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On "Robot of Sherwood" or What It Means to Be from the Land of Fiction

(spoilers ahead)

In the new Doctor Who episode, the Doctor meets Robin Hood, and it's very clearly Robin Hood as he is known in modern media, specifically an Errol Flynn/Douglas Fairbanks-style Robin Hood. (Errol Flynn even gets name-checked, and there's a fun part where the Doctor is reviewing stories about Robin Hood and we see the actor who played the second Doctor, Patrick Traughton, from the 1950's TV show "The Adventures of Robin Hood".) Which is exactly why the Doctor doesn't believe he's really Robin Hood for most of the episode and thinks he must be an impostor.

When it turns out he IS Robin Hood, it's not actually the show saying that this is who the historical Robin Hood was, because that's clearly malarky. The Robin Hood of the original ballads was not this person, and even those were from long after Robin was supposed to have lived and grew out of a very particular folk hero tradition. No, what Doctor Who is saying is that the television show Doctor Who doesn't actually travel to the past at all, but travels to popular impressions of the past, the past as it is imagined. The past as a genre, as a narrative trope that Doctor Who can then crash into, interrogate and subvert. Which is why Robin Hood tells the Doctor "Remember, I'm just as real as you are."

Which is essentially a call-back to a second Doctor adventure called the "The Mind Robber" (1968), where the Doctor and his companions get lost in the Land of Fiction, a world populated by fictional characters. And one of the storybook characters tells the Doctor that he's a "traitor" to the Land of Fiction. As if he was a part of it that rebelled. (See also Philip Sandifer's brilliant analysis of "The Mind Robber".) At the end, it's not even clear that they ever really escaped the Land of Fiction.

Thus Doctor Who becomes a show aware of it's status as a work of fiction. Doctor Who always gave us the Doctor crashing into one or more other genres, but "The Mind Robber" gave that fact context. And so, much as Tarantino makes a WWII movie that's less about WWII and more about how WWII has been portrayed in popular culture, Doctor Who makes an episode about Robin Hood that doesn't pretend to be about the historical Robin Hood but instead is about interrogating what Robin Hood means to us and about rescuing us from our cynicism towards heroes. Because for someone from the Land of Fiction, believing in Robin Hood has nothing to do with history and everything to do with what Robin Hood means to us.

This isn't to say this is the greatest episode of Doctor Who, but it's one I enjoyed a lot. And anyone complaining that this isn't historically accurate doesn't understand this show.

PS. Yes, the shooting the golden arrow into the literal bulls-eye on the ship is silly. It's a silly show. The Doctor fights Robin Hood with a spoon. Get over it.

Very Short Reviews of Recent Speculative Fiction Television Shows

In no particular order...

The Middle Man: The best sf show in recent memory. Canceled, of course. However, show creator Javier Grillo-Marxuach appears to be working on a new show, so I look forward to seeing that.

Virtuality: A very well written and well acted pilot. Not picked up as a series, of course. Always remember, in television mediocrity is the bar to be aspired to. (Though I have to say I am getting a little tired of EVERYONE on television having to look like a supermodel.)

Fringe: And what a God-awful crapfest this is.

Eureka: I saw one episode of this show, where they had someone gain magical powers by using "100% of their brain", thereby perpetuating a grimace-worthy line of bullshit that has been widely known to be false for... ever. It would really take me a lot to watch this show again.

Heroes: Stopped watching at the beginning of season 3 when it was clear it was gonna be no better than season 2.

Warehouse 13: Taking the premises of two shows (The Librarian and The X-Files) and putting them together does not make you original. Promises Smallville-level mediocrity of character, plot and storyline. Still, at least it's better than Fringe. Also, see point about Virtuality and looks. (Though at least some of the minor characters are normal-looking. Also, note they go out of the way to make some supporting characters token ethnics, but the leads are all white.)

Stargate Whatever: Are these shows still around? Are they still the same sort of story mill for plots we've seen before and two dimensional characters?

Doctor Who: Still the standard-barer of what sf TV can be, at worst stupid and at best insanely brilliant and fun. Very much looking forward to the new season, with new head-writer Moffat.

Torchwood: A show that could have been great but was actually crap. Haven't watched the new mini-series yet, but after watching what's come before I don't have high hopes.

Dollhouse: Ambivalent about this show. On one hand, I think it's the ballsiest thing on television, and loads more interesting than, well, most of the shows above (and other, non-sf shows). On the other hand, everything everyone has said about the show having problems w/r/t its treatment of women is well justified, and I have trouble sympathizing with any of the characters who either have literally no personality at all, or are horrible, awful people who exploit those with no personality at all. Even the detective, who's supposed to be the good guy, is not really that nice a fellow. Still this is the most audacious, most complex thing going right now and I look forward to season two.

Terminator Chronicles: Never cared about the Terminator franchise, never was interested. Haven't seen a single episode of this show, and don't really want to.

Lost: Interesting enough that I'll still watch it, even though it's become painfully clear that they're making everything up as they go along and lots and lots of things just don't really make sense.

Still haven't watched Sanctuary. Don't know what that'll be like.

Adventures in Hyperreality: Live Suicide and Why It Doesn't Matter

So last night my Twitter account started pinging my phone with updates featuing the #chase hashtag. Apparently something was going on in Los Angeles involving a slow speed chase through north Hollywood. Curious to see what was going on, I signed in and started following the updates. A man in a white Bentley had been leading police around for 3 hours before stopping in front of a Toyota dealership. Local Fox and ABC affiliates had helicopters on the scene and Fox was streaming the actual unedited camera feed through it's website. Twitter en masse was enthralled with updates coming rapidly with the unfiltered immediate responses of the people watching. Eventually, the driver killed himself. The feeds went off. People went to bed. And now comes the analytical aftermath of what in my opinion amounts to a non event.

Two Documentaries

A documentary on Vladimir Nabokov that includes many interviews with the man himself.

And a documentary on Philip K. Dick that includes interviews with his ex-wives, the late Thomas M. Disch and many others.

No More Heroes

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I officially am not interested in watching Heroes anymore.

So, at least that's 1 hour a week I can spend doing something else.

Not a Hologram

According to Wikipedia, a hologram is "a technique that allows the light scattered from an object to be recorded and later reconstructed so that it appears as if the object is in the same position relative to the recording medium as it was when recorded".

What CNN did on election night was take an all around picture of someone and put it on a TV screen. There was no 3D image in the room with Wolf Blitzer. There was no flickering Princess Leia you could stick your hand through. This is not a hologram. This has no relationship to a hologram.

I don't know why anyone thought that it was a big deal to put a picture of someone on a screen. We've been doing that for a very long time now.

Heroes

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Spoiler alert: don't read this if you haven't watched the latest episode of Heroes.

Is it just me or has Heroes gotten really very bad? It's like the writers have no sense of character integrity or character development at all, and everyone is just slaves to a plot that barely makes sense. Which was a problem in season 2 that only seems to have gotten worse.

Problems:
So Syler's "hunger" is a product of his power and not of his psychosis? Doesn't that take away all of his character development, the whole point of his wanting to gather power so he could finally be special? Now he's just someone who would be a nice, normal guy if he wasn't inflicted with a sort of disease instead of a deeply damaged individual who lusts for power and recognition.

After everything Maya has been through, killing all those people, being manipulated by Syler, having him kill her brother, why does she now come off as a normal, stereotypical girl who seems to be around just to react in obvious ways to Mohinder's transformation? You'd think she'd have issues at this point with aggressive, super-powered individuals and not want to just jump in bed with them. You'd think she'd be a lot more freaked out and jumpy.

Mohinder's transformation is a direct and uninteresting retread of The Fly. Why?

So a bunch of scientists working for the Company created three super-powered identical twins and then split them up (why?) with random families and let them grow up without any supervision from the people who created them? Huh?

Why in the world would you have a man-sized vent in a prison cell?

Is it just me or did Molly not age at all in four years?

Wouldn't Adam have at least grown a beard after being in a coffin for several months?

The climatic fight seen in Costa Verde makes no sense at all. Peter and Syler are SO much more powerful than the three they're fighting it's ludicrous that they would even try to go head to head with them. Peter and Syler could have pinned them all up against the wall the moment they showed up. At the least it would have been very easy for Syler to pull his son away.

Also, is EVERYONE related to the Patrelli's now?

So now we have an injection that can give you super powers, as well as a magic desert paste that can make you see the future. These powers really aren't all that special are they?

"Totem" is a native American word, so why is it being used by an African mystic? In fact, the whole journey with your spirit animal thing is very native American and not very African at all. This is lazy writing.

And that's just off the top of my head. It's really getting to the point where I might not bother to watch this stupid show anymore.

The future of television

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This is a picture of my Windows laptop plugged into my television with a simple s-video cable and into my stereo with a standard RCA cable, playing an episode of ReGenesis off of Hulu.com. In my hand is my iPod Touch, logged into my computer using the free VNC Lite app. In other words, the computer becomes a media device (also on tap is Netflix Watch It Now content, iTunes content, YouTube etc) for the television, and the Touch becomes a remote control for the media device.

And now you know why I don't need cable or satellite television, a DVR, an Apple TV, a Roku Netflix player, a Vudu or any other such devices.

Doctor Horrible

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Reading Versus Watching: Why I Watch

Why do we like what we like? As with many things, what we like and what we don't like usually is a gut reaction, something we justify rationally after the fact. In television, movies, books and other narrative media, what we like often has no relation to any kind of aesthetic criteria; we have so-called "guilty pleasures," things we like despite our own better judgment. I've been thinking about the television shows I like and why I like them, to see whether there's any kind of connecting thread between them. Talking about this is also useful to you, the reader, to know what kind of litmus paper I'm using to judge things.