stops caring. She is the one who remains behind with Harry in Deathly Hallows, who stays with him--saves his life on multiple occassions--when things reach their lowest, awful point. That kind of friendship and love is something to be valued, cherished, held on to tight. And Harry and Ron are so incredibly lucky to have her in their lives.

2. Keladry of Mindelan

If you'd think that the second lady knight of the realm would have an easier time of it, you'd be wrong. Alanna faces immense challenges, to be sure. But though the law might be on Kel's side, tradition is not. She faces down daily pranks, attacks, and incredible sexist hatred thrown at her by everyone from the servants to her peers to her training master. I could not have borne all of this, much less starting at the age of ten. But she perseveres through all of it, finding friends in the oddest places, from animals to outcasts to the powerful. She becomes one of the realm's best tilters, and in the process, encourages dozens of other women to enter the ranks of Tortall's fighting forces, no matter the obstacles. It's no accident that she's put in command of a fort at the age of eighteen, as a newly made knight, and defends its people with everything she's got. She more than rises to every challenge she's given. Keep being awesome, Kel.

1. Martha Jones

Martha has the unfortunate happenstance to run into the Doctor at a really rough time in his life. There's little he can focus on besides the gaping loss of Rose, and much the same can be said for the viewers. And ultimately, this accounts for the general dislike or indifference towards her as a character. And people often forget just how fantastic and talented this woman is -- and simply put, how capable. She is by far the most accomplished of all the new companions -- well on her way towards becoming a doctor. She's not only older and independent, but is close to her family, and is the mediator that all of them turn to. She falls in love with a gorgeous, fantastic guy who is blind to it all -- but aren't all of us in love with the Doctor? She knows how amazing this guy is, and wants to stay friends with him, even if it means being brushed aside for Rose, because she knows just how much he has changed her life, and how much she loves the life she lives now. She supports him through all the emotional turmoil he goes through, she takes care of him as a human, and during that long year, it's her that walks the ravaged Earth, telling people about him -- about how amazing this man is, this man that they must believe in, this man that will never love her. The Doctor might channel the psychic energy, but ultimately she saves the world. And that year teaches her that it is time to get out. And she does get out. And learns that she can be amazing and brilliant on her own.

Suz's List

4. Adele DeWitt

We have yet to have a villain (or, villain-esque figure) on this list, but Adele DeWitt is a good first choice. Whatever your opinions are on Dollhouse (and oh, I have several), it's worth watching purely for Adele. The head of the L.A. Dollhouse, she makes no apologies for her line of work or what she does. She is a stone-cold businesswoman, and it doesn't matter to her if that business involves making Dolls out of people. She will run her business, and she will do whatever she deems necessary to make sure it is run efficiently. She's tough, she's ruthless, and she refuses to allow anyone to intimidate her (good lord, that episode with Dominic in season one where she got shot and just STOOD THERE...). And yet, she's lonely. She's desperately lonely, and Miss Lonelyhearts shows us a side of Adele that none of her co-workers get to see. But she'll shut that side down when she needs to, and she refuses to allow it to continue when she feels it might interfere with her life. She pushes through, but she also does have her scruples, choosing eventually to side with the Actives over Rossum. Whether or not you agree with her ethics or what she does, she will fight for her interests to the death. And she will not let anyone stand in her way.

3. Natasha Romanov

Natasha was the great pleasant surprise of the Avengers for me (well, her and Bruce Banner). I hated her character in Iron Man 2, because it was epitome of what I like to call the “vapid strong woman” stereotype. Sure, she kicked ass, but there was nothing there. And even though I knew that it was the fault of that shitty script, it still irritated the hell out of me, and I was not excited to learn she was going to be the primary lady of the Avengers. Oh, Suz of little faith.  Thank god for Joss Whedon and the rest of the people in charge of that script, for the Natasha Romanov of the Avengers is one of the most complex, intelligent, badass lady spies I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing. Even though it’s clear from her conversation with Loki that there are far too many skeletons in her closet, too much red in her ledger, she remains in control of the situation the entire time. She decides the terms and conditions under which these parts of her life are dealt with and revealed. She doesn’t allow her demons to dominate her life, or to even try and get in the way of doing her job. She’s absolutely fearless, until she is confronted with the one rage machine who she can’t out-shoot, out-smart, or out-fight. But again, even though her fear of the Hulk is evident, she works through it and past it to the point where it doesn’t even matter, in a way that is so deeply admirable. She is smart as hell—let’s never forget that she was the one who figured out how to close that portal. She is consistently in control of herself and her surroundings, whatever those surroundings may be. And of course, she fights with a grace and style that I will envy from here to eternity.

2. Lirael

As demonstrated in the first volume of the Abhorsen trilogy, Sabriel, the primary strength of Garth Nix’s leading ladies is their ability to learn on the fly: to be thrown into a situation where they know nothing (Jon Snow), and yet the stakes are so high that the fate of the world is held in their hands. The Abhorsen sisters each rise to their respective challenges tremendously, but I want to talk about Lirael’s journey, because she came from a much, much lower place in her life to get to where she is at the conclusion of Abhorsen. She doesn’t fit. She’s grown up in an environment where she’s consistently been an outsider. She looks different; she never gains the abilities that are her supposed birthright. And Nix doesn’t shy away from showing us how much it tears her apart inside—within just a few chapters she is on a cliff, contemplating killing herself. Even when she finds a friend in the Disreputable Dog, she is not confident in herself and has a self-loathing to rival the best of us. Yet when her journey begins she rolls with it as best she knows how. She refuses to shy away from the difficulties that face her, and when she discovers that her true calling is something entirely different than what she’s been brought up and trained for, she stands up to face it. She claims her birthright as her own, and though there is nothing that is going to stand in her way. When you see her final, desperate sacrifice at the conclusion of Abhorsen, there’s little to remind you of the girl we first met. She has grown into her own skin, prepared to do anything to save the world. And that growth is beautiful to read.

1. The Badass Beifongs

 [Yes I am squeezing two ladies into one number, BITE ME]

If you ever want an unstoppable force of a mother-daughter pair, look no further than Toph and Lin Beifong. Two women who are so very different, yet have the same core of loyalty and badassery that clearly runs in the family. To start with Toph...you know, it took awhile for her to grow on me. There's too much of Katara in me for it to be any other way. But part of what makes all these women so great is how flawed all of them are. Sure they're awesome, sure there is nothing you can say to prove otherwise, but they are all so deeply human. Toph's spent her entire life being treated differently and sheltered because of her blindness. She's determined not to let it define her, though, and she's determined to make her own way in the world. All of this makes her tough, so very determined to do everything for herself, and while that is so very admirable, it gives her an abrasiveness that makes it difficult for her to gel with Team Avatar at first. But I so appreciate that that's a part of who she is, that no matter what happens you just Do. Not. Mess. with this girl. She's got a sense of humor that can send me into peals of laughter, and she constantly uses her wit to call people out on their bullshit. She fights with her friends, but is so very loyal to them. She is the greatest earthbender who ever lived, who learned metalbending where no one before ever had.

C2E2 - The dream I didn't know I had


I’ve never been to a con before. Why, you ask? The big comic-cons are on the coasts, much too far away. The Harry Potter cons that I thought about going to were always during the summer. All of them are pretty expensive. I always wanted to go -- I was beyond jealous of Suzanne when she made it to the NY Comic-con this year. And yet, when the matter of going to my own comic con came, I was hesitant. I don’t read comics. Would I find anything to enjoy?

Turns out, I needn’t have worried. Three days at C2E2, Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo, were some of the best geeky times I’ve ever had. By far the best decision was going in costume. I’d never cosplayed before, and never really dreamed I could. My sewing skills are hopeless, and neither my budget nor my ambitions are big enough to spend the months and hundreds that some people spend gathering together the perfect outfit. So it was a stroke of luck when a wonderful friend, Jorie (who made herself a fantastic Venetian Hooker Dress), offered to make a costume for me less than two weeks before the con. After an evening of brainstorming, we had an idea. A week of late nights of packing and sewing and ironing later, I had a sari.

A TARDIS sari. I rocked it. And my boyfriend rocked the Tenth Doctor suit.

And here is my advice about cons: cosplay. Because there is nothing like people asking to take your picture to make you feel confident and amazing. Over 5 hours on Friday, at least 50 people took our picture. That was before we entered the costume contest, and counting became impossible. And it was equally as enjoyable to admire the costumes that everyone else was wearing. There were plenty of Doctors (Four, Nine, Ten, Eleven), Amy Pond, Craig Owens, and a TARDIS or two (who were not as cool as I was). There was Katniss, Effie and Haymitch, a few Kaylees, a Gandalf, a Princess Tiana, and a Captain Jack Sparrow who looked exactly like Johnny Depp. And those were just the ones that I knew. Hundreds of other people were cosplaying video game and comic characters that I couldn't begin to identify.

But of course, there was way more to this than cosplay.


There was the show floor, with more geeky memorabilia than you could ever want. There were big displays by DC and Marvel, and a huge one for the actual props from Captain America, a bunch of which were auctioned off on Saturday. Even though I'm not at all a comics person, it was a pretty amazing display.

And there were plenty of things that were up my own fandom alley. There was a booth with corsets (as well as one with kilts). There was a booth that sold gorgeous custom-made gaming tables that I could never afford. There was a booth that sold monocle-like mustaches, complete with a chain. There was the official Doctor Who booth (it was so hard to walk away from that without buying anything), as well as plenty of unofficial ones. There were towers of t-shirts, lines of comics, and piles of memorabilia. There was the Artists' Alley, where hundreds of independent artists were hawking comics, original art, and fan-based art. I bought more than a few pieces. And there was the bakery that made 3 foot-tall custom fantasy cakes, and was selling TARDIS cookies. When a TARDIS ate a TARDIS, I'm surprised the universe didn't implode.

There were some great panels, too. My boyfriend enjoyed those on writing for TV, and we both had a great time at The One Ring.Net's Hobbit news headlines, but my favorite by far was called The Geek Girl and the Artist: Women's Perspectives on Geek Culture. Led by six amazing Chicago geeky women of all different walks of life, from photographers to lighting designers to writing professors, it was a fantastic discussion of personal experiences of women's part to play in a heavily male (and often sexist) nerd culture. Objectification, exclusion, inclusion, and acceptance were talked about, and stories of strong female characters and courageous female fans were told. It was late in the day on Friday, and I was quite tired, but it was a panel well worth staying for. I think these conversations are overdue, and I was proud to be watching them happen.

There were so many other things I wanted to make it to -- the panel by Nerdist Industries, the one with StarKid, the troupe that did the Very Potter Musical. There were also some pretty big names present. Anne Rice was there, as was John Cusak and Val Kilmer. Anthony Daniels, the man behind C-3PO, did a panel and signings. A last minute addition to the event, who autographed on all three days, was Sean Astin. I decided not to get his autograph, but I walked past his table quite a number of times, and definitely started squeeing when I saw Samwise Gamgee sitting 20 feet from me.

But the highlight of the weekend was John Barrowman. I missed his panel on Saturday, which I deeply regret, but it was beyond worth it to come back the next day for an autograph. The lines were much shorter on Sunday, and we were only waiting for about an hour and twenty minutes, but it was time well spent, and honestly, very much enjoyed. We saw a lot of fantastic costumes, met some great people (one of whom wrote an equally wonderful article about the con for a Northwestern publication), and had some wonderful conversations.

The closer we got to John Barrowman, the more I had to remind myself to breathe. The best news: he is just as hot in person as he is onscreen. But even better, is that he's just as funny and charming and real, even when you know he's been signing his name and hearing the same things about how great he is over and over for the past four hours. He smiled, he laughed, he listened to everyone, he took a picture with all. After a guy a few ahead of us in line who was cosplaying Marvel mercenary Deadpool knocked on his own codpiece (to the surprise of everyone present), Johnny B asked "Can I try?" and promptly reached over the table and did so. I couldn't have hoped for better.

When we finally got up to him, both Greg and I were tongue-tied. We got a signature and a picture, and said something about how we loved him, and then our time was done. Somehow, it was enough. As someone at the Women in Geek Culture panel said, "John Barrowman is the great equalizer." So true.



My first con -- SUCCESS. Hopefully many more to come!

F*ck you, she's awesome

Co-written with the lovely Suzanne Walker. You can find her over at Cognitive Recalibration

The fact is that there aren't enough decent female characters out there. But when they do appear, they inspire. They are something to celebrate, to defend, to admire. The characters that when someone starts to complain about, we can't help but defend. What would the world be without them? We each posit our respective lists of top five (and more) female characters in the sci-fi and fantasy we read/watch.

Laura's List

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5. Luna Lovegood

I spent a good portion of my childhood not fitting in, and it has shaped a lot of who I am. Including my sympathy with and love of people who clearly are outcasts. And none more so than Luna. She’s the acknowledged, and constantly-picked-on resident weirdo of Hogwarts. And they’ve got a point -- the things she believes are sort of weird. But kids, and adults as well, are often unable to dig beneath the odd interests to the person beneath, and she suffers a lot for that. It’s significant that Harry stumbles upon Luna in his fifth year, the time when he’s fighting against a hopeless public who believes he’s a liar. From the beginning, her vote of confidence meant something to Harry, and as time goes on, it begins to mean even more. She supports him through the fiasco at the Department of Mysteries, and is the only one who knows what to say after Sirius’ death. In that moment, her beliefs are not weird, they are comforting. Luna is always a strong, amazing young woman, remarkable for her patience and acceptance -- of Harry, of the Death Eaters, of the pranks and teasing she has to endure from her classmates. But as the walls of her bedroom -- painted with Harry, Ron, Hermionie, Ginny, and Neville -- show, it’s through them that she became her best self.

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4. Susan Sto-Helit

Being Death’s adopted granddaughter (long story) does have it’s advantages -- the ability to stop time, walk through walls, have a perfect memory, be basically invisible, change people’s memories -- it comes with some occupational hazards, like having to do your grandfather’s job when he’s on vacation, or save the world (twice) from the Auditors, something it appears that only someone mostly human can do. She’s sensible to a fault, which makes her the best governness and schoolteacher around (though the ability to take her class on field trips to Ank-Morpork’s battles doesn’t hurt, either). Oh, and she treats the Auditors of reality like seven-year-olds who’ve misbehaved. Which is actually quite accurate.

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3. Kaylee Frye

A self-trained mechanic, Kaylee gets hired to work on Firefly when the captain walks in on her having sex with the current mechanic, whereafter she proves in a few number of words that she knows how to fix the ship that her fling can’t. She may look like a tomboy, but beware if you hint that she can’t be a woman and a mechanic. She has a love affair with strawberries and poofy skirts, two things that are close to my heart. And if nothing else, Kaylee has the sunniest, sweest disposition ever, making even the criminal activities of the Firefly crew sound adorable. Possibly the most lovely, genuine character ever.

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2. Donna Noble

The firey redhead was branded as a “yelling fishwife” when she first appeared in A Runaway Bride. It took her coming back for the fourth series for most of us to realize just how amazing she is. She’s firey, oh yes. But she’s surprisingly sensitive, to the Doctor, and what he’s gone through. She picks him back off the ground and dusts him off. She stops him when he can’t stop himself. In the new series, she is his best friend, the closest he’s got to an equal. She makes his wanderings worth seeing, the trip worth taking. Out of all the Doctor's companions, she sees perhaps the most of his bad side, of the traits he wants to hide, of the things that happen to people who he cares about. But that doesn't make her love him less. Nah, he's just a "big dumbo" who is so skinny "you hug him, you get a papercut!" You can't help but love her sass. All that attitude, because she thinks she’s not special, that the universe isn’t listening. But it is. Because she saves it. But for one moment, one shining moment, she was the most important woman in the whole wide universe.

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1. Beka Cooper

A few months ago, if I had to pick a Tortall woman, my answer would have been Kel or Aly. That was until my friend Leslie read the second Beka Cooper book and spent nearly an hour telling me how this was her favorite heroine yet, and I realized she was right. If there is a definition of “tough” that doesn’t describe Beka, I haven’t found it yet. She grew up in the gutters of the slums of Tortall’s capital, and it’s her persistence and determination that gets her out of there, into a noble’s household. With many trades to choose from, she joins the Provost’s Guard, Tortall’s equivalent of the police, on watch in the worst district, where she will fight tooth and nail for the people who live there. And she does. Against thieves, slavers, and colemongers, she will do anything and everything to keep the peace and order. She stands up to everyone and anyone who gets in her way, regardless of rank and position. She has no high birth, no important connections, no great plans, just her sense of right and wrong, and determination to make it right. And she does it with skill and flair, earning her nicknames -- Terrier, Bloodhound. But the best part is, underneath the tough exterior is a real girl, with her own struggles. Seeing her in uniform, on the job, you'd never guess she was hopelessly shy. Or that she worries about paying her own rent, and about where her siblings will end up. Or that she's not nearly as suave with men as she'd like to be. But in spite of all that, she managed to achieve so much. She rocks.

Suzanne's List

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5. Catelyn Stark

This is what I often hear when I tell people that Catelyn Stark is one of my favorite characters in A Song of Ice and Fire. “She could be so naive sometimes!” “Oh, she’s mean to Jon, she’s a bitch,” “If she hadn’t captured Tyrion the entire war wouldn’t have started in the first place, she’s an idiot.” And I’m sorry, there is only one proper response to all of these haters. And that is, FUCK YOU, SHE’S AWESOME. The thing I respect about Catelyn the most is that she’s not one of those women who is an outcast, or flouts the system. She entered into an arranged marriage, she’s mothered five children, she is in every respect a typical medieval upper-class woman. And yet this does not take away from the complexity of her character, nor the power that she wields. Cat knows her world. She knows that her position as a woman in her society automatically renders her inferior in the eyes of many. But she also knows that she has power--as a mother, as a wife, as a widow. And she is not afraid to take that power and use it to her full advantage. She will do whatever she can do protect the people she that she loves--travel the country alone, negotiate with enemies, even help break Jaime Lannister out of prison. And so often it is she who talks sense when all the men around her are being idiots.

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4. Minerva McGonagall

It’s a testament to J.K. Rowling that I had an exceptionally difficult time deciding which lady from Harry Potter I wanted to be on my Top Five list. Luna, Hermione, Ginny, McGonagall--they’re all wonderful, unique, powerful witches. In the end, however, I have to put McGonagall at the top of the list. And I think it’s pretty obvious why. When Harry first meets McGonagall, he recognizes off the bat that this is “not someone you wanted to cross.” He was right, but it took about half the series for him to realize something else. McGonagall is not only a woman you don’t want to cross, she is also a woman you want very much to have on your side. McGonagall plays by the rules. She is an incredibly strict, demanding teacher, unafraid to discipline even her favorite students when she knows it’s necessary. And yet she is not afraid in the slightest to break the rules when the need arises. We see this first when she allows Harry on the Gryffindor Quidditch team, but it plays out in so many more important ways as the series progresses, particularly when outside forces encroach upon Hogwarts. She is also so incredibly loyal, with the most poignant example being her defence of Hagrid in OotP. Even though Hagrid clearly drives her crazy half the time, she does not hesitate to rush down to defend him, taking on four full Aurors and nearly dying in the process. She will defend Hagrid, Harry, anyone she cares about to the death. She is also, in her own right, an exceptionally powerful and courageous woman. Her skills shine most brightly in the final battles of Deathly Hallows, but really, should we ever have doubted the power and brilliance of the only registered Animagus in the last half century? And she does all of this, as Laura put it, with class. More class than I ever could hope to muster. But that does not stop me from wanting to be exactly like Minerva McGonagall when I grow up. Professor and all.

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3. Katara

This is the lady on my list who I most strongly identify with. When I first started watching Avatar my roommate told me that Katara reminded her a lot of me. Which I couldn’t quite see in the first few episodes, but...she’s totally right. Katara is a hell of a lot more awesome than me, but I do see so much of myself in her. She always wants to believe the best in people, no matter what (until Zuko pushes that particular envelope a bit too far). She is caring, she is loyal, she’s a little bit mothering and overbearing at times, and she is, bless her heart, the best kind of feminist you could ever hope for. Her transition from tentative waterbender-in-training to Badass Master of Waterbending is just so delightful to watch. For most of the first season, she is so uncertain of her skills as a waterbender. She knows she has a lot to learn, but she’s not sure where that path is going to take her. Then she gets to the Northern Water Tribe (after going through a ridiculously harrowing journey) only to be told that no, only the males of the Northern Water Tribe get to learn waterbending. And she just point-blank *refuses* to accept that. She does nothing less than take on the most powerful waterbender in the tribe to prove that women can waterbend just as well as men. And in doing so, she finds out something about herself. She finds out that she is strong, and resilient, and has more power than she ever thought she did. And it gives her a confidence that serves her so beautifully throughout the rest of the season. It is she who holds the group together when crisis strikes--the episodes following Appa's kidnapping are the most poignant examples of this. The scene where she takes Aang out of the Avatar-state in the desert will never fail to bring tears to my eyes. She is the one who holds out hope. Who always wants to help people. Who never gives up. And the importance and beauty of that can never be understated.

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2. Laura Roslin

Love her or hate her, support or disavow the choices she made over the course of this show, you can never deny Laura Roslin’s resiliency, adaptability, and courage beyond reason. She goes from Secretary of Education to President of the Twelve Colonies in a matter of moments. In a heartbeat, a rather ordinary woman becomes leader of the 50,000 survivors of the Cylon attack, constantly on the run, constantly having to make the most difficult decisions. Most people would be purely overwhelmed by it all. Not Laura Roslin. Despite the fact that she’s never had leadership experience on this scale before, she takes her duties as President—and simply runs with them. She’s willing to learn, and does learn. As President of a fleet constantly under the threat of attack, she has to make lightning-fast decisions, and does with the barest glimpse of hesitation. She knows exactly what she wants, and knows how to get it—and does get it, 90% of the time. And the fact that she is doing all of this while suffering from terminal breast cancer half the time is just incredible. You never see her display any fear. Ever. If you mess with her, she will air-lock your ass. This woman is the role model of mental strength, to such an intense degree. Yes, she makes some decisions that I strongly disapprove of--hiding Hera, condemning abortion, fixing an election (EXCEPT, ACTUALLY I HIGHLY APPROVE OF THAT LAST ONE. OMG). But she never apologizes for the choices she makes. She pushes on, she moves forward. And I admire that to such an intense degree. Also, she somehow manages to procure weed on New Caprica. YOUR AGRUMENT IS INVALID.

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1. Leia Organa

In short, she is my hero and still whom I want to be when I grow up. In more detail… despite the fact that Leia is the only woman in the Original Trilogy of Star Wars, and the fact that it was made in the late 70s, where Hollywood directors hadn’t even heard of the word feminism, she remains amazing on so many levels. Let’s start out with the fact that in A New Hope Leia is nineteen years old. Nineteen, and she is the Senator of her home planet, in addition to being a clearly established leader within the Rebel Alliance. Vader sees her as a clear threat when he imprisons her. She withstands imprisonment and torture without any fear, and can we talk about the way she acted after the destruction of Alderaan? Her home, her family, her entire planet is destroyed, and yet she never loses her composure onscreen—not in front of Vader and Tarkin, not in front of Luke and Han, and not in front of the rest of the Rebellion. Ice princess, for sure. And ok, yes, she has to be sprung from the Death Star prison by Han, Luke, and Chewie. But let’s talk about the fact that without Leia’s resourcefulness, the four of them would never have survived to escape the Death Star. When she comes out of her cell, they’re under fire from stormtroopers thanks to Han and Luke’s brilliance. I love them both, but those two numbskulls went into that rescue operation with absolutely no plan. Without Leia’s garbage chute idea, they all would have been dead. So she’s not at all the helpless princess you’d believe on first sight. She’s established even more as a leader in Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, and she saves both Luke and Han’s asses on multiple occasions. She is always calm, cool, collected, and the Head Bitch In Charge. And yet you also see her depth and complexity beneath her collected exterior. It’s so clear how deeply she loves Han, and she’s willing to sacrifice everything she’s worked for in the Rebellion just to save the man she loves. And if we get into a discussion of the Expanded Universe, she goes on to become President of the New Republic and a Jedi Master. It’s impossible to be any more fantastic than that.

Honorable Mention List:

Alanna the Lioness - Tortall

Buri

Aly

Keladry of Mindelan

Sabriel

Lirael

Rose Tyler - Doctor Who

Martha Jones

Sarah Jane Smith

River Song

Zoe Washburne - Firefly

Inara Serra

Hermionie Granger - Harry Potter

Ginny Weasley

Eowyn of Rohan - Lord of the Rings

Ivornwen

Granny Weatherwax - Discworld

Nanny Ogg

Adora Belle Dearheart

Arya Stark - Song of Ice and Fire

Sansa Stark - Song of Ice and Fire

Brienne of Tarth - Song of Ice and Fire

Mara Jade Skywalker - Star Wars

Shmi Skywalker

Toph - Avatar

Kara Thrace - Battlestar Galatica

Jordan Cavanaugh - Crossing Jordan

Lorelai Gilmore - Gilmore Girls

Katniss Everdeen - Hunger Games

"What's he doing?" "He's saving us."

Co-written with the lovely Suzanne Walker. You can find her over at Cognitive Recalibration
SPOILER ALERT for Doctor Who, series 6. 

It just might be the understatement of the year to say that in this half of the season, the writers are pulling out all of the heartbreaking stops. Last week we were floored and moved by the tragic beauty that was The Girl Who Waited. And this week, we are presented with an extraordinarily fantastic episode that is possibly even more heartbreaking and tragic: The God Complex.

No one comes away from this with a happy ending. By the end of this episode, every character we meet is either dead or forced to say farewell to a dear friend who has changed their lives irrevocably. And that statement applies equally to Amy, Rory, and the Doctor. No one is happy, and everyone’s heart is broken.


In a way, it’s not surprising that we are confronted with Amy’s faith in the Doctor so soon after The Girl Who Waited. There, we see her faith in the Doctor disappear in its entirety, as she waited and waited until she could wait no more. The version of Amy we have in this episode has not gone through that, but we as the audience know the consequences of waiting for the Doctor. And this episode is about Amy--and the Doctor himself--realizing those consequences.

We cannot even imagine how horrible these experiences and realizations must have been for Amy. She has known the Doctor for practically her entire life. His presence and absence have shaped her childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. So it’s not surprising that even though he’s let her down, even though she has waited and he has not come, she still has an unbelievable amount of faith in him: “I've been with the Doctor a long time, and he's never let me down. Even when I thought he had, when I was a kid. He came back. He saved me. And now he's going to save you. But don't tell him I said that, because I think the smugness would be terrifying.”

But this time, for him to save her, he has to convince her that her faith in him is misplaced. He sees how her faith in him has hurt her and will ultimately destroy her. And on a subconscious level, Amy knows it too--she walks into her fear-room and she sees her tiny self, sitting on a suitcase, waiting for a man in a box that will not come. But on a conscious level, she still can’t accept it. How can you face the knowledge that what you have loved and blindly believed in your whole life is a lie? So the Doctor has to lay it out for her. No holds barred. He tells it to small Amelia, and he tells it to grown Amy (the direction of that scene was positively beautiful, by the way). Her faith has been misplaced. The Doctor is not a god. “Forget your faith in me. I took you with me because I was vain. Because I wanted to be adored. Look at you. Glorious Pond. The girl who waited for me. I'm not a hero. I really am just a madman in a box. It's time we saw each other as we really are. Amy Williams, it's time to stop waiting.” *

To lose that faith--to lose what has driven your life--has to be the most unimaginably shattering experience. And of course, after she comes to this realization, she can’t stay with the Doctor. She needs to move past him, she needs to start her own life. Her life with Rory. And maybe, some day, she will come to terms with this. But for now, we can’t see her as anything other than utterly shattered. As shattered as the Doctor is at the prospect of letting the Ponds go.

So as we leave the Ponds behind and see the Doctor alone in the TARDIS again, we ask ourselves: “Where does he go from here?”

Because if there’s anything more heartbreaking than having the Amy’s faith crushed, it’s having the Doctor’s faith shattered at the same time. Yes, the Doctor takes companions because he likes to show off, showing off all of time and space like he would show a kid a candy store, to use the reference he made himself. He’s not necessarily a hero. But he’s certainly not a villain either. He’s more complicated than that. And if he’s screwed up the lives of his companions, he’s saved the universe every day, mostly making it home in time for tea.

The God Complex is interesting because it is, to our knowledge, the first episode in New Who to really question what the Doctor does to the universe. Not just his companions, but the universe. Random people he defends, planets he saves, civilizations he rescues -- what if, despite his good intentions, he’s not doing good after all? What if his intentions aren’t good? As Rita puts it, “Why is it up to you to save us?”

Rory, seeing the Doctor in a new light after last week’s episode, is a quiet yet disturbingly accurate critic. We’ve been reminded again and again that death follows the Doctor and his travels, that there are very few days when everybody lives. But it’s sort of been justified, because as much as he would like to, we know he can’t save everyone. And we know what a world without the Doctor is like. And yet, Rory reminds us that no matter what grand cause or outcome they are dying for, people are still dead. “You've forgotten that not all victories are about saving the universe.” The Doctor knows it -- but it seems he’s forgotten, lately. And he needs to remember, because with the unknown fate that is hurtling towards him, he needs to appreciate all the small, wonderful moments he can. The big victories might be few and far in between.

And yet, perceptive though Rita’s question is, and interesting though the Doctor’s answer is, and heavy though the effects take on his conscience, we as viewers know there’s no choice. No one gave the Doctor the authority, the responsibility to save people, so yes, in that way, it is a god complex. But it’s part of him. It’s who the Doctor is. “He saves worlds, rescues civilizations, defeats terrible creatures and runs a lot.” If you take away his god complex, who is the Doctor? What is he? Is there anything left? The answer, of course, is no. And though blind faith in the Doctor does harm people, it is, in a way, what he operates and relies on.

And if the Doctor has no one left to believe in him, no one left to be with him in the TARDIS on his adventures, the question becomes: What does he have left to live for? That question would not be nearly as pressing or terrifying if not for that looming death date at Lake Silencio in Utah. The Doctor knows that he is going to die, and that he is going to die soon. And what happens when he thinks he has nothing left to live for? That, as i09 so poignantly put it, his myth dies before he does? I think there are some important parallels between the preview for the next episode with Craig and what happens to Ten after Donna departs. The Doctor is trying to put on his happy-go-lucky face, to find people and things that will make him forget his pain. But what happens when that pain comes back to crash down around him? I think we can all agree that this season is not going to end with the Doctor’s actual death. It can’t. Time can be re-written. It must. But the journey towards that point is going to be utterly heart-wrenching. I am so afraid that the Doctor is just going to let his death happen to him. And that it is going to take River, Amy, or Rory--possibly all three--to pull him back out of that pit of despair. To prove to him that even if his companions can’t have blind faith in him, his life is still a life worth living for.

It remains to be seen whether the Ponds will rejoin the Doctor. We believe that this isn’t the last they’ve seen of him, that they will at least make an appearance in the series finale. But beyond that, without looking at casting spoilers, it’s really unknown. Previous to The Girl Who Waited, I could not have imagined Amy leaving the Doctor. And now, she’s not only contemplated it, but it’s effectively been done. Amazing how much has changed in two episodes -- two brilliant, marvelous, heartbreaking episodes. We stand in awe, writers. In complete awe. And a tear or two.

* We are both miffed at the implications of the whole “Amy Williams” thing, but this seems to be neither the time nor the place to discuss it.

Say goodbye, to the world you thought you lived in

Co-written with the lovely Suzanne Walker. You can find her over at Cognitive Recalibration
SPOILER ALERT for Doctor Who series 6. 

The Girl Who Waited was a brilliant example of why we love this show so much. Because when Doctor Who gets it right, it gets it right. At its core, this show is not about time travel or aliens or sci-fi or even saving the world. An episode doesn’t need to have a monster or a villain -- all it needs is a situation that puts the companions and the Doctor in a place where they discover painful things about themselves and have to make difficult choices.

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When we first heard the episode title, I naturally assumed it was going to be all about Amy, and perhaps a reflection back on her childhood. It never occurred to me that Amy would have to wait, again. Yet wait she did. "You could spend a lifetime in here.” And she does. It’s progressed from "twelve years, and four psychiatrists,” to thirty-six years, and a lifetime of bitterness and loneliness. To me, the whole episode was an exploration, a magnification, of that small but nonetheless emotionally powerful scene in The Doctor’s Wife, where House manipulates Amy to stumble upon an aged Rory, and then his rotting corpse, surrounded by horrifying graffiti -- HATE AMY.

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Yet the difference between Amy’s waiting, and the House’s manipulation of Amy’s mind to see Rory’s waiting was the way that she reacted. Amy waited 36 years. And though bitter, she never forgot him, never cursed him. She may have been bitter towards the Doctor. She may have forgotten who she was and what, really, she was fighting for. But she never really forgot why she was waiting. The note she wrote on the door was for the Doctor to come save her. But in the end, he couldn’t. Only Rory, and the reminder of just how much she loved him, could make her want to save her younger self.

And that speaks volumes about their relationship. They have come so far since we saw them first, in The Eleventh Hour, when Amy was ashamed to admit that Rory was her boyfriend, or Flesh and Stone, where Amy snogged the Doctor, or even the end of The Pandorica Opens, where they finally got married in the rebooted universe. And it is one of the greatest compliments I can give to Steven Moffat to say that he has managed to keep their relationship as a married couple extremely dynamic. Rory was the friend. The occasional boyfriend. The fuckbuddy. And now, He is the one thing, the one person who she will change time, blow apart the universe, and stop her past self from enduring years of loneliness for.

“The look on your face when you carried her... me... her. When you carried her, you used to look at me like that. I'd forgotten how much you loved me. I'd forgotten how much I loved being her. Amy Pond in the TARDIS with Rory Williams.”

This episode has some truly spectacular character development for all three of the leads. We’d love to go into all of them, but let’s start with the episode’s title. The Girl Who Waited. Amy Pond. Now, I have heard complaints from some people in the past about Amy’s character. That even though she’s fun, and funny, and quirky, she has very little personality or substance underneath it all. I have never agreed with that viewpoint, but what we are presented with here leaves no room for argument regarding the vibrancy of Amy’s character. You do wonder, sometimes, about how many times the Doctor and Rory have to come and rescue her, but what happens when there is no one to rescue her? She perseveres. She fights. She learns how to take care of herself, and it’s so amazing to see. And yet she keeps the same bits of her that she’s always had--her stubbornness, her insistence on impossible solutions. Her quirks of humor. And when we see those scenes between Older Amy and Young Amy...oh my lord. There is nothing more to say. Except that this is absolutely the best acting from Karen Gillian we have ever seen.

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And the most important aspect of Amy’s personality is her resiliency. Her ability to fight. We see this most clearly when Older Amy is presented with the magnifying glass and the younger version of herself. The two Amys look at each other, and they see what has been and what could be. Older Amy realizes that to erase her existence would mean that Young Amy would get to spend those thirty-six years with Rory. She would have Rory. And that is worth sacrificing herself.

But then. But then. She doesn't let them do it. She insists on saving herself, on keeping her own existence intact. Two Amys will exist at the same time, she says, and paradoxes be damned. It was so perfect and so characteristic of Amy and I loved her so much for doing it.

Although Amy and Rory’s relationship has grown into something deep and powerful enough for Older Amy to consider sacrificing herself for it, in the end she is not willing to give up her existence--to erase those thirty years. Yet we all knew from the get-go that it was not as simple as the Doctor was making it out to be. We knew that they wouldn't be able to sustain a paradox, that something would go horribly wrong. And I--oh innocent me--assumed that Older Amy would die valiantly in battle or something. But of course the writers won’t give us something as cut-and-dry as that. Instead, we see her running towards the TARDIS door desperately. As if she knows what is about to happen. And the Doctor just looks at her with this eerily familiar, all-knowing look of pity on his face, and then he shuts the door on her.

That act, and the look of fury on Rory’s face, were the two most heartbreaking moments of the entire episode. And even though he knows in his heart that there was no way to maintain the paradox, Rory is still so angry at the Doctor. And justifiably so. He doesn’t care if Rule #1 is “The Doctor Lies.” For him, the fact that the Doctor has so blatantly lied and manipulated everyone’s emotions, only to play God at the end--and then to force Rory to play God at the end--is completely unconscionable to him. ”This isn’t fair. You’re turning me into you.” And I am curious to see how long it will take Rory to forgive the Doctor. Because this is the moment where he realizes, perhaps more clearly than he ever has before, just what it means to travel with the Doctor. Yes, he has his wife back safely with him, and Older Amy has given him permission to do what he does. But in that moment, he does become the Doctor. And it breaks his heart:

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“I love you too. Don't let me in. Tell Amy—your Amy—I'm giving her the days. The days with you. Days to come. The days I can't have. Take them please. I'm giving her my days.”

“I'm sorry, I'm so sorry.”

And the consequences of that go deeper than either of them ever could have imagined. I think ending with Amy’s last line: "Where is she?” was the perfect way to go out. Because the end of this adventure is not like the end of all the other adventures they’ve had with the Doctor before. To use that tried and true Internet phrase: nothing is beautiful, and everything hurts.

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Yet that’s always been what it’s like, traveling with the Doctor. When a companion steps into the TARDIS, their lives irrevocably begin to change, and they can never be who they once were. Companions become weapons, lose their families, their minds, their loves, their lives. It wasn’t just Ten who "screwed up” his friends. There’s a deeper reason that companions can’t stay with him forever, deeper than the long lifespan of a Time Lord. After awhile, it becomes too much. I wonder if Rory is beginning to think that it is too much. It’s not a statement about the Doctor, really, so much as it is a fact. ”The monsters and the Doctor. It seems you cannot have one without the other.” Sometimes, the Doctor can be a monster of his own.

But in the end, it’s not an experience anyone would forget. ”The girl who waited. Was it worth it?” “Don’t be stupid, of course it was.” As Benjamin Cook claimed, "If the greatest thing in the world is to travel with the Doctor, the worst possible fate is to have that taken away from you.” But as Sarah Jane pointed out, “Some things are worth getting your heart broken for.”

Sending a child away: or, why the Night Terrors sucked

Co-written with the lovely Suzanne Walker. You can find her over at Cognitive Recalibration
SPOILER ALERT for Doctor Who, series 6. 

Clones, as usual, agree completely. It wasn’t that there was anything actually horrible about The Night Terrors. It was just that there wasn’t anything good.

It was terrifying, sure. But that was about all it had going for it. And it never did anything with the terrors - those dolls were creepy to begin with. No new horror for kids, the way gas masks, stone angels, and shadows have been. Whether you consider it scary or not depends on whether you respond to the traditional horror/thriller movie tactics. Laura was terrified, Suzanne was not. But we both were bored. Very bored.

It felt like Fear Him, except that where Fear Her had an interesting alien, a novel way of disappearing a person, and a great child actor, the Night Terrors had... an alien whose capibilities weren’t really discussed or explored, a boring way of disappearing people, and a child actor who didn’t do anything besides look scared. Oh, and there was no wonderful scene of the Doctor carrying the Olympic torch (which he must, by the way), or David and Billie looking cute. On the contrary, Rory and Amy were again shoved away and just got to run around a lot - but unlike Doctor’s Wife, their running scenes were entirely devoid of personality, much less conversation.


Yes, Matt Smith trying to act like the Doctor is a normal person is always a laugh, and his scenes with Alex, the father, were funny. But never laugh-out-loud funny. Never memorable-line funny. If they were funny, it was due to the actors, doing the best they could with a ho-hum script.

It was lacking something. Character, perhaps. Heart. A feeling that it all mattered. Companions. And continuity. It was an episode about a child - a powerful alien child, but still a child - who questioned his parents’ love for him. A child who was not his parents biological son, but raised by them, to be all they hoped to be. Funny. Almost the opposite of a biological daughter born almost accidentally, and not raised by her parents at all. The connection to River is almost too obvious. And yet, does she get a mention? Not a one. Amy and Rory don’t even meet George, much less understand any of the situation that they’re thrust into.

But the larger question is this: why don’t Amy and Rory - particularly Amy - feel strongly about their daughter being snatched from their arms? At the end of A Good Man Goes to War, Amy was traumatized and angry. The prequel to Let’s Kill Hitler, with her desperate call to the Doctor, begging him to at least be able to find their child, was heartbreaking. The actual episode revealed that they have been living with their child (unless time was rewritten), and showed the beginning of her transformation into River. And all this was great for the viewer - it satisfied our questions, and left details open. But I just cannot believe that Amy - tough, demanding Amy - would be satisfied. I cannot believe that her daughter’s fate is something she wouldn’t talk about.

It seems, though, to all come down to a last-minute schedule change. Night Terrors was supposed to be 6.4 - before the Almost People, before we knew that Amy was GangerAmy, before Melody was born. The episode was one of the first filmed, and only seems to have been edited a little bit to reflect it’s later place in the season (see the Doctor looking at his death onscreen again). Why was it switched? Goodness knows. According to Wikipedia, it was “in order to achieve a greater variety of stories in the first half of series 6.” In my mind, this translates roughly to “in order to make sure no one gave up on the first half of the series because it sucked.”

The problem is, Night Terrors is a mediocre script no matter where you put it. But it was intended for the first half, and remnants of hints - Amy as a doll, “together in the flesh” - remain. References that would have been appropriate for the second half - anything and everything about Melody/River - don’t exist. And so it is a mediocre script shoved in the wrong corner, making what is supposed to be an overarching story very sporadic. The last minute decision was the wrong one, Steven Moffat.

Let's Kill Hitler: Starring River Song

Co-written with the lovely Suzanne Walker. You can find her over at Cognitive Recalibration
SPOILER ALERT for Doctor Who series 6. 

Here’s the thing with “Let’s Kill Hitler.” It was the first episode we watched together in awhile, and judging by our shrieking and squeeing, we both enjoyed it thoroughly as we were watching it. But in the hours that followed, we went around and around in circles debating how well it had been done. And after continuing in the circle for awhile we came to one conclusion: Though we were coming from different angles, both of us, at one time, felt as though Steven Moffat did not have a plan with this story. We felt that he did not know where he was going and had to scramble to fix/retrograde plot details. I felt like this during “A Good Man Goes to War,” Laura felt like this with “Let’s Kill Hitler.” Regardless of when or why, however, the fact that either of us felt like this at any point is rather troublesome. Let’s talk about the amazing things first. There were A LOT of funny moments and clever lines. Top of the list: Rory punching Hitler, telling him to shut up, and shoving him in a cupboard. The awesomeness that is Rory Williams just continues to grow exponentially. Also awesome: All of River/Melody’s lines after she regenerates. Alex Kingston gets all the acting props for playing a renegade twenty-something in a forty-five-year-old’s body. “Well. I was on my way to this gay gypsy bar mitzvah for the disabled...” Matt Smith dancing around in a tux will never fail to bring us joy, and high-school Amy’s realization that Rory was not only straight but very much in love with her was adorable. “But I’m a friend.” “He’s gay!” “No I’m not!”



But the episode’s strongest moments by far lay in the beginning of Melody’s transformation from Mels to River. When you watch the Impossible Astronaut, you get the impression that little Melody has to be controlled by Madame Kovarian and the Silence. She’s confined to a spacesuit that she breaks out of, and and seems to hesitate before she shoots the Doctor. However, if Melody was an unwilling weapon, Mels was certainly more than willing, and THAT is the shocker. Their plan to create a Doctor-killing machine succeeded to such a great extent that the weapon would not only kill him once, but twice. Even after the Doctor foils three of her separate assassination attempts, the lipstick plot still succeeds. She knows his greatest weaknesses, and manipulates them with more finesse than even Madame Kovarian pulls off. Even as she begins to suspect that he knows more about her than she knows about herself, she is still unwilling to bend to save his life, and the lives of her parents.

Which, when you think about how she’s been brought up, is tragically logical. She’s been conditioned her entire life to think that the Doctor is one of the most dangerous foes the universe has ever faced, and she is not willing to let anything stand in her way. It is only when her parents’ lives are in danger that she is moved by how much the Doctor cares about them. But her transformation truly begins when she first steps into the TARDIS.

The look of frightened wonder on her face when she says to Amy and Rory “The Doctor says I’m a child of the TARDIS. What does that mean?” signals a crucial moment in her progression towards becoming River Song. If that is the first step, the second step is seeing that she is the woman who the Doctor has been pleading with for the entire episode. But the most important moment comes when she looks at Amy and asks, “The Doctor--is he worth it?” The question echoes the Doctor’s own words to Amy in The Big Bang, when he says “The Girl Who Waited--was it worth it?” And both times her answer is the same: of course the Doctor is worth it.

Hearing that unwavering belief from her mother upends everything Melody has known up to this point in her life. When she wakes up in that hospital bed, she is not quite River yet, but she is no longer Melody either. The most heartening thing to take away from this comes in the light of the Doctor’s reaction to the companions incarnated through the Voice Interface. He begs it to present him with someone who he hasn’t yet screwed up, and here we Melody/River begin her own journey of healing and discovery. The Doctor gives something different to each of his companions, and in this case, he’s not just giving River adventures or a new perspective on the universe, but he’s giving her a new life--far from her abusive childhood with the Silence--and a choice, for the first time, to care. So often when the Doctor leaves a companion behind, it is an ending. But when River makes the last appearance on our screens (hopefully many seasons in the future), it will be her beginning.

Watching the trajectory of River’s character left both of us feeling incredibly happy and emotionally satisfied. HOWEVER, there are still several aspects of this season’s overall story arc that are leaving us incredibly unsatisfied. To go back to what we said in the first paragraph, it is clear that at some point along the line Moffat did not have a plan. There are bits of storytelling here that feel sloppy and unfocused--a particular example in this episode is the flashback series with young Amy, Rory, and Mels. It felt like Moffat was haphazardly squeezing Mels into a past that had already been established for Amy and Rory--particularly as little Amelia Pond has already had her history rewritten so many times. And even as River’s big reveal at the end of A Good Man Goes To War gave us so much joy, it felt like something that was decided at the last minute in fan forums.

At the end of the day, there is a lot going on in Let’s Kill Hitler that makes us very, very happy. At the same time, our faith in Steven Moffat’s ability to sustain a story arc over an entire season has not yet been restored. We hope that he continues to do the good things that he’s been doing, and that at some point, that he actually develops a plan for them.

In Belated Praise of the Doctor's Wife

“Does he still stroke bits of the TARDIS?” 
“Yea! I’m like, do you two want to be alone?”

Co-written with the lovely Suzanne Walker. You can find her over at Cognitive Recalibration
SPOILER ALERT for Doctor Who series 6. 

Neil Gaiman is a fantastic, prolific writer. Together, we haven’t read as much of him as we should (neither of us have read the Sandman graphic novels. We’re working on it). But that didn’t stop us from being ridiculously excited when we heard he was writing an episode of Who. Perhaps one of Gaiman’s greatest strengths as a writer is that he cannot be pinned down into one genre as critics like to do. And writing this episode was another brilliant example of this. Yet though he may not have a genre, he definitely has a style. And though I can’t define it in words, this episode had Gaiman written all over it.

Needless to say, he did not disappoint. In one episode, he took an idea that had been circulating in the backwaters of the fandom since the very beginning and make it canon. Not only did he make it canon, he made it brilliant, funny, inspiring, and heartbreaking canon. The Doctor’s Wife was certainly the best episode so far this season. The concept of the TARDIS as the thing that the Doctor has and always will love best, through all his companions, is awesome. But to take that concept and pull it off, while making it seem real, requires genius. And Neil Gaiman has it.

Moffat is in many ways a really good writer. But I don’t think that he could have pulled this off. So hurrah to him for hiring Gaiman and giving him free rein. Because Gaiman did many wonderful things, several of which I had been wishing Moffat would do, but hasn’t as of yet.

Mostly, he has maintained continuity with the RTD era. Now, I know that Doctor Who is a divisive show, and writers have come and gone, and different incarnations of the Doctor are very different. But it seemed to me in the Eleventh Hour, and throughout the rest of series 5, that Moffat was working as hard as he could to disassociate himself with trademarks of the past five years. New TARDIS, new screwdriver, new logo, new music, new Daleks. Not that I’m against any of the changes - except the rainbow Daleks, what is up with them - but he seemed to be doing it for the wrong reasons. There were deeper departures, too. The Time Lords, whose loss was such an important part of the personalities of both Nine and Ten, were hardly mentioned. Yes, Eleven is a different guy, but still the same Time Lord, and it should still affect him.

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So I was delighted to see Gaiman bring up the Time Lords here. And he didn’t need to make for them An Epic Return of Doom, either. Eleven’s excitement that there might be more of his people left outside the universe, and his subsequent disappointment when he finds the mass of distress signals, is incredibly tragic, yet tragic on a quiet, simple level that makes it all the more potent. “You gave me hope and then took it away. That’s enough to make anyone dangerous. God knows what it will do to me.”

To put the Doctor on a level of such quiet despair, and then send him to richocheting to almost unimaginable elation was such a daring move, but it paid off so well. “She’s a woman, and she’s my TARDIS.” “Did you wish really, really hard?” Suranne Jones, though dressed a bit too much like Bellatrix for my taste, was absolutely brilliant as TARDIS/Idris. Matt Smith, usually great on the banter, was on fire with her. It was fantastic to see the Doctor with an equal, with a love, not always the smartest, wisest person in the room.

Because really, the Doctor does not have an equal. It’s a theme that RTD did a lot with, which Moffat hasn’t really explored yet - the idea that the Doctor will outlive all his companions, and so can only enjoy their company for the blink of an eye. As a friend of mine pointed out, because of who he is, the Doctor simply “cannot sustain a functional relationship, which is tragic.” This episode touched on that aspect of the Doctor’s character that Moffat had ignored so far, which was wonderful, while bringing a new light, a new hope into such a sad fact. And although Idris could not remain human, could not talk forever, she will always be there. Wherever he goes, the Doctor will always have his TARDIS.

“You didn’t always take me where I wanted to go.”

“No, but I always took you where you needed to go.”

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Day of the Moon review

Co-written with the lovely Suzanne Walker. You can find her over at Cognitive Recalibration
SPOILER ALERT for Doctor Who series 6. 

Apologies, dear readers, for the lateness and slight incoherent-ness of this post—it’s finals crunch time for your dear bloggers, and even the Doctor must wait for papers to be written. But anyway…

Laura and I both came away from this episode with mixed feelings. The things that they are setting up have the potential to be brilliant, and the episode ensured that this season is going to be a hell of a ride. But there are some things we are skeptical of, and critical of. Still, let’s start with the brilliancy:

Rory. Oh my GOD how much do I love Rory. His brilliance and awkwardness and just... everything. He is so in love with Amy, and it is so clear with every single breath he takes. I love that they brought up his 2000 years as a Centurion, it is just so essential to proving how wonderful and special he is. And that moment when he is trying to pretend to be an American secret service made me laugh forever more.

My love for River grows exponentially with each passing episode. Superficially: somehow that dress was even hotter than that jean jacket. Non-superficially: I love everything about her. I love the ridiculous flirting that is going on between her and the Doctor, I love the relationship she has fostered with both Amy and Rory. And having just finished a paper about gun-slinging females with empty personalities, I love that she is a strong female character with depth, conflict, and emotion. The kiss between her and the Doctor was both brilliantly funny (Smith looked like he had a Jelly-Arms Jinx on him or something) and heartbreakingly poignant. I’m sad that we’re already leaving her so early in the season, and I hope her return in the fall is just as brilliant.


Now, onto criticism:

As an American historian I had HUGE problems with the way that they portrayed Nixon. He was portrayed as this slightly bumbling, comical figure, which I was extraordinarily uncomfortable with. He did way too many terrible things and was far too much of a bigot for that—and his track record extends far back before Watergate. Perhaps I’m holding the Brits up to too high of a standard (God knows all the ridiculous ways in which Americans interpret British history), but REALLY, they should know better. Especially because it’s such recent history.

Now…the pregnancy. And the Time-Baby. Laura has more problems with this than I did, and I feel like I’m not going to do them justice. But alas, she got eaten by Tosca, so it’s up to me to tackle this issue.

I don’t think its problematic in itself. The way it was utilized at the end of the first episode was idiotic, but I don’t think that the mystery of whether or not Amy is pregnant is inherently problematic. Amy’s a tough cookie, she can take care of herself. And even though she’s implied that the ambiguity and weirdness of her pregnancy comes from her travelling with the Doctor, I refuse to accept that that’s what it is. Too many women have travelled with the Doctor, we’ve got to assume that at least some of them had nice normal children (if not, if Moffat is implying that all women who travel in the TARDIS have screwed-up uteruses... let’s not go there). Something weird is going on with alternate timelines and whatever happened when Amy was taken by the Silence, and I have to admit that the mystery of the Time-Baby, of who and what she is, is intriguing. I am excited to see what can happen with a little girl who has Time-Lord regeneration energy.

That being said.

The projection of this plot-arc only works so far as we trust Moffat not to do horrendously sexist things in the process. Which neither of us do. I have tried, so very hard, to distinguish Moffat the Person from Moffat the Writer and it becomes increasingly, increasingly difficult. He is, as Laura put it, a sexist bastard, regardless of his brilliance as a writer. And I am going to be holding him to an extraordinarily high expectation that he not screw this up. Because it could be really interesting, but all I can see at the moment is him making it extraordinarily objectifying and stupid. I don’t trust him.

And this leads to my main question of the hour, which is: what do we do now with this show that we know and love so deeply but have increasingly growing criticisms of? In so many ways I miss the days when I just watched this show entirely carefree, not thinking about it too deeply and just enjoying the adventures for what they were. But for so many reasons, those days are gone—like it or not. Moffat’s tendencies to do such blatantly sexist things (we’re not even going into the heart of it here) make it impossible not to call him out on his shit. It is our responsibility as fans. But how do we make it so that it doesn’t take away from our enjoyment of the show? Because this show is about more than one writer. It is our show. The Doctor is still our Doctor, and Amy and Rory and River are still our Amy and Rory and River. The main thing about such a long-running show like Who is that there will be things you don’t like, certainly. There will be stuff that’s bad. But because it’s so amazing, what’s bad is, well, still ten times more awesome than your average TV show. And Who is about sticking with it, to me. I have enough love in my heart for everything that this show means and is to ride out even Moffat’s most hackle-raising moments.

So that’s what this season’s going to be about, for me. Not being afraid to call Moffat out on his faults while still enjoying the fantastic parts of this show for what they are. For example: next week... pirates!!!

To Lis Sladen - My Sarah Jane

Lis Sladen, my Sarah Jane, has died. Well, she’s been dead for over a week now. I’ve been wanting to do a post in her honor since I heard the news, but I’ve hesitated. Why? Well, because I don’t feel that she is my Sarah Jane.

I am primarily a fan of New Who. Slowly I’m getting around to watching the Classics, and have mostly seen episodes with Four. But only a few, and only three of those have featured Sarah Jane: Seeds of Doom, Pyramids of Mars, and The Five Doctors. Many of the tributes to Sarah Jane talk about her character, how important she was to the series, to the fans, what it meant to have a Doctor Who girl who wasn’t going to conform to sexist stereotypes. And it’s all true.

And yet, I feel that I’m preaching to the choir - a more experienced choir - when I say those things. After all, I only met Sarah Jane in School Reunion. We saw her again in The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End. But by then she had her own show, yet the only episode of the Sarah Jane Adventures that I’ve ever seen is The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith, primarily because Ten was in it. So even in New Who, how can I claim to know Sarah Jane?


Perhaps I can’t. Maybe one day I will. But simply put, there has been so much of Sarah Jane. Since Lis Sladen left in The Hand of Fear she has played Sarah Jane ten times over the years - and that’s not counting SJA. But if I can’t claim to know the impact Sarah Jane had on the show, I do know the impact she had on me.

When I saw her in School Reunion, she was marvelous. Sure, she’d aged, but she didn’t really look it. She had such energy, such determination, such drive - such incredible qualities, in spite of her claim that her life ended when she left the Doctor. One of my favorite things that has been written about New Who is an article by Benjamin Cook, in which he states that RTD’s philosophy is that “the most wonderful thing that can happen to a person is to travel with the Doctor.” Which is absolutely true. There was no time like being a companion, for Sarah Jane and for any other companion. But Ben also claims that “if the greatest thing in the world is to travel with the Doctor, the worst possible fate is to have that taken away from you.” And in reference to the three main companions of RTD’s era, it’s easy to see his point. But at the same time, I believe that in bringing Sarah Jane back, by showing her to be still the real wonderful amazing person that she was when she left in 1976, he proved that wrong. He proved that leaving the TARDIS is not the end of a companion’s life. Despite how much Sarah Jane feels that her life since she left the Doctor has been nothing compared to the time she spent with him, Ten is able to see that she’s wrong. She has missed him, certainly, and missed the life she led. But she is still the same Sarah Jane, still fighting the same fight, if on a smaller scale. Meeting the Doctor again gives her some of the tools she needs to expand her scale, but without her determination and energy to keep going, to keep living, those tools would have been worthless.

In the BBC tribute to Lis Sladen, Anjli Mohindra from SJA said something about how Lis poured so much of herself into Sarah Jane, incorporated so many elements of herself into her character. And we can see just from the projection of her life and her character how very true that is. She showed both through her own life and through Sarah Jane’s life that passion, love for adventure and travel and life don’t have to disappear when you leave your twenties behind. There are dozens of companions who’ve travelled with the Doctor over the years, but how many have been so beloved by fans--and have possessed such a love for the show itself--that they can return thirty-odd years later and gain the love of an entire new generation? Only Lis Sladen did that. She so clearly loved this show and her character and everything they represent about life. She proved that you don’t have to be with the Doctor to have adventures of your own, but also that you can always go back to him. She proved that youthful exuberance can defy age, and time. And I want to look at myself at age sixty-something and be able to say, “Hey, I did that too! I never stopped having adventures or lost my passion in life. I did what Lis Sladen did.”

So rest in peace, our wonderful Sarah Jane. May you continue to be an inspiration to all of us Doctor Who girls forevermore.

The Impossible Astronaut review

Co-written with the lovely Suzanne Walker. You can find her over at Cognitive Recalibration
SPOILER ALERT for Doctor Who, series 6. 

First of all, wow. That was no calm, fun series opener. I’m not going to spend too much of this talking about plot, because I want to see what Moffat does with the second part of this story. Here, he threw an incredible amount of information at us, and while I want to criticize him for that, I think I’ll wait until it’s wrapped up to pass judgement. I also have some huge issues pending with Amy's final statement before the cliffhanger, but I will also leave that till next time.

That said, I have to give him points for sheer nerve. Who kills off the Doctor and ensures that he doesn’t regenerate in the first ten minutes of a season? Yes, this road had been sort of paved by RTD in Turn Left and The Stolen Earth. Yes, in some ways every viewer knows he won’t be dead in the end. But that didn’t stop it from being an incredibly powerful and arresting moment. I sort of cried. The scene where they meet his past self in the diner almost hurts. And the scene in the TARDIS, the companions trying to get the Doctor to trust them instead of the other way around, had incredible acting from all of them. You could almost taste the tension. For once, the audience is in the know, and the Doctor was out, and the reversal of that normal situation is so striking.


And really, the companions are a team now. It has been so long since we’ve had a group like that together, all travelling with the Doctor. When they’re all sitting in the diner, with River and the Doctor syncing their journals, and with their picnic laughing and teasing each other...it reminded me so so so strongly of the Boom Town episode in Season One, with the Doctor, Rose, Jack, and Mickey. For fans of Classic Who, I’m sure there are many more parallels of a TeamTARDIS to draw from that area. And I don’t know how long this team is going to be sustained, as I’m pretty sure Dr. Song will be departing for awhile after this episode ends. But in the meantime, while it lasts...it’s so *lovely* to see the Doctor surrounded by friends he cares about...and a potentially certain special someone.

I still don’t know what River’s relationship to the Doctor is going to turn out to be. EVERYONE has been screaming “wife” since Day One, but that’s such an obvious connection that it’s got to be more complicated than that. Whatever it is, it’s clear that she is extraordinarily important in the Doctor’s life, and I love the dynamic they’re starting to develop now that he knows her a little bit better. I feel like The Big Bang really worked to break the ice between the two of them, and now--even as he doesn’t know what their relationship is--they are just turning up the chemistry, flirting and joking and dancing full stop. True to their relationship, the chemistry between Matt Smith and Alex Kingston is bizarre, yet it works so perfectly. The dynamic they have with each other, the way they’ve been able to slip so seamlessly into comfortable roles with each other, means that the Doctor’s finally starting to accept the place she has in his life. Which obviously isn’t going to last--I’m still so creeped out by the fact that River says that the Doctor’s “Darkest hour” is the day he finds out who she is. But for now, it’s so lovely that they’re interacting the way they are.

It’s also so lovely that Rory, unquestionably the reticent companion, although he’s still hesitant in some ways, has certainly grown a lot. He hasn’t done anything big yet, but if you ask me, he doesn’t need to. Little gestures are showing me that between seasons, even though they might not have been traveling in the TARDIS a whole lot, he has completely grown into the role of being a real companion. He does a wonderful job of holding Amy back, bringing her to her senses, doing what has got to be done even if it’s incredibly difficult. And while Amy has just sort of accepted River as some strange anomaly who turns up in the Doctor’s life, Rory is the one who thinks to ask her about her personal life. And the conversation that results is beautiful.

At present, I don’t have the skills to even begin to predict what Moffat might do with the second part of the episode, and how on earth (or off it) he’s going to wrap all this up. But I will say that the Silence are up there with the Angels as the scariest monsters this show has given us. I mean, monsters that you forget about? Meaning monsters that basically don’t exist when you’re not looking at them? That’s almost the reverse of the Angels, as many people have pointed out. They look plenty creepy as well--in fact, they look eerily like the famous painting by Edward Munch, The Scream. Maybe that’s just my brain inventing coincidences. Although certainly didn’t invent the ship that looked exactly like the one in the Lodger.

I applaud the Who team for finally making it to film in America--they made wonderful use of the Utah landscape. Not quite as great were the various examples that Brits can’t seem to do America unless its stereotypical American--see school bus, Cadillac, 50s diner, and gun slurs. But I digress, and really I should be thanking BBC America for showing this series on time, for once.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a Moffat episode without some clever dialogue:

“Easter Island! They worshipped you there. Have you seen the statues?”
“I’m being extremely clever up here and there’s no one to stand around looking impressed. What’s the point in having you all?”
“Richard Millhouse Nixon. Vietnam, Watergate, some good stuff too.” “Not enough.” “Hippie!” “Archaeologist.”
“I’m going to need a SWAT team ready to mobilize, street maps covering all of Florida, a pot of coffee, twelve Jammie Dodgers, and a fez!”
“Jefferson, Adams, Hamilton!” “Surnames of three of America’s founding fathers!” “Lovely fellows. Two of them fancied me.”

But while we’re always going to have the cleverness, really, it was this one that interested me the most:
“He’ll look into my eyes, and he won’t have the faintest idea who I am. And I think it’s going to kill me.”

It’s definitely River that I’m looking forward to this series. Bring it on.