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Last update: January 2018

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SHOOTING STARS

As with Tuesday's post, I'm going to discuss the television programme Star Trek: Discovery today and while I will try to avoid spoilers, if you want to keep your enjoyment of the show completely free from any speculation or discussion, you should probably skip today's blog.

On Tuesday I blogged about one of the fan theories about the plot on the new series Star Trek: Discovery, which resumed on Monday after its Christmas break. Again, without explicitly spoiling what happened, I found the storyline, and the way in which the character reveal took place, to be depressingly grim. The attrition rate for characters in the show has been ridiculous; as I said on Tuesday, the writing is too heavily influenced by the Game of Thrones "We can get rid of anybody" approach, and on a feel-good show like Trek is - or, at least, was - supposed to be, that grates, and it grates badly. Part of the delight of the earlier Trek shows was seeing how the characters related to each other, and by the end of each series they felt like they were part of the family. Discovery rattles along so fast that we don't get the opportunity to like characters before they're gone.

But since Tuesday I've been thinking about the other big fan theory that is rumbling around the web at the moment, and again, I'm not going to spoil things so I am not going to say here what it is, other than it concerns Captain Lorca. And before I wrote this blog, I went back and watched a number of earlier episodes where things had bugged me as being off. Now, I'm not so sure they were off at all. I think they were setting things up.

Because if this particular theory turns out to be true, it would explain quite a few of those irritating bugs. It would explain, for example, why a Starfleet Captain would not think twice about sacrificing his ship, along with its entire crew; it would explain Admiral Cornwell's irritating mispronunciation of "Perseids" as "Perseeds" and not "Per-see-ids" when she reminisces about watching a meteor shower with Lorca when they were younger; it would explain her comment of "You've not been the same since the Buran"; they are because Cornwell was figuring out who Lorca really is. And now she knows. Furthermore, I suspect that Lorca, being smart, would know that she is aware of his real identity and allows her to be captured so he can rescue her, and plans to use her debt to him to silence her while at the same time ensuring that his big secret doesn't fall into the hands of the Klingons. After all, if the theory is true, Lorca really hates the Klingons, way beyond the point where he'd be happy for any colleague to fall into their clutches. The same theory might also provide a reason for Lorca's unexplained eye complaint and it would definitely explain why Lorca hits the override button immediately before the Discovery's most recent spore jump with the coordinates set to "Unknown" (yes, I freeze-framed the episode to check) and then (if I'm right) flagposts the theory with the line, "Let's go home."

So, now I'm going to suggest something that might turn out to be a big spoiler, or it might not. Again, you might want to stop reading at this point. There's an upcoming episode with the title, "What's Past is Prologue" - this quotes a line that spoken by Antonio in Act 2, Scene 1 of Shakespeare's play The Tempest, as he suggests to Sebastian that all their previous history has led up to the present moment: they can either decide to commit murder, enabling Sebastian to become King, or choose a different path. The line has become shorthand for suggesting the influence that events of the past have on the present moment, and its context as an episode title on Discovery suggests to me that not only will there be a big flip in the storyline in episode 13, it will probably involve the death (or otherwise) of a regal figure, most likely the mysterious Emperor that we've already heard about. I expect a lot of what bugs me about the series to be sorted out in that episode, and I think the whole context of the show might flip once that has happened.

TREKKING

Well, it looks like one of the fan theories for Star Trek: Discovery was right on the money, doesn't it? Without spoiling the plot, I found the latest episode to be simultaneously very predictable (Jason Isaacs does something to disguise his voice that I could see coming a mile off), highly entertaining (I loved the sequence of using the ship's replicators to change the appearance of pretty much everything on board in less than a minute of show time), and a bit depressing (the plot).

I have BIG problems with the plot, and I'm going to try and explain why in an entirely spoiler-free way. I apologise if I don't manage to do so according to your specific criteria; if you're worried that I might, stop reading now. Still here? Okay: the focus of the episodes that we've seen so far has jumped about too much - and I feel that the latest episode has gone one jump too far. The device that they've used in the latest episode is one of the oldest tropes on Star Trek, and while it worked perfectly in the original series as a contrast to Gene Roddenberry's vision of a utopian future full of velour and primary colours, once Roddenberry passed away it lost its power. Subsequent producers introduced a less optimistic, grittier context for the show which negated the impact and significance of this particular conceit. Pessimism is more closely in accordance with our reality these days, and depicting conflict makes for better drama, even as it robs the viewer of any aspirations to create the future society being depicted on screen. In effect, the show changes from being an embodiment of hope to a warning - something that Rick Berman in particular has never understood. And, through its repeated use from series to series, the trope that was used again this week has become a bit too convenient as a way for script writers to spice up an episode. The contrast with the normal tone of the show, which was what made it such an interesting twist the first time it was used, is not present. How can it be? The show jumps around so much that we don't know what its tone is supposed to be.

Even worse is the way that the show's focus on characters jumps around. Think about the original series: the central trio of characters is obviously Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. We grew to love their interactions from week to week and the way that their three different approaches to life (strength, logic, and emotion) supported each other and worked together to solve the problem of the week. Think about the cast in The Next Generation: the Captain is older and a more well-rounded character so Picard and Riker each share some of the traits of Kirk and McCoy, but Data is clearly intended to adopt the Spock role and the writers even got DeForest Kelley himself to lampshade the fact in the first episode:

Admiral MCCOY:
I don't see no points on your ears, boy, but you sound like a Vulcan.

Lt. Cdr DATA:
No, sir. I am an android.

Admiral MCCOY:
Huh. Almost as bad.

Michael Burnham is clearly intended to replace Spock as the logician of the ensemble in the new show, but I'm not even sure who makes up the rest of the core dynamic of the show yet, or how they're going to play it. Given that we're already ten episodes in to the season, this feels like a failing rather than an interesting dramatic approach. Can you think of any other series where, ten episodes in, you didn't know what the deal was? (And, okay - if you said "The Wire," give yourself a bonus point...) Is Lorca a recognisable analogue for Kirk? I don't think so; he's much too Machiavellian for that. And who is supposed to take the role of McCoy in this show as the voice of gut feeling and quiet reason? Tilly? Saru? Tyler? Stamets? I can't see it.

You might object that Discovery is a new show, and that I shouldn't expect to recognise traits, tropes or motifs from earlier shows. But that's a cop-out. The show's title isn't "Discovery", it's "Star Trek: Discovery" and it's clearly being marketed as a companion piece to the original show. It's using recognisable props and sound effects from the original series. It's got characters from the original series making appearances. As we've already discussed, it's even drawing on plot premises and setups from the original show, despite the justification for using them being entirely absent. Those choices are going to result in clear expectations from people familiar with the original material and, frankly, they're not being met. I find the rate at which characters are being disposed of (a technique clearly lifted wholesale from Game of Thrones) to be profoundly irritating. More than once, a promising or interesting role has disappeared, leaving me thinking, "Well, I guess we won't be finding out what makes them tick after all." It's a show that not only doesn't know what it is, it feels like it doesn't know what it's got (the cast have been exceptional and the production values are groundbreaking.) You could argue that the same was true of my favourite Trek series, The Next Generation; while it looked great, it didn't really hit its stride until its third season. These days, the axe falls swiftly on underperforming shows so I hope that the production calms down and finds its footing soon, but from the most recent episode I'd say it's not even close to finding it yet.

SLOWLY GETTING THERE

It seems to be the season of aches and pains. My shoulders and upper neck feel very tight and it actually hurts to move. Is this tension stress-related, or am I just under the weather? This weekend I've been hitting the ibuprofen hard, and I feel flu-ey and shivery into the bargain, bad enough to have bailed on my scheduled trip to London to meet up with friends visiting from America. I've had a dreadful couple of nights' sleep, too. This morning I didn't get out of bed until after ten o'clock. When this happens to me it's usually caused by anxiety and worrying about not getting things done, but I've had a productive week both at work and at home; the Christmas decorations are packed away and back in the loft, the house is relatively tidy (by my standards, at least), I've got roughly two-thirds of the new album done, and today I made good progress editing Mel's video that we shot in Bruges back in November (every clip I've watched as I assembled the cut has had me either grinning or laughing out loud.) I really don't feel like I'm worried about anything. What am I missing?

As I reported over on Facebook, when I visited Dad last week I took over some mince pies and a nice box of biscuits for him. We had some with coffee on the Thursday morning and in the afternoon I finished off several leftover biscuits that were still on the coffee table. They had bits missing, but I assumed at the time that they'd just been dropped or broken in transit. This weekend, Dad's carer told me that she's discovered that the house has a Mouse Problem so I am now waiting to see if I come down with hantavirus. Maybe that's what's worrying me? I was reassured that "eating biscuits" is not commonly listed as a possible vector for the disease; it's normally inhaled by people cleaning up after mouse infestations (and when I've done that in the past, I made very sure I was wearing a facemask.)

I am not reassured by the fact that the first variant of the disease to be discovered was the Sin Nombre Virus, which translates as The Virus with No Name.

HERE WE GO AGAIN

It's 2018. At the risk of anthropomorphising things, we're at the point where the year is young enough that we don't know how it's going to turn out just yet. We don't know what sort of a character it will be. It feels like we can allow ourselves a little bit of optimism and hope that this year will do right by us, and things will start to get better again. Let's hope 2018 doesn't crush that hope quite as rapidly or brutally as 2017 did.

Or 2016, come to think of it. Optimism has got to triumph over experience every once in a while, surely?

I spent last night at home drinking tea and eating crisps. Not the most celebratory of New Year's evenings I've ever had; I've struggled with anxiety a fair bit over the last month or so, forcing myself to go out when a little voice at the back of my head was insisting I'd feel much happier staying at home and not talking to anyone. After a day in which I wrote and recorded a new song for the upcoming album and mastered the first five tracks on it, I decided that I probably was better off having a quiet evening in.

Then I realised that I needed to add a new section of the blog archive as it moves into its sixteenth year and I hadn't got a 2018 graphic ready, nor had I finished off the new blog banner for January, so I spent the latter part of yesterday evening unclogging my Rotring pens and scanning artwork into the computer. In the end I went to bed, completely sober, at around quarter to one; I wouldn't have got much sleep any earlier, as the village saw in the New Year with a very loud and protracted barrage of fireworks.

So this morning's treat, while I waited for the New Year's concert from Vienna to start, was to have a glass or two of bucks fizz with my breakfast. That's about the level of self-indulgence I can handle today, I think.

Whatever you're doing today, have a good one.

(ADJUSTS GLASSES)

One thing I've noticed about my new keyboard is that it's easier to distinguish between the comma and period keys with my dodgy eyesight than it was with the legends on the last one.

I'm also really enjoying the tactile qualities of the keys - it takes me right back to the 1980s, when pretty much every keyboard felt like this to type on.