Monday, December 11, 2006

Rise of the little people

Spoilers for "Doctor Who" and "Battlestar Galactica" coming up just as soon as I munch on some algae bars...

I don't usually review Sci-Fi's two Friday shows together (and have been painfully remiss in commenting on "Who" altogether of late, even as I've been unable to stop saying "Ood" at random moments throughout my day), but an accident of scheduling made for a thematic double feature: episodes of both shows in which the stars were reduced to supporting characters at best.

"Doctor Who" was more blatant in this, keeping The Doctor and Rose off-screen for all but a handful of minutes, and using the members of LINDA as an odd (not Ood), affectionate tribute to the show's own fans. Ross Ruediger (whose exhaustive analysis over on Matt's site leave me feeling better about not writing about the show weekly), suggests in his latest that LINDA is a fan message board come to life, and that Victor Kennedy is a troll:
The guy who bitches and attempts to moderate those veering away from a group's charter issue(s). He shouts "Off Topic!" at the expression of individuality, controlling cyber forums by preying on feelings of insecurity. He's the sort of dude who takes all the fun out of it by trying to absorb everyone into his way of doing things.
I've marveled in the past over this show's ability to service its guest characters in minimal amounts of time so that I care when, say, a Mrs. Moore gets zapped. Obviously, Russell T. Davies had more room than usual to work this particular brand of magic, and Marc Warren and Shirley Henderson made for a nice geek-love couple. (On the other hand, I get very uncomfortable imagining the realities of their relationship going forward, and not just the sex stuff. What happens if Elton meets a girl who isn't two-thirds concrete slab? What does Ursula do to fill her days when Elton's not around? Is she immortal? What if she gets sick of ELO?)

But the character done the biggest favor, I thought, was Jackie Tyler. Though she only had a few scenes, this was her version of "The Zeppo," the first time we've seen The Doctor's universe entirely from her viewpoint. Jackie's always been a bit of a cartoon, in both this incarnation and her Age of Steel counterpart, and this really humanized her. Like Mickey before her, she now seems too real to be just stranded in present-day London while The Doctor and Rose have their adventures. Be nice to see her go for a ride in the TARDIS, even if just the once.

The regulars had slightly more to do over on "Galactica," as Moore and company (including "Buffy" vet and celebrity blogger Jane Espenson handling freelance script duties) did one of their occasional forays into the harsh realities of life in the rag-tag fleet. The last time they tried to hit this note, we got the universally-panned "Black Market," but the parts of "The Passage" devoted to the food shortage itself worked much better. If nothing else, the actors can sell the effects of famine much more easily than they can explain why black marketeering is an essential economic force in a military/civilian/pro-am/democratic space fleet. Two moments in particular stood out: Apollo trying to boost his pilots' failing morale after they lost another ship, and Adama and Tigh laughing just a little too hard at Saul's "paper shortage" joke.

This was also a sterling episode for the visual effects department. I think Espenson (and Moore, and whoever else had a hand in the rewrite process) didn't do the best job conveying the reasons for the food shortage or for the method of traveling through the cluster, but the VFX damn sure conveyed what a difficult task this was. (Even Moore, in the podcast, has to admit that the lack of tinted cockpit windows and/or sun visors on the pilots' helmets is a contrivance so we can see the actors' faces during flight scenes.)

Where I think "The Passage" stumbled -- and even here, not nearly as far as "Black Market" did with Apollo's single mama hooker friend -- it was with the expanded spotlight on Kat. I'm usually all for the kind of episodes that spotlight the Reg Barclays and Greg Medavoys of the world. I just didn't love the execution, both Luciana Carro's performance and the amount of backstory dumped on us in the space of an hour. (As others have pointed out before me, there was also a "Lost" quality to how much we were asked to care for a previously minor/unlikable character right before she got killed off.) But Edward James Olmos saved the whole affair with the sickbay scene. I knew the whole story felt contrived, but when Adama sat down at Kat's bedside and started to talk, I forgot all about that and started to wonder when my TV room got so dusty.

The Cylon scenes continue to leave me a bit cold, and turns out I'm not the only one. I'm only 30 or so minutes into the epic, three-hour drunken roundtable podcast that got posted late last week, but Jamie Bamber very bluntly (but respectfully) tells Moore that he wishes the Cylons were more mysterious, and Moore barely hesitates before admitting that Bamber's probably right. This season (both next week's episode and the ones that will begin airing in January) obviously hinges a lot on the Cylon mythology, and if Moore, who's a lot further along in seeing episodes than we are, doesn't feel like it's working as well as he had hoped, I'm afraid of where we're going from here.

What did everybody else think? In particular, I'm still sorting through my feelings about Kara's role in Kat's death, and about her behavior in general since they left New Caprica. Complicated is good, but I start to worry that, like Veronica Mars, her writers don't realize how she's starting to come across.


Jason said...

I watched all the second season "Doctor Whos" as they aired in the UK, and this is the first one I've re-watched on Sci-Fi in its entirety. Just weird and fun.

Okay, wacky BSG theory time.

I think this is all about the Cylon God and the Cobol Gods. I think that they _are_ connected, as was suggested in the most recent episode. And let's remember the first-season refrain, "This has all happened before."

What if the Cylon God (which perhaps is who Baltar talks to) is a machine intelligence, some other intelligence that is separate from the Cylons? And what if the original reason the humans left Cobol was that, back then, they created a machine intelligence that became its own, emergent thing. Perhaps the Twelve Gods are just aspects of a machine intelligence created in the distant past by humans, who were then ejected from Cobol and sent to their various colonies....

This would mean that this is not the first time humanity has created a new form of life that rebelled against it. It's all happened before. And in addition to the humans and the cylons, there's another player out there -- a player the Cylons call God.

I know, wacky. But I wonder if all the religious talk actually is leading to something more tangible than gods tend to be.

R.A. Porter said...

As long as Olmos doesn't ever ask "why does God need a starship?"

Anonymous said...

Fun fact #1: Jackie Tyler is named after my co-blogger at Blowing Smoke, Jackie Danicki. She used to do Queer As Folk recaps for Television Without Pity (or whatever it was called back then) and struck up a friendship with Davies, and he named Rose's mom after her.

Fun fact #2: She's never seen the show! I keep telling her she needs to check it out. Although, the way Jackie T's usually portrayed...

Anonymous said...

Oh, and ditto on the "paper shortage" scene. As somebody who's prone to stress-triggered laughing fits myself, that was priceless. You never saw Picard losing his shit over little things like dwindling food supplies, which was just one of the thousand reasons that show was so boring.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, there was rarely anything for Picard to lose his shit over. I remember Peter David, who has made a good deal of his career writing Trek novels and comics, admitting during TNG's run that "most episodes are a waste [Patrick] Stewart's time and talent." And when I see Stewart in other things, or even "Chain of Command Part II", I realize how right he was.

Taleena said...

I actually liked the Cylon bits. As for the story focusing on Kat, that wasn't so bad and it got rid of a Starbuck wanna be. I knew that Kat would kill herself as soon as her sleazy boyfriend confronted her.

Starbuck didn't have any culpability in Kat's death as I saw it. Yeah, Starbuck was harsh, but Adama needs to know the weakness of the crew, the potential for officers to be subverted by agents foreign (Cylons) and domestic (Zarek's homies).

Starbuck had to tell Adama something quite damaging about herself because it effected the performance of her duty, why should Kat be different?

Ross Ruediger said...

Alan -

Thanks for giving me credit here.

Glad you enjoy the pieces - but that goes both ways. I always look forward to stopping in here to see what you've got to say about the latest ep of DW (amongst your other commentaries). Only two more weekends left -- Boo-Who!