Watching: Torchwood, Small Worlds

Faeries, flashbacks, and Torchwood character development goodness. “Small Worlds” is the first Torchwood episode that begins to explore Captain Jack’s past in any detail.  I’m fascinated by the many lives and intricate personalities that make up Jack so this episode was right in my wheelhouse.  I love the idea of memory being something that rear’s its ugly head and that the longer you live the more memories there are to be triggered by both positive and negative events.  Memories of love, horror, and relationships permeate through this episode and play into overall character development and the storytelling of the episode.

This episode also had a completely different feel to it than it’s predecessors.  Season One of Torchwood is still testing the waters and at times there are drastic changes in style and feel between episodes.  “Small Worlds” revolves around the existence of faeries, an ancient supernatural force that have bled into reality repeatedly over Jack’s timeline.  It’s a far cry from “Cyberwoman”.

The faeries in this episode are definitely dark – they masquerade as cute mythical creatures and trap ‘chosen’ children for eternity in their world.  I loved the bending of traditional folk stories and myth with darker edges that happens in this episode.  The theme of youth and the temporary nature of human existence is also heavily played with on in relation to Jasmine (the chosen child) and in the discussion of Jack’s past.

Barrowman is also excellent in this episode.  His portrayal of Jack’s interaction with Estelle is spot on and we begin to see more depth to Jack’s character.  He can love.  And he can experience anguish and loss.  Jack is viscerally impacted by the choice to let Jasmine be taken and it shows.

 

Beer of the Month: Pepperwood Bistro and Brewery

The final two beer selections from our latest beer of the month delivery were from Pepperwood Bistro and Brewery, located in Burlington, Ontario.  By the looks of things Pepperwood is a fairly standard small scale brew-pub operation (albeit with classier food/eating area) and they routinely make five standard beers, two of which were in this shipment.

One interesting thing we noticed about the Pepperwood beers was that the bottles seemed to be much lighter than the standard beer bottle.  Maybe they were made with thinner glass?

The first Pepperwood brew I tried was their Cream Ale which poured a hazy blonde colour with minimal head.  It had a slightly smell of hops and citrus.  There was a slight malty taste and a hint of bitterness while still being easy drinking.  A good summer weather beer that was a step above generic.

The second Pepperwood selection was their Monkey Brown Ale.  For whatever reason the Monkey Brown Ale’s we’ve tried so far seem to have been over carbonated or something — they poured with far too much head and took a very long time to settle.  That fact alone may have impacted the taste — it was okay but I’m not sure it was representative of how the beer would typically be like.  It poured a dark brown and had a classic nutty taste.  A bit darker than I prefer my nut brown ales typically, but lots of flavour packed in.

Square Foot Garden Year Two

Last year Andrew and I planted a Square Foot Garden for the first time.  We loved how easy it was to plant and how little maintenance it required throughout the growing season.  This year we decided to keep with the square foot gardening and built two additional square foot gardens. We learned a bit from last year about placement of different types of plants and how to organizing climbing plants in the square foot garden.

One of our beds this year wasn’t planted in a grid format. Instead I put tomato plants and flowering kale in the corners of the bed with lettuce in between.  It’s a bit more free flowing, less organized, and I just wanted to try something new.  We also needed to build something new for our pole beans to grow on, the fencing we used for them to climb on last year couldn’t handle their weight and ended up breaking the frame.  Andrew created some poles out of trees and built a teepee style frame that sits over top of the one bed. We also planted a new asparagus bed as the one we planted a couple of years ago wasn’t in an ideal location — it was too close to some of our rhubarb plants and to where Andrew piles snow in the winter.  Changes and hopefully improvements.

Little Miss also helped plant the garden this year.  She loved copying me by poking holes in the dirt with her fingers.  Andrew and Little Miss were also responsible for planting all of the sunflowers, she seemed to like dropping the seeds into the holes. Bring on summer and fresh veggies!

Oslicken Acres Garden, June 2016.

Oslicken Acres Garden, June 2016.

Watching: Torchwood, Cyberwoman

So episode three in Torchwood had me extremely excited about the possibilities of the series and the potential depth of future episodes.  Episode four, “Cyberwomen”, kind of threw all of that under the bus.   The basic premise of the episode is the Ianto Jones is keeping his girlfriend, a half-converted Cyberman in the basement of the Hub.  Enter poor costuming choices and a bit of cheese and you get a cringe worthy episode.

I like idea of integrating bits of well known Doctor Who references into Torchwood and using the same villains/aliens is an easy way to do that.  This episode has many nods to Doctor Who and the broader SF/F genre.  These nods are ultimately taken too far and fall a bit flat.

I did like the emotional challenge Ianto is faced with – loving the person inside the Cyberman and realizing that the person he loves has become a mass murdering machine.  He seems to genuinely love Lisa and doesn’t want to believe she is gone, despite what Jack and the others tell him.  Four episodes into the series and this is our first real glimpse at Ianto below the surface.  And what we see isn’t that inspiring – he’s reckless, lying, and can’t make the hard decision he needs to. Jack gives a whole lot of tough love to Ianto this episode and we see Jack in the hardass leadership role that rears its head occasionally.  His line “If she’s alive, you execute her.  You execute her or I’ll execute you both!” sums up his position on the whole situation.

I didn’t hate this episode but it definitely wasn’t what I would call good.  It had  a bad tv movie feel to it and there were a lot of poor choices in terms of pacing and presentation of the ‘cyberwoman’.  I think different costuming choices and a less sexualized outfit would have gone a long way in making this far more watchable.  This is the only time Torchwood used an established monster from the Doctor Who universe.  It seems like they realized it didn’t work.  Torchwood is something different and it works best when it treats itself that way – one off references to the Doctor and bit of tech from the Doctor Who universe work but attempting to reinvent classics is hard and perhaps best left alone.

Love Is Love

loveMany of us have become desensitized to the mass shootings in North America.  They keep happening.  But they are at the edge of our awareness – we hear about them, think they are horrible, and move on with our lives.  We might change our facebook profile picture or avatar but we don’t really engage with the issues behind the shootings.

The Orlando shooting broke my heart.  I couldn’t hold in the tears and had to disengage from social media as an act of self-care.  Every tweet I read about the shooting, about LGBTQ people feeling unsafe, and about living with fear just pricked away at my insides. All I could think about was the hate that causes this type of action and the wish that we lived in a world that was more open, more accepting, and just a nicer place. We all deserve better and need to treat each other with respect. I can’t even begin to imagine the pain and grief of those directly impacted by the shooting.

I also thought a lot about my privilege and the need to speak up. I’m queer. But at first glance I pass – my partner is male, we have a daughter together and to most outsiders we probably look like we are both hetero. I’m not.  But it’s often easier to just let people think I am.

I’ve felt unsafe speaking my truth, I’ve felt afraid to be who I am, and I often don’t talk about that part of my life.  I’ve had my identity denied, my choices questioned, and been told it’s just a phase.  It’s not. It’s who I am. I’m a private person to begin with but often part of my reluctance to share has to do with fear. But I’m stable in my life and need to speak up more.

We still desperately need safe spaces. I worry about LGBTQ youth who don’t have support networks, who need a community to belong to, and who hear whispered words of hate. We still need Pride.  We still need advocacy. Coming out is still a challenge…and you rarely do it just once, it happens over and over again when you meet new people and are in new situations.  We need to love our queer children and teach our straight children to be allies. We need to talk about all types of relationships, gender identities, and sexuality.

Love is love.

Watching: Torchwood, Ghost Machine

It’s a Torchwood episode! And it’s written by a woman! “Ghost Machine” written by Helen Raynor feels more like what I anticipated from Torchwood.  The first episode was all setup and the second sex-monster based story seemed very much like it was trying to prove how adult the show was.  “Ghost Machine” is a spooky, nuanced story filled with little gems.

The premise of the story is a machine that converts the energy and electrical signals into visuals.  Essentially the machine opens windows to the past in areas that are fraught with human emotion.  I love how this very simple device is used to show the power of the past, the fragility of human life, and how even the experienced Torchwood team can’t avoid being pulled into human tragedy.  Owen is deeply disturbed by what he sees in the past and drawn into a tragedy from years ago — this episode did a lot in terms of pulling on Owen’s human side and does a tremendous amount to recover Owen’s character from the poor decision in the first episode to show him using an alien artifact to seduce people.

Part way through the episode the team discover that they initially only found half of the alien object.  The other half allows the holder to see into the future.  Gwen has a vision and works desperately hard to stop it from coming true.  She changes the future but the result is still the same.  It’s heartbreaking and the narrative is incredibility well written.

GhostMachineOne of my favourite parts of this episode is a part that isn’t directly tied to the plot – I loved the part where Jack takes the time to show Gwen how to shoot a gun.  The segment is a bit over the top but it establishes Gwen as a quick learner and an essential member of the team.

It also highlights the fundamental differences between policing in North American and Britain.  There is no way a North American police officer wouldn’t know how to use a gun, but that’s the norm in Britain.  I love that they stayed true to this reality in Torchwood.  This scene also plays with the idea of Jack and Gwen as a pairing – it never develops past the flirtation stage but you can feel the tension between the two characters in these early episodes.

This is a great ghost story with layers of revenge and moral challenges on top.  It’s well written and an excellent example of blending bit of SF/F with other genres.  The tiny piece of alien tech is just a stepping stone for a much larger more human story told in this episode.

Watching: Torchwood, Day One

“Day One” the second episode of Torchwood picks up right where the pilot left off – Gwen Cooper has joined the Torchwood team and this episode revolves around her first day.  Of particular interest to current Doctor Who fans this episode was written by future show-runner Chris Chibnall.

To be frank this isn’t the best introduction to Chibnall’s work.  The entire episodes revolves around a gas based sex monster, which given that context the episode can only be expected to do so much.  At times the episode really felt like it was trying to prove how ‘adult’ Torchwood was in comparison to Doctor Who and what better way to do that then focus an entire episode around sex.

Though I do love some of the very sex positive lines given to Captain Jack in this episode.  His line “you people and your quaint little categories” is by far one of my favoruite of the entire Torchwood series.  This is one of the many examples of Jack’s refusal to conform to  (gender or sexuality based binaries.

The episode also positions Gwen as having an amazing snog with the female character possessed by the sex monster – drawing attention to the existence of bisexual people and the range of sexual orientations beyond straight and gay. Plus Gwen actually uses the word snog to describe her actions — which is adorably British and I had a minor squee moment when she talked about it.  The Verity! Podcast episode looking at this episode does a good job of diving into some of the specifics around this and find hints of redemption in the sex monster story.

On a whole I think watching Chibnall’s contributions to Doctor Who proper are a bit more inspiring than this in terms of faith in a showrunner. It’s a sex monster story.  “Day One” is not a bad story – but it is what is.  The Radio Free Skaro Miniscope on Chibnall’s Doctor Who contributions does a great job of looking critically at Chibnall’s contributions but the general assessment of his DW work is positive and highlight the huge range of genres, themes, and ideas Chibnall is capable of carrying. And I think watching Broadchurch is probably a better example of the possibilities of what can happen under Chibnall than this slightly over the top sex monster  and I absolutely loved Broadchurch.

Beer of the Month: Red Maple Ale

StonehammerThe second Stonehammer Brewing selection this month was Red Maple Ale, an ale style beer that was brewed with locally sourced maple syrup. I had no idea there were categories for maple/honey beers at so many beer contests — but there are and apparently this beer has won a handful of awards.

When I think of maple syrup I think sweet tasting.  I had anticipated the Red Maple to have a sweet aftertaste to it and oddly enough it doesn’t.  The ale has a very bitter finish and if you’re craving maple syrup this isn’t the way to go — it’s hard to pick out the maple among the other flavours.

The beer poured a very dark red, almost brown colour with minimal head.  Aroma wise there was a hint of hops and maple and a lot of malt.  This beer was surprisingly subtle and is a good balance of bitters, malt, and sweet. It tastes more like a classic red ale than a proudly maple beer – but it works and it was surprisingly smooth drinking.

Self-Care: The Physical Exercise Edition

So anyone who has known me for any length of time knows I’m not a huge fan of structured exercise or organized sports.  To put it bluntly I’ve avoided it like the plaque for many years…and my muscle tone in my arms has been fairly non-existent for many years.  When I moved to Thessalon in 2010 I knew I limited number of people and was looking for activities I could do locally — so I took up running.

doctorwhorun

This lasted for about a year and then I fell off the wagon…and dived into a unhealthy gluten binge phase but that’s another story.  This past fall I joined the gym on campus and I’m impressed with myself for actually sticking to my goals and going regularly. I usually go a few times a week during my lunch break- it’s not a huge amount of exercise but it’s something.  Going during lunch is partially for the convenience of fitting it into my schedule with commuting but it’s also a good activity that forces me to take a lunch and get away from my desk.

Exercise is routinely mentioned when people talk about self-care and academics.  Self-care is important for those engaged in any type of work but perhaps doubly so when you’re engaged in emotionally draining or emotionally charged work.  For me exercise has become something that allows me to take a break, to stop worrying about ongoing projects, and just take a step back.  It’s also a good opportunity for me to think through problems that require dedicated time.  I’m also slightly crazy proud of the fact that I’ve stuck with this for about nine months so far and I hope to keep it up in the months ahead.  And when I flex you can actually see muscle now.  It’s a miracle! Now if I could just keep up with Little Miss….

Watching: Torchwood, Everything Changes

The past few weeks I have been working my way through Torchwood.  Given my love of Doctor Who and Captain Jack Harkness as  a character this is probably not surprising.  Despite this love and the fact that Torchwood originally aired starting in 2006 what is probably most surprising is that this is the first time I’ve watched the spin-off.  I saw some of the Torchwood: Miracle Day series when it aired originally and I’ve listened to a number of the Torchwood audiobooks but somehow missed watching the series proper.

Everything Changes” is the first episode of the Torchwood series.  It serves the standard pilot role of introducing all of the main characters, the general premise and setting up the show itself.  The episode is setup from the perspective of Gwen Cooper (played by Eve Myles) who is a police officer who stumbles upon a Torchwood investigation, finds herself embroiled in the mystery of the alien filled world that is Torchwood, with the episode ultimately ending with Gwen joining the Torchwood team.

The placement of Gwen as an outsider in this episode works well.  It provides an identification character for the audience and allows for the introduction of Torchwood to be done in a logical and easy to comprehend way.  Plus you get to see Gwen’s police work and snooping skills in action.  She is immediately established as someone who cares, who is inquisitive, and as someone who doesn’t take no for an answer.  Gwen is presented as strong female character in this episode and that’s something that carries on throughout the series.

The tone of Torchwood was also beginning to be established in this episode – it’s witty, dark, and is being established as firmly ‘adult’ television – a marked step away from the family oriented Doctor Who.

One of the things I’ve grown to love about Torchwood as I’ve made my way through the series is the open challenging of sexual boundaries and identities.  That being said, this opening episode had an uncomfortable segment in which Owen uses an alien perfume/glamour to make himself irresistible to the nearest person — removing free will and decision making powers of the impacted person.  Some have likened this instance to date rape and heavily criticized the interaction. It made me uncomfortable. But it also did an excellent job of setting Owen up as a character with a huge range of sexual relationship related challenges and as someone who is that stereotypical ‘player’ archetype. It served it’s purpose but perhaps could have been frame with more sensitivity.

A solid introduction to the series. With more goodness to come.

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