Doctor Who: Familiar Smile

If you feel a little like you have seen this episode, Smile, before, it’s because many elements are familiar. It was a standard let’s go to the future, which is a little bit dangerous, in order for you to learn the rules, episode, with added bonus: The Doctor realising he is wrong and correcting himself, as well as The Doctor lectures the locals on living in harmony. This is not a criticism, by the way, these reminders are crucial and generally they are always delivered differently. Context is everything.

Engine of the ship that became a city.

Forgetting all of this, I’m enjoying Bill pointing out logical and practical flaws in everything from the Tardis name to the positioning of the seats inside. I like how she notices things, and I hope her abilities in this regard will be important to the resolution to the series arc. Like it was destined, or something.

Where ever humans go, they always end up on the dark side.

As an episode though, Smile felt most like The Beast Below, given it a ‘first adventure’, in the future, about human colonies, except the smiling automata that are killing people, are actually killing people and become a new species. Between the two episodes there are points to be explored about avoidance and public displays of certain emotions. Of course, there are no space whales, nor great emotional/emotive insights or hugging. But there was the concept of designing a world to make people happy. It reminded me that how, much like in the first iterations before Neo’s world in The Matrix, this world gets it wrong too.

Grief as a virus is interesting; how frustrating for the systems designed for happiness, but much like the pictures on the interface most of the emotion was told to us. I didn’t feel too much of it. Again it was telling, not showing, probably because showing us mass viral grief deaths are a bit gruesome and costly budge-wise.

Take concept & look at it another way: nanobots as swallows. 

Anywho, the interfaces designed for people had an eerie quality to them, much like those from The Girl Who Waited, as they are designed to help but end up killing. Says a lot about humans eh? Every time I see hygienically clean, tidy, and, bright in NuWho I think: death.

As for the emoji robot reboot, well that was a multi-layered joke. It was for anyone ever who has used tech, it was a series restart in-joke, a regeneration in-joke, and a reflexive writer joke about Chris Chibnall taking over. It was also advice: no matter how may restarts, watch the show, go along with it, and keep smiling because no matter who the companion is, or who takes over or who plays the titular hero, The Doctor is The Doctor.

May this long continue.

 

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This April is the cruellest month

It was my birthday last week; not especially an important one, except for one reason. I am now the same age as my mother. Weird. It’s weird to imagine me leading her life, when ours diverged significantly. Weird thinking about the responsibilities and worries she had that I don’t and never will. Weird to think about what she achieved compared to what I have, when it’s not a race nor a competition. And I don’t want to think about this. Which is why I am writing about it instead.

Yeah: not so much alike. I’m still way shorter. 

And yet, being the same age invites comparisons. I have such an urge to write lists and tally everything: Mum held more art exhibitions, but more of my writing is published. Blah, blah, blah. Mum could swim, I really can’t properly (but am about to learn).  Mum was married, I am not (I think I win that round). The lists don’t mean much because the conditions are different. Times have changed. She can’t, except in what she means to me and to those who loved and knew her.

 

Times changed all right. Sandals & red track suit combo?

 

This is a glitch in my mainframe as it once more processes the uneven passage of time and memory, the fragility of all life, and my own mortality. It happens, now and again, given the occurrence of certain anniversaries and such like. My system re-calibrates, sometimes automatically, like a laptop with daylight savings, and the days roll on.

Sometimes the adjustment takes more effort.

If there are profound psychological insights to be made from this circumstance, I’m not sure I’ll be making many.

I’m also uncertain if any I might have will translate beyond this…? Surely this experience is common enough? Eventually.

Cat by mum. It’s finished, even if it’s not complete.

Of course, there are times I wish things were different. I imagine what we could have achieved had we collaborated properly back then, but neither of us thought to. We didn’t have the capacity. The timing was off, school/work, lack of confidence, life, etc, etc ad infinitum.

Could have beens are a nightmare maze of what ifs that never can be. If I have one insight, it is this: avoid them. They are springes to catch woodcocks, as Hamlet said, and my high school English teacher liked to quote.

 

Someone, mainly not me, by mum.  

Thus, imagining what we could achieve now, writing/arting together is beyond me. I can’t even see what my mother would be like in her 60s today, although I believe her art practice would have evolved. But she had her time, as short as it was. My mother, having overcome many reservations and disbelief in herself, while coping with myriad barriers, managed to achieve quite a bit, whatever I want to tally.

Despite imagined attempts, I’m yet to balance my side of this ledger.

But then, I have the time she never got.

 

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Mind in the artificial body

Yes, I saw Ghost in the Shell. Although, I’m not sure why. I was confused about why almost everyone spoke English, except for one deeply capable older gent with the odd haircut. I was annoyed by why characters had to keep repeating ‘ghost in the shell’ or any number of variations of this throughout the entire movie. Was it to remind us this wasn’t Lucy? I was delighted by the appearance of actors I haven’t seen in much since the 90s (you’ll know them when you spot them). Also, why does it always have to be kids? What kind of corporate dystopia does that? Mainly, though, what about the main character?

Major issues with the shell

I get that for the disconnect between Major and her former identity to be properly portrayed, she couldn’t look like her original self. Sure, but it is interesting that an in unspecified time in a future Japan-like city-state, the measure of ‘beautiful’ is Caucasian, more specifically, Scarlett Johansson. Why not African? Why not Aboriginal or Arabic? Or even, here’s a crazy thought, Japanese? My answer is because, Hollywood films (even co-productions) remain a business relying on bankable ‘stars’ run by mostly American executive men who are delivered narrowly gauged polls on how teen boys respond to casting announcements and early edits. So yeah.

Any way, while Major had a corporatised Caucasian body connected to her brain, she could not feel it. I was disturbed by this, because even now there is technology to enable amputees to feel, even a bit. And if there is phantom limb syndrome, surely Major would have a version of phantom body syndrome?

Speaking of phantom bodies, I wish Major’s visual glitches could have included memories of Motoko’s body, because most people look at themselves, even as I am now, seeing my hands and fingers move as I type this. And people can remember themselves. A glitch of something like this would have helped the audience connect better to Major.

Hands up for more mind/body theory in films. 

Connected? 

Sci-Fi 101. Hackable bodies? Check. Scientist as parent: check. Uploading to a bespoke network? Sigh. Of course The Matrix, but also the Framework featured in Agents of Shield, and Lucy’s destination and a gazillion others. I’m glad Motoko/Major resisted the upload, even if it might have been for sequel reasons.

And…why couldn’t Major speak Japanese when she got her memories back as Motoko?

Maybe I should go back to watching cybermen, who in their uploads not only suppress personal histories and emotions, but gender expression through uniform (male seeming) metal bodies. Speaking of bodies…

Artificial Bodies (of Work)

I’m sure there are graduate film theory classes or a thesis or two on Johansson films and her choices. I can imagine them being called Embodying the Silent Other: Scarlett Johansson in character, or Remade Body of Work, or some such, with a few references to Laura Mulvey. Such a survey would include Girl with a Pearl Earring, The Other Boleyn Girl, The Prestige, The Island, Under the SkinHer, the aforementioned Lucy and now Ghost in the Shell, with a side note on the Black Widow from the Avengers stuff.

There is a strong impetus to connect all Johansson’s characters, and make it about body and identity and silence, but especially how each character is the locus for other people’s meanings, purposes and agendas. And beyond that how this actor’s body across films is the site of manipulation and control – whether it is for art, or making a king happy, or supplying body parts for her original self, or to create a Russian assassin.

Ghost without a shell

Even though any of these could form a legitimate investigation,  it is worth noting that Major speaks the entire time. She, of course, espouses the company line, in telling us what she is, and what she was made for, but her deadpan delivery belies this, and when she remembers, she – and her mother – tell us what Motoko stood for. Despite Hanka and others designating Major for a purpose she gets to make choices, take risks and narrate them.

Thus, Major is not only for others, just as The Female in Under the Skin evolves beyond her designated purpose (kind of alien food lure), and again how Mary survived her designated role as royal concubine in a way that Anne Boleyn, as Queen, could not survive. If there are physical and mental manipulations, silencing, and abuses of power, there are also varied survivals, and the recovery of many types of power in most of these roles. There is not one ghost who is also Jordan Two Delta, Lucy, Griet, Mary Boleyn: there are multitudes.

Or something. Make of that what you will. Maybe too many films explore the same themes, fleshing out original and complex ideas too simply in showy and/or action packed attempts to impose some meaning or acceptability on what could be seen as male gaze fantasy fodder? I don’t have answers, I’m just a person, looking at a film, wondering…is this a thing? Is it a problem? And if not, why does it seem like there is only one actor in all the world for this purpose?

Dunno.

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Summer of Sundays +

It’s finished and submitted and sitting in a Brooklyn art library, but it took ages to decide what to do for my second Sketchbook Project. It’s about that most obvious of all lame art anxieties – that of the blank page. And, also about being ‘good.’ Sigh, or better. Thus I had almost a year with it empty. I’m a bit slow on the pick up, but the lesson I finally learned is art doesn’t have to be good, because sure, it is a thing to look at, but for the artist, it’s a verb.

The real painting from the NGV (in black and white) and my pencil sketch of it (also, in black and white).

Anyway after months of agonising, it dawned on me that the summer Drop by Drawing classes at the NGV could be for my gorram project book. And so it came to pass, sort of. The title is Past Imperfect Present Tense, and this lil book explores what I achieved over this last summer – mostly during my month of Sundays at the NGV. Furthermore, as there wasn’t quite enough, I thought I would contrast recent sketches to earlier arting about as a teen and as a student in my 20s when I could just about afford watercolours and some pens, but didn’t posses a license or a car for more adventurous or crazier pursuits. See, there is a purpose to hoarding after all!

Watercolour experiments from 25 years ago? Don’t we all have them? 

Last time, I worried about filling all the spaces, this time, I was less worried about all the white pages and I think the book might be better for it. It was less busy, I think.

Old painting / new sketch.

The task of turning a bunch of paper into some kind of coherent pictorial narrative reminds me of IQ questions asking me to identify the next correct shape in a series, except I made up the series across the set 16 small pages.

Melbourne CBD from the Yarra this summer.

Animals, cityscapes and architecture, leaves and abstracts. Somehow, I managed to make it fit, even as I relearned things I had long forgotten: a part of myself.

Bridge sketched before class.

Anyway, all of this is sitting in New York with others of its kind. What else do  you do with imperfect art made last summer, and 20 years ago?

Speaks for itself.

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Doctor Who: Aboard for the New Who Crew

Herewith containeth commentary, analysis, and spoilers.

The 2017 return of Doctor Who is solid. There’s oodles of call backs for close watchers, with ancient ones for Classic Who aficionados and lots too for NuWho fans. Beyond all of that which I don’t bother to address here because others will some-when else, this is mostly an introduction to Bill and thus this episode is rightly named The Pilot. Bill Potts quickly establishes herself as the guide to this world, where The Doctor is an academic and guardian of a vault on campus. Again all this will probably build to something, and that’s fine, but not my focus.

Nor was my focus on the ‘enemy’ of this episode, a different version of The Flood from Waters of Mars, but more of a crush story, than conquer one.

No, my attention was entirely on the appearance of that go to story device used since Cinderella’s grandmother was in nappies and popularised in 18th century romances: the dead mother (sub)plot.

The Doctor goes to Australia but doesn’t save Tasmanian Tigers? Who even is he?

Of the dearly departed & emotional leverage

I was fascinated, glad, bemused, and happy all at the same time, seeing Bill’s story and back story unfold. The writing established she was an employee at the university and not a student, it presented her as a curious and clever, and established her sexuality. It also set up her family, with one woman Moira as her foster carer/mother substitute, and her birth mother, who died when she was a baby. Of a father, there is no mention, although her fosterer has men in her life, not unlike Rose’s mother Jackie.

What The Doctor does is latch onto this salient point Bill makes about photographs and memory in relation to her own mother. He immediately turns it into emotional leverage, going back in time to take the photos Bill does not have, but will soon see of her mother, for Christmas. It is the heart of the episode for me. It demonstrates the power The Doctor has over unwitting people, and also the effectiveness of even the tiredest of tropes for the writer. However, the danger is of resorting to this for a quick hit for what maybe of little import to Bill’s unfolding arc in the program. Why try to manipulate Bill (and by proxy all of us) if this familial fact about Bill is not important?

Here’s an old-fashioned star map because I can’t illustrate this topic properly.

For Clara, the death of her mother, but also of her partner, propelled her choice to become a teacher and then undertake risk taking behaviours with The Doctor. But externally for us watching, in one episode she is standing over her mother’s grave, and then, right at the end of Matt Smith’s tenure, suddenly a mother figure is with her father and grandmother at Christmas? And we weren’t even introduced to these Christmas family members. So you can see how I am doubtful about what will come of this fact about Bill.

Part of me wants this to be important. Death and loss shape people and so it should and has, shaped Bill. However, I especially don’t need the loss of a parent to be trivialised in a monster of the week escapade either. So for me, for this aspect of Bill should not just be a way for The Doctor to exploit and further shape his companion, or for Bill to manipulate her tutor (a la Rose in Father’s Day), it should be bigger than both  of them. It should be the kind of important that the vault clearly indicates.

The Doctor teaches

The fact The Doctor is at a university as a lecturer reminds me of Douglas Adams’ Shada and Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, which both refer to a certain Dr Chronotis, Regius Professor of Chronology at Cambridge University. A university is the perfect setting for The Doctor, even if not for a secret vault, and the fact he identifies Bill the ‘chip girl’ as a potential student and candidate for companion out of all the countless students he has taught is interesting too. She is the new Rose, dead-end job and dead parent and all.

Having a desk where he can display photos of River and of Susan help re-establish The Doctor’s history and his paternalism. He is a husband and grandfather, and tutor, but these could also indicate the kind of qualities he sees in Bill: a girl without a father, with a dead mother, inquisitive and smart, but also wanting to achieve more in life. And so she might.

Here endeth the lesson.

 

 

 

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Writing somebody else’s world

I began a story for a particular call out for submissions. In a keenly felt tragedy of non-epic proportions I lost what I wrote in the first draft mid way through. I managed to start again and finished it. Mind you, I wasn’t going to, but the ideas for this project kept percolating. What I had written I had liked, which was a rare first off. And of course the primary inspiration already existed in an established and developing world. Thus, in a way, the hard work was done. Through gritted teeth then, I returned to the blank document and thus summer was spent, in part, re/writing this one story that would only fit as part of this larger existing world. It felt, at times, like I was betting all on black.

A writer can hide from ideas, but like hungry puppies, they will track you down until they become stories.

A writer can hide from ideas, but like hungry puppies, they will track you down until they become stories.

I listened recently to an interview with the filmmaker of Winter At Westbeth, a documentary about the elderly residents of a long-established artist’s colony in New York. The interviewer spoke about the importance of collaboration and support for creativity. In suburban Melbourne, I don’t have a rent controlled subsidised artist’s place to live (gimme please), with a bunch of like-minded folk. What I do have though, is the internet (just – it’s a whole big story, suffice it to say BUFFERING EVERY 20 SECONDS FOR VIDEOS SUCKS!).

Embracing the tedium of rewriting

Rewriting can feel like…but not this time. 

Anyway, back to my point. Via this internet, I found this existing and currently expanding world in progress and it’s publisher. With an introduction to push me in the right direction, plus additional guidelines and a wiki in place, this was like an invitation and permission to play in another person’s playground where I didn’t have to build a swing first or pack up afterwards. Thus, adding to this growing realm constructed through the imaginative efforts of a few contributors felt constructive and instructive. With each writer building upon the other it was kinda like a community. It isn’t quite a Westbeth, I felt more like each member of this loose but inspired group of contributors is providing a personalised piece for a distant but Gothic and phantasmagorical castellated Lego construction where each plastic bespoke doodad is honed to perfection so the overall design is coherent and lyrical.

But yeah, I’ll take it.

Glad I took a change and rewrote my story.

The will to rewrite and keep going? Still got it.

The will to rewrite & keep going? Still got it.

Somewhat reminiscent of the vast ornately works of China Mieville, such as Perdido Street Station, but definitely its own thing, this world is the kind of creation that attracts me as a reader and a writer.

As a writer, what was provided was scaffold to build upon, with just enough in terms of both inspiration and the very important boundaries for imagination that help in creativity. As a reader, I could already see the city and its inhabitants, all I had to do was introduce something to it from me – my story. Turns out I could and it was welcomed and will be published. This is a source of joy in itself as the story would have taken a bit of work to make it useful for anything else;)

This was more calculated too. I have all manner of projects that need my attention, but this one had those helpful particular word count and rules for the world. It helped that I had an idea that I kept returning to, and which grew and crystallised the more I pursued it. Also, I felt my style for this was a good fit, even though I’ve not had much fantasy published before. Plus, this is a paying gig, which adds further spice to the motivation. All this will make sense when you see this world, which I am loath to publicly reveal here until this is ready to read.

Stay tuned.

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100 words before sleep

I couldn’t sleep last night. Not for hours. So I wrote a Drabble for a contest over at 10 Minute Novelists,  and the more likes it gets the more chance I have of winning (renown I think).

I had tried meditating, and saw music as colour, which was not as restful as I needed

I’d tried meditating, & saw music as colour, which was not as restful as I needed.

A Drabble (named for Margaret Drabble) is a story that is exactly 100 words long and this contest had to include three supplied words or phrases. It’s like a crossword without the squares and an infinite number of variations. Think of a story, include the three magic words, and edit until it fits the neat container of the word count. Thus, when wide awake, it’s a tiring thinking task as well as a creative one, with word limits and inclusions as useful boundaries.

After I posted it, I feel asleep, suspicious and listening to the gentle crunch of a light stepper on the lane way gravel outside my window.

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