Monday, 3 October 2011

Cheese and cake?

Hi all,

Cheesecake. Bad or good?

No not the tasty dessert, the style of art. For those not in the know Cheesecake is a style of art, usually of women that presents them in a scantily clad and suggestive manner. Those images of women in lingerie on the front of WWII bombers? That's cheesecake.


Opinions on cheesecake pictures are divided. Some see them as exploitative borderline pornography and others see them as empowering for women. The question is what constitutes cheesecake and what is exploitative? On top of that what is cheesecake for one person is mild for others. Those two questions rage and unintentional offence can be caused by almost any picture.

From my point of view there is a line which separates cheesecake from exploitative images. I read comics, watch movies and play fantasy games. Cheesecake is very prevalent in those genres and to be honest for the most part I like it. The point is that those media are built around cheesecake for better or worse and it goes with the territory. For me it's about how the characters are portrayed. Take Black Canary for instance:

Black Canary

Now Black Canary is a good example of cheesecake. Blonde hair, fishnet stockings and pneumatic breasts. However this image is what I would classify as ok, she's obviously in a fight, kicking arse so that's ok as far as I'm concerned.

This one on the other hand I think is less cool:

Black Canary

Now that one is just an excuse to show her in as little as possible. It's not an action shot, it's a pinup shot and not a particularly great one at that. Worse it's not the character. The thin line has been crossed. Black Canary is meant to be one of the toughest martial artists in the world, on a par with Batman so she should be portrayed kicking arse. Yes her costume shows off her femininity but that's not actually a bad thing, sexy is good. However when her artwork becomes just about sex then that's not the character, she's a forceful personality and she should be portrayed as such.

One of the characters that is company sanctioned to be utterly ridiculous is Power Girl. Now before I get into this, I love Power Girl she's a kickass powerhouse who takes charge and has an interesting (if confusing) backstory. The problem is... well this:




Power Girl's cleavage is a running gag in the comics but seriously, that circular cutout is just ridiculous at this point. Be honest, would Power Girl be any less sexy if you covered the boobs? I would contend that she would actually look sexier. Plus her ginormous proportions take away from the character. Hell it's a good job she has super strength or she would have serious lower back issues by now. Ask anyone what they first think of when Power Girl is mentioned and those that have heard of her would just say boobs. She's a better character than that, she deserves more.

What got me thinking about this was the fact that Paizo publishing (who produce the Pathfinder roleplaying game) have sometimes been criticised for perceived cheesecake in their publications, specifically the way their female iconics are portrayed. Iconics are characters created by Paizo to illustrate the different classes in the game. To give you a better idea, here are the particular characters people tend to mention:




Are these cheesecake? Well a little bit I suppose. Are they over the top? Hell no.

The thing is that this is a roleplaying game. To a certain extent it's wish fulfilment. Do I want to look like me when I roleplay? Hell no, I'm 5 stone overweight and bald. I want to look like this:


In a fantasy setting the men should be handsome and the women should be sexy. If you want to play a character you want one that looks good. Now if the iconics looked like this:

Barbarian in bikini

Then you'd have a point. However the fact is that there's nothing in those three portraits that I consider beyond the pale. It is a little bit of cheesecake I suppose but I have seen a load of images with these characters at this point and I don't see them as exploitative or demeaning to women. They are sexy and they kick butt. Hell I want to be that too, just male.

Of course this is just my opinion and therein lies the problem. My line in the sand is pretty liberal. I like images of hot women so long as they are not demeaning. Any image that shows a woman in a subservient role to a man is just wrong (look up images of the Gor series of books to see what I mean.) I don't want BDSM in my fantasy thanks, if you want that then fine but it should be a niche market.

However, some people are not as happy about these images. Some would see that all these images are nothing but exploitative and wrong. It's difficult to please all the people all the time so I would stand up for what you believe on this. I love Power Girl. I love Black Canary and Starfire and Wonder Woman and She Hulk**. They are all great characters. I think the creators should set a benchmark and say "this is what we do." Trying to catch the zeitgeist can lead to this:

Fashion faux pas***

And no one wants that.

Your resident cheescake connoisseur

Fall of Camelot

* Yeah I know he's gay. So what? He's awesome, live with it.
** And Mrs Camelot of course
*** Don't get me wrong, I love the JLI but that Black Canary's outfit was just... ouch

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Doctor Who ratings

Hi all,

Happy birthday to me! Thanks for best wishes on Facebook etc.

OK now we have got that out of the way, onto the blog post. Last night we had the last episode of this season of Dr Who. I love this show, its essential quirkiness, great plots and clever dialogue make it one of the most watchable shows on television. That's not to say it's always great and I do have some issues with the series. With that in mind I thought I would go through episode by episode in this series and give a rating from 1-10.

To be clear I am using a rating system based on the show in question. So a 6 would be an average episode of Dr Who, 10 would be a rare rating that puts it up as one of the very best Dr Who episodes (Girl in the Fireplace, The Satan Pit), and conversely a 1 will put it down as one of the worst (Victory of the Daleks). This rating is solely a rating compared with other episodes of Dr Who not anything else.

So here are my ratings and a quick explanation why:

The Impossible Astronaut: 6.5

A good start to the series this. The Silence are good villains in the style of the Weeping Angels, Canton Everett Delaware III is an interesting character even if he does have a stupid name and the death of the Doctor is a shocking twist.

The problems with this episode stem from the weird bits that Moffat tends to put in his episodes. Why an Apollo program spacesuit? This is never explained, not even in the final episode (unless I missed it: feel free to correct me in the comments if that's the case). This is an irritating tendency that Moffat has, to add in images and ideas and then never explain why they are there.

Overall a pretty good episode though.

Day of the Moon: 7

A good conclusion to the two parter. Delaware is one of those characters in time travel stories who doesn't get overwhelmed by the oddities of advanced technology. I like that. Can we have more of him please Mr Moffat?

The ending of this one was good as well, with the Silence's own hypnotic abilities being turned against them and the rest of the season was set up well with Amy's pregnancy, the Doctor's death and the threat of the Silence.

This earns an extra .5 of a mark over the Impossible Astronaut because it was a tighter and more focussed episode. Sadly this focus would not be there in other episodes this season.

The Curse of the Black Spot: 3

I love pirates with all the arring and Jack Sparrowesque fun that they bring to any plot. As a wise man once said, everything's better with pirates.

So why the 3?

Well to be serious for a moment there are two reasons why this one merits a significantly below average mark. Firstly, this is a rehash of an old episode, namely "The Empty Child." Basically a piece of advanced medical technology threatens people in a historical setting. Unfortunately this won't be the last time this series that I call shenanigans because the episode is a rehash. Note to Moffat: new episodes with new ideas please!

Secondly the ending is ridiculous. I don't care how good a captain you are, you can't go from being a competent sailor to piloting an advanced medical starship with phasing technology. Total bollocks.

That said the episode is OK, it's just not very good.

The Doctor's Wife: 8

I'm a big fan of Neil Gaiman but sometimes his sense of the odd and the unusual can overtake the plot creating work which can be style over substance. Happily this is not the case here. Gaiman marries his considerable imagination and sense of the macabre to a tight and well written plot that has some genuinely unsettling moments.

Also the episode examines the Doctor's relationship with both the TARDIS and his people. The Corsair is an interesting character even if we never meet him/her and the Doctor's sense of loss for his friend is obvious and profound.

Having said that one of the few missteps in this episode comes with the Doctor's anger at the discovery of the death of his friend and the other Time Lords. Whilst I do like Matt Smith's Doctor, I can't help but feel that both David Tennant and Christopher Ecclestone were more menacing when that side of the Doctor was revealed. It's a minor thing but it is an important aspect of the Doctor's personality, he's never so alien as when he is angry and I remain to be convinced by Matt Smith's performance in this regard.

Still, that's only a minor quibble in an otherwise excellent episode.

The Rebel Flesh and The Almost People: 4

I'm reviewing these two episodes together because frankly it's one of those two parters for which the individual parts don't really have their own identity (unlike for example the Impossible Planet/Satan Pit or the Empty Child/Doctor Dances two parters).

This episode suffers from too many ideas and not enough exposition. The "Solar Tsunami" plot device was weird seeing as how this episode was set on Earth, I can't remember ever seeing a solar flare that massive, can you? Also the obvious goal here was an attempt to explore the concept of humanity and what constitutes a person. But that was somewhat undermined by the fact that one of the character goes all "The Thing" on everybody. "Yeah, we're all human really, apart from the fact that one of us is trying to eat your face..."

Another weird thing was the fact that the factory was a monastery. Why? Surely a purpose built facility would be better? The only reason I can think of was because they liked the visual imagery evoked by the setting. The problem with that is that it just makes no sense. Repurposing an old building (that was still crumbling in parts) for a highly dangerous industrial process is just bizarre, not to say incredibly impractical. The acid is a weird concept too. Why would you manufacture such a dangerous product offshore and pump it to the mainland? Isn't that overly expensive? And dangerous? Imagine the ecological disaster if you had an underwater leak. Also having the TARDIS get sucked into the earth has been done before in "The Impossible Planet." Yet another recycled plot device, shenanigans.

This episode is reasonable but it tries to combine a dash of Thing style paranoia into an exploration of the human condition. Plus Amy's distrust of Ganger Doctor seems out of place considering that she is perfectly happy with an alien friend. Sloppy writing and inconsistent characterisation bring this one down I'm afraid.

A Good Man Goes to War: 9

The only truly great episode of the series. The new characters are ice cool (I would pay good money to see the further adventures of a Victorian, dinosaur, lesbian swordswoman and her plucky assistant and Strax was utterly awesome.) The bad guys were menacing and Frances Barber as Madame Kovarian chews the scenery like a pro. Rory's ultimatum to the Cybermen is fantastic as well.

The only slight gripe I have is that for an episode called "A Good Man Goes to War" there is very little actual war going on. A more accurate title would be "A Good Man Turns Up and No One Shoots Him For Some Reason."

A minor gripe though in a great episode.

Let's Kill Hitler: 3

OK seriously Moffat, what the hell was all this about? Let's get this straight, Rory and Amy have a hitherto unmentioned BFF who turns out to be River Song who takes them back in the TARDIS to kill Hitler (for some reason) who in turn is being pursued by a bunch of miniaturised humans in a ship that can make itself look like anyone.

Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot.

This is totally out of left field and is a complete missed opportunity. Moffat throws in so many bizarre plot twists that you don't know how to react. The Doctor's "death" has no resonance because we already know he's supposed to die at Lake Silencio, the Teselecta is such a weird concept that it harms the episode by taking time away from the battle of wits between Melody/River and the Doctor and the inclusion of Hitler in a comic romp felt a bit off.

The real problems with this episode was the character of "Mels." Look Moffat, this character could have been introduced in episode 1 of season 5 and appeared half a dozen times since then. That way it would have had far more impact when she turns out to have been River all along. By introducing her in the way that you did, you just made her annoying. I was having horrible visions that this character was going to join the TARDIS crew for the rest of the series, a bit of a Scrappy Who if you like. I have never been more relieved to see someone die in a TV show and once she regenerated to become River Song I will admit the episode got a lot better.

Also since when does the 11th Doctor's TARDIS go exactly where you want it to go by shooting it? A minor quibble but an important one I think.

Night Terrors: 2

Someone find Mark Gatiss and stop him making Doctor Who episodes will you? Gatiss' record of writing Doctor Who episodes reads mediocre, crap and diabolical (or The Idiot's Lantern, Night Terrors and Victory of the Daleks if you prefer). This is a truly dire episode.

The thing is it's a total rehash of "Fear Her" (shenanigans). Here's a tip Mark, if you are going to shamelessly rip off another Dr Who episode don't choose a rubbish one OK? Oh and don't tell me you also ripped off "The Empty Child" as some sort of defence because that doesn't fly mister.

This was so by the numbers it wasn't funny. The plot was dull, the characters were uninspired and it just felt like exactly what it was, a filler episode. Hell when you can't even do better than "Fear Her" you should just hang your head in shame.

It's also nice to see that Amy has got over the loss of her daughter so quickly. Yet more "Amy is a bitch" characterisation. Unintentional this time but still noticeable.

The Girl Who Waited: 6

Ho boy this is a tough one.

When I first watched this episode I thought it was awesome. A timey wimey episode with a great performance from Karen Gillan and a tearjerking conclusion. All the elements are here for a classic and taken on it's own it deserves an 8 or 9.

So why a 6?

As a standalone episode this would have been fine but in context with the rest of the series we encounter problems. So Amy waited 36 years? Big deal. Rory waited 2,000 years. The characterisation of Old Amy as a bitter resentful woman who has given up on her friends does not ring true. The love Rory and Amy display is supposed to transcend space and time. Well this episode dispenses with that and says that whilst Rory can wait, Amy can't. More "Amy is a bitch" characterisation brings this one down to average I'm afraid.

The God Complex: 7

A decent episode this one. A monster that consumes faith is creepy and Rita begging the Doctor not to watch her lose her faith was actually a quite effective and gut-wrenching moment for me. Faith is often the most important thing to a person and having a monster that consumes that is like having a monster that consumes your essence. That's a far more unpleasant fate than merely dying. Losing your deepest beliefs really is a fate worse than death.

It's been mentioned that this episode bears many similarities to the Seventh Doctor story "The Curse of Fenric." It's been a while since I saw "The Curse of Fenric" but the Doctor having to force his companion to abandon their faith in him happens in both stories. So a mild case of shenanigans here.

Where this episode falls down is that Amy losing her faith in the Doctor really doesn't ring true. She had that faith challenged in the last episode and yet now she loses it because the Doctor just tells her to? Really? Plus Amy's faith is in the Doctor, not her husband? Rory has no faith in anything? Sorry, I can't see anyone waiting 2,000 years without any faith in what they are doing.

David Walliams was good though.

Closing Time: 7.5

Dodgy aliens in a department store? Shenanigans (Rose). The Doctor going on a tour to visit places because he knows he's going to die? Shenanigans (The End of Time)

Right now that's out of the way. This was a good episode. I quite liked the quirky relationship between Corden and Smith and the comic timing was very good. I disliked the ending (power of love beating the Cybermen? Please) but the rest of it was good fun stuff. Plus Stormageddon was hilarious and earns this episode an extra .5.

The timing of this episode was odd, just before the finale. That doesn't take away from the quality of this episode though.

The Wedding of River Song:7

A good end to the series. Fixed points have been used before but as that's a major part of Dr Who lore I won't call shenanigans on that. The meshing of history was cleverly done and the Silence were a decent enemy yet again.

My criticisms lie with the fact that this episode felt almost identical to last season's finale and I will call shenanigans on that. Also "it's not really the Doctor" is a cop out but I suppose that is better than the rest buttons that we have had before.

A good episode though and the buildup for the next season was good.

Season overall: 5

This was a below average season  for Dr Who. There were some bright moments but the series falls down on 3 basic issues.

Amy Pond turned into a bitch: Amy Pond became much less of a sympathetic character this season. She was nasty to the Gangers, blamed Rory for a load of stuff that wasn't his fault and basically acted like a spoiled brat at times. Cold blooded torture/murder in the last episode put her beyond the pale as far as I'm concerned. I'm glad she's gone, a shame because she started well. Taxi for Pond.

Style over substance: Scary dolls don't make an episode, if you are going to have a astronaut suit in the show have a reason for that, industrial complexes are usually not found in ruined monasteries. Narrative sense this season was often discarded in favour of making things look cool. Go back to plots that make sense please Moffat.

Rehashed plots: Too many plots and events in this series were lifted or "inspired" by previous Dr Who episodes. At times I just felt that the series didn't have the courage to do something new. Next season would be infinitely improved if they stopped treading old ground and wrote some new plots.

Long one I know but I'm interested if you agree or disagree. Comment below as always.

Your resident Galifrayan

Fall of Camelot