Saturday, 4 June 2011

A Deep Dark Secret

I have a secret i feel i need to tell you. It's one i'm not particularly proud of. It's one that at times during my life i've lived in denial of, or at least tried to pretend to other people it wasn't so. It can lead to some pretty awkward moments in social situations. The taboo around it is still pretty strong and i do worry that revealing this may change how some people see me. However i think it is time.

I am, when the mood takes me, a complete, raving, extravagant geek.

I love education and learning new things, I find sudokus fun and relaxing, I am an enthusiastic if unintelligent fan of computers and fancy technology, I read classic literature because it intrigues me and most of all, i bloody love sci-fi films and TV shows.

I will, continuing my series of 'favourite film' blogs, be writing about my favourite film from the sci-fi genre at some point so i won't spoil that insignificant surprise by mentioning any names here. Instead i want to talk about my two favourite current science fiction shows.

First up is 'Doctor Who'. Now this has been a favourite show of mine for quite a while and the latest season is definitely living up to previous standards. It is a show which has definitely benefited from and justified it's resurrection and i've found that it's become one of only a very few programmes that, as soon as a new episode is shown, i feel compelled to watch it as soon as i practically can. I'm going to avoid going into too much detail about the plot because i'm tired and because, partly due to the first reason, i reckon i'd end up straying too far into the realm of, to quote one current character, spoilers.

However i will say that the last and the current executive producers, Russell T Davies and Stephen Moffat, have shown an impressive awareness for the fact that whether you're a child or an adult, a psychological scare is so much more powerful than an obvious visual one; many of the villains that the two of them have dreamt up have decided to play on the illogical, mental fears that everyone has, for example a threat that can only move when you aren't looking directly at it, or a villain that you forget the existence of the moment you look away.

These are so much more terrifying than any Dalek or Cyberman (nothing against those two, but at least personally their fright-level is much lower than the Weeping Angels or The Silence). I guess that taps into my overall attitude to horror, what is left up to your imagination is infinitely more powerful than that which is thrust in your face. Like it or loathe it, it's what made Paranormal Activity such a success; everyone has thought they saw something in the corner of their eye only to turn and see empty space, believed they heard a noise without explanation or been convinced that there's something very dangerous and important that they just can't quite remember.

They tap into primal, intense fears that a race of genocidal alien race simply can't. It's exactly what good sci-fi should do, take current, human, earthbound hopes, problems and fears and transfer them to a fantastical setting.

It is this combination of debating the big issues and fears while entertaining the audience with futuristic adventures that makes the other show i want to write about, Battlestar Galactica, so good. Now i never caught more than a couple of episodes of the original series' but it looked pretty poor; the budget was such that it made the Star Trek episodes of the time look positively modern and the plot (though i concede i never gave it a proper chance) seemed thread bare and simplistic.
The noughties reincarnation of the show is brilliant however; it manages to combine thrilling space battles between human and robot fighters with theological and sociological debates in a manner which never seems patronising or divisively overly high-brow. It's a delicate balance, one which i'm sure it fails to manage for many viewers, but for me it's towed the line supremely well between asking some extremely big questions about humanity and avoiding getting bogged down in their own intelligence. The story centres on the small remaining element of humanity fleeing a robotic menace they created.

Debating what makes us human or at what point creating sentient life forms to make our lives easier will become a danger are old reliable staples of the sci-fi precisely because they are two of the founding reasons for the entire genre being invented. How better to evaluate and discuss the values and worthiness of humanity than in comparison to alien races, or even better, creatures we ourselves have created.

Each episode features action, political manoeuvring and anthropological arguments and it is that cocktail of elements which makes it so fascinating. Create a show heavy on that conjecture but lacking the action to drive the plot and you leave your audience feeling tired and lectured. Make a show though where it's just "Cowboys and Indians" in space, all action and simplistic takes on good and bad, and you'll find the majority of your audience lose interest after a couple of episodes, preferring to watch films which can do the big battle scenes better. However, somehow find the balance between the two and you may have a hit show on your hands that will get the respects of critics and the average viewer alike; this is what Battlestar Galactica has done. I'm now well and truly addicted to the show, making almost worrying levels of progress through the series and so far there have been few, if any, episodes that have strayed too far towards either end of the sci-fi spectrum.

So i'm a geek and i need to learn to accept that, as i hope you will too.

Today's song is a Bloc Party song for the simple reason that i haven't posted one in a while and i can never get enough of them.

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