Tagged: Star Trek

John Ostrander: Death and Vandalism

Writing a weekly column can be a funny thing at times, especially when you wait until the last moment to do it. Not only does it irritate your editor but the blamed thing can morph from its original topic. Such as this week. I started with one topic and then found two others that I wanted to comment on as well. I think I’ve found a connection within all three; let’s see if I can make it without stretching too much. Wish me luck.

We’ll start with the death of Leonard Nimoy, a.k.a. the original Mr. Spock in Star Trek. He was 83 and died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Spock was an iconic character not only on Trek or in science fiction but around the world. “Live long and prosper” was his signature phrase and his cool, logical, and scientific manner created an army of fans, me included.

My friend Lise Lee Morgan and I met Mr. Nimoy in person many years ago in a guest suite at a Star Trek convention. My friend Stuart Gordon had got us the opportunity and Mr. Nimoy was charming, engaging, and enthusiastic about Stuart. I liked him even more than I liked Spock.

How significant was Nimoy’s passing? He got a eulogy from Buzz Aldrin, the second man to step foot on the Moon. President Obama released a statement saying “Long before nerdy was cool, there was Leonard Nimoy, the center of Star Trek’s optimistic, inclusive vision of humanity’s future … I loved Spock.” Come on. How cool is that? Any of us should wish to have a life with as much impact on the world.

On the other side of the coin there’s the report of author and blogger Avijit Roy being hacked to death with machetes by Islamic extremists. Roy was a native of Bangladesh although he lived in Atlanta and he was attacked as he left a book fair in the Bangladesh city of Dahka. He was there to promote his book The Virus of Faith. A fan of Bill Maher’s harsh view of Islam, he was critical of all religions and especially Islam and that made him the target of death threats by Moslem extremists. Ansar Bangla-7, an extremist group, has claimed responsibility for the death.

The third item catching my eye was the destruction of ancient artifacts in a Mosul museum by members of ISIS. The items dated back thousands of years, from the Assyrian and Akkadian empires. The vandals’ justification was that the statues were by polytheists and therefore an affront to their skewed notion of Allah. This ignores the fact that the art was part of the heritage of us all and they were only the current custodians. They did not have the right to destroy them. Sadly, such iconoclasm has a long and pernicious history.

So … what unites these three events? They underscore the importance of art, of literature and – yes – of pop culture. A writer is killed because of ideas that he espouses, artifacts are destroyed because of what they once represented, Nimoy’s death is remembered because of a part he played on TV and in films. All this underscores the importance of art, its power, and the threat it poses to the close-minded.

It makes us remember the past, question the present, and bring hope for the future. Pop culture, which we celebrate here, is a huge part of all that. It helps define who we are and tells us who we were and points to what we could be. It reflects our passions and our interests. It questions what we are told and that’s why extremists of all stripes want it destroyed or controlled or obliterated or killed. The violence, the extreme nature, of their actions tell us how real the threat is to them. That tells us how powerful it is. Art is dangerous. Pop culture is or can be or should be dangerous.

Leonard Nimoy, as Spock, exemplified all that. That’s part of the reason his passing affects so many. He made an indelible mark on the world. We should strive to do the same.

Live long and prosper, y’all.


Leonard Nimoy: 1931-2015

Leonard Nimoy: 1931-2015

Leonard Nimoy, best know to the world for his role as Mr. Spock in  Star Trek, died on Friday morning at his home in the Bel Air section of Los Angeles from end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He was 83.

Our thoughts and condolences go out to his family, friends, and fans.

Photo by State Library and Archives of Florida

Marc Alan Fishman: I’m Now A Who From Whoville!

Well, it took me a while to make my way through it, but I’m pleased as punch to report I watched an entire season of Doctor Who. And no need to bury the lead: I’m a fan. Peter Capaldi made me a fan. As for the rest of the Whoniverse, not so much.

For those loosely following my journey to TARDIStowne, this has been a long and bumpy road. When I’d noted my friends had started to watch (somewhere between the 9th and 10th Doctors) I gave the show a tepid try. Because I’d not been privy to any Who lore – be it actual storylines, or knowledge of the production itself – I initially found the show to be too low-budget, and too in-jokey for me to care. As the world around me anointed their arms with tally marks, whispered “Don’t Blink,” or went on and on about something called Bad Wolf, I remained ever-snarky. And then, when a weekend left me with nothing to do but catch The Day of the Doctor with my wife and son, I’d openly declared my desire to jump on the bandwagon. And thus I programmed the Capaldi Who to Season Record. Cue the theme music.

It’s not that surprising – to me, at least – that Capaldi was the hook that grabbed me. My love of Gregory House would be the telltale heart there. At their cores, Greg and Twelve (can I call him Twelve?) are problem-solvers. And they are both likely to use their tongues as the tool to save the day. Unlike House though, Capaldi’s Who was never outright rude for rudeness sake. He was curt, yes, but always when danger or a mystery seemed to be afoot. Tie this into the season’s overarching question – Is the Doctor a good man? – and you have the conflicted lead taking charge each week as the universe finds new ways to unravel.

And whether Capaldi was debating a dying Dalek, scoffing at Robin Hood, or giving dimension to flat foes, he presented it all with a nuanced performance that I believed was deep. Unlike the current James Gordon on Gotham, the gravitas of the Doctor felt lived in. And given I personally knew nothing of the decades-long history of the character? Well, that sums up Capaldi’s talent and my fandom pretty easily.

As with the original Star Trek, Firefly, or any number of other science-fiction shows I would eventually find an affinity for, the key to my kindness has always been strong characterization. Beyond Capaldi, I must give credit where it’s due. In spite of being plucky to the point of annoyance, Jenna Coleman’s Clara did eventually win me over. And her beau for the season, Danny Pink (“P.E.”!), while being a bit too much of a nondescript archetype when action was required, did eventually find his place. Funny then right as I was enjoying his grounded nature… that he (SPOILER ALERT) got smashed by a random plot device… err… car. In any event, the companions of this season were built to show us sides of the Doctor that were necessary in an introductory season. Now, a dozen or so episodes later… we know Twelve is not a leader of men, a lover of the ladies (though he creepily sorta dug kissing his arch, no?), or anything beyond an admitted “idiot with a box and a screwdriver, passing through, helping out.”

Long before I enjoyed the show, I’d considered Doctor Who to be as much (if not more) about the universe the he inhabited versus himself. But Capaldi’s season proved to me that to be untrue. While the episodes throughout the season were chocked in references that scooted way over my head, the most potent moments were never about anyone or anything more important than the Doctor himself.

Obviously tied to the aforementioned Good Man motif, it was clear even in the more lackluster or frustrating episodes (Earth taken over by trees, I’m looking at you…) that the definition of this iteration of the Doctor was at the heart of the show. And even in the face of his newly reformed nemesis, with the entire Earth under the threat of annihilation, Capaldi’s grimaces and line delivery sucked every scene into his orbit.

If I were to be critical, it’d revolve mostly around the specific adventures themselves. I found the show to be at its best when the plots were small and specific. When the Doctor had to handle a murder mystery on the space-faring Orient Express, or dealing with an unknown flat threat targeting a small town, there was a wonderful balance between the threat and the solution. When the show went big, with Earth-swallowing fairy tale forests, or the season finale’s masterful plot, things tended to get out of hand. Heady concepts are the bread and butter of the science fiction serial… but in a season that is built around a introspection, these few-too-many universe-shattering melodramas felt like loose Star Trek plottos, not quirky BBC fare.

With a dozen adventures now under his belt, I’m excited for the future. With the prospect of a new companion to roam all of space and time with pending, as well as litany of returning alien allies and foes, I expect a second season of Capaldi to move outside of the reactionary into something more proactive. Let’s see where this Doctor really wants to travel.

That is of course, unless his new companion Bogarts the TARDIS for their own agenda. Either way, I’m on for the ride…

Eyebrows and all.


Molly Jackson: Choosing Everything

Choosing EverythingI spend way too much time on social media. I’m often lurking in the background, checking out what weird Internet gems people have found or created. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen this fandom day meme pop up throughout my social media feeds.

Based on the date chosen, it is possibly meant as an early April Fools’ joke but it still brought something to light. In every posting I saw of this meme, I saw fans stating they apparently needed to wear a rainbow of fandoms. In some cases, it seemed like people were asking permission just to show support for multiple fandoms. (The other complaint being they left out a ton of groups.)

This just boggles my mind. Who needs to choose one fandom?! Most geeks can fit in more than one. I have attended Firefly meetups, where more often than not everyone is talking a variety of other fandoms rather than just the crew of Serenity. And the mashup genre has become a big hit. Facebook pages dedicated to a random grouping of interests rather than a singular one are running rampant.

Geekdom, in general, is its own fandom. Within the confines of our passions are our singular interests. Just like a historian or chef or doctor (yeah, I know I’m stretching boundaries) can specialize in a certain area, so can geeks. While I’m definitely weak in the Doctor Who and Supernatural areas, I can rock the Buffy and Harry Potter zones. I may choose Star Trek and DC Comics in the big fan debates, but that doesn’t stop me from rocking a Wookie hat and an Avengers t-shirt.

Maybe I am just making too much out of an Internet meme. It will eventually disappear and resurface, then disappear again. But just don’t ask me to choose between my Star Wars Wookie hat and my Star Trek Gorn t-shirt. Then we are going to have a problem.


Molly Jackson: Still Voyaging After 20 Years

(Ye Ed babbles: This afternoon we enthusiastically welcome Molly Jackson, our newest ComicMix columnist. As is our habit, Molly’s bio lurks below. She will be occupying this space revealing her cultural soul to us all each and every week! And now…)

This past week we marked the 20th anniversary of Star Trek: Voyager. I was 12 at the premiere of this show, and excited to see Captain Kathryn Janeway, a woman running a ship just like Captain Picard. Star Trek helped reinforce ideals taught to me by my parents, my religion and by scouting. Now at age 32 I still hold this show in such high regard, despite its flaws.

With the events happening today, the lessons of Star Trek, throughout all the series, become more and more important. The goal of exploration and discovery should be more important that the goal of power and conquest. Understanding cultures rather than controlling them. These humans came from a world that moved to where we want to be.

Voyager, in particular, resonated these ideals. A ship, lost in unknown space, rose above base desires to learn about other species. To explore new worlds and cultures. This show, like the other Star Trek series before it, studied racism and sexism in their own ways, using different species to fill in the roles of the subjugated in our own society. A captain ignored by another race for her gender shows her strength. A holographic doctor fights for his rights of personal ownership. These are just a few examples taken from real life into the mirror that science fiction always is.

Most important, Voyager taught that even at the heights that humanity had reached, they could still falter. Humans are fallible in the Star Trek universe. But rather than let them accept their failings, they did their best to rise above and grow as people. And who doesn’t want to live in their world? As Janeway remarked in episode “The 37’s” how humans built a world they could be proud of, where war and poverty don’t exist. Isn’t that what we are striving for today?

Yes, it has its cheesy moments. And yes, there are some episodes I would rather forget than watch again. But on the whole, who didn’t cheer for the little ship finding its way home. Voyager championed ingenuity and creativity in its crew. They had their moments of weakness. They had space battles and were willing to fight when they needed to. The show held to its morals, even when it suited them to cheat.

Go ahead and give Star Trek: Voyager a second or even a first watch. It’s available on Netflix and Amazon Prime. This time, look beyond the sets and the cheese and listen to the message of exploration and understanding. It may have been 20 years, but the message still holds true.

Mindy Newell Is Trekkin’

Have you heard Star Trek Continues? I happened to discover it just today, as I was surfing the web this morning. It is an award-winning …well, let me quote from the site itself:

Star Trek Continues is a critically-acclaimed, award-winning, fan-produced webseries… the brainchild of long-time Star Trek: The Original Series fan – and producer, director, actor, voice-actor, musician – Vic Mignogna.

Star Trek Continues is proud to be part of Trek history, aimed at completing

the final two years of the original five-year mission. After mounting a successful Kickstarter campaign, the show is already making waves and attracting guest stars such as Michael Forest, Jamie Bamber, Lou Ferrigno, and Erin Gray – as well as cameos by Star Trek alums like Marina Sirtis and Michael Dorn.”

It really is absolutely captivating. Mr. Mignogna is perfect – and I mean perfect! – William Shatner as Captain James Tiberius Kirk, down to body movements and personal tics. And Chris Doohan is the living embodiment of Lt. Commander Montgomery Scott, Chief Engineer and Second Officer of the Enterprise. Then again, he should be. Mr. Doohan is the son of the late James Doohan, who, just in case you don’t know, played Scotty in the original series. (Fun fact I discovered on the website: Chris Doohan first boarded the U.S.S. Enterprise NCC1701 in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and continues to do so, up to and including Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness, in which he appeared in a scene with Simon Pegg, a.k.a. the “new” Scotty.

Everyone is perfect in their roles, costuming, and make-up; except for, I have to say, Kim Stinger as Nichel Nichols as Lt. Nyota Uhura. Her 2014 hairdo and voice and physicality does absolutely nothing to remind me of Ms. Nichols or Lt. Uhura. She is the only one who takes me completely out of the spell, out of my “ suspension of disbelief.” She might as well be a new character.

Still, if you’re a Star Trek fan, you must check this website; all the music and sound effects of the original are incorporated into the series and even the special effects are so seamless and could easily “melt” into any of the episodes on your DVD set.

•     •     •     •     •

The reverberations of the attack on Charlie Hebdo continue to dominate the news cycle, even pushing the opening bell of the 2016 Presidential race here in the States to the second or third news story – yeah, here we go again – Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, and Mitt Romney (!!!) are all “exploring” the possibility of running – but as I read websites and newspapers and watch the news stations, I’m realizing that it’s about more than the right to free speech. It’s also about the rise of violence against Jews in France over the last decade, coinciding with the rise in the French Muslim population.

The history of French cooperation with the Nazis during World War II (aside from the Free French, who made valuable contributions) does not put that country of the list of “Righteous Gentiles“ at Yad Veshem, the Holocaust memorial in Israel. Historically, France has been the center of European Jewish learning and assimilation into the greater society; after the French Revolution Jews were emancipated, and Napoleon deconstructed the ghettos.

Today the Jewish community in France numbers between 500.000 and 600,000. But over the last few years there has been a huge exodus as increasing anti-Semitism fostered by the French Muslim population has become a palpable threat, with almost 8,000 occurrences since 2000, including one very large and violent event last July in which 200 Jews were trapped inside a synagogue while the demonstrators outside shouted obscenities and threatened death.

This is why the French police and security offices have been protecting Jewish neighborhoods and sites in Paris and around the country since the assault at Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper Cache kosher deli, including schools and synagogues.

*sigh* And the story of Cain and Abel, and Isaac and Ishmael, just keeps on trekkin’.


The Point Radio: What Scared Marina Sirtis?

STAR TREK favorite Marina Sirtis has a chilling role in a new SyFy thriller premiering this weekend (Saturday at 9pm ET). FINDERS KEEPERS also stars Patrick Muldoon (from STARSHIP TROOPERS), and both actors are more than willing to talk about how the movie gave them the creeps. Plus NEW YORK TIMES best selling author, Jan Karon, has thrilled her fans by doing her the first new novel in her beloved Mitford series in almost a decade, and she tells us there’s more to come.

THE POINT covers it 24/7! Take us ANYWHERE on ANY mobile device (Apple or Android). Just  get the free app, iNet Radio in The  iTunes App store – and it’s FREE!  The Point Radio  – 24 hours a day of pop culture fun. GO HERE and LISTEN FREE  – and follow us on Twitter @ThePointRadio.

Mike Gold: Marvel’s 75-Year Marvel

Marvel 75th Anniversary MagazineIf you can find a decent magazine rack near you, or you are lucky enough to live near a bone fide comic book store, you might want to check out Marvel’s 75th Anniversary magazine, conveniently pictured to our left.

Oh, look! Rocket Raccoon and Star Lord and Groot and Nova! And no Sub-Mariner or Human Torch! Man, 75 years go by so fast we forget our roots.

Look, these magazines are rarely more than the team programs they sell us as we walk into sports stadia, and by that measure this one is a lot more attractive than most. It’s good for what it is – an opportunity to get people excited about new talent, new media and new movies. In other words, it’s really more about Marvel’s next 75 years than it is a tribute to its past. Not a lot about Bill Everett, Carl Burgos, Steve Ditko or even Jack Kirby here.

A real Marvel history would run a hell of a lot more than four-dozen pages, and there are plenty of such histories in the bookstores to prove that. The only real “history” is the article about Marvel’s golden age written by ComicMix’s own Robert Greenberger.

Bobby, as we affectionately call him, was once DC Comics’ own Robert Greenberger. And Marvel’s own Robert Greenberger. And Starlog’s own Robert Greenberger. And Star Trek’s own Robert Greenberger. He’s also been my friend long enough to deserve a medal for perseverance. Oh, and his daughter is getting married this month, so he’s The Father-of-the-Bride Kathleen Michelle’s own Robert Greenberger. And, as pictured here, he’s also Deb Greenberger’s Robert Greenberger. Woof.B&DGreenberger

OK. Enough fawning about a talented old buddy. I’m embarrassing him. (OK, I’ve been doing that for three decades. Hey, it’s a living.)

His piece is called “The Timely Birth of Marvel.” Get it? Timely Comics begat Atlas Comics which begat Marvel Comics which is now the Pac Man inside the Disney empire. It’s worth the price of admission. I said it was about the golden age, but to be clear Bobby’s piece is not just about the Golden Age – it’s about the company’s founding right up to the founding of the contemporary Marvel Universe.

There’s a hell of a lot of information in this article. It is the Secret Origin of Marvel Comics, which is vaguely ironic in that Bobby edited DC’s Secret Origins title.

Marvel survived on enthusiasm. Bigger publishers – Fawcett and Dell/Gold Key, to be sure – went blooie in the mid-1950s, as did Quality, EC, Gleason, Gilberton (Classics Illustrated), Charlton, Harvey and a great, great many others. Only DC and Archie join Marvel in its unbroken timeline from the beginnings of the Golden Age, and it survived by respecting the readers’ intelligence while consistently catering to our sense of wonder.

You did ‘em justice, pal.


Mindy Newell: I Owe It All To Television

When television is good, nothing – not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers – nothing is better. But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your own television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland. You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly commercials – many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you’ll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, I only ask you to try it.” – Newton N. Minow, Chairman, Federal Communications Commission, Speech at the National Broadcasters Association Convention, May 9, 1961

This week both Entertainment Weekly and TV Guide published their fall TV preview issues. Among the many new shows vying for an audience and a pick-up for next season are The Flash, a spin-off of the CW’s Arrow, and Gotham, a “crime serial” (as described by EW) which takes place in DC’s mythic city a decade or more before Bruce Wayne first dons the cowl of the Batman. Constantine, based on Vertigo’s occult anti-hero, aims to make us all forget Keanu Reeve’s frankly horrid movie – um, we don’t need any help in erasing that mistake from our memory – and, at least from what I’ve seen in trailers on the web – will not miss its mark. Returning genre-oriented shows (meaning including elements of fantasy and science fiction as well as directly linked to comic books) are the afore-mentioned Arrow, Grimm, Under The Dome, Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., Vampire Diaries, Once Upon A Time, American Horror Story, Supernatural, The Originals, The Walking Dead, Resurrection, and Sleepy Hollow.

Whew! Did I miss any?

It seems to be a golden age for genre television, which I think is partly due to The Big Bang Theory, the success of which has helped out the millions of geeks in this country and around the world; it’s now cool to be a geek, and while the networks, including cable, may have been a little slow in noticing, they’ve got their eyes wide-open now.

…but there’s been plenty of science fiction, fantasy, and comic-based shows for as long as I can remember. In fact, I sometimes think that if it weren’t for television, my imagination might have been dimmed, that I might have not picked up that copy of Stranger In A Strange Land in the bookstore, that I wouldn’t have taken “Introduction to Science Fiction” as my English requirement in my first year of college, that I wouldn’t have been led to discover the magic words…

“What if?”

I was born in 1953, which means that I was lucky enough to catch the tail end of the television’s Golden Age. In the late 50s and early 60s, the medium was still experimenting with this new entertainment and took a lot of chances. Which meant that, though I was frequently scared out of my mind, I watched The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits.

A few years later, thanks to the old Channel 9 in New York City and the national Million Dollar Movie franchise, I watched Godzilla trampling Tokyo and The Giant Behemoth not only trampling, but also irradiating London, while Rodan flew at supersonic speeds overhead. And years later in Psych 101 I totally got the Freudian concept of the id because of Forbidden Planet.

Yes, it was all there on the tube: Invaders From Mars. Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers. Them! Queen Of Outer Space. The Day The Earth Stood Still. The Fly. War Of The Worlds. The Blob. Mysterious Island. World Without End. The Time Machine. King Kong. When Worlds Collide. The Thing From Another World.

Though fifty years ago these were throwaway movies – probably bought for very little dollars and broadcast to fill what otherwise would be dead airtime, many are now lauded masterpieces – King Kong and The Day The Earth Stood Still, for example – while others still get their due as classics of the B-move genre: Forbidden Planet, The Fly, The Blob, Invaders From Mars, for example.

Well, okay maybe not so much Queen Of Outer Space or World Without End, though they are still two of my favorite “B-movies” of the genre, so much so that my cousin Ken Landgraff, a noted comics artist who worked with Wally Wood and Neal Adams in their studios before striking out on his own to help pioneer the independent comics movement in the 70s and 80s, made copies of them for me, which I cherish.

Yes, there were many if not classic, fondly remembered genre shows back in the day: My Favorite Martian, which starred Bill Bixby – my first “screen idol” crush – and Ray Walston. Bewitched with the gorgeous Elizabeth Montgomery (go, Team Dick York!). I Dream Of Jeannie, on which network censors forbade Barbara Eden to show her belly button and whose male star played an inept, befuddled astronaut – and didn’t he turn that around a few years later on a show about a Texas oil family. There were the first, black-and-white episodes of Lost In Space and the colorful Wonder Woman, which I think is not so much remembered for the show itself but for Lynda Carter, the Amazonian beauty who seemed to step right out of the pages of the eponymous comic. Bill Bixby returned to genre TV with his, yes, incredible performance as the lonely and cursed genetic scientist Bruce Banner in The Incredible Hulk. There was The Six Million Dollar Man and its spin-off, The Bionic Woman.

And then there was Star Trek. Which begat Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. (“Uncle Martin” Ray Walston became a favorite recurring guest star on Next Gen and Voyager as Boothby, the Star Fleet Academy gardener – by the way, the character is first mentioned in the  fourth season episode “Final Mission,” in which Wesley Crusher leaves the Enterprise to attend Star Fleet Academy; Captain Picard tells him to look up “Boothby, one of the wisest men I have ever known.”

There were also shows like Farscape and the rebooted Battlestar: Galactica. There were Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel and Charmed. There was Stargate SG-1 and its descendents, Stargate Command and Stargate: Atlantis. Shows that never built a huge audience by network standards, but like Star Trek and its sequels, had devoted fans that built franchises that couldn’t be contained on television alone but led to self-contained universes that spawned conventions and books and websites.

And there were shows that tried but weren’t as successful: Shows like The Man From Atlantis and Sliders and Time Tunnel and Space: 1999. Some completely sucked. Some started out strong and got sidetracked. Some just never built the audience needed to stay on the air.

And there was Smallville. Which led to Arrow. Which is now leading to The Flash.

I’m wondering how long this bonanza of science-fiction, fantasy and “adapted from the four-color page!” on the small screen will go on. Will it flourish for a short time and then die in its season, only to be reborn ten or twenty or even thirty years from now? Will someday another columnist write a piece about how, when he or she was growing up, back then in the early 2000s, there was a cornucopia of television shows about super-heroes and monsters and fairies and princes and princesses and aliens and vampires, and how, because of television, he or she learned how to embrace those magic words…

“What if?”


Mindy Newell: Outlander

“It’s just a big story, you know? The book is a big tale. It travels a lot and it goes to a lot of different places. And as I looked at it… the rights holder initially was trying to do it as a feature and I knew that it was never going to be a feature. You would lose everything that was special about the book once you stripped it down to two hours. And still, if you want to do the story justice, if you want to actually enjoy the experience the way the reader enjoys the experience, you have to take your time. You have to sort of drink in the landscape. You have to get to know the people. You need to let the moments breathe. You need to let the story just unwind a little bit. And to create that feeling in television, it just required a bigger spread of hours.” Ronald D. Moore, Executive Producer, Outlander, A Starz Original Series based on the book by Diana Gabaldon.

First, a confession.

I’ve never read the Outlander series of books by Ms. Gabaldon.

I’m not sure why. Certainly all the ingredients are there:

  • Time travel: As those of you who regularly read this column already know, and as any newbies are about to learn, mention a time travel story to me and my mouth starts watering like Pavlov’s dog – Doctor Who, various episodes of various Star Trek shows and movies, Connie Willis’s series of short stories and novels concerning the time-traveling faculty of a future Oxford University;
  • A woman protagonist who is not only a registered nurse, but a combat nurse in World War II – for those of you who don’t know, I’m an R.N., as was my mom, who served in the Army during the war, and my dad was a fighter jock in the China-Burma-India (CBI) theatre of operations, first piloting P-40s and then, for the majority of his time in service, flying the ultimate war plane, the Mustang P-51. (Okay, the Brits may argue with me on that one, defending the very worthy and impressive Spitfire, in which the R.A.F. pilots won the crucial Battle of Britain.);
  • History and great historical fiction, especially the incredible history of the British isles and the great historical fiction about our cousins across the pond – I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before here, but I’m sort of a British royal history geek, reading everything from Shakespeare’s plays to Anne Weir and Eric Ives to Jean Plaidy and Phillipa Gregory and watching every movie from The Private Life Of Henry VIII (starring Charles Laughton and directed-produced by Alexander Korda) to The Lion In Winter (starring Peter O’Toole as Henry II, Katherine Hepburn as Eleanor of Aquitane, Anthony Hopkins as the future King Richard “The Lionhearted” I, and Timothy Dalton as France’s King Phillip II) to various Masterpiece Theatre productions – Glenda Jackson in Elizabeth R – to Cate Blanchett and Helen Mirren’s turns as the Virgin Queen. Not to forget Ms. Mirren in the 2006 movie The Queen.

And there was a time when I loved what are commonly referred to as “bodice-rippers,” i.e., romance novels. You know the ones I mean, the one with the covers of some impossibly gorgeous man of a past era with impossibly gorgeous pecs holding a beautiful, sensuous, and amply endowed woman dressed in a disarrayed bodice (hence the term “bodice ripper”). Also referred to as “soft-porn,” these books are formulaic, usually involving a young and innocent heroine and a rich, powerful man who she initially and distinctly H-A-T-E-S, but with whom she eventually, and eternally, fall in love. The seduction of the heroine happens frequently, and, I have to admit here, that some of the sex scenes are I-N-C-R-E-D-I-B-L-E, giving Fifty Shades Of Grey a run for its money; I can heartily recommend, for those of you interested in “genteelly” getting your rocks off, The Flame And The Flower by Katherine Woodiwiss, Sweet Savage Love and its sequels by Rosemary Rodgers, and the hottest, most licentious, incredibly sweaty and sexy Skye O’Malley series by Bertrice Small.

But The Flame And The Flower was first published in 1972, Sweet Savage Love in 1974, and Skye O’Malley in 1981. IM-not-so-HO, these were the books that really started off the craze, but since then the romance genre has been flooded with thousands of knock-offs by, again, IM-not-so-HO, too many really, really lousy writers incapable of really, really, sweat-inducing bedroom (and other places) scenes, and, again, IM-not-so-HO, the genre has suffered.

In other words… I was turned off. Not turned on.

Which is why I never picked up Outlander.

Which, BTW, was in a sub-sub-genre of bodice rippers called “time-travel romance,” which was a sub-genre of bodice rippers called “science fiction romance.”



When I read that the adaptation of Outlander was being exec-produced by Ron Moore – he of some of ST: The Next Generation’s best episodes, including “Best Of Both Worlds Part I,” and of course, of the reboot of Battlestar Galatica, my “on button” went green.

So this past Saturday, August 9th, at 9 P.M., I turned on the TV and went to the Starz channel.  And guess what?

Not only wasn’t I not disappointed… I was intrigued.

First off, the production is shot on location in Scotland. Scotland is beautiful, eerie, and full of history.

Second, Mr. Moore introduces us to the heroine, Claire Beacham Randall, at work in the field hospitals of World War II. Mr. Moore added this scene, which apparently is not how the book opens; it should have. Right away the viewer knows who this woman is: brave, resourceful, knowledgeable, and able to stand on her own two feet.

Third, the first half-hour is dedicated to the relationship between Claire and her husband, Frank Randall, a historian. They have been separated by five years of war, and are trying to reconnect through a holiday in Scotland. And by watching them reconnect, we connect to them. Plus there is some hot sex between the pair, including a scene in which Frank goes down on Claire in an ancient, ruined Scottish castle.

Fourth, we believe Claire’s reaction to being thrust back into time and what initially happens to her there because, as I wrote, we already have a sense of what type of person Claire is, and we have become connected to her through the first half-hour.

Fifth, the Scots whom Claire meets speak Scottish as well as English; a nice bit of reality.

And, finally, that ancient, ruined castle pops up again. Only it’s not ruined, it’s not ancient, and its flags are flying over the turrets; a nice bit of foreshadowing by Mr. Moore…and, I’m presuming, Ms. Gabaldon, since I haven’t read the book.

But I will.

I just ordered in on Amazon.

Now I just have to decide if I want to read it before the next episode of Outlander airs this Saturday night.