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.

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Why Base Twelve Would Be Awesomer Than Base Ten

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If you think about it, it’s silly that people count in base ten. Yes, it’s convenient because we happen to have ten fingers, but it’s inconvenient in numerous other ways. For example, although 1/2 and1/4 and 1/5 and 1/10 can be easily expressed by decimals, other common fractions like 1/3 and 1/6 and 1/8 are just weird if you try to write them in any other form. To give a less abstract example, the amount of time that I spend at work is measured according to a decimal system. That means that each 0.01 hour of work is 36 seconds, which is a kind of random unit of time. On some level, the human race is clearly aware that units of twelve are logical. The year has twelve months, a foot has twelve inches, and many products are sold in groups of twelve. Yet we still insist upon counting in base ten.

handsI think it says something about the selfish nature of humanity that we just assume that numbers are meant to be used in base ten simply because we have ten fingers. The human hand, according to our subconscious thought process, is clearly the standard by which we are supposed to measure everything in existence. No source of authority and no rational point of view outranks the supremacy of the human hand. Or something like that. But, mathematically speaking, there are better ways to count.

The short and simple way to say this is just to insist that base twelve is better than base ten because twelve has more factors than ten. But I’m going to back up a couple steps and ramble about some other things first. In all fairness, I must acknowledge that there’s a book I’m currently reading (How Acceptance of a Duodecimal (12) Base Would Simplify Mathematics by F. Emerson Andrews, copyright 1935 and 1944) that basically says everything that I’m saying in this blog post, and I’m sort of drawing from that book in writing this. But I also would like to point out, just for the sake of being a know-it-all, that none of the information or ideas I’m repeating here were new to me. These were all things I had heard, read, and thought about a long time before I happened to notice that book on the library bookshelf and was drawn in by its awesomeness.

The first thing about which I want to ramble is that even the tally mark system is pretty cool. We couldn’t count very high if it wasn’t for the clever construct of splitting numbers into handy units. If you count on your fingers, you only have two sets of five at your disposal, and you’re going to lose count pretty quickly once you get past ten. And if you try to count by writing down one mark for every unit, that’s not going to improve matters much. But by sorting those individual units into groups of five and then counting fives, you can count an awful lot higher. There’s no particular reason that five has to be the base used or that the notation method has to be tally marks as we know them; it’s the system of individual units and larger group units that is so clever and useful. Even though we take that system completely for granted, it’s pretty awesome when you think about it.

Roman PIN numberEarly forms of number notation were basically always tally-mark-type systems. Even Roman numerals are really just a glorified form of tally marks. You’ve got the individual unit written as I, the group of five units written as V, the group of ten units written as X, and so forth and so on. As an added bonus, numbers could be written in a more concise way by putting a smaller numeral in front of the greater numeral to indicate that the smaller unit is to be subtracted from the bigger unit rather than added onto it. For example, nine isn’t IIIIIIIII or VIIII because that’s kind of hard to read. It would be easy to accidentally confuse VIIII with VIII. So nine is IX, which means I less than X. So the Roman numeral system definitely had its benefits, but it still is of the same caliber as tally mark systems, and it still is really bad for doing arithmetic. (Quick, what’s MCDXXIV plus XXVII?)

But then the world was revolutionized by the numeral zero, which is the awesomest thing ever invented by humanity with the possible exception of that time when some random person thought of the idea of grinding up coffee beans and filtering hot water through them. Of course, the concept of “none” had always existed and there were ways of expressing the quantity of “none” in words. But there was no numeral zero as we use it now, and so place value didn’t work. It’s difficult to attribute the origin of zero to a specific time or place, because various cultures had various different ways of mathematically denoting zero-ness. But the significant advancement was the use of place value that was made possible by the use of the numeral zero, and that came from India and then gradually became commonly used in Europe during the medieval period. It wasn’t until the 16th century that the current system for writing numbers finished becoming the norm.

I think we can all agree that the Hindu-Arabic number system is much easier to use than Roman numerals. It’s easier to look at 1040 and 203 and know right away that they add up to 1243 than to look at MXL and CCIII and know that they add up to MCCXLIII. And it isn’t hard to add 48 and 21 in your head and get 69, but adding XLVIII and XXI to get LXIX is a little messy. A numerical system that relies on place value is inherently simpler to use than a system that doesn’t.

But there’s still that whole thing about base ten. To say that we count in base ten means that ten is the number that we write as 10. 10 means one group of ten plus zero ones. 12 means one group of ten plus two ones.  176 means one group of ten times ten, seven groups of ten, and six ones. But if, for instance, we counted in base eight, then 10 would mean one group of eight and no ones, which is 8 in base ten. 12 would mean one group of eight and two ones, which is 10 in base ten. 176 would mean one group of eight times eight, seven groups of eight, and six ones, which is 126 in base ten. If that sounds complicated, it’s only because we’re so used to base ten. We instinctively read the number 10 as ten without even thinking about the fact that the 1 in front of the 0 could refer to a different number if we were counting in a different base.

I’m not really advocating for getting rid of base ten, because it would be impossible to change our whole system of counting overnight. It took centuries for Hindu-Arabic numerals to replace Roman numerals in Europe, and switching to a different base would be an even bigger overhaul. Base ten is a very familiar system and it would just be confusing for everyone to suddenly change it, not to mention the fact that everything with numbers on it would become outdated and mathematically incorrect. So I’m perfectly content to stick with base ten for the most part, but I still think it’s worth pointing out that base twelve would technically be better. And this brings me to my actual point, which is why exactly base twelve is the best of all possible bases.

It goes without saying that the only feasible bases are positive integers. But I’m saying it anyway just because I am entertained by the notion of trying to use a non-integer as a base. It is also readily apparent that large numbers don’t make good bases. Counting and one-digit arithmetic are basically learned by memorization, and the larger the base is, the more there is to memorize. But small numbers don’t make good bases, either, because it requires a lot of digits to write numbers. Take base three, for instance. Instead of calling this year 2013, we’d be calling it 2202120. (Disclaimer: it’s entirely possible that I made an error. That’s what happens when I use weird bases.) And it wouldn’t be a good idea to use a prime number as a base. Even though I happen to be fond of the number seven and have said before that the people on my imaginary planet count in base seven, I realize that’s weird. (That is, counting in base seven is weird. It’s completely normal that I have an imaginary planet that uses a different mathematical system.) In base ten, we have a convenient pattern; every number that ends in 5 or 0 is divisible by 5, and any number that doesn’t end in 5 or 0 is not divisible by 5. That pattern works because 5 is a factor of 10. Using a prime number as a base would complicate multiplication and division because we wouldn’t have useful patterns like that.

So the numbers that would work relatively well as bases are eight, nine, ten, and twelve, and maybe six, fourteen, fifteen, and sixteen, if we want to be a little more lenient about the ideal size range. Eight and sixteen win bonus points for being 23 and 24, which is nice and neat and pretty, and nine and sixteen win bonus points for being squares. (Squares are cool, y’all) But twelve is the real winner here, because its factors include all of the integers from one to four. That means that it’s easily divisible by three and four as well as by two, and a multiplication table in base twelve would have lots of handy little patterns. Every number ending in 3,6,9, or 0 would be divisible by 3; every number ending in 4, 8, or 0 would be divisible by 4; every number ending in 6 or 0 would be divisible by 6. All multiples of 8 would end in 4, 8, or 0, and all multiples of 9 would end in 3, 6, 9 or 0. As in base ten, all even numbers would end with an even digit and all odd numbers would end with an odd digit. And obviously, every number divisible by twelve would end in 0.Basically, base twelve has the most convenient patterns of any base in the feasible size range.

Base Twelve Multiplication TableTo prove its convenience, I made this multiplication table myself rather than copying the one in the aforementioned book. (For the record, X refers to ten, because the notation 10 now means twelve, not ten, and ε refers to eleven, because the notation 11 now refers to thirteen, not eleven. I got those additional digits from the book. Part of me wanted to make up new ones, but there was some logic to the way it was done in the book, so I decided to just go with that.) I did double check it against the book just to be sure, and I suppose I ought to confess that I made a couple errors in the 5 and 7 columns. 5 and 7 are a little problematic in base twelve in the same way that 3 and 4 and 6 and 7 and 8 are a little problematic in base ten. But this didn’t take me very long at all to do, and the columns for 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, X, and ε were extremely easy. Since basic arithmetic isn’t exactly a great strength of mine, the fact that I found it easy to construct this multiplication table proves the mathematical ease of arithmetic using base twelve.

So, yeah, base twelve is cool and stuff.

That Cat Will Be the Death of Me and other stories

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At precisely 12:12 today, a cry went up in the hallway. “It’s 12:12 on 12/12/12!” said the cry.

Instantly, I opened internet explorer and yelled back, “Facebook or tumblr?”

“Both!” the cry instructed me.

But alas, I only had time to post it on tumblr. By the time I got to facebook, it was 12:13.

The aforementioned hallway was in fact the hallway at the house, and the aforementioned cry came from the mouth of one of my sisters. I left college and came to my house yesterday. (I refrain from using the word “home” here merely because I refer to both college and my house as “home”, depending upon the context.) This may not have been the brightest idea in the history of bright ideas, because I still have some final papers to finish. That is, I now have one final paper to finish, because I turned one in this morning. In the end, it turned out to be truly idiotic. But I’m now only about a day away from really being on Christmas break, which is nice, I guess.

One of the first things that happened upon my arrival at the abode of my kin was that my beloved cat Bo decided to sneak outside. He stood at the door waiting for an opportune moment, and then, as I re-entered the house bearing two armfuls of my luggage including my electric keyboard, he squeezed past me and escaped into the great outdoors.

I dropped my loot in the doorway and ran after Bo, who circled around the house once and then ran into the open space under the neighbor’s shed. Not long ago, he got out of the house, was lost for a whole day, and stayed under that shed until my parents and siblings found him and brought him back home. The incident entailed much distress and many tears, and his safe return was an occasion of much joy. Apparently, he wanted to reenact that scene for me, because he would not come out, despite the bribes of cat treats and turkey we offered him.

“Bo,” said I unto the cat, as I pushed my face against the wooden planks enclosing the space, “you can’t stay there. You have to come back. You know you’re going to get lonely out here.”

He rubbed his face against the planks from the inside with an expression of both affection and smugness in his eyes. “Why would I get lonely?” his face said. “You’re right here with me.”

He had a point there. We obviously weren’t going to leave him alone out there; we’d be too worried about his safety.

“But Bo,” I said, “You can’t stay there. You’re going to get hungry.”

“No, I won’t,” he said, “I’ve got grass down here. Look, yummy grass! Ooh, and look at all the dirt! Yummy dirt!”

“Ew, Bo, gross,” I said to him, “stop eating the dirt.”

He purred, because there was absolutely nothing I could do to stop him from eating the dirt.

“Bo Kitty,” I said, holding out a hand with a couple cat treats in it. “Come! You know you want them! All this and more can be yours! Come back to us!”

Bo cleverly calculated the speed at which he could snitch the treats out of my hand and moved into position to execute the feat. But I took a step backwards to thwart his plans. “If you want them, you have to let me take you back inside,” I informed him. “I’m not going to be that easy to trick.”

“Then I’m not going to be that easy to trick, either,” said Bo, curling up on a cinder block and taking a bite of dirt. He let his mouth hang strangely open so that I would worry that he’d already caught some fearsome disease.

“Bo,” said I, “How about if we stop trying to trick each other and you just come back to me?”

“Don’t be silly,” said Bo, “Why would I come back to you now when I can have attention, fresh air, and all the grass I want just by sitting here, and I know that you’ll be right there to bring me back home when I do decide to come back?”

I had to admit he had a point there.

To make a long story short, we eventually got him back inside. He was thoroughly covered in mud and highly offended by our annoyance with him, especially when one of my sisters and the other cat both scolded him for making them cry again. But then this morning, he suddenly remembered how long it’s been since he saw me and how much he likes me, and he rejoiced greatly. And I pointed out to him that he didn’t really want to go live out under the neighbor’s shed. He likes our food better than dirt and grass, anyway.