Sunday, May 2, 2010

Creepy Stone Angels Getting Creepier

(Yes, I realize I never posted anything about "Victory of the Daleks", but frankly I haven't felt a drive to write anything about the episode. It wasn't bad by any means, but I just don't feel like writing a review of it, especially now that I'm a bit behind in posts. So I'm going to skip it. Shoot me.)

(Actually, please don't. Or at least not in the face. Or below the belt. Oh God not below the belt.)

The past two weeks have been very exciting for me on the Doctor Who front. Finally, Steven Moffat, our new Executive Producer (replacing Russell T. Davies), brought back the Weeping Angels, creatures that helped make the Series 3 episode "Blink" into such a wonderful episode. Steven had taken a simple concept, and made it brilliant: creatures that are forced into a stone "existence" whenever they are looked at, but the instant that there is no one looking at them, they move fast as hell, and they "kill" their targets by sending them into the past and then consuming the energies of the potential lives they would've lived. It was a decision with the potential to save fairly big money from the season budgets for bigger, grander episodes while allowing the Doctor and his companion to film another episode at the same time by not requiring their presence nearly as often (episodes of this sort are generally referred to as "Doctor Lite" episodes, and have been done before, like with "Love and Monsters" and "Turn Left"). But frankly, "Blink" was so much better than any of the other "Doctor Lite" episodes, and better than even some of the episodes with the Doctor fully involved (I'm staring at you, "Fear Her"). Not to mention this was also going to be the return of Alex Kingston as River Song, for the first time since "Silence in the Library" and "Forest of the Dead" (which were two brilliant episodes in my opinion).

So we start with two "concurrent" events (I use the parentheses because it's made clear within minutes that events are actually happening 12,000 years apart). River is strutting through a spaceship as though she owns it, while the Doctor and Amy are...visiting a museum in the future. Amy soon points out that it's the Doctor's way of "keeping score", which earned a couple laughs and seems very true. They come across a "Home Box" (described by the Doctor as being like a black box, but designed to return to it's planet of origin in case it's ship crashes, which has a message carved into it in "Old High Gallifreyan". This leads to probably one of my favorite moments in the episode, where the Doctor starts telling Amy about how the words used to hold unimaginable power, only to have to tell her seconds later that the message that River is seen blow-torching into the box simply says "Hello sweetie". The Doctor naturally steals it and is able to get video recordings from it, allowing River to basically communicate coordinates and a date to the Doctor, allowing her to blow a hatch which sucks her right out into space...and into the waiting arms of the Doctor standing in the doorway of the TARDIS. Very smooth. With River's help, they chase the ship, and she uses her unbelievable piloting skills to land the TARDIS, without the usual sounds, and promptly explains (to my great amusement) that the sound is because the Doctor "leaves the parking brake on". Not kidding here. It also got big laughs out of the people also viewing it last weekend at the weekly screenings in my building. River tells the Doctor that they are after a Weeping Angel being carried within the crashed "Byzantium" (an event actually referenced in "Silence in the Library"...I swear I love the ability of the writers to make all of these details fit together so nicely between seasons), and they are soon joined by "Clerics". Yes, the religious types of Clerics, only with body armor and automatic weapons. Militant holy men: I love it! They set up shop and show a four second looped recording of the Angel held within the ship, but poor Amy gets locked into the trailer with the recording playing just before the Doctor reads a passage from a book supposedly about the Angels: "That which holds the image of an Angel becomes an Angel". And of course, Amy looks the Angel, who just happens to have come OUT of the screen as a projected image, right in the eyes before the Doctor can tell her not to.

Amy eventually stops the recording by turning off the screen at the exact moment the image flickers, and the Doctor gets into the trailer. And shortly after, they set out. In a manner even creepier than before, the Clerics start dropping one by one, each one having their necks broken and their voices stolen. As the Doctor starts to realize that all of the creepy, deformed statues are really just weakened Angels, Amy begins to experience strange happenings, such as rubbing an abnormal amount of dust out of her eye and thinking her hand is made of stone and therefore stuck to what it's grasping (a problem which the Doctor soon remedies by literally biting her, proving it to be an illusion). The Doctor communicates with an Angel, who is using the voice of a character known earlier as "Cleric Bob", who amusingly gains the name of "Angel Bob", who tries to anger him, but that simply provokes the Doctor. This leads to one of the Doctor's best speeches so far this season, used previously in promos:

"There's one thing you never put in a trap if you're smart. If you value your continued existence, if you have any plans about seeing tomorrow, there's one thing you never, ever put in a trap: me."

And then, just as he shoots the gravity ball providing light to the room, the first part ends. This created a great deal of rage in the viewing, with three of my friends leaping up and yelling at the TV. I wasn't particularly surprised.

"Flesh and Stone" starts us out by showing the outcome of the Doctor's plan: the Doctor, River, Amy, and the remaining Clerics are all standing on the outer hull of the ship, the gravity ball having reversed the gravity for them as it was shot. They make their way inside but are quickly followed, with the Doctor being forced to cut power to the lights in order to open the next doors. They do manage to escape, but not for long. They reach the secondary flight room, and despite the Clerics' best efforts, the Angels begin to open the doors. However, the Doctor discovers multiple things. First, he discovers a massive door that leads into a huge forest in the ship, designed to act as an oxygen source. Second, he realizes that Amy has begun randomly counting down vocally, and realizes that her visual cortex is basically holding an Angel inside ("That which holds the image of an Angel becomes an Angel"). With the Angels getting closer to breaching the room, he insists that River and the Clerics take Amy into the forest, at which point he comes face-to-face with the Angels, and, unable to keep eye contact with all of them, ends up with an Angel holding him back by his coat. It's at this point in the episode where I was happiest, because the glowing cracks like the one in Amy's room finally started to get an explanation.

I'm going to digress for a moment here. Every season since the show's return in 2005 has had a buzzword or some object/concept that persists through the season and ends up connected to the events of the finale. Series 1 had Rose using the power of the Time Vortex to spread the words "Bad Wolf" through history to lead her back to the Doctor in his conflict against the resurrected Daleks. Series 2 had the Torchwood Institute. Series 3 had "Mr. Saxon". Series 4 had the disappearance of planets and later the whole "Doctor Donna" thing. And of course the specials after Series 4 had the bits about "The Doctor's song is ending" and "He will knock four times". But the frustrating part? These things would persist through their episodes, teasing us along like the whole "Save the Cheerleader, Save the World" thing from the first season of Heroes, but there would then be a rush to explain everything once they hit the end of the seasons. What I can appreciate with how Moffat is doing things is that we're being told a fair bit right now about the cracks (that they contain "the end of the universe" and have the power to erase anything caught in them from existence in all times), and we'll now see the Doctor working over time to combat them through the rest of the season. Yes, they have the potential to be used as a huge retcon button for everything that has happened in the past of Doctor Who, but I trust Moffat not to go too overboard. And why should I overreact about this when technically the new series probably retconned a fair number of events from the original twenty six seasons?

Back to things, the Doctor slips away without his coat and rejoins a now dying Amy, and realizes that the Angel inside of her will kill her in a matter of seconds, and forces her to close her eyes and keep them closed, shutting down her visual cortex and therefore pausing the Angel. He then leaves with River and the leader of the Clerics, Father Octavian, who explains that he is "engaged to River, in a manner of speaking" and therefore must accompany her, while the rest of the Clerics are left trying to hold an ever expanding group of Angels back by maintaining constant eye contact. On the way, the Doctor discovers that River was in prison for killing a man and was only released to assist with the mission, and that she is officially in Octavian's custody. As they reach the primary flight room, River works on a way inside, but Octavian is attacked by an Angel and is held in a headlock, knowing that he will be killed the moment the Doctor isn't looking. He tells the Doctor not to trust River, and the Doctor rushes into the flight room. Meanwhile, the four remaining Clerics are witness to the appearance of a bright light that frightens off all of the Angels. As three of the Clerics leave to check the light, the remaining Cleric suddenly loses all memory of his three partners ever existing, scaring Amy. She momentarily opens her eyes and sees that the light is coming from a crack like the one in her bedroom, and panics. The Doctor is informed of the light, and he realizes that the cracks are rewriting history, and only a "complicated space-time event" such as himself can close it. He angrily lashes out at River as they try to solve the numerous problems. The Doctor begins guiding Amy towards them using her communication device, but she is soon surrounded by frightened Angels. She is initially able to walk past them unharmed as their survival instincts make them believe she can still see them, but soon she trips, revealing herself as being essentially blind, and in a genuinely creepy moment we finally see actual movement from the Angels as they turn toward her. She's saved just in time, though, by a teleport repaired by River, but soon after the Angels open the doors to the primary flight room, and Angel Bob demands that the Doctor throw himself into the crack to save the Angels. River offers, insisting that she's complicated enough, but the Doctor scoffs at her and denounces her as not being close (in what I saw as being a pure Sixth Doctor ego moment). Luckily, the Doctor yells at Amy and River to grab a hold of something, as he comes to realize that the Angels' consumption of the ship's radiation will soon cause the artificial gravity to die, and the entire group of Angels fall into the crack, sealing it and removing them from existence.

As the episode closes, River prepares to return to her orbiting prison ship and mentions something called the "Pandorica", which the Doctor insists is only a "fairy tale" (this was also mentioned by Prisoner Zero in "The Eleventh Hour", meaning it's yet another buzzword concept). Amy insists that the Doctor take her home, and in probably the most shocking scene in any season of Doctor Who, throws herself completely and heavily at the Doctor, trying to seduce him on the night before her wedding. The Doctor drags her back into the TARDIS, insisting that she's somehow involved in the massive explosion big enough to create those cracks throughout time and space, revealing that the date he calculated as the day of the explosion was in fact Amy's wedding day.

I just want to tackle the final scene for a moment...What the bloody hell? If Rose's love for the Doctor (and to an extent, the relatively more tame attractions of both Martha and Jack towards the Doctor) was a way of trying to break the original series' taboo for close, romantic relationships between the Doctor and his companions, Amy's actions in "Flesh and Stone" were an attempt to completely and totally shatter them, and frankly I'm glad that the Doctor resisted. As amusing as her actions were and as refreshing it may be to have a companion who is almost as assertive as Donna was, I have to say that the suddenness and the extent of Amy's actions were quite a bit startling and more than just a little awkward. Doctor Who just seems to have a thing about weddings and marriages being tricky, strange events that rarely end happily and/or as expected.

Despite my mixed feelings about Amy's actions at the end of "Flesh and Stone" and the potential of the cracks as a massive retcon button, I have to say that "The Time of Angels" and "Flesh and Stone" did not disappoint. I always seem to enjoy Alex Kingston in anything she works on (I've been a fairly big fan of ER for years, and I especially love her as River Song), and the Weeping Angels are probably one of the more memorable villains to ever come out of Doctor Who (of course outside of the big, often reused ones like the Daleks and the Cybermen). These episodes took monsters that were already creepy to begin with and took that creepiness factor to a new level. My only real complaint is that the cracks seem to have made it so that the Angels will never appear again, which is a shame because they were something for Moffat to be proud of.

Next week we get the Doctor, Amy, AND her fiance Rory traveling to Venice, and coming face-to-face with vampires. Will these vampires do us all a favor and not sparkle? Will the whole Amy-trying-to-jump-the-Doctor's bones issue be swept under the rug? We'll have to wait and see.

(At some point this week I should have some more posts up, involving my thoughts on my current progress rewatching Torchwood and hopefully something about video games, seeing as that's what this blog is supposed to officially be about, so that I can show that this won't simply be full of Doctor Who love)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Doctor Who - "The Beast Below" Review

So, we're now moving right along into the new Doctor Who season, with "The Beast Below". In some aspects it was a bit of a disappointment, but in many more aspects it worked quite well. I dare say it worked better than many other immediately-after-the-premiere episodes, which routinely introduce the companions formally into the world of the Doctor.

Our episode begins with an introduction to the Smilers, the robotic, booth-dwelling entities overseeing various aspects of life on the massive ship that is apparently Britain. They lump praise onto every child in the class except for one, Timmy, who gets a zero after the Smiler's head spins, changing the face to an unhappy one. Timmy is told by Mandy (his sister?) that he's not allowed to ride the lift back to London due to getting a zero, but he jumps onto another lift instead. What follows is a slightly creepy poem recited by a mysterious girl on a small monitor on one of the lift walls, after which the lift descends rapidly as the head of the Smiler in the lift spins to reveal blood red eyes and an angry, snarling mouth before the floor opens to drop Timmy into what appears to be a fiery pit.

Let me stop here for a moment to address the Smilers. One of the things I think Doctor Who has done especially well over the years is crafting villains and creatures that are simple but very much evil and/or surprisingly creepy, and the Smilers certainly fit into the 'creepy' category. Am I saying that they scared me? Not at all. But I can appreciate the creepiness in the fact that, when you think their heads only have two relatively normal faces, they suddenly turn around and reveal that they somehow have another one that you simply know would really freak you out if you saw it in person. It's like the Weeping Angels from the Series 3 episode "Blink" and the upcoming "The Time of Angels" and "Flesh and Stone". The concept is so simple: Extremely fast creatures with a taste for killing (though "killing" might not be an entirely correct term), but with the weakness that instantly turns them to stone the moment anyone looks at them, meaning that as long as someone is looking at them, you're safe. But that means that there cannot be a moment when someone is not looking at them, and you cannot even blink. THAT is frankly incredibly creepy, and WORKED as a concept.

Back to things...we then get to see a light-hearted moment of the Doctor holding Amy by the ankle as she floats outside the TARDIS doors in the middle of space. Afterwards, she somehow ends up outside the TARDIS again, except now holding onto the ship for dear life, and that's when we first spot the huge ship carrying all of the UK except for Scotland. The Doctor explains to Amy that they never get involved in the affairs of the people living wherever and whenever they land (I'd like to call bullshit right now, please), before slipping out unnoticed by Amy until she sees him bump into the crying Mandy on the screen. Amy and the Doctor then wander through the hall they've landed in, with the Doctor telling Amy to be more perceptive about everything around her, meanwhile testing a few random things. The Doctor observes: 1.) There is no characteristic rumbling in the floors that would be felt if there were engines propelling the ship, 2.) Nobody is comforting the upset Mandy because they all likely know why she's crying to begin with, and 3.) People are making actual efforts to stay away from the Smiler booths. The Doctor sends Amy off to follow Mandy while he does what he "always does: stay out of trouble...badly". (That's more like it!) Meanwhile a man in robes alerts a grey-haired man in a control room somewhere about the Doctor's actions, and he alerts a woman, clad in red and carrying a mask.

Amy follows Mandy (who knew she was being followed by Amy and the Doctor due to the four clumsy attempts by the Doctor to get Mandy's wallet by bumping into her and the fact that they were watching her in the station), and ends up not only getting attacked by a strange, stinger-like appendage coming from a hole in the floor covered by a tent but also being taken away by more people in robes. Meanwhile the Doctor meets the woman who was alerted to his presence, who introduces herself as "Liz 10" and points out that he knew to check for the rumble of engines by setting a glass of water on the floor, confirming that there cannot be traditional engines propelling the ship. We return to Amy, who is in a room where she's informed that she will be told the truth behind what is happening, with the choice to "Protest" or "Forget". We don't actually get to see what the truth is yet, but in a wonderful bit of foreshadowing, we're flashed forward to the moment after Amy hits the "Forget" button, which is when she watches a video she recorded before hitting the button, frantically insisting that she take the Doctor and get him off the ship before he can investigate too much further. She's then joined by the Doctor, who hits the "Protest" button, sending them falling down the same sort of hole in the floor as Timmy. They end up in a gigantic mouth, and after some physical comedy involving their escape, they find themselves in a hallway with a door that only allows them to select "Forget" in order to open it, and at the other end, we see two Smilers actually leave their booths, increasing their creepy factor, but the door opens, revealing Liz 10 and Mandy. Liz 10 pulls a gun and shoots both Smilers.

It's at this point that Doctor Who continues to show it's great love of continuity. Liz 10 reveals herself to know of the Doctor, and reveals that she is, in fact, Queen Elizabeth the Tenth, making several cracks about past events involving the royal family (referencing the Doctor being knighted AND exiled in the same day by Queen Victoria in "Tooth and Claw", being chased by Elizabeth the First's men in "The Shakespeare Code", and apparently marrying Elizabeth the First prior to the events of "The End of Time"), which I thought were excellent. The Doctor and Amy are taken to the Queen's chambers for fresh clothing, before more men in robes appear and insist on everyone coming with them. It is of course at this moment that we find out that at least one of the men is also a Smiler, as out of nowhere his head spins to the creepy Smiler face and informs the Queen that they are acting under her orders. They are taken to the "Tower of London", the lowest point on the ship, where the Doctor and Queen are outraged to find that the ship is actually flying on the back of a massive "Star Whale", which is being tortured with electrical blasts to it's exposed brain to keep it moving. The Queen then learns that she undergoes essentially the same procedure as her people every ten years, learning of the truth and then being given the choice to "Forget" and allow everything to continue as normal, or "Abdicate" and free the Star Whale, destroying the ship in the process. The Doctor knows that Amy was trying to keep him from reaching this point and having to make such a difficult moral decision, and becomes very much enraged, finally showing what appears to be a hint of Sixth Doctor ("Nobody talk to me. No human has anything to say to me today!"), and even goes so far as to threaten to take Amy home immediately when the situation is resolved.

And here is yet another thing that makes Doctor Who such a strong show at times: Moral decisions that are not as simple as being black or white. We see them all the time. The Doctor has to choose between different outcomes where not everyone can be happy. The Eleventh Doctor finds himself with three tough choices: Allow the innocent Star Whale to continue being tortured for human survival, force the Queen to abdicate and save the Whale at the cost of all the human lives on the ship, or deliver a mercy killing to the Whale, killing it but ending it's suffering and allowing the humans to continue living. And at this point, we see Amy already growing as a character, noticing the Whale's tender treatment of the children and piecing it together with the bits of story given by the Queen's associate, Hawthorne, about the Whale's refusal to eat children. She realizes that one of the choices will have different results than expected, and forces the Queen to abdicate. But, instead of the Whale leaving and the ship being destroyed, the Whale moves faster. Amy reveals that, much like the Doctor, the Whale was the last of it's race and, witnessing the tragedy of solar flares destroying the Earth, couldn't bear to see the human children in such a situation and had actually volunteered itself to the humans, negating the need for the torture. The episode ends with the Doctor and Any reconciling, and with Amy about to tell the Doctor about the wedding set for the day after she left in the TARDIS, but she's interrupted by a phone call from Winston Churchill, asking the Doctor for help, with the silhouette of a Dalek in the background.

Overall, the episode felt rushed, but was still quite good. I have to wonder why Timmy was dropped into the mouth of the Whale simply because he rode a lift after getting a zero in class. But the episode was still filled with some great quotes and humor, some character development, and more of Moffat's creepy creations. Plus, it did have a certain "Classic series" feel to it, with the reduced emphasis on action and a greater emphasis on problem solving. As much as I'll definitely miss Tennant as the Doctor, I certainly think I could get used to Matt Smith's version.

I may write up a review of "Victory of the Daleks" in the next day or two, but I'm not sure. I've got a few things in my head I'd like to write about, so it'll be a battle of priorities.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

New Doctor. New TARDIS. New Sonic Screwdriver. Same fun!


Like many Doctor Who fans, I was initially apprehensive about David Tennant's replacement as the Doctor, Matt Smith. We had been given three absolutely fantastic (to steal the Ninth Doctor's favorite word) seasons with Tennant, followed by a chain of specials ending with the two part "The End of Time", which for me redefined "Epic Doctor Who", with Timothy Dalton guest starring as Rassilon and the return of the Master. How could any Doctor, especially an extremely young one wearing a very questionable outfit, compare with someone as deeply loved in the fandom as David Tennant?

Of course, in the months between "The End of Time" and "The Eleventh Hour", there was no shortage of leaked information, and being as deep of a fan as I am, I followed it all and ate it up like a madman. And while I was very much entranced by the lovely new red-headed companion, Amy Pond (played by Karen Gillan), and absolutely loving the new designs for both the TARDIS and the Sonic Screwdriver, I still had my doubts about Matt Smith. Thankfully, as the premiere day drew closer, more and more clips of Matt as the Doctor surfaced, and I genuinely found myself liking what I saw. I especially enjoyed the clip from the upcoming "Vampires in Venice", with the Doctor playfully quipping with five lovely vampire women. (*Doctor looks back and forth between the vampires and a mirror* "How are you doing that? IT. You're like Houdini, only five slightly scary girls.")

Finally, the episode premiered in England on Saturday night (afternoon here in the US), and by that night I had the episode in my possession. But, I was waiting to watch it as I was intending on screening it for friends of mine when I returned to school after my short Easter weekend at home. Sunday night I sat down with my friends and we started the episode...and we were quite satisfied.

The first time we see the Eleventh Doctor (at least after his first appearance at the end of "The End of Time"), he's hanging out of a barreling, dying TARDIS that's flying through London. After the new opening sequence (which I actually like, though I know some people who aren't exactly happy about it), the TARDIS coincidentally crashes outside of Amelia Pond's house (of course, she later becomes Amy Pond) just as she's praying to Santa for someone to come and fix a huge crack in her wall. What follows is some wonderfully lighthearted fun with Amelia/Amy cooking up various things for the Doctor to try so he can find a food he actually likes ("You're Scottish, fry something."), which gives us a nice introduction to our new Doctor without immediately forcing him into action. Of course he does take action and discovers that the crack Amelia is worried about is actually an opening in the fabric of space and time, through which "Prisoner Zero" has escaped from some sort of prison. But before he can investigate further, the cloister bell rings, signaling impending disaster, and the Doctor rushes off to "jump five minutes into the future to stabilize the TARDIS", and we're treated to the heartbreaking moment of him vanishing and Amelia packing a suitcase and returning to the garden to wait, as the Doctor naturally overshoots.

Flash forward twelve years, and the TARDIS finally reappears, with the Doctor sprinting out and into Amy's house because he claims to have figured things out, only to be hit with a cricket bat. Ouch. Of course, the Doctor doesn't realize upon waking that the police officer who knocked him out was in fact Amelia/Amy, but then again she's not really a cop. It's discovered that Prisoner Zero has been hiding in Amy's house since she was little, and has the power to impersonate people. But then the fun really starts when the Atraxi show up and start announcing that they will incinerate the Earth if Prisoner Zero doesn't surrender himself over every electronic device on Earth, Vogon-style (and if you don't get this last reference, go out and immediately start reading the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, NOW). What follows is a race to hunt down Prisoner Zero and stop the Atraxi within a window of 20 minutes. Using not much more than a Blackberry Storm and a laptop with a very questionable internet history (because of the terrible loss of the Sonic Screwdriver), the Doctor manages to return the creature to the Atraxi, halting the destruction of Earth. They then fly off.

But does the Doctor leave it at that? No, and this leads to his true complete-and-total-badass-moment of the episode, where he literally calls the Atraxi on the Blackberry and ORDERS them back to Earth, not happy that they were so ready to burn a Level 5 protected planet. He proceeds to steal clothing from hospital lockers in a move we've seen from the Third and Eighth Doctors, and meets the Atraxi on the roof, where he asks if the Earth is a threat to the Atraxi or if humans have broken any Atraxi laws, and then asks "Is the Earth protected?" which causes the holographic sphere being projected by the huge Atraxi eyeball to show a montage of Doctor Who enemies (including some from classic series and many newer ones), to which the Doctor then continues "You have to ask yourself, what happened to them?". This yields a projection of all ten previous Doctors in a beautiful nod to the past, which the Eleventh Doctor steps through before delivering a beautiful line: "Hello, I'm the Doctor. Basically: RUN."

The episode ends with the Doctor running off to perform test flights with the newly regenerated TARDIS, and returns later to find that he has overshot AGAIN, returning two years after the Atraxi's appearance. However, he still convinces Amy to join him, though she tells him that she must be back the next day. We then get a shot of a wedding dress, implying that the next day is Amy's wedding day.

This episode is a wonderful example of what Doctor Who is. It's funny, it's heart-warming, it's heart-wrenching, it's tense. It has it's moments when your heart is tugged on, it has it's moments when you laugh out loud, it has it's moments when you're watching the events unfolding, wondering how it's all going to be fixed in the end, often with a moment where that happens in such a way that you can't help but exclaim "Yes!" while pumping a fist into the air. "The Eleventh Hour" provided so many awesome quotes, and gave us a solid introduction into what kind of Doctor Matt Smith is going to be portraying for at least two series. You can see hints of the Ninth and Tenth Doctors in him, and maybe even some of the earlier Doctors (unfortunately, my experiences with the earlier Doctors are limited so I can't say much for exactly who he's like, but perhaps a touch of the Fourth?). He's manic yet incredibly sharp and intelligent like the Ninth and Tenth, but he doesn't seem nearly as troubled as they did. The Ninth and Tenth were very clearly carrying a huge chip on their shoulders due to the Time War and the Doctor's direct responsibility for the destruction of Gallifrey, but so far we haven't really seen it with the Eleventh. So far he's more light-hearted, which is quite lovely.

So, with my reservations towards Matt Smith mostly demolished, I have to say I'm really looking forward to Series 5. With what I've been hearing about the upcoming "Victory of the Daleks" and the fact that we get a two-parter featuring both River Song AND The Weeping Angels, I think this series is going to be an absolutely fun ride. To quote our new Doctor: "Geronimo!"

Thursday, April 1, 2010

GameCrush Gives Gamers a Chance...To Look Creepier

Yesterday I first heard about GameCrush through Penny Arcade, and I just had to take a look to see if it really existed. A video game "dating" service where you pay to video chat with a girl while she plays video games with you as a "Play Date". I was immediately floored by the concept, the execution, and the sheer fact that enough people wanted in that they managed to crash the servers in five minutes. Great idea, or yet another reason why I'm sometimes ashamed to be considered a gamer? Well, I think it's a little of both.

In essence, the site is nothing more than a webcam "dating" site, where you purchase points and use those points to purchase time (10 minutes for every 400 points, with pricing supposedly being somewhere between $6-$7 for 500 points) that you spend video and voice chatting with women as they play any number of games with you, from basic online flash games to more "hardcore" games on consoles like Call of Duty or Halo. You then rate your "Play Date" afterwards and have the option to tip them additional points. The women get some of the points, while the remainder goes to GameCrush itself (it does have to pay for things like hosting, after all). Probably the weirdest part of the whole thing, though, is the choice of whether you want the girl to be "Flirty" or "Dirty".

Does it make sense from a business standpoint? Most definitely. Just look at what happened when they opened up shop online for their "beta": at least 10,000 people hit them in five minutes, overloading their servers with traffic and forcing them to shut down. Of course we can't guarantee that all 10,000 of those people, if not more, were there with the immediate intention in joining and using the site, but assuming for a moment that at least that many were there at some point and using a flat $6 as the price point for enough points for 10 minutes of play, the site is looking at $60,000 before giving the female members their cut of the money. And that's being conservative and assuming that each person pays for no more than 10 minutes. If they were to purchase enough for just a half hour each, GameCrush would be close to breaking $200,000. Clearly this is a potentially unbelievable gold mine for those who came up with it. Provided they can upgrade their equipment to be better able to handle the traffic in the future, they could be looking at a good cash flow.

But do I otherwise think it's a good idea? Oh God no. It gives me another reason to be ashamed of being a gamer for life. Are we REALLY so desperate that we'd spend almost $50 an hour just to have a girl talk dirty to us while playing Modern Warfare 2 on Xbox Live? Don't get me wrong, finding a significant other who would be happy to hop online with me and snipe a bunch of enemies side by side would be a hell of a lot of fun. But paying a stranger to be "flirty" or "dirty" while gaming with me just seems so wrong. When all is said and done, will this girl care? Will she look forward to the possibility of playing with me again specifically? Not likely at all. In the end, it was all just a business transaction, a way for her to make some quick cash. I know that there are plenty of people out there who could feel satisfied with such an arrangement, but that's just not how it works for me, and I really wish it would be the same for more people. Why shouldn't we be trying for something that provides a deeper connection and a better chance at long-term happiness? I think we also have to ask ourselves: Is it also a moral dilemma? Are we demeaning these women, even if they claim to be okay with it, by requesting that they specifically be "flirty" or "dirty"? Some people would probably laugh at me for posing such a question, but I feel it's a necessary one given what this site is actually selling.

Do I fully regret starting down the path of gaming roughly eighteen years ago (and God, that makes me feel really freaking old, even though relatively I'm not)? Absolutely not. I have fun with it, and have done so for all those years before. And we live in a world where we're being given so much more, like the creation of professional gaming as something no longer just a joke (seriously, if you can find it, look at the kinds of contracts that Major League Gaming is signing people to, you'll see some pretty legit money there), for example. However, I think that GameCrush just shoves gaming culture back several steps. If it was more like a traditional dating site like eHarmony or, then I don't think I'd be so opposed. As it stands, GameCrush feels like it's something maybe just a step below a sex webcam site, targeted specifically at those who are stereotypically bad with women otherwise. Can gaming culture please not make this as much of a success as it appears it could be? I know that I won't ever be touching this site, and I hope that others will avoid it as well. C'mon guys, do things the old-fashioned way. I'm sure in the end it'll be so much better that way.

And if that appeal doesn't work, then I'll just have to try and appeal to you on a geek level and point out that Microsoft recently went on record saying that GameCrush (somehow) violates the Xbox Live ToS. Are you willing to take those risks as well? I do hope that it doesn't end up being the only reason for some, but if that's what it takes to make sure the site doesn't become yet another very visible blemish on gaming culture, I'll accept it.

I think Penny Arcade commented on it best with their comic: