Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions — #27

The author, enjoying some peach moscato, 26 February 2018

 The State of My Union – An Personal Assessment

By Chris M. Barkley:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

– Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security.

– John Allen Paulos

Until recently, I really hadn’t given too much thought to the opening to Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities, which remains one of the most memorable opening lines of any English language novel.

But it became uppermost in my mind when I sat down to write this particular column. I wanted to express my unease at how I look at the world and how it is balanced out by the joy of being alive in this time and place.

I paired Dickens with a quote from eminent mathematician John Allen Paulos because it perfectly summarizes the same point Dickens had made more than a century earlier. While I despair about the condition of our world, I am continuingly amazed at how aware I am and the amazing technology and we have at our fingertips each day.

On the evening of January 31st, my partner Juli and I went to see an excellent historical drama about the Pentagon papers, The Post. Staying home and watching The State of the Union Address was out of the question.

For the most obvious of reasons; the United States is currently led by a vile, anti-intellectual and profoundly stupid man. And by writing that, I want to extend an apology to all stupid people.

As we drove home, I began thinking about what was going to be the subject this column (who is intimately involved with The Post) but as I sat down to write it, I changed my mind.

This column, which is now more than a year old, was intended to be a sounding board for my thoughts and concerns about all things fannish. Looking back, I see that while there were some pretty serious columns, it seems that lately, it has been a little too top-heavy with media related reviews. So, it seems as though I was long overdue for an introspective look at something else. Myself.

My heath is rather nominal. I say rather because while I feel well enough, I have discovered after a discussion with my doctor, that I have been undergoing an extended bout of hyperglycemia brought on by my overuse of Splenda. I know how crazy that sounds but it is true. This is particularly bad news for me because I am a fanatical tea drinker and I like it sweet. Since I have type-2 diabetes, I just assumed it was safe for me to put 4 or five packs of Splendas in a 16 ounce serving. My body had different ideas. The theory is that my body, in the absence of real sugar, has been tricked into producing more sugar and insulin (with a sidecar of dopamine) which, in turn, has thrown everything out of whack.

My doctor has given me eight weeks to get my blood sugars under control or I will be prescribed to undergo insulin injections. Needless to say, my fear of needles is driving my urge to eat properly, walk and exercise on a daily basis.

Officially, I have been unemployed since April 30th of last year. I walked away from my position as the periodicals manager at one of the best independent bookstores in America I felt undervalued by the management and my boss was…well, let’s just say I lost confidence in her and let it go at that.

My current job right now is being a primary caretaker of my two-year-old granddaughter, Lily Bug. She is a delight to watch and I am quite privileged watching her growing and learning each day. She learns quickly and has an uncanny knack of showing that she is self-aware and confidently self-assured before she turned a year old, which I found a bit unusual for someone her age.

As the only child (at the moment), Lily is afforded special privileges from her overly indulgent, such as her Christmas gift of a thirteen-foot-diameter trampoline, which she lovingly calls “jumpy-jumpy”.

I’m also looking forward to her being properly potty-trained by her parents REAL SOON NOW because I would really like to put my toxic waste disposal days behind me.

Books are my life. I have sold them for over a quarter of a century and reading them all of my life. I am overwhelmed with books. I have a very bad habit of starting several books at once so my nightstand is rather swamped at the moment:

Tau Zero (1970) by Poul Anderson; this would be a perfect vehicle for a director like Kathryn Bigelow, Alex Garland or Duncan Jones. Someone should send a copy to each of them so there would be a bidding war. If you haven’t read it, it is one of the finest examples of hard adventure sf ever written.

Mary Astor’s Purple Diary (2016) written and illustrated by Edward Sorel – The Great Sex Scandal of 1936; Mary Astor was a revered character actress in the golden Age of Hollywood. Her personal life became fodder for the tabloid press when her affair with playwright George S. Kaufman was revealed because her salacious diary was discovered by her husband, Doctor Franklyn Thorpe. To say that hijinks ensued would be an incredible understatement. Woody Allen, in a rare move into literary criticism, infamously reviewed this tome for the New York Times Review of Books, which led to a backlash of virulent protest against the book editor, Pamela Paul. As Spock would say, fascinating…

The Nashville Chronicles (2000) by Jan Stuart; a lucky find at a library book sale because I had NO IDEA this book existed. Nashville is one of my top ten favorites of all time and I am enjoying this book as much as I adore Aljean Harmetz’s making of Casablanca, Round Up the Usual Suspects.

Will Eisner’s The Spirit: A Celebration of 75 Years (2015); When I started digging into the history of comics back in 1967, the very first book I came across was Jules Feiffer’s The Great Comic Book Heroes. I skipped all of the mumbo jumbo analysis that I could barely understand and dove right into the comics. The most thrilling find was Eisner’s tough talking masked man, a comic strip hero I’d never heard of before. I instantly became a lifelong fan.

Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams (2017); This is a compilation of the ten short stories that comprise the first season of the Amazon Prime series that dropped in late December.

Of course, once the Hugo nominations are announced, all of the above will be put aside to assess what I will be voting on…

There are some days that some of my most creative writing is done on Facebook. While I find it personally satisfying to get the better of trolls and other malcontents whom I verbally cross swords with, but it is very distracting and very time-consuming. I could be doing research, reading and honing my craft and so I might stand a chance of getting paid for this writing gig some day.

But I am passionate about a few things online; censorship, police relations with the public, political corruption of all stripes and most of all, gun control. The massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida two weeks ago [at the time this was written] pointedly illustrated out how polarized and partisan Americans feel about the struggle between those who strive to protect their gun rights against gun control advocates.

I don’t want to confiscate anyone’s guns unless it is absolutely necessary. I have only held an actual firearm in my hands twice in my entire life. I have no problem telling anyone that guns terrify me. I’ve been stopped by police officers over a dozen times and managed to survive all of those encounters. I have no need of a gun and absolutely no desire to own one right now. I sincerely doubt I will change my mind but I remain open to being trained one day, just in case.

But over the past few weeks, I have compulsively and aggressively engaged many people on this issue, especially the overly officious people who would dismiss the survivors of the Parkland Massacre because they do not meet their narrow and dogmatic standards:

R: Yes. I have around 70 years familiarity with weapons of all kinds, weapons history (not talking just firearms, here), and literally 50 years of participation in the FAPOL (Firearms And Politics) arena. I pretty much qualify as an expert.

What they saw was horrible, but has absolutely no relevance to what they say about guns, gun owners, or gun laws – I haven’t heard one speak yet who wasn’t absolutely clueless on the subject.

When people insist on vague – or specific but ridiculous – changes to something they don’t know anything about and get wrong every time they open their mouths, it leaves people who do know something about the subject staring at them like they have their heads on backwards.

The fact that they, and other people like them, refuse to listen when you try to educate them, or correct their misstatements, doesn’t buy them any credit whatsoever – it subtracts from whatever credit they started with, and ultimately it gets them ignored as irrelevant.

ME: R, I am ten years younger than you. I have seen plenty myself. I have no problem telling you that you are dead wrong. As wrong as Johnson and Nixon were about the protesters of the Vietnam war. I could cite other examples, but you should keep that one primarily in mind. Historical movements have been started with less provocation. The kids who survived that ordeal on Valentine’s Day are now the spokespersons for an ENTIRE GENERATION who have had enough of the proliferation of guns, enough of the platitudes of politicians who have been paid off in money and influence by the NRA to do their bidding, enough of attitudes like yours, R., that weapons and the right to own and carry them are more important than their rights and their lives.

It’s all going to change R, whether you like it or not.

Change is hard. You can sit on the sidelines harping about these kids all you want.

You can’t stop them. You won’t stop them.

With their help, am I hoping they will be the vanguard of a range of social changes, and that sir, will bloody well include gun control in various forms.

Now, either you or your friends can continue to be part if the problem or you can be part of the solution. I intend to be in the right of history.

I’m supporting these kids.

Mind you, R. was at a distinct disadvantage because I was watching the recent Winston Churchill biopic Darkest Hour and I felt as though I was directly channeling him as I was tapping out this reply.

And there was this exchange:

V.L.: I believe in liberty and the constitution. The 2cond amendment and the individual right to bear arms is guaranteed by our constitution and upheld by the Supreme Court in the Heller case. As a reasonable person I’m open to some of the ideas being discussed; raising the age to 21 for purchase of certain weapons, universal background checks, banning bump stocks ect. The ‘assault weapons’ ban has zero merit. There’s nothing about guns made with black polymer that look like military weapons that make them more deadly than ordinary wooden semi-automatic rifles. It’s really magazine capacity, not the gun, that makes mass shootings more deadly. My issue with many on the left is they don’t believe people should own guns at all, or they say everyone should be allowed to own a musket because that’s what was available when the founding fathers penned the Constitution. The rationale of the 2cond amendment was a well armed militia to defend the country from a tyrannical government (which had just occurred) so the weapons of the militia should be equivalent to those of the government. I’m not advocating that citizens have access to tanks and rockets, but at the same time the 2cond amendment never had to do with hunting which is now what the left uses as the ‘need’ for guns. “I don’t want to take away Uncle John’s hunting gun”… This was never the basis for the second amendment. Murder is already illegal. Guns shouldn’t be the main focus; hardening school security should be.

To V.L.: ”Hardening school security”? What are you suggesting? Because it sounds like you’re suggesting more of a settling for a prison than school.

And, for the record, those of us who are level-headed folks who believe in some changes in the gun laws want law abiding gun owners to STOP acting like the 2nd Amendment, as written, is the most important thing in your lives. Your “gun rights” are not more vital than any human life.

We want to live in a world where guns are just as hard to buy as houses, cars and a Lear jet. That would include licensing, insurance for each weapon and regular recertification. Anyone caught without those accreditations should be prosecuted to within an inch of their lives and jailed.

THAT’S what we want. Some ideas in your post are a good start. But they don’t go far enough. Either you’re part of the problem or you’re part of the solution.


Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado stated in an interview on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition on February 27 that on the whole, we are terrorizing ourself over what to do about gun violence in America. When he was asked by host Rachel Martin whether or not the country had reached a tipping point on gun control with the Parkland tragedy, he said, “Well, there’s an accumulation of sorrow. And I think people’s hearts are just breaking, and there is a frustration now. For the first time, I keep hearing people talking about, you know, long-term Republican funders saying they’re going to fund people based on how they respond to gun safety, the introduction of gun safety laws, and that’s new. I mean, I haven’t heard that before where Republicans, who historically have been fighting for, you know, more traditional Republican goals, right? Lower taxes, smaller government, that kind of thing. Now they’re looking at gun safety as a large enough issue that it will define who they donate money to and who they vote for.”

I plan on working on posting a Gun Safety Manifesto to in the next month or so. The emphasis of the petition will be on gun safety, not “gun rights. Gun culture, either through the machinations of the National Rifle Association or other gun rights groups have had their day. Repealing or changing the Second Amendment will be on the table one day soon.

The sooner the better I think.

“Those who never change their minds never change anything.”
-Winston Churchill

Dedicated to the students, faculty and administrators of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions — #26

A Wrinkle In Time: A Film Review

By Chris M. Barkley:

A Wrinkle in Time (***1/2, 2018) with Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey,Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Deric McCabe, Levi, Miller, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Michael Peña, Zach Galifianakis and Chris Pine. Screenplay by Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell, Based on A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, Directed by Ava DuVernay.

Bechdel Test: PASS!

When we first meet Meg Murray (Storm Reid), she is in terrible shape. He scientist father Alex Murray (Chris Pine) has been missing for four years. Although she has proven herself to be an excellent student on occasions, her grades are down, she is incessantly bullied by a clique of girls at her school, she a discipline problem for the principle (Alex Holland), she feels overshadowed by her genius little brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) and, as all fourteen year olds do sooner or later, has no confidence in herself.

Then, one dark and stormy evening, the children and their bewildered mother Kate (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) meet Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) a free-spirited entity who seems to know Charles Wallace and is afflicted with a good case of Asperger’s syndrome.

Soon afterwards, Charles Wallace introduces Meg and a school acquaintance, Calvin (Levi Miller) to the slightly narcoleptic Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), who dispenses her wisdom through quotes and song lyrics.

The arrival of Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), the third and seemingly most powerful alien shows up, she announces that the three have been chosen for an incredible quest: the rescue of Dr. Alex Murray from the furthest reaches of unknown space!

When filmmakers dare to take on a nearly universally acclaimed piece of literature to adapt for a movie, they proceed at their own peril. For every Casablanca, The Third Man and The Godfather, there are dozens of others wrecked along the road to respectability (and profitability.

Now in the docket is Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, a young adult science fantasy novel which won the prestigious Newbery Award for children’s literature in 1962. It has been such a popular and beloved book that has NEVER been out of print.

Taking on the challenge are director Ava DuVernay (Selma), director/screenwriter Jennifer Lee (Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen and Zootopia) and Jeff Stockwell with producer Catherine Hand and Jim Whittaker. It was mainly through the dogged persistence of Hand, who had produced a lightly received, 2003 ABC television movie version, that a big budget version was fully realized fourteen years later.

And let me tell you, this version succeeds magnificently.

I will tell you quite frankly that this film took my heart in its hands and ran with it when Meg, who was being bullied on the playground, lost her temper, took a basketball and beaned her queen bee neighbor square in the face. As someone who was bullied as a child, I felt immense satisfaction in seeing her do THAT! Of course, Meg was totally wrong in her actions, which also illustrates that a big part of her problem is her temper and acting impulsively.

Cleverly, this of all plays into the narrative of the book AND the film, Meg trying her best to cope with, understand and control these feelings.

And while the supporting cast is great, the whole enterprise firmly relies on the shoulders of Storm Reid, who gives a star-making performance.

Over the past two days I re-read A Wrinkle in Time, have noted the changes that have been made and I think that this film is one of the best film adaptations I have had the privilege to see.

Although it has been a nearly month since the opening of Disney’s other juggernaut, Black Panther, A Wrinkle in Time has performed slightly below its target of $35 million dollars in the opening weekend, I fully expect that in time, audiences, especially parents with kids over the age of eight or nine, will discover and LOVE this movie.

Each generation of children have had a seminal film for which they will forever associate with their first real movie experience; The Wizard of Oz, Mary Poppins, Star Wars, E.T., The NeverEnding Story, etc…

Mark my words, despite the 42% Rotten Tomatoes score, a 52% on Metacritic and a just a “B” from CinemaScore, I fully believe that this film will not only succeed, but endure with children as time goes by.

Tremendous Pushback Against Barkley YA Award Name Proposal

Since Chris Barkley released his “Proposal to Re-Name the Young Adult Book Award” yesterday it has been heavily criticized, and five of the nine signers have removed their names —  Juliette Wade, Melinda Snodgrass, Pablo Miguel Alberto Vasquez, and Shawna McCarthy, and Vincent Docherty, who says his name never should have been included to begin with.

Last year, the Worldcon 75 business meeting finalized creation of a new YA Award for the World Science Fiction Convention, ratifying it by a vote of 65-27, and a motion naming it the Lodestar award received first passage. (For a complete explanation of how the committee chose that name, read the YA Award Full Report.)

Barkley’s proposal urges the award be given a different name — though just what name he planned to keep embargoed until the start of this year’s business meeting. (“There is very good reason why the name will not be revealed at this time and that explanation will also be given at that time.”)

However, when Melinda Snodgrass told Facebook readers why she was no longer a signer, she also revealed the proposed name.

So I have apparently inadvertently stepped into the middle of a science fiction fandom/Hugo/Worldcon hornet’s nest. So do pass on to anyone who might care that this was done innocently and was me attempting to not seem to be slighting Ursula K. Le Guin who was one of our greatest writers.

How this all happened — I had the vague memory that we now have a YA award of some kind and when I got a request to put my name on a petition to have it named for Le Guin it seemed churlish to refuse. I thought it was another make nice sort of honorary thing so I said sure even though it didn’t matter to me one whit.

But apparently this process has consumed fandom and worldcon like a wildfire for the past several years, and I have apparently been pulled into this fight when I didn’t even know there was a fight.

So consider this me stating that I don’t have a dog in this fight. I’m not taking a side because I didn’t know there were sides to be taken, I’ve requested my name be removed and I’m backing slowly away from the whole thing so I can get back to writing and working to get Wild Cards on the air.

Once this whole thing gets settled I will be happy to vote for a YA novel because I really enjoy YA novels. And I don’t care what they call the award.

Chris Barkley sent File 770 this comment “on the record”: “I do not have any comment at this time. If anyone wants to know what name will be officially revealed, they are welcome to attend the Preliminary Business Meeting at Worldcon 76.”

Also, Ellen Datlow, although not listed in Barkley’s post on File 770, announced on Facebook that she has removed her name from the petition.

Renay of Lady Business has made the most thorough critical response to the motion. Jump on the thread here:

At another point she underscores how the proposal disrespects the process used to create the award —

She is not the only one to see the proposal as demeaning people’s work on the award:

While the name was still unknown, Brian White voiced his deepest fear….

However, it needs to be made clear that the Worldcon was not the author of this idea —

Stacy Whitman satirized the proposal in a thread —

And a writer who knows something about the years of debate behind the award wryly suggested another new name:

[Thanks to Mark Hepworth, JJ, and Chris Barkley for the story.]

A Proposal to Re-Name the Young Adult Book Award at Worldcon 76

By Chris M. Barkley

“When the mind is free, magic happens.”
— Young Adult author C.G. Rousing

“Harry Potter” blew the roof off of children’s literature. But that doesn’t mean the work is done — for YA authors, it just means more scope for the imagination.”
Huffington Post reporter Claire Fallon, June 2017

Reading is one of the great pleasures in life. For a time in our modern age, it is seems as though young grade and high school kids had abandoned reading books.

Then, in 1997, along came J.K. Rowling and her creation, the world of Harry Potter. And now, after twenty-one years, it’s hard to imagine what might have happened to entire generation of young readers if Bloomsbury and Scholastic Books hadn’t taken a chance on the saga of a young wizard and his friends and deadly enemies.

The Harry Potter novels, which continue to sell, provided a mighty tide that raised the fortunes of a great many writers; new authors such as Suzanne Collins, Garth Nix, Veronica Roth, Rick Riordan and Tamora Pierce, led story hungry children to the older works of seasoned professionals like Octavia Butler, Isaac Asimov, Anne McCaffrey, Madeline L’Engle, Ursula K. Le Guin and Robert A. Heinlein.

In 2006, The Science Fiction and Fantasy writers of America created the Andre Norton Award, which is given to the author of the best young adult or middle grade science fiction or fantasy work published in the United States in the preceding year.

Five years later, a serious effort was started to establish a Hugo Award for young adult books. The World Science Fiction Convention Business Meeting, which governs the WSFS Constitution that administers the Hugo Awards, several committees over several years, determined that the proposed award would better be served as a separate category, to be on par with the other non-Hugo category, the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

The amendment to add the Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book to the WSFS Constitution was first ratified last summer at the 75th World Science Fiction Convention in Helsinki, Finland by the members of the Business Meeting and must be ratified a second time at this year’s Worldcon in San Jose, California to begin it’s official trial run as a category.

This year’s Worldcon Convention Committee (headed by Kevin Roche) has graciously accepted to administer the Young Adult Book award in addition to the new Best Series and Campbell Awards.

The nomination period for the Hugos, Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer opened February 5.

We, the undersigned, wish to congratulate the various YA Committee for reaching a consensus with their diligent work in crafting the parameters of the YA Award for the World Science Fiction Convention. However, we also think that the name of this new award should have a name which not only should be universally recognizable, but have an equivalent weight to the name of John W. Campbell, Jr.

We, the undersigned, will respectfully submit a new name for the Young Adult Book Award at the Preliminary Session of the Worldcon 76 Business Meeting on August 17, 2018 as a strike though substitution for the name ‘Lodestar’, under the rules governing the WSFS Business Meeting.

We will also embargo the name until the start of the Preliminary Session.

There is very good reason why the name will not be revealed at this time and that explanation will also be given at that time.

While we also understand that while this motion may cause a great deal of consternation, we also feel that this would be an excellent opportunity to generate a great deal of interest about the Worldcon and bring MORE attention to this new award to potential nominators, readers of all ages, booksellers and the public at large.

The proposed name will forever be known and honored in perpetuity with the Hugo Awards, the John W. Campbell Award, and the World Science Fiction Convention.

Proposed by Worldcon 76 Attending Members:
Juli Marr
Robert J. Sawyer
Steven H. Silver
Chris M. Barkley

Update 03/07/2018: Removed Melinda Snodgrass and Juliette Wade as signers. Also removed Vincent Docherty, who said in a comment his name was included in error, he never was a signer. // Subsequently, Shawna McCarthy and Pablo Vasquez have asked to have their names removed.

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions — #25

Sonequa Martin-Green

File 770’s Black History Month Part Two, Star Trek: Discovery, Season One

By Chris M. Barkley:

Star Trek: Discovery (CBS All Access, ***1/2) with Sonequa Martin-Green, Jason Isaacs, Doug Jones, Shazad Latif, Anthony Rapp, Mary Wiseman, Wilson Cruz with guest appearances by Michelle Yeoh, James Frain, Riann Wilson, Jayne Brook, Clare McConnell, Mary Cheiffo and Rekha Sharma and Chris Obi. Created by Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman based on Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry.

The defining factor of Roddenberry’s vision is the optimistic view of the future … Once you lose that, you lose the essence of what Star Trek is. That being said… Star Trek has always been a mirror to the time it reflected and [the topical question now] is how do you preserve and protect what Starfleet is in the weight of a challenge like war and the things that have to be done in war.

—Executive producer Alex Kurtzman on the balance between classic Star Trek and new elements in Discovery.


Before we dive in here, I must say in full disclosure that I have purposefully avoided a great many critiques of the first season of Star Trek: Discovery to avoid copycatting anyone else’s opinion or views. I would like to think that as a fan of a certain age (sixty -one, for the record), and having watched every incarnation of the series since it started, I have a uniquely comprehensive view of the franchise.

On Sunday morning at Capricon 38, I joined forty-five fans and three panelists gathered in a small meeting room. The subject of the panel was Star Trek: Discovery vs. The Orville.

Basically this was a contrast and compare panel but the vibe of the room felt as though there were some very passionate feelings about both shows, but especially against Discovery. and as the hour-and-a-half panel unfolded, most of the discussion was centered on that issue.

When I was asked point-blank by an audience member how I would compare the two side by side, I pointedly stated that for the most part, Discovery was professional grade television and The Orville was some very nice fan-fiction.

Mind you, I stated in my review in a previous column that Seth McFarlane’s show was a pretty decent effort for someone who is demonstrably a big fan sf, of the original series and The Next Generation in particular. But the first several episodes featured some very off-color and rude humor mixed into the rudimentary sf concept. There were several outstanding episodes as their first season progressed (“Pria”, “In the Fold,” “Cupid’s Dagger” and “Mad Idolatry” among them) and for the most part, the show is worth keeping an eye on.

Star Trek: Discovery however, dazzled me right out of the gate with its pilot episodes, “The Vulcan Hello” and “The Battle of Binary Stars”, as I recounted in my impressions from another previous column. At the end of these episodes that Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) of the Shenzhou is dead after a surprise raid on an enemy ship went sideways, the Federation is in an all out war with the Klingon Empire and that First Officer Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) was convicted of mutiny and imprisoned for life.

And then things got decidedly more complicated.

Six months into her sentence, Burnham’s transfer to another prison is delayed by an emergency “rescue” engineered by Captain Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs) of the USS Discovery. Lorca deliberately sought to have her diverted to serve on his ship under the title “Specialist” in order to help the Federation’s war efforts. (Or so it seems.) Burnham, who is still feeling quite a considerable amount of guilt about Georgiou’s death and her part in starting the war, somewhat reluctantly accepts the assignment over the objections of First Officer Saru (Doug Jones), who was the Science Officer aboard the ill-fated Shenzhou. The only person besides Lorca who welcomes her aboard is her roommate, Syvia Killy, a somewhat ambitious (and talkative) Starfleet Cadet.

Captain Lorca is unlike any officer Burnham or any of the crew has ever served with before. Having lost his own crew in a wartime disaster, he seems to be driven by a desire to avenge his loss at any means necessary. Starfleet has seen fit to overlook his obvious symptoms of post traumatic distress and the bending or breaking regulations and laws because of his success in battle against the Klingons.

Aiding in those victories is the innovative spore-drive developed by (and eventually guided by) Science Officer Lt. Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) that can teleport the Discovery to practically any point in known space. But what Staments has withheld from Lorca and the ship’s chief medical officer (and his lover) Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz) is that there are some debilitating side effects each time he uses it.

Meanwhile, the Klingons have not been idle; following the death of T’Kuvma, the leader who briefly unified the twenty-four houses of the Empire, two outcasts, L’Rell (Mary Cheiffo) and Voq (initially played by Javid Iqbal) formulate their own plan to take the USS Discovery and the spore drive for themselves…

As the season progresses, Burnham faces off against a future frenemy of Captain Kirk, Harcourt Fenton Mudd (Rainn Wilson), is reluctantly attracted to a former prisoner of war turned crewmate, Lt. Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif), is forced to deal with her relationship while close proximity to Saru, who is wary of her and her motivations for being on the Discovery and is plunged, along with the rest of the crew, into the infamous “mirror universe” where the Federation’s xenophobic counterpart, the Terran Empire, holds sway.

One of the great storytelling devices of all time is to throw the protagonist(s) into a very deep hole and see if they can claw their way out. I think that the creators of Discovery knew that this would be the only way to start the series out, with the Federation being faced with its greatest challenge; how does an organization dedicated to peace stay true to their beliefs in a time of crisis.

Since there has been little in the way of a historical accounting of the ten years prior to the adventures of the original Star Trek series, creators Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman (who also was involved in the big screen “Kelvan Universe” films) decided that this would be a fertile ground to explore.

The biggest complaint that I have heard among critics and fans was simply, “This is not Star Trek.”

Star Trek, with the notable exception of Deep Space Nine, has been mainly about peacekeeping, diplomacy, seeking out new life forms and civilizations and boldly going where no one had gone before. And, under the dictum of creator Gene Roddenberry and his successors, Rick Berman and the late Michael Piller, personnel in Starfleet NEVER engage in significant personal conflicts (unless they are mentally ill, possessed by an alien life form or worse, whatever that might be) discouraged to show any basic human flaws. This rule has been inconstantly enforced at times over the course of the series but many a writer and producer have found out the hard way that while this may be noble cause in practice, but it is a hell of a roadblock for storytellers to hurdle on weekly basis.

Refreshingly (as far as I’m concerned), series creator Bryan Fuller and his team of producers decided to brilliantly defenestrate this rule in the very first episode and had its main character commit mutiny to put an exclamation point on it. “The rules of Starfleet remain the same,” producer Gretchen J. Berg told Entertainment Weekly in June of 2017. “But while we’re human or alien in various ways, none of us are perfect.”

I imagine that a lot of fans felt put out that these drastic variances in the series were completely outside of their previous experiences with Star Trek.  Factors such as the décor and uniforms not matching previous incarnations, the addition of openly LGBTQ characters or the introduction of more women and people of color and in command positions. But this is the 21st century and Discovery, by far, has the most diverse cast in the Star Trek canon, especially with the casting of people of different ethnicities in key roles and a black woman in the lead role.

Critics of Discovery also nitpicked about the aesthetics of the art and set direction (which Kurtzman freely admits was based on the current movie sets). Other complaints were aimed the design of the Klingon’s makeup and costumes; some enormous, balding prosthetics along with the organically baroque looking uniforms designed by Neville Page and Glenn Hetrick are reminiscent of the best work of the late H. R. Giger. I, for one, was not as bothered by all of that as much as I was by how slowl*y and deliberately the Klingon characters were speaking and acting.

Admittedly, this new look was very interesting and invigorating to me, a long time Star Trek watcher. But I rolled with it because I appreciated what these creators were doing, forging a new, sustainable path for Star Trek.

While most of the main storyline involved the redemptive path of Michael Burnham, I was also very intrigued and ultimately surprised by others, especially her ill-fated friendship with Ash Tyler, L’Rell’s long game of treachery, seeing the chemistry between Lt. Stamets and Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz), the depths of duplicity committed by Captain Lorca and revelation of Tilly’s lofty career ambitions, which reach some shockingly surprising heights by her counterpart in the mirror universe. The only major criticism I have is that the bridge crew, as stalwart, loyal, upstanding and brave as they are, remain ciphers to me. I am hoping that the writers and producers have some big plans for including them in more storylines in season two.

THE biggest and most vocal objection I have read online or heard from fans and at conventions was CBS’s decision to place the series on its All-Access streaming channel after airing the first episode. Full disclosure; I signed up immediately for a monthly subscription immediately. Because (a) I liked what I saw and (b) the freaking cliffhanger!

My continuing subscription is $5.99 a month, which comes out to a little over $2.50 an episode for the fifteen episodes of the first season. I am still paying. Why, you might ask? Because that nearly $6.00 a month not only grants me access to thousands of hours of CBS programming (Hello Perry Mason and NCIS and Medium), it also supports original programming like Discovery, The Good Fight (a sequel to The Good Wife) and the just announced revival of The Twilight Zone which will be produced by the newly minted media mega-hyphenate and Oscar nominee, Jordan Peele. Other shows, genre and otherwise are currently in development.

And Discovery was not cheaply made. The actual cost of each episode of Discovery was estimated to be between $8 and 8.5 million dollars each, the cost of a small independent film!

It’s been twelve years since a Star Trek series was on the air. Would Discovery have been a smash hit if were broadcast on cable or the network instead of streaming? It’s certainly possible. But it’s already a moot point; Star Trek: Discovery was considered so successful from CBS’s point of view in the form of paid subscriptions, that they ordered a second season in October of last year the day after the sixth episode aired.

I have encountered people who think that the shows they love should be available at no charge. But someone is paying and it is you. Television shows produced for legacy networks and syndication were never really “free. They charge a premium price to allow advertisers to showcase products on programs and in turn, those costs have been passed along to you, the consumer, through the prices of those products you buy. As the decades have passed, this business model has been changing; first, the advent of cable eroded traditionally huge audiences for networks, and further divided them as hundreds of cable channels were created, giving the limited pool of viewers an unprecedented amount of material to see.

So, for better or worse, this may be the model that the broadcast networks may follow in the next decade.  And the success of Star Trek: Discovery is just another indication that it works.

Like it or not, welcome to the future. And if you love Star Trek, you’ll be there, too.

(Just a word of warning: The photo is actually an Instagram post from August of 2015 and has been photoshopped to convey the message above.  BUT, in this December 2017 interview from Gulf News, Sir Patrick gave his enthusiastic approval to discovery (even though he hasn’t seen the show yet) so that is my justification for including it here. Discretion is advised for using it , but, what the hell, it’s cute!

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions — #24

File 770’s Black History Month, Part One: Black Panther

By Chris M. Barkley:

Black Panther (2018, ****) with Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya, Angela Bassett, Winston Duke, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman. Written by Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, based on characters created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, Directed by Ryan Coogler.

Bechdel Test: PASS!!!!!

Ever since Marvel Studios first announced in 2014 it was developing a film version of the iconic black superhero, Black Panther, a great deal of hype and anticipation has surrounded its production. And now, I can tell you, without any hesitation, that this film has exceeded all my expectations.

Set shortly after the assassination of the King T’Chaka of Wakanda in Captain America: Civil War, heir apparent Prince T’Challa (a magnificently ripped Chadwick Boseman) is to be crowned the new King. But although T’Challa has trained and studied for this moment for a majority of his life, he feels as though he is unready and can never be the equal of his father.

T’Challa has bigger problems; the path to the crown does not go unchallenged. M’Baku (Winston Duke), the powerful leader of the agrarian northern tribe tries to depose him, a master criminal, Ulyssess Klaue (Andy Serkis) is at large peddling vibranium, the precious metal that fuels Wakanda’s existence and is distracted by his ex-lover by his concern over the safety of (Lupita Nyong’o), who spends most of her time outside the kingdom as a secret service agent.

But the sudden emergence of Erik Stevens (Michael B. Jordan), a previously unknown heir to the throne suddenly appears to pose the biggest threat to T’Challa and his kingdom. A trained killer, he aids Klaue’s activities and seeks to take Wakandan weapons and technology to “liberate” the oppressed minorities of the world in order to dominate the world for himself.

The Black Panther debuted June 1966 in Fantastic Four # 52 and 53 by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. It is only natural to expect Marvel Comics, the innovative group of creators that gave us angst driven teenage heroes (Spider-Man and the X-Men) heroes and villains with anger issues (The Hulk, Namor, the Sub-Mariner and Doctor Doom) and physical disabilities (Daredevil) would bring the world the very first, true black superhero. I personally believe that they created the Black Panther out of their observations of the civil rights movement and seeing the potential of building bridges to the youthful African-American audience hungry for heroes they can identify with.

(In October of that year, Bobby Seale and Huey Newton created the influential revolutionary group, The Black Panthers for Self Defense as a reactionary counterpart of Martin Luther King’s non-violent movement. Neither man confirmed that the group was named after Marvel’s hero but just calling it merely a coincidence is a bit of stretch.)

I have had the privilege of watching the character of the Black Panther evolve over the decades to come to this particular moment in black cultural history.

There are several reasons why this particular film is important right now:

A) As the 17th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, writer-director Ryan Coogler has assembled of the largest and most diverse casts of black actors, both of American and international origins, in recent memory.

B) The story provides a different, but important slice of the Marvel Universe that many readers of comics were familiar with but most moviegoers were probably unaware of.

C) It also shows a fictionalized region of Africa that has never been colonized, despoiled or exploited by any outside forces, an idealized place where love of country goes hand in hand with advanced technology.

But beneath there are clearly cracks in Wakanda’s utopian vision here; much of the country’s internal success has come from a traditional intense sense of secrecy that does not allow any other points of view. When Erik “Killmonger” Stevens arrives to make his play for Wankandan crown, he finds a fertile ground to sow his nefarious plot. And what should be nagging in the back of every viewer’s mind is could there be a kernel of truth in what he’s seeking.

T’Challa may have a suit of vibranium and advanced weapons at his disposal but he knows he cannot prevail on his own. He is blessed with some serious backup; covert operator Nakia, the fearsome Okoye (Danai Gurira), the head of his all female special forces unit, his beloved mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett), a frenemy CIA agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) and his spunky and techno-genius sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) who steals practically every scene she’s in.

Ryan Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole deserve an enormous amount of credit in balancing everyone’s role so the movie feels like a beautifully infectious fever dream of action, adventure and personal tragedy.

The advanced ticket sales of Black Panther have ensured its financial success, both here in America and overseas. But its cultural impact can only be measured by the number of new projects featuring racially and sexually diverse cast will made in the near future. I, along with you and many others, can only watch and wait.


Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions — #23

The Orville – A Season One Review

By Chris M. Barkley

The Orville (Twelve Episodes, Rating **1/2 out of four stars) created by Seth MacFarlane with MacFarlane, Adrianne Palicki, Penny Johnson Jerald, Scott Grimes, Peter Macon, Halston Sage, J Lee, Mark Jackson and Chad L. Coleman. Executive Producers: Seth MacFarlane, Brannon Braga, David A. Goodman, Jason Clark.

Fifty-one years ago, I was ten years old and having my mind blown by watching Star Trek. Six years later, I was reading Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Madeline L’Engle, Harlan Ellison and getting acquainted with the authors of the two volumes of The Hugo Winners. Three years after that, I attended my first sf convention.

Throughout my life in and out of fandom, Star Trek has remained one of my cultural lodestones. But as I got older, I often wondered if it would remain relevant or if there were new avenues that the basic premise could explore.

In the early 1980’s, I had the rare privilege of chatting with the late Gordon R. Dickson and had an extended conversation about Star Trek in particular. When I asked him about the possibility of writing a novel for Pocket Books, who were producing a number of paperback books in the wake of the success of The Wrath of Khan, Dickson demurred.

“The universe they created is so big and wide,” he said, “but all they’re interested in are stories about Kirk, Spock and McCoy. And I’m not interested in that.”

The point was well taken. Gene Roddenberry, the cast and the universe that had been created, were slowly becoming cemented into the culture as the ONLY acceptable version of Star Trek people were interested in supporting.

But when Roddenberry was presented with the opportunity of trying to re-create that sort of lightning in a bottle in 1986, he could not resist. Thus, he and a dedicated group of creators and launched The Next Generation, which, defying all odds, ran for seven years in syndication and to this very day in various outlets across the communication spectrum. Many other sf based television shows and movies have followed in its wake but only a few (The X-Files, Doctor Who or Lost, for example) can even attempt to approach its cultural and historical significance.

Actor/Writer/Producer Seth MacFarland is not only a fan of Star Trek, but of sf in general, as he repeatedly demonstrates in his new tv series, The Orville. He wanted to re-launch Star Trek as a series as far back as October 2011, when he told The Hollywood Reporter, “I don’t know who would give me the keys to that car. But I’d love to see that franchise revived for television in the way that it was in the 1990s: very thoughtful, smartly written stories that transcend the science fiction audience.”

When he was asked directly during a 2017 summer press tour if The Orville was a parody of Star Trek, MacFarlane said not really. “For me, it’s a space that’s kind of waiting to be filled in this day and age when we’re getting a lot of dystopian science fiction,” he said. “This is sort of an attempt to fill that void in that genre.”

When Fox announced it had greenlit a 13-episode order for The Orville in May 2016, I did a mental eyeroll. While I was well aware of his somewhat caustic and crude sense of humor (Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show) I had NO IDEA how much of a diehard sf fan at heart.

I had very low expectations when my partner Juli and I decided to watch the pilot. In fact, our first experience with The Orville started out very ominously. The day after The Orville premiered on Fox, we sat down to stream the pilot episode. And, quite frankly, we both were feeling quite underwhelmed by what we were seeing.

Approximately 400 years in the future, Ed Mercer, a starship officer of “The Union”, a spacefaring federation (heh!) has just gotten off duty to come home and find his wife and fellow officer Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki) committing adultery with an alien. A year later, Ed and Kelly are divorced but find themselves thrown together on a newly commissioned Union ship, The Orville.

As much as Mercer dislikes Grayson being assigned to the Orville, he’s stuck with her, at least for the time being. Their bickering and bitterly sarcastic jokes about it take up a great deal of the first half of the show, like a very bad, bizarro version of The Honeymooners.

Fortunately, the crew picks up a priority distress signal from a Union research station. Once there, they discover that the scientists there have developed a process that ages matter. They want the crew to take custody of it before the Krill, the Union’s ruthless counterparts, arrive and seize it for themselves…

And suddenly, literally midway through, the streaming of the pilot (and ONLY the pilot, we learned) abruptly cut out and could not be restored.

After trying several times, I looked at Juli and said, “Maybe this is an omen.” And with that, we both decided to give the show a complete pass.

Over the following weeks, a curious thing happened; I saw a few posts online and on social media either expounding on the virtues of The Orville. To be sure, there were some withering commentary as well but I became intrigued by the good notices. Finally, after a rave from sf author (and Star Trek enthusiast) Robert J. Sawyer renewed my interest in giving it a second chance.

I also did a little research before I binged the twelve aired episodes. (A thirteenth episode was held back due to a scheduling conflict and will serve as the second season premiere later this year).

In an effort to make The Orville as authentic as possible, MacFarlane surrounded himself with a virtual Murderer’s Row of veterans of with previous sf series; producer and director Brannon Braga (The Next Generation, Voyager, Enterprise and FlashForward), David A. Goodman (Futurama, Enterprise), director Tucker Gates (Angel, Alias, Lost and Carnivale), actor-director Robert Duncan McNeill (Voyager and Chuck) writer-producer Andre Bormanis (Star Trek, Threshold and Cosmos) and actor-director Jonathan Frakes (Star Trek, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Roswell). In addition to Adrianne Palicki’s genre chops (Smallville, Supernatural, S.H.I.E.L.D. and John Wick), he added Penny Johnson Gerald, who was a regular on Castle for several years and had a pivotal recurring role on Deep Space Nine.

Some of the characters MacFarlane created for The Orville mirror some of the archetypes from other Star Trek series; the somewhat brusque Doctor Finn (a blend of Doctors Crusher and Pulaski), Peter Macon’s second officer, Lieutenant Commander Bortus (Worf), Halston Sage as the super strong security chief Kitan (Tasha Yar), J Lee’s John LaMarr (Geordi LaForge) and Mark Jackson’s android Isaac (Data, which I highly suspect is a nod to Isaac Asimov). Character actor Scott Grimes plays the amiable helmsman Gordon Malloy, who is not based on anyone in the Star Trek canon but fills the rather thankless role of a humorous foil for the crew.

I began by re-watching the pilot, “Old Wounds” from the beginning. (Juli decided not to participate.) On the whole it was a slow-moving affair with a lot of McFarlane’s trademarked crude humor being somewhat forced into the storyline. The pilot, directed by film vet Jon Favreau and written by McFarlane, was uneven at best but in the end, was somewhat redeemed by a rather funny and unorthodox solution for eliminating the Krill threat that involved a glue gun and the seed of a redwood tree. I actually laughed out loud when it was executed, which gave me some hope that the other episodes were better than the pilot.

As I proceeded I found that by varying degrees, the quality of some the stories improved, but the overall quality was somewhat uneven:

1)      Mad Idolatry (Episode 12), ***1/2
2)      Into The Fold (Episode 8) ***
3)      Cupid’s Dagger(Episode 9) ***
4)      Pria (Episode 5) ***
5)      If the Stars Should Appear (Episode 4) **1/2
6)      Krill (Episode 6) **1/2
7)      Firestorm (Episode 10) **1/2
8)      About A Girl (Episode 4) **1/2
9)      New Dimensions (Episode 11) **
10)   Majority Rules (Episode 7) **
11)   Command Performance (Episode 2) **
12)   Old Wounds (Pilot Episode) *1/2

Some basic sf concepts are sprinkled throughout these episodes and for the most part they are well handled. “If the Stars Should Appear” realistically features a generation ship with all of the requisite problems that would have made Robert Heinlein himself smile. “Majority Rules” and “About A Girl” are about cultural assimilation and are a bit uncommon because they do not cop-out with a quick denouement or easy answers. We learn more about the Union’s main adversary, the Krill, in the episode of that title, and in the process explore the double-edged consequences of espionage.

While J Lee’s character, Navigator Lieutenant John LaMarr is in the spotlight in “Majority Rules” and “New Dimensions”, I found his character’s development somewhat dissatisfying; he’s portrayed a bit of an idiot in one instance the former episode and is outed as a closet genius and is subsequently promoted to be the ship’s chief engineer in the latter. While I welcome these changes, it’s done in a way in which seems a bit disingenuous at best.

“Into The Fold”, “Cupid’s Dagger” and “Pria” are clever and engaging character studies. Doctor Finn and android Isaac (Mark Jackson) particularly shine in their side adventure “Fold”, while Mercer and Grayson’s past and present relationship is explored a bit further in these two episodes. (I must say that “Pria”, whose presence was graced by Academy Award winner Charlize Theron, could have been a better outing if the focus had been on Grayson’s character rather than Mercer.)

The season’s highlight of the season was the last episode, “Mad Idolatry”, which, I say surprisingly, I am contemplating putting on my shortlist for Beat Dramatic Presentation-Short Form. When Grayson helps heal a little girl’s injury while on an away mission on an uncharted planet, her small charitable action sets off a series of events that finds her being beatified by the inhabitants. When she, Mercer and the crew try to rectify matters, they only make matters much, much worse. Amazingly, 95% of the action is dramatic and the atonal humor is kept to a minimum.

I must admit that the production design and special effects are well done and deliberately invoke the feeling of watching The Next Generation. The only two things that I definitely dislike are the design of the Orville (that business with the three quantum drive rings is not very well designed or pleasing to the eye, in my opinion) and the uniforms (which ape The Next Generation’s a little too closely).

This past November, Fox announced that The Orville has been renewed for a second season. There is some possibility that MacFarlane, the creator and producer of several long running shows, might have another gem on his hands. I have a feeling that like Galaxy Quest, it may gain a toehold in the hearts of fandom and social media, which can only help things along.

It will be interesting in seeing how he and his cadre of actors, writers and producers, refine and adjust The Orville as they continue through the season two and beyond. And, for now, so will I.

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions — #22

The Doctor Who Christmas Special – Twice Upon A Time [BEWARE SPOILERS]

By Chris M. Barkley:

Twice Upon a Time, (****) with Peter Capaldi, David Bradley, Pearl Mackie, Mark Gattis, Matt Lucas, Nikki-Amuka Bird, Lily Travers and Jared Garfield.  (Also featuring archival appearances by William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Anneke Wills and Michael Craze). Written by Steven Moffat, Directed by Rachel Talalay.

On Christmas Morning, 2017, I gave my True Love and Partner Juli, a Doctor Who/Bad Wolf T-shirt. After looking at it admiringly, she turned to me and said, “Wait a minute. Does this mean I’m Rose?”

I replied, “Well darling, after this evening, you can be The Doctor, too.”

Twice Upon a Time, the thirteenth and latest of the Doctor Who Christmas Special episodes, was one of the monumental milestones in the series; a meeting between the first incarnation of the Doctor (David Bradley, channeling William Hartnell) and the thirteenth Doctor, played by Peter Capaldi.

At the South Pole in 1986, The Doctor (Hartnell and Bradley), with the able assistance of his companions, Polly and Ben (Anneke Wills and Michael Craze) have vanquished the Cybermen for the first time. Feeling the oncoming effects of regeneration, the Doctors wanders from the safety of the station to seek refuge in his TARDIS…

In another time zone, The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), along with the able assistance of Bill (Pearl Mackie) and Nardole (Matt Lucas) have defeated the Cybermen (and TWO incarnations of the Master) from completely seizing a generational colony ship suspended just above a black hole. In the throes of another regeneration and separated from his companions, he enters his TARDIS and contemplates ending his life. But the TARDIS has other plans, as it pilots itself to a remote Antarctic base in 1986.

As the two Doctors contend with each other, they discover that time has completely stopped and a British army captain from World War One has suddenly appears before them, asking for the assistance of a doctor…

What makes a great television show? While there is no doubt that a good premise alone can propel show to some moderate success, the addition of compelling characters ensures it.

The Doctor and his (and soon to be her) various companions over the past fifty-five years have progressed from a “children’s show” to become icons of television.

Doctor Who has also had its share of controversies, too; the recent announcement that The Doctor would be played by Jodie Whittaker (The Night Watch, Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Black Mirror) under the direction of a new producer, Chris Chibnall (Torchwood, Camelot and  Broadchurch) is the biggest in the show’s history.

Speaking only for myself, I welcome it! When you’ve gone as far and as long as Doctor Who, there is nothing more refreshing than shaking things up in a big way.

My personal history with Doctor Who began in the late 1960’s with non-canonical Peter Cushing films Doctor Who and the Daleks (1965) and Invasion Earth: 2150 AD (1966) which were played incessantly on Cincinnati’s brand new UHF station. Cushing, who was clearly riffing, but not openly imitating, William Hartnell’s Doctor, was, for me, a great introduction to his character. By the time Tom Baker’s episodes started airing in America in the mid-seventies, I had more an inkling of what Doctor Who was all about.

The ingenious thing about Twice Upon A Time is the manner in which the departing writer/producer Steven Moffat’s script blended William Hartnell’s last appearance as The Doctor (The Tenth Planet) with  David Bradley’s turn  as Hartnell’s Doctor and Peter Calpaldi’s swan song. Hartnell’s Doctor is well-played by Bradley, who, ironically enough, had previously played Hartnell the actor playing The Doctor in a 2013 BBC film, An Adventure in Time and Space.

(Please feel free to re-read the last paragraph as many times as you like before continuing.)

In the cliffhanger ending of the previous season’s last episode, The Doctor Falls, Capaldi’s Doctor is continuing to forestall an imminent regeneration in a suicide attempt. He is utterly confounded by his meeting his first self and is confounded by his state of mind back then (since each Time Lord’s meeting with their previous selves are automatically erased from their memories), contemplating the same thing.

The controversial point for some of the longtime fans is the frame of mind of Hartnell/Bradley’s Doctor. Some have criticized the story putting him fatalistic mood in The Tenth Planet serial, when he shows no outward signs of distress during the proceedings.

I have not seen The Tenth Planet. However, I want to point out several things that make this explanation perfectly acceptable to me, in the context of the events in Twice Upon a Time:

— William Hartnell’s health was in decline during the filming of these episodes. In fact, he was written out of the third episode altogether due to illness and the bulk of his story exposition was given over to his companion Ben instead.

— Hartnell, despite his condition, did not want to give up the role to Patrick Troughton. There were a few lines of dialogue cut from the broadcast towards the end of the final episode indicating that his character was having some emotional or physical trouble in the prelude to regeneration.

— The action of Twice Upon A Time takes place between the moments when The Doctor wanders away from Ben and Polly after the defeat of the Cybermen and his return to the TARDIS. The first Doctor is over 900 years old and has suffered through death of a companion, the departure of others and particularly, of his granddaughter Susan.

— Dramatically speaking, it makes sense that he may have been suffering through the mistakes, the horror and regrets during his first lifetime. His meeting with his twelfth (or thirtieth, if you count the War Doctor) and their subsequent adventure, gives both Doctors the hope and strength to carry on.

There were other lovely touches for Capaldi’s Doctor; Bill (Pearl Mackie) makes an extended appearance along with cameos from Nardole (Matt Lucas) and Clara (Jenna Coleman).  And finally, Steven Moffat gives Peter Capladi grand and eloquent speeches, which are full of references of past Doctors: (See Radio Times’ article “Did you spot all the Doctor Who references in Peter Capaldi’s regeneration speech?”)

DOCTOR: Oh, there it is. Silly old universe. The more I save it the more it needs saving. It’s a treadmill.

Tardis noise

Yes, yes I know they’ll get it all wrong without me.

Tardis noise

Well, I suppose….one more lifetime won’t kill anyone. Well, except me.

Stirring music/Tardis noises

You wait a moment, Doctor. Let’s get it right. I’ve got a few things to say to you. Basic stuff first.

Never be cruel, never be cowardly. And never ever eat pears! Remember – hate is always foolish…and love, is always wise.

Always try, to be nice and never fail to be kind. Oh, and….and you mustn’t tell anyone your name. No-one would understand it anyway. Except….

He gasps, falls to the floor

Except….children. Children can hear it. Sometimes – if their hearts are in the right place, and the stars are too. Children can hear your name.

Gasps, grunts more

But nobody else. Nobody else. Ever.

Pulls himself off the floor

Laugh hard. Run fast. Be kind.

Stirring music.

Doctor – I let you go.


And on that dramatic note, Jody Whittaker’s Doctor appears…and promptly gets into trouble with her TARDIS. Another Doctor, another cliffhanger, just the way we LIKE IT!

Welcome aboard…

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions — #21

Review: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi

By Chris M. Barkley:  

Star Wars Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (****, 2017) with Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Andy Serkis, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew and Joonas Suotamo, Oscar Isaac, Benicio del Toro, Laura Dern, Gwendolyn Christie, Billie Lourd, Donhall Gleeson and Lupita N’yongo.  Written and Directed by Rian Johnson.

December 13th, Wednesday Morning, 3:15 AM.

I am wide wake in bed, on my back.

One of our cats, Luna, is lying quietly on my tummy, looking at me expectantly.

She peers at me, I look back at her.

I don’t have to be a Jedi to know what she’s is thinking; she’s thinking if stays there long enough, her six pound weight on my bladder will induce me to go to the toilet and her ensuing mewing will lead me to turn on the bathtub tap, where she will happily lap up something resembling mineral water from the faucet.

Luna, the 3 AM rambler.

Me? I’m thinking about The Last Jedi.

I’m thinking about the tickets for the advanced screening that I purchased a month ago and cleverly hid in our townhouse, JUST IN CASE OF A HOME INVASION, don’t cha know.

Eventually, Luna admits defeat and leaves. I roll over and happily dive back into dreamland.

Avoiding spoilers, specifically involving Star Wars films, has been a tradition with me since The Phantom Menace (1999). For the past year and a half, I have been dodging rumors, possible storylines, memes, photos and especially those dreaded trailers, popping up unexpectedly during my favorite shows and sporting events. My partner, Juli, became very amused at my efforts to mute the tv and cover my eyes to avoid spoilers.

I admit that these feeble attempts to recapture the stunned feeling of being enraptured in the sights, sounds and fury of my first viewing of Star Wars in the Uptown Theater on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington DC on Memorial Day weekend in 1977.

But, deep down, I know I am being naïve about this; I have stumbled across some little bits of information about The Last Jedi by accident or happenstance so there is really no real way to recapture that initial thrill of discovery.

I know that some of my close friends and acquaintances have openly declared they are not bothering to see The Last Jedi because they are tired of the relentless hype, the good vs. evil plotlines or of the odious nature of Walt Disney Company (who purchased Lucasfilm Ltd in 2012 for four billion dollars).

The Last Jedi premiered in Los Angeles this past weekend and in London yesterday, December 13th. And this evening, I, along with several dozen moviegoers, saw it for the first time, in 3-D, no less…

“THIS isn’t going the way you THINK is it!”
Luke Skywalker

As foreshadowing goes, the quote above perfectly sums up The Last Jedi. Needless to say, NOTHING goes according to plan for anyone concerned and deeper you go into the film, the more uncertain the outcome becomes.

None of the Star Wars previous films, even the worst of them, has been about holding back emotions or having a restraining story narrative. But this difference with this film is that characters matter here and their motivations and actions match the roller coaster plot.

Episode Eight’s writer/director, Rian Johnson starts out with a few simple plots that quickly branch out into several different directions: Rey (Daisy Ridley) has come seeking Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) for guidance with her newly found powers and has some trouble convincing him to help her. General Leia’s (the late Carrie Fisher) challenge is to lead her remaining Resistance forces to safety after being discovered by the forces of the First Order.

The situation proves to be so desperate that Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega) and a new-found friend, Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) undertake a dangerous (and unauthorized) side mission to save the rebel fleet.

Meanwhile, Ben Solo (Adam Driver) is trying to find a way out of the First Order doghouse after his previous failures enrage Snoke (Andy Serkis), much to the amusement and disdain of General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson).

There are some thrilling moments of revelations that are balanced out with battles sequences, cliffhangers and, surprisingly enough, some of the best character developments since the first set of films.

Also worth noting are performances by Laura Dern as a loyal Resistance Admiral and Benicio del Toro as a shady underworld thief.

The Last Jedi is a big, long, heartwarming and heartbreaking epic that will take your breath away too many times to count. At 152 minutes it is the longest film in the series and, dare I say it, one of the best.

It is memorable in every way possible. I have a feeling you’ll be seeing it several times. I know I will be!

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions — #20

The Pre- Last Jedi Fall Movie & TV Roundup

By Chris M. Barkley:

Replicants are like any other machine. They’re either a benefit or a hazard. If they’re a benefit, it’s not my problem.” Rick Deckard, Blade Runner

Blade Runner (1982, ****) with Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, Joanna Cassidy. Screenplay by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples, Based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick, Directed by Ridley Scott. Bechdel Test: Failed.

I have seen Blade Runner only twice, once during its initial theatrical run and The Final Cut, a 2007 DVD release that director/producer Ridley Scott personally oversaw. It has to be said that for a 35-year-old film, it holds up incredibly well.

Nestled down in 27th place on the 1982 list of box office films, making almost $34 million on a $27 million dollar budget, Blade Runner was considered a financial failure at the time. It might have fallen into obscurity, had it not been hailed as a cinematic masterpiece by film critics, movie fans and the sf community at large.

Visually, Blade Runner has never been more dazzling. Scott, following up Alien, teamed with Douglas Trumbull, Richard Yuricich, and David Dryer and production design by Lawrence G. Paull created a rather environmentally dark, nightmarish backdrop which the director once called “Hong Kong on a very bad day.”

The removal of Deckard’s voice over narration and the addition of an ambiguous ending vastly improve the Final Cut over the previous six versions that were made before 2007.

It was the consensus opinion at the time that Rutger Hauer practically stole the film acting-wise with his portrayal of Roy Batty. And as far as I’m concerned his performance still rather iconic, but the real surprise is Harrison Ford, who wisely underplays and grounds Rick Deckard in reality, which actually helps contrast his character with Batty’s. Each is desperate in their own way, Batty to extend his and fellow replicant’s lives and Deckard, who simply wants to survive in the endlessly grimy, nightmarish dystopia.

As Deckard hunts the fugitive replicants, the theme of identity and humanity is weaved throughout the narrative; are humans like Deckard (whom I firmly believe is human) becoming less so? Or are replicants, programmed to be as human as possible, are more so than their masters? These are the questions that will mark Blade Runner as an enduring classic for years to come.

Blade Runner 2049 (2017, ***1/2) with Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Robin Wright, Jared Leto, Ana de Armas and Sylvia Hoekes, Screenplay by Hampton Francher and Michael Green, Directed by Denis Villeneuve. Bechdel Test: Fail.

As one of 2017’s most intriguing and anticipated films, Blade Runner 2049 had an almost impossible pedigree to live up to; the 1982 sf classic film Blade Runner. And for the most part, director Denis Villeneuve, producer Ridley Scott, screen writers Hampton Francher and Michael Green and cast, succeeded.

Ryan Gosling plays a Nexus-8 blade runner named K, charged with running down and ‘retiring’ renegade replicants still roaming free on Earth. When K finds a long-buried body on a routine mission, the discovery comes to the notice of Niander Wallace, a reclusive billionaire who now owns the Tyrell Corporations assets. As K’s superior Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright) orders him to quietly investigate of the homicide, Wallace dispatches his murderous replicant aide-de-camp, Luv (Sylvia Hoekes) to recover the remains and monitor K’s every move…

Director Denis Villeneuve, cinematographer Roger Deakins and producer Ridley Scott spared no expense to recreate and expand upon the environs of Blade Runner; from the even darker, damper city streets of Los Angeles, the lonely hydroponic farms of the countryside to the desolate landscape of the dead city of Las Vegas, Blade Runner 2049 is filled with a series of stunning images that enhances the story.

The questions regarding the humanity of replicants go even deeper here, as KD9-3.7 (later renamed Joe) seems to be content running down replicants equal to or lesser than him. We see that he is given a certain latitude in his activities off duty, which includes a salary, a place to live and a virtual girlfriend, Joi (Ana de Armas), who, we are led to believe is there solely to mollify himself. The trade-off is that K is rigorously tested with a modified “Voigt-Kampff” test on a regular basis, which measures the safety parameters of his programming. K’s treatments during the tests are compelling, brutal and chilling.

But Blade Runner 2049 has a flaw that prevents me from declaring it as an equal to its progenitor and that’s its portrayal of women. The images of women, as objects of searches, whims and desires of the male protagonists dominate the core of the film and not in a good way. As an example, it fails the Bechdel when two women in authority have a conversation, but it’s only about a male protagonist. It’s also rather sad not to see any LGBTQ representation in the year 2049, because we know they are not going to vanish, even in a eco-dystopia presented here.

While Ryan Gosling, Robin Wright, Jared Leto, Ana de Armas and Sylvia Hoekes do excellent work, the real revelation here is Harrison Ford, who gives an Oscar caliber performance as an older, more grizzled and haunted Rick Deckard.

The underlying mystery (which I will not spoil here) sets up a seemingly insolvable conflict between humans and replicants, and remains an open question by the end of the film. Will there be more? Only time will tell. The ambiguous ending presented actually works. But, if there is more of a story to tell, I’m sure we won’t have to wait another thirty-five years.

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, (2017, ***1/2) with Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall, Bella Heathcote, Oliver Platt and Connie Britton. Written and Directed by Angela Robinson. Bechdel Test: Pass!!!!!

I think if the Merchant-Ivory production company were to make a film about the three creators of Wonder Woman, it would look EXACTLY like this.

This film is a recounting of the intertwined lives of William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans), wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) and their mutual muse/lover Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote) and the creation of an American icon.

Given the era in which they engaged in what was considered then as being unconventional and scandalous, writer-director Angela Robinson dials back to more titillating aspects of their relationship and, in a tasteful and restrained manner, focused more on the practical (and problematic) aspects of how they lived and loved together. The most fascinating aspects of the film, to those paying VERY close attention, is spotting the few vital elements in the troika’s lives that slowly coalesce into the eventual creation of Wonder Woman.

Angela Robinson’s screenplay was based on her own research and is in many ways, historically inaccurate in some instances to serve the dramatic purposes of the film. But if you want a truer version of their story, pick up a copy of Jill Lepore’s 2014 book The Secret History of Wonder Woman (Vintage, 2015.)

If a film like Hidden Figures can be nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, I can only hope that those same nominators can extend the same courtesy to Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, because it will certainly have a place on honor on my ballot.

Stranger Things 2 (2017, nine episodes, ***1/2) with Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Natalie Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Cara Buono, Noah Schnapp, Sadie Sink, Joe Keery, Dacre Montgomery, Matthew Modine, Sean Astin and Paul Reiser. Created by Matt and Ross Duffer. Bechdel Test: Passed.

When we last left our favorite dimension-busting heroes, Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) has been rescued from the “Upside Down” by his mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) and Sheriff Hopper (David Harbour), Will’s best friends, Mike, Dustin and Lucas (Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo and Caleb McLaughlin) were saved from an “other side” were-beast by supergirl Eleven (Mille Bobby Brown), various teenage, angst driven subplots (except for poor Barb) were resolved and the world was saved.

And if you believe THAT, I’ve got a slightly used Correllian freighter I wanna sell you.

Season two picks up more than a year later, at Halloween. While the majority of the town of Hawkins, Indiana prepares for trick or treat:

Will is still suffering PTSD (and more) from his time from the “Upside Down”.

Sheriff Hopper is harboring Eleven in a remote location in an attempt to shield her from the outside world, with mixed results.

Eleven discovers a secret Hopper has been keeping from her which leads to other devastating revelations.

Some new kids, a mysterious step brother and sister (Dacre Montgomery and Sadie Sink) hit town and are responsible for some rampant speculation.

Is Joyce’s nerdy new boyfriend Bob, who works at the local radio Shack, too good to be true?

The “Department of Energy’s” new head of management looks eerily like that corporate weasel in 1986’s Aliens, which, strangely enough, still two years away from being released in this timeline.

Barb’s parents hire a conspiracy theorist (Murray Bauman) to find out what happened to her.

Dustin acquires a “pet”.

And there is a bigger and badder menace lurking on the other side of the “Upside Down” that is actually BIGGER and BADDER!

The problem with any sort of sequel is whether or not it can equal or surpass its progenitor. It’s very clear the creators of Stranger Things, writer-directing twin brothers Matt and Ross Duffer, know their genre tropes, the cultural history of the 1980’s (when they were kids themselves), their characters and what sort of story they want to tell.

The cast not only interact well together (as their Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series can attest), you can sense that they are having a great time doing it.

Some critics and viewers have expressed dismay or anger in particular about Episode Seven, “The Lost Sister”, which, I will say not to present too much of a spoiler, is Eleven centric. As a viewer and a fan, I felt that this particular part of the story was ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY for Eleven to find out and experience for herself, in order for the character to continue her journey towards understanding herself. It also happens to be, in my opinion, the best single episode of Stranger Things (so far).

Netflix has greenlit Season Three for next year and the Duffer Brothers have stated that they have a fourth and final season on the drawing boards. The whole world will be waiting and watching for what comes next. I’m betting it will be even more amazing than we can possibly imagine.

Thor: Ragnarok, (2017, ****) with Chris Hemsworth, Cate Blanchett, Tom Hiddleston, Mark Ruffalo, Idris Elba, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Jeff Goldblum and Anthony Hopkins. Screenplay by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost based on The Mighty Thor created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Larry Lieber. Directed by Taika Waititi.

Among all of the heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it is generally agreed that the Mighty Thor is easily one of the most pompous and boring member of the Avengers.

Oh, there is no doubt the first film and The Dark World were very competent, workman like adventures that ably fill in Thor’s backstory, establishes Asgardian history and advances the MCU storyline forward. But let’s face it; Chris Hemsworth is great looking while kicking everyone’s ass and Tom Hiddleston’s Loki practically steals every scene he’s in.

So it was (for a while at least) a real head-scratcher when the first trailers and promotional ads came out, viewers were inclined to laugh out loud at the antics from the cast. But title of the film, the old Norse term “Ragnarok” roughly meaning doomsday, suggests some dire events are in store for Thor and company.

And indeed things are quite dire as the film opens; Odin is missing from Asgard thanks to Loki’s treachery and Thor strong arms him into a search, which in turn leads to an amusing cameo by Doctor Strange (as played by a slightly bemused Benedict Cumberbatch) and touching, but entirely too brief reunion with Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Then Hela, the goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett) shows up and all hell breaks loose. Then there’s the matter of the Hulk popping up unexpectedly, wanting to beat our hero’s face in as hard as possible.

Had Ragnarok been handled with a straight and narrow narrative, it would have been another ordinary action film bridging the lead up to the inevitable showdown with Thanos. So, Marvel think tank called an audible on the line of scrimmage and subversion became the order of the day.

Yes, Ragnarok is devastatingly funny but also leavens the humor with tragedy and a tinge of regret. The cast eagerly takes up the challenge and delivers performances swing between being dramatic and self-deprecating that dance up to the line of parody but never crosses it.

Besides the screenwriters, New Zealand director Taika Waititi is mainly responsible for injecting the rather wry and scathing sense of humor this movie needed.

The result is that Ragnarok can be ranked among the best of the sixteen MCU films. See it!

Justice League, (2017, ***1/2) with Ben Affleck, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J. K. Simmons, Ciarán Hinds and Henry Cavill. Screenplay by Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon, Story by Chris Terrio and Zack Snyder, based on Justice League of America created by Gardner Fox. Directed by Zack Snyder (with Joss Whedon). Bechdel Test: Passed.

I have no doubt that a lot have you have heard that the Justice League movie sucks. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 43% rating. NPR’s Bob Mondello said “nice try”. Rolling Stone said it was loud, noisy fun. The Hollywood Reporter said it was “ugly and boring” while Uproxx opined that what this movie really needed was Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins.

And, in the interests of full disclosure, I’ve been a reader and a fan of the Justice League of America ever since my cousin Michael first placed a copy of August 1966 issue (number 46, if you’re scoring at home) in my hands on a hot summer afternoon.

Well, surprise, I didn’t like Justice League, either.


Sure, it had a basic plot that bears more than a few similarities with the first Avengers movie; the Earth is being menaced by an alien invasion. But the strength of the film (as it was in The Avengers) is the story of how a group of heroes who are basically loners, come together.

Set just after the tragic death of Superman, the world not only mourns, but seems to be coming apart at the seams. Between random acts of terrorism and encounters with alien para-demons, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) seek out to recruit some super-powered help; a lightning fast speedster (Ezra Miller), a cyborg enhanced with alien technology (Ray Fisher) and the King of Atlantis (Jason Momoa).

The screenplay, by director Zach Snyder, Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon doesn’t make it easy for them to come together as a team, but when they do, it is a thing of cinematic beauty. The direction, split between Snyder and Avengers alum Whedon, hits all the right notes at precisely the right time.

Gal Gadot and Ben Affleck anchor the film with their performances, but they give enough space to the newcomers, and they shine. Making Ezra Miller’s Flash a nerdy motor mouth (as he’s portrayed in numerous animated renditions) was a safe, but smart move. Ray Fisher’s Cyborg is a bit of an enigma, but his character seeming leaves plenty of room to explore in future adventures. But the real revelation in Justice League is Jason Momoa’s Aquaman, giving a forceful, swaggering, in your face, breakout role that will permanently put to rest all those countless putdowns comedians have heaped on the character for decades.

In the days since the opening, I have read many critical reviews of Justice League that have lambasted the story structure, the “lame” villain, the preponderance of CGI effects, the Amazon warriors costumes, Henry Cavill’s troublesome upper lip (oops, SPOILER!) and a host of other nit-picking details. What a majority of them consistently fail to realize or acknowledge is that DC movies are not Marvel movies and vice-versa. I have been admiring Justice League and other DC films for what they are, not what other people think they should be.

By the way, it might be a GOOD IDEA to stick around to the VERY end of the credits, just as you would for the other guy’s films because you might miss an item or two that may interest you. Just Sayin’…