Just a brief update here. I'm in Florida, intending to catch the STS-132 launch on friday. Not that I'll be on Atlantis, mind, but certainly aiming my camera at it and hoping - unlike last time - not to lose said camera a few hours later. If I do get some usable pics, I'll post them up here. Excited? Just a bit.
Meanwhile, thoughts on Doctor Who in the last post prompt me to mention Stargate: Universe, which has resumed its second half-season run (or whatever they call these things) and is - in my view - really quite good and worth checking out. Other than the Kurt Russel film, and the occasional incomprehensible episode caught on some hotel TV channel over the years, I've never seen anything related to the Stargate franchise so I came to this more or less cold, and it's very, very enjoyable. The premise is excellent, big dumb object stuff: a crew of military and civilian types end up stranded aboard a huge alien spacecraft zipping away from Earth. It's the present day, more or less, so they have only limited tech, and of course only what they managed to bring with them during the hasty boarding process. The ship (Destiny) is huge and mysterious but essentially benign - it's like an abandoned ocean liner, with some really inventive and convincing "alien art deco" set and prop design work. Because they've been exposed to other relics left behind by the same aliens, the humans have some idea how to get the ship to work for them, but not everything is (yet) in their control. The ship appears to be retracing the network of FTL stargates left behind during an earlier phase, so it makes period hops through hyperspace before emerging within gate range of some planet or other. Typically, the crew have several hours to use the onboard stargate (or shuttle) to explore the planet, before the ship goes FTL again. In its planet-of-the-week structure, it's a bit like Space:1999, only done right. The character interactions work well, with tension developing between the civilians and military staff - but in a believable, not too melodramatic way. After a botched civilian takeover, the two parties have - shock, horror - to work together and rebuild trust. Robert Carlisle is very good as the scientist Rush, as well, albeit a little too obviously the sociopathic mathematician type. It's a long way from Hamish Macbeth and Begbie, that's for sure.
What's great, though - and has me wondering why this series hasn't been making bigger waves - is the way science is handled. Granted, the show has to work with the existing setup of the Stargate universe, so you've got FTL and some kind of psychic communication network which allows the crew to periodically hop into the bodies of people back on home on Earth. But all that's handled intelligently, and what's really impressive is the amount of actual, honest to god science the writers have managed to work into the episodes. In a recent installment, for instance, the ship came out of FTL around a young star that wasn't even around when the Destiny's charts were compiled. The star was identified as still being in its T-tauri phase, which immediately made a paradox of the fact that it appeared to have an old, Earth-type planet in orbit around it. Now, the episode didn't go on to provide an unequivocal explanation for this riddle - other than by suggesting that the planet had to be some kind of artefact - but it was the mere fact of framing this puzzle in the first place that had me impressed. This is actual stellar astronomy, slotted neatly into TV SF. I don't know the exact extent of his involvement, but one can only presume that "creative consultant" John Scalzi has a lot to be thanked for here - if so, good on him, and good on the show's people for taking the step of bringing someone like Scalzi in. I also can't help but think that if SF:U had been on telly ten or even five years ago, before the recent rash of successful, intelligent SF shows (not all of which have been to my taste, it has to be said) fandom and the blogosphere in general would be going absolutely bananas for it. It's exactly the kind of TV SF show we've been moaning about not getting for years - and now it's on and the general concensus seems to be borderline disinterest. I might be reading things wrongly, though. I hope I'm not, and I hope the show picks up enough viewers to sustain its run, because I want more of it.
So, anyway. Stargate: Universe. Me likey.