The End Draws Near For The Media Computer

We have a computer set up as the media computer. It used to be my main machine, before I built my new rig. So far, it’s done all right, but it has been struggling a little of late.

Streaming shows on Hulu used to work all right Medium quality, there are now times when getting through the ads had been rather time-consuming so we can even adjust the quality. And Low has been starting to be the better option. A bunch of the shows, though, aren’t actually on Hulu, which links to places like CBS which host their own shows. And don’t have the Quality option. Watching stuff has been getting more awkward.

Now part of the problem could be that the OS hasn’t been reinstalled for a long time. Part of it could be the wireless reception, though as laptops set next to the computer haven’t had the same issues, it could be the speed of the wireless adapter. Could just be the machine getting old, which, to be fair, it is.

Perhaps evidence of this, has been trying to get Amazon Prime to co-operate. The kids watched the first episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood the other day, and watching it using Silverlight on Firefox was painful. It played a few seconds fine, played a few seconds slooowly, and paused a few seconds to catch up. Repeat for the whole episode. Amazon put a popup saying HTML5 has faster loading and less buffering, and suggested a bunch of other browsers, specifying for most that they should be in Windows 8 or above. One that didn’t specify that, was Opera, so I downloaded and installed that.

Alas, the course of getting technology to work never did run smooth, and trying to run Amazon Prime videos in Opera threw up some error message. Apparently it was trying to run HTML5 video, but the error message said something about making sure that the WideVine add-on was enabled (which, on checking, turned out to be enabled).

So then a long search for what this Widevine thing is, and why it’s not working.

Long story short, Widevine is a DRM for streaming video, developed by Google. It’s not working because Widevine supports Windows 7 and up, not XP, which apparently would otherwise still run HTML5 video.

My machine’s not he most specced-out XP-running computer, so I imagine there’s still plenty out there that are good enough to not have the kinds of issues we’ve been starting to have. For us, the DRM thing might mean the end of the line of this computer for streaming purposes.

I think in this blog, I’ve established my dislike for DRM, and so you can imagine there’s an element of “of course it’s DRM that’s making me unable to fix the problem”. But as the problem was there, and we’d resorted to watching Supergirl via the old laptop-plugged-into-the-temperamental-TV trick, I suppose I can’t be too hard on it.

This time.

Silly Songs

A long time ago, because I was working with children in my church, my grandfather gave me a VeggieTales video (Rack, Shack, and Benny).

VeggieTales seems to have its popularity rooted in its early days (probably about to the Jonah movie). We, even having kids, haven’t steadfastly kept up with all the new releases (one, at least, according to reviews, achieving a dubiously low quality – but we haven’t got that one).

Today I’m just going to share with you two silly songs, which are as deserving of popularity as the more famous Hairbrush Song, His Cheeseburger, and so on. There are more that are worth mentioning, but I wanted to limit myself today.

As a parent, that second one rings really true…


DS9 Season 2, Part 2

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the opening 3-parter of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s second season. I thought it might be nice to keep making notes on the series as we go through it.

Last week, Star Trek night was truncated by catching up on Agents Of Shield first, so we got one episode in, this week we did similar, but got 2 DS9s in. So the episodes we have for review today are Invasive Procedures, Cardassians, and Melora.

In Invasive Procedures, an unjoined Trill called Verad (played by John Glover, known to many as Lionel Luthor in Smallville, but to me will always be Daniel Clamp from Gremlins 2), shows up on an evacuated DS9 to lay claim to the Dax symbiont. Taking the symbiont will leave its current host, the much-loved Jadzia, to die.

It’s interesting seeing a slug as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Verad researched a bunch of symbionts to see which would share his interests, but it’s not obvious that Verad himself has much to bring to the table. Or if, in fact, Dax really is his first choice. There’s a certain amount of opportunity that Dax presents: in the episode, the station with only a skeleton crew, but even without that, she’s often out in a runabout, so would be easy pickings. In any event, Verad is a bit like a boy who’s attracted to a girl, the girl doesn’t like him but he won’t take “no” for an answer. He probably thinks he’s a nice guy, but he’s not the kind of guy you want to have a crush on you.

At this point in the show, it is believed that only 1 in 1000 Trills is suitable for joining, later it is revealed that 50% of the population is suitable, there’s just a severe shortage of symbionts. With that information, the episode could be looked at a little differently: was he rejected because of biology, or perhaps because of personality?

Also, in the later episode “Facets”, Jadzia gets to meet all Dax’s former hosts, whose consciousnesses are temporarily transferred to her friends, so she can interact with them. Verad is left out of this party, with no explanations.

I enjoyed Glover’s performances, as the anxiety-ridden Verad, and the much more confident Verad Dax. I liked seeing Megan Gallagher, who would show  up as a different character in DS9’s Little Green Men, and also a Voyager episode. She’s more familiar to me as Catherine Black in Millennium, of which one day I will finish the first season and maybe see the rest. Possibly. Track record’s not great on that. Also, one of the Klingon mercenaries is played by Tim Russ, who would go on to play Tuvok in Voyager.

“Cardassians” is a title that could apply to quite a number of DS9 episodes. In the one it actually applies to, a Bajoran man shows up on the station with a Cardassian boy in tow. Garak, the Cardassian exile living on the station, greets them, the boy bites Garak’s hand.

A bunch of orphans were left on Bajor after the end of the occupation, orphans having no standing in Cardassian society. These were mostly adopted by Bajorans (though we do see some still unadopted), but the Bajoran hatred for the Cardassian invaders is infamous, so some of these Cardassian kids are brought up to hate Cardassians. Which is going to have some impact on their self-esteem.

This particular boy turns out to be the son of an influential civilian leader, and a large part of the situation seems to have been brought about by gul Dukat, who was soon to be investigated by him. The implication was that Dukat made sure the boy was accidentally-on-purpose left behind for later use as an ace-up-the-sleeve.

Some questions are left unasked and unanswered, but the details can be filed in pretty easily. How the boy came to the limelight, and how Dukat found out about the hand-biting incident almost as quickly as Sisko did.

There was a trader called Zolan, who brought the boy’s adoptive father to the station to try and get him a job. Got the feeling he’s one of Dukat’s agents, and was requested to seek the boy out a few months ago, in preparation for the embarrassment of Dukat’s political enemy. And then he was around when the incident happened, and later made some accusations while being questioned, before disappearing. He, therefore, seems to connect the dots.

The discussion about which father to live with, biological or adoptive, seems to have been set up, but then discussed off-screen. Not an easy choice to make. Kinda wish we could have seen some clever resolution that wasn’t entirely one or the other.

Lastly, there’s Melora. Interestingly, the character of Melora, someone from a low-gravity environment that finds “normal” gravity difficult, was originally conceived of as the station’s science officer, but was considered too difficult to pull off, so the Dax character was created instead. the design of the station really isn’t suitable for a wheelchair, and it was interesting to see the set adapted so she could get around.

I really liked Daphne Ashbrook’s acting in this one. Making everything seem like such an effort, and relaxing enough when she was carried that it looked like she really couldn’t move. And the juxtaposition in the script of the fiery, independent woman out to prove she doesn’t need help, and her sometimes being forced to accept help or work as part of a team instead of alone.

I think Melora was probably the weakest episode of the three, but I think that there was some really good stuff in there.

The Background Information section of the character’s Memory Alpha page also contains some interesting trivia.

After this episode, I had to show Oldest some of Daphne Ashbrook’s performance in Doctor Who. I think the Melora makeup made her look too different for him to recognise her. And I don’t think he was that impressed with the couple of scenes he saw. Don’t worry, kid, there are plenty of people who are unimpressed with the whole thing…

Next time: the Grand Nagus shows up, and we get our first hint of the Dominion, in Rules of Acquisition.

It Feeds The Rich While It Buries The Poor

I saw a video on Facebook a day or two ago, giving an overview of how the US effectively turned ISIS from a powerless group into what it is today.

Link here.

This sounds somewhat familiar, as ne’erdowells such as Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, Manuel Noriega, Carlos Castillo Armas, and many others were put in power, trained, propped up, or otherwise backed by the US, before becoming a thorn in the side.

I recall reading a bit about this in a book by Michael Moore, while he was on his big crusade against Bush II. That was before I discovered Mr Moore was just as misleading as the Bush regime, but on that particular point he was quite right. (He’s been suspiciously silent during the reign of Bush II’s successor, who hasn’t been any better – wait for Moore’s big comeback when the next Republican president hits)

“We practice selective annihilation of mayors and government officials, for example, to create a vacuum. Then we fill that vacuum. As popular war advances, peace is closer.” – quoted in Civil War by Guns ‘n’ Roses (embedded below).

It also should be pointed out that, in addition to the power vacuum mentioned in the video above, There’s lots we’ve done to encourage people to be our enemies. The humiliations we inflicted on our prisoners, which were, and were supposed to be, deeply offensive to Muslims (though I can’t imagine anyone else would particularly like it, either). Bombing the shit out of countries for no good reason isn’t going to win you any friends, either, and for all the propaganda about very precise weapons, the amount of “collateral damage” we’ve inflicted is something we should be deeply ashamed of, and is likely to turn people who might possibly be supportive of us, into personal enemies.

And I very much doubt the list stops there.

It should also be pointed out that our actions have had lethal repercussions for Christians in the middle east. The near-total elimination of Christians in Iraq (either fleeing the country, or through death), churches that dated back to the first couple of centuries AD. I recall seeing that symbol replace profile pictures on Facebook. the martyrdom of those Ethiopian Christians, in that video that did the rounds a little while ago.

A little while ago, Christian leaders in Syria were begging the West NOT to help them, it’s like they’ve seen our track record, or something. Christians in Syria are supporting Assad. Al Qaeda, ISIS, and the US are trying to oust him (mentioned in the video above, though I’ve also read France and Saudi Arabia are also against him).

Listen to “Syria, Assad, and the US” and “A No-Brainer In Syria

i don’t remember how I felt about the war in Afghanistan when it started. I’d like to think that I thought it was a knee-jerk reaction, a punishment meted out before all the evidence had come to trial, so to speak. I’d like to think I thought that, but I don’t really remember.

I remember being skeptical about the war in Iraq. That the news outlets were pushing for it (shame on you, BBC) in the run-up, the reasons for going to war being dubious, the Blair regime saying they hadn’t decided to go to war yet, when they’d already started shipping troops out, and the protest against the war, apparently the largest protest in British history, being completely ignored.

Two books on the subject, one I read a few years ago, and the other about a year ago, have proved pretty interesting. Disarming Iraq, by Hans Blix, who lays out his experiences very methodically, goes into the perspectives of the weapons inspectors. Backstabbing For Beginners, by Michael Soussan, goes into the inner workings of the Oil-For-Food program. A much more lively book, it provides insight into the political situation of Iraq at the time.

More recently, I remember the Kickstarter videos for an as-yet incomplete documentary project called “The Killing Of Tony Blair“, where George Galloway, MP, intends to prove that the former Prime Minister is guilty of War Crimes. Galloway was the only Labour MP to lose his job over opposing entering the war in Iraq. I think he’s probably got a pretty good case, though I am a bit cautious. The caution may be a natural reaction to Galloway being a politician. And, although Galloway has done all right for himself since then, the documentary may be easily dismissed by some as a “revenge piece”.

On the American side of the pond, although the current President talked a lot about peace while he was campaigning for the job the first time round, he seems to have acted as much an interventionist as his predecessors, at least as far as Truman. The only politician who’s really seemed to mean what he says about not going to war, has been Ron Paul. Recent article

I’ve seen on Facebook statements like, “if we can’t afford to care for our veterans, we shouldn’t send them to war in the first place”, which I have to say I agree with.

There’s also been kerfuffle over policies of immigration of refugees from these places. There seem to be extremes of “don’t let anybody in” and “let everybody in”, where a middle way is probably much more sane than either.

The concern over refugees is specifically about the Muslim ones, though we know Christians are trying to escape the area. It seems accurate that there has been Muslim killing Muslim, and so (most of) the refugees are trying to escape those you don’t want to let in. Seems reasonable to me.

Those concerned about the Trojan Horse factor, I don’t know. That doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable, either, but I cannot envision a vetting process that could easily catch that. Can’t say I’m terribly worried about it, but then again, I don’t live in an area that would be a priority target.

The relationship between Christians and Muslims has long been tricky, and that needs to be acknowledged. Church and State usually have tensions and disagreements, and political power is often at the expense of someone else’s, so there’s a certain amount of status quo there. Trying to compare Greece under the Turkish yoke, or Syrian Christianity under the Muslims, to Christianity in China, or in he USSR as-was – my face twists like a dog chewing toffee, just trying to think about it.

There was a story I came across in the last year or two, about previously friendly Muslim neighbours giving up a Christian family to extremists that were heading into town.

The situation’s difficult, and it’s frustrating how little acknowledgement of that, how little nuance, and how little consideration for opposing viewpoints there is.

Anyone can cherry-pick verses from the Koran (or the Bible) to show how it promotes peace, or violence. I think careful consideration needs to be given to the history of Christian/Muslim relations, and try to discern events that are purely religious, and what is political with a religious mask on.

Another thing I’ve seen on Facebook, is the uncensored version of the phrase, “Stop killing people, you f***ing twats.” I’ll agree with that one, too.

Harp Twins

I started writing a post on a different subject, and research started taking a while, and it just got to a point where I decided I needed to go to bed soon, so I decided to save that post for another day, and give you something less complicated.

So, following on from yesterday’s post about stuff I found on YouTube, I thought I’d highlight a couple of YouTube stars who have been rather prolific in their output.

I found the Harp Twins, Camille and Kennerly, from their Star Trek themes cover. They take tunes they line, TV themes, movie tunes, video game music, rock, and heavy metal, and create arrangements of the tunes, for two harps to play. then they record them, video them, and put them up on YouTube for your enjoyment.

(of course, if I’m going to embed one, it’ll be Final Fantasy tunes)

Their Lord Of The Rings covers are a favourite, Oldest loved their Star Wars medley.

There’s all sorts of stuff to enjoy there, and I hope you do enjoy it. nice relaxing playlist to have on in the background of your day.

YouTube, Home Of Nostalgia

Youngest was into stuff tonight, and trying to go to places we didn’t want to just let him run off to, so I said I’d give him a show if he put his Duplo away. He did this fairly quickly, so I fired up YouTube to find him something to watch.

Obscure, old things to watch.

I started him off with The Family Ness, a cartoon from the ’80s featuring a pair of twins, Angus and Elspeth, who discover the Loch Ness Monster, and find there’s a whole family of them. The Nessies’ names tend to be words that pair well with the suffix -ness: Ferocious Ness, for example. The episodes are less than 5 minutes each, and the entire series was released over 2 DVDs, each around 40 minutes, both available from Amazon UK.

You can see an anaconda, a giraffe and kangaroo, but you’ll never find a Nessie in the zoo.

Youngest fell asleep in the third episode, but then we brushed his teeth, which woke him back up. After that, he didn’t want the same show again, but I managed to suggest something that appealed to him. A cartoon with planes.

The Jimbo And The Jet Set episodes that we then watched on YouTube (one-and-a-half, before Mommy took him), were without the credits. But he seemed to enjoy it. I thought the DVDs of Jimbo might be a good addition to his wish list (Christmas approaches, don’t you know). The show got released over 2 DVDs in 2004 (wow, that’s eleven years ago), and one is available straight from Amazon, and the other is listed, but only available via sellers on there.

When looking these things up on Amazon, of course they make suggestions of other shows you might be interested in. SuperTed, of which I used to have a three-hour-video, and as a grown-up I really couldn’t watch that much in one go. Bananaman, which I would be interested in seeing again, but I think it’s only available from sellers on Amazon now. Count Duckula.

Hmm, I never really watched much Count Duckula back in the day, but I have seen some. The whole shebang is available in a DVD set, but I found a playlist of episodes on YouTube, of which I watched one.

In Transylvania, there is a dynasty of vampire ducks, who have a history of terrorising the locals, and eventually getting themselves killed. Once a century, a rite can be performed to reincarnate the old Count into a new Count. This time round, a mistake was made, and tomato ketchup was used instead of another ingredient (probably blood), so the new Count is a vegetarian. And without the pointy teeth generally associated with vampires.

Duckula’s manservant, Igor, has an agenda of trying to turn Duckula back the way he’s “supposed” to be (in other words, evil). The Count’s Nanny is also still on hand, and still mollycoddling him even though he’s a grown-up. Castle Duckula can also teleport, if the adventure of the week demands it (I would hazard a guess to suggest that it usually does).

There are a bunch of references and puns, and I think there’s a significant proportion that the kids are unlikely to get, but is more aimed at the parents. David Jason provides some of the voices.

The laptop speakers were not ideal for watching any of this stuff with, but I think the quality of these videos as uploaded to YouTube didn’t help, I think they were missing a bunch of the lower range. youngest enjoyed the first two shows, though, and I enjoyed the second, which I was mostly only listening to as I did other things.

I think Oldest (8-and-a-half) wouldn’t be old enough for Duckula yet.

Links not provided, to lessen their risk of being removed from YouTube, but they should be easy to find with a quick search. If you dare to enter the domain of ’80s childrens cartoons.

Goodnight out there, whatever you are.

Game Night, And Thoughts On Rule Books

We had a game night tonight at our house, and it was probably the biggest turnout we’ve had for such an event. It was nice hanging out with people we’d not really gotten to hang out with for a while.

After the food was all fooded, tables were cleared, and people started getting out games

I saw one of my Kickstarted games was being investigated, so after investigating how many were playing, how many players the game could take, and whether or not someone who had expressed interest int hat game would like to go and play it this time, I joined in. It was Survival!, one I’d actually played before, but I did need to refresh my memory.

There has been major societal breakdown following a pandemic. You need to escape Center City (conveniently in the center of the board), go and scout out some settlements in the surrounding area (1-3, depending on how long you want the game to go on for), return to Center City to retrieve your family, and then head to the settlement that’s your final destination. But the settlement won’t just accept a bunch of hungry people who’ll just drain resources, you have to prove of some value to them. So you have to collect some resources on your way: a certain amount of food, fuel, firepower, survivors (folk?), and medical supplies (I can’t easily turn that into an “f” word).

Accumulating these things is not always easy, and getting from one place to another isn’t easy. There are several places where raiders will attack you, and many things depend on successful dice rolls. Your odds of success can be increased by bonuses you pick up on the way, or by expending some of your hard-earned resources to slightly improve the results of your roll. you’re never really out of the game, but you can experience setbacks. And sometimes the luck of the cards and the luck of the dice, just aren’t going your way.

Four of us played, I think we all got the hang of it pretty fast (for me, again, and I did remember a big mistake we made when we played it before). All four of us had the end in sight, when the game was won by one of our guests.

After that game was over and put away, I watched most of a game of the Batman edition of Love Letter. The Joker is the princess.

After that was over, the last of our guests went. Three of us stayed up to try my newest addition, Bomb Squad.

Learning a new game is easiest when you have someone around who’s played it already, or if it’s similar enough to a game you’ve already played, that you can kind of skip ahead. When it’s brand new to all of you, you read through a bunch of the manual, decide to start playing, and then just keep referring back to the rulebook.

That is what we ended up doing with Bomb Squad. We very quickly decided that we would skip using the timer this time through. This was a good move, then we could keep finding out, “how does this bit work?” for all the little bits of game we needed to learn. So while we took more like 45 minutes on the game, where the longest bomb timer on the training mission was 16 minutes, we could take the time to figure out what exactly we were supposed to do, what the rules were in context (because in abstract is harder to keep straight), and make it easier on ourselves the next time.

The slower pace and the constant looking-things-up meant it was extra tricky to keep straight what cards we had in our hands. The thing is with this game, you can’t see what’s in your hand, you have to get clues from other players. This takes some getting used to, it’s all too easy to take a card and look at it. If this happens, you must discard that card. A couple of cards were discarded this way. I hope it’s easier to keep a grasp of what’s in your hand straight, when the turns are coming thick and fast.

I’m glad we got to give this game a go (improperly was entirely acceptable for trying to get the rules straight). Also glad we did it when the kids were in bed, you rather need to concentrate. Hope we get to play it again while we still have a memory of what we’re supposed to be doing.

I quite like complicated games, and the drawback to complicated games is, while they tend to end up being pretty straightforward once you know what you’re doing, is that the learning curve is pretty steep. I kind of want to go through some of these rulebooks and create an “if none of you knows what you’re doing” version.

“Factors X, Y, and Z determine your final score. To get those, you need to do things A, B, and C.
To set up, put these pieces there like this.
Before the turns start, you do things 1 and 2. Thing 1 requires no strategy, with Thing 2 you should think about things 4, 5, and 6, but don’t worry about that too much, you’ll have a better grasp of why once you’ve played it through once.
Once your turn starts, you can do one of Alpha, Beta or Gamma. Your first couple of turns, it’s not worth doing much other than Gamma, unless you’re really lucky and start with the resources to do Alpha.”

and so on. If you know you don’t need to worry about Event cards until later in the game, you shouldn’t be worrying about them during setup.

A basic “what you need to know for each stage” with references to the full rulebook if you need more detail, might make some of these games less daunting. Or perhaps the research process would make it easier to explain.

I don’t think I have time for a project like this, but I do like the sound of the end result.

Plotting Your Favourite TV Shows

Earlier tonight, my wife and I were revisiting a site that we have found interesting/amusing before, so I thought I’d share it with you.

This site takes the IMDB user ratings for each episode of a TV show, and plots them on a graph. Each season is given a different colour, and a line is charted for each season, representing the average, and showing whether the season trends as getting better, getting worse, or staying about the same. It is worth noting the scale on the left. Each episode has a score of 0-10, but the full 0-10 isn’t shown each time, often a chunk is cut off the bottom (and possibly the top), if no episodes are in that range. That can be changed, there’s an option below the graph.

Like Firefly, the bottom line is 8 and the top is 10, the lowest-rated episode is 8.3, the highest is 9.5, and the average line is pretty flat  at around 8.9.

It’s interesting how sometimes it’s one episode that will skew a season’s average line. Enterprise shows a gradual increase in perceived quality over the first two seasons, Season 3’s line starts a little lower than Season 2’s end point, then dramatically rises over the season, then the cluster of Season 4’s dots look like S4’s line should rise, too… but the line goes down. Why? Series finale “These Are The Voyages”, Enterprise’s lowest-scoring episode (not without reason) (IT’S NOT CANON! LALALALALALALALALA) skews the line into serious decline.

The other Trek series are worth a look as well, if you’re into that sort of thing.

I’ve been watching Pie In The Sky with my wife, and we’ve just finished Season 4. Looks like we’re just about to hit the low point of the series.

I didn’t watch it, but out of interest, I looked up Lost. Had to laugh when rather than the show’s real title, the site says “How Did You Get Here?”. And for all the bad I heard about the ending, it didn’t rate too badly.

You can hover over any dot and find what the episode is, and exactly what it rated. You can also click on the dot to be taken to the IMDB page for that episode.

Something that lasted a lot of years and has a lot of episodes per season can be fun. Here’s Doctor Who, 1963-1989.

We had a bunch of fun looking up a bunch of different shows we like. If graph-site’s search doesn’t work, you can find the show on IMDB and copy the show’s ID into the search box.

Comment below with shows you like, and looked up. Be careful, I’m sure you could be there all day looking things up…

A Prayer, And For Good Reason

My family suffered a loss today, which seemed pretty sudden. Not completely blindsiding, but as deteriorations go, it was pretty rapid.

Consequently, I don’t really want to write much.

In the years of finding out about Orthodoxy, I have come across this understanding of death. Everyone goes to be in God’s presence, some people will enjoy the experience, while others will find it torment. So the difference between Heaven and Hell is not so much a matter of geography, rather a matter of perception.

“The fire of Hell is the love of God”, one saint put it. “You can’t expect to go to Heaven, yet not run into God there” – from an AFR podcast, don’t remember which one (possibly the foundations series, and possibly not word-for-word).

Even for those for whom the experience of God int he next life will be Heaven, the transition is expected to be difficult, refiner’s fire and all that. Services are held and prayers said, to help ease the transition.

I give all this background information, just so I can share this prayer. The website of St Barnabas Church in Costa Mesa, CA used to host a page of prayers, I have to use the Wayback Machine to access that page now. There’s a section of Prayers for The Departed. I share a small part of that section:

Remember, O Lord, the souls of thy departed servants, my parents NN, [if they have already fallen asleep in the Lord], and all my relatives according to the flesh. Forgive all their sins, both voluntary and involuntary. Grant them participation in thine eternal good things and the enjoyment of the eternal and blessed life.

Well my parents are just fine, but now I can say it for all my grandparents.

Lord, have mercy. And for the last sentence of the prayer, grant this, O Lord.

And I miss you guys.

Review: Scream Of The Shalka… Special Features

I’m not sure I’ve reviewed special features rather than the “main attraction” before, but hey, there’s a first time for everything.

There are certain times when it’s easier to watch the special features than it is to watch the main attraction. I started watching Doctor Who through with Oldest, and we’re currently stalled at The Keys Of Marinus: the first episode was too scary for Middlest.

I’ve picked up a few Doctor Who DVDs, most of them are to fill gaps. There were two stories that I didn’t have on videotape, and then rediscovered missing episodes and stories, and animations of missing episodes, make up most of the other DVDs I’ve bought.

Somewhat of an oddity in the Doctor Who DVD catalogue, is a recent purchase of mine: The Scream Of The Shalka.

Some people at the BBC realised that the BBC wasn’t planning to do anything for the 40th anniversary of the show, so they knocked on a bunch of doors to see if they could do an animated story for the website. They managed to get permission to do it, and so they did. Development took a long time, and suffered quite a few setbacks, but in the end, production happened. Richard E Grant was to be the Ninth Doctor.

Post-production took a long time, and so it was that two months before Shalka was released onto the website, the announcement was made that Doctor Who Was Coming Back. Shalka became instantly overshadowed by this news, and is an oft-overlooked chapter in Who history.

And yet, had Shalka not been made, NuWho might not have happened.

There are three particular special features I want to talk about.

One, and it’s more of a mention, is an interview with some of the people involved, from the time the show was made. And I think pre-post-production, so before the return was announced. I think there are some shots of David Tennant there (who managed to talk his way into a small role, he was recording something next door, found out they were making Doctor Who, and figured it was his only chance to be in Who… funny world).

Another is the tale of how the show came about, with more recent interviews with behind-the-scenes people. This was really interesting, and there’s so many interesting little things, including interaction between members of the Shalka crew, and production staff of NuWho.

When trying to find out if they could do something for Who’s 40th, they ran into people who cited “rights issues”. So one of the crew members was tasked with researching the rights issue. Practically everyone to do with rights at the BBC was contacted, and the only thing that seemed like it could be an actual problem was “maybe something about the Daleks”. but the Shalka crew weren’t planning to use Daleks, so they went ahead. And filed away all the research and responses to the rights issue.

A new head of BBC was appointed, who said she’d love to bring back Doctor Who, if the rights issues could get sorted out. concerned fans contacted the Shalka crew to find out whether these rights issues would affect the Shalka release. The Shalka people then posted an article outlining the rights issues as they understood them (basically, that there weren’t any). The Shalka team lead was then summoned to his boss for a stern telling-off. He took the research with him.

It is implied, but not explicitly stated, that it was this meeting that cleared the way for NuWho to enter production.

And that’s just a small part of what, to me, was a very interesting story.

the third special feature I want to talk about, concerned the development of the BBC website, and Doctor Who’s place and importance in that.

I liked the tongue-in-cheek pokes at the site’s regular rebrandings, the experimental things that people were allowed to try, while at the same time the reluctance for setting precedent. The “Live chat” feature, where interviews were conducted over Instant Messages, and broadcast in real time. Even real time over the outside window to the studio…. which was constantly hidden by a row of buses. The now-archived Cult portion of the site, where dead (Who) and living (Buffy) shows were lumped together. The previous Doctor Who animations, and issues like buffering and sound quality. A misuse of RealPlayer’s subtitle functions to do animations. The PhotoNovels reconstructions of missing episodes. The development of iPlayer. It’s like a digital history lesson, and I’m interested in history and also computer stuff, so this was up my alley.

I’m not sure that I watched Scream Of The Shalka when it came out. I may have tried, but buffering, and the terrible audio quality of streaming at the time may have prevented my watching much of it. And I haven’t yet sat down and watched it this time round (maybe at some point when Youngest needs distraction, or maybe with Oldest if he gets schoolwork done early). At this point, it almost doesn’t matter, the special features were entertaining enough to warrant the price of admission.