Westworld Wallpapers for iOS

Westworld lock screen wallpaper displayed on an outline iPhone 6'I admit it. I’m addicted to HBO’s new science fiction series – Westworld. Based on the 1973 thriller film written and directed by novelist Michael Crichton, HBO’s re-imagined series transports us to a futuristic theme park where people can live out every desire as part of the old west. Guests to the park can partake in over a hundred narrative storylines to search for lost treasure, hunt down wanted bandits or just visit the local saloons and brothels and have the vacation of a lifetime.

The show stars Oscar winning actor Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Ford, one of Westworld’s creators as well as Evan Rachel Wood as Dolores Abernathy, a robot who’s entire world is not what she believes it to be. We’re only three episodes in but I’m already addicted to the show, what it all means and where it’s headed. I find the sheer logistics of such an imagined theme park fascinating – it’s like Disney World on mega steroids.

Every part of Westworld from the robot inhabitants, called “hosts”, to the livestock and even the landscape is fabricated all for the pleasure of the guests. It’s like a gigantic MMORPG but in real life, full of twists and turns, mystery and intrigue. It has elements of some of my favorite television shows like Battlestar Galactica and Firefly with a touch of World of Warcraft thrown in for good measure. If you subscribe to HBO, I really recommend you check it out. You can also follow @HBOWestworld for the latest news and sneak peeks about the show.

I love Westworld so much in fact I went ahead and created a set of lock and home screen wallpapers that you can use on your iPhone. I think I captured the spirit of the series with both the nod to the old west as well as its enigmatic future.

How to download and apply the wallpapers on iOS:

1) Click to view the wallpaper that best fits your device:

• iPhone SE – Westworld Lock Screen
• iPhone 6,7 – Westworld Lock Screen
• iPhone 6,7 Plus – Westworld Lock Screen

• iPhone SE – Westworld Home Screen
• iPhone 6,7 – Westworld Home Screen
• iPhone 6,7 Plus – Westworld Home Screen

• iPad – Westworld Lock Screen
• iPad – Westworld Home Screen

2) Tap & hold on the image in mobile Safari & save it to your photo library

3) Open Photos, view the image then tap the Share button in the lower left

4) Scroll to the right in the Share menu and tap Use as Wallpaper

5) Pinch Zoom OUT on the image to size it exactly to the screen

6) Turn Perspective Zoom OFF

7) Tap Set > Set Lock Screen

That’s it! Next time you unlock your iPhone you can imagine you’re about to set out for adventure or whatever else may find you as you roam the vast, entertaining frontier that is HBO’s Westworld. Be sure to check out my other iPhone wallpapers – Star Trek LCARS, Pokéwall and more. Enjoy!

Space:1999 + LEGO = WIN!

Builder Joe Klang recently posted images from his LEGO construction book Build Your Own Galaxy in which he features a few builds based on the cult 70’s science fiction TV series Space: 1999 and if you’re a fan of the show like I am, the results will have you beaming. Joe built incredibly detailed models of Eagle One, a large portion of Moonbase Alpha Main Missions and even minifig versions of the command crew itself including Dr. Russell, Commander Koenig and Maya. What I wouldn’t give to have his LEGO Eagle One sitting on my desk, ready for lift off. I’ve been obsessed with Space: 1999 ever since I was a boy and seeing Joe’s creations, crafted out of LEGO’s brought me right back to my youth. Bravo, Joe!

Hat tip to The Brothers Brick for this post.

One Perfect Shot: TOS ‘Where No Man Has Gone Before’

Originally filmed as the historic second pilot to Star Trek, ‘Where No Man Has Gone Before‘ is yet another story of humans acquiring god-like abilities. The episode re-used much of the production design from the original pilot of ‘The Cage’ including sets, costumes and props. DeForrest Kelly and Nichelle Nichols had not yet been cast as Dr. McCoy and Lt. Uhura and the show didn’t have its familiar opening narration, the last line of which comes from the title of this episode. Roddenberry pitched several scripts to NBC as the second pilot including ‘The Omega Glory’ and ‘Mudd’s Women’. In the end it was ‘Where No Man Has Gone Before’ that caught the studio’s eye, probably due in-part to the knock-down fist fight between Kirk and Mitchell Gene specifically wrote to help sell the show as his “Wagon Train to the stars“.

Our perfect shot features Gary Lockwood as Lt. Cmdr. Gary Mitchell and Sally Kellerman as Dr. Elizabeth Dehner staring at their eerie reflections as they realize they’ve evolved beyond normal humans. The other-worldly effect of the glowing eyes was achieved by sandwiching wrinkled tinfoil between two scleral contact lenses which covered the entire eye of the actors. Lockwood quickly discovered how extremely uncomfortable the lenses were and found he could only see if he tilted his head back, allowing him to peer out the tiny eye slits in the foil. To his credit, the actor used this to enhance his performance and gave Mitchell an increasingly arrogant gaze as his mutation eventually overtook him. For a time, fans speculated that Mitchell’s character might be the villain in the second J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek feature film Star Trek Into Darkness, but we all know who that turned out to be instead. 🙂

Next on the slate, then Enterprise crew gets freaky-deaky in ‘The Naked Time‘.

One Perfect Shot: Star Trek’s ‘Charlie X’

Poor Charles Evans. Stranded on a planet of inter-dimensional aliens since the age of 3, Charlie had no one to teach him the finer social graces. The result is a self-centered teenager with the ability to bend the entire world to his will, kinda like Justin Bieber on psychic steroids. ‘Charlie X’ isn’t one of my favorite episodes of classic Star Trek, but I was surprised how difficult it was to select the one perfect shot. By this time in its production, Star Trek’s visual style had started to be defined. Blocking, lighting and pacing were starting to come together and the result makes ‘Charlie X’ more visually cohesive as a result.

I chose this single shot for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the gorgeous background that frames Charlie’s face, but also because it perfectly illustrates what the episode is all about. The lone teenager, flush with power and hormones, desperate for acceptance, daring Kirk to push him. Charlie gives off a creepy vibe throughout the story and this shot visualizes it to a tee.

Next time we go ‘Where No Man Has Gone Before‘.

One Perfect Shot: TOS ‘The Man Trap’

This episode of classic Star Trek always creeped me out as a kid, and with good reason. An alien creature who can assume the appearance of anyone, roaming the halls of the Enterprise in search of its next victim. The original series’ ‘The Man Trap’ oozes with mystery and horror and saves the best bit until the very end when the Nancy Crater, otherwise known as the Salt Vampire, reveals herself to the crew and the audience. Our perfect shot takes place just prior to that bizarre ending as Nancy has tossed Spock aside like a rag doll and has Captain Kirk firmly in her hypnotic gaze.

I always found it a bit of a stretch that Professor Crater could survive for almost two years alone on M-113 with Nancy and not get the salt sucked right out of him. Given how many crew members end up dead, you’d think her appetite was almost insatiable. Then again I guess it’s kinda like fasting for weeks, once you’re surrounded by food after having gone so long with so little, you kinda want to put your big pants on and sail right on into salt-town.

Next up is one of my least-favorite Star Trek episodes – ‘Charlie X‘. This should be interesting. :-/

One Perfect Shot: Star Trek’s ‘The Cage’

My good friend Dave Caolo has started something neat over on his Tumblr blog. He’s posting a definitive single frame or “shot” from each of episode of the classic TV show, The Twilight Zone and I gotta admit, it’s pretty cool. So cool in fact that Dave has inspired me to do the same with one of my all-time favorite TV shows, Star Trek: The Original Series. I’ll try to post one shot a day (although I’m pretty sure that won’t really happen) until I get through the entire three seasons. What I promise I will try and do is pick the most iconic, gorgeous and definitive shots from each of the 79 episodes of Star Trek and give a brief description of why I picked them.

Why Star Trek? Simply put, the show changed my life. It captured my imagination as a boy and never let go. Each week I journeyed to strange new worlds and in the process I became life-long friends with Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and Dr. McCoy. It inspired me to do well in school, be tolerant of people’s differences and dream big. So where do we begin? Why, at the beginning of course! Our first entry is from the Star Trek pilot “The Cage”. Considered “Too cerebral” by the network suits at NBC back in the day, “The Cage” didn’t originally air as the first episode of Trek, but was later re-cut into the first season, two-parter The Menagerie.

Our perfect shot is quintessential Star Trek, the sinister Talosian alien keeps a watchful eye over Captain Pike and the captured crash victim, Vina. I considered a shot of Vina herself as the iconic green Orion slave girl to represent ‘The Cage’ but the Talosian with his alien costume, throbbing cranium and classic Trek back-lighting won the honor. I can already tell it’s going to be difficult to pick a single frame to represent each episode of classic Star Trek, but at least it gives me an excuse to watch them all yet again in glorious HD. I hope you enjoy this series of posts, I think it’s going to be fun. Next up – ‘The Man Trap‘!

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Doctor Meh

The Eleven Doctors

Today Doctor Who fans around the world learned that 55-year-old Peter Capaldi has been cast as the 12th incarnation of everyone’s favorite Time Lord. While the choice of Capaldi will no doubt prove to be serviceable, I can’t help thinking that Steven Moffat, Doctor Who’s lead writer and executive producer, blew a huge opportunity to take the show in fresh directions and gain scores of new viewers in the process.

One of the greatest character strengths the Doctor possesses is the ability to regenerate. When the Doctor dies, he is reborn and played by a new actor, sometimes for an entire generation of fans. Yet, in the entire illustrious 50-year history of the BBC show, the part has yet to be played by anyone other than a white male. The actors who play the Doctor have varied in age and style and each brought their own wonderful interpretation of the Doctor to the small screen, but the general dynamic is always the same. The Doctor is always male, and although his companions sometime vary, the are typically young, pretty females.

Imagine the storytelling possibilities that would present themselves if the Doctor regenerated as a woman. Thanks to the spirited portrayal of River Song by actress Alex Kingston, we have a hint at just what such casting could be like. Much like the Doctor, River was a strong-willed, cocky scientist who was always in the thick of trouble. But River is not the Doctor and a true portrayal of that ancient Time Lord by a woman would instantly add interest, drama and a breath of fresh air to the series. Moffat could have broken with tradition and cast a woman as the Doctor or gone even further and cast a new, male companion for her as well. Suddenly all the old stories would be turned on their head, new character interactions could be explored and we might even have a reversal of sexual tension in the TARDIS.

Even if Moffat chose not to explore those themes or kept a female companion for the Doctor, how much more interesting would a female / female dynamic be when chasing down Daleks and saving the universe (yet again)? I always loved the interplay between female leads on shows like Xena: Warrior Princess and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I think it could work wonderfully on Doctor Who. It would also give girls the world over a new female role model that they could look up to and be inspired by.

The forward-looking nature of science fiction shows like Doctor Who, demand characters and stories that make us stop and think. Star Trek portrayed its first black Captain twenty years ago in 1993 when Avery Brooks played DS9’s Captain Sisko and just two years later Voyager cast Kate Mulgrew as Captain Kathryn Janeway. Sooner or later the character of the Doctor will be played by a woman. When that day comes I’ll stand up and cheer loudly for a show I’ve loved since childhood. With the news of Capaldi’s casting I’m buckling down for more of the same kinds of stories we’ve seen for the last 50 years, and that’s a shame. Today I wish I was shouting “Geronimo!” instead of merely muttering “Meh.”

The User Interfaces of Oblivion

As an UI designer, I love seeing what artists come up with for fictional user interfaces. I’ve admired the work talented folks like Jayse Hansen has done for films like Iron Man and the Avengers for some time and secretly longed to do this kind of work. The latest work from Joseph Kosinski and Crater Lake Productions for the film Oblivion is pure magic. The level of detail, both animated and static, is staggering. I hadn’t intended to see Oblivion in the theater, but after seeing this wonderful work I just might. If you want to learn more, head over to GMUNK and check out their process.

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The Good, The Bad & The Timelord

Filming on series 7 of the hit scifi series, Doctor Who, has begun and Mail Online has spied the stars on set, but not in Cardiff. Matt Smith and Karen Gillian were found on the famous desert lots of Almeria. This southern spanish town has been host to over 100 western films including The Magnificent Seven and A Fistful Of Dollars. I’m always wary when scifi crosses paths with westerns, but I trust Steven Moffat to bring us a memorable adventure. How bad could it be, really?

The Mail highlights some fun pictures and gives vague details about the perils the Doctor and his trusty companion Amy Pond will be facing, but nothing that spoils the episode. If you love Doctor Who, surf over to Mail Online and check out the on-set adventures of Smith and Gillian and then set co-ordinates for the BBC this fall for the return of Doctor Who series 7. Geronimo!

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Discovering Babylon 5

SPOILER WARNING: This post contains mild spoilers for the first season of Babylon 5. If you’ve not watched the series yet, and intend to do so some day, you might want to skip this post.

When Babylon 5 originally premiered in January of 1994, I was buried in massive amounts of grad work and didn’t have time to follow the newly announced series on the air. Being the huge, protective Star Trek fan I was, I also considered Babylon 5 to be somewhat of an “also ran” at the time. Now, thanks to my Netflix enabled Apple TV, I decided to see what I was missing and dive head first into the landmark sci-fi TV series. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by what I’ve found.

I will say I’m still green when it comes to Babylon 5. I’m getting ready to wrap up watching the first season so please don’t post spoilers in the comments section. What I’ve discovered so far is a science fiction series which was crafted with love by its creator, J. Michael Straczynski. Although the production levels would be considered low budget by today’s standards, the writing of the characters and the drama is top notch. Like any fledgeling series, Babylon 5 took more than a few episodes to find its space legs. The first episode I really enjoyed was ‘Born to the Purple‘ featuring the Centauri diplomat Londo as played by the talented Peter Jurasik. One aspect that makes the show so appealing is the dialog between characters. Interactions often seem more “real” than they ever did on Star Trek: The Next Generation and there’s a intentional lack of the so-called “technobabble” that often served as a dramatic crutch on Star Trek.

Indeed, in interview after interview, J. Michael Straczynski stated he wanted to do things differently than Roddenberry and Berman did on Trek. Externally, the premise of the show may seem very Trek-like, but scratch more than the surface and the similarities end. Babylon 5 centers around an immense space station build by the Earth Defense Force to serve as a sort of deep-space United Nations to keep the peace between the major races of the galaxy. The story follows the crew and inhabitants of the station as they jockey for position in their day-to-day dealings with each other and the cosmos. The series is unique because it was planned as a single, massive five-year story arc that had a definite beginning, middle and end.

I’ve enjoyed the way Babylon 5 treats certain topics, among them religion. While religion played an important part of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, there it served as the center of faith for the Bajoran race, not of humans. Gene Roddenberry had specifically said that by Star Trek’s time, mankind had “grown out” belief in God. In Babylon 5, characters embrace religion, and in an ironic nod to Gene’s vision, even celebrate its infinite diversity on the planet Earth. One of the first season’s best episodes, “TKO” finds the station’s second in command, Susan Ivanova, dealing with the death of her father and embracing her Jewish heritage. The scenes with Ivanova holding shiva for her papa are touching and bring a sense of humanity to the technologically complex, and sometimes cold universe of Babylon 5.

Other parts of the show I’m enjoying often involve details. A scene between Commander Sinclair and Security Chief Garibaldi, part of which is held in a public men’s room. It’s refreshing because something like this NEVER happened on Star Trek. While I couldn’t possibly imagine Worf and Riker discussing the day’s events while standing at a urinal, it seemed like a perfectly normal scene on Babylon 5. Another funny exchange comes in the form of a funny practical joke Garibaldi and Sinclair play on Ivanova over breakfast one morning. Moments like this are rare in the often overly dramatic universes shows like Babylon 5 inhabit, which is why they’re so welcome by fans like myself.

Perhaps the best part of discovering Babylon 5 is knowing that I’m just at the outset of the series. Over the years, I’ve heard many good things about the show and how it became “must see TV” for an entire generation of scifi fans. I’m gratified to finally have a chance to witness the friendly jibes between Londo and G’kar, to slowly discover the mysteries of the Vorlons and to learn more about the ruthless and enigmatic Psi Corps. Watching the show for the first time is like discovering an entire universe of rich fables all waiting to be unwrapped. For a geek like myself, its a guilty pleasure and one that I highly recommend. Some time ago I wrote a post highlighting my top 10 favorite science fiction shows ever. At the time I had not seen Babylon 5, and so I had no reason to include it on my list. If the series continues to improve as so many on Twitter have told me it does, I may just have to go back and make amends.

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My Top 10 Sci-Fi / Fantasy Shows

The writers over at IO9 recently put together a mega-post of their top 100 sci-fi and fantasy shows of all time. While I agree with many of their selections, the top 10 left something to be desired. They say if you want to build a better mouse trap you had better do it yourself so I’m only too proud to present you with my list. Here is my definitive collection of my 10 all-time favorite science fiction and fantasy television shows. Some of these may very well be your favorites too so I encourage you read on and then post your personal list in the comments below. Engage!

SPOILER WARNING: This post contains both minor and major spoilers for the TV shows discussed. If you don’t want to know key plot points, then you should skip the series you’ve not watched. Now you know and knowing is half the battle.

• • •

Xena: Warrior Princess

1995 – 2001

When Xena: Warrior Princess first hit the scene in 1995 it seemed like little more than a cheesy ode to the likes of Conan the Barbarian. But as the story lines and the characters evolved, Xena quickly amassed a large fan following. The on-screen chemistry between Lucy Lawless as Xena and Renee O’Connor as Gabrielle was undeniable and the writers took advantage of it whenever possible. The “close” relationship between the lead characters became a rallying cry for gay and lesbian fans of the series and helped boost Xena beyond mere comic book camp. No matter what outlandish villain the duo faced, their strengthening love and loyalty for each other always felt real. Add in some serious amounts of action, on-location cinematography and the show’s ability not to take itself too seriously and you have a fantasy adventure that lands Xena in my number 10 spot.

Favorite episodes:

A Day in the Life
The Bitter Suite
A Comedy of Eros

• • •

Mystery Science Theater 3000

1988 – 1999

“If you’re wondering how he eats and breathes and other science facts… LA LA LA then repeat to yourself it’s just a show, I should maybe just relax!” Fans of MST3K have no doubt that it’s one of the best television shows ever to grace the airwaves. Granted the science fiction aspect of Mystery Science Theater was simply a vehicle for heckling old cheesy movies, but the hook worked. Each week we’d tune in to see the latest invention exchange followed inevitably by the stinker movie that Joel or Mike & the Bots would be forced to endure.

MST3K always played to the intelligence of its audience and threw out obscure references that only the most hard-core geeks would find funny. I am proud to say I was one of those geeks and so the show never failed to please. Japanese monster movies were always a sure fire winner, but so were the plethora of public service films that MST3K loved to roast. Who can forget A Date with Your Family? Salad needs more butter, mother!

Favorite episodes:

Invasion U.S.A.
Space Travelers
Boggy Creek II: And The Legend Continues

• • •

Doctor Who

1963 – Present

Doctor Who holds the distinction of being the longest running science fiction show on television. The British born sensation has been a favorite of mine since I first started watching the series in the Tom Baker years. Through the decades the writers behind Doctor Who have managed to keep audiences coming back for more thanks to the cleverest plot device in sci-fi history – regeneration.

When the character of the Doctor “dies”, his body regenerates into a new form, conveniently played by a new actor. So even though the infamous Daleks, Cybermen and Sontarans may be retreads, how the Doctor deals with them constantly feels fresh. Add in an ever evolving set of traveling companions played by a wide range of actors and you have a creation loved by fans around the world.

Doctor Who occasionally flirts with “monster of the week” syndrome, but more often the writing, acting and stories all form a cohesive whole that is the stuff of science fiction legend.

Favorite episodes:

Bad Wolf
School Reunion
Blink

• • •

Farscape

1999 – 2003

Although Farscape held obvious similarities to an earlier sci-fi favorite, Buck Rogers, it was ultimately the show’s attention to detail, snappy writing and marvelous aliens that made it such an endearing series. Conceived by Rockne S. O’Bannon and produced by Jim Henson Productions and Hallmark Entertainment, Farscape went out of its way to create characters and aliens the likes of which, no audience had seen before. From the living space ship Moya and her admirable companion, Pilot to the gorgeous blue-skinned Zhaan, Farscape bucked Star Trek’s trend of portraying aliens as humans with “bumpy noses”. The incredible special effects were indeed awesome, but it was frequently the complex relationship and sexual tension between the lead characters of John Crichton and Aeryn Sun that made Farscape one of the greats.

When it was suddenly and unexpectedly cancelled by Sci-Fi Channel CEO Bonnie Hammer in 2003, fans like myself were devastated. Luckily Farscape has survived in various forms beyond its cancellation and continues to be a source for stunningly original story lines and strong female characters.

Favorite episodes:

Crackers Don’t Matter
Out of Their Minds
Revenging Angel

• • •

Futurama

1999 – 2004

If ever there was a television show created by geeks for geeks, Futurama would be it. Futurama was penned by Matt Groening of “The Simpsons” fame and developed for TV by Groening and David X. Cohen. Both men have a huge admiration for science fiction in film and TV and every episode oozes with reverence for those that came before it. Futurama also boasts some of the most versatile voice actors ever to hit the small screen such as Billy West and Lauren Tom. The original animated series is among my all time favorites to watch over and over with quotable lines of dialog and characters that often leave me in stitches. The show is also notable for its frequent celebrity guest appearances such as Al Gore, Stephen Hawking and almost the entire cast of the original Star Trek.

Comedy Central recently announced it is bringing Futurama back from the great beyond with an entire run of all-new episodes. As far as this geek is concerned, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer bunch of animated aliens, robots and disaffected starship captains. Oh my, yes!

Favorite episodes:

Love’s Labours Lost in Space
Kif Gets Knocked Up A Notch
Parasites Lost

• • •

Star Trek: The Next Generation

1987 – 1994

In the late 80’s Star Trek creator, Gene Roddenberry, finally managed to launch his sequel to the original Star Trek. As Gene penned an update to the Trek universe, he cleverly kept the best parts of the original (the struggle to understand humanity, exploration of the unknown, loyalty & morality) and jettisoned the rest. Roddenberry also knew he didn’t want retreads of Captain Kirk, Doctor McCoy or Mr. Spock, but he did want characters that were just as strong and vibrant.

Instead of a youthful man of action, Roddenberry invented Picard, a captain based as much in exploration and intelligence as Kirk was in machismo. The character of Spock was reinvented into that of the android Data, played masterfully by Brent Spiner who should have easily won an Emmy for his work on Next Gen. The design of the Enterprise, the crew’s gadgets and even the look of the bad guys radically changed. While the resulting effort was impressive (especially for Trekkers), the show stumbled for the first two years.

The Next Generation started to hit its stride with the Emmy Award winning season three cliff hanger “The Best of Both Worlds” and really didn’t look back for the rest of its seven year run. By any measure the acting, special effects and stories behind Next Gen were always top notch. Unfortunately the show was saddled by the very element that gave it life – syndication. Since the show’s time slots varied from market to market, producers frowned on having multiple episode story arcs that audiences would have to keep track of from week to week. Instead Paramount pushed Roddenberry for compartmentalized plots that didn’t require continuity or audience loyalty. While Next Gen did occasionally dabble in long-term story development, it wasn’t until its successor, Deep Space Nine came of age, that writers were able to take advantage of season long arcs. The need for Star Trek: The Next Generation to fit neatly into 45 minute stories is what keeps it from being higher on my list of favorites. Everything else about TNG earns the show my number 5 spot.

Favorite episodes:

The Best of Both Worlds Pt 1 & 2
Yesterday’s Enterprise
Data’s Day

• • •

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

1997 – 2003

To say that Joss Weadon, creator of shows like Buffy, Firefly and Dollhouse has a rabid fan base would be an epic and geeky understatement. Weadon’s fictional universes are intricate, compelling and crafted with cauldrons full of love. Such was the case with Buffy the Vampire Slayer which began life as the TV reboot of the failed movie of the same name. Starring Kristy Swanson as Buffy, Joss later admitted none of the film’s characters were what he had envisioned.

What Joss created with the help of Sarah Michelle Gellar and the rest of the WB’s Buffy cast were stories and characters that quickly became a cult hit. Teenagers all over the country easily identified and thrived on the every day problems of these high school students who just happened to live on the Hellmouth. As the show progressed, the relationships that Weadon built between Buffy, Giles, Willow, Xander and the rest gave the Buffyverse a strange sense of familiarity even in the face of utter fantasy and chaos. Like Xena, Buffy was one of the first weekly TV shows to portray a strong, gay main character, that of Willow Rosenburg which reflected America’s growing comfort with such issues being portrayed on national television. Other controversial topics tackled on Buffy included drug addiction, school shootings and even rape, all cleverly framed and discussed within the guise of a fantasy setting.

Those who watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer will often cite it as one of their very favorite shows. Sadly, there are scores of people who won’t go near it simply because they judge the book of Buffy by its cover. To these people I say – give the Slayer a chance. The show was smarter, more poignant and often more entertaining than any police, medical or legal drama it aired against during its entire six year run. Yes, it’s that good.

Favorite episodes:

Hush
Once More With Feeling
Tabula Rasa

• • •

Star Trek (Original)

1966 – 1969

IO9 listed the original Star Trek as their number one scifi show of all time and I can certainly understand why. Back in 1967 audiences had never seen anything like it. The show as dreamt up by Gene Roddenberry, envisioned a future where man had learned to put aside his differences and work together in harmony. The crew of the Starship Enterprise was populated with every facet of the human race and even one very special Vulcan. Lead by the courageous Captain Kirk, Star Trek boldy went where no man had gone before and set the pattern for a billion dollar science fiction franchise in the process.

Many people have tried to articulate what made Star Trek so popular. Some have theorized that at a time when social and political turmoil was at its height, Star Trek’s positive outlook for the future gave audiences something hopeful to grab onto. But for many kids like myself growing up in the 70’s and seeing Star Trek in syndication, it was always about the relationship between the three friends – Kirk, Spock and McCoy, that made Star Trek such a childhood favorite. As a kid I could never stand the episodes where Kirk and Spock, either via alien influence or shared misunderstanding, were pitted against each other. My favorites were always the stories that allowed Kirk and Spock to team up and solve problems, be they alien, moral or spiritual, together.

By any of today’s television standards, the original Star Trek seems quaint. The show’s effects have been remastered, and the acting is often over the top, but the appeal of the characters and the strength of the underlying stories are undeniable. If they weren’t, Kirk, Spock, Sulu, Scotty and company would never have evolved to become the pop culture icons they are today. The show gave all of its fans hope for the future, inspired generations of youngsters to become doctors, scientists and engineers and preached concepts of tolerance and diversity. Not bad for what Gene Roddenberry once pitched to NBC simply as “Wagon Train to the stars.”

Favorite episodes:

The Ultimate Computer
City on the Edge of Forever
The Doomsday Machine

• • •

Battlestar Galactica (New)

2003 – 2009

If Ron Moore’s re-imagined Battlestar Galactica had remained as strong throughout its entire run as it was in its first two seasons, the show would have easily been my number one choice. When it aired in 2003, BSG was met with a firestorm of criticism from fans of the original series for everything from cylons looking like humans to Boomer and Starbuck’s portrayal by women. Moore wisely ignored the critics and forged ahead with his gritty vision to bring us the story of the destruction of the Twelve Colonies at the hands of the merciless robot Cylons.

The show immediately delved into political and sociological intrigue as it gave us some of the most realistic characters ever to be written for a science fiction series. From the honorable Adama who struggles to lead his fleet to Earth, and Laura Roslin, the school teacher who has the weight of humanity thrust upon her, to the heroic Starbuck and conniving Gaius Baltar, Galactica is replete with classic archetypes. The show moved at lightening pace and wove themes of religion, genocide, sexuality and redemption with the skill of a master tailor.

The failure of Battlestar Galactica is one that often hits series riding high on a wave of popularity – it failed to adequately plan for its final destination. As the third and fourth season progressed, it seemed clear that Moore didn’t have a clear plan about where he wanted to take his characters. The show spent years building up questions fans were dying to have answered in solid, satisfying ways. Instead the audience had to deal with multiple “plot dumps” as well as characters like Starbuck and Cavil morphing to become shadows of their former selves. The writers concentrated story lines around discovering “The Final Five” and gradually turned the dreaded cylons into humanity’s tenuous allies.

Battlestar Galactica was at its best when action was high, characters were true to themselves and humanity’s survival was hanging by a thread. There were enough of these moments to push BSG all the way up to my second favorite sci-fi show of all time. If the final season of Galactica had been even 1/4 as strong as the first, I dare say it might have gone down as one of television’s best dramas. Instead it stands as an impressive example of how a talented writer can rework a strong, original concept and turn it into a compelling, epic story for our generation.

Favorite episodes:

33
The Hand of God
Exodus Pt 1 & 2

• • •

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

1993 – 1999

So here we are at my favorite sci-fi and fantasy show. Deep Space Nine holds this special place in my geeky heart for many reasons, some of which I’ve written about before both here and at the Sci-Fi Cast. Putting aside the top notch acting from Avery Brooks, Andrew Robinson, Nana Visitor, Rene Auberjonois, Armin Shimerman and the rest, Deep Space Nine dared to do things other scifi series, especially Star Trek, didn’t.

Also, unlike Battlestar Galactica which started out hitting on all cylinders, it took several years for DS9 to find its footing. Although looking back now, you never would have realized this because DS9 was an immediate hit with fans and critics alike. The show was nominated for Emmy Awards every year of its run in makeup, cinematography, art direction, special effects, hairstyling, music (direction and composition), and costumes. In 1999 Deep Space Nine was rated the #1 syndicated show in America. The cast was even featured on the cover of TV Guide a total of ten times during it’s seven year run. Not bad for a show that constantly struggled to emerge from the shadow of the Next Generation. Despite its success, looking back on the series now it is easy to spot how the writers struggled to find voices for Odo, Quark and even Sisko at the show’s outset. It wasn’t until Ron Moore joined the production in season three as a supervising producer that the show’s direction started to solidify.

From the show’s conception the writers had dared to mix a volatile topic like religion into the heart of Deep Space Nine. But as the seasons progressed, Sisko’s struggle to reconcile his position as a Starfleet captain with that of Bajor’s most important religious figure, the Emissary of the Prophets, provided the fuel for propelling his character forward. The continuing theme of the occupation of Bajor by the Cardassians not only gave the actors solid material, but it also stayed true to Roddenberry’s vision of Trek’s “mini morality plays”. The chemistry between DS9 duos Kira & Dukat and Garack & Bashir were a delight to behold week after week and kept the audience wanting more. Deep Space Nine also allowed Star Trek fans to get a peek at married life through the union of Worf and Dax, a highlight of seasons 5 & 6.

Finally, as Deep Space Nine’s run neared completion, the ever-worsening threat of the war with The Dominion proved to be a spring board for story after incredible story. It provided the ammunition the writers needed to to push the envelope with multiple episode arcs and skillfully allowed for the construction of dramatic plot points over the final four seasons. Unlike BSG which went out with a whimper, Deep Space Nine’s final season was a roller coaster ride peppered with humor, awesome character development and satisfying, emotional resolutions to long established plot points and questions.

Deep Space Nine is my favorite sci-fi show because it took all the best parts of Star Trek and combined them with all the best parts of a yet-to-be-written BSG. It wove these aspects together with incredible acting, masterful special effects, skillful storytelling and a respect for its audience. I’ve watched all seven seasons of DS9 at least five times and it keeps getting better every time I revisit it. The same cannot be said for Next Generation, the original Star Trek or even Battlestar Galactica and that’s why Sisko and company is at the top of my TV heap.

Favorite episodes:

In the Pale Moonlight
The Sacrifice of Angels
Trials and Tribulations

The Eagle Has Landed

While I was doing research for my sci-fi nightmares post over at The Sci-Fi Cast, I came across a pretty cool die-cast collectable toy that I just had to have. The piece was a 12″ replica of my favorite space ship from Gerry Anderson’s Space: 1999. It had received good reviews on a blog I discovered so I decided to order it. It arrived today and I couldn’t be more pleased.

The toy is heavy, finely detailed and looks exactly like the models from the TV show. I’ve always had a special affinity for the Eagle Transporter since I was a kid and have owned several of them over the years. This just might be the best one to date. What makes it even better was the quality and professionalism of the company I ordered it through – Comet-Miniatures.com based in the UK. After I placed the order, they actually took the extra step to check and confirm it with me before shipping it out. It arrived quickly, and was packed extremely well. It also included a hand-written note along with my receipt which was something I just couldn’t get over. Bravo guys, I’ll be ordering from you again soon!

If you’re a Space: 1999 fan like I am, then head on over to my Flickr page and check out the wonderful pictures of the toy that Talos took for me today at the office. If I had money to blow, I’d order the larger 23″ Signature Edition, but all-in-all this one really is perfect. I’m so happy!

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Lucas’ Loose Threads

SPOILER WARNING: This post contains basic spoilers for all six Star Wars films. If you are the only person left in the universe who has not seen these movies, then you might not want to read on. Just sayin’.

If there was a bright spot regarding the Star Wars prequels, it was the opportunity for fans to get answers to many of the questions Lucas introduced in episodes IV, V and VI. Fans were hungry for any information relating to the Jedi Order, the evil Sith, where Anakin came from, the story of his children and more. With very few exceptions, Lucas dutifully managed to tie up many of the various plot lines in neat little bundles and send even the most rabid fans home satisfied.

Although I freely admit I’m far more of a Trekkie than a Star Wars geek, there are still questions that none of the six movies answered to my satisfaction. Since I’m not familiar with every bit of the Star Wars universe, I thought I would throw some of these questions out to the masses and see if anyone had plausible explanations for how they fit into the grand scheme of all things Star Wars.

“Do you remember your real mother?”

In Return of the Jedi, right before Luke goes off to turn himself over to the Vader and the Emperor, he has a farewell talk with Leia where he explains why he has to leave. Luke begins the scene with a simple question to Leia “Do you remember your mother? Your real mother?” Leia responds that “She died when I was very young. She was beautiful, but sad.” When I saw this scene in the theatre (before the prequels) I assumed Leia was speaking of her real mother, not her adopted one, which is the point of Luke asking about her “real mother”. But since we know from Revenge of the Sith that Padmé died in child birth, Leia couldn’t have been talking about Padmé.

The dialog is confusing on several levels and because of that, I don’t think we have an accurate understanding of whom Leia is describing. Luke is obviously trying to get some info, any info on his mother, and so he asks his sister about their collective mom. But since the story from Episode III doesn’t jibe with what Leia describes, this entire scene seems to be apocryphal. If Leia was simply describing Queen Breha Organa, then there was little dramatic motivation for Luke’s question in the first place.

“The son of Skywalker must not become a Jedi”

Although Lucas does a satisfying job of explaining the birth of Luke and Leia, and how they were hid from the Empire, we are still left with a pivotal unanswered question. Namely how and when did Darth Vader discover he had a son? The answer to this question isn’t just one of curiosity, it also holds one of the key developments in the entire story arc. Since Emperor Palpatine lies to Vader and explains that Anakin’s own anger killed Padmé, the eventual discovery of Luke must come as a revelation on multiple levels. This revelation would logically be the tipping point where Vader decides to plot to overthrow the Emperor.

The most logical explanation is that after the Battle of Yavin, Imperial spies learn that the young rebel who destroyed the Death Star was named Luke Skywalker. Vader instantly realizes he has a son and that the Emperor has lied to him. If this is the case, then this dramatic development is one of the greatest missed opportunities in the entire series. I would love to see how Vader’s rage played out against the Emperor, but alas this was not to be.

From the audience’s point of view, the first time Darth is informed about the “Son of Skywalker” is in The Empire Strikes Back when the Emperor himself tells Vader that “The son of Skywalker must not become a Jedi”. Thanks to Vader’s non-reaction in this scene, between Episodes III and V, Darth must somehow learn of Luke, the Emperor’s deception about Padmé’s death, and a long lost son. Through all of this, ironically Vader doesn’t even blink. I don’t buy it for one second.

The Virgin Birth

In The Phantom Menace we learn the origin of Anakin Skywalker. Shmi tells Obi Wan and Qui-Jon that amazingly, Anakin had no father. This in itself wouldn’t be too difficult to accept, except for the strange scene in Revenge of the Sith where Palpatine tells Anakin the tragedy of Darth Plagueis. The future Emperor relays the story of a Sith master so powerful he was able to control life itself. The subtext of this scene is that Plagueis was Palpatine’s master and that it was Palpatine himself who slew Plagueis after he had taught his young apprentice everything he knew.

Given the implied nature of the scene, we are left with many questions. Chief among them – is Palpatine Anakin’s “father”? Did Plagueis himself will Anakin into existence by using Shmi Skywalker to bring him to term? Did Palpatine kill Plagueis when he learned he was grooming a replacement apprentice? All of these questions (and more) are never answered in the films. Some Star Wars comics have put forth theories about these plot points, but since they cannot be considered “cannon” they remain only fan speculation.

Although it’s no secret that I consider the prequels to be inferior follow-ups to the original Star Wars trilogy, it is none-the-less a testament to Lucas’ storytelling that I find myself asking these questions, even today. The archetypes he used in weaving the Star Wars universe are powerful and speak to the allure of great drama. Given Lucas’ propensity to keep churning out all things Star Wars, we may very well get many of our answers. I think I speak for fans everywhere when I say, go for it George, just leave Jar Jar in a galaxy far, far away… from us.

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Bare Bones Trek: TOS

After my recent Ode to an Outpost piece about Deep Space Nine, I had several readers tweet me asking for an “essentials” guide to the series. Basically it would be all the episodes of the DS9 that I would recommend to a newbie so they could become familiar with the show, watch very best parts and leave the questionable bits behind.

I actually think this is a great idea, kind of like the iTunes essentials playlists that Apple puts together for a particular genre of music. Given the fact that my friend Louie is attempting to familarize himself with Star Trek before the big movie hits next spring, I thought it best to start with Star Trek: The Original Series. If things go well, I’ll write similar guides for other Trek series, including DS9.

What follows are my bare bones suggestions for anyone who has never watched the Original Series. They are the absolute minimum a Trek newbie should watch to get a sense for the show and its characters. Of course, as with anything, your milage may vary so let me know if you found this post helpful. Thanks!

Season One

Balance of Terror

Although the episode is a bit clunky due to the fact that it’s one of the earliest scripts, it’s a must watch for any Trek newbie. The story introduces the Romulans to the Star Trek universe and defines their place in future stories. It also highlights Leonard Nimoy’s early emotional portrayal as Spock, something that quickly changes.

Space Seed

One of the best episodes of the entire series, it lays out the foundation for the second Star Trek film, The Wrath of Kahn. Filled with great drama and even a few action scenes thrown in for good measure, Space Seed helps define the history of Star Trek’s future.

Devil in the Dark

A classic haunted house tale that is the first time Kirk and Spock start to develop the friendship that carries them through the next 40 years. The episode is filled with mystery and suspense and features some nice interplay between Nimoy and Shatner. Devil in the Dark is also the first time McCoy utters his famous tag line “I’m a doctor not a…” in this case, “bricklayer”. Classic!

City on the Edge of Forever

Regarded by many Star Trek fans to be the very best episode of the Original Series, City on the Edge of Forever is a powerful love story that gives Shatner the rare chance to under-act. It also strengthens the bond between Kirk & Spock, while serving as a wonderful example of how to write an effective time travel story. Definitely a must see.

Season Two

Amok Time

Amok Time gives us a small glimpse into the history of Spock’s home planet, its culture and more. The story revolves around the “big three” – Kirk, Spock & McCoy and features a number of great scenes between the lead actors. Aspects of Vulcan revealed in Amok Time pop up in numerous places throughout all of Star Trek.

The Doomsday Machine

Not a whole lot of character development here, but that’s okay. The Doomsday Machine is one of my all-time favorite episodes and is basically an action/suspense story in space. The writers cleverly put Spock & McCoy in the middle of the action, and at each other’s throats which always makes for the best episodes.

Journey to Babel

If any new fan is looking to understand the character of Spock as portrayed by Leonard Nimoy and created by Gene Roddenberry, then Journey to Babel is your best guide. The story introduces his human mother, Amanda, and his Vulcan father, Sarek as murder breaks out aboard the Starship Enterprise. The episode features terrific character development and gives fans an understanding of the future events of The Next Generation as well as Star Trek III, IV & V.

The Trouble with Tribbles

Although this episode doesn’t contain the strongest story, or the best acting, it is a rare funny episode of Star Trek. This, plus the fact that if you get asked about Tribbles by a Star Trek fan, and you’re not familiar with them, you’re libel to get some nasty looks. It is also necessary viewing for appreciating the brilliant Deep Space Nine episode Trials and Tribulations. Trust me on this one.

The Ultimate Computer

Many episodes of Star Trek toss out the name “Daystrom” in reference to the character portrayed by William Marshall from The Ultimate Computer. Daystrom is the Star Trek equivalent of Albert Einstein, and the story showcased here reveals where the character originated. It also serves as a wonderful example of how Kirk’s love of the Enterprise effects his decision making, here and in the movies.


Season Three

Requiem for Methuselah

One of the best episodes from the third season, Requiem once again gives the big three the chance to develop their character’s relationships as they attempt to solve the eternal riddle of the mysterious Mr. Flint. The final scene in this episode serves as a sign post to understanding Spock’s ongoing relationship with Kirk, both as First Officer to Captain as well as one friend to another.

Enhance Section 324!

Want to know a sure-fire way to get three geeks all hot and bothered faster than warp 9.5? Easy, just ask them what specious scientific principals are abused most often by sci-fi authors! Dave, Jen and I tackle this topic whole-heartedly in Episode 15 of The Sci-Fi Cast and the results are funny indeed. We also review the week’s news including a nerdy discussion of the new Enterprise, the latest rumors about Doctor Who and just why you have to be naked to travel through time. Head on over to The Sci-Fi Cast and check out episode 15 today!