In the brilliant but devastating Doctor Who episode "Midnight," the Doctor is on a sightseeing expedition that turns deadly when an alien attacks the "space train," and takes over the body of one of the passengers.
The increasing sophistication of the alien -- whose real form we never see -- as it gradually learns to operate the body of the passenger it has hijacked is one of the most chilling progressions the series ever conceived. The character of Sky Silvestri is played to the absolute hilt by actress Lesley Sharp, and her riveting portrayal of an intelligence that is intrinsically hostile to other life forms is the stuff of nightmares.
By far the scariest thing about the episode, however, is how the other passengers react. Doctor Who doesn't often flinch from showing us the ugly side of humanity, and here is mob psychology at its absolute worst -- looking for someone to blame for what has happened, and unfortunately landing on the wrong person. The result is near catastrophe, and the resolution of the story one of the most poignant and disturbing scenes I've ever watched. (Ask any Whovian about the line "The Hostess -- what was her name?" and you'll be sure to get a reaction, as well as possibly depressing them for the rest of the day.)
If you, like me, never quite got over the obsession with dinosaurs we had as children, there's a new book you really need to read.
In The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World, author Stephen Brusatte describes in brilliantly vivid language the most current knowledge of these impressive animals who for almost two hundred million years were the dominant life forms on Earth. The huge, lumbering T. rexes and stegosauruses that we usually think of are only the most obvious members of a group that had more diversity than mammals do today; there were not only terrestrial dinosaurs of pretty much every size and shape, there were aerial ones from the tiny Sordes pilosus (wingspan of only a half a meter) to the impossibly huge Quetzalcoatlus, with a ten-meter wingspan and a mass of two hundred kilograms. There were aquatic dinosaurs, arboreal dinosaurs, carnivores and herbivores, ones with feathers and scales and something very like hair, ones with teeth as big as your hand and others with no teeth at all.
Brusatte is a rising star in the field of paleontology, and writes with the clear confidence of someone who not only is an expert but has tremendous passion and enthusiasm. If you're looking for a book for a dinosaur-loving friend -- or maybe you're the dino aficionado -- this one is a must-read.
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