Timestamp #244: Hide

Doctor Who: Hide
(1 episode, s07e09, 2013)

Timestamp 244 Hide

A ghost story?

The mystery begins at Caliburn House. It is November 25, 1974, and is the fourth night of Professor Alec Palmer’s attempt to contact an apparition with his psychic assistant Emma Grayling. As they make another attempt, they are interrupted by a knocking at the door. When they answer, they find the Doctor and Clara who claim to be Ghostbusters.

The Doctor poses as an agent of “the Ministry” and claims to know who Alec (a secret war veteran) and Emma are. Photographs by the professor show the same figure in the same pose throughout the history of Caliburn House. The travelers tour the house and get to know the investigators. They also examine the history of the “Witch of the Well” and encounter the ghost.

The Doctor talks with Alec while Clara and Emma share a drink. Alec researches ghosts to avoid the horrors he experienced in wartime, while Clara suggests that Emma and Alec could have a relationship.

After the encounter, the Doctor and Clara return to the TARDIS – She’s like a cat: A bit slow to trust – and take a series of photographs of the ghost throughout Earth’s timeline. Clara laments that she is nothing more than a ghost herself in the Doctor’s eyes, asking what humans are to him. He tells Clara that human beings (or maybe Clara herself?) are the only mystery worth solving.

The Doctor returns them to 1974 and analyzes the series of photographs and Emma consoles Clara, who is disturbed by seeing the end of the world. The Doctor speculates that the ghost is really a time traveler – Hila Tacorien – who is trapped in a pocket universe. Unfortunately, the pocket universe is collapsing and Hila is being chased by an unknown creature.

The Doctor tells Emma that she is the beacon that will lead Hila home. He uses a crystal from Metebelis III connected to a subset of the Eye of Harmony to enhance Emma’s abilities and create a doorway to the pocket universe. The Doctor dives into the pocket universe and locates Hila. He’s able to send her home but ends up trapped himself.

Alec has been apprehensive about Emma’s role in this affair, but to rescue the Doctor he encourages her to try one more time, finally admitting that he loves her. Emma tries to open the portal as Clara rushes to the TARDIS – the time machine sounds the Cloister Bell in alarm – and argues with the voice interface.

She’s annoyed that the voice interface looks just like her, but she soon convinces the TARDIS to break into the pocket universe and rescue the Doctor.

With the crisis abated, the Doctor reveals that he brought Clara to Caliburn House to see Emma, curious about what the psychic senses about his companion. Emma can’t detect anything strange about Clara. The Doctor doesn’t seem entirely pleased with the answer, but he decides that it’s time to move on.

As he and Clara are about to depart, the Doctor reveals that Hila is Emma and Alec’s future descendant. Hila can’t return home since history says that she’s gone missing, but she can remain with Emma and Alec. When he suggests that the two lovebirds hold hands and never let go, he realizes that the creature in the pocket dimension has been trying to reunite with another creature in the house.

After another brief trip to the pocket dimension, the Doctor reunites the creatures and promises to take them to a safe place. It seems, in the end, this was not a ghost story.

It was a love story.


I really like the story overall. We get another discussion of jumping from one universe to another, as well as a refresher on entropy draining the TARDIS power supply. Circle back to the Pete’s World trip for that connection. I also liked the twist, making us think once again about whether or not every creature is an enemy.

The parallels to Ghost Light, The Eternity Trap, and The Talons of Weng-Chiang were a nice touch, as was the decorative headgear: The device used to connect Emma to the Eye of Harmony is very close in design to the one that the Second Doctor used to show his thoughts to Zoe in The Wheel in Space.

We get another dose of star power with Dougray Scott, a man who has been all over the place and was fantastic here, even if I didn’t recognize him at first. It must be the Clark Kent effect with the glasses.

Hila’s fate was a fun bit of timey-wimey business, but it ends up as an after-thought when the true reason for the Doctor’s stop is revealed. This is where this story falls down in my opinion. The Doctor tricks Clara into being a Caliburn House so that he can use Emma’s skills to divine Clara’s secrets, the plot of which feels squicky. It couldn’t be a simple ghost/love story, but instead had to be another chapter in the Doctor’s quest to unravel the Impossible Girl.

That part of the twist just doesn’t sit right with me.

Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”


UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS

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The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Culture on My Mind – The Earth Station One Podcast: The MCU, What’s Next?

Culture on My Mind

Culture on My Mind
The Earth Station One Podcast: The MCU, What’s Next?
March 29, 2022

This week, you get a bonus Culture on My Mind post!

I recently attended Fandemic Tour Atlanta 2022 and guested on a live recording for the Earth Station One podcast. For this recording, we discussed the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Phase Four continues to develop.

For nearly fifteen years, The Marvel Universe has been gracing us with fantastic adventures on screens both big and small. As the MCU enters the next phase, Mike, Michael, and Michael Falkner offer potential answers to the question “What’s Next?” Plus, Mark Maddux assists writer Julian David Stone to bring life to the Geek Seat. All this, along with Angela’s A Geek Girl’s Take, Ashley’s Box Office Buzz, Michelle’s Iconic Rock Moment, Creative Outlet with Austin Janowsky, and Shout Outs!

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You can find this episode on the Earth Station One podcast’s website and wherever fine podcasts are fed. You can also find the ESO Network on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram


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Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

Culture on My Mind – Bram Stoker’s Dracula at 30

Culture on My Mind

Culture on My Mind
Bram Stoker’s Dracula at 30
March 28, 2022

This week, the Dragon Con American Sci-Fi Classics Track loves biters.

On March 24th, the esteemed panel of ToniAnn Marini (on Twitter and The Geeky Devil) and Keith DeCandido (decandido.net and wherever fine books are sold) convened with Joe Crowe and Gary Mitchel to celebrate the lush and extravagant retelling of the classic vampire tale. These creatures of the night made music discussing highs, lows, faithfulness to the novel, and everything it inspired along the way. Cross the oceans of time with them.


These Classic Track Quarantine Panels will be held once every two weeks (or every fortnight, if you will). If you want to play along at home, grab your internet-capable device of choice and navigate the webs to the YouTube channel and/or the group on Facebook. If you join in live, you can also leave comments and participate in the discussion using StreamYard connected through Facebook, YouTube, and Twitch.

If you want to connect with the track, Joe, and/or Gary on the socials, you can find them on Twitter (ClassicTrack, JoeCroweShow, and sneezythesquid) and Instagram (SciFiClassicTrack, JoeCroweShow, and Gary_Mitchel). And, of course, to celebrate more pop culture awesomeness, you can find Dragon Con all year round on the internet, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

The next panel will be on March 31st, just in time for an international day of foolery. It is time to commemorate the anniversary of Steel. You can find all of this and more every other Thursday as the American Sci-Fi Classics Track explores the vast reaches of classic American science fiction.

The episode art each week is generously provided by the talented Sue Kisenwether. You can find her (among other places) on Women at Warp: A Star Trek Podcast.

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Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #243: Cold War

Doctor Who: Cold War
(1 episode, s07e08, 2013)

Timestamp 243 Cold War

Hungry like a wolf.

North Pole, 1983: In the frigid depths, a Soviet submarine conducts an ICBM launch drill. They are interrupted by Professor Grisenko, a man who has secured a certain specimen during this voyage. Captain Zhukov and Lieutenant Stepashin face pressure from NATO exercises on the military front, but thanks to a crewman below decks, they now face a new threat as something emerges from the ice.

Havoc erupts on the submarine as the green armored figure rampages through the boat. As the submarine flails, the TARDIS materializes and the Doctor and Clara rush into the control room looking for Las Vegas. The crew decide to trust the newcomers for the moment as the submarine grounds out on the ocean floor, 700 meters below the surface.

The crew then apprehend the travelers and search the Doctor’s pockets, unveiling all sorts of artifacts. The submarine takes another jolt, knocking Clara unconscious as the TARDIS spontaneously dematerializes. When Clara comes to, the Doctor and the captain are arguing. They stop when the being appears in the control room.

Welcome back, Ice Warriors!

The Doctor informs them that the Ice Warriors are soldiers that demand respect, pleading with the Soviets to stop attacking it. He wagers that the Ice Warrior is confused due to being frozen for 5,000 years and asks its name. The Doctor is shocked to hear that this Ice Warrior is the legendary Grand Marshall Skaldak.

The exchange is stopped when Stepashin knocks the grand marshall down with an electrical charge. After chastizing the lieutenant, the Doctor recommends that Skaldak be locked up. He then explains who the Ice Warriors are to the captain, unaware that Skaldak is signaling his people to save him.

Stepashin wonders if the travelers are western spies, prompting Clara to learn about the TARDIS translation circuits. Captain Zhukov dismisses the lieutenant’s concerns and tasks him to lead damage control efforts. He then talks with the Doctor about the war his lieutenant just declared on the Ice Warriors. In the end, Clara volunteers to act as ambassador to negotiate peace.

The Doctor coaches her through an audio link as Clara talks with the general, but Clara soon discovers that the armor is empty. Skaldak is free and wandering the ship, swearing to retaliate against his enemies. The Doctor recognizes that leaving its armor is one of the most dishonorable things an Ice Warrior can do, therefore the general is now incredibly dangerous. The Doctor retrieves Clara – she is ecstatic over this encounter – and then tries to impress the pressure of the situation on the captain.

The submarine slips on the seamount, adding even more danger to the situation. Meanwhile, the Ice Warrior finds Stepashin and extracts knowledge of the Cold War and the theory of mutually assured destruction from his mind.

Captain Zhukov gives the heroic speech to his crew: The reactor is down, they only have battery power, and they’re running out of air. All of that aside, they still have a mission to stop the Grand Marshall before he gains control of any of the nuclear missiles. They are all that stands between him and the destruction of the world.

Clara and the Doctor talk about the nature of time, realizing that history can be changed and rewritten, so world destruction is still a possibility. The Doctor agrees to help the captain search for Skaldak, happy to have his sonic screwdriver returned. Clara teams up with Professor Grisenko – the professor has a cattle prod to ward off polar bears and a wants to sing Hungry Like the Wolf – as the Doctor tinkers ahead of them. This team rushes when they hear screaming, coming across the bodies of two crewmen who were dismembered as Skaldak tests human weaknesses.

The Doctor gets a fix on Skaldak and orders Clara to stay put. He’s surprised that she doesn’t argue, leaving her to chat with the professor as he moves on. Clara admits that she was bothered by the bodies and the deaths.

The chase continues through the submarine. As the professor and Clara exchange small talk, Skaldak doubles back and grabs Clara. When Grisenko shoots the Ice Warrior, he shifts to the professor and declares his intent to destroy humanity. Since they fired on him first, he has every right under Martian law to obliterate them.

As Skaldak signals his armor through sonic signal, the Doctor attempts to negotiate. The grand marshall enters his armor when it arrives and heads for the control room. There he begins the launch sequence for the warheads, but the Doctor pleads with him, appealing in the name of mercy. When Skaldak doesn’t yield, the Doctor threatens to destroy the submarine in order to stop him.

In the face of mutually assured destruction, Skaldak faces the Doctor and opens his helmet, wondering who will blink first. Clara steps in and pleads for compassion. Her case is won when the submarine is snared by a spaceship that raises it to the surface. The Doctor asks him to leave in peace, but is worried when the Ice Warrior is transported away while the warheads are still armed.

The situation ends when the launch systems are remotely disarmed, prompting a celebratory hug from Clara to the Doctor.

The Doctor, Captain Zhukov, the professor, and Clara go to the bridge to gaze upon the Martian ship. Clara asks the Doctor what happened to the TARDIS, of which the Doctor confesses that he reactivated the Hostile Action Displacement System (HADS). Even though he hasn’t used it for a while, he knows that it will pop up eventually. On cue, the sonic reports that the TARDIS has fled to the South Pole.

Embarrassed, he asks the captain for a lift and they all laugh. The Doctor offers a salutes the Ice Warrior ship as it flies away.


As a former submariner, I tend to keep an eye on certain things while watching submarine-based works like this. I was pretty impressed with the technical accuracy in this one with one exception.

The Firebird initially looked like a Typhoon-class ballistic missile sub, which is usually what one thinks of with respect to Cold War Soviet boats. I mean, look no further than The Hunt for Red October (both the novel and the film). But the Firebird was actually a Soviet Delta – either a Delta II (Project 667BD Murena-M) or a Delta III (Project 667BDR Kalmar) depending on which source you look at – a class of boats that was introduced in 1973 and are still in service under their third and fourth designs today.

The technical exception was the maximum depth of the Delta hull. The Firebird grounded out at around 700 meters (3000 feet), but the Delta can only go to 400 meters (1300 feet) as far as we know. From experience, the depth in this story is really deep and unrealistic for a nuclear-powered submarine.

(I was also impressed with the crew accuracy. At this point in submarine history, the silent service was still a “boy’s club”, so Clara was rightfully the only woman in the episode. We haven’t seen that in Doctor Who since The Power of Kroll.)

Also, this point in history was a hot one for a cold war. The Able Archer 83 exercises, which simulated a DEFCON 1 status and a coordinated worldwide nuclear attack, terrified the already paranoid Soviet Union. They honestly believed that the simulation was obscuring a real attack so they placed the East German and Polish forces on alert. There were other close calls throughout the year, including one famous incident where the world should have been destroyed except for one cool-headed Soviet radar operator who correctly interpreted a missile on his screen as an equipment malfunction.

The paranoia in the story was reality.

Technical stuff aside, this story played well with that paranoia and was a well-crafted suspense thriller that balanced body count against a very tightly focused plot. Let’s face it: Not much really happened in this story, but it still adequately filled the runtime.

It was also chock full of powerful guest stars. I know Liam Cunningham best from Game of Thrones, David Warner from Star Trek IV: The Undiscovered Country, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Batman: The Animated Series, and TRON (and, of course, Dreamland), and Tobias Menzies from The Crown, Outlander, and Star Wars: Rebels, but all three of these men have extensive histories in film and television.

That’s not even mentioning Spencer Wilding (The God Complex and The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe) and Nicholas Briggs (pretty much every revival era Dalek, Judoon, Cyberman, and Zygon, as well as various creatures, having been around since Rose).

That powerhouse cast really propelled this story beyond its thin plot to a fun time overall.

It’s good to see the Ice Warriors back. At this point, they’d been absent for 39 years. Amusingly, theplot device of thawing out a Martian was also used in the debut of the Ice Warriors. It was fun to expand on them a bit with the armor mythology, which also served to boost Clara’s character as she negotiated with Skaldak.

I also really liked the threat of extermination in this story. Time is not concrete and this incident was not a fixed point in time, so if the Doctor and Clara had failed then the Earth would have been destroyed. I dig the fact that they have worldwide stakes to deal with.

I just hope that someone told the Doctor that he and Clara are sailing for another 10 to 20 days. They’re definitely going to need fresh clothes and a shower when they get where they’re going.

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”


UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Hide

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The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Culture on My Mind – Spread Love

Culture on My Mind

Culture on My Mind
Spread Love
March 21, 2022

The week, I have the wisdom of Nyakim Gatwech on my mind.

Nyakim Gatwech is an Ethiopian-born American model of South Sudanese descent. Her dark skin color has earned her the nickname “Queen of the Dark”, and while she has faced self-esteem issues and comments from people who promote bleaching to lighten skin color, she has learned to embrace her beauty and pigmentation with love and support from her fans. Her quote about love can be found among many other affirmations on her Instagram page.

If people can hate for no reason, you can love for no reason. Spread love ❤️ .

—Nyakim Gatwech

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Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

STEAM Saturday – Space Telescope Milestone, Remembering Eugene Parker, and the Atlanta Science Festival

STEAMSaturday

STEAM Saturday
Space Telescope Milestone, Remembering Eugene Parker, and the Atlanta Science Festival
March 19, 2022

In this edition, we look at a Webb Space Telescope milestone and remember Eugene Parker, the namesake for NASA’s solar probe.

STEAMHeadlines

NASA – NASA’s Webb Reaches Alignment Milestone, Optics Working Successfully (Mar 16, 2022)
Following the completion of critical mirror alignment steps, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope team expects that Webb’s optical performance will be able to meet or exceed the science goals the observatory was built to achieve.

Scientific American – Eugene Parker, Namesake of NASA’s Sun-Touching Spacecraft, Dies at Age 94 (Mar 17, 2022)
The eminent astrophysicist changed the way we view our home star.

Space.com – NASA’s new moon rocket, its most powerful ever, rolls out for 1st time (Mar 18, 2022)
The Artemis 1 moon rocket is NASA’s first Space Launch System booster.

Scientific American – Even Mild COVID Can Increase the Risk of Heart Problems (Mar 16, 2022)
Scientists are just starting to unravel the disease’s long-term cardiac effects.

NPR – A man who got the 1st pig heart transplant has died after 2 months (Mar 9, 2022)
The first person to receive a heart transplant from a pig has died, two months after the groundbreaking experiment, the Maryland hospital that performed the surgery announced.

Atlanta Science Festival For my local readers, the Atlanta Science Festival is being held from March 12 to March 26, 2022. The Atlanta Science Festival is an annual celebration of the world-class learning and STEM career opportunities in metro Atlanta, featuring 100+ engaging events for curious kids and adults at venues all across the region.


STEAMSci

The Science & Entertainment Exchange – The Science & Entertainment Exchange is a program of the National Academy of Sciences that provides entertainment industry professionals with access to top scientists and engineers to help bring the reality of cutting-edge science to creative and engaging storylines.

PBS Space Time – PBS Space Time explores the outer reaches of space, the craziness of astrophysics, the possibilities of sci-fi, and anything else you can think of beyond Planet Earth.


STEAMTech

Today I Found Out – Today I Found Out is a place to learn something new and interesting every day, brought to the internet by a host of various scientific contributors.

Becky Stern – Becky Stern is a maker living in NYC– making and sharing are her two biggest passions!

 


STEAMEng

Kyle Hill – Kyle Hill is a science educator with degrees in civil and environmental engineering and science communication. He previously hosted the popular Because Science YouTube series, but now runs The Facility.

Megaprojects – Megaprojects is a YouTube channel which goes into detail on the history about all of humanities greatest achievements and structures.

 


STEAMArt

Charlie the Maker – A woodturner and artist based in the United Kingdom (and the son of Nick Zammeti), Charlie focuses on projects that artists of any age can accomplish.

Ben’s Worx – Ben is a maker from Queensland, Australia who has always had an interest in woodworking. He makes all kinds of things from wood, metal, plastics, and epoxy resin, and loves to experiment in the name of entertainment.

 


STEAMMath

Alex Yard & Knuckles – Enjoy some video game music theory videos with Alex Yard.

8-bit Music Theory – This YouTuber love music, video games, and analyzing and talking about music from video games. He promises that if you are a big nerd, you’ll love it too!


STEAMMulti

Frank Howarth – A Portland, Oregon based architect and woodworker, Frank Howarth uses stop-motion animation to demonstrate his design and building process for a variety of projects and art pieces.

Glen and Friends – Glen and Julie Powell of Toronto host this look into recipes from the Depression Era, including if those recipes still work or can be improved in the modern day. It’s a great look into history and how cooking is both science and art.

Corridor Crew – Corridor Digital is an American production studio based in Los Angeles, known for creating pop-culture-related viral online short-form videos since 2010, as well as producing and directing the Battlefield-inspired web series Rush and the YouTube Premium series Lifeline.

TED Talks – TED Conferences, LLC is an American media organization that posts talks online for free distribution under the slogan “ideas worth spreading”. TED Talks are influential videos from expert speakers on education, business, science, tech and creativity, with subtitles in 100+ languages. TED also manages TED-Ed and TEDx forums.


If you have any suggestions for STEAM Saturday, please leave them below in the comments. If your suggestion is used, your name will be credited.

Disclaimer: Please note that any sponsored content or advertising presented in videos and/or links highlighted in STEAM Saturday are not necessarily endorsed or supported by Creative Criticality. Pursue such content and offers at your own risk.

Thanks for stopping by. I hope that something inspired you to get out there and explore the universe.

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STEAM Saturday is a celebration of curiosity and imagination through science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics, the very building blocks of the universe around us.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #242: The Rings of Akhaten

Doctor Who: The Rings of Akhaten
(1 episode, s07e07, 2013)

Timestamp 242 The Rings of Akhaten

Dining on infinity.

A brisk wind blows the autumn leaves, particularly one large red leaf that flies into a man’s face. As the man stumbles into the street, a woman saves him from being run over. The pair begin a relationship around that leaf — the most important leaf in human history — and eventually have a child named Clara Oswald.

That girl later mourns her mother who died on March 5, 2005. The Doctor, who has been watching Clara through all of these events, laments that she cannot be possible.

Back in 2013, Clara is sitting with her book and waits for the Doctor. When he arrives, she rushes to meet him and asks about the nature of time, space, and travel in both. When asked, she decides that she wants to see something awesome.

So, he takes her to the rings of Akhaten. Among those rings is a pyramid, a holy site for the Sun-singers of Akhet, a people of this seven-world system that believe that all life in the universe originated on Akhaten. The Doctor tells Clara that it’s a nice story they believe, but indulges her wish to take a closer look.

In the market near the pyramid, the Doctor introduces Clara to Pan-Babylonians, a Lugalirakush, some Eukanians, a Hooloovoo, and an Ultramanta. He does a ritual greeting with a Terraberserker of the Cadonian Belt, then mentions that he forgot how much he liked it there. After all, he’s been there once before while traveling with his granddaughter.

Clara is shocked. She runs after him and samples a glowing blue fruit, but isn’t impressed with the flavor. She also encounters Dor’een, a being that barks to communicate. It’s odd that the TARDIS translation circuits haven’t kicked in fully for Clara, but the Doctor helps by translating that Dor’een wants to rent Clara a moped. The cost is a sentimental object, using payment through psychometry. Clara doesn’t like the idea of giving up something important in trade, but it’s not much different than exchanging valuable bits of paper.

Clara turns her back for a moment, losing the Doctor but running into a little girl in crimson robes. When the girl runs off, two men in similar attire approach and ask if she’s seen the Queen of Years. Clara is confused and pursues the girl to a junkyard. After a spell, the two cross paths again. The girl says that she’s hiding but Clara just wants to help. She offers to take Merry Galel to the TARDIS as masked creatures continue to search for her.

The TARDIS refuse to open for Clara, prompting her to think that the box doesn’t like her. The duo take refuge behind the TARDIS and Merry explains that she is the Queen of Years. She was chosen for the role as a baby when the previous Queen died. She knows every story, poem, legend, and song of their culture. She’s scared because she has to sing a special song to their god to keep him from waking. Clara consoles her about fear, telling the queen that she’ll get the song right before taking her back to the men in red robes that were looking for her.

The Doctor finally finds Clara, asking what she’s been up to while munching on one of the blue fruits. Clara tells him that she’s been exploring. They then go see Merry sing her song, a duet with a man in red robes at the pyramid who sings before a mummy-like being. The Doctor reads the program and tells her that it is the Long Song, a song to keep the Old God, also known as the Grandfather, asleep. Members of the audience hold up offerings of sentimental value to feed the Old God, and the Doctor joins in the song.

The Chorister in the pyramid falters and a golden energy seizes Merry, pulling her toward the pyramid. The Doctor leaves the scene, which Clara interprets as running away before the Doctor corrects her, and rents a moped with Clara’s mother’s ring. Together, they race into the rings to save Merry, but they barely miss her before touching down at the pyramid.

The Doctor is unable to unlock the doorway right away. Inside the pyramid, the Old God begins to awaken, but the Doctor finally breaks the lock’s code and raises the door. Merry refuses to leave, believing that her failure is her fault. The Old God feeds on souls, and Merry believes that it wants hers.

The Doctor releases the door and enters the pyramid. The Chorister flees, claiming that the Long Song ended with him, and the Old God awakens. The Doctor tells Merry that they didn’t wake him. Instead, the being woke because it was time to wake up. Merry is as a sacrifice, and if she’s going to be so voluntarily, he wants her to know why: Every time the Old God threatens to waken, the Queen of Years is offered as a sacrifice to put him back to sleep as it feeds on her story.

He explains: “Souls are made up of stories. People we lost. People we found against all odds.” He calms Merry by telling a story that she doesn’t know. She is unique in the universe and there won’t be another person like her. If Merry doesn’t offer herself, everything will be fine.

The Old God begins to crack the glass case around it and the masked beings arrive to secure Merry for the sacrifice. The Doctor is able to use his sonic screwdriver to overcome the guards while Clara asks Merry to sing the door open. Merry and Clara run for the moped as the Doctor holds the guards at bay, but as the being breaks the glass, the Doctor realizes that he’s made an error.

The beast was an alarm clock. The real Old God Akhaten is inside the star, and now that it’s awake it is hungry. Very hungry.

The Doctor decides to fight Akhaten as Clara returns Merry to the platform. He faces down the star as Merry sings and he begins to tell it a new story. The story of his own experiences over all of his known lives.

“I walked away from the last great time war. I marked the passing of the Time Lords. I saw the birth of the universe and I watched as time ran out. Moment by moment until nothing remained, no time, no space, just me! I walked in universes where the laws of physics were devised by the mind of a mad man! And I watched universes freeze and creations burn! I have seen things you wouldn’t believe! I have lost things you will never understand! And I know things, secrets that must never be told, knowledge that must never be spoken! Knowledge that would make parasite gods blaze! SO COME ON THEN! TAKE IT! TAKE IT ALL, BABY! HAVE IT! YOU HAVE IT ALL!

Akhaten feeds on these experiences, and as the beast appears to return to slumber, the Doctor collapses. Unfortuantely, Akhaten isn’t quite sated. Clara recalls her mother’s words and returns to the Doctor’s side, offering the red leaf. The most important leaf in human history, full of her mother’s lost life and a future that never happened. Akhaten feeds on the infinite potential of that leaf, eventually falling asleep for good.

The Doctor returns Clara to her home, at which point Clara realizes that she saw the Doctor at her mother’s funeral. He tells her that she reminds him of someone he knew who died, but Clara tells him that she shouldn’t see her as a replacement.

The Doctor agrees, returning her mother’s ring. The people she saved wanted her to have it back. As Clara returns home, the Doctor looks on after her with a grim expression.


During this first adventure in the TARDIS to an alien planet, we find out that Clara’s mother died on March 5, 2005, the same day as the Auton invasion of Earth. It’s possible that she was a victim of that invasion, but not established.

What I really like about this story centers on the costume and set design, which exemplify this era of wonder and exploration in Doctor Who. Just look at all of the alien creatures in the bazaar! I also enjoy Clara’s sincerity, empathy, and innocence at this point in her journeys.

This is the first time in a while (either The Girl Who Waited or Asylum of the Daleks, depending on how you count the undercover Dalek puppets) that a story didn’t include an extensive cast of human characters and didn’t really link back to Earth. Clara is pretty much the only human in the story, and Earth only appears in establishing bookends instead of being the story’s setting. It’s refreshing.

I also like the Long Song – Emilia Jones has a beautiful singing voice – and the solution to feeding the beast of Ahkaten. The story falls apart though in Clara’s sacrifice: I’m not a big fan of her having to give up something so incredibly precious to travel with the Doctor, despite the obvious callback to the beginning of the tale. It’s almost like she’s being required to give up the core of who she is for the privilege.

That said, it can also be looked at as being pushed to grow beyond her self-established boundaries.

Either way, I guess that’s what gives the story so much power. It’s inducing strong emotions in the telling and the analysis, which is one measure of good storytelling.

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”


UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Cold War

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The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Culture on My Mind – Battle of the Fictional Bands 2022

Culture on My Mind

Culture on My Mind
Battle of the Fictional Bands 2022
March 14, 2022

The week, the Dragon Con American Sci-Fi Classics Track is all about that music. The nerdy music that drove our childhoods and still pilots our geeky souls.

On March 10th, the gonzo panel of ToniAnn Marini (on Twitter and The Geeky Devil), Leigh Tyberg (The Salacious Crumbles), Keith DeCandido (decandido.net and wherever fine books are sold), Kevin Cafferty (Gleaming the Tube), Kevin Eldridge (The Flopcast), and Shaun Rosado (pneumaz on Twitter), joined Joe Crowe and Gary Mitchel for the panel that was so popular last year that it became five, including one at Dragon Con itself. Welcome back to the tour, but let’s just forget about those green M&Ms.


These Classic Track Quarantine Panels will be held once every two weeks (or every fortnight, if you will). If you want to play along at home, grab your internet-capable device of choice and navigate the webs to the YouTube channel and/or the group on Facebook. If you join in live, you can also leave comments and participate in the discussion using StreamYard connected through Facebook, YouTube, and Twitch.

If you want to connect with the track, Joe, and/or Gary on the socials, you can find them on Twitter (ClassicTrack, JoeCroweShow, and sneezythesquid) and Instagram (SciFiClassicTrack, JoeCroweShow, and Gary_Mitchel). And, of course, to celebrate more pop culture awesomeness, you can find Dragon Con all year round on the internet, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

The next panel will be on March 24th. The docket contains a famous bloodsucker and a bonus panel that shall remain nameless for now, and there are always more on the way. You can find all of this and more every other Thursday as the American Sci-Fi Classics Track explores the vast reaches of classic American science fiction.

The episode art each week is generously provided by the talented Sue Kisenwether. You can find her (among other places) on Women at Warp: A Star Trek Podcast.

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Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

ATL Comic Convention + Fandemic World Tour Atlanta 2022

ATL Comic Convention + Fandemic World Tour Atlanta 2022
Atlanta, GA – March 18 through March 20, 2022
ACCFandemic

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s been a few years since I have visited Atlanta Comic Con. It’s one of Atlanta’s smaller conventions but it’s also a fun escape in the middle of the summer before Dragon Con rolls in.

This year, Atlanta Comic Con changed course, moving from their typical mid-July schedule to something a little closer to the Vernal Equinox.

Hey ATL friends,
July was too far away and we couldn’t wait that long to see all our amazing ATL Comic Convention attendees, so we joined forces with our friends at Fandemic World Tour Atlanta to bring you an even BIGGER and BETTER show! Fandemic is happening March 18-20, 2022 at the Georgia World Congress Center Building B.

So, next week, you can find me at the Georgia World Congress Center on the Saturday and Sunday of the event. I don’t have a definite schedule yet, but I plan to be there on panels with Mike Faber and Michael Gordon of The ESO Network as we talk about Doctor Who, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Podcasting 101.

UPDATE (3/18/22): The tentative programming schedule has been added to the website. 

So You Want to Start a Podcast? – Saturday 1:30PM – 2:15PM, Room B203

Doctor Who: Out With the Old, In With the New – Sunday 12:30PM – 1:15PM, B203 [Recorded for Earth Station Who]

The MCU: What Now? – Sunday 2:30PM – 3:15PM, B203 [Recorded for Earth Station One]

The convention will also have quite a few celebrity guests, including Sebastian Stan, Norman Reedus, Michael Rooker, James Marsters, John Barrowman, Jeffery Dean Morgan, Pom Klementieff, and more. More information, including ticketing information, can be found on their website.

I hope to see you there!

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Timestamp #241: The Bells of Saint John

Doctor Who: The Bells of Saint John
(1 episode, s07e06, 2013)

Timestamp 241 The Bells of Saint John

The clever boy rides.

Prequel

A little girl finds the Doctor sitting on a swing in a playground. The Doctor is sad because he can’t find his “friend”, but the girl is friendly despite her mother’s warning not to talk to strange men. The little girl offers some advice about finding lost items before returning to her mother.

The girl’s mother scolds her for talking to a stranger. It turns out that the little girl is none other than Clara Oswald.

The Bells of Saint John

A man warns the world against attaching to strange public wifi networks. Which, you know, is wise advice under any circumstance. But this warning also adds a little bit of The Ring to the story: Within 24 hours of connecting to the strange network, a user’s soul is extracted into the internet where it screams in the cybernetic void.

The man knows what he speaks. He is one of the lost souls.

Shifting to Cumbria in 1207, a monk sends warning that the bells of Saint John are ringing. The Abbot informs the “mad monk”, the man known as the Doctor who asks for a horse. As the Doctor prepares, the Abbot looks upon a painting of “the woman twice dead”, remarking that if the Doctor is mad, the mystery around the woman is his madness.

In London, circa 2013, Clara Oswald has trouble connecting to the internet. George is leaving with a boy named Artie while Clara keeps track of Angie. She also remarks on Artie’s choice of reading material – Summer Falls by Amelia Williams – noting that Chapter Eleven is the best because it makes the reader cry.

Back in Cumbria, the Doctor and the monks arrive in a cave where the TARDIS is parked. The exterior phone is ringing, which isn’t supposed to happen, and it connects the Doctor to Clara through the help line that a “woman in the shop” gave her. The help line is supposed to be the best in the universe, after all. When Clara tries to connect to the Maitland family wifi, she asks Angie for the password. It is “RYCBAR123”, remembered by the mnemonic “Run you clever boy and remember.”

Of course, the Doctor remembers the phrase and startles Clara. Clara inadvertently connects to the strange network, starting her twenty-four hour clock before running to answer the door. There she finds the Doctor, dressed in monk robes, pounding on the door and excited to meet her.

On the other side of the strange network, an analyst named Alexei remarks that Clara is “borderline,” being clever without much computer skill. His boss, Rosemary Kizlet, his superior, orders him to upload Clara anyway and supplement her with a computer skills package. With the promise that Alexei will activate the “Spoonheads”, Kizlet returns to her office and discusses Alexei with a man named Mahler. They agree to kill the analyst after he returns from holiday, then discuss Mahler’s worry that they’re uploading too many people too quickly. Kizlet tries to comfort him while manipulating his senses of conscience, paranoia, obedience, and IQ. After Mahler leaves to carry out Kizlet’s orders, she raises his obedience level to the maxmum.

At the house, Clara is unconvinced to let the robe-clad stranger in. As she turns to go back upstairs, a little girl comes down to meet her. This strange girl is the same girl from the Summer Falls book cover, and she also has a spoon-shaded indent in the back of her head. Clara backs away in fear.

The Doctor returns to the TARDIS for a change of clothes, donning a purple cashmere coat and matching bow tie. He rushes back to the house to find Clara unconscious with her screaming voice trapped in the Spoonhead. The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to analyze the robotic base station before using Clara’s laptop to reverse the connection and restore Clara’s consciousness.

He also leaves a message for Alexei, Mahler, and Kizlet: “UNDER MY PROTECTION – The Doctor”. Kizlet immediately contacts her client with news that the Doctor has arrived.

The Doctor tidies up while Clara rests, even adding a plate of Jammie Dodgers nearby. He flips through a book of hers and finds a dried red maple leaf, then steps outside to guard her while she sleeps. Clara joins him some time later and the Doctor recounts everything that she missed: Angie is staying with her friend Nina, Clara’s father called to complain about the government, he fixed the washing machine, optimized the photosynthesises of the plants, organized the food pantry, and reassembled a broken Quadricycle. Okay, that last one? He invented the Quadricycle.

He also promises to stand watch while Clara sleeps, but she decides to come downstairs to him. While she gathers a cup of tea and a folding chair, Kizlet’s team watches them and plots. The Doctor explains the internet eating souls to Clara, which she equates to Twitter – she’s not wrong – and the pair realize that Clara has gained a greater knowledge of computers from being partially uploaded. The Doctor spots a Spoonhead and the lights around the neighborhood switching on. There’s also an airplane plummeting down on their position. Kizlet is intent on removing the Doctor and Clara from the equation.

Against her wishes, the Doctor rushes Clara into the TARDIS. She’s amazed as the Doctor makes a short hop through space into the falling airplane. The passengers and crew are switched off through the wifi, so the Doctor manages to pull the plane out of the nosedive and revive the people onboard. As the Doctor and Clara return to the TARDIS, Kizlet demands that her team locate the blue box.

The Doctor promises to explain everything over breakfast, dropping the TARDIS into a group of people who cheer the materialization as performance art while the Doctor retrieves his motorcycle from the garage. The pair ride to a café for breakfast as Kizlet’s team processes cell phone photos for the TARDIS, the Doctor, and Clara.

The Doctor and Clara use the laptop to hack the webcams at Kizlet’s office and cross-reference the imagery through various social networks to find their adversary’s location: They work at the Shard.

The Doctor leaves to get more coffee, talking to several people who are being controlled remotely along the way. Kizlet explains that her client feeds of the neural energy of humanity, similar to a farmer slaughtering cattle for harvest. She notes that Clara is not as safe as he thinks, and he soon discovers that Clara has been uploaded by a Spoonhead duplicate of the Doctor.

Furious, the Doctor rides his motorcycle to the Shard, using an anti-gravity feature to ride up the side of the Shard and literally break into Kizlet’s office. He demands that Kizlet restore Clara and the entire data cloud into their bodies. For those who no longer have a body, their deaths would ensure release from the living virtual hell.

Oh, and the Doctor? He’s still at the café. He sent his Spoonhead duplicate which has now uploaded Kizlet as motivation to restore everyone to the living world. The Spoonhead uses Kizlet’s tablet to boost Mahler’s obedience and he follows her demand to be released by emptying the entire cloud.

Clara wakes up at the café, but the Doctor has gone. Meanwhile, as UNIT storms the Shard, Kizlet reports her failure to her client. As the Great Intelligence bids her farewell, it orders Kizlet to reset herself and every one of her co-workers to their “factory settings”. Everyone is restored to who they were before the Great Intelligence’s plot began, including Kizlet who is now a scared child.

This plot has been going on for some time.

Back at the Maitland residence, Clara sees the TARDIS outside and goes to see the Doctor. He invites her to travel with him. She declines, telling him to come back the next day and ask her again because she might say yes. After she leaves, the Doctor returns to the console, dialing up the next day as he declares that it’s time to find out who she is.


As mid-season returns go, this one is a great season premiere. It pushes a soft-reset while giving the new companion a bright spotlight in which to play. This version of Clara is a bit less flirty than her predecessors (wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey) but still definitely herself in the end. You know, despite the fact that she has no idea who Oswin or Clara Oswin are.

The return of the Great Intelligence was a neat trick, as was the allusion that this plot was long-reaching.  I especially liked the story and its connection to modern technology and our obsession with it. The plot itself is reminiscent of The Idiot’s Lantern. It’s also quite fun when real-life landmarks like the Shard are used in the plot.

The rapid-fire introduction of Clara to the TARDIS as they saved the nosediving airplane was a heart-pounding ride. Of course, I have to ignore the basic logisitics of that save since there is no place neither wide nor tall enough to park the TARDIS on a Boeing 737.

The switcheroo with the Doctor and the Spoonhead was a nice nod to The Android Invasion. The “short hop” discussion was a fun callback to the other times that such trips were difficult, such as The Seeds of DeathState of DecayArmy of Ghosts, and (most recently) Dinosaurs on a Spaceship

Overall, a good time and a fun start to the next run of adventures.

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”


UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Rings of Akhaten

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The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.