Doctor Who S5E05: Flesh and Stone

Where “The Time of Angels” was a thriller of an episode, “Flesh and Stone” plays out far more like a horror movie. Our heroes are pursued by a relentless group of killers that they are nearly powerless against. The Angels also have a grip on Amy Pond, one that nearly kills her halfway through the episode. But more than anything, this episode is about revelations–about River in part, but largely about the plot arc most viewers at the time believed wouldn’t come up again until the finale.

The relentless pursuit of hundreds of Weeping Angels drives the Doctor and Amy and the others through the downed starship they escaped to at the end of the last episode. There are some genuinely frightening moments here, especially when the Doctor must turn the lights out to open a door. The Angels creep forward to the strobe of constant gunfire, gaining on our heroes by inches. When everyone makes it to the ship’s secondary flight deck, we’re granted only a slight reprieve.

Amy’s encounter with the Angel left her vulnerable to them–as we find out, there’s a living image of an Angel in her mind, coming to kill her, and making her count down to her death because it’s fun to it. The tension and horror of her situation is scary enough on its own, but not so frightening as what we find out just beforehand.

The crack that was in young Amelia’s wall has appeared in the last couple stories at the end, but it makes a major reappearance here. Rather than following Russell T. Davies’ model of arc words that only become fully relevant in the finale, Steven Moffat brings his arc to the fore very early on. Here the Doctor encounters the cracks, and discovers what they are and what they’re doing: the cracks are time running out, erasing everything that gets near them. We don’t know where they come from, or why they’re following Amy and the Doctor, but the dire situation is made clear nonetheless.

One thing Moffat does here is quietly explain away some of the very public events that happened in a lot of RTD’s finales and specials. The Cyberking from “The Next Doctor” is a victim of the cracks, as is (apparently) the Dalek invasions seen in the Series 2 and Series 4 finales (since we learned in “Victory of the Daleks” that Amy had no idea what a Dalek was). It’s just a largely throwaway line, but with it, Moffat quietly sets things back to zero for his run of the show. The public invasions are “gone”–they still happened, of course, but they don’t have an influence on the future companions’ stories. (Remember how Martha was quick to realize that aliens were involved in “Smith and Jones”, because of what she’d experienced as a result of the Series 2 finale?)

Another revelation we receive here is one about River: we find out that she is in prison for killing a man. This adds a layer of darkness to her character that hasn’t been present before, and furthermore raises the question of whether she can be fully trusted, if she’s a murderer. It exposes an interesting new facet of her character–that she killed the “best man [she’s] every known” and seems to even regret it. Though this won’t be fully explored until the next series, it’s still highly intriguing.

To be honest, there is only one thing about this episode that bothers me, and it’s at the very end, when Amy tries to seduce the Doctor and ends up planting a kiss on him. It’s always made me uncomfortable because of the lack of consent in the whole matter, and I’m kind of glad that Steven Moffat came out and said that he regrets writing it. It’s not really the kind of thing we need in Doctor Who, and having Moffat disavow it makes me feel comfortable being discomfited by it.

All in all, “Flesh and Stone” is one heck of an episode. It finishes its story in a satisfying manner while breaking open the main arc of the series in a way that still leaves us asking questions. This episode and its predecessor are a story I return to often, because it’s such a pleasure to watch a well-constructed tale unfold.

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It’s the End of the Year, and Here We Are

With Christmas out of the way, it’s a nonstop careen to January 1. I thought I’d reflect on how my year went and what’s changed and what hasn’t, and so on and so forth.

This year didn’t quite go the way I expected. I quit my temp job in March, which I still feel some pangs of regret about. I got another temp job in May that only lasted a day because my anxiety got the better of me. But even if I’d stayed on (and not gotten fired) at the first job, I probably would have been laid off (which is basically getting fired, except it isn’t your fault) in the summer due to the off season, which I found from a coworker a few months ago.

I definitely did not hit all my goals for the year. I’m not going to get into it, but I set way too many high expectations for myself. I thought I would be good and productive, but instead my mental health gave me a kick in the butt and nothing went as planned.

Part of the mental health problems, it turned out, were due to me going off a medication that it turned out I, uh, REALLY needed to be on. I had a terrible couple weeks topped off with some suicidal thoughts, and then I got back on the med and things have been okay since. My meds have been steady and unchanged for a few months now, and my therapist and I are working on everything else.

I’m learning to be okay with what I don’t get done, and to be proud of what I do accomplish. I read twenty books this year. Yay! I’ve watched 40 movies. More yay! I wrote over 90,000 words! GO ME. I am learning to put things in perspective, and to set goals that are within my actual reach, as opposed to my hypothetical reach. It’s a slow process, but I’m getting there, I think. Bit by bit.

I suppose my mental health makes up a big chunk of what I did this year. I fell and got back up and tripped a few more times, but I am making progress. Just not in the ways I thought I would, and not in the areas I originally believed I would. I didn’t play a lot of video games, or watch a lot of television this year. But that doesn’t matter. I still did some things. And that’s what really matters.

I wanted to stretch this out a bit longer, but I’m not sure if I can. I have made progress, and I want to keep making progress in the new year. I want to do things, but within my scope. It sounds ridiculous and counter-intuitive to say that I want to limit myself to what I can do, but when I put so much weight on the things I get done, it’s almost a necessity.

I’m going to do things in the new year. Not more, hopefully not less, but just enough. Just a Goldilocks kind of year, if that makes sense. This year past had its ups and downs, but I think I’ve made progress, and with any luck, I’ll keep moving forward in the weeks and months to come.

An Explanation is In Order

The short of it is simple: a combination of continued medication adjustments and then also a total lack of motivation contributed to my posting nearly nothing in two months. I am doing better now, and then I also wanted to hit 50 posts here by the end of the year, so here I am again.

The long of it… is hard to remember. I don’t really know what I was up to all that time. I mostly just existed. I got obsessed with amigurumi (crochet dolls and toys, basically). I had my birthday, which was uneventful as heck. I saw a couple movies. I felt happy and depressed and sometimes both in the same day. I have nothing to say for myself, and yet everything.

I don’t know what I’ve been up to. I know I haven’t been posting and that’s not great, but I can’t explain why I didn’t post almost anything over two months. It just sort of happened. I didn’t have anything to write about. My motivation was shot. I was doing NaNoWriMo, and then eventually failing at it. I was baking things like pumpkin snickerdoodles and apple crisp. I was failing to read any books or watch any other movies. I basically did a whole lot of nothing.

That isn’t very interesting, but it’s the truth, I suppose. I will try to be more present in the future. I want to be more present. I am doing better now that I’m not wallowing in self-loathing. Things are still iffy from time to time but I am getting better. Kinda sorta.

I don’t know. I’m here now, at least.

A General List of General Goals

i.e., what I want to get done in December. Hopefully. Maybe.

I made up this list of goals when I was in, shall we say, a Bad Mood, so they’re very general and very informal. Oh well? I don’t care?

Anyway, the goals:

  • Try not to overeat in the face of the holidays. (Put another way: don’t get fat(ter).)
  • Finish that knit cowl, you’re so close.
  • Make cookies or something.
  • Get up to 50 blog posts on the blog.
  • Get to 50 movies watched.
  • Get to 25 books read.
  • Carve out non-internet time.
  • Write 1k maybe.
  • Stuff & things & ugh.

I already feel like I’m shooting too high, but I suppose I have no one to disappoint but myself. Which. Okay, whatever. It happens. I’ve made some tentative plans in re: those “get to” goals, so maybe I’ll surprise myself at some point this month.

I’ll make another post here in a couple days about where I’ve been (nowhere) and what I’ve been doing (nothing). Anyway.

Thankful.

My family, for loving and supporting me.

My friends, for being there.

My mental health team, for helping me be better.

Other things, too.  My freedom to dissent, to believe or not believe. My abilities in a variety of areas. My pets.

A lot of things to be thankful for.

The Indelible Joy of Making

I made beignets this past Sunday (my parents bought me a Cafe du Monde mix when they were in New Orleans in April). There was something about the making of them–mixing the dough, rolling it out, cutting it, and frying it up–that put me in an extraordinarily good mood. I can’t identify what it was, exactly, but it stayed with me almost all day, and I loved it.

I get this feeling whenever I bake something, or when I finish a doodle or a knit piece, or anything like that, really. I like doing things with my hands. It’s a lot of work, sometimes, but it’s always worth it, and I love when people compliment what I do complete. Gratification keeps me going, and I love that, too.

I was talking with my therapist recently about all my life stuff, and how I set high expectations for myself almost all the time, and she brought up the fact that a lot of my activities–writing, big knitting projects, and so on–are very long term things. I don’t get that sense of gratification until much, much later, and that means that the activity turns into work, and the work becomes something I avoid, and the avoidance sends me spiraling into depression. So she’s asked me to work on finding things that are short term to get done in a day, so I can feel accomplished instead of depressed.

I’m probably going to bake something today. I’m thinking an apple crisp, since I have a bunch of apples sitting around, and I also was thoroughly disappointed by Arby’s new cinnamon apple crisp earlier this week. (It was more of a cake with some apple crumble on top than a crisp.) So I’m probably going to google a recipe here in a moment and get that made up, because I like making things. It’s work, but the end result is a delight, always.

I like to make things. My whole life has been a series of making things, whether abstract or concrete, and it’s something I want to continue into the future. So at the least I will make things now and then every week, to capture that feeling once again, and hold it tight to my chest like a candle flame in a dark and dreary world.

Doctor Who S5E04: The Time of Angels

Episode four of Doctor Who’s fifth series sees a return of two elements Steven Moffat brought to the show under Russell T. Davies: the Weeping Angels, and River Song. They’re each unique, full of the timey-wimey-ness that is almost fundamental to Moffat’s Doctor Who.

Alex Kingston’s River Song is a delight from beginning to end, of course, strolling onto screen in those sky-high Louboutin heels with a distinct sense of badassery we only got hints of in her debut episodes. She has almost instant chemistry with Matt Smith’s Doctor, and the relationship between River and Amy Pond is immediately friendly and warm. We get hints of her past that weren’t really there in Series 4: she wasn’t always a professor, and she is, for some currently unknown reason, in prison.

But the true heart of this episode’s energy lies in the return of Moffat’s Weeping Angels. There’s only one to start off, but eventually, in a brilliantly constructed twist, we find out there are a great many more, more than enough to be thoroughly terrifying. As with River Song, new information is divulged about these monsters, and new abilities given them, such as the ability to project themselves out of images. This makes for a terrifying scene midway through the episode, which pits Amy against one of these images—and once again shows how clever Amy can be by having her outsmart the angel.

What I enjoy most about this episode, however, is the twist I mentioned: it turns out all the statues in the Aplans’ Maze of the Dead are not tributes to a people long gone, but angels themselves, weakened and half-dead. The twist depends not only on the characters’ anthrocentrism, but the audience’s as well: we’re so used to seeing things that look like us (particularly aliens in shows like Doctor Who) that we don’t even question the appearance of the statues. Even when the Doctor reveals the Aplans were two-headed, it takes a moment for the truth to bear down upon us. Even Cleric Bob’s claim that one of the statues looked at him is an early hint, but dismissed by every character onscreen as mere jitters. In every way, this twist is an example of what Steven Moffat is capable of as a writer. As we’ll see at the end of the season, he constantly leaves hints for the viewer, hoping and believing that we will figure it out. The reason so many of his twists seem “obvious” to some is that they’re meant to be.

Amy’s actions in this episode are also interesting to me. As I said before, she displays that observant cleverness we’ve seen in her again here, realizing she can stop the angel in the dropship by taking away its image. She also shows some real bravery, too; she’s willing to be taken by the angels if it means River and the Doctor, and Octavian and his clerics, will be safe. While she does sort of go the whole “don’t tell anyone you’ve got a zombie bite” route with regards to the angel in her mind, it isn’t as big a deal here, I don’t think? This subplot all comes to a head in the next episode, so it might be meet to talk more extensively about it there.

All in all, however, Time of Angels is a taut thriller of an episode with a magnificently executed twist and a hell of a cliffhanger. It really shows the whole gamut of Steven Moffat’s skills, and its second part, as we’ll see next time, takes it to whole new heights.

Pushing Daisies: A Little Show of Pies, Whimsy, and Murder

So in the summer of 2007, I was going to the movies with my brother when, in the pre-show commercials, there was an ad for a new ABC show called Pushing Daisies. It had a fairly simple conceit at its center: it was about a man who could, with a touch, bring the dead back to life. Another touch would put them back to being dead. If he left the dead person alive longer than one minute, however, another person in proximity would die in their place. He worked with a private investigator to solve murders. The show had another element as well: the man used his power to bring his childhood sweetheart back to life, for good, which meant they could never touch or else she’d die again.

Needless to say, I was very struck by this ad, not least because it didn’t look like anything else I’d seen before. The colors were bright, the dialogue snappy, and there were elements of whimsy that just weren’t seen on TV back then (or even now). So I resolved to check it out when it came on.

I was not disappointed. What followed was a sharply written fantasy with delightful characters, twisty murder mysteries, and endless beautiful colors. I loved it. And then the writer’s strike happened, and ABC, to the show’s eventual doom, opted not to bring it back after the strike was over. Nevertheless, I loved what I’d seen, and took to the show with a great deal of enthusiasm, watching my taped (yes, taped on VHS) episodes over and over until the DVDs came out.

When the show came back in 2008, none of its glamour had faded it. It was brighter than ever, with brilliant costumes, silly storylines, and dialogue as sparkling as the first season. Unfortunately, the ratings were in the toilet, in large part, it seemed, because no one remembered the show from a year ago, or something like that. I can’t say I know for sure. I actually wrote letters to try and convince ABC to save the show, complete with enclosed origami flowers. The show was a happy place for me; I watched my taped episodes to cheer myself up after bad days, and remind myself of the beautiful things in life.

Unfortunately, the letters I and others sent did no good. The show was cancelled about seven or eight episodes into its 13 episode order. ABC aired the rest of the ten pre-Christmas episodes, then sat on the remaining three until May, much to everyone’s chagrin. The producers had to scramble to put together an appropriate ending, given the show ended on a cliffhanger (several cliffhangers, actually), and what they came up with didn’t please everybody, but was good enough for me.

I suppose now is where I talk about what the show meant to me and means to me still, having not watched it in a few years now. I suppose mostly it reminds me of a bright candle in a dark world. I was living with undiagnosed depression when it was airing, and I wouldn’t get a proper diagnosis for several years after it was off the air. It was there for me when I felt like nothing else was, and it reminded me how to be cheerful despite the demons I fought on an almost daily basis.

More than anything, it showed me how good television could be. It didn’t have to be gritty and awful all of the time; it could be bright and cheery, but with no less drama. Another show I watched at the time was NBC’s Heroes, but I gave up on it in 2008 because it was getting too convoluted and depressing for me to continue on with. It’s no coincidence that some of Heroes’ best episodes in Season 1 (particularly the pivotal “Company Man”) were written by Pushing Daisies’ creator Bryan Fuller. Fuller knows how to write drama very well, and some of his previous shows–namely Dead Like Me and Wonderfalls–show that he can incorporate comedy to great effect.

All in all, it was the little things that made me love Pushing Daisies. The chaste but passionate relationship between Ned and Chuck, the show’s romantic heroes. The hilariously suspicious coroner. Emerson the P.I.’s knitting habit. Olive Snook’s outbursts of song. Chuck’s highly eccentric aunts, Lily and Vivian. The increasingly wacky murders. Just… everything. I loved the show wholeheartedly, and I’m still sad that it’s gone, that it didn’t get six seasons and a movie and so on and so forth.

But I’m glad that it was here and that it brought, if only for a little while, a little brightness into a world that sometimes shuns it.

Pomodoro Productivity

So I’m trying something new to get my productivity in order. The Pomodoro Technique involves timers and set work times and small breaks, and so far, it seems to be working for me quite well. The gist of the technique is this: you set a timer (traditionally for 25 minutes), and work as much as you can until the timer goes off. Then you take a break (traditionally 5 minutes). Then you set the timer again, and repeat the whole thing until you’ve done (traditionally) four sessions of work. Then you take a longer break, and then you do the whole thing all over again.

What this reminded me most of was the 30/10/3 technique for writing that Chris Baty introduced in his NaNoWriMo guide book, No Plot? No Problem!. It works the same way, but with thirty minutes sessions, ten minute breaks, and only three sessions per round. I’ve used that method to great effect during my NaNoWriMos past, especially when the November 30 deadline loomed large. So given all this, I thought I’d give the Pomodoro Technique a try.

I downloaded an app, then grudgingly paid $2 for the “pro” (i.e., fully customizable) version. And I have my rounds set up rather like Chris Baty’s writing method: three 30-minute sessions, with ten minute breaks in between, and a longer 30-minute break at the end. I’ve only been trying this out for the last three days, but it’s working quite well thus far. At least as long as my day doesn’t get derailed by the unforeseeable, that is, like trips out of town to visit family.

I suppose what I’m really hoping to get out of all my pomodoros is a sense of accomplishment, and real movement forward on all my goals. I’m trying to do three rounds a day, which comes out to nine sessions, which is about six hours and change altogether. I certainly have enough time in the day to do all that, it’s just a matter of turning my distraction brain off and getting to work. It’s not really accountable to anyone but me (and the graphs in the app I’ve got), but it’s something. I will cling to anything if it can help me accomplish what I want.

Have you ever tried the Pomodoro Technique, or timed work sessions of some sort? How has it worked out for you? Do you have a different productivity technique that you use? Let me know in the comments!

You Know What Else is Hard? Writing.

Back at the beginning of the month, I set this little goal to have a short story written by the end of October. Well, it’s almost October, and guess what? I have almost nothing to show for it.

Writing is hard. It’s even harder when you’ve got depression. My moods have been up and down all month, and none of that is particularly conducive to getting words down on paper, especially when trying just makes you feel like tearing all your hair out and running into the night screaming. Ugh. So yeah, I’m one of those awful writers who waits for ~inspiration~ in order to write, because if I don’t I end up sometimes literally trying to hurt myself. Which is no good all around.

I have a short story idea. It’s actually a redraft of something I wrote in college. I’ve decided to expand it a little to see what I can get from it. I have a rough outline, and an expanded rough outline, but no actual words written. I’m hoping to change that today, but you just don’t know when the muse is going to cooperate. The only deadline I’ve got is a self-imposed one, unfortunately. I’ve started a little accountability club on my writing group’s forum, and that is something of a help, but that’s about it.

I guess I’m mostly writing this to defend my position. Like. I know the best way to write is to wrestle “the muse” into submission, not patiently wait for her to deliver. I know that waiting for inspiration to hit is a good way to never get anything written. But if trying to write is so awful I want to throw and break things, then that’s not good for me or my writing. Odds are anything I write while I’m so frustrated is going to crap anyway, so why should I torture myself in the name of writing every day? I’d rather write when I’m in a good mood to, and feel I can accomplish things, than make myself do it and turn the whole process into a chore that I hate.

So that’s where I am with the whole writing thing right now. It’s tough, and it’s frustrating to be making so little progress, but I live ever in hope that things will get done. I am giving the whole pomodoro method a whirl today, and I’m hoping I’ll be able to get some writing done while I’m on it.

***

I suppose I could tell you a little about what I’m trying to write. The germ of the story arrived when I was introduced to the TV series Pushing Daisies and the film which inspired large parts of it, Amelie, in short succession. I was taken by the narration of both of these stories–very precise, often funny, and adding a great deal to the hyper-heightened reality of both properties. So I set out to tell a story in this sort of narrative style. I wrote a 2k version of the story, which was about a young woman who was hit by a car and dies, but gets to decide in purgatory whether or not she can keep on living.

The story and the idea have stuck with me in many ways. I used the aftermath of the story as the basis for a short screenplay in university. I rewrote one of the scenes as a writing prompt just last year. And this year I took another look at it and decided a major revision was in order. So I’ve got this idea, and some further ideas about what to do with it. The death and life-choice stand on their own as one piece, but I have since the beginning entertained ideas of making it something bigger.

Right now, however, I just want to focus on getting the short story version written. Maybe we’ll think about doing more… but later. Much, much later. For now, “The Death and Life of Caroline Carver” is a short story.

***

It’s tough when you know you’ve got a half-decent idea, but you can’t seem to draw out the right words to make it happen. I’ve got so many ideas like that. Sometimes it’s mostly planned out in my head, but making it work in actual prose is more difficult than it initially seems. I can’t even say that I put in a decent effort every day, because I don’t. I think about it a lot, but I don’t make things happen on paper. I’m always hoping I can change that, and always disappointed when I don’t follow through for myself.

Oh well. Such is life, I suppose.