Well, last Sunday my pal John Ostrander did a lovely and quite informative column around his inability to come up with a topic. And tomorrow, my pal Denny O’Neil has an equally interesting column addressing the same basic issue. So, damn, I’d look pretty lame if I pulled the same stunt today, wouldn’t I?
Yeah, I know. I should be used to that.
So, instead of impressing you with my astonishing ability to wax on for 591 words about how there’s an echo chamber between my ears – it’s August; there’s supposed to be an echo chamber between my ears… or, at least, the Attica! chant – I’m going to write up a couple of paragraphs about a comic book show I’ll be doing in 15 days. Stream of consciousness, to paraphrase Kris Kristofferson, means you have nothing left to lose.
Danny Fingeroth, who’s name will magically reappear in Denny’s column tomorrow, finally found the one way to get me out to Chicago’s Wizard World show August 24 – 27. No, it’s not the availability of that wondrous delight, the Italian beef sammich. I get back to Chicago three or four times a year, so that’s not quite a deal maker.
No, Danny suggested we do a panel about America’s first mammoth Doctor Who convention, held as part of the Chicago Comicon (since sold to Wizard World) way back in 1982. Larry Charet, who, along with Bob Weinberg and me, were sponsors of the Comicon back then and Doctor Who had pretty much just taken a serious hold among American geekdom. We massively underestimated the number of folks who would be interested in attending… by… well… a lot. We made the Chicago Fire Department nervous, which, historically, is a dick move. We made the American Nazi Party nervous as well, but you’ll have to attend our panel in order to find out why.
I believe this was one of the first, if not the first, Doctor Who show that attracted the attention of a 15-year old named John Barrowman, who had been living in nearby Joliet Illinois at the time. John also will be a guest at Wizard World, so hopefully, I’ll be able to find out. Not that we’re taking credit for inspiring the man who became Captain Jack Harkness on Doctor Who and on Torchwood… but, with him no longer part of Arrow (at least for the time being), maybe the good folks at BBC-Wales can get him back to the timey-wimey stuff.
Of course, going home for Wizard World puts me back in the neighborhood of a hell of a lot of friends, as well as a gaggle of good folks that I haven’t pissed off for a while. Writers, artists, retailers, media folks, actors, broadcasters – it’s a fun place to be. And I’ve always had a great time at Wizard World Chicago, even though it’s actually in Rosemont Illinois, a town sandwiched in between the City of Chicago and the Airport of O’Hare. If you go there, check out Rosemont’s water tower and, if there are children around, try not to laugh out loud.
A month later, I’ll be at the Baltimore Comic-Con, one of my favorites. A damn good show run by damn good people.
That’s the reason we started these big comic book shows. Friendship, seeing people from all over the planet and making rude and obnoxious comments about the high price of stabbed comic books.
At least, we think those are comic books in there. Outside of the cover… who knows?
This week fandom was set on its ear by the announcement of the newest person to play the Doctor on BBC’s venerable sci/fi TV show, Doctor Who. (If you don’t already know, the Doctor is a time-traveling alien with the ability to regenerate himself into an entirely new body and persona when his current body is on the point of dying.) There have been 12 such regenerations so far; Jodie Whittaker will be the 13th and the first woman to play the part. Joanna Lumley was a female Doctor for a sketch some years back – written by Steven Moffet, no less – but that is not considered canon.
Predictably, there has been some negative fan reaction, although the bulk that I have seen has been overwhelmingly positive. This kind of change often provokes this kind of reaction. When it was announced that the captain on the next Star Trek series coming out (Star Trek: Discovery) was going to be a woman, there was similar booing and hooing.
I can sort of understand. Fans can be conservative; they want what they like to be the same but different only not too different. There have been times when, as a fan, I was somewhat resistant to change. A prime complaint has been that young boys are losing a role model and there aren’t that many heroes who depend on their wits and smarts rather than their fists. Even one of the actors who played an earlier Doctor, Peter Davison, has voiced this objection. However, my feeling is that these young boys have 12 other incarnations to use as a role model. Young girls have been expected to use the male Doctor as a role model; giving them one who looks like them after fifty years of the show being broadcast doesn’t seem to me to be unreasonable.
My late wife, Kim Yale, was a huge Doctor Who fan (as am I) and she used to dress as Tom Baker’s Doctor to cosplay at conventions before cosplay was a big thing. She would have been over the moon about this. My partner, Mary Mitchell, certainly is and has pointed out that having the 13th Doctor be a female is very appropriate since 13 is a “female number” as there are 13 moon cycles in a year.
To me, what ultimately matters is what character do they create and how good are the stories that they tell. When you’ve worked for a long time on a given project, as a writer you look for ways to shake things up and make them fresh. On my book GrimJack, I once killed off the main character and then brought him back and later on, replaced him with an entirely different incarnation (yes, I was a big Doctor Who fan at the time and, yes, that influenced the change a lot). I intended to keep doing that from time to time. And one of the later incarnations I had planned was a female GrimJack. That probably would have incited some comment as well. We just never got to it.
So I’m very pleased with the selection of the new Doctor and hopefully the stories that will come of it. I hope the new showrunner will explore the change and what it means.
One last interesting note: I read that Ms. Whittaker will be paid the same salary as the actor who preceded her, Peter Capaldi. No wage disparity in the time vortex.
I was going to get political again this week, but it’s too goddamn depressing. Here are some headlines just from yesterday, courtesy of that #FakeNews Enemy of the People publication, that “old Grey Lady,” the New York Times:
E.P.A. Chief Voids Obama-Era Rules In Blazing Start
Medicaid Plan Risks Changing Life For Millions
‘I’m President And They’re Not’: Trump Attack Brings Crowd To Its Feet
Trump Administration Targets Parents In New Immigration Crackdown
And then there are the tweets. After Il Tweetci the Mad – formerly known as “Il Trumpci the Mad” – went on a rampage against Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough this past Thursday – what the fuck is with his obsession over women and blood? How the hell did Ivanka, Marla, and Melania ever get pregnant, much less get near enough to a “man” who is so phobic over natural functions to allow it to happen? It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s one of those guys who has to obsessively shower the minute the act is over – he again went after what is apparently his favorite news media target yesterday morning with this from the Washington Post, another #FakeNews Enemy of the People” publication:
“A day after defending his use of social media as befitting a ‘modern day’
president, President Trump appeared to promote violence against CNN in a tweet.
“Trump, who is on vacation at his Bedminster golf resort, posted on Twitter an old video clip of him performing in a WWE professional wrestling match, but with a CNN logo superimposed on the head of his opponent. In the clip, Trump is shown slamming the CNN avatar to the ground and pounding him with simulated punches and elbows to the head. Trump added the hashtags #FraudNewsCNN and #FNN, for ‘fraud news network.’”
What the hell is with that “man” and CNN? Did Jane Fonda once laugh in his face, and then went on to marry CNN’s founder, Ted Turner? Is it a secret beef with Ted Turner himself, some kind of schoolboy rivalry?
And then there’s this, again from the Washington Post:
“This year, top White House staff members warned that the National Enquirer was planning to publish a negative article about us unless we begged the president to have the story spiked,” Brzezinski andScarborough wrote in The Washington Post. “We ignored their desperate pleas.”
On their MSNBC show, Brzezinski and Scarborough elaborated.
Scarborough: They said if you call the president up and you apologize for your coverage, then he will pick up the phone and basically spike the story. I had, I will just say, three people at the very top of the administration calling me. And the response waslike, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I don’t know what they have. Run a story. I’m not going to do it.
“The calls kept coming and kept coming, and they were like, “Call. You need to call. Please call. Come on, Joe, just pick up the phone and call him.”
Brzezinski: “And let me explain what they were threatening. They were calling my children. They were calling close friends of mine.”
Scarborough: “You’re talking about the National Enquirer, yeah.
Brzezinski: “And they were pinning the story on my ex-husband, who would absolutely never do that, so I knew immediately it was a lie and that they had nothing. And these calls persisted for some time, and then Joe had the conversations he had withthe White House, where they said, “Oh, this could go away.”
Do you understand what is going on here? Do I need to spell it out for you? Okay then. E-X-T-O-R-T-I-O-N.
But I’m not going to get political this week, because it’s too goddamn depressing. So let’s talk about fun stuff.
Fun stuff like “The Doctor Falls,” the finale of the 10th series of Doctor Who, which aired on Saturday night. Continuing my spoiler-free zone from last week:
It was thrilling. It was hilarious. It was heartbreaking. There were easter eggs and callbacks galore. It was regenerating rejuvenating. (Hint! Hint!)
I’m going to change my mind and just give out two little spoilers…
The most chilling moment(s) for me: Bill looking in the mirror and seeing the face of a Cyberman; seeing her shadow, and seeing that it was the shadow of a Cyberman; and catching sight of her hand, the hand of a Cyberman.
And the second spoiler belongs to both Steven Moffat, as he heads towards the exit with a giant fuck you!!! to that “man,” and to the magnificent Peter Capaldi (he just nudged Tennant out of my “Number One Favorite Doctor” spot), who upped the ante once again…
The Doctor is preparing to make his final stand against the Cybermen, and is trying, pleading, with Missy and The Master to stand with him:
“Winning? Is that what you think it’s about? I’m not trying to win. I’m not doing this because I want to beat someone … or because I hate someone or because I want to blame someone. It’s not because it’s fun. God knows it’s not because it’s easy. It’s not even because it works because it hardly ever does. I do what I do because it’s right! Because it’s decent. And above all, it’s kind. It’s just that. Just kind. If I run away today, good people will die. If I stand and fight, some of them might live… maybe not many, maybe not for long. Hey, maybe there’s no point in any of this at all, but it’s the best I can do, and I will stand here doing it until it kills me. You’re going to die, too, someday. When will that be? Have you thought about it? What would you die for? Who I am is where I stand. Where I stand is where I fall.”
This season of Doctor Who just isn’t working for me.
This is imho, of course, and YMMV, but after a great opening episode (The Pilot) I’ve been very disappointed. The stories haven’t excited me, and, more important, the relationship between Pearl Mackie’s Bill Potts and Peter Capaldi’s Doctor doesn’t seem to have moved all that much forward; there isn’t any there there, as Trumpists like to say these days. (Of course I had to get a Trump reference in here. You know me.) It started off great, with hints of something even more brewing.
Why does the Doctor take an interest in the non-matriculated kitchen worker who was attending his lectures? Why did he go out of his way to use the TARDIS to go back in the past to take pictures of Bill’s dead mom – of whom she had no memory – and leave them for her as a present? Does it have something to do with the framed pictures of his granddaughter Susan and his wife River Song on his office desk? For that matter, why did the Doctor install himself as a professor (for the last 50 years?) at a specific Bristol university? Was he secretly keeping a grandfatherly eye on Susan, who had chosen to remain on Earth? Has he been waiting for Bill, knowing that she would be there? (“All of time and space, everything that ever happened or ever will…”)
There are only two more episodes left in Series 10 – three, if you count the Christmas special – and by this time in previous seasons, the Doctor’s relationship with his previous companions – Rose, Donna, Martha, Amy & Rory, Clara – had all reached a level of intimacy beyond their familiarity with the TARDIS and the sonic screwdriver. Bill, it seems to me, has developed a closer friendship with Nardole (Matt Lucas) than she has with the Doctor – in fact, everything she has learned about the Galifreyan has come from Nardole.
Each episode had also moved each companion’s story forward. So far, there hasn’t been much we’ve learned about Bill that we didn’t learn in her first appearance: she hasn’t had much formal education, though she’s smart as a whip and eager to learn more; she’s a science fiction geek; she’s gay and, like a lot of us, she hasn’t had much success with love. She wishes she knew more about her mom and her family; and – well, that’s about it.
As I said, there’s only three episodes left this season, and there just seems to me to be an awful lot to be discovered yet.
I don’t want to think that Moffat is coasting his way to the end of his association with Doctor Who; he hasn’t yet disappointed me. I loved the denouement of last season, so I’m still crossing my fingers – but…
Anyway, this is a rather short column today. But I do want to give a shout out to my niece Isabel, who has made her debut performance this week in the Newtown (Pennsylvania) Arts Company production of The Philadelphia Story as Dinah Lord.
You may be familiar with the 1940 movie which starred Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and James Stewart, and was responsible for relaunching Hepburn’s career as a major Hollywood player – did you know that she was considered “box office poison” and couldn’t get a walk-on part at this point in her career? The play was specifically written for Hepburn by playwright Phillip Barry, whose wife, Helen Hope Montgomery Scott, was a Philadelphia socialite and a friend of Hepburn’s. Hepburn not only starred in the play, but also financially backed it, exchanging a salary for a percentage of profits. The Philadelphia Story was a smash hit on Broadway, and Hepburn enjoyed a great triumph as well as a flip of the bird to those who had tried to destroy her film career, especially when her friend Howard Hughes gave the film rights to her as a gift. Hepburn was able to convince Louis B. Mayer, head honcho of MGM, to give her veto rights over producer, director, screenwriter, and cast by selling Philadelphia to MGM for only $250,000, an amazingly cheap price. A pretty goddamn impressive move by Hepburn, and one that paid off in spades for her.
Here’s the plot, from Wikipedia, because I’m being lazy. Hey, I drove close to 200 miles today, so deal with it!
“Tracy Lord (Hepburn) is the elder daughter of a wealthy Philadelphia Main Line socialite family. She was married to C.K. Dexter Haven (Grant), a yacht designer and member of her social set, but divorced him two years ago, because he did not measure up to the exacting standards she sets for all her friends and family: he drank too much for her taste, and as she became critical of him, he drank more. Now she is about to marry nouveau riche “man of the people” George Kittredge.
“Spy magazine publisher Sidney Kidd is eager to cover the wedding, and assigns reporter Macaulay “Mike” Connor (Stewart) and photographer Liz Imbrie. He can get them into the affair with the assistance of Dexter Haven, who has been working for Spy in South America. Dexter will introduce them as friends of Tracy’s brother Junius (aU.S. diplomat in Argentina). Tracy is not fooled, but Dexter threatens her with an innuendo-laden article about her father Seth’s affair with a dancer. Tracy deeply resents her father’s infidelity, which has caused her parents to live separately. To protect her family’s reputation, she agrees to let Mike and Liz stay.
“Dexter is welcomed back with open arms by Tracy’s mother Margaret and teenage sister Dinah (this is the part Isabel played (much to her annoyance. When George sees Mikecarrying an intoxicated Tracy into the house afterward, he thinks the worst. The next day, he tells her that he was shocked and feels entitled to an explanation before going ahead with the wedding. She takes exception to his lack of faith in her and breaks off the engagement. Then she realizes that all the guests have arrived and are waiting for the ceremony to begin. Mike volunteers to marry her (much to Liz’s distress), but she graciously declines. She also realizes, for the first time, that she isn’t perfect and shouldn’t constantly condemn others for their weaknesses. At this point, Dexter offers to marry her again, and she accepts.”
The Philadelphia Story was nominated for six Oscars, including Katherine Hepburn for Best Actress and James Stewart for Best Actor. Stewart won his only golden statue – hard to believe, isn’t it? And Hepburn went on to a total of 12 nominations – surpassed only by Meryl Streep – and won four Academy Award, the record for any performer. And Cary Grant? He was nominated so many times, but the only Oscar he was ever given was “Honorary,” in 1970, for “his unique mastery of the art of screen acting with the respect and affection of his colleagues.” Unbelievable, right?
As for Isabel? Here’s her “Who’s Who In The Cast”:
“Like Dinah Lord, she is an avid equestrienne, can play piano and sing at the same time, and will pursue Conservatory training in Musical Theatre. Iz has played Annie in “Annie,” Belle in “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,” and Amelia Earhart. She has soloed on cello with Symphony in C Orchestra, and toured Asia with Maestro Eschenbach of the Philadelphia Orchestra. (C’est vrai! Absolument!)”
Acting is a precarious profession, as we all know, but I won’t be surprised at all if and when the day comes when Isabel Newell will be up on a stage, accepting her own award.
And thanks to you all for putting up with an indulgent, and very proud, Aunt Mindy.
Some quick reviews this week. Well, not quite reviews, as I’m not going to get much into plot synopses, but as always I will express some definitely personal opinions. (You know me.) There will be S*P*O*I*L*E*R*S inferred, so caveat emptor!
“The Lie of the Land” (Episode 8, Doctor Who, Series 10): The final episode of a three-episode arc – the first two being “Extremis” and “The Pyramid at the End of the World” – in which alien “monks” have taken over the world through the consent of Bill Potts, the Doctor’s newest companion. She did this in order to have the monks cure the Doctor’s blindness – which occurred in Episode 5, “Oxygen.”
I wasn’t sure where the show was going with this, and to tell you the truth, I wasn’t much engaged by our hero’s disability; I found it more annoying than anything else, as the good Doctor only seemed to be afflicted with blindness when it suited the story, as in “Pyramid,” in which our Time Lord had no trouble putting together a bomb, or navigating winding hallways, or walking the streets of a London city, but couldn’t open a simple combination lock – not even with the sonic screwdriver, and would somebody please explain to me why the screwdriver couldn’t open a simple combination lock when in the past it has done just about everything else? It’s now clear to me that the only reason this “tragedy” was written into the show was to engineer this storyline.
I also found the ending, in which Bill subjected herself to the monks’ “brainwave booster” incredibly cheesy, with Bill thinking about her mom – who is, the storyline established, nothing more than artificial construct herself, built out of Bill’s childhood memories, imaginings, and the Doctor’s pictures of her…honestly, I was waiting for Bill to start singing:
“M is for the million things she gave me.
“O means only that she’s growing old.
“T is for the tears she shed to save me.
“H is for her heart of purest gold.
“E is for her eyes with love-light shining.
“R means right and right she’s always be…”
The only thing I did really love about this episode was that, beyond the by now humdrum plot of aliens taking over the world, it was a sly and sarcastic bit of political commentary, attacking revisionist history, fake news and alternative facts. Oh, and Donald Trump:
Bill: “How would I know the President?” asked a baffled Bill. “I wouldn’t even have voted for him. He’s …orange.”
Tonight (as I write this; Sunday, June 4) I will be watching the season finale of The White Princess on Starz and the series finale of The Leftovers on HBO. Obviously, I won’t comment on things I haven’t yet seen, but here are my thoughts going in…
I’m a British monarchy nut. It started long ago when I read Forever Amber in high school. Written by Kathleen Winsor and first published in 1944, incurring the wrath of the Catholic Church, banishment from 14 states as “pornography,” and banned in Australia, Amber is actually an amazingly well-written and researched historical romance that takes place in the late 17th century during the English Restoration, when the monarchy was reestablished and Charles Stuart became Charles II.
And no, my parents had no objections to my reading it. I then read Katherine, by Anya Seton, another well-researched and well-written historical fiction novel set in the 14th century, chronicling the story of Katherine Swynford, the mistress and later wife to John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and son of King Edward III. Katherine’s children through John were the Beaufort family, and her great-granddaughter was Margaret Beaufort, whose son was Henry VII, the first Tudor King. And the Tudors and their dynasty captured my imagination, as it has for so many, many others.
The White Princess, adapted from the book by Phillipa Gregory (The Other Boleyn Girl) is the story of Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward VI, and niece of Richard III, and the Lancastrian claimant, Henry VII. Their political marriage ended the War of the Roses, a civil war between the two royal houses of England, the Yorks and the Lancasters. However, it wasn’t as if the priest said, “I now pronounce you man and wife” and all was, if you’ll excuse the expression, roses. There were still many who believed that Henry was a “false king,” a usurper, and his reign, especially in the early years, was one of paranoia, political intrigue, treason, and death.
The mini-series concentrates on the machinations of the women behind the throne of England, and although a little bit liberty has been taken with historical facts for the sake of the drama, it adheres closely enough to what happened to serve as an excellent opening to England’s bloody royal history.
The Leftovers, based on the book by Tom Perotta, is ending tonight after three seasons. Created by Lost’s Damon Lindeloff and Mr. Perotta, it is the story of what happens to the people “left over” after a rapture-like event erases 140 million people from the face of the Earth
I’m not sure how much I like The Leftovers, though paradoxically I have been watching it since it debuted on HBO three years ago, and even read the book after the first season. There’s not a lot of explanation – certainly the “Sudden Departure,” as it is called, is never really explained, though the characters have their own interpretations…or none. By the end of the first season, there seemed to be an acceptance of what had happened, a “life goes on” attitude, but by the second season, it was clear that this was mostly a façade.
Despite the “Rapture” leanings, it’s not really a show about religion and faith. It’s not really a show about faithlessness, either. I think it’s really a show about grief and acceptance. Or maybe it’s a show about grief and the inability to accept. Maybe it’s a show about defiance in the face of ruin. Or maybe it’s a show about defiance in the face of madness. Or maybe it’s just a show about madness and futility. I don’t expect tonight’s episode to be rife with definitive answers, the number 1 being, of course, why did all those people just disappear?
The Doctor: “Time is a structure relative to ourselves. Time is the space made by our lives, where we stand together forever. Time and relative dimension in space. It means life… This is the gateway to everything that ever was and ever can be. Bill: …Can I use the toilet?
“The Pilot,” Doctor Who, Second Series 10, Episode 1
My daughter Alixandra has wanted to watch Doctor Who but she’s been intimidated by the idea of catching up with 50 years of the show’s history. Hey, who wouldn’t be? I told her to start with “new Who,” with Christopher Eccleston’s as the 9th Doctor, which was “only” 12 years ago (is it really over a decade already?) and that “Rose,” the first episode, would do a great job of hooking her into the basics – although she already sorta knows them, as she remembers me watching the Tom Baker years of Doctor Who when the show aired on Saturday mornings on Channel 13, the New York City PBS station.
She was very young then, not much more than a toddler, so that was a surprise to me – as well as a lesson to grown-ups: be careful what you say around the young ‘uns. Apparently, little pitchers really do have big ears.
I also sent her a list of shows from a website I found, “Desperately Unrehearsed,” which lists every episode from the aforementioned “Rose” to Matt Smith’s dénouement, “The Time of The Doctor,” with a pretty good opinion – at least one I basically agreed with – of what was essential and what was not (along with YMMV).
But I also just sent her a text: “The 10th series premiered Saturday night. It’s called “The Pilot,” and it might be a good place for you to start, as it introduces a new companion and reintroduces the basic ideas.”
She sent me back a “thumbs-up” emoji.
I texted her back a few minutes later, because I forgot to say in the first text: “Plus, Peter Capaldi.”
Fans of Outlander (me, included) are currently suffering from what is known as the “Droughtlander,” – the last episode of Season 2 aired on July 9, 2016, and the series is not returning to Showtime until September – but the wait for Series 10 of Doctor Who has been interminable. The last episode of Series 9 (“Hell Bent”) aired here in the States on December 5, 2015. We did get two Christmas specials, the first run three weeks later on December 25, 2016 (“The Husbands of River Song”) and the second (“The Return of Doctor Mysterio”) a year later.
Outlander is not even giving us that…
But was the wait worth it?
“The Pilot” was not only a singularly great show all by itself, it was also a fantastic kick-off, with past and future colliding – dialogue that was timey-winey-twisted; pictures of a lost wife and granddaughter; sonic screwdrivers from just about every regeneration collected in a jug; and a vault (reminiscent of the Pandorica box) that the Doctor is protecting.
The trailers featuring Pearl Mackie as new companion Bill Potts did not exactly excite me, nor did they do Mackie any justice. The “big” news that Bill is gay. However, and that’s a big however, I was completely charmed by Ms. Mackie and her character by the half-way mark of “The Pilot.” That is way faster than I turned on to Jenna Coleman’s Clara Oswald, Karen Gillian’s Amelia (Amy) Pond, and Arthur Darvill’s Rory Williams. The only companions that equal the speed with which I fell in love with Bill Potts were Elisabeth Sladen’s Sarah Jane Smith (of course!) and Billy Piper’s Rose Tyler.
I wasn’t all that impressed with Matt Lucas’s Nardole previously, not in “The Husbands of River Song” nor in “The Return of Doctor Mysterio.” But in “The Pilot,” Nardole came into his own; he is the bridge between the Doctor and Bill, and the bridge, I think, between the universe of Doctor Who and ours, the “Greek chorus” of the audience, of us.
Stephanie Hyman’s Heather, the girl with the star in her eye, was eerily beautiful, bewitching, chilling, and ultimately heartbreaking. And by the way, Ms. Hyman, kudos to you for playing 90% of your part soaking wet.
I also want to give a shout-out to “The Pilot’s” cinematography, editing, and special effects.
As for Peter Capaldi; well, im-not-so-ho, Mr. Capaldi will become, as he leaves the show behind and moves on with his life, one of those Doctors who will leave an indelible mark upon the character and the 50-year history of Doctor Who. If you must go, Mr. Capaldi, then you must…
It was a lifetime ago. It was just moments gone by.
Tuesday will mark twenty years since my wife, Kimberly Ann Yale, died.
I’ve been working on a column discussing the passage for some days but haven’t been satisfied with it. Sometimes you try to say something and can’t find the right things to say. I’ve come across an old column I wrote ten years ago. Just about everything I wanted to say I said back then so, if y’all don’t mind, I’ll just reprint it here.
Today is Thanksgiving and a hearty Happy Thanksgiving to you all. As it turns out, it’s also the birthday of my late wife, Kimberly Ann Yale, who would have been 54 today. This is a day for stopping and giving thanks for the good things in your life and so I’ll ask your indulgence while I remember one of the best things in mine, which was Kim.
For those who don’t know her, never met her, how do I describe her to you? My god, where do I begin? Physically – heart shaped face, megawatt smile, big blue eyes. Champagne blonde hair which, in her later years, she decided should be red. That decision was pure Kimmie. She looked good, too, but she also looked good bald. More on that in a few moments.
She was buxom and damn proud of it. Referred to her breasts as “the girls” and was fond of showing them off. She was about 5’8” so that when she was in heels we were about the same height. Basically had an hourglass figure although sometimes there were a few more seconds packed into that hourglass than maybe there should have been. We both fought weight problems and I still do.
All that, however, is merely a physical description. Photographs could tell you as much and more and still tell you so little about Kim. Not who she was. Kim was an extrovert to the point of being an exhibitionist. She was sometimes flamboyant; I have described her as the world’s most innocent narcissist. She loved the spotlight but with the delight of a child. Yet, she also loved nothing better than to be in the corner of a tea shoppe or coffee house, drinking her cuppa, writing in her journal, totally absorbed into herself and the moment.
She also genuinely loved people. Loved being around them, hearing their stories, telling her own. She had one of the world’s great infectious laughs. If you were in a comedy on stage, you wanted Kim in your audience. She got the jokes, too, including some the rest of the audience missed.
She loved music, all kinds of music, and could talk knowledgeably about it for hours. Hell, Kim could hold forth on almost anything for hours. She loved classical, the blues, rock and roll, soundtracks to movies – everything. She loved movies, she loved books, she loved TV. She adored Doctor Who; we, in fact, met at a Doctor Who Convention.
She loved comics and she loved the idea of women in comics. At many different Cons, she would chair the Women in Comics panel and, in Chicago especially where she did it for several years, people learned to come because it would often be one of the most interesting, thought-provoking panels at the Con. She was part of the early organizational meetings that resulted in Friends of Lulu and their annual award for the best new female comics creator is named for Kim. She would have been very proud of that.
How do I describe our relationship – what we gave to each other? One example – she brought cats into my life, I brought dogs back into hers. She made me more of a cat person; I brought out the dog lover in her.
Other things she brought to me – her love of Westerns and of the Civil War. I had dismissed Westerns as “oaters” and “horse opera” but Kim patiently took me through the best ones, showed me the difference from a John Ford western and a Budd Boetticher one. Without Kim, there never would have been The Kents or my Marvel westerns, Blaze of Glory and Apache Skies.
On our honeymoon, Kim wanted to go to Fredericksburg, Virginia, so we could walk some of the Civil War battlefields in the area. I was a little dubious at first but went along because it was important to her. My god, I learned so much walking those battlefields. I don’t know if you can understand those battles or the War without doing that. We would later add others like Shiloh and Gettysburg to the list. Amazing, bonding, illuminating moments.
Kim and I worked together as co-writers on several projects, notably Suicide Squad, some Munden’s Bar stories, and a tale of Young John Gaunt that ran in the back of GrimJack during its final year at First Comics. I think Kim was a finer writer than I am. I’m at heart a storyteller and I’m mostly about what happens next; I turn a good phrase and I know plot, character, theme and so on but Kim was also into the composition and the polish on the story. She would go over and over things while I’d push on. I wish she had written more on her own; at the end of her life, so did she.
Kim also introduced me to the fabled “Bucket of Suds,” a wonderful bar in Chicago that was the nearest earthly equivalent I know to Munden’s Bar and to which we, in turn, introduced many folks from the comic book community, especially during the Chicago Comiccon. The owner, Joe Danno, was a mixologist and could invent a new drink on the spot in addition to creating his own cordials. The Bucket not only served drinks but, for many years, served home made pizza, burgers, breadsticks.
Joe also created his own catsup, mustard, bar-b-que sauce, and hot sauce. Want to see our esteemed editor, Mike Gold, both drool and cry at the same time? Get him talking about the hot sauce and the bar-b-que sauce, neither of which is available any more. (Oh, the humanity!) I set a scene in an issue of Hawkworld at the Bucket and got photo reference for our penciler, Graham Nolan, which he used wonderfully well. I later obtained the pages and gave them to Joe who proudly had them framed up over the bar.
Joe got older and the bar’s opening hours became more erratic. Kim by that point, was also sick with the breast cancer that would kill her. Joe finally announced that the Bar was closing and said there would be a party the closing night. Kim desperately wanted to be there – it was right around her birthday, as I recall – but she was too sick by that point to make the trip. The bar closed and Kim herself died the following March.
Kimberly wore her heart on her sleeve, both politically and personally, and it was an open and generous heart. She identified so much with underdogs. She was a PK – a Preacher’s Kid – and her father was an Episcopal chaplain in the Navy as well, so she was also a “Navy Brat.” She would move every few years to another base somewhere else in the country. Sometimes it would be a great place and sometimes it was one where she was treated horribly but one thing she learned was not to form really close friends because, in a few years, she or they would move on to another base and would be gone.
Yet despite all that, her heart was not bitter or closed. She loved meeting people and she did make friends even though her heart did get hurt time and again. What people thought of her mattered to her and sometimes that could hurt. I tried to explain to her that, in fact, while everyone had a right to their own opinion, not everyone’s opinion mattered. Some people were just assholes. Some were nasty assholes. Some had agendas. Some were misinformed. Kim understood all that or at least her head did but it hurt nevertheless. It’s hard when you lead with your heart.
Kim died of breast cancer more than ten years ago. I won’t go through all the particulars of that time, other than to note that it was mercifully swift and that she fought with her customary determination, élan and brio which she documented in a brave series of columns that she wrote for the Comic Buyers Guide.
There are a few grace notes to tell in the space we have. As a result of her bouts with chemo, Kim’s hair did fall out so eventually she shaved her head. She considered using a wig but eventually opted for temporary tattoos at her temples. I remember the butterflies.
In her final weeks, she let go of more and more things that simply no longer mattered. She let go of old angers, she forgave, she reconciled. As her body failed, ultimately her spirit became more clear. I’ll not say she went quietly into that good night; she was very clear about wanting to die in her own home and when circumstances forced us to bring her back to the hospital for pain management, she rebelled. Drugged up, she still tried to take the tubes out of her arms. She wanted to go home and, finally, we brought her home.
Yet, all of these are also simply random facts about Kim and cannot capture her. There is only one way that I know to do that – through story. We had three memorial services for Kim after she died – one at our church, one in New York for those who knew her from the comics industry, one back in Chicago for family and friends there. Stories were told at all three and, for me, they were the centerpieces of the memorials. Mary and I still tell them, recalling Kim’s foibles as well as her virtues for, as I have said before, I prefer Kim’s foibles to many other people’s virtues. They make her human. They make her alive.
I think that’s important for anyone who has lost someone who was loved. Don’t just remember – tell the stories. So that’s what I’d like to do with the comments sections this week, if you have time – tell stories about the lives of people we are thankful we have known, those who are no longer here. If you have a Kim story to tell, that would be great – I’d love to read it. If it’s about someone else, that’s okay, too – Kim would have loved to hear it.
That’s who Kim was – a person of story.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
A few additional thoughts.
Kim was a geek back when it was not cool to be a geek and the triumph of geek culture would have floored her. The Star Wars prequels and now the new sequels and stand alone stories; the whole Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies; the return of Doctor Who and the dawn of the superhero movie. She would have been in NYC with me for the premiere of the Suicide Squad movie; Kim would have seen the three-story tall Squad ad in Times Square, screamed and swooned and then laughed with utter delight. I can hear it in my mind’s ear.
She’s missed a lot. She is missed a lot.
I have a new life and a partner that I love and treasure – Mary Mitchell. Twenty years is a lifetime; twenty years was just a moment ago. Kim is still a part of my life and will be for the rest of my life and that’s as it should be.
Sir John Hurt died a few days ago. One of Great Britain’s finest actors, his rise started with his turn as Robert Rich, a courtier and lawyer in Henry VIII’s court, in Fred Zimmerman’s A Man for All Seasons. The movie, based upon Robert Bolt’s play about the fall of, British Lord Chancellor Thomas More, could be considered a science fiction story as it deals with a perfectly harmonious island society that was nowhere to be found in More’s 16th century – or in the 21st, for that matter.
Sir John, in his long and brilliant career, was no stranger to our brand of cultural pop geekdom. Besides his outstanding turn as the War Doctor on the 50th anniversary special Doctor Who: The Time of the Doctor – he recreated the War Doctor on four sets of audio plays for Big Finish; three are already out, and the fourth is debuting next month (and thanks to editor Mike Gold for the info) his filmography includes Alien; Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Parts 1 and 25; Snowpiercer; Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull; V for Vendetta; and 1984.
I am struck with irony. Sir John rose to prominence in a movie about the man who coined the term “Utopia,” and later starred as the protagonist – Winston Smith – in the film adaptation of 1984, the classic, definitive novel of a dystopian society. Dystopian being, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary, “[a]n imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one; the opposite of utopia” – just in case you needed to look it up. Which I doubt.
But here’s why I am “struck with irony,” and I quote from Friday’s (January 27) New York Times in “Why ‘1984’ is a 2017 Must-Read,” by the Times critic Michicko Kakutani:
“1984 shot to No. 1 on Amazon’s best-seller list this week after Kellyanne Conway, an advisor to President Trump, described demonstrative falsehoods told by the White House press secretary Sean Spicer – regarding the size of inaugural crowds – as ‘alternative facts’. It was a phrase chillingly reminiscent, for many readers, of the Ministry of Truth’s efforts in ‘1984’ at ‘reality control’. To Big Brother and the Party, Orwell wrote, ‘the very existence of external reality was tacitly denied by their philosophy. The heresies of heresy was common sense’. Regardless of the facts, ‘Big Brother is omnipotent’ and ‘the Party is infallible’.”
Sir John died the same day the article appeared.
There was another article in the Times, on Saturday, Jan 28, this one by Alexandra Alter, “Fears for the Future Prompt a Boon for Dystopian Classics,” in which the journalist wrote that sales have “also risen for [Orwell’s] Animal Farm, as well as Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here. She also notes that last weekend, at the Women’s March in D.C. (and, I add, around the country and the world, including Antarctica), signs were everywhere referencing Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. The book, which was written 32 years ago, has never been out of print – Ms. Alter notes that it in 2016 sales were up 30%, that it is in its 52nd printing, and that “Ms. Atwood’s publisher has reprinted 100,000 copies in the last three months to meet a spike in demand.”
In other news, Mary Tyler Moore died two days before John Hurt, on Wednesday, January 25. You young ‘uns may not remember, unless you catch reruns, but Ms. Moore starred on The Dick Van Dyke Show Laura Petrie, wife of Van Dyke’s Rob. She broke the mold of the then current (1960s) suburban housewives on television sitcoms; her Laura was well-read (she often had a book in her hand) talented (she was a dancer), fashion-forward (when Laura started wearing Capris, every housewife in America started wearing the cropped pants), daring (she dyed her hair blonde), and sexy (there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Rob and Laura closed the door to their bedroom for a reason.) And she and Rob had fights, too.
Then, in 1970, she broke the mold again, starring as single woman Mary Richards “making it on her own” working in the newsroom of a small television network in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Originally Mary Richards was going to be divorced, but there are two reasons that didn’t happen: divorced women were still an anathema to network execs in 1970, and there was actual fear that the audience would think that Laura Petrie had divorced Rob, and which would totally kill the show before it even got started. So the suits decided that Mary Richards had broken off her engagement. Along with a stellar cast that included Ed Asner as her boss Lou Grant, Valerie Harper as her best friend Rhoda Morgenstern, Ted Knight as the dimwit anchorman Ted Baxter, Betty White as devious, superficial Sue Ann Nivens, Cloris Leachman as neighbor Phyllis Lindstrom, Georgia Engle as Georgette Franklin, Ted Baxter’s ditzy yet smart girlfriend, and Gavin MacLeod as news writer Murray Slaughter, The Mary Tyler Moore Show won 29 Emmys and three Golden Globes, along with too many honors to mention.
And though the network chickened out of allowing Mary to be divorced, along the way there were plenty of separations, divorces, living together, and, yes, marriages. But Mary Richards ended the show as she started – single and living alone.
Journalist and television anchor Jane Pauley, writing in the New York Times on Thursday, January 26, noted that the “The Mary Tyler Moore Show started several years before two words, ‘and women,’ were inserted into an F.C.C. affirmative action clause pertaining to television station hiring. That might have helped women like me get a job, but Mary Richards may already have opened as many doors; she had made a woman in the newsroom seem normal.”
And speaking of death – one that occurs off-screen but will drive the plot of the show’s first season – I watched the premiere of Riverdale on Thursday night.
So far, not crazy over it.
Here are my texts to editor Mike about it:
“I thought it sucked.”
“That was the only funny part, if you’re an Archie fan. Lots of very weird scenarios running through this dirty mind.” (Regarding the scene between Archie and Miss Grundy doing the dance of the two-backed snake in the car.)
“Trying too hard.”
“Betty and Veronica instant friends? Ronnie would definitely not feel any guilt right away.” (Regarding getting it on with Archie.)
“Just seemed like it was plotted from one of those computer programs on how to write a screenplay.”
“Dialogue seemed false.”
“Best one was Ronnie’s mother.”
“Well, maybe next week will be better. Some of Buffy’s first season sucked, too.”
“I love Archie, too.”
“Trying too hard to be Twin Peaks.”
“Gonna eat dinner.”
That one was about my growling stomach, not Riverdale.
If you were to ask me if I had a favorite character among all the heroic fantasy teevee shows and movies over the past five years, and damnit I wish you would, I would immediately respond “River Song.”
For those who came in late, here’s the mandatory Journalism 101 background:
River Song is an ongoing but breathtakingly occasional character in Doctor Who. A remarkably capable, strong and intelligent archaeologist/con artist/warrior-protector with a great sense of humor and about 92% of all the sexuality ever expressed in the 54-year history of the program, she has been, is, and/or will be married to the Doctor – it’s time travel, Mr. Gittes – and that poses all sorts of thrilling opportunities. It also begs the issue of “until regeneration do us part.” She’s kind of a partial Time Lord, having absorbed some of the Doctor’s DNA while being conceived in the TARDIS. Yes, she’s the daughter of two of the Doctor’s former companions.
Yup. I really love time travel.
Ms. Song is played by Alex Kingston, and in addition to some crackerjack writing from Steven Moffat, Ms. Kingston is the reason why this complicated yet highly entertaining character works. She’s known in the States for her work on such teevee shows as Arrow (where she plays Dinah Lance I), Gilmore Girls, Macbeth (playing Lady Macbeth; duh), Upstairs Downstairs (the 2012 series), Law and Order SUV, and ER. My favorite of her work that I have seen came in the teevee movie The Fortunes and Misfortunes of Moll Flanders, where she played the title character and shared the boards with such folks as Diana Rigg and Daniel Craig.
In other words, Alex Kingston’s career orbits the nexus of fan reality.
You might ask why I’m bringing River Song to your attention at this time, if I already hadn’t just done that. The people at Big Finish, arguably the world’s largest publisher of original full-cast audio stories, released their second box set of River Song adventures. The Diary of River Song Series 2 co-stars Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy, both playing her husband The Doctor, and together the four adventures runs about four hours and change, not counting the bonus “behind the scenes” disc full of audio extras.
The downloadable version can be secured from Big Finish for a mere twenty bucks American, Amazon is charging a bit more for the physical five CD box set.
This isn’t a review because I have yet to hear the material. If it sucks, I’ll apologetically apologize anon… once the surprise wears off. I’m a big fan of Big Finish’s work, although I’ve only heard a fraction of their couple-thousand hours of original Doctor Who material starring all of the living Doctors from Tom Baker to John Hurt aside from Matt Smith (as of this writing). More to the point, I listened to The Diary of River Song Series 1 starring Alex Kingston and Paul McGann (the eighth doctor, if you were to count them in order of first appearance) during one of my infamous cross-country drives and it was absolutely great.
River Song last appeared in the 2015 Christmas special “The Husbands of River Song.” It was her first meeting with her husband Peter Capaldi, and because of where it is set in time she does not recognize The Doctor. In fact, she’s married to someone else, for a while. It’s a great jumping on episode for those who haven’t seen River Song, Peter Capaldi’s doctor, and/or Doctor Who. It’s well-written, clever as hell, sensual to excess and more fun than a barrel of monkeys. And we all know everything is better with a monkey.
Even better: this episode gave us the introduction of Nardole, played by British comedian Matt Lucas. He returned for this year’s Christmas special as the Doctor’s, umm, valet (the Doctor is companionless for the nonce) and Nardole will return for about a half-dozen episodes in the upcoming season. Americans might recognize him for his role in Community where, coincidentally, he played a fan of the ersatz teevee show Inspector Spacetime.
I hope to see River return sometime this season as it is Steven Moffat’s last as writer/showrunner. I hope to see River Song return anywhere at any time, if that latter phrase has any real meaning in a world where time travel exists.
But, hey, I’ll settle for Alex Kingston returning damn well anywhere.
It’s Sunday night, 7:19 P.M. on my clock, which makes the premiere of the 2016 Doctor Who Christmas Special just an hour and 41 minutes away. The long drought is almost over.
I’ve been getting my Whovian fix this week by watching as much as I can of BBCAmerica’s marathon of episodes, which has been running since last Tuesday. It was interesting to watch the progression of Doctors, as it gave me a chance to really compare Eccleston, Tennant, Smith, and Capaldi’s characterizations of the Time Lord.
To be honest, I can’t really say all that much about Christopher Eccleston’s turn – it always seemed a little flat to me, as though the actor rather quickly regretted signing on to the role, and so was doing that – merely playing a role until the contract ran out. (I remind everyone that this is all imho, not, for a change, im-not-so-ho.) However, I do love that lone season because of the supporting characters – Rose Tyler, the shop girl who dares to dream of another life; Rose’s widowed mom Jackie, who drinks and sleeps around just a little too much to forget her own unfulfilled dreams and who is very much one possible template for Rose’s future; and Mickey Smith, Rose’s working-class boyfriend who is oh-so-ordinary.
David Tennant’s Doctor was the one that really caught the world’s attention. Sexy and cocky, he nonetheless truly regained his “humanity” in this incarnation, allowing his feelings to surface, especially in his relationship in Rose (call me a romantic, but I believe that he truly loved her) and with Donna Noble’s grandfather, Wifred Mott.
And then there was Matt Smith. What I think is interesting in Matt’s interpretation is that he was while he was young and joyful and adventurous, he could also very much be dangerous, dark, and duplicitous. (“The Doctor lies,” said River.)
What about John Hurt, you may ask, as the War Doctor? His was the source of the darkness within – but, at the same time, his was also the source of the Time Lord’s humanity. It was etched on his face – the sorrow, self-loathing, but also, the love that drove him to commit the ultimate destructive act.
And what of Paul McGann, the Eighth Doctor? Im-not-so-ho, he was probably the most self-aware of the four, for in his decision to reject the very name of “the Doctor” – a word that means healer and saver of life – and to accept the guise of “the Warrior,” he allowed us to see the resignation to the fate that the Time Lord had been running from all those centuries.
It’s 35 minutes to the Christmas Special. As I told John in my reply to his column yesterday – and also on the phone to editor Mike – I’m feeling “a bit trepidatious” about what’s about to play out. I’m afraid that the suits at the BBC, dismayed at the drop in Doctor Who’s audience after the dashing Matt Smith left and Peter Capaldi took over – as my niece, a rabid Smith fan, said, “He’s old!!!” – told Moffat to write something that would bring back the youngsters, and hey, here’s an idea, let’s include a superhero, superheroes are hot right now. Not only does it seem to me to be a mercenary and crass directive, the mix of genres feels weird and just “not right.” Down on your knees begging, y’know?
Then again, as Mike Gold pointed out to me, Doctor Who has pushed the boundaries before and succeeded. (“The soufflé isn’t the soufflé, the soufflé is the recipe.”)
Oh, yeah, I forgot.
Peter Capaldi. What about him? A scared little boy. A lost soul. A revengeful son-of-a-bitch. A work in progress.