Battlestar Galactica
Out on video (orig. SciFi)
Well, that was a story that finally got to where it wasn't going. In retrospect, it probably should have ended with the discovery of the abandoned Earth, sparing us the directionlessness of the last half of the final season. An occupational hazard of making things up as you go along: it's pretty hard to come to a coherent conclusion.
Doctor Who
BBC, Saturday
The Steven Moffatt era is upon us. Matt Smith is off to a good start as The Doctor, and Karen Gillan’s Amy Pond has plenty of potential. The series promises to be fun and clever, with a continuing bias toward loudness and excitement. Whether that loudness and excitement will make very much sense is the defining question: Steven Moffatt is a very good writer, and his first two episodes, both ambitious, hold together pretty well despite their phenominally dense busyness: they each seem to have one, but only one, idea too many.
The third episode, by Mark Gatiss, is something of a misstep. There's really too much Cool Stuff going on for the story to have enough emotional weight, and that's just not right when human feelings are a plot point — it's really just the idea of them, in the end, that's on display. That disappointing failure of tone extends to certain visual design elements, too...
Worst thing about the new season: the excess that is the title sequence. Both the music and the visuals are overdoses of loudness, excitement, and Cool Stuff; see above. Seriously, lightning and fire? Unless you're a volcano, having both is going too far.
Best thing about the new season: Steven Moffatt messing with your head.
Out on video (orig. BBC)
A spin-off project that, as Kim Gravelle quickly realized, is to Russel T. Davies’ Doctor Who as Angel was to Buffy — right down to the immortality and the trench coat, really. CBC aired first-season episodes cut down from their original fifty minutes: that did slightly injure the nuance and pacing, qualities that are already not rock solid on this show, particularly in Season 1. Seek out the uncut versions.
As expected, the tone and content aren’t so much in the family fun mould; given the way Davies-era Doctor Who tended to uncork the trauma toward each season’s end, it’s no surprise that some bad stuff happens to just about everyone. Second-season episodes were more consistent in quality, but the series was still not as tough as it pretended to be and would do well to embrace warmer subject matter and to approach its hi-jinks with a lighter heart — more 1.9 “Random Shoes” and 2.1 “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang”; less 1.6 “Countrycide” and 2.2 “Sleeper”.
The mini-series that is Season 3, Children of Earth, stands apart from the first two in more than scope and form. It is by far the most serious, dramatically, and in its last two hours, in which things go from bad to worse to worst to utterly horrifying, it is just as tough as it sets out to be. That comes at the expense of the gleefully kinky silliness that was such a part of the first two seasons, alas, and the result is about as far from enjoyable escapism as you can get.
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
Out on video (orig. Fox)
With a title that makes it sound exactly like something you don’t want to watch, Sarah Connor exceeds expectations within the first minute of its first episode, opening with a monologue that manages to be expository and moving, setting out the premise of the show in an accessible emotional context. Which is not to say that the story is short on guns ’n’ robots, following on more or less directly from 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day. The character work is substantial and the early episodes are constructed with obvious care, with the time-travelling, apocalypse-resisting concept framing a classic parent/teenager relationship in which Sarah Connor is simultaneously the world’s worst and best mother. Worst because she’s demanding, anxious, and refuses to let her son, John, settle down and be himself. Best because, well, she’s doing it all to save him from the unstoppable killer robots and a future in which humanity is doomed. Sarah Connor is founded on a literalized metaphor for motherhood that also gets you limitless opportunities for shooting and explosions.
This show has something in common, tonally, with The X-Files, and that's a bug or a feature depending on your sensibilities. Largely, the cast turns in pretty restrained readings of the scripts' stylized, complicated dialogue, including voiced-over diary entries from Sarah. When those monologues work, they can be quite affecting; when they don't, they ring like anvils. Over all, and not in a bad way, the show sounds very "written." And speaking of sound, the score has a consistent, driven moodiness that's perfect for a show that's so concerned with humanity and the machine, mechanism and emotion.
If you don't have the time to commit yourself to watching every last episode of a cancelled series, you can choose to view the first seven episodes as a sort of miniseries in themselves. What should have been the first half of the first season, if the writers' strike hadn't happened, forms a nice story arc. Episode 7 even plays out as a little finale, with Sarah accepting an apology from her former psychiatrist in a manner that she must have fantasized about for years. And, because this is an action/adventure series that loves its archetypes, someone ends up tied to a chair in a burning log cabin — there's a wry humour to Sarah Connor that extends from the dialogue to the storytelling.
The rest of the series is more uneven, so if the first seven episodes haven't done anything for you, the rest of it likely won't, either. If you do like what you're seeing, there are more good episodes ahead, though the story arc becomes more muddled in Season 2 and no longer moves with such sure-footed efficiency. All the same, it's a smart show, committed to its premise, and it feels like it was made to be enjoyed.


Spook Country
William Gibson, 2007, 371 pages. 978-0-399-15430-0
Gibson’s latest and perhaps most mainstream-accessible novel has some things in common with his previous Pattern Recognition, but the continuity is slight and will go completely unnoticed by new readers. Spook Country, like Pattern Recognition before it, is a high-concept mystery story seasoned with some barely-speculative technology. It doesn't involve strange doings in a vivid world of the day after tomorrow so much as it involves strange doings down the street last winter, and the doings are more spy than sci-fi.
Events unfold at triple speed thanks to a three-laned plot with no overt structural gimmicks. Having three protagonists lets Gibson echo and amplify some motifs within the work that might have bogged down a one-track story, so there's at least two novels' worth of atmospheric texture in this book. Sleeping in unfamiliar surroundings, finding themselves in different cities, and working on shadowy projects for shadowy people are experiences that the protagonists move through at slighly different angles, without coming off as redundant.
If you're a Gibson fan, you'll want to check out these notes from a recent promotional appearance by the author. He'll be touring again for Zero History, starting in the Fall. Until then, his Twitter feed is fun stuff; see also his Web site, with a blog and links to a discussion board.


Blade Runner: The Final Cut (1982, 2007)
Harrison Ford, Sean Young, Rutger Hauer; Ridley Scott (dir)
The most important thing about this version of the 1982 film is that you have a chance to see it on the big screen, where you can best appreciate the set design, the aggressive lighting, and the flight through the city. It’s essentially a cleaned up version of the Director’s Cut, so there will be no surprises beyond the fact that its influential, now-doubly-retro future is still so effective. The bits that have never made sense still don’t, but there may be something about the edit, or just the opportunity to read tiny facial expressions, that seems to improve the flow.