Archive for the ‘Frolics and Frivolities’ Category

Playlist of Modern Christmas Music

Since Thanksgiving my children have enjoyed listening to an endless stream of Christmas music on the Boston radio station Magic 106.7.  I’ve been surprised that despite a 24/7 Christmas music format that the playlist of Magic 106.7 seems extremely limited.  They do not play any overtly religious songs which is not surprising as they would want to appeal to the largest audience possible.  And as Magic 106.7 has a pop “adult contemporary” radio format, I would not expect them to play any folk, traditional, or foreign language tracks either.

Nevertheless, there is a still a large body of popular Christmas music that they seem to ignore.  Tune in for an hour, or even half-an-hour and you are certain to hear some rendition of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” “Sleigh Ride,” and “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” as well as Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime.”

I decided I would use Rdio to make a playlist of Christmas songs to see how many I could get without repeating.  I decided to set the following guidelines. I would only select “modern” Christmas and winter-themed songs, that is ones that were written to be recorded and sold to the public (roughly the 1930s to the present).  I also chose the earliest recording of the song I could find as many have obviously been recorded numerous times by multiple artists.  So far I have 105 songs, more than 5 1/2 hours of Christmas music without repeating a song, and this doesn’t even include modern interpretations of traditional Christmas carols from the 19th-century and earlier.

Check out the playlist on Rdio.  If you use Rdio, feel free to add additional tracks, and if not please feel free to make suggestions in the comments on this post.

Songs that qualify for the playlist, but are not available through Rdio:

  • “Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues with Kirsty MacColl
  • “Do They Know It’s Christmas” by Band Aid
  • “Three Kings” by Robbie O’Connell
  • “Merry Xmas Everybody” by Slade
  • “Christmas Time” by Bryan Adams

Songs that qualify for the playlist, but I cannot bear to listen to:

  • “Wonderful Christmastime” by Paul McCartney
  • “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” by Elmo & Patsy

The complete playlist:

Name Artist
‘Zat You, Santa Claus? Louis Armstrong & The Commanders
(There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays (1954 Version) Perry Como
2000 Miles Pretenders
A Child Is Born Oscar Peterson
A Holly Jolly Christmas Burl Ives
Ain’t No Chimneys In The Projects Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
All I Want for Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth) Spike Jones
Anderson: Sleigh Ride The Boston Pops Orchestra, Arthur Fiedler *
Another Lonely Christmas Prince
Auld Lang Syne Guy Lombardo
Baby, It’s Cold Outside (78rpm Version) Dinah Shore
Back Door Santa Clarence Carter
Blue Christmas Ernest Tubb
Boogie Woogie Santa Claus Mabel Scott
Carol of the Drum Trapp Family Singers
Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) Darlene Love
Christmas Canon Trans-Siberian Orchestra
Christmas In Heaven (Monty Python Sings) Monty Python
Christmas in Hollis RUN-DMC
Christmas in Killarney Dennis Day
Christmas In New Orleans Louis Armstrong
Christmas In The Trenches John McCutcheon
Christmas Is Run-D.M.C.
Christmas Island The Andrews Sisters
Christmas Medley The Swingle Singers
Christmas Rappin’ Kurtis Blow
Christmas Song Dave Matthews Band
Christmas Time Is Here (Vocal – Album Version) Vince Guaraldi Trio
Christmas Will Soon Be Here John Gaudet & The Laurels
Christmas Wrapping The Waitresses
Do You Hear What I Hear? The Harry Simeone Chorale
Dominick the Donkey Lou Monte
Donde Esta Santa Claus? Augie Rios
Father Christmas The Kinks
Feliz Navidad José Feliciano
Frosty the Snowman (78rpm Version) Gene Autry
Gee Whiz, Its Christmas Carla Thomas
Give Love On Christmas Day (Group A Cappella Version) The Jackson 5
Happy Holiday Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby
Happy Xmas (War Is Over) (2010 Digital Remaster) John Lennon
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas Judy Garland
Here Comes Santa Claus (Right down Santa Claus Lane) Gene Autry
I Believe In Father Christmas (Album Version) Emerson, Lake & Palmer
I Don’t Intend To Spend Christmas Without You The Garlands
I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day Fred Waring And His Pennsylvanians
I Just Can’t Wait Till Christmas Teresa Brewer
I Pray On Christmas (Album Version) Harry Connick, Jr.
I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus Jimmy Boyd
I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas Gayla Peevey
I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday Wizzard
I’ll Be Home For Christmas Bing Crosby
I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm Dick Powell
If It Doesn’t Snow On Christmas Day (Album Version) Gene Autry
It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas Perry Como
It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year Andy Williams
Jingle Bell Rock Bobby Helms
Just Like Christmas Low
Last Christmas (Single Version) Wham!
Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Vaughn Monroe
Little Saint Nick The Beach Boys
Lord Of The Dance The Christmas Revels
Lumberjack Christmas / No One Can Save You From Christmases Past Sufjan Stevens
Marshmallow World Dean Martin **
Mary’s Boy Child (Remastered) Harry Belafonte
Mele Kalikimaka (Merry Christmas) Bing Crosby
Merry Christmas Baby Charles Brown, Johnny Moore, Eddie Williams
Merry Christmas Everyone (Remastered) Shakin’ Stevens
Merry Christmas from the Family Robert Earl Keen
No More Christmas Blues The Vacant Lots
Nuttin’ for Christmas Art Mooney Orchestra
Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy (Medley) (2006 Digital Remaster) Bing Crosby
Percy, The Puny Poinsettia (Album Version) Elmo & Patsy
Please Come Home for Christmas Charles Brown
River Joni Mitchell
Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree Brenda Lee
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Gene Autry
Run Rudolph Run Chuck Berry
Santa Baby Eartha Kitt
Santa Claus The Fuzztones
Santa Claus Go Straight To The Ghetto James Brown
Santa Claus Is Coming to Town Harry Reser & His Orchestra
Santa Claus Is Coming To Town The Smothers Brothers
Silver Bells Bob Hope
Sleigh Ride Andrews Sisters *
Snoopy’s Christmas The Royal Guardsmen
Someday At Christmas Stevie Wonder
Step Into Christmas Elton John
Suzy Snowflake Rosemary Clooney
Suzy Snowflake Rosemary Clooney
Swiss Christmas The Smothers Brothers
The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late) (1999 – Remaster) Alvin and The Chipmunks
The Christians and The Pagans Dar Williams
The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas To You) Nat King Cole Trio
The Closest I Can Get Sunturns
The Secret Of Christmas Ella Fitzgerald **
The Shepherd’s Carol (vocal by Kip Ledger) Charlene Lockwood
This Christmas Donny Hathaway
Twinkle (Little Christmas Lights) JD McPherson
We Need A Little Christmas Angela Lansbury (And Cast)
What Christmas Means To Me Stevie Wonder
White Christmas Bing Crosby
Who Took The Merry Out Of Christmas The Staple Singers
Winter Song Sara Bareilles, Ingrid Michaelson
Winter Wonderland (feat. Joey Nash) Richard Himber and his Orchestra
Yes, There Is a Santa Claus Betty Madigan
You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch Thurl Ravenscroft

Footnotes:

* The only song repeated in this playlist is “Sleigh Ride.”  First there is the iconic orchestral rendition by The Boston Pops.  The Andrews Sisters provided one of the early vocal recordings with the song’s lyrics.

** Bing Crosby is credited as the first person to record “Marshmallow World” and “The Secret of Christmas,” but as this playlist was already heavy with Crosby’s crooning, I chose the Dean Martin and Ella Fitzgerald versions of these songs respectively.

15 New England Municipal Place Names That Are Fun To Say

  • Belchertown, MA
  • Bozrah, CT
  • Effingham, NH
  • Groton, CT
  • Hooksett, NH
  • Isle au Haut, ME
  • Mashpee, MA
  • Ogunquit, ME
  • Seekonk, MA
  • Tewksbury, MA
  • Thetford, VT
  • Tiverton, RI
  • Wethersfield, CT
  • Winooski, VT
  • Woonsocket, RI

Previously: Words That Are Fun To Say

Hipsters Go Berserk

With apologies to Sandra Boynton on her birthday, here is a parody of a her classic picture book Hippos Go Berserk that I felt compelled to write.  I originally posted this on Facebook and several of my friends contributed, including: Steve W., Susan L., Christine R., Edward H., Chris D., Debbie W., Sid S., and Carolyn G.  I don’t have the skill to add illustrations to the text, but if you’re interested in drawing it up, have at it.  Just give credit where credit is due.

 

One hipster, all alone, texts two hipsters on an iPhone.

Three hipsters at the door, bring DVDs of mumblecore.

Four hipsters in fedoras sardonically talk about their auras.

Five hipsters with ironic facial hair wear bow ties and rock their flair.

Six hipsters pedal fixies while wearing tweed caps.

Seven hipsters sneak in some Pabst.

Eight hipsters with white girl dreads, proudly display their artisanal breads.

Nine hipsters get down and pretend to twerk.

 

ALL THE HIPSTERS WRYLY SHOUT “LET’S GO BERSERK!”

All through the hipster night, hipsters dance to Times New Viking,
but at the hipster break of day they seek tunes more to their liking.

 

Nine hipsters amble out the door making their way to a vinyl record store.

Eight hipsters then head west to make it to Coachella ahead of the rest.

Seven other hipsters thought it was best to head instead to SXSW.

Leaving behind six hipsters wearing skinny jeans that are quite distressed.

Five hipsters prepare for their northward treks by donning pairs of horn-rimmed specs.

Four hipsters move to a transitional ‘hood, avoiding Wal-Mart like no one else could.

Three hipsters, as was their wont, designed websites in a quirky, homemade font.

Two hipsters get their kicks applying filters to all their pics.

One hipster, alone once more, thinks all those hipsters were such a bore.

TV Shows That Everybody Loves (That I Have Never Watched)

Here is a list – and a not a complete one – of the tv shows everyone is always talking about that I have not watched one episode. I’m not putting this out here because I’m proud, nor am I ashamed, just noting the wide chasm between me and popular culture common wisdom.

  • Arrested Development
  • The Big Bang Theory
  • Breaking Bad
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Community
  • Dexter
  • Downton Abbey
  • Family Guy
  • Firefly
  • Game of Thrones
  • Girls
  • Homeland
  • How I Met Your Mother
  • Lost
  • Mad Men
  • The Sopranos
  • Supernatural
  • 24
  • Veronica Mars
  • The Wire

What TV shows have you missed?

50 Years of Doctor Who

Around the world this past weekend, fans of the British science-fiction series Doctor Who gathered together in front of tv screens and movie screens to watch the 50th anniversary special.  I was one of them.  If you put me in a TARDIS and sent me back to, say, 2010 to tell myself I’d be watching a Doctor Who special, my younger self would be surprised.  Sure, I’d heard of the show as far back as my childhood in the 1980s when it was shown on PBS.  I was intrigued by the idea of an alien who changed into a different person every time they case a new actor in the role.  But unlike many other children and preteens of the era, I just didn’t do sci-fi outside of Star Trek and the Star Wars films.

It wasn’t until my thirties that I began to appreciate geeky things like sci-fi series, movies, and graphic novels.  I began hearing a lot about Doctor Who again a few years back (not even realizing that the show had been off the air for 16 years and then revived) and was once again intrigued.  But knowing that I have a completionist temperament, could I really commit myself to a show with nearly 50 years of backstory?  Would I even have the time.  In August of 2011, I finally gave in and watched the first episode of the revived series from 2005, “Rose.”  Two months later I was caught up with the current series.

I knew I wanted to go back and watch Classic Doctor Who, but I also knew I could not watch every episode (especially considering that a fair number of stories from the 1960s were destroyed by the BBC and are only available as audio with still photographs).  I consulted a number of websites including the Doctor Who Dynamics Rankings, Bow, James Bow, Adventures with the Wife in Space, and Tardis Eruditorum and began to compile a list of stories to watch.  Initially I intended to watch just a couple of stories per incarnation of the Doctor, but the list grew and grew and I ended up watching nearly 90 of the classic stories.

In the list below I’ve summarized my thoughts on each era of Doctor Who and listed some stories I’d recommend to viewers who are new to Doctor Who or who haven’t explored every era of the series.  Die hard fans of the series are welcome to review the list well and courteously nitpick at it.  I must warn you that I generally dislike and sometimes actively avoid stories featuring the Doctor’s three most well-known enemies: the Daleks, Cybermen, and the Master.  I’ve generally listed five stories per Doctor with the exception of giving a few more to the long and illustrious career of Tom Baker and a less to the short and ill-fated careers of Colin Baker and Paul McGann.

First Doctor – William Hartnell (1963-1966)

Doctor Who debuted in 1963 with William Hartnell as the title character. It was initially more an ensemble piece with the Doctor’s grandaughter Susan and the schoolteachers Barbara and Ian in the foreground with Hartnell’s mysterious Doctor manipulating the situations.  But the Hartnell’s Doctor quickly evolved from cantankerous to grandfatherly and settled comfortably as the star of the show.  Anyone interested in the history of Doctor Who will need to watch the first episode,  “An Unearthly Child,” in which Barbara and Ian follow their exceptional student Susan home and discover the TARDIS.  It’s amazing how much of the central premise of the series is established in the first episode, although it is also a very different program than today.  The ensuing three episode follow the TARDIS team on their first adventure among anthropologically-incorrect “cave people” and should only be watched if your ready to devour the entire series.  While Hartnell’s tenure lasted only three years, he had a grueling, nearly year-long filming schedule that lead to over 40 episodes a year, so he left behind quite a legacy.

The Aztecs – In the Hartnell era, many stories were considered “historicals” as they featured travel to a time in the Earth’s past in which there are no science-fiction elements beyond the TARDIS, the Doctor, and his companions.  This serial is unique in that it’s the only story to go to a pre-colonial non-European culture.  While the plot is colonialist overtones, it is sympathetic to the Aztecs as Barbara hopes to save them from Spanish conquest.  There’s also the charming subplot where the Doctor is engaged to a local sage.

The Dalek Invasion of Earth – While I’m not fond of Dalek stories, the image of Daleks roaming the empty streets of London in front of well-known landmarks is irresistible.  This is the best Dalek story of the Hartnell era, although even then it runs a few episodes long. It’s also known for the departure of Susan which leads to one of Hartnell’s best speeches.

The Time Meddler – This story set in Saxon Britain just before the Norman Invasion is an historical with a twist.   It’s best to set aside any knowledge of later development in the mythos of the Doctor when watching this and just enjoy the clever plotting.

The Myth Makers – Another historical set during the Battle of Troy finds the Doctor and his companions caught between the Greeks and the Trojans.  There are laughs aplenty as the stories of The Iliad are played for farce, but The Myth Makers deftly turns to tragedy in a hurry.  Sadly, all of the episodes of this serial are missing and are only available as reconstructions.

The Gunfighters – The Doctor,  the man who never carries a weapon, finds himself in the midst of the gunslingers of the Old West.  Again, Western tropes are tried on for laughs, until blood is shed and the true horror of the Wild West is revealed.

Honorable mention: The Tenth Planet – This story introduces the Cybermen in their most interesting guise conceptually, humans who have replaced parts of their own bodies and speak in an eerie voice.  Perhaps more famously, the final episode (now missing) is when William Hartnell’s Doctor dies and regenerates into a new form.  Despite these historical moments, the overall serial is rather run-of-the-mill.

And one to avoid: The Chase – In only their third story, the Daleks are being used for comic relief and have their own time machine.  Meanwhile, the TARDIS crew watch TV and sunbathe.  The Daleks chase the TARDIS through time and space to increasingly more absurd scenarios.  The best part of this show are the final few minutes in which Barbara and Ian are returned home to London in 1965.

Second Doctor – Patrick Troughton (1966-69)

As the first man to take over the role of the Doctor, Troughton’s legacy is that he created many of the defining characteristics of the Doctor’s character that would be followed by ensuing actors in the role.  He’s also one of the best actors to play the part, or a the very least, my favorite.  Sadly, the writing during Troughton’s era was very formulaic featuring “monster of the week” and “base under siege” stories.  Even worse, the BBC’s destruction of tapes left very little that still survives from Troughton’s era.  Still, what is left is worth seeking out for Troughton’s charismatic performance.

The Faceless Ones – At Gatwick Airport in 1966, young travelers are going missing and the Doctor learns that they’re being kidnapped by aliens!  The story has a very modern feel to it and shows Troughton at his clever best working out a solution to the problem.

The Enemy of the World – This story was recently rediscovered and restored.  The Doctor and his companions travel to Earth in the future when a tyrant named Salamander is attempting to take control of the world.  Oh, and Salamander happens to look exactly like the Doctor.  If you overlook the bad Mexican accent, it’s a delight to see Troughton take on dual roles.  The guest cast are also excellent and the script provides a lot of great twists.

The Mind Robber – This amazingly surreal story takes the Doctor and his companions out of space and time and into an empty void and then the Land of Fiction.  It is fantastically imaginative and a great example of they type of storytelling possible in the Doctor Who format.

The Invasion – While ostensibly a Cyberman story, their march on London is saved for the latter episodes of this 8-part serial, so that most of the story is about the Doctor and his companions facing off against the evil corporate honcho Tobias Vaughn.  This story introduces UNIT, the military organization that defends the Earth against extraterrestial threats and is lead by Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart.  I also like that for this story the Doctor’s companion Zoe befriends and works with the flirty photographer  Isobel .

The War Games – Patrick Troughton’s final story is an epic ten-parter.  It’s most well-known for introducing the Doctor’s people and home planet (after six of seasons of mystery) but one shouldn’t overlook the great story leading up to that moment.  It’s a long story but it moves quickly as each episode features new revelations and the Doctor’s situation spins out of control.

Honorable Mention: The Tomb of the Cybermen – This is the earliest of Troughton’s serials where all the episodes survive.  Troughton has some great scenes as the master manipulator as well as a touching conversation with his newest companion Victoria.  The set design is pretty spiffy as well.  On the other hand, it’s  still a Cybermen story and they are quite rubbish and the human villains in the story are racist caricatures.

And one to avoid: None.  There’s always something worth watching if you can find a moving image of Patrick Troughton as the Doctor.

Third Doctor – Jon Pertwee (1970-74)

1970 saw big changes in Doctor Who.  First, the program was broadcast in glorious color.  Next, the Doctor having been forced to regenerate by the Time Lords is now exiled on Earth with his TARDIS no longer functioning.  He settles in to work as the science adviser for UNIT.  While at first a breath of fresh air, I quickly tired of this format.   There’s only so many times one can see the Earth saved from alien invasions or mad scientists.  Plus, Pertwee’s take on the Doctor made him more elitist and establishment than he really should be.

 Spearhead from Space – Pertwee’s debut story is entirely on film and on location so it has a very cinematic feel to it.  Plus it features an invasion by the Autons.  Plastic has never been so creepy. 

The Three Doctors – The tenth anniversary special brings back all the actors who played the Doctor to that point, although Hartnell was in poor health and only made a cameo appearance.  Why the story is bizarre and the special effects a bit dodgy, it’s great to see Troughton and Pertwee working as a team.  

Carnival of Monsters – With the Doctor’s ability to fly the TARDIS, he and his companion Jo go on a journey and end up somewhere that is quite not what it seems to be.  Like The Mind Robber, this is a clever exploration of the possibilities of traveling through space and time.  It’s the work of one of Doctor Who‘s most creative writers, Robert Holmes. 

The Green Death – This story is one of the best efforts to integrate topical issues into a Doctor Who plot line, specifically the travails of Welsh coal miners and the problem of environmental destruction.  If you can ignore some awful special effects, there’s a good story with lots of surprises.  I particularly enjoy humorous moments of the Doctor in disguise and the touching farewell to Jo at the finish.

The Time Warrior – This story introduces the investigative journalist Sarah Jane Smith as the Doctor’s newest companion as well as the Sontaran warrior Linx.  Sarah Jane stows away in the TARDIS when the Doctor travels to the Middle Ages to investigate how Linx is manipulating a warlord to change Earth’s history.  

Honorable Mention: Inferno – This story is overly long, but a portion of it feature the Doctor traveling to a parallel dimension where England is a fascist state.  It features great good/evil dual performances by Nicholas Courtney as the Brig and Caroline John as the Doctor’s companion Liz, who I wish stayed around for more than one season.

And one to avoid: Planet of the Spiders – Pertwee’s farewell story features a lengthy car chase, faux-Buddhism, and a planet infested by spiders and bad actors.  The sixth and final episode features some interesting ideas leading up to the Doctor’s regeneration, but it’s too late to save the story.

Fourth Doctor – Tom Baker (1974-81)

If you only have a passing familiarity with Doctor Who, you probably recognize Tom Baker with his bug eyes and long multi-colored scarf as the face of the franchise.  Baker’s seven seasons were the longest of any actor to portray the Doctor and his tenure coincide with some of the best writing and production of the classic series as well.  For many Doctor Who fans, Tom Baker is the iconic version of the Doctor.  Which is not to say that he is perfect, or that there aren’t bad stories during his time, but you’re likely to find that the low points are still pretty good.

The Ark in Space – This early adventure finds the Doctor and his companions on a space station where the hibernating crew have been infected by the parasitic, bug-like Wirrn.  It features a great beat where the Doctor celebrates the inventiveness and persistence of humanity.  It also shows the ability of great acting to overcome bad special effects when a guest actor really sells the horror of his arm being overtaken by green bubble wrap.

Genesis of the Daleks – The Doctor is thrust into the middle of the mutually destructive war of the Kaleds and Thals on the planet Skaro.  The Machiavellian scientist Davros seeks to save the Kaleds by turning them into mutants, the Daleks.  This is a grim but well-conceived story about the horrors of war and morality that lends gravitas to the often silly pepperpot villains.

The Brain of Morbius – The 13th season of Doctor Who drew inspiration from classic horror films for their stories and this one is their take on Frankenstein’s monster.  It’s a spooky and complex story and worth escaping into the world it creates.

The Horror of Fang Rock – The Doctor and his companion Leela are trapped in an early 20th-century lighthouse as a mysterious creature picks off the other occupants one by one.  It’s a chilling story and also an excellent character study as the conflicts of the humans under attack are more engaging than their external threat.

The Ribos Operation – A well-acted story that does a good bit of universe creating on an ice-cold medieval world where the Doctor and his new companion, fellow Time Lord Romana, stumble upon a plot by a couple of con artists.  It’s the kind of small story made big that Doctor Who does so well.

The Pirate Planet – A silly story with some spectacular twists from the mind of Douglas Adams.  Again it shows Doctor Who at it’s clever best.

City of Death – Another story written by Douglas Adams is the first filmed on location outside of Britain, as you can tell by the many establishing shots of the Doctor and Romana running through the streets of Paris.  It’s the wit of the dialogue exchanged between the Doctor and guest Julian Glover and the clever plot of art forgery and time travel that will keep you watching.  

 Warriors’ Gate – This serial opens with an amazing tracking shot through a ship and features one of the most imaginative settings, a void between universes.  The Doctor and his companions must work to free the enslaved race of Tharils, leonine time-sensitive people.  It’s really strange but really amazing as well.

Honorable mentions: You can watch pretty much the entirety of seasons 12-14, and most of seasons 16 and 18 as well and probably not be disappointed.

And one to avoid: The Power of Kroll – A really bland story inspired by King Kong where no one involved seemed to care about putting much effort in it.  Also kind of morality story about racism that manages to be racist.

Fifth Doctor – Peter Davison (1982-1984)

Coming on the heels of Baker’s long run was the youngest actor in the role to date although one with an impressive acting pedigree. Davison’s portrayal is a reaction to Baker’s domineering personality as he brings out a quieter, more vulnerable side of the Doctor. Davison’s Doctor also finds himself traveling with a team of companions.  Unfortunately, the production decisions and script writing of the era were very uneven and the full potential of Fifth Doctor and his companions were rarely achieved.  Still, the high points of the Davison era include some great stories.

Kinda – A story hard to describe due to its cerebral nature featuring a harrowing depiction of madness and the Doctor’s companion Tegan having her mind possessed by the evil entity known as the Mara.  The conclusion is criticized for a bad special effect but I’m more disappointed that the solution comes from a physical action rather than mental.

Snakedance –  Something of a sequel to Kinda, this serial benefits from excellent world building and creation of a believable culture, as well as a good supporting cast lead by Martin Clunes as a bratty prince.  Fun and full of clever ideas.

 Mawdryn Undead – The Brig returns, the villains aren’t really villainous, a new companion is introduced and all sorts of timey-wimey things happen.  Just ignore the parts with the Black Guardian (a villain who makes the Master look competent) and enjoy the fun.

Enlightenment – Another great example of what can be done with the Doctor Who format when pushing the envelope on imagination.  The visuals of ships sailing through space are particularly memorable.

The Caves of Androzani – Really a tour-de-force of Classic Doctor Who.  Great acting, great script, and great production make this feel cinematic.  Plotwise, a chain of events pitting military, corporate, and criminal organizations against one another is set off by the mere presence of the Doctor and his companion Peri.  Definitely one to watch if you want to see the best of Doctor Who

Honorable mentions: The Five Doctors, The Awakening, and Frontios all are enjoyable, if not standouts of the franchise.

And one to avoid: Earthshock – Popular with fans probably because it is full of militant action set pieces, but at heart it’s just not what Doctor Who is supposed to do. That and it’s a Cybermen story with the Cybermen fully removed from their origins and presented as macho robots.  The first episode is gripping and the supporting cast is good, but other than that, avoid it.

Sixth Doctor – Colin Baker (1984-1986)

The production and writing inconsistency of Doctor Who in the 1980s came to a head during Colin Baker’s reign as the Doctor.  The choice of a clownish, clashing-color costume and characterization of the Doctor to make him as unlikable as possible did nothing to help the series.  Furthermore, the show had gained some powerful enemies in BBC leadership.  The show was put on hiatus for 18 months and returned with a season-long story called The Trial of a Timelord, a good premise but poorly executed.  After that, Baker was fired.  While the series is at a low point in these years, it should be noted that Colin Baker did his best and was always enthusiastic for the show.  He and the Sixth Doctor have found new life in a series of well-recieved audio plays.

Vengeance on Varos – A parody on reality tv game shows before that genre even really existed.  This serial blurs the lines between satirizing violence on television and being gratuitous in displaying violence.  Still, it’s Baker at his best and the relationship between the Sixth Doctor and Peri at it’s strongest.

The Two Doctors – This story earns marks for the return once again of Patrick Troughton, although it also steeped in gratuitous violence and cynicism that typifies the error.  There’s some fun to be had, but probably not everyone’s cup of tea.

Honorable mention: Revelation of the Daleks – This bizarre story seems to feature a handful of television dramas upon which the Doctor and the Daleks dance around the periphery. It’s either a trainwreck or a postmodern masterpiece

And one to avoid: The Twin Dilemma – Coming immediately after the masterpiece of The Caves of Androzani at the end of the season, the Sixth Doctor was introduced in the most boring story imaginable.  Not only that, but it depicts the Doctor violently choking his companion Peri, an image that should’ve never made it on-screen.

Seventh Doctor – Sylvester McCoy (1987-1989)

During the Sylvester McCoy era, Doctor Who saw a revival of quality with the final two seasons especially being the most consistently watchable since the heart of the Tom Baker era.  Much of this is due to script editor Andrew Cartmel reintroducing a sense of mystery into the Doctor’s character as well as delving into the personal lives of the companion in a way that would be common in the revived series.  The quality may also have been a side-effect of benevolent neglect as the show received very little attention or viewership and would be canceled after 26 years.

Remembrance of the Daleks – A 25th anniversary story takes the Doctor back to London in 1963, revealing the reasons the First Doctor may have been there in the first place.  Lots of good atmosphere, plotting and tributes to the show’s history in what may be the best Daleks’ story ever.

The Happiness Patrol – Doctor Who at it’s most political, taking on the the Thatcher government in the most bizarre way.  A well-realized story that works on many levels with some of the creepiest villains in series’ history.

The Greatest Show in the Galaxy – … until you get to the creepy clowns in this story.   An entertaining story set at a mysterious circus, which again works on many levels symbolically as well as a straightforward creepy tale.

Battlefield – This serial is far from perfect and probably could be made better under different circumstances, but it does have a lot of great moments bringing together Arthurian legend and a modern, cosmopolitan UNIT with the (final) return of the Brig. 

The Curse of Fenric – A strong contender for best Classic Who story, Fenric is a taste of what the show may have had to offer had it not been canceled, and still serves as a bridge to the 2005 reboot.  This chilling story set in WWII features an Alan Turing-like codebreaker, vampires, Russian troops, and the coming of age of companion Ace.  Not to be missed.

Honorable mention: Ghost Light – I’m one of the many who is befuddled by this story, but despite that have to admit that it is interesting and well-done.

And one to avoid: Time and the Rani – McCoy’s first story is a disaster featuring the self-parodic villain the Rani.  I only watched it out of curiosity to see the regeneration story but it was not worth it. I wonder if viewers in 1987 tuned out on the McCoy era after seeing this one?

Eighth Doctor – Paul McGann (1996, 2013)

The first attempt to revive Doctor Who was a collaboration between the BBC and Fox TV in America.  The result was dismal, and while probably not as bad as everyone makes it out to be, I can’t recommend it.  It feels more like an American tv movie than Doctor Who and yet a whole lot of continuity is shoved into the story as well as the Master, portrayed in over-the-top fashion by Eric Roberts.  There are moments, and McGann makes an interesting Doctor, but it was not enough to bring back the series.  The Eighth Doctor would have his adventures in a series of books and then McGann would return for audio dramas.  The Eighth Doctor finally returned to the screen this month with the minisode “The Night of the Doctor” which gives a taste of what McGann’s Doctor could’ve been as well as being really remarkable drama for being just seven minutes long.

Ninth Doctor – Christopher Eccleston (2005)

I will always have a soft spot for Christopher Eccleston, my first Doctor, who helped bring Doctor Who back to glory.  He offered bug-eyed childishness reminiscent of Tom Baker combined with a weary sense of gravitas.  While I wish he’d stuck around for more than one season, pretty much every story of that season is a delight.

“Rose” – Doctor Who returns avoiding the mistakes of the tv movie by introducing the Doctor from the perspective of his new companion Rose Tyler.  Anyone watching the revived series needs to start here.

“The Unquiet Dead” – A creepy horror story from Victorian Cardiff featuring a comical guest sidekick in Charles Dickens.

‘Dalek” – The first time I ever saw an episode featuring a Dalek, and the only time I found a Dalek to be scary.  Good pacing and scripting makes one Dalek more nightmarish than the armies of Daleks in other stories.

 “Father’s Day” – A touching story in which Rose returns in time to see her father who died in her infancy with catastrophic results for the universe.  A good example of how the new series interweaves the personal stories of the companions into the Doctor Who template.

“The Empty Child” / “The Doctor Dances” – An absolute classic two-parter in which a mysterious boy in a gas mask is set against the London Blitz.  Also introduces Captain Jack Harkness to the Doctor Who universe.

Honorable mention: “The Parting of the Ways” – The season finale two-parter starts with a silly episode in which reality tv shows are being filmed on a space station far in humanity’s future.  The second part reveals the alien menace behind the space station, forcing the Doctor to make a difficult choice and Rose to rally with her mother and boyfriend to save the world.  The episode ends with the Ninth Doctor’s regeneration.

And one to avoid: “The Long Game” – An earlier story on the same space station is kind of bland, although it is worth watching for Simon Pegg’s comic guest role.

Tenth Doctor – David Tennant (2005-2010)

Tennant brings a young, energetic vibrance to the the role of the Doctor, although sometimes a bit over the top.  In three seasons, he’s paired with three companions – Rose, Martha, and my favorite Donna, who makes a great comic foil to Tennant while still having gravitas.

“The Girl in the Fireplace” – A story that uses the time travel format well to introduce the Doctor into several different periods of the life of the historical figure Madam de Pompadour while exploring the mystery of why creepy clockwork figures are trying to kill her.

“The Impossible Planet” / “The Satan Pit” – A two-parter set on a planet orbiting a black hole is anchored by a well-realized cast of characters and relentless plotting.  A good adventure in an old-fashioned science fiction mode.

“Human Nature” / “The Family of Blood” – Based on a novel from the 1990s, this story finds the Doctor hiding in disguise as a human at a military boarding school in England on the verge of the First World War.  Creepy aliens, a romance, and a very humanist story make this a classic.

“Blink”- Probably the most well-known story of the revived series features the eerie Weeping Angels and a story of time travel paradoxes told from the perspective of a character only tangentially related to the Doctor.

“Silence in the Library” / “Forest of the Dead” – Set in a futuristic library, this story introduces the mysterious River Song (a character from the Doctor’s future), the scary monsters that hunt in the shadows, and a whole another life for the companion Donna.  Really wonderful.

Honorable mentions: The Tenth Doctor’s era includes several other highlights  including “School Reunion” (which reunited the Doctor with Sarah Jane Smith),  “Love & Monsters” (a wonderful story about the people who encounter the Doctor but are left behind, ruined by a gross gag with a paving stone at the end),  “The Fires of Pompeii”  (a story that establishes Donna’s moral character), and “Turn Left” (a story about Donna in an alternate universe where she didn’t save the Doctor’s life).

And one to avoid: “The Lazarus Experiment” – An icky body horror story that somehow ended up on Doctor Who instead of Tales from the Crypt.

Eleventh Doctor – Matt Smith (2010-2013)

I was wary of Matt Smith with his boyish face and goofy hairdo who seemed to have drawn in an audience of hipsters.  That went away after five minutes of his first episode, and I continue to enjoy Smith’s dynamic acting that captures a certain childishness while at the same time showing a (very) old man in a young man’s body.  The Eleventh Doctor era has also pushed the envelope with storytelling and season long story arcs.  I will miss Matt Smith when he leaves at Christmas this year.

“The Eleventh Hour” – The Eleventh Doctor’s debut is as much a reintroduction to the Doctor and the series as “Rose” with a frenetic pace as the regenerating Doctor befriends his new companion Amy Pond and attempts to solve the mystery of an alien incursion s time ticks away.

“The Lodger” – Doctor Who can put itself into any genre, this time pairing up the Doctor with Craig Owens (played by James Corden) for a comic buddy film as the Doctor investigates a mysterious presence in over Craig’s apartment.  Craig returns with his adorable infant son Alfie the following season in “Closing Time” which is also worth watching.

“The Impossible Astronaut” / “Day of the Moon” – Series 6 opens with a bang in this two-parter involving time travel paradox, the Apollo moon landing, and an alien infestation of the planet Earth unlike any other.

“The Doctor’s Wife” – Famed writer Neil Gaiman penned this touching and imaginative story which serves as a tribute to the TARDIS.

“The Name of the Doctor” – The series 7 finale reveals many mysteries setting up the 50th anniversary special, while highlighting the work of the team of Doctor’s friends including Clara, River Song, Madame Vastra, and Jenny.

Honorable mentions: “Vincent and the Doctor” (not much of a story but a touching tribute to the troubled artist) and “Cold War” (an submarine adventure which is a highlight of Clara’s time as companion).

And one to avoid: “Night Terrors” – Kind of a rehash of plot lines from Doctor Who and The Twilight Zone that doesn’t really work as anything but filler, especially amid the drama of the ongoing story arcs.

If you’ve read this far, make sure to check out the 50th anniversary special “The Day of The Doctor.”  It was spectacular.  The other anniversary specials “The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot” and An Adventure in Space in Time are also both wonderful in their own ways and definitely worth watching.  And now I will join other Doctor Who fans in waiting for the Christmas Special where we will say farewell to Matt Smith and hello to Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor.

Chronologically Self-Aware Songs

Making a random list of songs that date themselves by  mentioning a day, month, or year that is more or less the time when the song was recorded and/or released to the public.  This means that a song like 1999 by Prince does not count because it was recorded in 1982 and Prince was singing about the future.  Similarly, when The Four Seasons’ December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night) does not count because they were singing about a time in the past when the song was released in 1975.

Public Enemy – “Fight the Power” – 1989 the number another summer.

Asia – “Heat of the Moment” – And now you find yourself in ’82.

Escape Club – “Wild Wild West” – Heading for the nineties living in the eighties.

Killing Joke – “Eighties” – I’m living in the eighties

Falco – “Rock Me Amadeus” – 1985, Austrian rock singer Falco records: Rock Me Amadeus! 

The Ramones’ “Rock and Roll Radio” –  It’s the end, the end of the 70’s

Barenaked Ladies – “Shoe Box” – You’re so 1990, and it’s 1994.

Clash – “1977” – In 1977, sod the Jubilee.

Surely there are others!  List them in the comments.

Something Cool: Visited States Map Generator

The Visited States Maps Generator at the Defocus Blog allows you to create a map of US states (and Canadian provinces if you chose) that you’ve visited, color-coded by the amount of time and commitment you’ve given to each place.

Here’s the key:

Red means I’ve just passed through, maybe seen a thing or two.

Amber means I’ve at least slept there and seen a few things. I have a first-hand idea of what the state is like.

Blue means I’ve spent a good amount of time in that state.

Green means I’ve spent a lot of time in that state, weeks at a time on multiple visits – or lived there.

Here’s my map:

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I made the decision not to include states where I only changed planes at the airport (for me that would be Minnesota and Texas).  I also think that there should be a distinctive color for  states one has lived in compared to states that one has just visited a lot.  The states I’ve resided in are New Jersey, Connecticut, Virginia, and Massachusetts.  I’ve also included New York, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire in the green category because I’ve traveled to those states frequently (the first two primarily due to family living there).

What does your map look like?  Go to http://www.defocus.net/visitedstates/ and find out.

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