Spoilers for season 1 of The Magicians (and if you know what happens later in the books…you know where this is headed).

The idea that certain people can tap into an incredible amount of power but at an incredible cost is interesting story material. You can play with motivations. What circumstances would push a person to take on that much power, knowing they will probably die?

TV Tropes calls it the Deadly Upgrade. In The Magicians, a deadly upgrade results in a niffin, a malicious spirit of magic.

Do you know what a niffin is? It’s when too much runs through you. It consumes you. Only the magic is left. But you’re not you anymore, you’re lost.

– 1×03 “Consequences of Advanced Spellcasting”

What if most magicians have something like a gag reflex when they get up to high levels of power? Some kind of hard-wired reaction that makes them back down so that they don’t turn into niffins. What if certain magicians can ignore that reflex and keep using a dangerous amount of power, even though it’s harmful to them?

(more…)

what-magic-is

One of my favorite things about fantasy stories is when they make up their own rules for how their world works and then stick to those rules.

Here’s a list of what magic is and what it isn’t, according to characters in season 1 of SyFy’s The Magicians.

“There’s so such thing as safe magic. Might as well take a risk.” (1×01 – Unauthorized Magic)

“Funny little irony they don’t tell you. Magic doesn’t come from talent. It comes from pain.” (Eliot, 1×02 – Source of Magic)

“Being a magician has always been about, in part, accruing power. Power over yourself, the elements, the future. But power, as you all know, does not come cheaply.” (Dean Fogg, 1×03 – Consequences of Advanced Spellcasting)

“Magic doesn’t solve problems. It magnifies them.” (Conversation between Quentin and Dean Fogg, 1×04 – The World in the Walls)

Quentin: What is the point of magic if we can’t fix real problems?
Dean Fogg: We can fix some things. So we fix what we can. (1×05 – Mendings, Major and Minor)

“A great magician is magic.” (Mayakovsky, 1×07 – The Mayakovsky Circumstance)

“What we call magic is a set of tools left over from Creation. […] The tools were left for us to find.” (Richard, 1×08 – The Strangled Heart)

“Magic is science. Hard to crack on your own but far from impossible if you have the natural bend.” (Kira, 1×09 – The Writing Room)

Quentin: Okay, what is magic actually for?
Julia: For fixing things, dummy. (1×12 – Thirty-Nine Graves)

Hero, Sidekick, Villain

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created a classic trio of characters with his Sherlock stories: hero, sidekick, and villain. For example: Sherlock, Dr. Watson, and Moriarty.

I took a look at other stories to see how closely they fit Conan Doyle’s setup. These aren’t in any particular order and this certainly isn’t an exhaustive list — just off the top of my head.

Story Hero Sidekick Villain
Sherlock Sherlock Dr. John Watson Moriarty
Harry Potter Harry Ron, Hermione Voldemort
Merlin (v1) Merlin Arthur Morgana
Merlin (v2) Arthur Merlin Mordred
Fringe Peter/Olivia Walter, Astrid Walternate
Superman Superman Jimmy Olsen Lex Luthor
Batman Batman Robin The Joker
Doctor Who The Doctor [companion] The Master
Teen Wolf Scott McCall [his pack] [multiple]
Haven Audrey Nathan, Duke the Troubles
Chuck Chuck, Sarah Casey [multiple]
Back to the Future Marty Doc Brown Biff
Dresden Files Harry Murphy, [multiple] [multiple]
Roswell Max [his friends] FBI
Matilda Matilda (none) her parents, Trunchbull
The Sandlot Benny Smalls the Beast
Star Wars (original triology) Luke Han, Leia Darth Vader

I really enjoyed the stories this season on Doctor Who. Here are some of my favorite parts. (Spoilers, obviously.)

9×04 “Before the Flood”

The bootstrap paradox happens when you have an event with no origin point. The Doctor’s example is with Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. I knew about this paradox from before, but not by name. The example I’m familiar with is in Back to the Future. At the Enchantment Under the Sea dance, Marty plays “Johnny B. Goode” by Chuck Barry on stage, which is an old song from Marty’s perspective but didn’t exist yet in 1955. One of the band members calls Chuck Barry during the performance to tell him this is the sound he’s been looking for. Supposedly, Marty inspired Chuck Barry to write “Johnny B. Goode,” but Marty was playing Chuck Barry’s song in the first place. Then…who came up with Johnny B. Goode? In this case, the song doesn’t have an origin point.

9×05 “The Girl Who Died”

“People talk about premonition as if it’s something strange. It’s not. It’s just a memory in the wrong direction.”

When the Doctor said this it made me think: Would time travelers have premonitions more often than non-time travelers? If you’re moving back and forth in time, maybe your memory is more flexible and more open to receiving information out of order.

I loved the flashback to Pompeii and the connection to why the Doctor chose the Roman Senator’s face. In Pompeii, the Doctor saved one family but lost the city. Here, he saves the village but loses one person (Ashildr). But still losing Ashildr isn’t good enough, so the Doctor saves her too. He unintentionally makes her immortal, which is a nice parallel to when Rose/Bad Wolf saved Captain Jack Harkness and made him immortal by accident.

9×06 “The Girl Who Lived”

This was an interesting look at the downsides of being immortal. Ashildr has a lot of life experiences and opportunities to learn new things but she is alone and disconnected from humanity. She can’t even remember most of what she has done because her brain is still human and not built to store memories for an unlimited time. She has to rely on journals to record her life and be able to reference what has happened in the past.

“I just want you to attack first. Then my conscience is clean.”

This shows one of my favorite parts of the Doctor’s personality: He is sassy, honest, and always open to non-violence. But he is fully ready to fight if necessary.

9×11 “Heaven Sent”

“The Doctor will see you now!”

This has been a repeated line, and the Doctor says it in different contexts. Sometimes light and funny. Sometimes angry and aggressive, like in this episode.

The Doctor has a “storeroom” in his mind where he retreats to think during emergencies. It’s kind of like a mind palace for dire situations. Because the Doctor can think so fast, time seems to slow down for him in an emergency, so he ends up with enough time to think in his storeroom, which looks like the console room in the TARDIS. These scenes change up the pace from when the Doctor is running around the castle.

9×12 “Hell Bent”

The episode starts with the Doctor talking to Clara in a diner. I thought it was a memory or a dream at first but no—the diner and Clara are real, and we’re seeing scenes out of order. It’s a good use of misdirection.

We learn more about the Time Lords and the Doctor’s relationship to his own people. The governing council sees him as a threat while the civilians sees him as a hero. We still don’t know exactly why the Doctor ran away from Gallifrey but now we know of a couple more possibilities. If he is the hybrid that’s destined to destroy the universe, then he might have run away because 1) he was afraid of what the Time Lords would do to him if they knew his destiny or 2) he was afraid of what he might be capable of so he thought it would be safer to leave.

The second half of season 9 was especially strong, and I’m already looking forward to next year’s episodes.