Twelve of My Favorite Doctor Who Episodes

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Over the past seven or eight months, I have watched every episode of all seven seasons of the current Doctor Who series. Of course, I had already seen almost all of them, but there were a few that I hadn’t seen and quite a few that I had forgotten and some that hadn’t made sense before because they required some backstory that came from an episode I hadn’t seen. But now that I have seen them all in order, I am qualified to state my opinion about which episodes and seasons are cooler than others. My conclusion is that seasons three and seven are the best. Here is a list of twelve episodes that I particularly like. It isn’t necessarily my top twelve favorites, because I made sure to include at least one from each season. In the case of two-part stories, I counted them as if they were a single episode.

OneThe Empty Child/The Doctor Dances (Season 1)

With the ninth Doctor and Rose

This story takes place in WWII London and features one of the most disturbing Doctor Who monsters of all time: a not-really-human child with a gas mask for a face who wanders the streets asking for his mother and who can telepathically control telephones and inanimate objects. Over the course of the two episodes, The Doctor and Rose piece together the story behind this phenomena, and, of course, discover that it poses a threat to human life as we know it.

TwoThe Girl in the Fireplace (Season 2)

With the tenth Doctor, Rose, and Mickey

The TARDIS lands on a seemingly deserted spaceship that contains numerous gateways to 18th century France. These gateways all lead to various events in the life of Madame De Pompadour, a real person who was an actual historical figure. The Doctor and his companions must save her and all humankind from alien invasion. In the meantime, The Doctor and Madame De Pompadour fall in love with each other. I don’t normally like it when the Doctor falls in love with a one-episode-only character, (especially because the Doctor in the original series was less emotional and less romantically inclined) but in this particular episode, it works.

ThreeThe Shakespeare Code (Season 3)

With the tenth Doctor and Martha

The Doctor and Martha travel to Elizabethan England to see a Shakespearean play that’s brand new. Little do they know that Shakespeare is being essentially possessed by extraterrestrial witches who are using his words to give themselves the power to come and take over the Earth. You see, where they come from, the spoken word has such power that language is basically magic. Since I have a degree in English, I am officially compelled to like this concept.

FourBlink (Season 3)

With the tenth Doctor and Martha

Unlike every other Doctor Who episode, this one gives very little screen time to either the Doctor or his companion, and instead features a cast of one-time characters. The main protagonist is Sally Sparrow, an inherently likable character who is exploring an abandoned house when she finds a message under the wallpaper that is addressed specifically to her. The next day, she returns with her friend Kathy. Kathy gets zapped back in time by a stone angel. This begins a chain of events in which Sally follows instructions left for her by the various people who have been the victims of the stone angels, including Kathy, a policeman named Billy Shipton, and, of course, the Doctor and Martha. The cool bit is when Sally talks to a recording of the Doctor, which has been preserved as an Easter egg on certain DVDs. The Doctor informs Sally that the angel statues, officially called weeping angels, are a life form that feed off of people’s time energy; they survive by zapping people back in time. But they can only move when no one is looking. So when you’re with one, you have to look at it. You can’t even blink; blink and you’re dead. This is actually my number one favorite episode, partly because the weeping angels are just such an awesome idea, and partly because there are so many great quotable lines.

FiveSilence in the Library/Forest of the Dead (Season 4)

With the tenth Doctor and Donna

In this two-episode story, the Doctor and Donna travel to a library that takes up an entire world. Oddly enough, there is no one else there. Even more oddly, this library is contained within the mind of a little girl, which we know from occasional short scenes that show her talking to a man named Doctor Moon, who is evidentially a child psychiatrist. Another group of visitors show up at the library, including River Song, an archeologist who is an important reoccurring character in subsequent seasons. One by one, the group is attacked and killed by the vashta nerada, which is basically a living shadow. Technically, the vashta nerada is a microscopic swarming creature, and the swarms only look like shadows. The Doctor says that they live on almost every planet, including Earth, but are relatively harmless in low concentrations. However, in this library, there are lots of them, and they are capable of consuming people. We are given to understand that this is the reason for the library’s emptiness. Notice that I didn’t actually say that the people all died. But it would be a spoiler if I explained any further.

SixThe Next Doctor (Season 4)

With the tenth Doctor

The Doctor is visiting Victorian London at Christmastime when he meets another man who calls himself the Doctor, says he has a TARDIS and a sonic screwdriver, and takes it upon himself (with the help of a companion named Rosita) to save the world from alien invasion. He is evidently a future regeneration of the Doctor, but he doesn’t recognize the tenth Doctor as his past self. Nevertheless, the two join forces to fight a Cyberman invasion. I will not reveal the actual identity of ‘the next Doctor’ or why he calls himself the Doctor, but it makes for a very interesting plotline.

SevenThe Vampires of Venice (Season 5)

With the eleventh Doctor, Amy, and Rory

When the Doctor realizes that Amy has a crush on him even though she’s engaged, he decides to take her and her fiance on a romantic vacation to Venice. Little does he know that the three of them will end up having to save the Earth from invasion by an alien vampire who is converting Venetian girls into vampires after luring them to her home by pretending that she operates a very exclusive and prestigious school. To be honest, I think that the main thing I like about this episode is that it reminds me of State of Decay, my favorite classic Doctor Who episode, in which the fourth Doctor and the second Romana find themselves on a planet ruled by three vampires.

EightThe Curse of the Black Spot (Season 6)

With the eleventh Doctor, Amy, and Rory

This episode takes place on a pirate ship. That is really all you need to know to understand why it’s cool. The monster in this episode is a siren, and I like the way they portray her, and I also like the twist ending, which I’m not going to give away. Actually, this isn’t one of my favorite episodes, but none of my favorites come from season six, so I decided to put this one on the list anyway. It was either The Curse of the Black Spot or Night Terrors, which greatly disturbed me the first time I saw it because it was uncannily similar to a bad dream that I had had months earlier.

NineAsylum of the Daleks (Season 7)

With the eleventh Doctor, Amy, Rory, and Oswin

The Doctor, Amy, and Rory have all split ways, but the daleks capture the three of them and send them together on a mission to disable a force field that will enable the daleks to destroy the planet that they use as an asylum, hence the title of the episode. Meanwhile, on the planet’s surface, there is a crashed cruiseliner with one survivor, Oswin, who has spent the year making souffles and hacking into the daleks’ technology. At least that’s what we’re told throughout most of the episode. But I’m not going to give spoilers for this one, either.

tenA Town Called Mercy (Season 7)

With the eleventh Doctor, Amy, and Rory

The Doctor and his companions wander into Mercy, an isolated town in the Old West, which is harboring an extraterrestrial doctor by the name of Jex. (Incidentally, it’s so cute the way the BBC thinks that all Americans have the same accent. Usually, it’s an exaggerated Texas accent, but in this case, there is a narrator who has an exaggerated Southern accent.)  On his home planet, Jex was a war criminal who turned people into cyborgs. One of those cyborgs, the gunslinger, has followed Jex to Earth and wanders the general vicinity of Mercy, waiting for an opportunity to bring Jex to justice. The people of Mercy are questioning their decision to protect Jex because they themselves are in danger. The safety of the town and the question of Jex’s fate become the Doctor’s responsibility. Cool cinematographic effects and awesome background music ensue.

elevenThe Angels Take Manhattan (Season 7)

With the eleventh Doctor, Amy, Rory, and River Song

The cool bit about this episode is that River Song attracts the Doctor’s attention by writing a book in 1938 New York, which he reads in 2012 and originally thinks is a fictional work. When the narrator/protagonist/author meets Rory, who has been zapped back in time while going to get coffee for Amy and the Doctor, the Doctor suddenly realizes that he is reading a novel about the adventure that he is about to undertake. The title of the episode is an apt description of the threat that the Doctor and his companions must face: the weeping angels are in the process of taking over the Manhattan of 1938. Warning: this episode has a sad ending. Very, very sad. I mean, it’s pretty much the saddest Doctor Who moment of all time.

twelveThe Day of the Doctor (50th anniversary special after season 7)

With the eleventh Doctor, the tenth Doctor, the eighth-and-a-half Doctor, Queen Elizabeth I, and Clara aka Oswin

The Doctor is summoned by UNIT, a military organization that has had ties with the Doctor since the 1968 season, featuring the second Doctor. UNIT has a message to give him from Elizabeth I, who was his wife back when he was the tenth Doctor. (This has frequently been hinted at and alluded to, but until this episode, we never actually got the whole story.) In the course of this episode, the Doctor is reunited with two of his past selves: the tenth Doctor and the eighth-and-a-half Doctor who doesn’t actually go by the name “The Doctor” because he is fighting in the time war that is to destroy both the timelords and the daleks. In fact, it is he who activates the weapon that ends the war by wiping out both sides. Or at least, so we have been given to assume for the past seven seasons. This episode reveals the events that occurred between the older Doctor Who series and the new Doctor Who series, which have been described vaguely, inadequately, and incompletely up to this point. This episode had a cool plot and did a good job of typing up old loose ends in a satisfying way, which is more than I can say for the rather disappointing Christmas special that came out a month later. Also, this episode had a lot of nostalgic value, not only because it brought back the tenth Doctor and the actress who played Rose, but also because it managed to tie into the classic series. And, (mild spoiler) at the very end, Tom Baker himself makes a brief appearance. For anyone who doesn’t know, Tom Baker played the fourth Doctor from 1974 to 1981, and he was the most famous (and my personal favorite) of the Doctor’s first eight incarnations.

There’s This Book I’m Reading, Episode 6

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This is what the cover of my copy looks like.

This is what the cover of my copy looks like.

I recently finished reading Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. This is probably the third or fourth time I’ve read it, but it’s been a while. I remember that my parents gave the book to me as a gift a few years back, but I don’t remember exactly when. I think it was a birthday gift, but I could be wrong about that, because I seem to recall reading it during a long road trip in the middle of the summer, and my birthday is in early September. At any rate, I have come to associate that book with summer in general and with summer road trips in particular. I’m not taking a road trip this summer, with the exception of the drive when I moved here at the end of May, so I read the book in bits and pieces over the course of last month.

Ray Bradbury is known as one of the pioneers of the science fiction genre. He was by no means the first to write stories taking place in the future and in space, but his books are old and outdated by comparison with current science fiction books, movies, and TV shows, and his ideas were influential for subsequent science fiction writers. The last portions of The Martian Chronicles were written in 1950, and some of the chapters were published as short stories in magazines a couple years earlier, so the book predates the popularity of sci-fi as a television genre, and it also predates the existence of the space age in real life. I find it interesting to note that, for those reasons, The Martian Chronicles is devoid of the technological lingo and made-up scientific concepts that characterize newer science fiction.

Mars RoverAs far as I can tell, Bradbury’s time didn’t have quite the same degree of optimism about the progression of technology that people had in the 1960s, and Bradbury’s estimate that Earth explorers would reach Mars in 1999 was more realistic than other many other early science fiction predictions. After all, the awesomely high-tech Curiosity rover arrived on Mars last summer, only thirteen years after 1999, and the first Earth machine to land in Mars was in 1975, well before the setting of Bradbury’s book. True, no humans have yet been on the Mars’ surface, but for all we know, there could have been Earth colonies on Mars by 1999 if space exploration had continued to be a major priority and if Mars had turned out to be a little more similar to Earth, as Bradbury had predicted. (The Martian Chronicles describes the atmosphere as being somewhat deficient in oxygen due to the lack of vegetation, but aside from that, the geographical and atmospheric conditions of Mars are depicted as being very much like Earth.)

This cover looks cooler than mine.

This cover looks cooler than mine.

However, Bradbury did not foresee many cultural changes. It’s a little amusing to note the ways in which the characters and events of The Martian Chronicles reflect the mid-twentieth century. For example, Bradbury did not anticipate the Civil Rights movement or second-wave feminism, and he depicts African Americans, (to use a term that’s more polite than the one used in the book) housewives, and white men as having the same relationships with each other that they did in the 1940s and 1950s. And, like most non-contemporary science fiction writers, Bradbury didn’t expect such remarkable technological advances in the entertainment industry and in communication devices. In The Martian Chronicles, there is no such thing as the internet, there are no cell phones, and the only machines described are a few robots, rocket ships, and the occasional car.

Bradbury’s depiction of the Martians themselves is interesting and not entirely consistent. At the beginning of the book, they are quick to kill the Earth explorers, but later, we are supposed to see the Martians as a peaceful and gentle race of people, devoid of the negative qualities of Earth people. In some chapters, they are bureaucratic and seem to be a satire of humanity on Earth, while in others, they seem like innocent victims of colonization, who had until then been living in an elegant, simple, utopian society. Even the styles of their names and the description of their physical appearances vary from chapter to chapter. But one detail is consistent; Martians have a superior intellect and telepathic capabilities. They can communicate with English-speakers, they can cause people to see things that aren’t real, and in at least one case that I can remember, a Martian is able to act as a shapeshifter that responds to people’s thoughts and expectations.

MarsBradbury’s Martians actually aren’t that different from alien races that one might see in the original Star Trek series or Doctor Who. In fact, even the theme of an alien civilization dying out under an Earth colonizing boom is something that is fairly typical of science fiction, as is the apocalyptic prediction of Earth’s fate. The main thing that sets The Martian Chronicles apart from newer science fiction is the near absence of technology in major plotlines and expositional passages.

Look what a cute cat he had!

Look what a cute cat he had!

Despite this, I think that Ray Bradbury actually understood how time travel worked. I think he deliberately left those concepts out of the book in order to conceal the fact that he himself had used time travel in writing it. I say this because he stole an idea that I had many years later, but before I had ever read The Martian Chronicles. I wanted to write a story that didn’t have any characters. The plot would be subtly conveyed through the description of physical objects, (without personification, which would be cheating) the order of these descriptions, and the choice of wording, which would offer suggestions and implications about preceding events that would have involved people. But the plot would not be explicit, and it would be a very unique kind of story. That is, it would have been unique if Ray Bradbury hadn’t done it in one of the last couple chapters of The Martian Chronicles. So I presume that he time-traveled into the future, after I will have had written my story following that idea, and he stole that idea from me. At least, I’d like to think that’s what happened.

Doctor Who: City of Death

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Doctor and Romana

Every time I see City of Death, I appreciate it a little more, and I now have decided that it is one of my three favorite classic Doctor Who stories. (I say “stories” rather than “episodes” because in the classic Doctor Who series, most stories were four episodes long.) In chronological order, my three favorites are The Pirate Planet, City of Death, and State of Decay. Incidentally, they all have the fourth Doctor and Romana, who is so awesome that I named my awesome kitten after her. Also, it is interesting to note that two of these three are by Douglas Adams. (State of Decay, however, was written by Terrance Dicks) This is further proof that Douglas Adams was one of the awesomest writers of all time. True, the name given in the credits is David Agnew, but this was a pseudonym. The note on the back of the DVD case makes it unclear whether the script was team-written or whether this pseudonym was used by multiple writers at different times, but at any rate, Douglas Adams was at least in part responsible for the awesomeness that is City of Death. In appreciation for this television masterpiece, I hereby share a list of my favorite lines, a few screenshots, a couple random observations and thoughts, and expository plot points as necessary. I wrote this over the course of two days, while watching City of Death in fragments.

  1. I can’t help wondering if the line “Help us! Skaron! You are our only hope!” from the very beginning of the first episode, is a deliberate Star Wars reference. It seems likely, given the fact that this episode is from 1979, two years after the original Star Wars movie was released.
  2. If for no other reason, this is an awesome episode because of the exchange where Romana asks the Doctor, “Where are we going?” and he says, “Are you talking philosophically or geographically?”
  3. This music that plays as the Doctor and Romana are walking through Paris is some of the best Doctor Who music ever. I think I like it just as much as the theme, and that’s saying a lot because I love the theme.
  4. A Portrait of a TimeladyThe sketch that the man in the café draws of Romana is fascinating, or, as Romana says, “extraordinary.” He draws her face as a fractured clock face, which I think is a very artistic idea. That’s how he perceives Romana, but what does it mean? The Doctor thinks of it as an accurate representation of a timelady, but why does a random Earth man see that in Romana? And does it mean anything to the plot besides a foreshadowing that something’s wrong with time?
  5. The Doctor tells Romana that the Louvre is one of the greatest art galleries in the galaxy, and she lists various other art collections that are evidently well renowned. It’s a classic Douglas Adams moments.
  6. It amuses me that the Doctor and Romana discuss the Mona Lisa’s lack of eyebrows. Current Doctor Who fans wonder why Matt Smith doesn’t have eyebrows. If I could make gifs, I would make one of this segment from City of Death, but I would edit a picture of Matt Smith into the frame where the Mona Lisa is. It would be funny. If anyone reading this has the right computer program to make such a gif, feel free to steal this idea, post it on tumblr, and send me a link so I can reblog it.
  7. Another good line, from the mouth of the overworked scientist working for the Count: “I appreciate many things. I appreciate walks in the country; I appreciate sleep, regular meals…”
  8. Funny how it’s okay for the Doctor to steal a bracelet just because he can tell it’s extra-terrestrial, but it is ultimately important to keep the Mona Lisa from being stolen. It just goes to show, if Doctor Who was D&D, The fourth Doctor would be chaotic good.
  9. “Romana, I think something very funny is going on. You know that man who was following us? Well, he’s standing behind me pointing a gun in my back,” says the Doctor. And when the man forces them into the café at gunpoint, the Doctor orders three glasses of water. The fourth Doctor is awesome.
  10. The countessI think that the Countess must have a tumblr account. She tells the Count, “Well then I had the fool of a detective followed.” “Why?” the count asks. She gives him a look and says, “Reasons.”
  11. Another great part: Duggan, the detective who was following the Doctor, asks him, “What’s Scarlioni’s angle?” The Doctor doesn’t know; he has never heard of Count Scarlioni. Neither the Doctor nor Romana know who Scarlioni is or what his angle is, so Romana says, “I never was any good at geometry.”
  12. For no readily apparent reason, Duggan befriends the Doctor and Romana after the bracelet is taken from them and returned to the Count and Countess. The detective explains that the Count is in some way connected to the sales of suspiciously many valuable artifacts, which evidentially are not fakes, but the Count himself is “clean; so clean he stinks.” Another classic Douglas Adams line.
  13. End of the first episode: The Count locks himself in the laboratory while the scientist is resting. He takes off what we now see is only a mask, and lo and behold, he’s a creepy-looking one-eyed space alien! *theme music and credits*
  14. Tom Baker“I say! What a wonderful butler! He’s so violent! Hello!”  the Doctor says upon being pushed into the room where the Countless wants to interrogate him. And then, moments later, he thanks the butler and sends him away, then welcomes Romana and Duggan into the room and offers himself a drink. “You see, I’m a thief,” he explains to the Countess. “This is Romana; she’s my accomplice. And this is Duggan. He’s the detective who was kind enough to catch me. That’s his job. You see, our lines of work dovetail beautifully.” The Countess says that’s very interesting.
  15. “You’re a very beautiful woman, probably,” The Doctor tells the Countess.
  16. I remember one time years ago when my parents were discussing how funny it is the way the fourth Doctor can play stupid when it suits his purposes, and I didn’t know what they meant. But this scene is a perfect example. The Doctor claims that he stole the bracelet because he thought it was pretty. He adds that he would have preferred to have stolen a painting, but he’s tried that before, and all sorts of alarms went off.
  17. “My dear, I don’t think he’s as stupid as he seems,” the Countess tells the Count. “I don’t think anyone could be as stupid as he seems,” the Count replies.
  18. The cell“What’s the point of coming all the way here just to escape immediately?” –The Doctor, from inside a dark prison cell.
  19. I love the way Romana can measure space just by looking at it and therefore realizes that there’s a hidden room next to the prison cell, while The Doctor and Duggan are busy trying to escape.
  20. Now comes the bit where we discover what exactly Kerensky, the professor guy, has been building in the laboratory.  He puts a chicken egg in his machine and grows a chicken out of it in seconds. Then the Doctor sneaks up behind him and says, “Which comes first? The chicken or the egg? What you’re doing is terribly interesting, but you’ve got it all wrong.”
  21. I can’t figure out what that thing on the Doctor’s lapel is.
  22. Oh, dear. The machine thingy has a few technical difficulties. Or, in the words of the Doctor, the scientist guy has “created a new time continuum that is totally incompatible with ours.” That is to say, the chicken’s dead now.
  23. The plot thickens. The Doctor sees the evil alien’s face in the machine thingy and Duggan knocks the professor guy unconscious for no particular reason. (Duggan does that kind of thing a lot.)The Doctor is angry; he tells Duggan that if he ever does that again, he’s going to have to take very, very severe measures. “Like what?” Duggan asks. “I’m going to ask you not to,” the Doctor says very, very severely.
  24. The bad guys (That is, the Count and the Countess) have a sonic knife that can cut through glass, such as the glass protecting the Mona Lisa. And they have a machine that can alter the refractive index of the very air itself, which can move laser beams, such as the ones guarding the Mona Lisa. Just for example. Dearest me, what can they be plotting?
  25. Guess what’s in the hidden room that Romana so cleverly found? It’s a bunch of Mona Lisas! Six, to be exact. “They must be fakes!” Duggan says. But the Doctor checks, and indeed, they are real. Duggan says that there are seven people who would want to buy the Mona Lisa. Clearly, Duggan and Romana deduce, the Count’s plan is to steal the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, and then, when he sells his seven Mona Lisas, each buyer will assume they have the one that was in the Louvre. Clever.
  26. Mona Lisa room“I wouldn’t make a very good criminal, would I?” The Doctor asks Duggan. “No,” the Count agrees, “good criminals don’t get caught.” He catches them.
  27. “Can I ask where you got these?” The Doctor asks. “No,” the Count tells him. “Or how you knew they were here?” The Doctor adds. “No,” the Count says.  “They’ve been bricked up a long time!” The Doctor observes. “Yes,” the Count agrees. “I like concise answers!” the Doctor compliments him. “Good,” the Count says with satisfaction.
  28. “I came down to find Kerensky” the Count continues. “But he doesn’t seem to be able to speak to me. Can you throw any light on that?” The Doctor cannot. “I can!” yells Duggan, and he throws a light. Nicely done, Douglas Adams.
  29. “Duggan, why is it that every time I start to talk to someone, you knock him unconscious?” The Doctor asks in annoyance.
  30. Da Vinci's HomeNow Duggan heads off to the Louvre to stop the robbery, Romana heads off to the Louvre to keep an eye on Duggan, and the Doctor heads off to meet a late Renaissance Italian. Dark music plays as we watch the Doctor sneak through an art exhibit, presumably the Louvre, as he goes to the TARDIS, despite the fact that he and Romana walked to the Louvre, so that’s not where the TARDIS should have been. Dearest me, it’s a plot hole!
  31. As the second episode draws to a close, The Doctor finds an unexpected guest in Da Vinci’s home. ‘Tis the Count! *theme music and credits*
  32. Romana’s only 125! Interesting. I don’t know exactly how Gallifreyan age corresponds to Earth human age, but she’s very young compared to the Doctor.
  33. It’s too late; the Mona Lisa has already been stolen from the Louvre. Meanwhile, Kerensky finds the hidden room with the Mona Lisas and the unconscious Count. And The Doctor is still in Leonardo da Vinci’s home, trying to persuade the Count that he doesn’t know how he time travels. He’s just walking along minding his own business and suddenly he’s in another time and place. Still playing stupid, he is. And the Count reveals that he is Skaron, the last of the Jagaroth, who died 430 million years ago. His ship landed on Earth and blew up. “I was fractured,” he says, “Splinters of my being are scattered in time, all identical, none complete.” Interesting. Does this remind anyone else of The Name of the Doctor, from May 18,2013?
  34. I figured it out; I know what that thing on the Doctor’s lapel is. It’s a pin that looks like three tubes of paint. Cute.
  35. The Doctor and the soldierThis soldier pointing a sword at the Doctor is another classic Douglas Adams character. He says he’s paid to fight and he believes whatever he’s told. He reminds me of a Vogon. I seem to recall that there’s also a similar exchange in The Pirate Planet.
  36. We are given to understand that the reason there are seven genuine copies of the Mona Lisa is that the Jagaroth guy has commissioned Da Vinci to paint seven identical pictures in order to set up his plot in the year 1979. He needs to be extremely wealthy in 1979 so that he can fund Kerensky’s research as he works to build a time machine so that he can go back and stop his ship from exploding. The Doctor cleverly foils his plot by knocking the soldier unconscious, in true Duggan style, and then writing “THIS IS A FAKE” on the blank canvases. He then leaves a note for Da Vinci apologizing and instructing him to just paint over it.
  37. “You never cease to amaze me! That such a giant intellect could live inside such a tiny mind!” –Count Scarlioni (I doubt I’m spelling that correctly)
  38. Why are they talking about how many dollars the Mona Lisa is worth, when this is a British TV show and this episode takes place in Paris?
  39. “If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s being tortured by someone with cold hands.”  And moments later, “What do you mean, time’s running out? It’s only 1505!”
  40. Romana and the countOoh, interesting development. The Count is now taking credit for “causing the pyramids to be built, the heavens to be mapped, invented the wheel, shown the true use of fire, brought up a whole race from nothing, to save his own race.”  There are some interesting grammatical problems in his sentence, but I guess you can’t expect one person to know how to do everything.
  41. Oh dear, something is wrong with the space-time continuum, and a voice is calling Skaron’s name across time and space, and all his selves start to yell, “The centuries that divide me shall be undone!” Meanwhile, the Doctor escapes from 1505 and returns to 1979.
  42. “Here, have some coffee,” Romana tells Duggan.  One of the best lines ever on television.
  43. “I used to do divorce investigations. It was never like this,” Duggan says to Romana.
  44. “You can have two adjacent time continuums running at different rates,” Romana explains. “But without a field interface stabilizer, you can’t cross from one to the other.” Douglas Adams was such a great science fiction writer. I mean, this totally makes sense even though the terminology is just made up.
  45. “Can anyone join in this conversation or do you need a certificate?” –Duggan
  46. The Doctor rushes back to the chateau, where Romana and Duggan have already gone, for no readily apparent reason. The Count now knows who Romana and the Doctor are, and he wants to force Romana at gunpoint to work on his machinery, since Kerensky says he is both unwilling and unable to continue the research. So the Count uses his machinery to zap the unfortunate scientist into old age and death. *theme music and credits*

    Famous last words: "No, not that switch!"

    Famous last words: “No, not that switch!”

  47. When the evil space alien guy tells Romana that his spaceship exploded, she smirks and says, “That was clumsy of you.” This amuses me.
  48. So this space alien was divided into twelve pieces. I feel like this is somehow very clever in a way that has something to do with the twelve hours on a clock face, or maybe something to do with the fact that a timelord has twelve regenerations. Which reminds me of Romana’s clockface in that sketch back in the first episode of this story. There’s some very awesome connection here somewhere, I think.
  49. The Countess has the original copy of Hamlet. She assures the Doctor that it’s genuine. “I know,” The Doctor says, “I recognize the handwriting.” “Shakespeare’s,” The Countess says. “No, mine,” The Doctor corrects her. So now we know.
  50. “I hope you’re not making a time machine; I shall be very angry,” The Doctor tells the Jagaroth guy.
  51. The JagarothFascinating… I’m noticing some similarities to The Phantom of the Opera. A creepy-looking guy who wears a mask is in the cellar and threatens to blow up Paris.
  52. Why is Romana helping him? Why, Romana, why? Don’t you understand that it will tear the space-time continuum apart if he reunites himself? Wait, why will it do that? I just realized that his goal makes perfect sense. Why isn’t the Doctor helping him? Why, Doctor, why? Don’t you understand that he just wants to exist as a single person?
  53. Now the Doctor has told the Countess who her husband is, so she’s pointing a gun at him. Oh, dear, she’s still wearing the bracelet, and he just killed her with it.
  54. Oh, I just remembered why Romana isn’t supposed to be helping him. Jagaroth are evil or something. Romana only knew he was an alien; she didn’t know he was a Jagaroth, and if she’d known that, she wouldn’t have helped him. His plan was to go back in time to stop himself from letting his ship blow up. And there’s a major spoiler that explains why that’s such a bad thing, but it’s not time for that yet.
  55. “You now see me as I really am!” The Jagaroth guy says. “Very pretty,” the Doctor tells him.
  56. John Cleese in City of DeathIt’s John Cleese and the lady from The Beatles’ Help, discussing the TARDIS as a work of art. And when it dematerializes, she says, “Exquisite. Absolutely exquisite.”
  57. The Doctor, Romana, and Duggan go back in time to prehistoric Earth to keep the Jagaroth guy from keeping his spaceship from exploding. And here’s where we get the climax of the story. It turns out that the explosion of the spaceship started all life on Earth. Unless The Doctor stops the Jagaroth from stopping the explosion, the human races ceases to have ever existed. Guess what happens? Duggan punches the Jagaroth and knocks him unconscious. The spaceship explodes. The Jagaroth guy is somehow transported back to his laboratory in his own basement, but his butler throws a vase, causing his machine to blow up. I think he dies, but I’m not sure.
  58. Here’s the good bit: All of the Mona Lisas are in that basement, and six of the seven get burnt up. One survives, but it is one of the ones that says “THIS IS A FAKE” under the paint. This, we are given to understand, is the real Mona Lisa that has been in the Louvre ever since then. The Doctor and Duggan discuss whether or not it’s really real. After all, it was painted by Leonardo da Vinci himself. Everyone lived happily ever after, the end. *theme music and closing credits*

Mona Lisa

Thoughts on “Star Trek: Into Darkness”

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Star TrekA few days ago, I achieved one of my major short-term goals when I saw the new Star Trek movie. This was a thing that I had decided was very important in my life, for I expected the movie to be awesome, and indeed, I was not disappointed. When the previous Star Trek movie came out in 2009, I had mixed feelings about it. As good as the plot was, I wasn’t sure I liked the casting. In particular, it was difficult for me to accept that anyone besides James Doohan could be Scotty. Scotty is my second favorite Star Trek character, and nobody else can be Scotty the way James Doohan can. My very favorite character, of course, is Spock. I cannot imagine how anyone could favor any other character over Spock. Although Leonard Nimoy is just as incomparably cool as James Doohan, Zachary Quinto does a good job of filling his shoes. I wouldn’t have imagined that was possible, but it is. Also, I would just like to point out that Zachary Quinto is an incredibly good science fiction name. All in all, I’ve pretty much come to peace with the current casting, and with that out of the way, I actually enjoyed the new Star Trek movie more than the previous one. And whoever decided to cast Benadryl Cucumberpatch in the movie was a very clever person. (For those of you who aren’t on tumblr, I should probably clarify that we do not call Benedict Cumberbatch by his real name very often because it’s so much fun to make up variations of it. I have admittedly used “Benadryl Cucumberpatch” far too many times, because you’re actually supposed to change it every time you say it.)

Tumblr people will understand why I had to post this. Those of you who don't use tumblr, never mind. There are too many inside jokes to explain.

Tumblr people will understand why I had to post this. Those of you who don’t use tumblr, never mind. There are too many inside jokes to explain.

Although the plot and the acting are obviously the most important things, good science fiction movies are also characterized by explosions and spaceship crashes, a dramatic soundtrack, and technological lingo that sounds so practical that it’s easy to forget that the scriptwriter is just making stuff up and it doesn’t mean anything in real life. Star Trek: Into Darkness definitely had all of those traits. Also, I have noticed that most good science fiction (Doctor Who, Star Wars, etc.) has some very emotional scenes in between the high-action and/or high-tech scenes. I’m not sure whether I think that this is necessary or just an interesting trend, but in either case, the new Star Trek movie is no exception. It was actually something of a tear-jerker, except that I don’t cry at movies when I’m watching them with other people.

Spock 2There was one part that did make me tear up a little, though. It wasn’t one of the sad parts, not even the part where a certain character died. (For the sake of anyone reading this who hasn’t seen the movie, I won’t specify which character died.) It was the part where Spock committed a logical fallacy.

I can’t quote the lines verbatim, which just goes to show that I need to see the movie again. But I can look it up on imdb, which is good enough. Captain Kirk says, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and then Spock expresses his disagreement by responding, “An Arabic proverb attributed to a prince who was betrayed and decapitated by his own subjects.” This, I said to myself, is an ad hominem argument, and I nearly cried to hear such words come from the mouth of Spock.

When I mentioned this to my sister later, she laughed and called me a nerd, and we agreed that this was entertaining enough to merit a facebook status. But as my hand touched the keyboard, I remembered a thing. Some logicians claim that ad hominem arguments are not always fallacious. Thus was I told in my logic class a couple semesters ago. Google has informed me that these logicians include Doug Walton and Olavo de Carvalho. Neither of these names mean anything to me, but they are apparently people whose thoughts and opinions on logic hold some weight. And if it is true that ad hominem arguments are sometimes completely okay, then Spock’s remark would be one of those cases.  In fact, after giving it further thought, I’m not sure that it counts as ad hominem after all.

Spock 1Spock’s argument refutes Kirk’s statement on the grounds that he is quoting someone who was wrong, and the information that Spock relates about this wrongness is what invalidates what Kirk has said. That’s why my automatic response was to sense an ad hominem, but Spock’s point was actually not irrelevant. He was actually just giving an example of a case in which the maxim did not hold true, which is perfectly logical. The fact that his example involved the person to whom the quotation is attributed doesn’t actually lend any additional logical value to the point; it merely adds a touch of irony that the scriptwriters found useful for the sake of humor, and humor does not cancel out logic. Spock was indeed not wrong.

All of this, I decided, would be too lengthy to make for a good facebook status, and I couldn’t very well accuse Spock of a logical fallacy without refuting my accusation with these further points. So I closed facebook and said to myself, “Self, save it for the blog.”

I am sorry, Mr. Spock. I should never have doubted you.

Time Travel and Grammar and Pterodactyls and Stuff

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It has suddenly and randomly occurred to me that I know what would make a degree in English a more awesome thing to have. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying anything against the English degree I do have. I understand and appreciate the benefit of all the different literature classes I took. Of course, I did find some of these classes much more interesting than others, but I don’t at all regret choosing English as one of my two majors. It is a cool thing in which to major, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways it could have been even cooler.

Flaming PterodactylOne problem with majoring in English is that it is very difficult for an English major to be wildly successful, financially secure, and highly accomplished shortly after graduating. I mean, I had intended to become a time-traveling Viking ninja Vulcan pirate princess who rides through the sky on her valiant flaming pterodactyl, saving the world from alien invasions and other disasters. (Except I only just now made up the bit about the flaming pterodactyl, but I like it, so I think I’m keeping it in my official life plans.) But here I am, three weeks after graduation, and my current lot in life is applying for jobs while making plans to attend grad school for library science. Which is, of course, a cool thing to do, but somewhat lacking in time travel and epic interstellar warfare and pterodactyls and stuff, and I don’t even get my own awesome theme music.

Dear Albert Einstein, You really messed up my life with that whole not-traveling-faster-than-the-speed-of-light thing.

Dear Albert Einstein,
You really messed up my life with that whole not-traveling-faster-than-the-speed-of-light thing.

When I was a small child, I was told that America was the land of opportunity and that I could grow up to be whatever I wanted, but now they suddenly tell me that I can’t. Time travel isn’t possible, they tell me, and it probably won’t ever be possible because nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, and I can’t even have a pterodactyl because they’re extinct, and even if I did have one, I couldn’t set it on fire because then it would die. I tell you, my dreams are dead. Deal with it, people tell me. Life is tough, they helpfully add. And so now I’m left to live my ordinary non-time-traveling and pterodactyl-less life and to wonder if maybe things would have worked out better if I’d been a physics major or a biology major or something. I guess we’ll never know. Except that I haven’t ever heard of anyone else having time machines or flaming pterodactyls, so I suppose it’s not possible no matter what your major is. This is very sad and clearly means that the entire educational system is flawed and uncool.

I’m not sure if my cool idea would actually help matters much in that regard, but it would be cool anyway, which is all I’m really aiming to achieve right now. And, while it doesn’t actually facilitate time travel, it would in theory be quite useful in the event that science people manage to invent time travel despite the whole speed-of-light thing. My idea is this: English programs should, in addition to fostering writing skills and teaching literary analysis, involve linguistic studies such as etymology and grammatical development over history. It wouldn’t surprise me if some English programs already do so, but that certainly is not widely considered to be a standard element of college-level English education. I think it should be. Here is a list of reasons for this suggestion.

Pictured: Old English

Pictured: Old English

1. If you’re going to study literature, and you logically decide to include old literature because it’s awesome and educational, you ought to be able to read things that were written a long time ago. Granted, as it is, it’s not uncommon for English majors to learn some Middle English in order to read the Canterbury Tales. I did, and it was pretty awesome. (Note: Neither Middle English nor Old English is the correct term for the language of Shakespeare or the King James Bible or any other writing of that time period. That’s still modern English; it’s just old-fashioned compared to today’s colloquial English. Middle English is very different from modern English, and Old English is literally a different language.) But very few people bother to actually become proficient in versions of English any older than that of Chaucer’s time. It would be very interesting to read even older works, such as Beowulf, without modern translations.

2. It would solve various problems related to the issue of grammar. I admit that I am one of those people who gets annoyed every time I see someone else make a grammatical error. A misplaced apostrophe or a “me” when it should say “I” is enough to distract me, and frequent repetition of such mistakes cause me to question the intelligence of the writer. (I admit that such mistakes do indeed happen in my own writing occasionally, usually because of typing errors, and you can be sure that I am even annoyed with myself in such cases than I am with other people when they make mistakes.) Yet I don’t actually understand grammatical rules and terminology that well. I know when a word is wrong because it’s in the wrong tense or it’s singular when it should be plural or something like that, but I can’t explain things like why one preposition fits a certain context better than another or adequately define things like “pluperfect tense” or “subjunctive mood”. I learned grammar by following the example of people and books that used correct grammar, not by actually memorizing grammatical terms. The grammar that I learned through my schoolwork as a kid all went in one ear and out of the other, and it was neither obvious nor problematic because I was already capable of using correct grammar, even without actually understanding it. Even now that I’ve picked up a more detailed understanding of grammar, I still think it’s a confusing and horribly boring topic. But yet it annoys me greatly that there are so many people who aren’t capable of using correct grammar. I realize that the reason for this is that most people were exposed to more bad grammar as children than I was, but still, that shouldn’t have to mean that bad grammar is considered perfectly acceptable. Sometimes, the meaning is actually altered or at least obscured by grammatical errors, and even when it isn’t, they are a distraction. So clearly, grammar cannot be deemphasized in education, even though it’s boring and hard. But I think it would be both more interesting and less difficult if the rules made sense, and it seems to me that they would make more sense if there was historical context. English is basically a muddle of other languages, so our grammatical rules presumably have their origins in the grammar of these other languages.  There must be some interesting and informative stories behind the development of English grammar.

3. On a similar note, it would be an awful lot easier for an English speaker to learn a new language if he/she already had a good grasp of linguistics. There are relationships between languages, and these relationships are interesting and useful, and I can’t see more about them because I don’t really know much about them. But it would be very cool to be able to use knowledge of one language to more easily learn another language.

I helpfully have provided a picture of a cow. You're welcome.

I helpfully have provided a picture of a cow. You’re welcome.

4. Language and history are just as interrelated as literature and history are. I’m making a distinction between language and literature here in that literature refers to specific works while language refers to the vocabulary and grammatical traditions by which that literature was written. This point obviously relates very closely to the second one. Etymology is interesting and historically relevant. For example, there’s a very good reason why the English words for “cow” and cow meat (also known as “beef”) are different, while the English word for “chicken” and chicken meat (also known as “chicken”) are the same. I first heard this story from my father when I was a young child, but I looked it up to make sure I was getting the facts right. The facts are that the word “cow” has always been in the English language because it comes from the very old Germanic word for the animal, but the word “beef” has only been in the English language since the 1300s and comes from the Old French word “buef”. The word “chicken”, like “cow”, comes from an Old English word which came from an ancient Germanic word. You see, the pre-Norman dwellers of England were Germanic, and they had cows and chickens, but then the Normans came and became the important people in England and continued to speak French for a long time after that. The Germanic English people still had cows and chickens, and they still ate chickens, but dead cow was a food for the richer people, and thus, it was their name for dead cow meat that remained in usage. We hereby see that an event in English history determined the course of the English vocabulary. I would presume that practically every word in the English language has some story behind it that likewise relates the history of that word’s usage.

5. If we ever do invent time travel, we need to be able to communicate with the people of olden times. I seriously doubt that they would be able to decipher our strange modern dialect. Of course, this issue could be avoided if we had a babel fish like in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or if we used TARDISes, which automatically translate for you. But seriously, let’s be realistic here. What are the chances that we’re going to get both flaming pterodactyls and magical translation technology? Not to sound like a broken record, but that pterodactyl is really important to me.

PterodactylSpeaking of which, I shall end this blog post by announcing that I am in the market for a pterodactyl (not a toy one, a real, live, full-size, flying pterodactyl) and I would appreciate it if you would all promise to let me know if you find out where I can get one at an affordable price. Thanks.

Star Wars Chronology Compression and related issues

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Star WarsThe biggest difference between people of my generation and people of my parents’ generation is that I was able to watch the original Star Wars trilogy for the first time over the space of a few days, while my parents and their friends had to wait years in between each release. Some people may try to say that values and perspectives change across generations, but, if that is true at all, its significance shrinks in comparison to the effects of Star Wars Chronology Compression.

For people who were there to see the trilogy when it was brand new, there was a significant amount of time during which they didn’t know that Darth Vader was Luke’s father, and an even longer period during which they assumed that there was to be a romantic relationship between Leia and Luke. But for me and my generation, the two major plot twists concerning Skywalker genealogy are taken for granted just as much as the destructive properties of the Death Star and the conflict between the Empire and the rebels. This generational divide is one that greatly overshadows any trivial shifts in pop music, fashion trends, moral convictions, social conventions, or any other factor of human experience. (With the exception of the internet)

Star WarsBut there is just as great a chasm between people of my age and people just a few years younger. You see, I remember a time when there were exactly three Star Wars movies. I remember a time when Jar-Jar Binks did not exist, when Obi-Wan Kenobi could only be pictured as a man with a white beard, and when Anakin Skywalker was only the distant memory of the oldest characters. The prequel trilogy was an addendum that came along later, when the Star Wars saga was already a fundamental part of my existence. Not so for those a few years younger than me. Some of my own siblings are younger than The Phantom Menace and probably don’t make nearly as clear a distinction as I do between the original Star Wars and the newer Star Wars.

Although I was not nearly as disappointed and upset by the prequels as many Star Wars enthusiasts were, I strongly agree that they aren’t nearly as good as the originals. They just aren’t. I feel sympathy and concern for those who view the six movies as a unified saga. While that may seem to be a more tidy and satisfyingly holistic way to view the series, it ignores the plot holes and the differences in storyline quality and special effects. (In my opinion, the over-the-top special effects of relatively recent movies are actually a distraction from the plot.) I think that my tendency to perceive the six movies as two distinct series allows me to better appreciate Star Wars in general, just as classic Doctor Who and the current Doctor Who are not the same TV show.

Now, we are approaching the dawn of a new era of the Star Wars fan experience. As of last October, Star Wars has fallen into the hands of Disney, and fans have been promised an episode 7 in 2015, with an implication of future installments after that. Star Wars lovers have mixed opinions about this. Some are horrified, but others say that the worst has already happened and that the future of Star Wars can only be an improvement on its past. And then there are some who didn’t have a problem with the prequel trilogy and are excited by the prospect of yet more movies, regardless of what organization is in charge of making them. I don’t mean to imply that every Star Wars fan falls into one of these categories; my point is simply that this new Star Wars movie is already receiving mixed reviews, two years before it even exists.

Star WarsMy own opinion falls somewhere in the middle, although it is probably closer to the pessimistic side. I acknowledge the possibility that future Star Wars movies could be good, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they’re terrible. Even if they are better than I expect, it troubles me to know that there will one day be people on this Earth who know Star Wars as an epic series of at least seven episodes, rather than as a series that expanded around one really great movie. They will be misunderstanding their own culture because, no matter how good the rest of the series is, it is the movie now known as Episode IV: A New Hope that revolutionized cinema and science fiction, single-handedly redefined all subsequent pop culture, and has earned a place in history shared by few other works of art.

Before a new Star Wars movie comes into existence, there is something I must say. It is essential that I make this quite clear for the record, in order to protect myself and my love for Star Wars. When future Star Wars movies come out, I am not compelled to accept them or to acknowledge that they count. My opinion of them and their significance are contingent upon how good they are and how well they fit in with the other Star Wars movies. If they meet my Star Wars standards, I will duly love and obsess over them. But if they fail, even slightly, I reserve the right to roll my eyes and deny that they are really Star Wars or that they bear any relation to the preceding movies. Just because Disney has bought Star Wars, I will argue at great length, does not mean that they can make Star Wars movies, for Star Wars is not a product that can be bought and sold. It is a way of life, I will further inform my bored and annoyed listeners, and ways of life do not come with price tags stuck on them. Commercialism cannot contain and define Star Wars, no matter how hard it may try.

So Disney can go ahead and do its worst. No matter what the new movies are like, there is nothing Disney can do to hurt me or to shake my appreciation of Star Wars. I remain secure in my admiration of the original trilogy.

There’s This Book I’m Reading, Episode 5

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Douglas AdamsI read a lot of stuff. Much of it is for school, but when I can find the time, I like to read just for the fun of it, too, and I have always found that pleasure reading is just as intellectual and conveys just as much knowledge and school reading. For example, here is something I have learned through extensive pleasure reading: Douglas Adams was really clever. He was both a skilled writer and an all-around genius who either had extremely varied fields of knowledge or was very talented at using knowledge he didn’t even have. Either way, reading a book by Douglas Adams is both an enjoyable and an intellectual experience.

My familiarity with Douglas Adams’ writing is primarily limited to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. I actually hadn’t read those books until about the time the movie came out, which Google informs me was in 2005. That means that I was fourteen, (well, thirteen and a half; it was in the spring) and I’m almost a little embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t already read the books by then. I knew that my father liked them and I seem to recall that he had recommended them to me on more than one occasion, but yet I somehow didn’t read them until there was a movie ready to be watched shortly thereafter. Given the fact that I have always considered myself to be a greater book-lover than movie-lover, I cannot justify the movie-centric priorities that I displayed as a thirteen-and-a-half year old. But this is unimportant, because the point is that I did in fact read the books and I loved them and have since read them many times and continued to love them every time.

Douglas AdamsThis blog post isn’t about The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s about another book by Douglas Adams called Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. Sadly, it is the only Douglas Adams book I have read apart from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, but it has greatly reinforced and increased my high opinion of Douglas Adams and has reminded me that I must find and read more Douglas Adams books, particularly The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency was written in 1987, which was three years after So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, (The fourth Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy book) and five years before Mostly Harmless (the fifth and last Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy book). In many ways, most notably the writing style, it is very similar to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, but it is certainly a book worth enjoying, admiring, and discussing in its own right.

Douglas Adams, like great British writers before him, (this is an allusion to Shakespeare, by the way) is remarkable for his skill in characterization. Not only are the characters memorable and interesting, but Douglas Adams is very good at realistically articulating the thoughts of apparently normal characters in ridiculous situations, ridiculous characters in apparently normal situations, and any kind of character in any kind of situation between the two extremes. If I was writing an unreasonably long paper arguing that Douglas Adams’ characterization is just as brilliant as Shakespeare’s, (Oh, why did I not think of that several months ago? That would have been such an awesome English senior seminar paper!) I could take several pages giving textual examples. But I am not writing a paper here and I don’t have a minimum length, but I do have a minimum amount of time to dedicate to this blog post, so I will instead stick to a couple characters in the book I am specifically discussing.

Apparently, there's a movie. I have not seen the movie, but I would like to do so at some point.

Apparently, there’s a movie. I have not seen the movie, but I would like to do so at some point.

Richard and Susan are both pretty normal people. They are talented and notably intelligent people, (Richard works with computers and Susan is a cellist) but they act and think more or less like any other Earth human who has never encountered extra-terrestrial technology or been faced with paradoxes of the space-time continuum. Richard is absent-minded and obsessed with his job; Susan is his girlfriend who wishes he would step away from the computer screen a bit more often. Richard is somewhat in trouble with his boss because he’s behind schedule on certain tasks; Susan is his boss’s sister who is annoyed that her brother leaves long rambling messages on her answering machine telling her to pressure Richard into getting his work done. But somewhere along the line, they get involved in a bizarre course of events that involves a murder and police investigation, a ghost, and inexplicable anomalies in the fabric of space and time, which Richard cannot solve with his computer simulations.

Then there’s Reg, an eccentric and absent-minded professor who reminds me very much of a certain professor I have had, except that Reg is even odder and his conversation is even more convoluted. Like the aforementioned professor, Reg is inherently likable, even though the reader can tell right away that there’s something extremely strange about him. If nothing else, it’s weird that he’s a professor and nobody knows exactly what his field is. The fact that his position is called “the Regius Professorship of Chronology” is a hint, but not a very specific one. Reg’s extreme absent-mindedness, which first appears to be a trait that Douglas Adams uses just for the sake of characterizing Reg according to a stereotype and adding an extra touch of humor, turns out to be part of the plot. That’s another thing about Douglas Adams; many of the most random and silly side-notes of the beginning of the story later turn out to be significant and incredibly brilliant plot twists.

And there’s Dirk Gently himself, a character who cannot be described in any way other than to quote directly from the book itself. When Reg casually mentions Dirk, formally known as Svlad Cjelli, Richard “wondered what had lately become of his former… was friend the word? He seemed more like a succession of extraordinary events than a person. The idea of him actually having friends as such seemed not so much unlikely, more a sort of mismatching of concepts, like the idea of the Suez crisis popping out for a bun.” Richard and Svlad had known each other as undergraduate students, during which time Svlad had spread the rumor that he was psychic by denying it far more vehemently than necessary and then failing to disprove it. This, as Douglas Adams emphasizes, is the best way to make up a convincing story. Now, Dirk Gently is a terribly unsuccessful private detective who believes in the interrelatedness of all things so strongly that he deems it necessary to go sit on a beach in Bermuda while working on a case concerning a missing cat. Dirk Gently is the kind of character who can spout off fascinating theories regarding Schrodinger’s cat that almost make sense in once chapter, admit that he was just saying that to be ridiculous in another chapter, and later yet, say profound and quotable things like, “It is a rare mind indeed that can render the hitherto nonexistent blindingly obvious. The cry ‘I could have thought of that’ is a very popular and misleading one, for the fact is that they didn’t, and a very significant and revealing fact it is too. This, if I am not mistaken, is the staircase we seek. Shall we ascend?” I left that last bit in there because I like it and intend to use it in regular conversation whenever possible.

Douglas AdamsThere are many other brilliant things about the book that I don’t have time to describe in any detail, such as the Electric Monk and Richard’s sofa that’s stuck in an impossible place on the stairs. One of the best things about Douglas Adams’ stories is those random details that seem so simple and/or humorous, but required an extreme degree of intelligence and creativity to write. And there are many other wonderfully quotable lines from the book that I don’t have time to quote. Another one of the best things about Douglas Adam’s stories is that they are rife with clever and quotable lines. But I think that the thing I like the absolute most about Douglas Adams is that his writing style is so memorable and even inspiring. Every now and then, I read over something I’ve written and notice a phrase or sentence that sounds a little like Douglas Adams, or even a group of sentences that express a very Douglas-Adams-esque idea. When Douglas Adams’ influence manifests itself in my own writing, those are the times that I am most satisfied with my writing, because he has set the standard to which I aspire. Maybe that’s a little funny, because in some cases, (obviously not the one quoted above) his wording and phrasing is so simple and vernacular and his ideas seem so natural. One reads Douglas Adams and thinks to oneself, “I could have thought of that!” But the fact is that one didn’t, and a very significant and revealing fact it is, too. This, if I am not mistaken, is the staircase we seek. Shall we ascend?

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