The Hereditary Grand Falconer-Delfico

The  Hereditary Grand Falconer-Delfico
The Model for the Maitre d'Armes

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Is it…The Master?

(Sorry Sue. couldn't resist!)

So, this post could be well and truly Jossed on Saturday, but the more I have been watching it, the more I have come to think that Missy may be the Doctor's old friend and enemy the Master after all.

First, a helpful rundown from Phil Sandifer:
Eh. I mean, sure, let’s look at the major Missy guesses, and we can show why I’m 99% certain she’s the Master.

The Valeyard. First of all, it’s not clear to me that it’s possible to do a good Valeyard story. Nobody ever has, certainly. But second, Moffat has never done a Master story. And the Master is your base state for “evil Time Lord.” And one that Moffat has suggested he doesn’t think usually works that well. So to skip to an even thornier and less workable dark mirror of the Doctor seems unlikely.
The Rani. Everything said about the Valeyard applies here, with the added note that nobody even thinks she’s a good idea.
River. I think this is rejected in Deep Breath when Missy calls the Doctor her “boyfriend,” a label that sets up a marked contrast with River.
Clara. I suppose, but I’d be surprised if Moffat did another destiny loop so soon, which is what Clara being chosen by Missy and then becoming Missy amounts to. But the bigger problem is, why would you do evil Clara and cast someone other than Jenna Coleman to do it? After all the breadth and flexibility she’s shown, if Clara gets a villainous turn, giving it to another actress would frankly be insulting.
The Master. The one big villain Moffat’s yet to touch. He’s said he’d need a good idea for the Master. He’s gone further than any other writer in establishing genderswapping regenerations as things that happen. And, let’s face it, is there any idea more self-evidently Steven Moffat than revamping the Master by making the character a woman? Missy = Mistress. This is by far the most likely outcome.
Elsewhere, he answers a commenter who sarcastically asks "There was a point that the Master DIDN’T think of the Doctor as his boyfriend? When?!" by saying "Yes, I think that’s pretty much the joke here. I mean, this is Moffat, writer of the sublimely funny “rubbish beard” joke."

And, indeed, the new series has already feinted in that direction:

So, yeah, it's on the cards. But here's what makes it even more probable is the fact that it's a story Moffat has already shown an interest in the basic story structure implied by such a gender-flip with a soupçon of FoeYay, in The Curse of Fatal Death, which ends with the Doctor (Joanna Lumley) walking off with the Master (Jonathan Pryce). Here, see for yourself:

So, yes, I could see it. Really. And, it would get us a step closer to a female Doctor, too--much more so than the never-seen Corsair did.

Of course, the question I earlier posed remains--how do you top the Master's sacrifice of himself in The End of Time, which brings the character to the original ending planned for him in The Final Game?

Well, we'll know more in just a few days...

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

My Favorite Hallowe'en Flick

It was a movie you could only make in the 1970s, and seeing it again on the big screen on Hallowe'en a few years back at FilmForum with some good friends, I realized how much all that 1970s stuff shaped me, in ways I didn't realize at the time. There is a part of me that will always assume that Jon Pertwee was well dressed. No man was more elegant than Major The Hon. John Wickham Gascoyne Beresford Steed MC, OM, no woman more elegant than Emma Peel (unless it was Cathy Gale--tough call, that.) And horror movies meant the cultured, sinisterly-chucking maestro, Vincent Price. All of his movies have their charm; some, such as The Raven almost overdose on it. (I mean, come on--this is a movie where Price--who certainly looked the part--basically gets to play Doctor Strange:

Seriously, the whole scene, but especially 7:17 on, is a classic Doc-Mordo throw down.)

But Theater of Blood is his classic. Occasionally crass, sometimes stereotyped and even nasty, it is also funny, intelligent, and stars a cluster of Britain's finest character actors.

In a review of Theater of Blood, Kim Newman wrote:
he crowning glory of Vincent Price’s career as the screen’s horror-comic bogeyman, this develops the ‘body count’ plotting of his Dr Phibes pictures as he slaughters his way through an almost-embarrassingly distinguished supporting cast while tossing off Shakespearean soliloquies even Sir Donald Wolfit would have found overblown and doing a series of in-disguise ‘turns’. Among the most priceless Price moments: got up in fab gear as gay hairdresser ‘Butch’, promising client Coral Browne ‘ash with flame highlights’ before setting fire to her head; in enormous false nose as Shylock carving chunks out of Harry Andrews, prompting Ian Hendry to muse ‘it must be Lionheart, only he would have the temerity to rewrite Shakespeare’; dressed as Richard III, haranguing tippling critic Robert Coote for drunkenly falling asleep during one of his greatest performances and then dumping him headfirst in a barrel of wine; as a TV celebrity chef, forcing bouffant-haired fusspot Robert Morley to choke on his beloved poodles in a crime derived from Titus Andronicus.

Price is partnered wonderfully by the equally versaitile Diana Rigg, who brings a moment of poignance to the fiery finish as the murderer’s Cordelia-like daughter, and among the acting greats siezing a welcome opportunity to caricature hateful critics and be bloodily despatched are Arthur Lowe (severed head), Dennis Price, Michael Hordern (stabbed like Caesar) and Jack Hawkins (duped Othello-like into strangling wife Diana Dors). With Milo O’Shea and Eric Sykes (who gets a funny death) as the plodding plods, and ‘70s pin-up Madeline Smith as pompous, foulard-wearing hero Hendry’s girl Friday. It’s a key influence on later gimmick serial murder pictures like Se7en.
Price met and married actress Coral Browne through Theater of Blood (he kills her in the move); they were together until her death in 1991; he died in 1993.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Development on Development

In yesterday's post, I made a comment about Newman's Development of Doctrine that I now think was overly facile, and a bit misleading. A long-time commenter called me out on it, and in responding to him, I think I put the matter rather better. I wrote "Now, as a threshold matter, I would point out that Douthat should probably re-read (if indeed he has read) Newman's Development of Doctrine (New Edition, 1878). Because Douthat seems to suggest that views once held by the Church cannot ever be reversed, a notion that is not consistent with Newman, nor with, I should add, modern Catholic practice." My reader gave a very reasoned rejoinder, arguing that in Newman's thought, "an idea does not 'develop' into its opposite."

I originally wrote that Newman gives several examples of exactly that--but that's flip, too. It's more correct to say, I think, that Newman gives examples of positions being reversed by the better understanding of the ultimate idea. In chapter 1, Section 2 [in my original comment , I erroneously referenced this as Chapter 2], he gives a series--the Long Parliament, the Elizabethan Settlement, Locke on Revolution as a "true guide". But here's one in particular; in section 2(6), for example, he gives the example:
The admission of Jews to municipal offices has lately been defended on the ground that it is the introduction of no new principle, but a development of one already received; that its great premisses have been decided long since; and that the present age has but to draw the conclusion; that it is not open to us to inquire what ought to be done in the abstract, since there is no ideal model for the infallible guidance of nations; that change is only a question of time, and that there is a time for all things; that the application of principles ought not to go beyond the actual case, neither preceding nor coming after an imperative demand; that in point of fact Jews have lately been chosen for offices, and that in point of principle the law cannot refuse to legitimate such elections.
As I take Newman here, the application of the idea of citizenship and qualifications for public service was in error, but experience and time showed that the present application was flawed, and the underlying idea was poorly served thereby. So the change is a reversal of the application, but truer to the underlying principle.

Now, my article linked in yesterday's post is pretty clear that I disagree with the easy dismissal of the prohibition against usury, but it provides an example of a moral doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church being distinguished effectively into the grave after over a millennium of adherence to it. It was abandoned because it did not conform to the felt necessities of the culture, and its rescission made possible a wholly new kind of commerce and economic order.

A Newman-style defense of the development would suggest that the position (the prohibition against usury) was not the idea--the idea was that one should not oppress the financially vulnerable, and that the prohibition was the implementation of the idea. The argument would be that implementation showed that the prohibition was too stultifying and did not adequately serve the purpose, or did too much damage in trying to serve the purpose. So it's about the refinement of the application of ideas, which themselves can cause a reversal of perviously held ideas.

Again, I'm not advocating that particular one, but think it makes more clear what I'm saying, and why I think Douthat is not reading Newman right. The idea is not "ban gay marriage"; that's the application of an idea, "Christian marriage should be the norm." OK, what is Christian marriage--

--now here the conversation can veer off into one of two directions. It can anchor the idea in complementarianism or fertility, and stay in the traditional course, or it can define marriage as the spiritual and physical union of two people for mutual aid and comfort, and find that heterosexual Christian marriage works for heterosexuals, but what do we do about those who do not fit that paradigm? Now, eliminating the prohibition against marriage is not the opposite of the tradition of Christian marriage, it's accommodating within that framework those previously excluded.

I'd like to thank my reader--a regular, if too infrequent, commenter--for once again making me think through a point as to which I was previously too glib.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

More Catholic Than the Pope?

I seldom agree with Ross Douthat, and this is not one of those times. I'm just writing to point out his column for today, and the fossilized nature of Douthat's Catholicism:
Not surprisingly, then, popes are usually quite careful. On the two modern occasions when a pontiff defined a doctrine of the faith, it was on a subject — the holiness of the Virgin Mary — that few devout Catholics consider controversial. In the last era of major church reform, the Second Vatican Council, the popes were not the intellectual protagonists, and the council’s debates — while vigorous — were steered toward a (pope-approved) consensus: The documents that seemed most like developments in doctrine, on religious liberty and Judaism, passed with less than a hundred dissenting votes out of more than 2,300 cast.

But something very different is happening under Pope Francis. In his public words and gestures, through the men he’s elevated and the debates he’s encouraged, this pope has repeatedly signaled a desire to rethink issues where Catholic teaching is in clear tension with Western social life — sex and marriage, divorce and homosexuality.

And in the synod on the family, which concluded a week ago in Rome, the prelates in charge of the proceedings — men handpicked by the pontiff — formally proposed such a rethinking, issuing a document that suggested both a general shift in the church’s attitude toward nonmarital relationships and a specific change, admitting the divorced-and-remarried to communion, that conflicts sharply with the church’s historic teaching on marriage’s indissolubility.


In the end, the document’s controversial passages were substantially walked back. But even then, instead of a Vatican II-style consensus, the synod divided, with large numbers voting against even watered-down language around divorce and homosexuality. Some of those votes may have been cast by disappointed progressives. But many others were votes cast, in effect, against the pope.


The pope wishes to take these steps, the synod managers suggested. Given what the church has always taught, many of the synod’s participants replied, he and we cannot.

Over all, that conservative reply has the better of the argument. Not necessarily on every issue: The church’s attitude toward gay Catholics, for instance, has often been far more punitive and hostile than the pastoral approach to heterosexuals living in what the church considers sinful situations, and there are clearly ways that the church can be more understanding of the cross carried by gay Christians.

But going beyond such a welcome to a kind of celebration of the virtues of nonmarital relationships generally, as the synod document seemed to do, might open a divide between formal teaching and real-world practice that’s too wide to be sustained. And on communion for the remarried, the stakes are not debatable at all. The Catholic Church was willing to lose the kingdom of England, and by extension the entire English-speaking world, over the principle that when a first marriage is valid a second is adulterous, a position rooted in the specific words of Jesus of Nazareth. To change on that issue, no matter how it was couched, would not be development; it would be contradiction and reversal.

SUCH a reversal would put the church on the brink of a precipice. Of course it would be welcomed by some progressive Catholics and hailed by the secular press. But it would leave many of the church’s bishops and theologians in an untenable position, and it would sow confusion among the church’s orthodox adherents — encouraging doubt and defections, apocalypticism and paranoia (remember there is another pope still living!) and eventually even a real schism.

Those adherents are, yes, a minority — sometimes a small minority — among self-identified Catholics in the West. But they are the people who have done the most to keep the church vital in an age of institutional decline: who have given their energy and time and money in an era when the church is stained by scandal, who have struggled to raise families and live up to demanding teachings, who have joined the priesthood and religious life in an age when those vocations are not honored as they once were. They have kept the faith amid moral betrayals by their leaders; they do not deserve a theological betrayal.
A long series of quotes; I'm sorry. But I felt I needed to reproduce enough to make it clear that I am not caricaturing Douthat's position, which leads him to conclude that conservative Catholics "might want to consider the possibility that they have a role to play, and that this pope may be preserved from error only if the church itself resists him."

Now, as a threshold matter, I would point out that Douthat should probably re-read (if indeed he has read) Newman's Development of Doctrine (New Edition, 1878). Because Douthat seems to suggest that views once held by the Church cannot ever be reversed, a notion that is not consistent with Newman, nor with, I should add, modern Catholic practice. The Church in 2007 relegated the once firmly established doctrine of Limbo to "a possible theological hypothesis," on the basis of study, experience, and the Magisterium:
The treatment of this theme must be placed within the historical development of the faith. According to Dei Verbum 8, the factors that contribute to this development are the reflection and the study of the faithful, the experience of spiritual things, and the teaching of the Magisterium. When the question of infants who die without baptism was first taken up in the history of Christian thought, it is possible that the doctrinal nature of the question or its implications were not fully understood. Only when seen in light of the historical development of theology over the course of time until Vatican II does this specific question find its proper context within Catholic doctrine. Only in this way - and observing the principle of the hierarchy of truths mentioned in the Decree of the Second Vatican Council Unitatis redintegratio (#11) – the topic can be reconsidered explicitly under the global horizon of the faith of the Church. This Document, from the point of view of speculative theology as well as from the practical and pastoral perspective, constitutes for a useful and timely mean for deepening our understanding this problem, which is not only a matter of doctrine, but also of pastoral priority in the modern era.
Now, I don't fault the Church for this analysis--indeed, it's not that far off from Richard Hooker's classic (and much debated and interpreted) use of tradition and reason to understand scripture--as a means of trying to not allow past understandings that were once helpful and informative, to stay in place long after their illumination has ceased, and become a stumbling block--as W.R. Inge describes outworn metaphors in his Christian Mysticism.

No, the Catholic Church may unhelpfully raise the Magisterium overmuch, but the basic idea of the development of doctrine is sound, and Douthat is simply limiting it in a self-dealing fashion to prioritize his issues, sexual mores, as opposed to other moral issues where it has demonstrably changed, whether for weal or for woe, such as usury and abortion (permissible up to 40 days after conception until 1869, see linked article at p. 278).

Simply put, don't rely on a man who thinks he's a better Catholic than was Cardinal Newman. Odds are, he isn't.

Friday, October 24, 2014

"Purview" Has Been Ruined for Me

The other day, I was having a perfectly pleasant discussion with someone, and the question of whose "purview" a certain task fell within was mooted. I immediately flashed on "In the Loop" and had to restrain giggles:

(Have you noticed that this is an epic battle between Doctor Who and Irene Forsyte (Gina McKee)?)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Assurance of Age...

Look above, and watch John Houseman receiving the Oscar for best Supporting Actor in The Paper Chase (1973) Catch how nervous he is, under the patrician demeanor--he stumbles in his words, he stammers just a bit. This, from one of the most superbly self-confident men I've ever seen on screen or met (and by great good fortune, I did both).

When I was in my teens, and watched Houseman in the TV adaptation, I used to think--look at bloody him. So at one with himself, so poised. Awful, sometimes, of course, but still--not anxious, not busting a gut trying to impress/please people. When I'm old--maybe when I'm middle-aged, even--I can be like that--not giving a damn. And so I looked forward to the serenity of growing older.

It doesn't happen, though, at least not on its own. Look at how nervous Professor Kingsfield is at the acme of his career right there above.

As I am now solidly middle-aged, I don't hanker for my youth. I'm pretty content now, by and by. But that unearned serenity I thought would be dropped off with the gray hair? Hasn't come yet, worse luck. Or maybe not. Maybe serenity only comes when we train ourselves to it. Or maybe it never comes at all, if we haven't made it a part of who we really are. Because I doubt that our professional personae hold up that well as we age; I suspect that Robertson Davies had it right when he wrote that "As we neared our sixties the cloaks we had wrapped about our essential selves were wearing thin."

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Clearing the Decks, Back to the Mines

Well, I don't want to get too far ahead of myself, but the next few months should be interesting. In my writing life, I have an idea for a second novel. Which is not to give up on the first--later this year, there will be a long-standing Trollope-19th Century book group online (founded and led by by the redoubtable Ellen Moody, whose excellent book Trollope on the Net discusses the group's early days) reading Phineas at Bay, and there should be some very exciting news for May 2015.

--which promises to be a very large month for me, because, independent of the very exciting news (to be shared later), there is, barring unforeseen circumstances, also, on the morning of May 16, my ordination to the vocational diaconate. It's been 7 years in the making, and the goal is in sight.

Of course, the goal is a way station--ordination begins a different phase of life, not an endpoint. It is extraordinary to be nearing that moment of transition.

So as summer is now most decidedly over, and I am settled into the new gig, it's time for me to begin my winter project--beginning the next novel. Working title: Taffy Was a Welshman. Back to Pontnewydd, and the mines.