A Hall of Fame case for Jamie Moyer

My wife taught at a Boston-area private school for a number of years. One morning in 2007, she was enjoying a complimentary breakfast in the teacher’s lounge with three or four other teachers, when someone commented on the latest major league baseball steroid scandal featured in that day’s Boston Globe. Eventually, another teacher asked the assembled group to name a single current major league baseball that he or she could absolutely guarantee had never taken steroids.

At precisely the same moment, my wife and a fellow teacher answered, “Jamie Moyer.”

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Following a 1991 season in which he went 0-5 (5.74 ERA), Jamie Moyer was released by the St. Louis Cardinals, his third major league (ML) team since his June 1986 debut with the Chicago Cubs. Moyer’s ML record was just 34-54, with a 4.56 ERA. A few months later, he re-signed with the Chicago Cubs, only to be released at the end of Spring Training. The Detroit Tigers organization then signed and released him; he did not thrown a big-league pitch in 1992. In December 1992, he signed with the Baltimore Orioles. This time Moyer stuck, going 12-9 (3.43) in 25 starts—only to go 13-13 (4.96) in 41 starts over the next two season. Released AGAIN after the 1995 season, Moyer signed with the Boston Red Sox. Through July 30, 1996, Moyer had appeared in 23 games (10 starts) for the Red Sox, going 7-1 with a 4.50 ERA.

On that day, Jamie Moyer was traded to the Seattle Mariners for outfielder Darren Bragg. After 10 years and six teams, the 33-year-old left-hander had a ML record of 66-77 (4.50) in 239 major league games (187 starts). In 1,206 2/3 innings pitched [IP], Moyer had a 1.43 WHIP,  5.4 K/9 , and 1.8 strikeout-to-walk ratio (K/BB).

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The 2008 playoffs did not start well for 45-year-old Jamie Moyer, as he allowed eight earned runs in 5 1/3 innings (13.50 ERA) against the Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Dodgers. In the regular season, Moyer had gone 16-7 (3.71) in 33 starts and 196 1/3 innings, helping the Philadelphia Phillies win their 2nd consecutive National League East championship, starting and winning the division-clinching game both years. Moyer had excelled in his five previous postseason starts for the Mariners (1997, 2001) and Phillies (2007), going 3-1 (2.43) over 29 2/3 innings. When he took the mound in Citizens Bank Park on the night of October 25, 2008 for his first (and only) World Series start, the Phillies and Tampa Bay Rays were tied at one win apiece.  While he did not get the win, Moyer’s solid 6 1/3 innings (3 ER, 5 H, 1 BB, 5 K, 0 HR) paved the way for the Phillies’ 5-4 victory. The Phillies ultimately won the Series in five games, making Moyer a World Champion.

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When starting pitchers turn 34, they are typically approaching the end of their careers. Pitch velocity and K/9 are already well in decline, while HR/9 and BB/9 are on the upswing. Pitchers’ arms are simply not built to withstand that much abuse.

This makes what Jamie Moyer did after being traded to Seattle even more remarkable. From the day of the trade through his last ML appearance (May 27, 2012), Moyer went 203-132 (4.15), hurling 2,867 2/3 innings over 451 starts (and six relief appearances; 6 1/3 innings per start). Pitching for the Mariners, Phillies (to whom he was traded August 19, 2006 for two no-name minor-leaguers), and Colorado Rockies (10 2012 starts), Moyer finished in the top six in Cy Young Award voting three times, was an All-Star (2003) and won 20 games twice (2001, 2003).

By the way, only 114 ML pitchers (out of ~19,000) have won as many as 203 games in their entire careers.

At the start of the 1997 season, Moyer was 34 years old. Only Cy Young (225) and Phil Niekro (221) won more games after turning 34 than Moyer (197), and only Niekro made more starts (522 to 440). Moyer also ranks 5th in IP (2,796 2/3) and 7th in strikeouts (1,685) after turning 34.

Moyer turned 40 on November 18, 2002. From that point on, he made 251 starts, going 105-84 (4.44) over 1,555 1/3 innings, with 913 strikeouts. Only Niekro had more wins, starts and IP after turning 40, and only Nolan Ryan, Niekro and Randy Johnson struck out more batters.

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On May 7, 2010, Jamie Moyer pitched a complete-game, two-hit shutout for the Philadelphia Phillies, beating the Atlanta Braves 7-0. He was 47 years, 170 days old, making him the oldest major league pitcher ever to throw a shutout. According to PITCHf/x data, Moyer’s fastball averaged 80.9 mph, and his change-up 74.4 mph, that season. While lower than in previous years, these average velocities were in line with the low-80’s fastball and low 70’s changeup Moyer threw throughout his career.

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When Moyer walked off a ML mound for the last time, he was 49 years, 193 days old. His career record was

  • 269 wins (35th all-time, 9th among left-handers, with only Tommy John and Jim Kaat not in the ML Baseball Hall of Fame [HOF]) and 209 losses (37th)
  • 638 games started (of 15 ML pitchers with more starts; only Roger Clemens and Kaat not in HOF)
  • 4,074 innings pitched (40th all-time; 10th among left-handers; 0nly John, Kaat and Frank Tanana not in HOF)
  • 2,441 career strikeouts (39th)
  • Won 10 or more games 13 times, made 30 or more starts 13 times, pitched 188 or more innings 13 times, had ERA<4.00 eight times (min. 162 IP), and did all four seven times.

Look, I get it. Moyer had a high career ERA (his 103 ERA+ is only slightly better than average), never dropping below 3.27 in any season. He allowed 157 more hits (4,231) than innings pitched. He yielded more home runs (522) than any other ML pitcher. His career WHIP of 1.32, K/9 of 5.4 and K/BB of 2.1 are meh. His career WAR of 50.2 is solid (102nd all time), but well below the average 73.9 for HOF pitchers, as is his 7-year career peak WAR (33.2 vs. 50.3) and JAWS (41.8 vs. 62.1).

So the sabermetricians will likely not look twice at Jamie Moyer when he first appears on a HOF ballot, probably in 2018.

Still, consider Moyer’s average season over the 13 seasons after he turned 34 (1997-2009):

14-9, 4.11, 32 GS, 202 1/3 IP, 206 H, 53 BB, 122 K, 26 HR, 1.15 WHIP, 5.4 K/9, 2.3 K/BB

ERA aside (though his 111 ERA+ those seasons was decent), that is a remarkably solid, durable and consistent performance for any pitcher, let alone one in their mid-30s to mid-40s whose fastball rarely topped 84 MPH. In fact, during that stretch only Johnson, Andy Pettitte and Greg Maddux had more wins, only Livan Hernandez started more games, and only Hernandez and Maddux threw more innings.

Oh wait: 1997-2009 significantly overlaps with the steroid era. I cannot PROVE that Moyer never took steroids…but his low-80s fastball and size (6’0’’, 170 lbs) strongly suggest he did not. Think about that. Moyer was more-than-effectively retiring juiced-up sluggers with mediocre stuff between the ages of 34 and 46, winning 186 games in the process.

Rule 5 of the Baseball Writers Association of America rules for HOF election states that “voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”

Everything I have read about Jamie Moyer reveals a man of unparalleled integrity, decency and sportsmanship. Jamie Moyer’s character alone should put him in the HOF. Throw in the numbers he posted AFTER turning 34 (with mediocre stuff, against juiced-up hitters) and his better-than-you-think career numbers, and a strong case can be made for Moyer’s eventual HOF induction.

I suspect this is not my last word on the subject.

Until next time…

Charlie Chan and Film Noir, Part 3

In the first two “reels” of this series (here and here), I catalogued a series of entertaining links between the Charlie Chan film series (primarily the 27 Fox Chan films featuring Warner Oland and Sidney Toler, 1931-1942) and film noir, drawing in part upon my own experiences at successive Noir City’s.

I will close with the two-part core of a more serious argument: B-movie film series like (especially?) the Fox Charlie Chan films can be seen as a bridge between earlier 1930s crime films and film noir.

As Arthur Lyons noted[1], the invention of the double feature (an attempt to lure back moviegoers lost to the Great Depression) led to the creation of the B-movie. By 1935, all of the studios had “formed specialized B units to grind out low-cost fare in all genres—including the murder mysteries, private eye films, and crime films from which film noir was to spin off as a subgenre” (Lyons, pg. 31—italics mine). One “B unit” was headed by Sol M. Wurtzel at Fox Film, which became Twentieth Century Fox in 1935. Wurtzel “began to churn out series films with the accent on crime” (Lyons, pg. 32), including the Chan (a Fox Film property since 1929’s Behind That Curtain) series.[2]

Let us posit, then, that as these B movies began to “spin off” into film noir, studio-contracted directors would look for guidance to existing, successful B-movie series, even borrowing their promising directors and rising stars.  Clearly the Chan series was a success: 44 films were released over a 19-year period (1931-49)—21 from 1935 through 1942 alone, an average of 2.1 films per year, and that includes the Fox-Monogram transition year of 1943, when no Chan films were released.

Also, starting with the Norman-Foster-helmed Reno in 1939[3], the Charlie Chan films became darker in tone and cinematography, echoing the somber mood of approaching world war and stylistic changes brought by the first wave of film professionals emigrating from Nazi Germany. Aspects of the films’ plots also became noticeably more noir.

Indeed, 1939’s City in Darkness (an ideal noir title) is set in a single night in a Paris on the edge of war, whose residents are required to block light from reaching the streets. City’s plot revolves around a war profiteer cynically betraying the French people (including his butler’s soldier son) for profit. Reno, from a story by pulp writer Philip Wylie and featuring Phyllis Brooks (The Shanghai Gesture [1941]) and Ricardo Cortez (Sam Spade in the 1931 The Maltese Falcon), includes a woman falsely accused of murder; a plot rooted in a hidden criminal past and resulting blackmail; crime scene photographs reminiscent of Weegee; and the femme-fatale characterization of Jeanne Bently by actress Louise Henry. The nighttime “ghost town” scene in Reno is lit only by flashlights, car headlights and interior lights, and a single candle. Treasure Island, another Chan film directed by Foster, is a convoluted story of blackmail and murder-suicide populated by “two-faced” individuals (many of them illusionists) with stories and facets they are desperate to keep hidden. It opens in a storm-battered airplane where Victor Sen Yung’s Jimmy Chan asks plaintively whether “no one can talk about anything but death;” an existential doom truly hangs over many of these characters. Like Treasure Island, Wax Museum is a dark and claustrophobic film, suffused with stereotypical film noir visual hallmarks—rain-soaked night-time city streets, chiaroscuro lighting, unusual camera angles and jagged frames. Marc Lawrence’s Steve McBirney undergoes a kind of Dark Passage-in-reverse, spending much of the film swathed in post-plastic-surgery white bandages, waiting to exact revenge on Chan, while the plot again revolves around secrets buried in a criminous past. Panama, the third and final Chan film directed by Foster, is a deeply paranoid film with a ticking clock plot device that Cornell Woolrich would have loved.

But I would close with a 6½ minute sequence late in the first half of 1940’s Murder Over New York. Chan, pursuing a late-night lead in the murder of his Scotland Yard friend, prowls an urban nightscape of furnished apartments that is filmed in high-contrast black-and-white, while not one, but two, shadows trail him. His journey takes him first to one woman (an alluring Joan Valerie, presenting a quickly-dropped femme-fatale facade), who, after deft questioning by Chan, admits having lied to police earlier that evening to protect another woman. This second woman—a radiant, but guileless, Marjorie Weaver—tells Chan a harrowing tale of escape from a husband who she realized too late was a dangerous criminal, and whom she still desperately fears. This evocative sequence ends in the office of Inspector Vance (the rubber-faced Donald McBride). Later scenes in a darkened curio shop and on a sabotaged bomber are equally visually compelling.

Here is the complete film. The sequence in question starts at about 20:39, just after Chan sends son Jimmy to bed. Please judge for yourself (you may ignore the cringe-worthy “Hindu roundup” sequence featuring Shemp Howard himself).

To learn more about all aspects of Charlie Chan, I highly recommend Yunte Huang’s 2010 book. And starting in 2006, 20th Century Fox released box DVD sets of the surviving Fox Chan films, lovingly-restored; the special features alone are worth the cost.

Until next time…

[1]Death on the Cheap: The Lost B Movies of FILM NOIR New York, NY: Da Capo Press, 2000, pg. 29. James Naremore echoes these arguments in Chapter 4 of More Than Night: Film Noir in Its Contexts [Updated and Expanded Edition; Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2008)

[2] Wurtzel also oversaw the Mr. Moto series. Interestingly, the Chinese-American Chan could survive Pearl Harbor in a way that the Japanese Moto could not.

[3] The first film to feature Sidney Toler as Charlie Chan and Victor Sen Yung as “#2 son” Jimmy Chan was actually the execrable Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1938), directed, surprisingly, by H. Bruce Humberstone. Humberstone had previously directed three solid entries in the serious: Charlie Chan at the Opera (1936), Charlie Chan at the Race Track (1937) and Charlie Chan at the Olympics (1937). One wonders if Humberstone was trying too hard to create continuity with the earlier series, resulting in a truly awful film. Even it, however, has a femme-fatale characterization: that of Mrs. Carol Wayne by Claire Dodd.

Charlie Chan and Film Noir, Part 2

My deep affection for the Charlie Chan films began one summer Saturday afternoon in 1976, when my nine-year-old self found a Chan/Sherlock-Holmes double feature on Philadelphia’s now-defunct Channel 48. By March 1977, Channel 48 was rotating through the 22 films from Charlie Chan in London (1934) to Castle in the Desert (1942) every Saturday night (11:30 pm-1 am); I was hooked for nearly four years. My father (born 1935), however, only remembered the later, low-quality Monogram films from HIS childhood, the ones that cast African-American actor Mantan Moreland as Chan’s chauffeur, Birmingham Brown; Brown would unwillingly “assist” whichever Chan son was helping “Pop” that film. My father, being of his generation, found Moreland’s jittery apprehension hysterical (“Feets, do your stuff!” Dad would misquote). However, this “comic relief” only distracted focus from the best feature of nearly every Fox Chan film: the relationship between “Chan and son” (which my memory tells me is how Keye Luke’s Lee Chan once referred to his mutually affectionate relationship with Warner Oland’s Charlie Chan–though I am trouble finding the exact film moment). For all his protestations, the elder Chan loved having his son at his side, both as a gentle foil and as a surprisingly able assistant.

Not that this has ANYTHING to do with my late father and me, he demurred.

I ended Part 1 with this Facebook post from my visit to Noir City 13 in January 2015:

Not really noir…buuuttt…the first one features Harold Huber and Cesar Romero, and the second features George Zucco. All three appeared in at least one Fox Charlie Chan movie. Also appearing in this festival (so far) from those amazing movies: Victor Sen Yung, Keye Luke, Norman Foster (director), Henry Daniell, Leo G. Carroll, Jonathan Hale, Stephen Geray. Who am I forgetting??

Settle in comfortably: there is a LOT to unpack here.

Huber had appeared in Charlie Chan on Broadway (1937), Charlie Chan at Monte Carlo (1937), City in Darkness (1939) and Charlie Chan in Rio (1941). Romero had been in Charlie Chan at Treasure Island (1939) and Zucco in Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1938), while Daniell (The Suspect [1944], shown earlier in Noir City 13) had appeared in Castle. Other than Romero’s 1951 appearance in FBI Girl (which falls just short of the inclusion criteria I outlined in Part 1), that is it for these actors’ noir connections.

One of Daniell’s costars in Castle, however, was Geray, who had appeared earlier in Noir City 13 in Woman on the Run (following up his Noir City 12 appearance in The Shanghai Gesture). The indefatigable Geray appeared in 15 other films noir: The Mask of Dimitrios (1944); Spellbound and Cornered (1945); Gilda, Deadline at Dawn and So Dark the Night (1946); I Love Trouble and The Dark Past (1948); In a Lonely Place, The Second Woman and A Lady Without Passport (1950); The House on Telegraph Hill (1951); An Affair in Trinidad; New York Confidential and A Bullet for Joey (1955).

Carroll had appeared in City in Darkness and Charlie Chan’s Murder Cruise (1940). His Noir City 13 entry was Suspicion (1941). Carroll also appeared in Rebecca (1940), Spellbound and The House on 92 Street (1945), The Paradine Case (1947), So Evil My Love, Strangers on a Train (1951), and The Bad and the Beautiful (1952).

Hale had appeared in Charlie Chan’s Secret (1936), Charlie Chan at the Race Track (1937) and Charlie Chan at the Olympics (1937). His Noir City 13 entry was The Steel Trap (1952). Hale also appeared in the Fritz-Lang-directed films Fury (1936) and You Only Live Once (1937), as well as Call Northside 777 (1948), The Judge (1949), Strangers on a Train, and Scandal Sheet (1952).

Later in Noir City 13, Eddie Marr would show up in The Steel Trap and Julie (1956). Marr had earlier been in the casts of The Glass Key (1942), I Love Trouble and The Night Holds Terror (1955). Marr’s Charlie Chan connection: Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum (1940).

When I returned for Noir City 14 in January 2016, I saw Humoresque (1946), which featured Oscar Levant. While Levant never appeared in a Charlie Chan film, he did compose the opera “Carnival” for, well, Charlie Chan at the Opera.

Speaking of Opera, its opening credit is “Warner Oland vs. Boris Karloff.” Five years earlier, Bela Lugosi had appeared alongside Oland in The Black Camel. In 1934, Karloff and Lugosi jointly starred in The Black Cat (1934), directed by a young, recent émigré from what is now the Czech Republic named Edgar G. Ulmer. Ulmer would later direct Bluebeard (1944), Strange Illusion and Detour (1945), and Murder Is My Beat (1955).

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So, what is the point of this trivia tour? Is there a vast, unexplored connection between the Charlie Chan films (Fox 1931-1942, n=27; Monogram, 1944-49, n=17), and the classic era of film noir?

At first glance, there is nothing particularly noir about these films, despite the flashbulb-popping urban nightclub milieu of Broadway, the “shadowbox interrogation” scene in Charlie Chan in Shanghai (1935), and the femme-fatale characterization of Yvonne Roland by actress Katherine DeMille (adopted daughter of Cecil B. DeMille) in Olympics. And that is just the Oland films…

Wait, did I mention that Broadway and Treasure Island co-starred Douglas Fowley, who later appeared in Lady in the Death House (1944); The Glass Alibi (1946); Desperate, Fall Guy and Key Witness (1947); Behind Locked Doors (1948); Flaxy Martin (1949) and Armored Car Robbery (1950)?

The character of Charlie Chan, who debuted in Earl Derr Biggers’ The House Without a Key (1925), was inspired by Chinese-American Honolulu Police Department officer Chang Apana, but he is far closer to Sherlock Holmes or Father Brown than to Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe. And while the Fox Chan series was a proving ground for later noir stars (Rita Hayworth, Ray Milland) and directors (Norman Foster, H. Bruce Humberstone), and featured noir character actors like Carroll, Fowley, Geray, Hale and Marc Lawrence (the The Asphalt Jungle [1950] star had appeared in Broadway, Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1938) and Wax Museum), that was true of many B-movies of the 1930s. Finally, of course, there is the tempering effect of the “Chan and son” relationship itself; while compelling in its own way, its omnipresence disallows a sustained noir mood.

So, maybe I just wanted to write an entertaining series of posts cataloguing the interesting connections between the Charlie Chan films and film noir.

Or maybe not.

To be continued…

Charlie Chan and Film Noir, Part 1

About 11 minutes into Charlie Chan in Egypt (1935), Nayda—a young Egyptian maid—first walks onto the screen. She delivers some cigarettes and leaves without saying a word. “Nayda” is credited to “Rita Cansino.”

Rita Cansino (born Marguerita Carmen Cansino) would later adopt her mother’s maiden name—Hayworth. As Rita Hayworth, she would star in the film noirs Gilda (1946), The Lady from Shanghai (1947) and Affair in Trinidad (1952).

[Just bear with me for a word about “film noir” status. I have a database of 37—and counting—public/published film noir lists (n=4,312, and counting; details in a later post). Briefly, if a film appears on at least eight lists, I count it as noir.]

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At around 7:20 pm on January 24, 2014, I settled into my seat at the Castro Theater in San Francisco to begin my first Noir City film festival. The first film screened was Journey Into Fear (1943), directed by Norman Foster (Orson Welles, uncredited co-director). Foster already had 15 director’s credits when he made Journey, including six of the eight Mr. Moto films. He had also helmed Charlie Chan in Reno (1939), Charlie Chan at Treasure Island (1939) and Charlie Chan in Panama (1940), three of the best 20th Century Fox Charlie Chan films starring Sidney Toler (n=11). Toler assumed the role of Chan when Warner Oland, who had portrayed the Honolulu-based detective in 16 Fox films, died suddenly in 1938. At the time of his death, Oland and Keye Luke, who played Chan’s eldest son Lee, were working on the film “Charlie Chan at Ringside.” The film was quickly repackaged as the 1938 film Mr. Moto’s Gamble, with Luke playing Lee Chan. Interestingly, this was one Mr. Moto film Foster did NOT direct.

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Charlie Chan in London (1934; the film that Bob Balaban’s Morris Weissman wants to set in the country house Gosford Park [2001], directed by Robert Altman, who had directed the 1973 neo-noir The Long Goodbye) opens with convicted killer Paul Gray being visited on death row by his sister Pamela. She tells Paul that, despite every appeal being denied, their friend Geoffrey Richmond (Alan Mowbray—more on him later) has arranged a meeting with the Home Secretary to plead his case. We then cut to Richmond waiting with Pamela’s fiancee Neil Howard. “Neil Howard” is credited to “Raymond Milland.”

Milland (born Alfred Reginald Jones) soon shortened his new first name to “Ray.” As Ray Milland, he would star in the film noirs Ministry of Fear (1944), The Lost Weekend (1945), So Evil My Love (1948), The Big Clock (1948), Alias Nick Beal (1949) and The Thief (1952).

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Five days after watching Journey Into Fear, I took the Noir City bus tour showcasing actual San Francisco locations used in such noir films as Woman on the Run (1950), Sudden Fear (1952) and Vertigo (1958). One stop on the tour was the Cliff House, once adjacent to Playland-at-the Beach, the location of the closing shot of The Lady From Shanghai. Inside the Cliff House are dozens of framed photographs of actors and actresses, including these two:

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This pairing is odd in that Luke (left) and Toler (right) never appeared in a Charlie Chan film together. When Toler assumed the role, Victor Sen Yung also replaced Luke as 2nd-oldest son Jimmy (later Tommy).

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The films Charlie Chan at the Race Track (1936), Charlie Chan at the Opera (1936), Charlie Chan at the Olympics (1937) and Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1938) were directed by H. Bruce “Lucky” Humberstone. Film noir fans will recognize “Bruce Humberstone” as the director of the seminal 1941 film noir I Wake Up Screaming (1941), starring Victor Mature, Betty Grable, Laird Cregar…and Alan Mowbray (I told you he would be back).

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On the last day of Noir City 12, February 2, 2014, I watched The Shanghai Gesture (1941), starring Mature, Gene Tierney, Walter Huston, Ona Munson…and a 26-year-old blonde actress named Phyllis Brooks. A few years earlier, Brooks had starred in Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1938) and Charlie Chan in Reno (1939), playing a murderess in one of them…but I won’t say which. Spoilers!

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The John-Huston-directed The Maltese Falcon (1941) is sometimes considered the first film noir of the “classic era” (e.g., Paul Schrader’s 1971 essay “Notes On Film Noir”). However, it was already the third film adaptation of the 1929 Dashiell Hammett novel, the first being The Maltese Falcon, directed by Roy Del Ruth in 1931. In the 1931 film, Sam Spade is played by Ricardo Cortez (born Jacob Krantz). Cortez would later appear as Brooks’ love interest (with a Dark Past) in Reno and as a murder victim in 1940’s Murder Over New York (much more on this film in Part 2).

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On January 15, 2015, I returned to San Francisco for Noir City 13. Coincidentally, that year’s festival opened with another film directed by Norman Foster, Woman on the Run, meticulously restored by the Film Noir Foundation. It also featured a key role for Yung, who had left the Chan series two years earlier. Yung had already appeared in the noir films To the Ends of the Earth (1948) and The Breaking Point (1950), and he would later appear in The Sniper (1952) and The Blue Gardenia (1953).

Two days later, the Castro Theater screened Sleep, My Love (1948), co-starring Luke as Jimmie Lin. When, the very next night, The Thin Man (1934) and After the Thin Man (1936) were shown, I posted this on Facebook:

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Not really noir…buuuttt…the first one features Harold Huber and Cesar Romero, and the second features George Zucco. All three appeared in at least one Fox Charlie Chan movie. Also appearing in this festival (so far) from those amazing movies: Victor Sen Yung, Keye Luke, Norman Foster (director), Henry Daniell, Leo G. Carroll, Jonathan Hale, Stephen Geray. Who am I forgetting??

To be continued…

Rating Doctor Who, post “reboot,” episode 3

In a previous post, I posed the following question (edited for brevity):

Which of the 131 Doctor Who episodes (115 Series episodes, 12 Christmas episodes, three 10th Doctor specials, 50th anniversary special), nine Series’ and four Doctors have been the most (and least) admired since Rose first aired on March 26, 2005?

I then posed a follow-up question:

Which episodes have become more admired over time, and which have lost their luster?

Answer: A total of 77 episodes remain below- or above-average in stature. Twenty-seven episodes have moved from below- to above-average, topped by the Series 9 finale Heaven Sent/Hell Bent; the first two 9th Doctor episodes (Rose, The End of the World) also have increased stature, though they are still below average. Twenty-seven episodes moved in the opposite direction, topped by The Lazarus Experiment, The Curse of the Black Spot, and Daleks in Manhattan. Many of these latter episodes feature the 10th Doctor.

In this “series finale,” I will use AI scores, IMDB ratings and number of IMDB user-raters to determine which of the nine Series’ and four Doctors since the 2005 reboot were—and are—the most- and least-admired.

Series’: There have actually been 10 post-reboot Doctor Who Series’ (Table 1), as Series 7 was split into two halves: one with companions Amy Pond and Rory Williams, and one with companion Clara Oswald. While Series 6 featured a nearly three-month gap between the first seven and the final six episodes, this will be treated here as a single Series because there was no change in regular companions or unifying story arc.

Further complicating the demarcation of individual Series’ are the 12 Christmas episodes, three 10th Doctor specials (Planet of the Dead, The Waters of Mars, The End of Time: Part 2) and the 50th anniversary special (The Day of the Doctor). It is not clear into which, if any, Series these episodes should be placed.

For simplicity, I will assess individual Series’ using only the 115 episodes listed in Table 1; I list the AI scores, IMDB ratings and number of user-raters for the 16 non-Series episodes in Table 2 below.

Table 1: Doctor Who Series’ (2005-16)

# Dates # Episodes Doctor Primary Companion(s)
1 March 26-June 18, 2005 13 9 Rose Tyler
2 April 15-July 8, 2006 13 10 Rose Tyler
3 March 31-June 30, 2007 13 10 Martha Jones
4 April 5-July 5, 2008 13 10 Donna Noble
5 April 10-June 26, 2010 13 11 Amy Pond/Rory Williams
6 April 23-June 4, 2011;

August 27-October 1, 2011

7

6

11 Amy Pond/Rory Williams
7a September 1-29, 2012 5 11 Amy Pond/Rory Williams
7b March 30-May 18, 2013 8 11 Clara Oswald
8 August 23-November 8, 2014 12 12 Clara Oswald
9 September 19-December 5, 2015 12 12 Clara Oswald

Just bear with me while I briefly discuss data presentation. In a more formal analysis, for each average score/rating there would also be a 95% confidence interval. However, I have chosen not to bog down this blog (oy) with unnecessary statistical arcana. If you crave additional details, however, send me a short note, and I will do my best to oblige.

Figure 1: Average AI Scores and IMDB Ratings, Doctor Who Series’ (2005-16)

average-ai-score-and-imdb-rating-by-series

Series 1 started slowly (Figure 1; AI scores are divided by 10 for ease of comparison), although four of the final five episodes rank among the most well-regarded now (The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways, average IMDB score=9.0). Each of the next three Series gained in stature, both at the time and with further reflection, peaking with Series 4.

Regardless, in terms of both average AI scores (88.1) and IMDB ratings (8.42), Series 4 is the most-admired. This Series started slowly: while Partners in Crime through The Unicorn and the Wasp (n=7) have a solid AI score average of 87.3, their average IMDB rating is only 7.84. This Series turned dramatically, however, with the two-part episode Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead: the six episodes from Silence through Journey’s End have astonishingly-high average AI score (89.0) and IMDB rating (9.10)! Outside of the three episode sequence of The Name of the Doctor (88, 9.2), The Day of the Doctor (88, 9.4) and The Time of the Doctor (83, 8.4), this is the pinnacle of the modern Doctor Who, rivaled only by the end of Series 9.

Following the 10th Doctor’s regeneration, however, Series’ 5 and 6 dropped back to the Series 3 stature level. As noted earlier, Series 6 had two distinct parts: while The Impossible Astronaut through A Good Man Goes to War (n=7) have solid average AI score (86.7) and IMDB rating (8.27), the averages for Let’s Kill Hitler through The Wedding of River Song (n=6) drop to 85.7 and 8.10, respectively.

Starting in Series 7a, these measures diverge, with average AI score jumping to 87.2 and average IMDB rating dropping to 8.14; the Series started (Asylum of the Daleks, 89, 8.8) and ended (The Angels Take Manhattan, 88, 9.1) well, while faltering in between (n=3, 86.3, 7.6).

Table 2: AI Scores and IMDB Ratings for the Doctor Who Christmas and Special Episodes (2005-16)

Title Date Doctor AI Score IMDB Rating
Christmas Specials
The Christmas Invasion December 25, 2005 10 84 8.2
The Runaway Bride December 25, 2006 10 84 7.6
Voyage of the Damned December 25, 2007 10 85 7.7
The Next Doctor December 25, 2008 10 86 7.6
The End of Time: Part One December 25, 2009 10 87 8.3
A Christmas Carol December 25, 2010 11 83 8.6
The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe December 25, 2011 11 84 7.4
The Snowmen December 25, 2012 11 87 8.5
The Time of the Doctor December 25, 2013 11 83 8.4
Last Christmas December 25, 2014 12 82 8.4
The Husbands of River Song December 25, 2015 12 82 8.6
The Return of Doctor Mysterioso December 25, 2016 12 82 7.7
 David Tennant Specials (after Series 4, excluding Christmas)
Planet of the Dead April 11, 2009 10 88 7.6
The Waters of Mars November 15, 2009 10 88 8.7
The End of Time: Part Two January 1, 2010 10 89 8.9
 50th Anniversary Special
The Day of the Doctor November 23, 2013 12 88 9.4

Still, admiration for Doctor Who declined sharply in Series 7b, as Clara Oswald became the 11th Doctor’s companion, and further still with the 12th Doctor in Series 8, before rebounding sharply at the end of Series 9 (average IMDB rating=9.1 for the three-part Series finale (Face the Raven/Heaven Sent/Hell Bent).

There is little to say about the Christmas episodes other than that, on average, they were less admired at initial airing (average AI score=84.1) than all other episodes (85.2), while being equal in current admiration (average IMDB rating=8.16). The four other Specials, however, were—and, with the exception of Planet of the Dead, are—much more admired.

Which brings me, finally, to…

Doctors. Figure 2 displays average values for the 13 9th Doctor episodes, 47 10th Doctor episodes (including five Christmas episodes, three Specials), 44 11th Doctor episodes (four Christmas episodes, 50th anniversary special), and 27 12th Doctor episodes (including three Christmas episodes). Excluding Christmas episodes and Specials made no appreciable difference in these averages.

Figure 2: Average AI Scores and IMDB Ratings, Doctor Who Doctors (2005-16)

average-ai-score-and-imdb-rating-by-doctor

While websites like WatchMojo.com suggest that David Tennant’s 10th Doctor is the most well-regarded Doctor ever (even more than Tom Baker’s 4th Doctor), this is not as clear in the data. In terms of initial reception, there is a clear demarcation between the 10th and 11th Doctors, with the former barely edging the latter in average AI score 86.3 to 86.0, and the 9th and 12th Doctors (82.2 and 82.7, respectively). And when you consider their current appeal, as measured by IMDB scores, the 9th Doctor (8.06) is well below the other three Doctors, with #10 (8.19) again edging out his two ensuing regenerations (8.15 each).

Conclusions. The Doctor Who reboot started slowly, not really finding its footing until late in Series 1, though there has been a positive reconsideration of the earliest episodes. The 10th and 11th Doctors were held in higher regard than the 9th and 12th Doctors, while the 9th Doctor is currently the least-admired of the four and the end of Series 9 (12th Doctor) is very highly-regarded now. The pinnacle of the reboot is the latter half of Series 4 (particularly at the time these episodes first aired), although the most highly-rated episode currently is Blink (Series 3), followed by Heaven Sent (Series 9) and The Day of the Doctor (50th anniversary special). Blink and Day also have received the most IMDB user-ratings by far (well over 12,000). At the same time, many 10th Doctor episodes have lost stature over time. Finally, multi-episode arcs tend to have higher stature, especially when they conclude a Series.

Bear in mind that the vast majority of these AI scores and IMDB ratings are fairly high, even if they are lower relative to other Doctor Who episodes. Indeed, an average AI score of 85.1 and an average IMDB rating of 8.16 are remarkable figures, demonstrating just how well-received the Doctor Who reboot has been.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have created a PDF of the data I used in these analyses (doctor-who-episode-data-2005-16). Please feel free to analyze them and challenge my conclusions!

Until next time…

 

 

Rating Doctor Who, post “reboot,” episode 2

In a previous post, I posed the following question (edited for brevity):

Which of the 131 Doctor Who episodes, nine Series’ and four Doctors have been the most (and least) admired since Rose first aired on March 26, 2005?

We learned that AI scores, IMDB ratings, and number of IMDB user-raters for each episode reveal:

  • It took time for audiences to warm to the Doctor Who reboot, while audiences were cool to the 12th Doctor until late in Series 9
  • Episodes later in Series 4—topped by the two-part Series ending The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End (AI scores=91)—were among the most admired when first aired, as is true of Series-ending episodes generally
  • Blink has become the most-admired episode ever, with an astonishing 9.8 IMDB rating and 12,881 user-raters (so far)
    • Two other “introduction for non-fans” episodes (The Girl in the Fireplace and Vincent and the Doctor) have also become very well-admired (9.3 each)
    • The 2nd half of Series 2 has three of the least well-admired episodes

AI scores and IMDB ratings were moderately-highly correlated (0.43), as were IMDB ratings and number of user-raters (0.47). Indeed, Doomsday, Silence in the Library/ Forest of the Dead, The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End, The End of Time: Part Two, The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang, A Good Man Goes to War and The Day of the Doctor remain among the most admired (and oft-rated), while Sleep No More and Love & Monsters are still best forgotten

The next question is: Which episodes have become more admired over time, and which have lost their luster?

One good way to answer this question would be to compare every episode’s AI score to its current IMDB rating (as I did here: ai-score-vs-imdb-rating): if the latter is higher, the episode’s stature has increased, and if the latter is lower, the opposite has occurred.

This is tricky, however, because the two measures have different scales. One good solution is to convert each value to its “z-score.” A z-score is simply how many standard deviations (SD) above (+) or below (-) the average any value is; any measure converted to z-scores has an average of 0 and SD of 1. For example, my favorite episode, A Good Man Goes to War, has an IMDB rating of 9.1. Overall, IMDB ratings have an average of 8.1 and SD of 0.8. Subtracting 8.1 from 9.1, then dividing by 0.8, yields a z-score of 1.2, meaning this IMDB rating is more than one SD higher than the average. For context, in a normal distribution (also called a “bell curve”), 68% of all values are within 1 SD of the average, while 99% are within 3 SD of the average.

But let’s not get too bogged down (blogged down?) in statistical arcana…I can only ask you to bear with me so much.

Figure 1: AI Score vs. IMDB Rating (z-scores), Doctor Who episodes, 2005-16 (n=131)

z-ai-score-vs-z-imdb-rating

According to Figure 1 above, 77 episodes have the same relative stature after multiple viewings and commentary as they did when they first aired: 40 episodes remain below-average in admiration (lower left quadrant), while 37 episodes remain above-average (upper right quadrant).

However, 27 episodes that had a below-average AI score now have an above-average IMDB rating (upper left quadrant), topped by Heaven Sent, the middle episode of the three-part Series 9 finale: a full 3.7 unit increase from -1.9 (AI score=80) to 1.9 (IMDB rating=9.6)! Episodes with a similarly-large jump in admiration include Hell Bent (+2.2; 82 to 9.0), the follow-up episode to Heaven Sent, Listen (+2.2; 82 to 9.0), The Girl in the Fireplace (+1.9; 84 to 9.3), The Husbands of River Song (+1.7; 82 to 8.6); The Empty Child (+1.6; 84 to 9.1), The Witch’s Familiar (+1.5; 83 to 8.7), Last Christmas (+1.3; 82 to 8.4) and A Christmas Carol (+1.3; 83 to 8.6). Six of these nine listed episodes are 12th Doctor episodes, and four are from Series 9 and from the Christmas special which aired one month after the Series ended. The 12th Doctor is definitely growing on me, and there is evidence that his 2nd Series, at least, is gaining in stature with many fans.

Two other episodes merit attention for dramatically increasing in stature, while still being below average in IMDB rating. These are the very first post-reboot episodes: Rose (+2.6; 76 to 7.6) and The End of the World (+2.7; 76 to 7.7).

At the other extreme are 27 episodes that went in the opposite direction: from above-average in AI score to below-average in IMDB rating (lower right quadrant), including three with at least a 2-unit decrease in stature: The Lazarus Experiment (-2.1; 86 to 6.8) and The Curse of the Black Spot (both -2.1; 86 to 6.8), and Daleks in Manhattan (-2.0; 87 to 7.2). The first two of these episodes featured the 10th Doctor, as did four other episodes which dropped considerably in stature: Planet of the Dead (-1.8; 88 to 7.6), The Poison Sky (-1.7; 88 to 7.7), as well as Partners in Crime and The Doctor’s Daughter (both -1.6; 88 to 7.8).

Finally, two other episodes dropped from just-below-average in stature to well-below-average: Fear Her (-1.8; 83 to 6.2) and In the Forest of the Night (-1.5; 83 to 6.4). Other than the fact that seven of the 10 episodes named here and in the previous paragraph feature the 10th Doctor, there is no obvious pattern I can discern as to which episodes most declined in stature.

In the final “episode” in this series, I will use these data to determine which of the nine Series’ and four Doctors since the 2005 reboot were—and are—the most- and least-admired.

Until next time…