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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Let's ring in the New Year with style!

It's none other than Grandpa Jones and his lovely wife Ramona doing something truly amazing with a whole bunch of cowbells...

Dare I do it? Dare I?!?

I can't resist...
more cowbell, cowbells, christopher walken, saturday night live, the bruce dickinson, blue oyster cult, dont fear the reaper
"I gotta fever!  And the only prescription is MORE COWBELL!"
 If you don't know who Grandpa Jones was, you need some educatin' in the worst way!  Louis Marshall Jones was a longtime fixture on country music radio and the Grand Ol' Opry.  He picked up his stage name when he worked at WBZ in Boston and was playfully called "Grandpa" because he was so cranky in the mornings.  Jones decided to make an act of it.  That was 1935 and Jones was "Grandpa Jones" all the way up to his passing in 1998.  He's long been regarded as one of the greatest banjo players ever.

And he even played cowbell!  And more of it! :-)

This year's DOCTOR WHO Christmas special: What DID Chris think of "The Time of the Doctor"?

I loved it!!  But first...

If if was nothing else, it had to be said: 2013 was the Year of the Doctor.

The anticipation for Doctor Who's fiftieth anniversary ramped up fast after the year began.  The coming of Jenna Coleman's Clara as a regular companion certainly started things off nice.  Some of the ensuing half-season was a little touch and go, but otherwise it proceeded in fine style...

...and then came "The Name of the Doctor".

More than half a year later, in spite of everything that we've watched since, I'm still feeling numbstruck by the season finale (find my review here).  Throughout the ensuing summer and fall I think a lot of us were tormented with the thought: had Steven Moffat finally lost it?!  For the first time ever Doctor Who seemed poised to derail completely.  The image of that unknown incarnation of the Doctor, "the one who broke the promise", turning to show us the grizzled visage of John Hurt and those big letters onscreen letting us know in no uncertain terms "this IS the Doctor!!" is one that will forever be burned into my pop cultural gray matter.

But "The Day of the Doctor" - the fiftieth anniversary special - restored all faith in Moffat as a showrunner.  No, more than that: Moffat is arguably the finest custodian of Whovian mythology we have seen since... well, maybe since before John Nathan-Turner's era.  "The Day of the Doctor" was everything an anniversary celebration should be: a "love letter" to the fans, a story that drastically expanded the Whoniverse and top it all off it was a story that totally changed the course of the series.  For eight years we've seen the Doctor as a scarred and wounded veteran of the Time War: a man haunted by the choices he had to make in order to keep all hell from breaking loose across the width and breadth of creation.

The Doctor is a wounded man no more.  Now he's a man with the greatest mission of his life: to find Gallifrey.

Well played, Moffat.  Well played indeed!  And that appearance by Tom Baker was the prettiest bow that a gift to the fans could possibly have had.

It was early summer that Matt Smith announced he would be retiring in this year's Christmas special, handing the role of the Doctor to a new actor.  And then came August, and the massive hype about the reveal of the next Doctor: a part that we found would be filled by Peter Capaldi.  So coming on the heels of the fiftieth anniversary special, this year's Christmas story had to be a fitting swan song for the Eleventh Doctor and for the actor who reigned during the most explosive popularity of the entire franchise... and ring in the new with the Twelfth Doctor.  A lot to live up to, no doubt...

So... what did I think of "The Time of the Doctor"?

It was not perfect.  But... yes, I loved every minute of it!

It's glaringly obvious that Moffat was trying to shoehorn in a lot of material that likely had been intended for another season with Matt Smith as the Doctor, in an attempt to tie up all the loose ends since the Doctor last regenerated.  Even so, I think it was as good a job as could possibly have been done.  Ironically this is also the Doctor Who story that covers a bigger span of chronological time than any other previous: more than 300 years, from the time the Doctor and Clara first arrive in the town of Christmas up to the final showdown with the Daleks attacking Trenzalore.  Yes, it would have been fun to have seen all of this unfold over another season... but we still got a great tale and a fitting Christmas special at that.

Did anyone else think that the very-aged Doctor hearkened back to William Hartnell as the Doctor?  Because I can't but think that maybe the First Doctor, in his younger days, was much like the Matt Smith we have witnessed during the past four years: Smith wanted his Doctor to be "an old man in a young man's body".  Now we've seen him play the Doctor as a young man in an old man's body... and for some reason it makes Hartnell's First Doctor... well, more modern-ish Doctor, if that makes any sense.  In any case it was a terrific and bold direction to take the Doctor in his final journey with the part.

One of the bigger mysteries of Doctor Who is one that was set up all the way back in "The Deadly Assassin" nearly forty years ago: how would the "twelve regenerations" limit be dealt with?  This was one of my favorite things about "The Time of the Doctor": Moffat showing us that the twelve regenerations have already transpired, because they included the Tenth Doctor's little stunt in "The Stolen Earth"/"Journey's End".  We don't have to wait until Capaldi decides to turn in the keys to the TARDIS: that little matter is now dealt with, presumably for the next fifty years or so.  At the end of which the Time Lords will probably decide they need the Doctor to stick around forever and just max out his life limit.

And speaking of regenerations: Matt Smith's was the best ever.  Yeah, I said it.  I'll always love David Tennant's bow but in retrospect that seemed a bit too sentimental, perhaps owing to how Russel T. Davies had the Tenth Doctor revisiting all the major characters from the Davies era.  There was no such gesture in "The Time of the Doctor", and yet Matt Smith's departure was far more poignant and heartbreaking.  During his final speech to Clara it was as if Smith was breaking the fourth wall and talking to us in the audience, telling us how much he appreciated his time as the Doctor and how thankful he was for our embracing him in the role.

It was by far the greatest regeneration scene in the history of the series.  It was the one by which all future regenerations will be measured, I think.  And Matt Smith left in a bang: everything from Clara's finding the Doctor in his rocking chair on through the regeneration itself is pure storytelling gold.  The scene of the Doctor atop the bell tower, raging defiantly against the Daleks ("We're breaking some serious science here, boys!" as he proclaims "Regeneration Number Thirteen... it's gonna be a whopper!" will go down as one of the most iconic Doctor Who moments ever).

The very last moments, when the Eleventh Doctor has that vision of Amy (a very touching cameo from Karen Gillan) and the Doctor letting his beloved bow tie fall to the floor of the TARDIS... that was the moment when the tears came, if they hadn't already.  I don't think anything else could have been as perfect a final moment as that...

But as soon as the crying finally hit, we got hit with the shock of Peter Capaldi's uber-manic entrance as the Twelfth Doctor.  It was the fastest regeneration ever and by far the most bewildering.  I mean, when your new Doctor's first words are "KIDNEYS!  I've got new kidneys!" you just know that there's some severe craziness incoming.

Matt Smith, thank you.  Because of you Doctor Who is bigger than it has ever been before.  And because of you, bow ties have never been cooler!  I'm the owner of an official Doctor Who bow tie... and I will be wearing it with pride for many years to come.

Eleven's time has drawn to a close.  Now bring on the Twelfth!

"The Time of the Doctor" gets 4 and 1/2 Sonic Screwdrivers out of 5 from this blogger.  And it's going to be a long, long wait until next fall when Doctor Who returns.  Maybe if we're good Moffat and his crew will give us another mini-episode like "The Night of the Doctor".  Please Mister Moffat, please??

Oh yeah, one last thing: bring back Handles!  Handles was one of the best companions ever!!  If the Doctor can fix K-9 then surely he can fix Handles.  Handles was awesome! :-)

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas 2013

It occurred to me a few days ago that I had yet to post the traditional Christmas piece this year.  I don't have any particular reason why that shouldn't be done this year, except that in many ways this... well, it's not the usual Christmas for me.

It was two years ago, three days after Christmas, that my mother passed away.  But it's only been in the past few weeks that I've let that sink in, found myself able to let go of lingering matters that were there.  I got through Christmas last year because of some things that aren't there this year.  Absent those, this is at last the holiday season that I'm letting myself be confronted with that loss (and a number of others).

I'm not going to avoid them.  It's time to let them confront me and for me to come out the better for it.  That's happening already.

A few weeks ago I had myself voluntarily admitted to a psychiatric hospital.  I had to do it because my life had become completely unmanageable.  It was severe depression, to a far worse degree than I've ever endured.  It was also because the medication I've been on to treat the bipolar needed some drastic adjustment.  I spent a week there, spending most of my time studying my Bible.  And prayer, lots of prayer.

I had to do it because the depression was taking a toll on my personal life, my work, everything.  Had I not done that, well... I don't like to contemplate what might have happened.  But I did address it and I don't think there's any weakness or shame in admitting it.  And I came out of it much stronger than I had been before.  God brought me through it.  He really did.  I can't claim any part of that victory for myself.  I could write a book about the things I went through in the hospital, especially at night.  God brought me through each night, just as He brought me through this night.  Just as He is still bringing me through it.  I won't dare boast of any of that for my own.

Long story short: I'm not having any Christmas presents this year.  I'm too much thankful for the things God has given me already than to want anything that I don't have.  It took me a long time to really find the contentment that comes with His grace and to relent unto His will, His timing.

Maybe that'll make what come next on this post have more meaning than ever.

It was my best friend Chad who asked this morning if I was doing the traditional Christmas post on this blog.  After some thought about it, I'm going through with it.  Hard to believe I wrote this fifteen years ago this month, in the last issue before the holiday break.

So here it is, again, one of my favorite pieces from the old college days and something of a tradition on The Knight Shift...

Originally published in The Pendulum, Elon University, 12/03/1998

Celebrating the Christmas season means celebrating the memories

Chris Knight

     Some of the best memories that we take through life are about the times we cherish the most. And sometimes, it doesn’t take much to bring back the joy.
     Last Friday as I was driving around Greensboro, the all-time coolest Christmas song ever came over the speakers.
     Who knows what this genius recording artist’s name is? Does it really matter? Whoever he is, he’ll forever be remembered as giving us the immortal sound of “Dogs Singing Jingle Bells”:

Arf arf arf,
Arf arf arf,
Arf Arf Whoof Whoof Whuf…

     Ahh... you know how it goes.
     And there’s the ever-beuh-beuh-beauh-beautiful rendition of Porky Pig singing “Blue Christmas” and the Chipmunks and of course “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Christmas at Ground Zero,” but hearing those dogs singing “Jingle Bells...” ahhhhh.
     It brought me back to the very first time I heard that: on the radio coming back from school just before Christmas in 1982. I was in third grade at the time. And it brought back memories of the Christmas we had.
     It was cold and very cloudy. I remember that because Santa had brought me a telescope and I didn’t get to use it that night. Which wasn’t too big a worry, ‘cause me and my sister had our brand-new Atari 2600 to play with!
     Another Christmas memory: To this day, I’ll never forgive Anita for the pounding she gave me in “Combat.” I don’t care how fancy Sega or the Playstation get... they’ll never touch the 4-bit pleasures of the Atari!
     There have been many a Christmas since then, and I remember each one well, for all the little things they had with them.
     I’ll never forget Mom and Dad taking me and my sister to see Santa Claus at the mall in ‘84. That morning Dad asked if I’d come with him to cut firewood, so we rode the tractor into the woods. There had been snow earlier in the week, which lay around us in the crisp, cold morning.
     Dad also brought his 30-30 rifle, why I still don’t know. After we had the wood loaded, Dad asked if I wanted to try shootin’ the gun.
     There I was, a ten-year old kid, holding what looked like an anti-aircraft cannon in my tiny hands. Well, I aimed at this tree like Dad told me to, and pulled the trigger.
     To this day I cannot describe the colors that flashed before my eyes, or the sound in my ears. When my existence finally returned, I was flat on my back in the snow, and blood was gushing from between my eyes where the scope had hit my nose from the backfire.
     That night Santa saw the bandages and said “Ho ho hoooo, and what happened to you, little fellow?”
     “I got shot, Santa,” was the only thing I knew to say.
     Hey, was I gonna lie to the Big Man? Uh-uh, no way was I gonna lose all that loot!
     The following year’s Christmas I remember for many things, but especially feeding the young calves on our farm. It would be the last year our family would be running a dairy farm, and I had started helping with some of the work around the barn.
     Dad set up a Christmas tree in the milking room, with wrapped-up boxes beneath it.
     Tinsel hung from the front doors of the barn. And there was something about the feel of the place there, that has always held a special place in my heart, as if we knew that there would not be another Christmas like this one.
     I wish there had been another Christmas on the farm, because there’s something I wish I could have seen. And as silly as some people might find this, I really believe that it happens.
     You see, if you go out at midnight on Christmas Eve, you will see all the animals in the farmyard, and in the fields, and in the forests, and wherever else they may be, stop where they are.
     And then they kneel.
     They kneel in remembrance for another night, long ago. It was Christmas, but how many people could know it then?
     Nothing remarkable, to be sure: Caesar had decreed a census through the land, and each man went with his family to his town.
     One man in particular took his wife, a young woman quick with child. But there was no room for them at the inn. So that night, in a dirty and filthy stable and surrounded by animals, a child was born.
     You see, it’s easy for us to forget. At this time of the year, we are too overwhelmed by the consumption and the material and the glitter and all the customs that come with Christmas.
     And it’s too easy for us to forget that Christmas is, before everything else, a birthday.
     But the animals, who watched over Him as He lay as a newborn babe, two millenia ago... the animals have not forgotten.
     And so they kneel every Christmas and give glory to the newborn king, and in awe that God would send His Son to live among us in the greatest act of love.
     And to teach us many things, but especially to “love one another”. And to bridge the gap between man and God.
     The birth of Jesus Christ: the greatest Christmas present there will ever be. His birth, which would give mankind the greatest present it could ever ask for.
     Who in the world on that night could know the price that this present would someday have?
     Heaven and Earth sang praises to His glory on that night. The animals have always remembered that night. And Heaven and Earth still praise and sing unto Him.
     And if you only take a little time out from how busy things become at this part of the year, you can hear the singing, too. And it is a great temptation to join in that chorus.
     And perhaps in hearing, we will not forget the real meaning of Christmas, either.
     This Christmas Eve night I plan to be outside, with the same telescope that I got for Christmas all those years ago, and trying to envision a bright star over Bethlehem. Around midnight, I’m going to take a walk over to my aunt’s farm.
     Merry Christmas. Peace on Earth, and goodwill toward men.

Dedicated to the memory of W.C. “Mutt” Burton, for whom Christmas was always “In My Bones.”

Friday, December 20, 2013

THE TICK's very special Christmas episode!

I will go to my grave believing that the Nineties gave us the best television animated series that have ever been produced.  Think about it: Tiny Toons, Gargoyles, X-Men... and of course Batman: The Animated Series, a show that forever raised the bar and redefined what cartoons were capable of.

But of all those shows and more, it's The Tick that holds the most special place in my heart from that era.

Based on Ben Edlund's underground comic book, The Tick premiered in 1994, ran for three seasons and stunned everyone with its unique style of superhero parody and screwball comedy.  The Tick was the one show I made a point to always watch on Saturday mornings (even if I worked late the previous night and was low on sleep).  It was such a big influence on me that when I finally got Internet access for the first time, the very first screen name I used was "The Man Eating Cow".

Anyway a lot of shows - including the animated ones - put on a Christmas-themed episode, and The Tick was no exception.  Of course, the one we got wasn't like those of other series.  So far as holiday episodes go, the only one that remotely approaches The Tick's entry is the "Turkeys Away" episode of W.K.R.P in Cincinnati.  It's just too whacked for words to adequately convey.

So without further ado, here from December 1995 is Tick fighting Multiple Santa in... "The Tick Loves Santa!":

"Ho Ho Ho, make them work! Ho Ho Ho, make them work!"

They just can't make humor like that anymore.

All I intend to say about A&E firing Phil Robertson...

A&E fired the star of not just its #1-rated series, but the top-rated series in the history of cable television.

That's not just shooting yourself in the foot; that's chainsawing your leg off at the hip.

This will go down as the stoopidest move in television programming history.  He could have been less crass about it, but Robertson said nothing any more offensive than the vast majority of other series.  Based on Robertson's comments, I'd say that he's expressing the heart of a true Christian: love God, and love each other.  When Phil Robertson said that he has no hate toward anyone else and that God created each of us equal and loves us in spite of how wayward we go from Him, I can't but trust his heart on the matter.

Let's say this for what it really is: Phil Robertson and the rest of his family on Duck Dynasty are coming under attack because they won't endorse the homosexual lifestyle.  This isn't about "intolerance" on Phil's part: if anything it's the people at GLAAD and the Human Rights Initiative that are being intolerant toward others.

This is about perhaps, at most, 3% of the population demanding that it's not enough that their lifestyle be accepted, but that it also must be admired.

Phil Robertson can't do that.  Neither can I.

Gay, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgenders are not a "persecuted" class of people.  They have no basis to claim being oppressed or attacked.  All they have in the public arena of ideas is proclaiming themselves to be victims demanding attention and sympathy.

Please, somebody tell me: how is one man shoving his penis up another man's anus an act requiring sympathy and compassion on my part?

Okay, maybe I could have been less crass there, too.  But ya gotta admit: Phil Robertson is only asking what has been on the minds of a vast number of people.  Certainly more than the number of militant homosexual lobbyists now crying for Robertson blood.

Car made out of LEGO bricks... and it's drivable!

Proving once again that LEGO building is more than aesthetic art but also fully functional, an Australian and Romanian duo has constructed a life-sized roadster out of the celebrated toy bricks. And it just doesn't sit there: you can drive it too!

It's not all LEGO: though the company makes tiny rubber tires for the minifig-scale vehicles, it's yet to enter the market in competition with Michelin or Goodyear.  But that detail aside, the Super Awesome Micro Project funded and built by Australian Steve Sommarito and Romanian Raul Oaida is practically 100% LEGO blocks.  Total number of pieces: about half a million.

According to the news article, "the car uses compressed air to turn 256 pistons in four rotary engines — all made of Legos. Total construction time: 18 months, for a cost of about $40,000."  It's not quite as big as the full-size X-Wing Fighter made of 5.3 million LEGO blocks, but hey: at least this baby can actually take you places!

Crash here for more about the Super Awesome Micro Project's LEGO hot rod.  And thanks to "Weird" Ed Woody for the heads-up!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Okay, no more Doctor Who for awhile...

At least not until this year's Christmas special, "The Time of the Doctor".

But after watching the fiftieth anniversary special "The Day of the Doctor" for the dozen-ish time, the part where Clara asked the Doctor about what his promise was kept resonating with me.  And since I'm up at a crazy hour working, I took a break and did this:

doctor who, the day of the doctor, the promise, war doctor, tenth doctor, eleventh doctor

For fifty years we have wanted to know what the Doctor's real name is.

That is the closest we will - and should - ever get to it.

And it's not a bad promise for anyone to make, when you think about it.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

The most bestest scene from "The Day of the Doctor"

"The Day of the Doctor" became a truly epic event: the kind of cultural milestone ranking up there with the premiere of Star Wars in 1977, Woodstock and the final episode of M*A*S*H.  The day after the fiftieth anniversary special of Doctor Who aired, Guinness certified it as the most-watched simulcast of a dramatic presentation ever.

I purchased "The Day of the Doctor" from iTunes as soon as it was made available and have watched it all the way through twice and some scenes many times.  And they were plentiful: "NO MORE", the Moment, the tribute to past companions (including Captain Jack Harkness, and why are River Song's red high-heels hanging there anyway??) in the Black Archive, all of those TARDISes that swooped out of nowhere, that very fleeting glimpse - with an anger and determination that would cower Hell itself - of the Twelfth Doctor's eyes, finally seeing the regeneration that produced the Ninth Doctor, the dream sequence of the Eleventh Doctor joining his previous lives as they look toward Gallifrey, all accompanied by a majestic score by Murray Gold...

All very wonderful.  Very beautiful.  Steven Moffat and his team pulled off what can only be described as the perfect Doctor Who story for the fiftieth anniversary.  One loaded with iconic scenes that have already become beloved by fans.

But there was one scene that stood tallest of them all.

It was the scene that most paid homage to where The Doctor has gone before while setting the stage for that which is yet to come.  The scene that sent Doctor Who fans worldwide into a collective gasp followed by screams of wild rejoicing.  And certainly what will prove to be the most pivotal scene of the series since its revival in 2005.

Here it is again for your viewing pleasure...

That surely will go down as the high point of Matt Smith's career as the Eleventh Doctor.  You just can't top sharing a scene with Tom Baker: the one who will, for many of us, forever be "my favorite Doctor".