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Babylon 5.1
by Rick Norwood

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Ratings are based on a four star system.
One star means that the commercials are more entertaining than the program.
Two stars watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars is good solid entertainment.
Four stars means you never dreamed television could be this good.

Doctor Who 2006 What to make of the new Doctor Who?

Most people start with entertainment that is most readily to hand, which usually means Robert Jordan or Stephen King, and current movies and television. When you are young, everything is new.

After a few years, you discover that most popular entertainment repeats over and over again the same few ideas in much the same way. Boy meets girl. The underdog wins the big game. A young man of humble origin defeats the Dark Lord.

It is a very good year that produces enough great entertainment to fill up a busy person's spare time for a week.

And so we turn to the great entertainment of the past, and find a lifetime of pleasure waiting.

The great books of the past are in every way the equal of the great books of the present, and the same is true of plays and films. But when we get to television, we find a medium that has barely outgrown knee pants. From a purely technical standpoint, modern television is infinitely better than old television.

I've been watching a lot of old television, lately. Even the best of it has long, boring spots. People walk across a room. I didn't need to see that. They get in and out of cars. George Bernard Shaw once said that American movies consisted entirely of people getting in and out of cars. Worse, the writers were not used to working in a visual medium so, just like Golden Age comic book writers, they tell you everything in dialogue, even stuff you can see perfectly well in the pictures.

Modern television, even when it is badly scripted, has a technical polish that television from twenty years ago lacked.

A good example is Perry Mason. The early episodes of Perry Mason were taken from the densely plotted mystery novels of Erle Stanley Gardner. They crammed a lot of plot into fifty two minutes. When they were first on the air, they were state-of-the-art. Which means that even by today's standards, they are good -- a little slow, but watchable.

Outer Limits, on the other hand, which I am watching on badly flawed DVDs, requires endurance. And Outer Limits has faster pacing that Twilight Zone. Today, we have simply become accustomed to absorbing information from subtler signals and at a faster rate.

Doctor Who Video Cover Which brings us to the Doctor.

The new Doctor Who is not as charming as Tom Baker, and the scripts are not as clever as those written by Douglas Adams, but it does move a whole lot faster than the older Doctor Who programs.

The menace of the week format is fairly standard. Some ugly alien or other is up to no good, and the Doctor charms his way into the right place at the right time. More often than not, the Doctor tries to befriend the alien, and it is his new companion, Rose, who realizes that the aliens are up to no good and does away with them.

The ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston, only lasts one season. He has a grin like Doctor Phlox, but his hearts are breaking inside, because all of the other Time Lords have been killed. This is a mystery that will be explained in future episodes, no doubt. It is hard to make sense of it, though. Given time travel, there is bound to be some future time in which all the Time Lords are dead, if only because of the heat death of the universe. And just because they are dead then doesn't mean one can't have tea with them now and then.

Ah, well, I'll keep watching for a while, even though Battlestar Galactica and Smallville both have more going for them than the new Doctor. At least, as Trelane once said of Captain Kirk, he's rude.

Copyright © 2006 Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.

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