Hey look, TroytlePower has gone and made a podcast! It’s the world’s fifth-ish audio-only let’s-play podcast!
TroytlePower Presents: The Power Play-Throughs Podcast, with TroytlePower
Hey look, TroytlePower has gone and made a podcast! It’s the world’s fifth-ish audio-only let’s-play podcast!
TroytlePower Presents: The Power Play-Throughs Podcast, with TroytlePower
Travis McElroy and Tybee Diskin have a great podcast called “Run: A Doctor Who Fancast”, which covers both new and classic Doctor Who episodes. I started listening to their show right when it came out, but without rewatching the 2005 series of Doctor Who, because I’ve seen those episodes several times before. As they got closer and closer to the end of David Tennant’s run as the Doctor, though, I got more and more excited, eventually deciding to watch Series 4, his final season as the Doctor, along with them.
I fell a bit behind, then caught up, and then just kept watching through the end of the series and just… wow… I love this show, so damn much!
Doctor Who is a show with intriguing mysteries, interesting aliens, heart-wrenching stories, and fascinating lead characters, especially in Season 4 with Donna Noble, probably my favorite companion of all time.
I know I’m far from the minority in my love of this show, but if for some reason you’ve never watched it before, go to your Amazon Prime video account right now, and start watching! I’d recommend Series 1, 4, 5, or 10 as the best places for newcomers to start, or, heck, just wait less than three weeks for the brand new series with a new showrunner and new Doctor to kick off, and start there!
And you know what, even if you’ve watched all of Doctor Who before, go watch an episode today! You deserve it!
However, you do it, just go watch Doctor Who!
Oh, and listen to Run, because it’s a very, very good podcast with very, very good hosts!
This blog post will contain spoilers for Doctor Who, Star Trek, and The Animorphs. Specifically, the Doctor Who episode “Turn Left”, the Star Trek episode “Yesterday’s Enterprise”, and Megamorphs 4, “Back to the Before”.
I grew up digging sci-fi stories from a very young age. I have weirdly specific memories of watching Star Trek with my parents in our living room and watching Star Wars with my brother and sister on a CRT TV we jerry-rigged to be hooked up in the back of our Suburban on a family road trip. As I grew older, I consumed more and more, specifically getting into Doctor Who and Star Trek (again) when I was in college. It doesn’t even need to be good sci-fi for me to dive right in, I even like the trope-filled stuff. In fact, sometimes tropey sci-fi is the best, and one of my favorite tropes is stories that look at the idea of a butterfly effect. Show me a story where changing one decision in the past ripples through time, and I am 100% there. This past week, I reexperienced two stories that follow that idea, which reminded me of a third, and found some interesting similarities in all three.
The first one I started this past week was the fourth Megamorphs book in the Animorphs series. For those who aren’t familiar, the Animorphs books tell the serialized story of a group of teens who get swept up in a guerrilla war to stop the covert enslavement of the human race by a race of mind-controlling slugs called Yeerks when they cut through a construction site on the way home from the mall and are given the power to transform in to animals by a dying warrior. Each book in the series is told from the perspective of one of the teens, except for the Megamorphs books, which can change narrators on a chapter by chapter basis. Megamorphs 4, “Back to Before”, starts off from the perspective of the leader of the group, who is tempted by an evil, ultra-powerful alien named Crayak to abandon his fight by allowing time to be rewritten so that the team never walked through that construction site. The book then jumps back to the start of the series and goes through a series of catastrophic events that never happened in the prime timline, thanks to the intervention of the Animorphs. The most empathetic member of the team, Cassie, seems to be aware that things aren’t right from the very beginning, and eventually pulls most of the group back together. Ultimately, the Yeerks start an all-out war against humanity, and 4 out of the 6 Animorphs end up killed (two while they are the active narrators!) before Crayak calls an end to the altered timeline, as he has come to the realization that Cassie is sub-temporaly fixed, or some such nonsense, and therefore this new timeline would never work. Everything gets reset back to where the book started, and only Cassie is left with a vague memory of what happened.
Over in Doctor Who, near the end of David Tennant’s run, the Doctor, a Time Lord who travels through time and space righting wrongs and battling evil, and Donna, his human companion, stop off at a market on an alien planet in the episode “Turn Left”, where a fortune teller pulls Donna away, and affixes her with a weird, time-energy consuming bug who takes her back to a single decision (specifically a turn at an intersection) which determined whether or not she’d meet the Doctor. Based on turning differently, the Doctor and Donna never meet, and the Doctor dies during what should have been their first adventure. Donna actually sees the Doctor’s body being carted away, and so does Rose, a former companion who does all sorts of weird timey-wimey-alternate-reality stuff. The episode then goes through a series of time jumps, showing us just how wrecked Earth becomes without the Doctor’s oversight. A hospital full of people (including Martha Jones, another companion) is killed by aliens, the Thames is drained in an explosion, and, eventually, London is destroyed by a crashed, space-fairing replica of the Titanic. This leaves England decimated, and the population (including Donna and her family) live as refugees in their own country, until the military starts rounding up any foreigners and sending them to “labor camps”. Throughout all these atrocities, Donna keeps coming across Rose (who refuses to introduce herself), until eventually Rose convinces Donna to come with her, introduces her to time travel, and sends her back in time to prevent her changed decision, warning her that she’ll have to die to do so. Donna ends up throwing herself in traffic to cause a back-up, convincing her prior self to turn towards the right timeline with the Doctor. When Donna comes back to the market in the present (and in the correct timeline), she only has a faint memory of her experience.
Thinking about those two stories reminded me of one of my favorite Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes, “Yesterday’s Enterprise”. In this episode, the exploratory and diplomatic priorities of the Enterprise are suddenly replaced with a military mindset, including new uniforms, hip-mounted phasers on every crew member (including the return of definitely-already-dead security officer Tasha Yar), and a ruthless attitude. The ship, NCC-1701-D, comes across another Enterprise, NCC-1701-C, coming through a portal in time. With their war with the alien Klingon Empire going poorly, the modern Enterprise convinces the relic from the past to stay and help the fight, especially because when they were displaced from time they were just about to be destroyed by another group, the Romulans. Everyone is on board with this plan except for the ship’s bartender, Guinan, who knows without a doubt that something is wrong. Ultimately, the crew decides that if the Enterprise-C had been destroyed by the Romulans, it could have altered the United Federation of Planets relationship with the Klingons, and the C prepares to go back in time to sacrifice itself in pursuit of peace. Guinan specifically knows that Yar should be dead, so the security officer decides to go back with the C as their tactical officer, to really go out with a bang. Of course, as soon as the C goes back, everything resets to normal, and no one remembers what happened… except for that Guinan asks Data to tell her about Tasha Yar.
I love all of these stories because the idea of such drastic change from such small moments makes me reflect on the decisions I make in my own life. Specifically, it makes me realize that it’s futile to dwell on mistakes because you never know how doing something differently would have caused ripples down the line. There are two commonalities in these three stories I noticed that are really intriguing to me. First, every single story has a character who is aware that things aren’t the way they are supposed to be in the altered timeline, and, second, every single one ends with only one character remembering the alteration. I wonder if there are examples of these stories that don’t fit those trends, either by having all character fully absorbed in the alternate timeline or by having everyone impacted remember the changes after the fact.
If you can think of any stories that break this formula – or even have a favorite in the formula that I missed – let me know in the comments below, but please be sure to include spoiler tags!
I grew up loving the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – as you can probably tell him the name of my blog and my Twitter and everything else handle – but it’s something that I’ve loved in absentia since the mid-90s. I haven’t really followed any Turtles series since the original cartoon and the movies. I did check in on the CGI show that came out a few years ago, and while it was pretty decent, it wasn’t so good that I – a dude in his mid-20s at the time – felt the need to keep watching it. I did think when my nephew was born a few years ago that as he grew up that would be the Turtles he knew, but I was just reminded this morning that there’s a whole new series starting up right now!
Nickelodeon has the first five episodes of “Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” up on their website right now. As soon as I clicked in to see the thumbnail, I realized that I had heard about this show before. I remember seeing the character models when they were revealed some time ago, and really liking the style they went with. I started up the first episode, and right from the jump, I was pretty much in. The intro is flashy and action-packed, really highlighting the bold, colorful look of the show, and the lyrics of the song are catchy, snappy, and introduce you to the Turtles; it’s everything a TMNT theme song should be. As it transitioned into the actual episode, I stayed with it. The animation is bold and expressive, and the show delivers humor in the writing and in the way that characters move and emote. Storytelling through visual style is very much my jam.
After some scene setting, we meet the Turtles, and it would be dishonest for me not to talk about how this show differs from MY Ninja Turtles. Now, I want to preface this by saying that, in general, I don’t think that it is any great sin for a reboot to retool characters. If you’re doing a new take on an established property, I think you have to change up the characters, at least a little bit, because otherwise… what’s new about the take? Having said that, with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles it does strike me a bit differently, because those four characters, for me, are the archetypes by which I judge pretty much every other character in pop culture. I grew up with these four personalities, and the dynamics between them, so much so that when I look at personality tests, I think of them in terms of Turtles. So meeting these slightly shifted versions of the turtles felt a bit odd to me.
Donatello, historically my favorite turtle, is the truest-to-form in this episode. He’s nerdy, he’s awkward, he’s focused on science and logistics, and he makes fancy, high tech equipment that he barely knows how to use. With Raphael, things are a bit different, but not too terribly so. He’s still brash and confident, but he also is cast as the leader of the team this time. He’s the one in front, he’s issuing commands, he speaks for the team… he does the things that I expect Leonardo to do! This has Leo feeling a bit weird. He doesn’t seem to have the traits that I identify with Leo from when I was a kid. He’s overconfident, quippy, and accident prone. He actually feels more like Mikey than Leo. Because of that similarity, Michaelangelo wasn’t able to stand out quite the way I’d expect. He had a few good funny moments, but with both Leo and him making jokes, the party dude didn’t get as much spotlight as I would have liked.
To be fair to this show, it’s very clear that it introduces us to the Turtles early in their careers. When they beat the big bad at the end of the episode, they talk about how this first boss fight victory should earn them a team name, so it seems like this is their first foray into heroics. With that in mind, I’m guessing we’ll see some character development as they develop from brothers into a crime-fighting team. My biggest hope is that we see Leo develop a bit more. Even if Raph stays in charge of the team, it’d be nice to see some of the Steve-Rogers-esque, boy scout, goody-goody traits that made Leo the beacon of heroism when I was a kid, if only because I think that playing that off against Raph’s brashness and Mikey’s silliness was part of what made the team dynamics when I was a kid so interesting.
So, the turtles a little bit different, but not in any way that made me say, “Hey, this is not TMNT!” However, it’s not just the Turtles that have changed; there are two other characters we meet in this episode who are important carryovers from before. First is April O’Neil. April in this show is younger than we’ve ever seen her before, fitting with the young turtles, and is black, spunky, confident, smart, capable, and freaking fantastic! I absolutely love this characterization of the Turtles BFF. She doesn’t really reflect the April I grew up with, but since that character didn’t solidify as an archetype in my mind the way the brothers did, I think I’m way more open to a fresh version. The other returning character is Splinter.
The disciplined, strict, focused, and compassionate martial artist.
Or, at least, that’s how he was in the Turtles I grew up.
Now, Splinter is a slob. He’s fat, he’s lazy, and he eats junk food and then passes out in his easy chair while watching Japanese reality TV shows.
I hate this version of Splinter.
I’m going to keep watching the show, at least for the five episodes that are available online right now, but the thing that will make or break it for me is this representation of Splinter! To me, Splinter needs to be there to lead the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles towards their disciplined and respectful and important purpose. Without his guidance, I struggle to see what the ninja turtles will do when they come across a situation that challenges their morality, or their spirit, or their confidence! I suppose this version of the show might be planning to have the Turtles internalize that growth, but if that’s the strategy they are going with, I wish they would’ve just left Splinter out entirely. It would be better for me to see a show where the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had to work through tough times on their own than to see a show where the character that should be their role model is awful.
Overall, I liked the episode. It’s funny, it’s quick, it’s got good action, and the Turtles – while shifted from what I remember – are already interesting and fun characters. Here’s to hoping that the show is successful, continues to improve, and that it can be something that my nephew and I can watch together.
For another take on this episode and to watch it with commentary, I’d very much encourage you to go take a look at the Turtle Power Pod’s video review. It’s funnier, more rambly, and way drunker than this take, and it’s only thanks to seeing it pop up that I realized episodes from this series were available.
This past week, I finished off another block of Animorphs books, numbers 36-40, and they stood out to me for a couple of reasons. First of all, they aren’t terribly great. I don’t think they are terrible, but there is a feeling that the wheels are spinning without the overall plot really going anywhere. From some feedback I’ve heard from a few podcasts, this chunk of ghostwritten books is regarded as a low point for the series, and it sounds like a lot of that is because they main writers/editors for the series were working on the finale, and weren’t around to help these ghostwriters out too much… Listening to me talk about the weaknesses of these books wouldn’t be very interesting, though, so I wanted to talk about the other thing that unified them, which is that all five of these books look at the idea of cooperation and coordination, within the team, their allies, and even the Yeerks.
This chunk of five books represents one cycle through the viewpoints of the five characters, which means that the first, The Mutation, is written from the perspective of Jake, the fearless leader of the team. In this story, the Chee, a race of hyper-advanced, pacifist, dog-like androids, reach out to the Animorphs for help to prevent the evil Yeerks from finding the crashed, Snoopy-shaped ship the Chee and their now-extinct-except-that-their-spirits-live-on-in-domesticated-dogs creators, the Pemalites, came to Earth in thousands of years ago, which is sitting at the bottom of the ocean (holy smokes, this series is bonkers and I love it). We get to allyship at the very end of the book, when the Animorphs realize the only way they are going to escape from a mutated civilization of fish people is to forge a tenuous, temporary truce with Visser Three, the leader of the Yeerk invasion force, and embark on possibly my favorite trope of serialized storytelling: a road trip with the enemy! It’s short, but this is a nice example of how even your worst enemy can be a valuable ally in the right circumstance.
Book 37, The Weakness, pulls an interesting and unique trick in the series by giving us an Animorphs book without all the Animorphs. Jake is off on a family vacation when an opportunity to make Visser Three look bad in front of a visiting superior pops up and Rachel takes charge of the team as a self-proclaimed “warrior king” with nearly disastrous results. This book shines two distinct lights on the ideas of teams and allies, one by showing how the Animorphs depend on the diversity and uniqueness of their whole team to be successful, and the other in the adversarial relationship of Visser Three and his evaluator. In fact, if the Yeerks has gotten over their silly internal politics for about three minutes, they would have been able to wipe out the “Andalite bandits” and secure victory in their invasion of earth.
Next up is an Ax book, The Arrival, which introduces the teens to an Andalite assassin team that purports to be there to take down Visser Three, rather than actually do anything to assist the team in stopping the invasion. The Animorphs put on a show of giving up the fight when they realize reinforcements aren’t on the way, in order to find out the visitors real plot, which is to unleash a biological weapon against the Yeerks, which just might also wipe out all of humanity. Seeing this book from Ax’s perspective is really interesting, as he struggles with whether to maintain his loyalty to Jake, his Prince, or to the only representatives of his species he has encountered on Earth. Ultimately, this is a nice look at how loyalty and cooperation are earned, rather than inherent, as Ax sides with his human friends to stop the misguided Andalites plans.
Cassie’s book in this series, The Hidden, is the most buck-wild and nightmare-inducing of the lot, with a focus on an African Cape Buffalo who gains the power to morph, changes back-and-forth into the kids’ Assistant Principal/Yeerk lieutenant Chapman, and starts to display signs of intelligence. The “buffa-human” also imprints on Cassie and the teens as its herd and follows them as they run from the Yeerks into the woods. Cassie struggles throughout with the knowledge that there’s no way the buffaman can live, since it could be captured by the Yeerks and reveal her identity, but she never seems to consider any ways that it could live and protect her secret, like by tricking him to stay morphed as another animal. Throughout the chase, Cassie and the whole team are saved over and over again by their new friend, right up until Cassie watches it just get obliterated by the Yeerks, saving her from having to bloody her own hands. I feel like this book likes the idea of finding a friend when you least expect it, but then, like Cassie, couldn’t figure out how to get rid of an ally that really couldn’t fit in the group.
Finally, we come to The Other, the Marco book, which again features potential Andalite allies. This time it’s two surviving warriors who have abandoned the fight to live together in hiding. The whole team is suspicious of their motives until they realize that one of them – who is old, sick, and dying – is trying to rescue the other – who is disabled and therefore disgraced, because a lot of Andalite cultures is way backward – from the Yeerks. Also, they are totally in a same-sex relationship, even though the book won’t outright say it (but Michael Grant has confirmed it, which is canon enough for me). This book is really heavy-handed on the idea of disabilities and how to respect the differently-abled, but even a heavy-handed message about respect is still a good thing, and the fact that zero concern is given to the subtextual gay relationship is a nice nod towards allyship, too. It’s not perfect, but for a YA book from 2000, it’s nice that it hints at inclusion and acceptance of both of those ideas.
I’m still really loving the Animorphs books, and if this chunk is as much of a slump as I’ve understood it to be from mumblings on podcasts and online, I’m excited to move in to the home stretch towards the end of the series, and I’m really curious to see if the next chunk of books has a running theme through them as well.