Time traveling: Minnesota has many historic — even prehistoric — sites worth seeing

You don’t have to be Indiana Jones to be an archaeologist, and you don’t have to be Marty McFly to travel back in time. Minnesota is rich with its own treasures from antiquity, with sites across the state that tell the story of American Indian and European settlement in the region.

Visiting these historic places is not without controversy, as shrinking state budgets and a growing respect for the sanctity local Indians hold for some locations have led to restrictions and even some closures. Most notably, Grand Mound near International Falls, a prehistoric burial ground older than the Roman Empire, has been closed since 2007.

But there are plenty of wonders still to be seen, none more than a few hours’ drive from the Twin Cities. For an archaeological tour of the Upper Midwest, consider these sites:

Originally published July 31, 2011 in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Read the complete article.

TV Club: Doctor Who, “The Daleks”

“The Daleks” (season 1, episodes 5-11. Originally aired Dec. 21, 1963-Feb. 1, 1964)

I don’t think it’s hyperbole to suggest that “The Daleks” might be the most important serial in the history of Doctor Who. I’m not saying it’s the best—though it is very good—but it was such a huge success at such an early stage in the show’s development that it changed what the show was about at its core. It made the show an instant hit, and sparked a frenzy of interest in the Daleks, complete with tons of cheap toys and novelty records. And its influence still echoes in both major and minor ways, from helping to define the Doctor by defining who his enemies are, to establishing a tradition of dramatically revealing a serial’s main villain as the cliffhanger of its first episode.

Originally published July 31, 2011 on avclub.com. Read the complete article.

TV Club: Doctor Who, “The Television Movie”

“Doctor Who: The Television Movie” (Originally aired May 27, 1996)

The lone official appearance of the Eighth incarnation of the Doctor marks an odd, outlying moment in the history of Doctor Who, a brief reappearance during a nearly unbroken 15-year void between the 1989 cancellation of the original series and the 2005 revival. The TV movie, broadcast on Fox in 1996, was meant to be a pilot that could kick off a new series of its own, jointly produced by the BBC and the American studio Universal. The fact that it didn’t do so is simply explained: It’s terrible. DW:TVM is deeply flawed, incomprehensible to first-time viewers, infuriating and incomprehensible to longtime fans, and basically off-putting to anyone who just who likes a good story well told. It is formulaic and fatally wrecked by a script that becomes more and more incoherent as it goes along, not to mention a wretchedly over-the-top performance by Eric Roberts as a snake-eyed version of the Master, the Doctor’s longtime Time Lord nemesis.

Having said that, it’s also a key transition, crucial to the development of Doctor Who into what we know it as today. It did much to rescue the series from the doldrums of the 1980s, and anticipated or innovated much of the approach that the 2005 revival would take. Though it tanked in the ratings (partly because it aired opposite the series finale of Roseanne), I think it helped spark the idea that the continuation of Doctor Who was worth pursuing, even if this version wasn’t. Russell T. Davies’ 2005 revival, especially the debut episode “Rose,” would fix many of the mistakes made here, and get a relaunch off the ground the right way.

Originally published July 24, 2011 on avclub.com. Read the complete article.

The Red Skull vs. Mark Zuckerberg: Who’d win in a fight?

Every great superhero needs an arch-nemesis, and Captain America’s got a particularly nasty one in the Red Skull, a Nazi weapons expert and terrorist leader personally trained by Hitler. Hugo Weaving dons the maniac’s mask in “Captain America: The First Avenger,” debuting on Friday. The Red Skull is one of the most dangerous of all comic-book supervillains — but how would he get along with other bad guys from recent movies?

Originally published July 20, 2011 on msnbc.com. Read the complete article.

Why ‘Batman’ is way cooler than ‘Captain America’

One of comics’ most iconic superheroes gets his first major movie appearance on Friday in “Captain America: The First Avenger.” But though the super-soldier has been around since World War Two, he’s probably not as familiar to the average filmgoer as Batman, who’ll return to theaters next year in “The Dark Knight Rises.” How do the two of them stack up against each other? Let’s count the ways.

Originally published July 19, 2011 on msnbc.com. Read the complete article.

TV Club: Doctor Who, “Time and the Rani”

“Time and the Rani” (season 24, episodes 1-4; originally aired 9/7/1987-9/28/1987)

By the time the Seventh Doctor rolled around, Doctor Who was probably already in a death spiral, weakened by years of cumulative creative gaffes, schedule changes, and growing hostility from the BBC brass. By now, they were making shorter seasons on a smaller budget, and I suspect the show was only kept on the air because the Beeb needed a sacrificial lamb to program against Coronation Street, the most popular soap opera of its day. The previous year’s season-spanning “Trial of a Time Lord” had ended in backstage disaster. Scriptwriter Robert Holmes died with the final episode unfinished. Script editor Eric Saward quit, incumbent Doctor Colin Baker was fired, and both complained bitterly in the press. Producer John Nathan-Turner also wanted to leave, and had made a deal to move on to a more prestigious show in exchange for firing Baker. Since he thought he was out the door, he didn’t try to hire their replacements and made no plans for the upcoming season. Which came back to bite him when the BBC decided to make him stay on Doctor Who after all, a decision that seems a little mystifying to me because everything I’ve read suggests that JNT was largely responsible for almost every change in the 1980s that made the show worse.

Originally published July 17, 2011 on avclub.com. Read the complete article.

Harry Potter live chat

Earlier today, I met with fans of the Harry Potter series for a live chat on MSNBC.com to discuss the final movie, the differences between the books and the films, and the future of the series. The chat’s over now, but you can see a transcript of it here.

TV Club: Doctor Who, “The Twin Dilemma”

“The Twin Dilemma” (season 21, episodes 23-26; originally aired 3/22/1984-3/30/1984)

Every regeneration story in Doctor Who is, in a sense, a twin dilemma: Who’s the new guy, and how will he pick up the torch? They carry the double burden of (re-)introducing the much-changed star to potentially skeptical fans, and getting him out interacting with the universe where he can play the hero. “The Twin Dilemma,” which introduces Colin Baker as the mercurial Sixth Doctor, is legendary for its excruciating failure on both those counts, routinely ranked dead last in fan polls and widely considered the start of the careening path to cancellation a few years later. Part of its bad rep was just bad timing: It had the ill luck to follow directly after “The Caves of Androzani,” Peter Davison’s final and most well-received story. But there’s not much else that can take the sting out of this one: “Twin Dilemma” is just an unpleasant, tacky, dull affair starring an obnoxious, overbearing bully. The best that can be said for it is that the idea behind the Sixth Doctor’s unlikeable character wasn’t terrible; but the actual presentation was not just terrible, but toxic.

Originally published July 10, 2011 on avclub.com. Read the complete article.

TV Club: Doctor Who, “Castrovalva”

“Castrovalva” (series 19, episodes 1-4; originally aired 1/4/1982-1/12/1982)

“Castrovalva” is far from the worst Doctor Who would ever inflict on the TV viewing public, but the decline and fall of the show is clearly in evidence. It’s not a story I would show someone if I wanted them to think Doctor Who was worth watching. It’s got its moments and a fine performance by new lead actor Peter Davison, but they don’t make up for its defects—chiefly an unclear and often dull storyline, poor costumes, and atrocious acting by some of the secondary characters. It’s unwelcoming to new viewers, and crammed overfull of fanboy trivia, particularly in the first couple of episodes.

The Eighties were not kind to Doctor Who. While I think there’s some merit to be found in the series in each of its incarnations and reinventions from 1963 onward, I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to suggest that the gold is very thin on the ground in the period we’re about to dive into, the age of the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Doctors. Don’t get me wrong, this was never a perfect show. It always struggled with low budgets, rushed production, and the limitations of ’60s and ’70s TV technology. But somewhere along the line, things started to spiral down. Star Wars has the prequels. Star Trek has Voyager. And Doctor Who has the 1980s tenure of producer John Nathan-Turner, a period starting with Tom Baker’s final year as the Fourth Doctor and covering a tumultuous period that may hold a record for the farthest fall from excellence in television history.

Originally published July 3, 2011 on avclub.com. Read the complete article.

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