Little Sister

Nearly a year after it originally aired, today I finished watching season 1 of Wynonna Earp, the television show based on the comic book series of which I had never heard. One of my favourite things about the show is that it is not pretentious or smugly confident about its own quality. I had been watching Riverdale, a show that is so completely convinced of its own cleverness that even the prettiness of Cole Sprouse can’t save it; although I associate this smugness more with Doctor Who and Sherlock and it is precisely what led me to give up on those shows. Wynonna Earp seems to have accurately approximated how good it is – a bit silly, low budget, but fun and with a solid story – and to have embraced that level of quality to allow it to have both a sense of humour while taking its ridiculous core concepts seriously. It’s a balance that I haven’t felt a genre show has got quite right since Buffy the Vampire Slayer (with the possible exception of Hannibal, if you consider it to be a genre show). It’s not the only comparison one can make between Wynonna Earp and Buffy, and part of the reason I like Wynonna Earp so much is because it comes out of these comparisons surprisingly well.

This post contains spoilers for Buffy the Vampire Slayer (primarily season 7); I don’t think anything I say about Wynonna Earp could be considered a spoiler.

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How to solve a problem like Helena?

This post will contain spoilers for Orphan Black seasons 1-3, Buffy the Vampire Slayer seasons 3-9 (yes, including the comic book continuations to a point), and Angel seasons 1-4. And, it turns out in the writing of it, Being Human series 1-3 (the UK version).

I had originally planned to write this blog after the penultimate episode of Orphan Black season 3 (“Insolvent Phantom of Tomorrow”), but I watched it too late in the week and so I waited until I’d seen the finale. The finale doesn’t change much of what I have to say, although it does provide a fun quote and some additional material. What I have to say is this: Helena is becoming a problem. Here is why.

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Contact (Part 1?)

Great science fiction stories should leave the readers asking questions. This statement is probably true of all stories, but I’m particularly interested in science fiction, so I’m focusing on those. In the past week or so I’ve had intense discussions about science fiction television shows and films, and I’ve thought intense things about science fiction books, but I lack others who have read those books to have quite the same kinds of discussion. I’ve posted the discussion I had with a friend on Twitter about the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Measure of a Man” (Season 2, episode 9) before (and here is it again), but even now I’m having new thoughts about that episode – about the importance of addressing ideas we hold to be true (in this case, the consciousness of Data) against those who do not agree in a way which allows us to examine our viewpoint and make it more forcefully. I wish I could do that too, sometimes. I’ve been reflecting on how stories encourage us to ask those questions, how they might lead us to certain answers, and what it is useful to ask in science fiction; in particular recently I have been thinking about the question of contact with alien life.

There are two principal sources of these thoughts: the first was reading the Hugo Award nominated The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin (translated by Ken Liu); the second was this article in February’s Clarkesworld magazine, which I only just got around to reading. (In the background, I’ve been re-watching The X Files too, in which contact comes up a lot). In the Clarkesworld article, Mark Cole discusses the limited examples of “friendly aliens” in science fiction (mostly cinema; there’s no discussion of the Federation or Ekumen or any other alliance of worlds) and suggests that stories of conquering aliens are more common because we can believe that from human nature and history. I’m not completely convinced that human history is quite so replete with conquerors and violence (perhaps European history) rather than co-operation and allegiance – perhaps it’s just that the conflict receives greater emphasis in our history books? But I also feel that this interpretation is a far too literal reading of contact stories. The Three-Body Problem discusses the impact it would have on human society if the existence of extraterrestrial life were discovered, which is a much more interesting idea. In this scenario, human beings discover that they are not alone in the galaxy and have to come to terms with that knowledge. The approach here is more interesting because it looks at how human beings behave, requiring no idea about the alien life at all – because we have no idea what alien life is like, but we know how human beings react to the unknown, or to new knowledge. Personally, I find the questions about how human beings behave much more interesting than inventing an alien conqueror.

Dirk Harder

Without the lynchpin that was Sherlock, it appears that this blog fell into disuse. Sorry, blog. Although most of my traffic still seems to come from people looking at the Sherlock pages on the BBC website. Not that that’s a lot of traffic, but – double figures! Anyway, then I got some new followers, one of them read this blog, made a comment about it, and I felt like I ought to carry on with it. As I’ve mostly blogged* about TV stuff, it seems appropriate that I continue in that vein.

Dirk Gently was the creation of the eternal genius and much missed Douglas Adams, the result of an incompleted episode of Doctor Who called Shada and probably a few dozen missed deadlines. Dirk is a detective, but no normal detective – he is a holistic detective, he solves the whole crime. In many ways Dirk is the anti-Sherlock, in that rather than taking all the clues and forming them into the only possible solution to the crime, Dirk takes hold of a seemingly random thread and, through the principles of quantum mechanics which show the fundamental interconnectivity of all things, pulls on it until the case is solved. After the original Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency followed the (frankly) inferior Long, Dark Tea-Time of the Soul before a final, incomplete outing in The Salmon of Doubt, during the writing of which came Adams’ untimely death ten years ago.

Just before Christmas in 2010 the BBC produced an hour and a half pilot for a Dirk Gently TV series, based on the first book and starring Stephen Mangan, which was pretty good although it didn’t really make clear the more science-fictional elements of the Dirk Gently story. It felt a bit like an episode of Doctor Who, although not as much like one as it probably should have given the book’s origins as an episode of Doctor Who. It was enjoyable and led to me actually reading the books, but to be honest if I didn’t follow Stephen Mangan on twitter I probably wouldn’t have noticed that the series began on BBC four last week.

Prior to the start of the series I discovered that the show was produced by Howard Overman, the man who created the glorious anti-superhero series Misfits. This had led me to think that Dirk Gently has a vital role in our TV schedule, which is to be the anti-Sherlock. It obviously can’t be as sweary or dirty as Misfits, but it can be something other than Sherlock, something a bit more fun and a bit less inadvertently sexist, perhaps. I suspect that I am heaping too many expectations on the show, though.

The first episode of the series was, I thought, fantastic – better than the pilot in that it wasn’t so overwhelmed by source material, fun, interconnected, and entertaining. The second episode, I would say, wasn’t clever enough, which could lead to problems further down the line. There’s a lack of understanding, I suppose, in what makes a holistic detective, and the possibility that he will just become another Sherlock. When Dirk dismisses a case as boring in the first episode, he ends up taking it – but only because it becomes more interesting, rather than because he needs the money. It’s true that Dirk mostly takes quirkier cases (although there are a lot of lost cats) but it would be better if things were a bit more interconnected in less obvious ways. The second episode did have a lot more women in it too, even if they didn’t speak to one another. Better than Sherlock managed….

* I hate the fact that I am using “blog” as a verb here, by the way. It’s not as bad as “text”, but seriously, there are times and places for verbing, and that is only when it weirds language.