Apologies for the lack of my Alternate Wednesday posts of late; oddly enough, it’s a matter of not having enough time for them. I thought the biweekly schedule would be manageable, but with a novel to revise and multiple deadlines for various projects (including several other blogs I contribute to–see below), it has been the easiest thing to put aside. But I enjoy writing them, and I hope some of you enjoy reading them, so they will continue–but perhaps on a sporadic basis for the moment.
But I tell you, this episode is exciting, not least because it fills in some of the time between Kirk’s era and the TNG years, with the introduction of the Enterprise-C. (It hits some of the same buttons for me that “Babylon Squared” on Babylon 5 does, my favorite episode of the first season in which the Babylon 4 station reappears due to a temporal anomaly…) And I love this vessel, a beautiful melding of the best features of the Constitution-class and Galaxy-class designs. “Yesterday’s Enterprise” also has high stakes, gruesome deaths, and it looks and sounds more cinematic than anything on the show previously. I’m also a sucker for stories in which one ship or one person makes a huge impact for others–even in failure; we always root for the Enterprise to survive, but the idea that one crew’s sacrifice could still be a victory of sorts is gratifying.
Pop over there to see my episode recap and read reviews by me, Torie Atkinson, and our fine commenters.
I also had two other guest blog posts this week, if you haven’t had enough of me:
My wife and I adopted a rescue dog a couple of months ago, so I’ve been taking two or three extra walks a day, which have turned out to be perfect for listening to podcasts of This American Life. I love the radio program, but I didn’t always have time for it because I tend to prefer reading during my commute, and there are books, movies, and video games competing for my free time at home. Still, the Android app for the show was my first paid download when I got a Droid phone, and now I’m actually getting a lot more use out of it.
Anyway, I was astonished the other day when I heard the January 11, 2013 episode, “Doppelgängers.” As you might be aware, a doppelgänger is an identical twin, what Wikipedia defines as “a paranormal double of a living person, typically representing evil or misfortune.” The German word literally translates as “double goer.” Doppelgängers are staples of parallel universe and time travel stories, but it seems they appear in pretty much every genre, whether in a purely symbolic representation in literary fiction or something more sinister in horror. As fascinating as it might be to encounter someone who looks just like you, who might have led a life different from your own, the possibility of being replaced by your duplicate–cloned or dimensional or whatever–is terrifying.
The episode of This American Life is much more grounded in reality, but some of the implications raised by its stories are no less horrific. The hour-long program is often startling, humorous, sobering and profound, presenting two pieces that celebrate the redemptive power of pork bung and compare and contrast life in Philadelphia with the war in Afghanistan. Check it out:
And for something completely different, here’s one of my favorite stories about doppelgängers, an eerie Twilight Zone episode titled “Mirror Image.”
What’s your favorite book, movie, comic, or TV show about doppelgängers?
Sliders: “Summer of Love”
Written by Tracy Tormé
Directed by Mario Azzopardi
Season 1, Episode 2
Air date: 04:19:95
Same Earth, Different Dimension: It’s still the Sixties, man.
Back on Earth Prime, FBI agents ask Conrad Bennish about his friend Quinn Mallory, who has been missing since Tuesday along with Professor Arturo, Wade Wells, and Rembrandt Brown. The agents bring him to Quinn’s basement, where they are photographing his wormhole equipment and equations on the blackboard, and show him a video in which Quinn mentions discussing the Einstein-Rosen-Podalski Bridge with Bennish–and says he’s found a way to cross it. This blows Bennish’s mind. He tells them it’s possible that Quinn and the others have gone to another universe.
What is it you want, Mary? What do you want? You want the moon? Just say the word and I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down. Hey. That’s a pretty good idea. I’ll give you the moon, Mary. – George Bailey
Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he? – Clarence
I didn’t intend to focus so much on Christmas on my blog, but no discussion of alternate universes would be complete without mentioning the film It’s a Wonderful Life—which happens to be one of my favorite movies.
It’s a terrible cliché, but I do like to watch It’s a Wonderful Life every year, though I don’t always get to. I didn’t see it last year, and I haven’t yet this year, but with the artificial deadline of Christmas still a week away, I think I can probably fit it in. It’s a long movie, and I’ve seen it plenty of times, so it isn’t always a priority. I’m not so into Christmas that it’s about the holiday–in fact, the director, Frank Capra, didn’t really consider it a Christmas movie either, and it was originally scheduled to be released in January of 1947, but it was bumped up to December 1946 in New York for Oscar consideration.
Last week, I was delighted and astonished to learn that Rowan Atkinson and Tony Robinson had reprised their iconic roles as Blackadder and Baldrick in a stage sketch written by Ben Elton for a benefit titled We Are Most Amused. If you aren’t familiar with this British comedy, it’s about a scheming man named Blackadder whose cunning plans for power and fortune are frequently thwarted. Each season took place in a different historical period in England, along with a few one-off specials, capped by a time-traveling adventure called Blackadder: Back & Forth, which I’ll probably write about here in more detail later. It was a clever approach to the show, allowing Atkinson to reinvent the character in different incarnations, much like our favorite Time Lord (a role he has also portrayed.)
Anyway, this and the impending holidays reminded me that it had been a while since I had rewatched Blackadder’s Christmas Carol, which I quickly remedied. Clearly it’s based on A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, the ubiquitous seasonal classic which has been adapted, parodied, and referenced countless times since it was first published in 1843. This has to be one of the earliest instances of time travel and alternate universes occurring in fiction, though it employs magic (through the visions visited upon Ebenezer Scrooge by the spirits of Christmases Past, Present, and Future) and could be read with some ambiguity. If you know of other stories that predate it, I’d love to hear about them.
Of all the different versions of A Christmas Carol out there, my favorite is this Blackadder special from 1988. (Alas, I have never seen Patrick Stewart’s one-man show. Bad Trekkie!) It’s fairly standalone, but you’ll probably enjoy it more if you’ve seen and loved the preceding two seasons of the series and/or get a kick out of Rowan Atkinson. The reason I like it so much is because of its twist, which I will now spoil: When the story begins, Ebenezer Blackadder is a good, altruistic man who gives so much to beggars and family that he and Baldrick are left with no food or presents at Christmas. The spirit of Christmas (Robbie Coltrane!) turns up and makes the mistake of showing him how horrible his ancestors were, with fresh scenes taking place in the 16th century and 19th century eras of the series. But Blackadder’s nasty, clever, charming predecessors only convince him that there’s more fun and profit to be had in being bad than good, although this naturally backfires on him in the end.
"This is all getting a bit sillah!"
The biting, offensive humor may not work for you; much of it relies on Blackadder coming up with brilliant insults of other characters, particularly Baldrick. And some of the jokes made me wince this time around. But I still think it’s great fun and the cast is terrific: Jim Broadbent as Prince Albert; Hugh Laurie returning as George, Prince of Wales; Miranda Richardson as Queenie; Stephen Fry as the obsequious Lord Melchett. And then there are their futuristic counterparts in the Grand Admiral Blackadder segment.
And of course there’s a moral to be taken away from this, that you shouldn’t let people take advantage of your kindness–in a rare instance, most of the people Blackadder eventually lets loose on actually deserve it. And it turns out that even when he’s being nice, there’s a subtle nastiness to him. It’s kind of interesting to see him insult Baldrick and the others good-naturedly. If it’s one thing he has going for him, it’s that his barbed comments are so clever that many people don’t even realize they’ve just been verbally assaulted to their faces.
Mrs. Scratchit: No goose for Tiny Tom this year. Ebenezer Blackadder: Mrs. Scratchit, Tiny Tom is fifteen stone and built like a brick privy. If he eats any more heartily, he will turn into a pie shop.
If someone asks if you're the Ghost of Christmas Past, you say "Yes!"
My other favorite A Christmas Carol “adaptation” is an episode of The Real Ghostbusters, “X-mas Marks the Spot,” written by J. Michael Straczynski. I just rewatched it and it’s a bit goofy, but it’s also brilliant in a Saturday morning cartoon kind of way. You have to forgive a lot and suspend disbelief, but the Ghostbusters accidentally get time-slipped to Victorian England, where they encounter Ebenezer Scrooge. Yeah, I know.
But see, they’re Ghostbusters, so they capture the spirits that haunt him before they realize who he is, and when they get back to their own time, everyone else hates Christmas. So to restore the proper timeline, they have to retrieve the Christmas ghosts from the containment unit and return them to Scrooge–meanwhile, Peter, Winston, and Ray try impersonating the ghosts, which gives us scenes like Peter in a dress and wig pushing Scrooge around in a wheelchair with a Viewmaster strapped to his face to provide the “visions” of his past. Silly, but fun! I particularly liked that this startling development was foreshadowed early on: When the Ghostbusters try to collect their fee from Scrooge, he asks, “How do I know they were real ghosts? Maybe this was all some kind of trick.” In a way it was; if I’m interpreting it correctly, all of this happens just so that Peter will learn the true meaning of Christmas, which is that it isn’t so bad. *shrug* Oh, and Santa is also real, probably.