selenak: (The Americans by Tinny)
( Sep. 16th, 2014 11:22 am)
More The Americans observations and meta, I'm afraid. The above sentiment is a statement voiced in both seasons, both times by a Jennings in conversation with a Beeman, but the context is quite different. (And the differences say something about the characters in question at their respective points in time.) Still, it occured to me that if Buffy the Vampire Slayer in its first three seasons did the "High School is Hell" concept literally, i.e. teenagedom with literal demons, you could say The Americans by marrying, sorry about the pun, the spy show/cold war concept to an ongoing exploration of marriage, partnerships and family (if marriage is hard, family is harder - "nothing prepares you for them growing up", one mother tells another in the s2 opener) uses the spy tropes like BTVS does the demons. In this world, lies and secrets between partners can have lethal consequences, and teenagers growing up who see their parents as hypocrites because they insist on truthfulness while being liars themselves are having an avarage teenage experience written flamboyantly large because of the context of the lies in question.

What makes and breaks a partnership, what makes and breaks a marriage (not always the same thing): love actually isn't the deciding factor (though it's certainly important). Spoilers are following - or tailing? )
selenak: (The Americans by Tinny)
( Sep. 11th, 2014 10:01 am)
Having marathoned the show only a few weeks ago, and despite real life business, I'm rewatching it already. In reverse order, first s2 and now s1. I can't help it! The Americans has two ingredients that ensure its hooks in me: more than one or two interesting characters, and the central relationship as something I can't help but get invested in, not least because whatever the romantic state of affairs between Elizabeth and Philip, they always have each other's backs as partners, and that's something you so rarely see in tv m/f relationships. Also, rewatching with the new knowledge of later events always makes you notice things you missed or didn't pay that much attention to the last time around; makes you judge what remained internally consistent and what didn't. Shows in the pilot and early episodes are still finding their feet, and I find it fascinating, from a writing pov, to try and figure out what comes across as planned (true or not) and what as improvised.

Spoilery thoughts from here on )
No new Clone adventure to contemplate today, so a few thoughts on why season 2 as a whole - while offering many good things - didn't work as well as s1 for me.

it's all about the focus or lack of same )


Other fandoms:


Penny Dreadful:

Short but very interesting interview with Timothy Dalton about a certain scene in 1.05 and the Vanessa-Malcolm relationship in general.


Star Trek:

We learned the sea : beautiful love declaration to the various shows (TOS, TNG, DS9, Voy), their captains, and their relationships.
selenak: (Cora and Rumpel by Hewontgo)
( Apr. 24th, 2014 10:32 am)
Having rewatched The Miller's Daughter in light of 3.18., I take back my assessment of the later as being great despite some clunky retcons, because actually, the new revelations fit with the old ones surprisingly well and even add to some of the characters' interactions if you go back and watch it.

Spoilery thoughts for both eps )
Rewatching the first half of s1 in the light of current events is fascinating. It also made me want to committ meta, spoilery for both seasons as broadcast so far.

Nice town you've picked, Norma )
Taking a break from my Yuletide reading to resume December Meme duties, to talk about today’s requested topic.

Just about the first thing you have to explain to people who never read Mary Shelley’s novel is that Frankenstein (first name Victor) is the name of the creator, not of the monster, that’s how much the Universal movie icon came to dominate pop culture consciousness. (Though Boris Karloff’s character isn’t called Frankenstein in the two Whale films, either.) Mind you, today I just probably exempt Benedict Cumberbatch and/or Johnny Lee Miller and/or Danny Boyle fans, since Boyle’s stage production starring these two actors switching between the roles is very much based on the novel, not the movies.

So, the novel. Very much a product of the Romantic era, with its author being the daughter of two revolutionary philosophers, book-obsessed, and already with some traumatic events in her own nineteen years old life behind her. Starting with her mother, the feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, having died shortly after her birth. There is a notable absence of mothers in “Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus” - the full title of the novel – safe in a nightmare, Victor F. embracing the rotting corpse of his dead mother. And of course the whole premise is an all male act of creation turning into a nightmare birth sequence, with the second attempt – when Frankenstein comes near creating the woman his first creation requested, and then destroys her just before completion, deciding this is the responsible thing to do – a miscarriage, an abortion or horror of the female form, however you want to interpret it. Mary Shelley – at this point still Mary Godwin, Shelley’s first wife still being alive – would lose all but one of her children, and the death of the first one wasn’t far away. Her older half sister Fanny, her mother’s illegitimate daughter, would kill herself, if I recall correctly (though I haven’t looked it up and may misremember).

But Victor Frankenstein isn’t a mother. He’s a father, and a pretty rotten one. It’s not surprising that the character who changes most in the adaptions tends to be Frankenstein. With the caveat of the major, major change James Whale made when letting Karloff’s monster be inarticulate in the first of his two films and only capable of a few words in the second; Mary Shelley’s monster learns to speak, read and write in true Rousseau fashion, by observing the family he’s, unknown to them, hiding with and narrates a third of the novel in first person. The principle of the monster not starting out evil, only horrid to look at, but turning violent as the result of the universal hatred he meets remains. (Mary Shelley starts her novel with a quote from Paradise Lost, created reminding creator he didn’t ask to be made.) Frankenstein, on the other hand, can be an obsessive amoral scientist not caring about victims when played by Peter Cushing in the Hammer horror movies, or a well intentioned and misled obsessive scientist in the Universal horror movies, or, in Kenneth Branagh’s adaption a noble scientist eager to defeat the death who took his mother and who makes a fatal mistake when abandoning his creation, but is excused from this mostly by illness and trying to make up for it later. This isn’t just cinematic convention but something of a necessity when adapting the book; Victor Frankenstein in the novel is one of those characters who may have been intended as sympathetic but effectively never is, all high flown Romantic language and callous behavior, abhorring his creation for looks alone the moment it becomes animated, not daring to reveal the truth even when Justine dies for it (but expecting to be the one deserving pity for this), managing to make the one attempt to actually do something for the being he created into yet another disaster, and then somehow missing the point of the “I’ll be with you in your wedding night” threat by immediately proposing to Elizabeth and leaving her alone in said wedding night, looking for the monster.
I say “may have been intended as sympathetic”, because I can’t be sure. Mary gave a third of the novel to the monster to narrate, after all, making his case quite fervently (also, the one still alive at the end of the book isn’t Victor, though the monster announces the intention of suicide); and her own father had disowned her for practicing his own philosophical principles by running away with Shelley (whose money he however was quite eager to take). And then, there may have been an ambivalence in her not only about parents and children and the act of creation but also about romantic heroes; Shelley had already tried to get her in a three way situation with one of his friends en route to Switzerland, which hadn’t been her idea of free love, and she had an illustration of what can happen if you crush on someone who just sees you as a brief diversion by her stepsister Claire and Byron.

The big confrontation between Frankenstein and the Creature which starts with Frankenstein being outraged about his brother’s and Justine’s death and ends with him promising to create a mate for the Creature after the later had accused Frankenstein in turn is one of the novel’s highlights and the one where I’m sure we’re meant to sympathize with the Creature the way we do. Incidentally, my favourite adaption of this isn’t in any of the Frankenstein movies but in Blade Runner - the scene where the android Roy Batty meets his maker. “I want more life”, yes indeed.

The idea of a man-created humanoid becoming a monster and/or demanding justice has haunted sci fi and fantasy ever since Mary wrote it. And I think it will do so for quite a while yet. It’s the most powerful legacy of the novel, and I wish, between all those dead children, Shelley and her father, she could have known.
Full subject title, which Semagic didn't accept was: Forget about it: Magical solutions for Life, Universe and Everything by Regina and Willow. I swear this subject was given to me before a certain OuaT episode was broadcast. However, it's impossible to talk about without spoilers, so without further ado:

Spoilery musings on magic, issues, and memories )
For today, I was asked to talk about that Liverpool band I like so much. It's good to be reminded why, because like any other fandom, Beatles fandom comes with the downsides as well as the upsides: kerfuffles, the sense that people go on about the same old points and partisanship in the sense of not allowing any other pov. But every time, just when you reach the eye rolling point, you have a dicussion or find a gem that reminds you of the loveliness of shared enthusiasm, the bright side of fandom as well, luckily. Incidentally, not the least interesting aspect of Mark Lewisohn's three volume biography, the first of which just got published this year, is that he interviewed the very early fans as well - those around long before Beatlemania, when the Beatles were simply another teenage Northern band just barely out of school - and it made for some great stories about what it was like, getting enthusiastic about a rock'n roll band as a female teenager in the late 50s with your parents convinced this was the beginning of the end.

Now, what it all comes back to is the music, of course. The Beatles' first single got released in 1962, and they officially ended in 1970; in between that time, the sheer range of musical development and variety is breathtaking. Which is one reason why you have fans who only love the early tunes and fans of the "only the late Beatles are musically interesting" persuasion and anything in between. I appreciate the entire canon, so to speak, and I like that depending on my mood I have such a great variety of songs to choose from. It's not every day you want to be disturbed by She Said She Said or Helter Skelter, after all. Sometimes you'd rather be soothed by way of Let it Be or be irresistably cheered up by She Loves You. Or you are hiking in the mountains with friends and family and are in the mood for a Yellow Submarine singalong. (Don't ask.) Or you want a discussion about why Joe Cocker totally gets it wrong when making With a little help from my friends a throat tearing soul hymn instead of the casual mixture of mocking affection and pastiche it is when Paul and John wrote it for Ringo to sing. Truth is, I might not always be in the mood of active fandom but there hasn't been a time in my life, no matter whether happy or miserable, when a Beatles song or the other hasn't added something to it or helped.

(Two years ago, when I lost weight together with my mother, I brought Revolver along, and my mother asked me since when I was into those ghastly techno bands. "Mum," quoth I, shocked, "first of all, this is not techno, and secondly, these are the Beatles." "No, they are not!" she said determinedly. Turns out she missed the entire psychedelic phase in the mid 60s, though she did recognize Eleanor Rigby. Anyway, I can assure you listening to George Harrison complaining about having to pay a gigantic amount of tax in Taxman is helpful to losing weight if you're me.)

The great musical variety, of course, is the result of various lucky circumstances, including having an awesome producer ready to go with experiments, George Martin, but most of all the result of having not one but three great composers, even if the third one didn't come really into his own until the last two years of the band. And of having not one but three vocalists. And of having Ringo as a drummer, both because of the drumming (it's quite satisfying to read Lewisohn establishing once and for all that Ringo pre-Beatles really was one of the top drummers in Liverpool and they were lucky to get him), and because he was in many ways the glue balancing three egos together.

The band dynamics are of course another case for fascination. The pre-Beatles cases of world superstardom were mainly solo singers - Sinatra and Elvis Presley mainly - and for that matter, that goes for post-Beatles cases as well: Michael Jackson. If there was a band, there was a clear leader, and a clear hierarchy. But not for the Beatles. Now the Beatles themselves, not agreeing on much in hindsight, always agreed on how lucky it was that when fame hit the way it did, it happened to the four of them. They weren't alone with the mass adoration, life in the goldfish bowl and corresponding almost inevitable change in friends and family to minions and courtiers. (Ringo once summed this phenomenon up thusly: In 1963 the attitude of my whole family changed. They treated me like a different person. One absolutely clear vision I had was round at my auntie's, where I'd been a thousand times before. We were having a cup of tea one night and somebody knocked the coffee table and my tea split into my saucer. Everyone's reaction was, 'He can't have that. We have to tidy up.' That would never have happened before. I thought then, 'Things are changing.' It was absolutely an arrow in the brain. Suddenly I was ‘one of those’, even within my family, and it was very difficult to get used to. I’d grown up and lived with these people and now I found myself in weirdland. Home and family were the two things I didn't want to change, because it had all changed 'out there' and we were no longer really sure who our friends were, unless we'd had them before the fame. The guys and the girls I used to hang about with I could trust. But once we'd become big and famous, we soon learnt that people were with us only because of the vague notoriety of being 'a Beatle'. And when this happened in the family, it was quite a blow. I didn't know what to do about it; I couldn't stand up and say, 'Treat me like you used to,' because that would be acting 'big time'.) Being four, not one, was a way to at least keep that bit of groundedness. Though like everything, it was a two-edged sword. There was also enormous group pressure. (For example, when Paul refused to take LSD for near two years.) And when things started to implode, you got the ugly in-fighting that happens when people know each other really, really well and know exactly where to hit.

One of the most famous descriptions of the late Beatles dynamic comes from Ray Connolly, who compared them to a classic dysfunctional family, absent deadbeat yet brilliant Dad (John), hard-working Mum keeping the family together but also perceived as nagging shrew for doing so (Paul), rebellious teenage son (George) and adorable toddler whom everyone loves (Ringo). This is a far cry of the public selves their audience was used to from A Hard Day's Night, when they they were sold as The Witty One, the Cute One, the Quiet One and the Funny One. It's also not how they themselves would have described themselves in either phase, other than the marriage/divorce metaphor, which was used already extensively in 1969 and 1970 when they split up by both John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Which is another reason why the whole Beatles story is interesting to me; it's very much a case of the Rashomon principle at work, depending on who tells it and who gets emphasized, and that holds doubly true if the person at the heart of the story is someone other than the Fab Four - say, Brian Epstein, their manager, or one of the wives. I like complex situations which can't get simplified to X was always right, and Y was always wrong, and I like messed up family dynamics; which is why the entire biographical situation still holds a certain fascination for me.

But really, it always comes back to the music. And the way it became a way to perceive reality to me. I can't see an old lady shuffling through the streets and not think of Eleanor Rigby, having a face that she keeps in a jar by the door. When I hear about parent/child disputes (of the none abusive type, I hasten to add!), generational conflicts, I hear She's Leaving Home, which manages to be simultanously on the side of the girl and present the point of view of the parents (which itself makes it clear why she left without the parents being demonized). When I'm in that strange state of not sleeping but also very tired, it's impossible not to think my mind is on the blink with appropriate chords. Submarines always let me down a bit due to not being yellow. Once there was a way to get back home. And well, some times, you've just got a hard day's night. :)
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Farscape newbies: this icon isn't showing Aeryn Sun, but Chiana. I don't have an Aeryn icon; she's one of those characters who always make me feel slightly guilty because they ought to be my favourite, and they're not. But I do like her a lot, and am happy to ramble on about her.

TV character wise, Aeryn Sun is in many ways a direct descendant of Susan Ivanova on Babylon 5 and Kira Nerys on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Not just for the general warrior woman archetype; Ivanova, Kira and Aeryn are all basically female Byronic heroes. They're the ones haunted by their part (and past guilt, in the case of two of them) while in the present presenting an every day cynicism, complete with sneer disguising inner vulnerability, being sexually attractive to many, when (except in Kira's case) in swoops a male wide eyed idealist who is openly emotional and cheerful in the way they are not. Of course, this is where the reversed gender Gothic novel pattern breaks down in all cases. Marcus Cole on B5, well, those are spoilers for another entry, and John Crichton while playing the wide eyed vulnerable duck out of water to Aeryn's tough warrior woman early in the show, he then proceeds to get broken in as many ways as the show can figure out to do (seriously, Farscape has to set some kind of record for male lead getting put through rape and torture tropes) and emerges, not surprisingly, a very screwed up if also very interesting being (most definitely not a wide-eyed naif anymore), while Aeryn gets more openly emotional by the season. By the time The Peacekeeper Wars, a two part film that thankfully got made after the show got cancelled abruptly, wraps up their story, they're in balance re: their degrees of past guilt, present toughness and vulnerability.

Aeryn is also, with the lamentable exception of season 4, a character with a rich set of relationships other than the one with John Crichton. Her being the product of a fascist society and adjusting to a different life while never losing part of what originally shaped her is very much part of her characterisation (insert here, as in many other things, "with the lamentable exception of season 4"). She starts out her story on the show being stuck on a ship with people who have every reason to resent her, to put it mildly, considering she used to be part of the force that imprisoned and maltreated them, and is now on Moya not because she wanted to leave but because they kicked her out. It's not an easy place to be in, but she starts to make it her place. Other than the one with Crichton, Aeryn Sun's main relationships on Moya are with Pilot (if you never watched the show: he's the one everyone is thinking of when saying "the Muppets will make you cry" to people who don't want to get into Farscape because two of the regular characters are created by Jim Henson's people - Pilot is the symbiotic being with multiple arms who steers the ship), with whom it turns out she shares a breathtakingly tragic backstory (that directly involves what Aeryn used to do in her fascist past), and with D'Argo, whom she bonds with on a warrior-to-warrior level that's delightful to watch and never has a breath of UST. Her most interesting relationships outside of Moya, the sentient, living ship she travels on, are with her former superior officer, Bialar Crais, and with a character who like Pilot is not human but no less a person because of that: Moya's child (yes, another sentient space ship - they're leviathans, deal) Talyn. Crais spends most of s1 as the main villain before we get to meet the guy who takes over that position for the next two seasons, which benefits no one as much as Crais, from a Doylist pov, because Villain!Crais is your avarage crazed bad guy, whereas after Scorpius shows up he becomes Morally Ambiguous!Crais who might or might not be on a path of redemption (you'll find out when you watch) and whose actions are often a wild card because you can't be certain of his loyalties.

More detailed spoilery talk under the cut )
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The first thing that occurs to me here is that Buffy and Emma have as much that separates them, if not more, than what they share. Yes, they're both the blond leading ladies in their respective shows, and have to deal with being made into saviour figures by shady magic wielding men. But Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for the greater part of the show, is decidedly a coming-of-age narrative (and not only for Buffy); the high school setting, the school-as-hell metaphor of the first three seasons, the college experience in the fourth, and just the start of adulthood in the fifth, sixth and seventh can't be separated from who Buffy the person is. Once upon a Time is many things, but as far as Emma's story is oncerned, it is about making connections, allowing connections and finding a community as much as it is about anything else. And this can't be separated from Emma being very much an adult. The show as it is would not work with a teenage Emma; Emma's double existence as a mother and a lost daughter is too much at the heart of it.

Speaking of teenage Emma: she shares more with Faith than with Buffy. Emma never gets into details regarding what happened to her in the foster system, but it was enough to make her determined not to let other children end up there and have her on the run living from stealing at age 16. While Emma never appears to have killed or tortured anyone (that would have come up by now), prison seems to have been a similar turnaround for her as it was for Faith. Adult Emma's existence as a bounty hunter with intimacy issues when her son Henry reenters her life is what I could see Faith developing into. Mind you, later season Buffy has her own share of trust and intimacy issues - does she ever! - and Wishverse Buffy practically consists of them. These, however, are very much the result of her life as a Slayer through the show. And Buffy still has the memory of having had parents who loved her (until after When She Was Bad, 2.1., at which point Hank Summers in absentia becomes a deadbeat dad), and that is very much a part of who she is, much like Emma thinking of herself as an orphan, abandoned, is part of who Emma is.

On second thought, though, there are some other traits and narrative qualities they share, among more differences.

Spoilers for OuaT and BTVW newbies alert! )
The historical tv series all other historical tv series want to be when they grow up. Still. This includes fantasy tv series based on fantasy novels, for verily, you can tell G. R. R. Martin has read his Graves and watched his BBC series. (Tyrion Lannister wants to be Claudius when he grows up, too.)

There had been earlier attempts to film I, Claudius - notably by Josef von Sternberg, and in the dvds of the tv series, you can see the surviving fragments of Sternberg's uncompleteted attempt. (They're awesome. Charles Laughton as Claudius is as great as Charles Laughton tends to be, Sternberg sculps actors' faces like few other directors, and based on the surviving scenes, the script seems to have wrangled a successful distillation of Graves' novel into one cinematic epic.) But the tv show was the one which succeeded, and just at the right time, too. It's a BBC series of the 70s, meaning it's willing to take its time without being boring, and the actors are for the most part a later Who Is Who of the British acting scene. For Derek Jacobi, of course, Claudius would be his breakout role (and much like many a headline about Peter O'Toole's death were "'Lawrence of Arabia' dead" you can bet that when Jacobi dies, it will be some variation of "Claudius dead"). John Hurt is still the definite Caligula (all other actors who ever played insane sadistic emperors weep in envy). And Sian Phillips as Livia is the Evil Overlady to rule them all. Some of the actors are cast against the type most commonly associated with them, notably Brian Blessed as Augustus. (Anyone who believes Blessed can do nothing but SHOUT just has to watch Augustus' death scene, which Herbert Wise, who directed most episodes of the tv series, named as his favourite scene of them all. It's a jaw dropping amazing bit of acting because the camera is on Blessed's face all the time for what feels like five minutes, he doesn't say a word while the audience hears Livia talk out of sight, and not only does he facially respond to what Livia says early but you can feel the exact moment Augustus dies and the light goes out of his eyes. No special effects. The camera stays on his face (and Blessed doesn't blink) while Livia still monologues until she has finished what she had to say, and her hand moves in to close his eyes.) And of course, there is Patrick Stewart as one of the Little Bads, Sejanus, enjoying himself in a villain role. (And a wig.)

I, Claudius didn't have a big budget, which is why every time the characters are off to watch some gladiator games, the camera stays on them (i.e. we never see the masses and certainly no fighting gladiators, though in one scene we see the gladiators prepare while Livia gives her idea of a pep speech which, err, is very her). There are no battle scenes, either, though there are of course several wars being conducted through the decades. At its heart, it's the story of the Julio-Claudians as a dysfunctional family destroying itself (Breaking Rome?), with a razor sharp script full of one liners and intermittent spots of hope. Not everything about I, Claudius works, or in its thousands of imitations left a good legacy. The central premise of Claudius, while genuinely disabled with his stutter and his club foot, only faking his foolishness in order to survive while everyone else gets themselves killed carries the show to the point where Claudius becomes Emperor, but the show has some problems selling the other part of Graves' twist on history, that Claudius, after a few years of being a good Emperor, realises he's making a mistake because it means the people are now content to be in an Empire, and he'd been hoping for the Republic to return all his life. (I entirely blame Robert Graves on every "good " Emperor who really wants the Republic to return, no matter how unlikely that is - looking at you, Marcus Aurelius in Gladiator, for example.) He therefore marries the "worst woman" he can find, his niece Agrippina the Younger (Agrippinilla in the novel & show) because he counts on her son Nero being so terrible that the Romans will have had enough of the Empire once and for all. This of course means the audience (knowing Claudius is wrong there) can't root for him as an underdog anymore (the fate of all underdogs who make it to the top) and can't hope for his plans to succeed, either, while Agrippinilla isn't given the flair of the saga's earlier villains, like her brother Caligula, let alone Livia, and thus the show ends on something of an anticlimax. (Though no, I don't think they should have ended it with Claudius becoming Emperor; that would have been cheating.) Also, Augustus - one of history's sharks if ever there was one - as a mostly good natured pater familias is a quibble I have as someone interested in history, though not one from the pov of an entertainment watcher. (Where Augustus as a mostly good guy is necessary because each successive emperor gets worse which is part of the drama.)

But still, nitpicks not withstanding - I, Claudius is glorious. No matter how outrageeous events gets, the characters never feel like caricatures. Not even Caligula, who is insane and sadistic but by no means stupid, which makes him more frightening. They're rarely just one thing or the other; take Claudius' mother Antonia, who is one of the few high-minded Julians, and of those few the only one who doesn't die young. As far as anyone can be on this show, she's a good guy. She also has no sympathy whatsoever for her youngest son who embarrasses her by his stutter, clumsiness and clubbed foot, and never through several decades of show time has a kind word for him. (If you think Catelyn Stark not liking her husband's supposed bastard is cause for the fandom to condemm her ever after, I wonder what they'd make of Antonia?) When she realises her daughter Livilla has poisoned her (i.e. Livilla's) husband and was about to committ another murder, she punishes her by locking her up in a room and letting her starve there while sitting outside, listening to Livilla's desperate cries ("this is my punishment"). (Much as Livilla is an unsympathetic character when alive, this is a gruesome sequence.) Antonia, possibly the most Roman character, commits suicide in disgust of what Rome has become (and doesn't trust her son Claudius to get the arrangements for her funeral right, one last humiliation).I can't see a modern show resisting the temptation to soften her by letting her be a bit nicer to her younger son (she's loving towards her other children, until the truth about Livilla comes out, obviously, and to Herod, Claudius' best friend, who grows up as a glorified hostage in Rome) or at least give her a deathbed reconciliation with Claudius - or else to present her as a villain. But not this show.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have Livia, who is the prime villain of the show until Caligula takes over that position (with a brief Sejanus interlude), and who is responsible for a lot of the tragedies in the first third of the show, which she at no point repents. At the same time, when Livia says, off camera in the aforementioned death scene of Augustus, "I did it all for Rome" ("all" includes poisoning Augustus, which she's just told him), neither performance or script leave doubt this is exactly what she believes. The scene between her, Claudius and Caligula in which Caligula is signalled as the next prime antagonist and in which Livia and Claudius have their first honest conversation with each other is breathtaking in its emotional dynamics, not least because Claudius has feared Livia (with reason) all his life and still exits the scene having (sincerely) promised her he will make her a goddess after her death so she can escape punishment in the afterlife - and the way it's written and played makes the audience want him to keep that promise. (He does.)

The only villain who gets punished the conventional way (i.e. without the audience feeling anything but relieved and all for it) is Caligula, but then again, he's also one of the show's most memorable characters. John Hurt as mentioned is brilliant in the role, no matter whether tightly controlled sadistic (as towards the dying Livia) or barking mad (when he's convinced he's Zeus later) , and gets to play one of the most frightening scenes on tv (or any type of screen, for that matter), full stop, without the show ever needing to be explicit. Today's tv would probably show the gory results. The BBC did it all by establishing the before (Caligula's sister and lover Drusilla is pregnant; he's convinced that the kid will surpass him, since he's Zeus, you know) and the after (Claudius knocks on a door, Caligula, now with blood on his mouth, opens; we never ever see what Claudius sees behind Caligula, it's all done via Derek Jacobi's expression and John Hurt saying "I wouldn't go in, Uncle, if I were you"). And it's a complete nightmare. You can keep today's massacres, they still pale by comparison.

It occurs to me that I've made the series sound like an unreleting doom and gloom fest, and the amazing thing is, it isn't at all. As mentioned, the dialogue is very witty, even in the anticlimactic final episodes. (Take the show's version of that Juvenal anecdote about Messalina challenging one of the most successful prostitutes of Rome about who will satisfy more men in one night. The prostitute agrees, but the audience doesn't get a single sex scene. Instead it gets pointed dialogue. The men around Messalina make jokes when the prostitute wants to be paid beforehand. Says the unimpressed professional in question that Messalina might do this for fun but she's making a living that way. "My hobby happens to be gardening, for which I don't expect to be paid." With that line, a one shot character is established and real in a way prostitutes in historical or fantasy tv shows rarely get to be.

In conclusion: I, Claudius. If you haven't already, watch it. If you know it already, watch it again. There is nothing like it, though many try.
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Despite having considerable ISSUES with season 5 of Merlin, its ending for Gwen, Arthur and Merlin was something that felt right to me regarding the rest of the show entire, and one that allowed me to keep my love for the characters, who just might be my favourite incarnations of their mythical counterparts. With the possible exception of Parke Godwin's Firelord and the Arthur and Guenevere therein. (There is no real Merlin character in the novel.) (My favourite Morgana used to be the one from The Mists of Avalon because when I read that novel at age 13, it had a major, major impact on me, but I've been shying away from rereading the book as an adult, as I'm afraid it could be a case of disenchantment with a teenage experience, so I can't be sure anymore.) (Favourite Merlin as a tricksy old man is probably the T.H. White version.)

Anyway, one reason why I only rarely read Merlin fanfiction is that you either get Arthur/Merlin OTPness, with Gwen either handed over to Lancelot (or Morgana) or entirely ignored, or you get Gwen/Morgana (ignoring anything Morgana does to Gwen post season 2) and no positive or at least mixed mention of either of the boys. Whereas for me, one of the charms of the show was how these characters were interconnected from the start.

slightly spoilery talk ensues )
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Once upon a time in ye olde days of the 90s, the Dominion War arc that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine did, which ended up as one of those show defining narratives, was in fact pretty controversial in Trekdom. As I recall, there were two major argumenets against it in Trekker debates:

a) It went against the Utopian ideal of future humanity as having evolved and being able to solve conflicts avoiding war. True, Trek in any incarnation had included fight scenes, and backstories of wars - TOS with the Klingons, TNG with the Cardassians (when they first were introduced we also learned there had been an off screen Federation/Cardassian war from which everyone was still reeling, and DS9 itself, of course, had at the heart of its premise Bajor as a planet whose military occupation had only recently ended - but whenever war was threatening in the show present, what Our Heroes did ended up averting it. (Yes, even Kirk, though in the most famous case it were the Organians who made him and Kor do it.) In more recent Trek chronology, this averting of wars had been written in a shades of grey fashion - the last two seasons of TNG, which ran concurrent to the first two of DS9, introduced the Maquis, and even before that, and before the existence of DS9, you had episodes like The Wounded (the one where the Cardassians were introduced in s5) that showed avoiding wars was still the best solution but came with a cost. Still, to have the Federation engage in an actual war running over several seasons was by part of fandom perceived as going directly against a core ethical ideal.

b) It was perceived as a ripping off the Shadow War which simultanously went on on Babylon 5. While yours truly was always a fan of both space stations and couldn't see the point of bashing one while loving the other, there were, unfortunately, also a lot of hardcore partisans of either playing them out against each other and constantly trying to show the other did X better or just copied Y. Now B5 had no monopoly on space warfare, but what laid the Dominion War open to such fannish accusations, especially before either show wrapped up their respective wars, was that DS9 by introcuding the Pagh Wraiths as the evil counterparts of the Prophets seemed to veer a bit too closely to Shadows and Vorlons on B5. (Two obvious ironies here: evidently, both staff of writers knew their Tolkien; also, as it would turn out in B5's fourth season, the Vorlons were by no means the angelic good guys they presented themselves, were in fact no better than the Shadows, which was a major s4 plot point, while on DS9 the Prophets' moral ambiguity, to put it nicely, unfortunately came across as non-intended by the the narrative but the role they played remained still very unlike both B5 and Tolkien.)

Now, dozens of non-Trek shows with major war storylines later, the taboo breaking dimension of the Dominion War doesn't exist anymore - in fact, today, the avoidance of war is the more rare and original story twist again. (Not by coincidence, Ron Moore, who on DS9 was one of the main architects of the Dominion War, went on to create the rebooted Battlestar Galactica, which kicked off with devastating genocidal warfare and ended up in reconciliation.) But the Dominion War arc on DS9 still holds up pretty well, with inevitable blemishes.

Spoiler cut for DS9 newbies )
I.e. people not Sherlock Holmes or Joan Watson. One of the reasons why I like Elementary is that by and large, it has a deep respect for its characters. Which isn't the same as taking them too seriously, by the way. Every one of us has their absurd moments, and often fictional characters who never have them are lacking some bit of fictional life, of three dimensionality. No, what I mean is that while of course the Elementary characters, with the exception of Joan, who is the co-lead, are supporting characters, which means they get less sceen time than the leads, and their stories aren't the driving story of the show, they nonetheless are written and played in a way that allows us to see they have a life outside of when it intermingles with the one of Sherlock Holmes, they have opinions and emotions that aren't about him (either positive or negative), and when they share a scene with him, the emotional weight of the scene isn't automatically given to Holmes.

Spoiler cut to protect Elementary newbies )
Talking about Clara Oswin Oswald is near impossible without employing spoiler cuts, which may be part of the problem - or the advantage, depending on your point of view. Recently, I stumbled across a clever observation of [personal profile] elisi's, to the effect that back in 2005, when RTD had to relaunch and reintroduce Doctor Who to a new audience, the Doctor was (to many) the unknown, the mystery, whereas the Companion, while also a new character, was the familiar (living in easily recognizable and identifiable circumstances). By the time Moffat took over as showrunner, the Doctor was more than familiar to the audience; and thus, Moffat made the Companions the mystery. Or rather, mysteries.

This of course is one of the chief issues of the yay and nay sayers of the entire Moffat era. Personally, I think it sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. It mostly works with Amy in her first season; I still have a problem with the way the whole crack mystery is handled (i.e. ultra important when it's an arc episode, not a problem when we get a standalone), but Amy herself, personality-wise, comes across clearly from the moment little Amelia Pond prays to Santa. (I didn't "get" Amy emotionally until about mid season, but that wasn't for lack of a sense of personality; retrospectively, I wondered whether it might have been, but now the international iPlayer has put up the fifth New Who season online, and rewatching early Amy episodes confirms she's there from the start.) The mystery as to what the crack in time has to do with Amy is solved by the end of her first season, but that's not the key to her personality, and Amy remains interesting beyond its solving.

"Who is River Song?" is a mystery set up already in the RTD era via the Moff's Library episodes and key to the first two Moffat seasons; while I have considerable problems with the ultimate answer, River in season 5 is an incredibly compelling, interesting character, and her appearances are not dependent on providing an answer to the question for their appeal. It was, perhaps, only to be expected that when Moffat introduced his next regular Companion, she, too, would be a mystery, and she, too, would meet the Doctor out of sequence; Moffat really does love the timey-wimey, and he is, love him or resent him for it, undoubtedly the DW writer who does the most with the possibilities and paradoxes of time travel.

The problem, to me, with how the Companion-as-mystery gambit was executed the third time around isn't that the introduction wasn't good, or the question not interesting. It's that the introduction(s) was/were maybe too good, and the follow-up paled because the very set up of the question made it impossible not to.

And now I really must employ the spoiler cut )
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Having seduced abromeds into marathoning Breaking Bad in its entirety, I was delighted when she challenged me for meta around the subject of "Breaking Bad: Greek Tragedy? Shakespearean? Or WHAT?"

Now, I am a pedantic German who knows her Lessing who knew his Aristotle. Tragedy, as defined by the master of Greek meta: a tale wherein the main character is brought down by a combination of external circumstance and his/her own flaws. Which isn't how the word is mostly used today by the media - wherein "tragedy" usually means "calamity which befalls innocent people" - or in in pop culture understanding, where the hero of a tragedy is usually supposed to be character not only sympathetic but upstanding, with the flawed variety referred to as antiheroes. (Which would have been confusing to the Greeks, because their heroes, well, if they don't get mad and slaughter their families, or kill family members without any madness involved and instead good old fashioned revenge, they let their wives die for them, or cheat their comrades in arms out of armour and life, or, well, you get the picture. Mind you, I'm always a bit bewildered that Aristotle picked Sophocles' Oedipus, out of all Greek tragedies, as an example for a perfect combination of circumstance and internal flaws, because I can't see that. Oedipus, for a Greek hero, is actually among the more upstanding characters. His one genuine flaw is his hot temper and it contributes to his fate in as much as it's the cause why he gets into an argument with a stranger on the street which ends in him killing the stranger. This is not a habit with him, and he certainly didn't know that the stranger in question was actually his biological father. Otherwise, Oedipus' tragedy is all triggered by external circumstance and because the gods truly have it in for him. First his father gets the prophecy that Oedipus will one day kill his father and marry his mother and promptly has the baby exposed. (If that had not happened, nothing else would have.) Then Oedipus, when grown up after the usual myth elements of kind shepherds and friendly childless couples in adoption mode, , hears the same prophecy, naturally assumes this means his adopted parents, the only ones he knows, and leaves them in horror, determined to stay away so that he never, ever can fulfill that prophecy. (Oedipus, out of all the Greek mythological characters, did not have an Oedipus complex.) Cue stranger on the road, later encounter with the sphinx and marrying the widowed queen of Thebes, where he spends some happy years as a ruler with sons and daughters before the plague strikes and the whole truth is discovered. In conclusion: there is a reason why a French version of this is called The Infernal Machinery. Not nearly enough of these events are caused by Oedipus himself because of his own flaws. But then, a catastrophe out of all proportion as a net result is very Greek.

The problem with defining something as "Shakespearean tragedy" is that Will S. himself by no means wrote all his tragedies following the same rules or categories. Romeo and Juliet, until Mercutio gets killed, might just as well be a comedy. The Merchant of Venice, which is supposed to be a comedy, almost never gets performed as one today, and that's not all due to the Holocaust having happened; even in the nineteenth century, Shylock was often called a tragic character caught in the wrong type of play. King Lear, otoh, admirably qualifies as far as Lear himself is concerned - his flaws lead directly to his fate, and this is more or less true of Gloucester as well - but what about Cordelia, and the Fool? Whose tragedy is Julius Caesar anyway - Brutus', Caesar's, Antony's? And while we're talking history: the two dramas about ursurpers, Richard III and Macbeth, have main characters who are heroes in the traditional dramatic sense (main characters), but not in the modern pop culture one. Shakespeare's Richard III laughs at all the current popular villains and their fans because he did that "ruthless villain charms audience by being smarter and more eloquent than anyone else, gets UST scene with good person and seduces same" centuries ago. Ditto Macbeth with the whole "character starts out heroic, gets darker and darker, is, however, capable of intense affection towards partner" arc. However, both Richard and the Macbeths live in a dramatic universe where their very act of ursurpation means they cannot, in the end, remain successful. Their eventual failure isn't solely due to inherent character flaws, bad planning or the efforts of their antagonists, who in another drama would be the protagonists: it is pre-ordained because their assumption of power goes directly against the divine right of kingship.

You can see why I'm hesitant to call Breaking Bad either Greek or Shakespearean, though it certainly has elements of both. One sense in which people today use the term "Shakesperean" is to signify dramatic events on an epic scale and the mixture of humor into the bloodshed instead of unrelentic gloom and doom. (My teacher, back when I was an impressionable teenager, used Shakespeare to illustrate what "comic relief" means in classic drama, because who else? This description certainly fits Breaking Bad, but it is awfully general.

Let me draw another show in. The Wire has its share of personal tragedies - has it ever! - and several of these certainly come about by a mixture of circumstance and personal flaws, but most of all it strikes me as a tragedy of systems. In fact, the very point of the show, hammered in again and again, in season after season, is that every single system that gets focused on is so inherently corrupted and destructive that failure of the individuals sooner or later is inevitable. The Game, to quote one character, is rigged. For everyone - criminals, cops, teachers, students, politicians, the media. The Wire is far more Shakesperean in that sense, only with reverse trajectory. Richard III and Macbeth cannot stay on top because they are ursurpers and live in a dramatic world where ursurpation is against nature and ALWAYS gets punished; the various attempts at reform in The Wire cannot prevail for long because all the systems are too inherently destructive. You can, at best, help some individuals and salvage a few friendships, and even that is by no means granted; you cannot beat the system you're in.

In Breaking Bad, the only system which doesn't work is the health care one - which is an initial plot point, granted, and then one in mid season 3 -; but capitalism itself works, and so does criminal enterprise. So, for that matter, does the police. Walter White goes from nobody in two ill paid jobs to drug kingpin by a combination of lucky (well, for him, not for anyone else) circumstance, hard work and skills. Jesse Pinkman goes from small time crook and (bad) meth cook to brilliant meth cook and multiple millionaire. Hank Schrader has his share of set backs, but he steadily rises through the DEA ranks because of, again, hard work and smarts. Of course, none of these career highs are the end of the show, but the fact of the matter remains: there is no system in the Breaking Bad verse that inherently is set up to bring you down. Not even the American health care system, sucking as it does; it's important that as of episode 4 in the first season, Walter White gets presented with an alternative to his meth producing scheme. He gets offered not only enough money to pay for all medical expenses he and his family will have in the course of his cancer treatment but also a job opportunity that would end his need to teach chemistry to apathetic students who don't care. He could do the chemistry he loves, legally, and without hurting anyone. All he has to do is swallow his pride, as the offer comes from his former partners whom he still feels betrayed by. But Walt, displaying for the first time in full force that all time favourite attribute of Greek heroes, hubris, is not capable of this and rather chooses crime.

From here on, it gets spoilerly for the rest of Breaking Bad, so newbies beware! )
I just finished a few hundred Christmas letters, GOOD GRIEF. But well: it’s the season. Anyway, that’s why today’s meta post might not be as long as the subject deserves. Also because I wrote about Snow and Regina in fictional form, here, between seasons, and if I have one complaint about the first half of s3 which I otherwise enjoyed very much is that despite the set up the writers almost perversely found a way to avoid letting the two have scenes together (without other people, that is, or at least scenes that featured them having a conversation), after the opening episode. Which means there is not much new material to analyse. But still: it’s one of the most interesting twists the show did on a fairy tale trope, this relationship, and if canon this last half season has frustrated me in this regard, it delivered a lot of goodness before, and I still am disappointed fandom never picked up on it.

Who made whom? )
My favourite Evil Overlord and two of his four favourite people in the world. 
I haven’t watched the tv show Alias for years, and if the days had more hours, I certainly would be driven to a rewatch by this request, because it’s been too long, and I do have the Alias dvds (of four seasons. The fifth, well, three guesses how I feel about it). So, based on rusty memory and old entries, here are a few thoughts on the relationship Arvin Sloane has with Jack and Sydney Bristow, which I would argue is second only to the Sydney and Jack relationship in its importance to the show as a whole. (Well, there is that Vaughn fellow, but you can keep him.)

Spoilers for all of Alias to follow )
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Okay, the one where Ivanova gets to do the credits monologue, Delenn has her most famous scene of the show, Sheridan decides he and the entire command crew need a fashion makeover as far as their uniforms are concerned and my guys Londo and G'Kar hit at different points rock bottom, which leads to great things in season 4.

In case there are some B5 newbies finding this entry, I shall now employ a spoiler cut )
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With Doctor Who everywhere for the anniversary, literally on a global level, it's perhaps easy to lose sight of the fact that in 2005, when the show was relaunched, it was by no means guaranteed it would find a new audience. Especially considering the previous attempt to bring back Doctor Who - the movie of doom - had failed miserably. And the treatment the BBC had given the show during the 80s before cancelling it had been extremely shoddy. Now fandom and critics alike credit a lot of factors for the fact that the Russell T. Davies launched revival took off the way it did - the casting of Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor, the way the scripts were careful to be accessible both to people who never ever heard of Doctor Who and old time fans alike, Bilie Piper as Rose - but RTD's eventuall successor at the helm seems to be firmly convinced that one key factor that made New Who into the success it became was the fact new Companion Rose did not come on her lonesome into Doctor Who, but with her mother, and with her relationship with her mother treated as an important part of the narrative. Quoth Steven Moffat:


"Russell, with his incredible knowledge of all modern television - because as far as I can see he does nothing except watch television! - he knows exactly how to fit this show in. The creation of the Tyler family, and positioning the Doctor as the 'troublesome relative' - which is what he is, he's the worrying uncle or family friend who turns up after a long while and takes the daughter away - that is so brilliant, it's a brilliant bit of writing. (...) Russell's writing is at such a high level... there's a line in the first episode which you could lecture on, it's so brilliant. It's in a conversation between Rose and Jackie - Rose says something about getting a job at a butcher's, and Jackie says 'It will be good for you. That shop was giving you airs and graces'. And in that one line, I submit, there isn't anything you don't know about these two people, or about that life, or about that world. You know everything about limited ambition, about the relationship between the two of them, about the envy and the crushing absence of horizons. It's a phenomenal bit of writing."

(There is a passage later in the same interview that's both funny in the light of recent developments and illuminating, particularly given fandom's tendency to play out Moffat versus Davies - something the two of them never did, because as far as anyone can tell, they seem to be in a mutual admiration society, stubbornly refusing to do their respective fans the favour of feuding; Moffat gets asked how he would have handled the relaunch, if he'd been in charge of New Who from the start. Whereupon he replies: "I'd have done a certain number of things exactly the same. I would definitely have got rid of the Time Lords, that was an overdue lopping-off; I would have got rid of the posh Doctor, all that stuff. The thing that I can't put my hand on my heart and say 'I'd have done that' about was the whole Tyler family thing, which is what makes it brilliant.")

Davies himself, in the collection of emails amd memos that became the book The Writer's Tale, says after discussing an autobiographical scene from Queer as Folk (the overdose in the kitchen): "But I have to write like that. Funny, sad, all at once. That's how life is. You can have a pratfall at a funeral. You can laugh so much that you choke to death. (...) Jackie Tyler makes us laugh, but I knew that I'd uncover something sad at the heart of her. Her sadness over her absent daughter is there as early as Aliens of London, but you don't really get to see it properly until Love & Monsters. Idiots will say, 'Ah, that character is developing now' - what, like you were going to play it all in the first 30 seconds? - but that capacity was always there. It had to be. Even in Rose, when Jackie is ostensibly 'funny', telling her daughter to get a job at the butcher's, Jackie is one of the things that's holding Rose back - and that's quite dark, at it heart. 'Funny' is hiding a lot of other stuff."

Fannish sympathy for Jackie and Rose switched places, as I recall. During their first season, there were a lot of comments on Jackie being annoying. During the second season, when Rose lost a lot of sympathies, she was called an ungrateful daughter in addition to everything else, which sometimes came with the added complaint of "Rose Tyler: Class Traitor". Now back then I thought it was time for Rose to leave the show and I liked Jackie, but I never thought their relationship could be divided into black and white, one party eternally the giving and the other the taking, or in the right and in the wrong respectively. And yes, the mother-daughter relationship and the way it was used in the show was interesting to me. To stay on the Doylist level for a bit longer before getting into Watsonian arguments, have another Moff-on-Rusty/Rusty-on-Moff quote:

"Russell reckons it’s all about parenthood with me. It’s his view that every writer has one story that they go on re-telling and that being a father is mine."

(In The Writer's Tale, there is a great exchange of emails between Davies and Moffat when they realised Moffat's two Library episodes and Davies' Turn Left would be aired directly after another - this was later changed so Midnight came in between - which meant Donna would be stuck in two alternate realities in a row. So they had to make sure the two alternate lives for Donna didn't resemble each other, which was why Davies, who had originally given her a marriage and children in Turn Left, altered his script to write them out, telling Moffat who'd offered to do the same: "Ooh, no, that's brilliant. You have the kids. You've got kids! You do better kids!" )

I can see what he means, of sorts. Which got me thinking, because Davies' writing includes a lot of family relationships as well, including three key mother-daughter relationships - but one big difference is that it's not children in the sense of infants who interest him in this. Rather, it's parent-child relationships (and sibling relationships) after the children have already grown up. How adults relate to their parents (more often or not their mothers) and vice versa. This can happen in an extremely dysfunctional way (Donna and Sylvia) or in a mostly harmonious way (Martha and Francine); Rose and Jackie are solidly in between. (Not by coincidence, the moment Davies starts to write for Torchwood again - which he didn't after writing the pilot, he left the day to day helming to Chris Chibnall for the first two seasons - you get family relationships between adults suddenly front and center of the emotional narrative in Children of Earth: Jack and his daughter Alice, Ianto and his sister Rhiannon (and his brother-in-law). Scenes like Rhiannon bringing the laptop to her on the run brother and her support of him intermingled with a terse exchange about their childhood and father are very clearly from the same brain that wrote the Rose-Jackie-Mickey scene in Parting of the Ways. ) The way family can get under your skin for good or ill, the intermingling of the need to escape and the need to be close, the emotional power a family member can have to compell you to do things even though you're both adults, those are aspects that Davies' writing keeps coming back to, and he certainly put it front and center with Jackie and Rose. They love each other deeply; they're also capable of hurting each other, not deliberately, but they do. Rose with her absences and her tendency to take Jackie for granted; Jackie with the fear that the airs and graces comment betrays, the idea that Rose having a better job could mean Rose moving out of her life, so if keeping Rose means seeing Rose lose chances, so be it. There is a self centredness in them both. And yet they're also capable of so much more. Jackie ends up participating in saving the world business (and putting up with the Doctor) with great courage, and when the chips, no pun with Rose's favourite food intended, come down she helps her daughter even if that could mean losing her. For Rose, not returning to her mother through her adventures is not an option. She doesn't idealize Jackie the way she does the dead father she didn't know (until time travel strikes), but Jackie is the one she always comes back to. Her horror when eventually encountering an Alternate Universe version of Jackie who doesn't know her and hence has no love for her and disdains her is palpable. And while I have some quibbles with the way Rose's storyline ended (and then kept on not ending), what I most definitely approve of is having Jackie with her daughter in the Zeppelin world. Never mind the Doctor, I can't imagine Jackie and Rose being separated forever by alternate dimensions.

Jackie and Rose weren't the first mother and daughter relationship on Doctor Who involving a Companion to matter narratively; I think that honour belongs to Ace, who has really huge Mommy issues and then gets confronted with a baby version of her mother in Curse of Fenris. But other than in baby form, we never meet Ace's mother. She never gets a life and opinions on her own. Whereas Jackie Tyler, no matter whether you love her or find her irritating, absolutely blazes with life and very much has her own point of view on just about everything. (And starts the proud New Who tradition of mothers slapping the Doctor.) I can't imagine the Whoverse without her.
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