[Photo by Jacquelyn Griffin)

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Daleks' Master Plan (Parts 1-6)

Yes, I know. I'm not even listing the episode titles for this one. Sorry. I can't even, as the kids say.

But the 12 part storyline The Dalek's Master Plan Is a strange one--it's long (obvioulsy) and, written as it is by Terry Nation and Dennis Spooner, filled with lots of plot complications and twists and turns. The thing is, summarizing those twists and turns isn't all that much fun, and we'd get lost in a lot of the more intricate, less interesting, bits of plotting.

The story begins right after the TARDIS's hurried departure from Troy. The TARDIS lands in some forsaken wasteland, the Doctor starts exploring to find some medical help for Steven, poisoned in the last episode of The Mythmakers. Katarina, the handmaiden who brought him into the TARDIS, is trying to help, but, as she thinks the Doctor is Zeus and that she and Steven are dead, she's of limited utility.

Enter Bret Vyon, Space Security Service, man of action, who'd return in a few years in an iconic role. Bret is trapped by the Doctor (he wants to capture the TARDIS and use it to warn Earth of impending Dalek invasion, so he's a goodie at heart). Indeed, bound to a chair by the Doctor, he persuades Katarina to retrieve some pills from his belt and administer them to Steven, saving his life.

OK, see? I'm doing plot exposition. Maybe I should do a more Missy-style Catch up.

The Daleks have formed a league with some other aliens to conquer the Solar System. Vyon wants to stop them, the Doctor et al try to help. The Guardian of the Solar System, Mavic Chen (a scenery-chewing, great hambone performance by Kevin Stoney is betraying the Solar System by having a rare metal core (50 years in the making) for a Time Destructor (whatever that is) made. It's a McGuffin you could buy at Radio Shack. The
Doctor swipes the thing from the Conference of Evildoers, Vyon hijacks Chen's ship (they can't take the TARDIS--and this is the first good joke in the story--because they need to get where and when reliably.). On the way they're forced to land on a prison planet; they escape but one of psycho band of prisoners grabs Katarina as a hostage to make them take him anywhere but Earth. He picks Kemble--ie, where the Daleks are--and Katarina proves once and for all that she's not the naïf everyone thought she is, because she opens the airlock pulling her captor and herself into space, to save the others. It's brutal, even in a recon.

When they reach Earth, Chen--who followed in hot pursuit--makes sure That Kingdom, the Space Security Service's most ruthless agent, is assigned to kill the infiltrators and retrieve the McGuffin. We discover (and thank heaven we have this part in film and not just recon) is Sara Kingdom--and she guns down Bret Vyon, her own brother, and then coolly sends her agents out to kill the Doctor and Steven. "Shoot them in the head," she instructs them, to ensure the McGuffin is not endangered.

Meanwhile the Doctor and Steven--and Sara, who jumps into the room with them at the last second--get transported, along with some lab mice, to a planet far away, and (1) the Daleks trap them; (2) The Daleks exterminate the mice; (3) Sara is convinced of Chen's treachery, and grieves for Bret; (4) the Doctor, Sara and Steven steal the Dalek ship, and fly to Kemble. During the trip back, the Doctor makes a fake McGuffin and Steven finishes it, temporarily acquiring immunity to energy weapons. The Doctor turns over the fake outside the TARDIS and they all run inside--the Daleks fire at them, hitting Steven, but see earlier statement re energy weapons, temporary immunity to. The TARDIS dematerializes...


See what I mean? What a run-around. But so much to praise/condemn along the way.

The Daleks' Allies What a useless bunch of refugees from Cooger & Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show (Or is it Dark & Nightshade these days? Hard to remember...)

The Daleks: Really, guys? You send the Laurel and Hardy of Skaro to track down the Doctor and the last piece of your superweapon? Ogrons would have done a better job. As for exterminating the mice because they were potentially hostile? Lame. Just lame.

Mavic Chen: Ridiculing the Daleks when they try to blame him for their failures, over-the-top megalomaniacal, he's the best old fashioned villain to date. I suspect I'll still rate the inimitable Roger Delgado well over Stoney--but he's good. Quite good.

Bret Vyon: Cool, unflappable, but with a sense of honor--sounds like Nicholas Courtney's iconic Brig, right? But he isn't; there's a tension, a near-desperate quality to him that differentiates him from Courteny's later performances. Subtle differences in body language and tone of voice. Vyon is tough, but he's at the limit.

Katarina: Basically she got stuck on the TARDIS by accident, helping Steven inside. She's just a place keeper, you might think, Until Adrienne Hill nails that horrifying, but noble death scene. Katarina is under no illusions; she's sacrificing herself, and it's raw and it hurts. And she's right.

Sara Kingdom: An amazing turn from Jean Marsh. Totally different from Joanna in The Crusade--all clipped commands and subtlety, even grieving. If I'm reading the dates right, Sara appears before Emma Peel in The Avengers. Whether or not that's so, Sara reminds me more of Cathy Gale, who proceeded Diana Rigg's Emma Peel, particularly in her earlier appearances where she's sterner, less playful.

Marsh makes Kingdom a true professional whose professionalism is used against her, and she's now desperate to stop Chen and wrest some meaning out of her brother's death, at her hands.

Doctor Who doing Space Opera rarely works; this part of the story could have been superb trimmed down to a four-parter. But what's good is really good.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

"Destroy and Rejoice!": In the Wake of Charlottesville

In the last few months, the main item on this blog has been what I call "Anglocat in the TARDIS," my reactions to the episodes of Doctor Who From its pilot in 1963 to, um, however far I get. The reason for this feature is that, in a world that seems to be getting darker, I wanted to write about something fun, and, frankly, I wanted to get my creative juices flowing again, as my second novel has been sluggish in coalescing. So I have been following William Hartnell's exploits as the Doctor, even those that have been lost in whole or in part, and have reached the longest story in the show's history, the twelve-episode saga, The Daleks' Masterplan. Only three episodes survive, but reconstructions using telesnaps and the audio tracks fill the gap. And so I have viewed the first six episodes.

But tonight is not the time to write about them. One day after the horror of Charlottesville, I am not ready yet to return to the pleasant parables of fiction. Because we have some unfinished business.

Back when I wrote about the first episodes of The Dalek Invasion of Earth, I noted that the Daleks were a parable about the Nazis, and, in particular in that story, what defeat at their hands would have meant to Great Britain. I wrote about how the story postulated resistance fighters, collaborators, and those whose wills would be utterly broken.

In a later story, The Chase, the Daleks chant, not yet the repeated "Exterminate!" we expect nowadays but "Exterminate! Seek and Destroy! Destroy and Rejoice!"

It is the only suggestion I can recall in many years as a fan that Daleks could find joy in anything, and that is solely in destruction. There are people of whom I could say the same. Some of them were carrying their ludicrous tiki torches yesterday, seeking to be important the only way they knew how--cruelty. Ambush. Inflicting harm.

They sought the legitimation of a philosophy, and found it in White Nationalism. In neo-Nazism. At last, they had permission to uncover their true and ugly selves.


Back in college, lo these 30 years ago, I had a part in a production of Jean Anouilh's adaptation of Antigone--in which the great dramatist cast the eponymous heroine as the French Resistance, Creon as the Nazi Occupation, and the guards as the collaborators, and did so in such a compelling, psychologically real, manner that both sides embraced it. (This is less inconsistent with Sophocles than you might think; Martha Nussbaum has argued that both Antigone and Creon are simultaneously wrong and right; Werner Jaeger made a similar argument).

In that production, as the chief of the three guards, and the only one given a name, I represented the collaborators. Believe me, it's not a headspace you want to be in.


Yet we find ourselves confronted with the resurgence of explicit advocates for white supremacy, our Nation's darkest taproot, clashing with the people of Charlottesville, who stood up to them almost entirely non-violently, representing once again the better angels of our natures. We must choose. Do we stand against the Nazis and the White Supremacists, as a broad array of unlikely bedfellows such as New York's Andrew Cuomo and Mitt Romney, with Elizabeth Warren and Orrin Hatch. (To name but a few--many strong express condemnations from left and right have been made, and deserve commendation)?

Or do we temporize? Equivocate? Do we hope it goes away until we are engulfed, like the collaborators in Antigone or the Robomen in Terry Nation's science fiction parable?

All of us, old, young, middle aged, will be judged, at least by history. This is our hour.

Where do we stand?

T.H. White, in the depths of the Blitz, wrote in The Once and Future King, that "[t]he fate of this man or that man was less than a drop, although it was a sparkling one, in the great blue motion of the sunlit sea." But those drops, surging together, can carve away landmasses, create new shorelines, and wash away the blood and soil of the past.

Speak up; tell your truths in opposition to the lies of Fascism and White Supremacy.

Make neighbors out of strangers.

Most of all, pay attention to who respond to these events and who temporizes.

And vote.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Failing Uncle Fred

Yesterday, I wrote about a novel, whose hero, a scholar in 1930s England, in the grip of unbearable depression sought for a cause to lose himself in--romantic love, scholarship, religion, and, as a final desperate throw, the idea that Germany under Hitler could rejuvenate a seemingly decadent society. But, as I noted, even the fictional Roy Calvert was appalled and revolted by anti-semitism. All too many English people, like Oswald Mosley and his followers, lacked that decency, but the fictional Roy Calvert, and the man he was based in part on, did. Both the fiction and the real man gave their lives fighting the evil of Nazism.

And before we get all superior about Mosley, let me remind you of our own home-grown version. Including at least one American hero gone bad.

So today, amidst chaos and violence spurred by a march of Americans who embrace the teachings of Nazism and its American counterpart, I thought of a very different hero: My Uncle Fred.

No, not P.G. Wodehouse's fictional character Uncle Fred. An Uncle Fred you've never heard about except for from me every Veteran's Day.

Uncle Fred was the widower who first dated and then married my long-widowed grandmother--the spirited, talented, singer who had recreated herself as a Mexican singer when her opera career went bust in the Great Depression, later marrying my grandfather, whom I never met because of his early death. But I was at my grandmother's wedding to Uncle Fred, and didn't even need a TARDIS.

I mention this because Uncle Fred fought in World War II, and was among those American soldiers who discovered the ultimate Nazi horror. He helped liberate a concentration camp, caring for the victims of what I can only think of as one of the two worst systematic and thought out evils perpetuated by humankind--the Holocaust, rivaled only by the chattel slave system.

He didn't talk about it much--you had to pry it out of him, and even then needed a good lever, like when I used a family history project I was assigned in my senior year of high school to get him to open up. (My sister, whom he adored, didn't need such tools).

No "Greatest Generation" for Uncle Fred; he looked to the future, to build upon what he and his generation had to face, and to make a better world. Despite an appalling family tragedy, he never lost that faith. He was gentle as only a man who has seen too much cruelty can be. He loved my grandmother, her children and grandchildren as if we were his own. He followed a spiritual path, and devoted himself to service. He believed that the world could and should be better. If you called him a hero, he'd smile sadly and shake his head.

Three decades after Uncle Fred's death, itself 40 years after the war in which he served, what we have long called The Good War because of the sheer monstrousness our Nation opposed, Americans are marching on behalf of both of those systematic and carefully worked out evils.

We can say many things about today's events, and, as we learn more, no doubt we will. Free speech and its limits will be discussed, the wisdom (or lack thereof) of tolerance of the intolerant, what it means that there are among us some who see in Hitler's seizure of power a model for the future, instead of what it is, a nightmare from the past.

Today, I see a Nation and its children who are failing my Uncle Fred. And not just mine, but all the men and women who put their lives on the line in that struggle against, as T.H. White called it, "the ancient brutal dream of Attila the Hun."

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Novelist, Not The Biographer

I have previously written of my very great affection for C.P. Snow's The Light and the Dark (1947)--the second written volume of his Strangers and Brothers series (though its action takes place such that it would be the fourth volume if read in terms of continuity). I thought enough of it to but a first edition of it from the Strand Rare Book Room, and gave my early edition to someone who had taught me something of spirituality, who I thought would value it.

To quote my own summary:
The storyline is simple; the novel focuses on Roy Calvert, an able young researcher into ancient languages trying to translate an extraordinary document, what is believed to be the only surviving written work of the Manichees, hitherto known only by the writings of their enemies, such as St. Augustine. In truth, a handful of fragments and isolated quotations exist as well, but the manuscript Calvert is working on, a psalm-book, provides the best chance of understanding the Manichaean world view as communicated amongst adherents to that faith, with its distinction of the world into--you guessed it--Light and Dark.

The Psalm-Book is real enough; it was translated by Charles Allberry, who is affirmed by Snow's brother Philip to have been the model for Roy Calvert. Like the fictional Calvert, Philip Snow asserts, Allberry suffered from terrible bouts of depression, and moments of manic elation, but was also charismatic, charming and kind, especially to those who were poor, oppressed, or unhappy.

Snow makes Calvert very real, and sympathetic; it doesn't hurt that the character is that rarity, a fictional wit whose dialogue is in fact witty. For much of the book, he tilts quixotically against those in power who have become pompous, and use learning for fame, or to keep others down. His characteristic method is to solemnly interrogate them, tripping them up in logical inconsistencies, or revealing their hypocrisies in deadpan dialectic.

These amusing interludes, as well as some society life, are punctuated by Roy's struggle against his own "oddly mechanical" affliction--depression, destructive elation, relief, alternating in phases only the length of which are unpredictable--leads him to try to lose himself--in God, in women and drink, even flirting with Fascism (the novel is set in the mid-Thirties into World War II).

This last is an interesting, and risky move. It happens quite late in the book, after we have come to like Calvert very much indeed, and is a shock. It's profoundly narratively counterintuitive to have the character drawn to fascism be sympathetic (in Powell's Dance, it's Widmerpool who is a quite unlovely, though interesting figure). Calvert's attraction to fascism causes for the first time a strain in his long friendship with narrator Lewis Eliot, law don and generally reasonable man, himself a firm anti-Fascist, as was Snow, from the get-go. Calvert, no political thinker, is drawn to it as a means of throwing himself away in hopes of escape from the crippling, debilitating depression he suffers--he is a specific instance of Erich Fromm's "Escape From Freedom." Even while he finds himself drawn to it, Calvert is revolted by its bigotry and antisemitism, as well as its disdain for the odd characters Calvert loves--he even risks his life to save a Jewish couple from the Nazi regime. It's a brilliant portrayal of cognitive dissonance.

Ultimately, Roy himself rejects the Reich as "a feeble simulacrum for his search for God", admitting to Eliot that "I was clutching at anything of course," and sadly describing it as "my last grab." (Ch. 33)

So Roy gives in, and tries to live with his affliction, while he serves in the War. First in intelligence, but then, as the depression closes in on him, he chooses to join the RAF, after enquiring of Eliot what is the most dangerous duty to be had. He becomes a bomber pilot, because he wants to die but can't quite kill himself. In his surrender, he marries, and his wife bears a daughter. And Roy becomes, ironically, free of the cycle that has driven him to choose death over life; he finds, at last a certain peace. Now that he no longer wants to die, though, he is stuck; "One can't change one's mind," Roy admits, "It[war] holds one to it." (Ch. 38)
Calvert fascinated me, enough so that when an opportunity to obtain a copy of Allberry's translation of the Psalm-Book, I took it. It is the only genuinely rare book I own.

Recently, I stumbled on an interesting piece exploring the extent to which Calvert might not be an entirely faithful picture of Allberry, but may have incorporated aspects of Larry Darrell, one of the characters in The Razor's Edge. That led me to a book compiled and in part written by Allberry's widow, Patricia Lewis, titled, Charles Allberry-A Portrait (1984). Privately printed, the book is a collection of reminiscences of Allberry, by Lewis herself, but by a series of his friends and colleagues.

As Lewis explains the genesis of the Portrait, "my son David, having re-read C.P. Snow's novel 'The Light and the Dark', the main character of which 'Roy Calvert', was partly based on my late husband, Charles Allberry, asked me 'Was my father really like that?'"; The Portrait is an effort to provide an answer. Lewis wrote her own account of her whirlwind courtship and all too brief marriage, and then "wrote to those few friends of Charles who survive and whose addresses I know for theirs." The book is a labor of love, as much meant for her son as for the memory of her late husband. It is touching in places, especially Lewis's own account, and certainly complicates the identification of Allberry with Calvert. S. Gorley Putt, whose article set me off on this literary jaunt, looked at the differences in Snow's novel and in Lewis's Portrait, noting that "They remind one of the difference between fiction and fact, however closely a fictional figure may resemble a real person in some aspects. I do this in fairness not only to Charles Allberry but also to my other friend, Charles Snow the novelist {not, remember, "the biographer")."

It is interesting, though, to examine the aspects of Snow's depiction of Calvert that clearly upset his widow. As she writes, when she heard that Snow had written a book based on Allberry:
I bought it at W.H. Smith's, and, like his parents, was distressed at what I read. To those who did not know Charles and have difficulty in differentiating between the true and fictional qualities portrayed in the book, I should like to say this: I can vouch for the fact that Charles was never sexually immoral, the reverse was true--he was a man of high moral and religious principles; that though he poked fun at people and delighted in bringing them down a peg if they became, as he thought, "inflated", he would never bait them--he was too kind for that; that at times he suffered moods of depression may well be true (what highly intellectual man or woman does not?), but that these were grossly exaggerated by the author and provided the theme for the novel, and certainly I never saw him depressed; that he was not pro-Nazi (as events later proved) though he might have admired the Nazi efficiency and orderliness--he detested their treatment of the Jews and other dissidents and the disservice they were rendering to universal scholarship. He did admire the German people, especially their industry and enthusiasm, the cleanliness of their towns, their music and poetry.
(Portrait at 6).

Now,with one significant exception, this is not really inconsistent with Snow's novel.

To deal with the most damning piece first, Calvert's pro-Nazi leanings, he is depicted as admiring the energy and efficiency of the Reich. This is repeated several times in the novel, but most notably when Calvert invites the narrator Lewis Eliot to Germany, where Calvert is pursuing his studies. As they walk through Berlin, the friends quarrel:
"It has great power. Don't you feel it has great power?" He spoke with extreme force. As he spoke, I knew for sure what I had already suspected: he had brought me to Berlin to convert me.


He had set out to convince me that the Nazis had history on their side.
The future could be in German hands. There would be great suffering on the way, they might end in a society as dreadful as the worst of this present one: but there was a chance—perhaps a better chance than any other—that in time, perhaps in our lifetime, they would create a brilliant civilisation.

'If they succeed', said Roy, 'everyone will forget the black spots. In history success is the only virtue."
(The Light and the Dark, 183). Calvert views the world (as does Eliot, as do many of the figures in the novel), as a choice between Germany and Russia, believing that the democracies of Europe had used up their moral and philosophical force. He finds Communism "sterile" and "naive"; He finds the Germans more "human." (Light and the Dark, at 184-185).

But like Allberry, Roy inveighs (at some risk to himself, as this is taking place in Nazi Germany, "at an august official dinner") against anti-semitism: "You're a wonderful people," Roy says, as a concerned English attache in Berlin tells Eliot, "You're grave. You're gifted. You might begin a new civilization. I wish you would. I'm speaking as a friend, you see. But don't you think you're slightly mad? Your treatment of the Jews--why need you do it? It's unnecessary. It gets you nowhere. It's insane. Sometimes I think, whatever else you do, it will be enough to condemn you." (Light and the Dark, at 175-176). In later novels, we read that he has helped several Jewish scholars and dissidents to escape before the outbreak of war.

Roy's flirtation with the Reich takes place in 1938; by 1939, he has rejected the Reich as his last, most desperate effort to throw himself into a purpose that could save him. He only turns to it after romantic love, and then religion fail him because he simply can't believe in God.

Roy's teasing only turns cruel on one occasion, when he revives an old academic scandal at an academic gathering honoring an old fraud. Mostly, his humor accords with Allberry's own as described by his widow.

As to the depression, Pat Lewis quotes a letter from Snow to his brother Philip that demonstrates that, whatever her experience of Allberry was, Snow believed that Allberry suffered:
His loss is harder to bear than that of any of my other friends would be. I learned from him more of the adventures and solitariness of the spirit than from anyone else; in some ways he was the most gifted and the most remarkable of all of us, and the most unhappy."
While some contributors to the volume deny any depression at all on the part of Allberry, others describe specific outbreaks of it, while noting the difficulty of the times--the Great Depression and the Second World War. Most acknowledge that Snow knew Allberry far better and longer than did they.

The one area where Snow's depiction is completely inconsistent with A Portrait? Sexual and morality and faith. Allberry converted to Roman Catholicism--not because Pat Lewis was a Catholic herself, but as he grew alienated from the Anglo-Catholicism in which he was raised. That's a fact, on which we Allberry's own words, preserved in a letter in A Portrait. Calvert struggles with faith, and fails, as I described in my recent sermon and it was Catholicism that called to him.

I'm not claiming that Snow is "right" and Pat Lewis is "wrong." I'm claiming that Snow the novelist, not the biographer (as Putt admirably phrases it) is closer to her memories than she realizes, and that his love of his friend did not stop him from recalling, if possibly heightening, his dangerous flirtation with a political philosophy the full scope of whose evil was not fully grasped by many in England at the time. Both portraits are done with love, one in charcoal, the other in brighter colors. Each enriches the other. Snow's novel does not take away Lewis's reminiscence--she depicts the surprising joy and fulfillment he found as a husband in the last years of his life (Snow depicts Calvert's war-time marriage as happy, too, and as breaking the cycle of depression if not permanently, then at least until Calvert's death). Her surety that he found religious faith at the time of his conversion--well, the Roy we see at the end is at peace.

But ultimately, only one of them was real. Charles Allberry was clearly a greatly gifted man, a complex and brave man, and one who raised the emotional temperature of a room by his presence. Nigel Havers captured that in the adaptation. CP Snow gave him the means to do it. But Lewis's Portrait reminds us that history has its claims, even over fiction.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

No Day But Today

Some years ago, when I was still properly considered a young lawyer, I was in the elevator on the way up to the office. A colleague in entertainment law was in the elevator with me, clearly deeply upset. When I asked what was wrong, she told me that her friend Jonathan Larson had died, shortly before his new show, which she was sure would have put him on the map, was to open.

Rent opened despite Larson's death. I didn't see it.

Pity, that. It had something very important to say to me, though I wasn't ready to hear it.

Somewhat later--not very long, really--an old friend told me that a date had fallen through and he had theater tickets. He proposed an exchange: I'd buy dinner, the tickets were on him. I agreed, and we saw Rent. The message had been delivered.

As I was internalizing it, I turned for some light reading to a novel a very different old friend had recommended to me, a novel by Lawrence Block, that carried the same message in a very different form.

That was more than twenty years ago.


Looking for something else online this evening (hint: Anglocat in the TARDIS is due to resume), I stumbled on the video of "No Day But Today" which brought those days back to me, and one more, that reminded me of a smaller, but very happy memory.


On New Years Eve at the turn of the millennium, I was at an apartment overlooking Times Square owned by one of seven guys I roomed with in college, several of whom were there--I don't talk about these gents enough, but they have meant a great deal to me, even though I don't see them often. They helped me grow up.

Anyway, around 11:00, Times Square was full, and my host gestured out to his balcony.

"You want Mark?" He asked.

"You're Roger," I answered.

We went out and serenaded the crowd with a song we each implicitly trusted the other to know, and which fit the night perfectly. Here it is done by the originals, albeit years later:

Thanks, Jonathan.

Thanks, Larry.

Still here--no day but today.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

"A Bit Late to Say 'Whoa' to the Horse": The Mythmakers: "Temple of Secrets"/"Small Prophet, Quick Return"/"Death of a Spy"/"Horse of Destruction"

"Time hath, my lord, a wallet at his back,
Wherein he puts alms for oblivion,
A great-sized monster of ingratitudes:
Those scraps are good deeds past; which are devour'd
As fast as they are made, forgot as soon
As done: perseverance, dear my lord,
Keeps honour bright: to have done is to hang
Quite out of fashion, like a rusty mail
In monumental mockery. Take the instant way;
For honour travels in a strait so narrow,
Where one but goes abreast: keep then the path;
For emulation hath a thousand sons
That one by one pursue: if you give way,
Or hedge aside from the direct forthright,
Like to an enter'd tide, they all rush by
And leave you hindmost;
Or like a gallant horse fall'n in first rank,
Lie there for pavement to the abject rear,
O'er-run and trampled on: then what they do in present,
Though less than yours in past, must o'ertop yours;
For time is like a fashionable host
That slightly shakes his parting guest by the hand,
And with his arms outstretch'd, as he would fly,
Grasps in the comer: welcome ever smiles,
And farewell goes out sighing. O, let not virtue seek
Remuneration for the thing it was;
For beauty, wit,
High birth, vigour of bone, desert in service,
Love, friendship, charity, are subjects all
To envious and calumniating time.”

The speech is given to Ulysses in Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, and subverts the nobility of Homer's Iliad. Yet this speech provided the title for Simon Raven's scathing 10-volume depiction of life in Britain from 1945 through the 1970s. Raven's jaundiced eye is useful to us here.


After the rather flat farewell to Verity Lambert that was Mission to the Unknown, I had low expectations for The Mythmakers. It's a serial that is entirely missing, though the reconstruction by Loose Cannon feels much less static than many others. Possibly that's because so much of the story is powered by the dialogue, and the actors--especially the guest stars--are having a whale of a time.

That's in part because we are not in Homer's Troy, nor yet even Shakespeare's poetic, if scandalous and tainted. Troy. No, only Shakespeare's scabrous Thersites captures the Trojan war as seen by scriptwriter Donald Cotton; Cotton takes his cue from Thersites's description of the War:
Here is such patchery, such juggling and such
knavery! all the argument is a cuckold and a
whore; a good quarrel to draw emulous factions
and bleed to death upon. Now, the dry serpigo on
the subject! and war and lechery confound all!
The characters are neither Homer's nor Shakespeare's; Achilles is rash, but hardly the killing machine of myth or drama; Odysseus seems to be a barbarian, at first, but turns out to be clever as advertised, and cynical as Shakespeare's, but without the philosophy to back it. Agamemnon cries out to be played by Brian Blessed, but Jack Melford carries it off quite well.Menelaus doesn't even want Helen back, and knew what he was getting when he married her. (Talk about getting under the radar).

Hector is unimpressive (his brief duel with Achilles is more silly than thrilling), Paris a weak-willed coward who wants to be important (Steven has to goad him into a fight which Steven deliberately loses to get into Troy and rescue Vicki; Paris's newfound courage is, er, transitory), Priam is so innocent he needs a guardian--though he is quite nice-natured. As is Troilus, who falls hard for Vicki. Just as well, really.

The Greeks are bastards, the Trojans are dilettantes, they both really want to command the trade routes, and Helen is a pretext we never even see. (It would have been a perfect in-joke if they'd cast Jacqueline Hill).

It's a jet-black comedy with the Doctor trying to avoid suggesting the Trojan Horse (he can't believe Homer had it right and anyone would be that stupid--pro tip: they are), Vicki being renamed by Priam as Cressida and falling in love with Troilus (at least the script tries to earn this), and Steven just getting in the way. Oh, and episode 3, "Death of a Spy"--the title refers to Odysseus's mute friend who is killed by Paris's patrol for for not answering a soldier's question.

And yet it all works. These characters are funny, infuriating, silly, and steal the show out from under the regulars. Even Frances White's Cassandra is interesting, het petulance and frustration mounting throughout the storyline.

War isn't glorious in Doctor Who. Not in 1965. It's Shakespeare's wasteland, for wretched causes and stupidity run riot, minus the poetry.

Even without a single surviving episode, this one's a stone classic.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

"You Could Almost Do Anything": Verity's Mission to the Unknown

Mission to the Unknown, represents the last time we'll see the credit "Producer: Verity Lambert"on Doctor Who, and it's a shame for several reasons. First, because, as indicated in my write up of Galaxy Four, incoming John Wiles is hardly a champion of women's empowerment in the show--my limited defense of the dramatic possibilities of Maaga and the Drahvins aside, the incoming team is about to drop the spirited Vicki, because Maureen O'Brien was too assertive, and for all of Stephanie Bidmead's character building, she really only had two scraps of the script to draw on. For the rest, the Drahvins are all too much like a certain type of man's fear of women in authority, written and televised when the woman in authority was leaving.

Second, it's just not. . . very good. No, it tells the story of Space Security Agent Marc Cory, who is trapped, along with astronaut Gordon Lowery, with a broken spaceship on the planet Kemble (after Fanny, if the melodrama is anything to go by), and discovers nefarious Dalek doings: A plot by the pepper pots and their allies (they have allies here), to conquer the Solar System, and especially. . . Earth.

Lowery, like a briefly glimpsed other member of the expedition, is done in by carnivorous plants native to Skaro (that then reanimate your corpse, to spread the infection). Cory's efforts to launch a message seemingly fail, because he waits until he sees the Daleks. What? The homicidal Skaro cacti weren't enough of a tip off?

The recon is not particularly good, but I think the flaws are most likely in the scripting, and the sudden departure from our regulars. Still, no way to say goodbye to Verity.


Lambert's IMDB page demonstrates a career that can only be called stellar; she produced crowd-pleasers, classics, significant historical drama, and shattered boundaries--the bold, pioneering drama The Naked Civil Servant mean something to you?--thank Verity. She brought Rumpole of the Bailey to Thames Television after a successful one-shot on "Play for Today", and brought Peter O'Toole and Richard Briers to Blandings Castle.

And, with Sydney Newman goading her, she created a classic from scratch, on the fly. Here she is discussing, inter alia, her run on Doctor Who:

And now she leaves our story.

Monday, July 31, 2017

"All They Can Do is Kill": Galaxy Four

I'm abandoning for this post my convention of using individual episode titles, because Galaxy Four is a mess, and unloved, and a little less respected than it deserves. As of today, it's number 261 out of 289, and in the Hartnell era only scores higher than (from top to bottom), The Gunfighters, The Sensorites, The Space Museum, and The Web Planet. In other words, fans put this story as the fifth worse Hartnell story. (I'm not signing on to the the low rankings for the others, by the bye--though The Space Museum does fritter away a great first episode with a pretty disappointing rest of the tale). Weird though it is, the inspired Victorian lunacy of The Web Planet deserves better, and The Sensorites has more to be said for it, too. As for The Gunfighters--we'll get to that in time.

But even my esteemed Phil Sandifer is dismissive of Galaxy Four. After noting that it is mostly lost, and so we can only catch a memory of it, he notes:
Thats oddly fitting for Galaxy 4, however, given that it is by far the most phoned-in story we've seen yet in Doctor Who. It is, in many ways, less a Doctor Who story than a stitched together remake of half-remembered bits of Doctor Who stories. That does not mean it is the worst story to date - I'd watch this again before I sat down for Keys of Marinus any day. But it is the first time that Doctor Who has really felt like it's just doing the Doctor Who thing by default instead of trying to push itself. Eventually this will become more normal, if only because eventually Doctor Who will have pushed itself in so many directions that there are more types of retread to be done. But this, to be honest, is the first time Doctor Who has just decided to do a story that plays it totally safe and feels like Doctor Who is "expected" to feel. And for the most part, it's a thinly veiled redress of The Daleks and The Sensorites, with a dash of Space Museum. You've even got overt references to Space Museum and The Web Planet (featuring the unexpected return of the Astral Map). But perhaps the most obvious "Doctor Who By Numbers" moment is the latest attempt at creating the next Daleks, the Rills' robotic servants, named by Vicki in her last act of cute naming as "Chumblies" (a name that, inexplicably, everyone including the Rills immediately adopts).


The result is a story that feels a bit cobbled together. Steven is stuck spending the entire episode delivering lines originally written for Barbara, and Vicki, although she has a plot, apparently picked enough holes in the dialogue during rehearsals to drive incoming producer John Wiles to sack Maureen O'Brien after this story, resulting in her hastily being written out two stories later.

So, to recap, we have a pioneering female producer being replaced with a male producer whose first decision is to sack the female lead for being too uppity. Knowing that, it's really hard to watch this story, in which the matriarchal society of the Drahvin is painted as uncritically and completely evil, without wanting to drink heavily and read feminist literary theory.
And that's largely true. Largely.

Except, and here's the thing, I think is being lost in this: The Chumblies are clearly not the next Daleks, and never could be. They're not frightening at all, they don't achieve much until they are protecting the Doctor and Vickie later in the story, and they are blank robots, who obey the Rills (hideous to us, but nice-natured beings who need ammonia to breathe--and whose the Doctor nearly mass-slaghters, thinking he's protecting Vicki.

No, the next Daleks are the Drahvins. Even the names are similar, and they, like the Daleks are not fully human--the Drahvins are clones: "And these are not what you would call human. They are cultivated in test tubes. We have very good scientists. I am a living being. They are products, and inferior products. Grown for a purpose and capable of nothing more," their leader Maaga says. Capable only of killing, the Drahvins are helpless in situations to which overt, obvious violence is not the answer.

Stephanie Bidmead's strong performance, particularly in the rediscovered third episode, Air Lock, makes the Drahvins far more comprehensible.

What little we know about the Drahvins is that their society is ruthless, but that it because it is starving. Maaga offers Vicki food, in an effort to put her at ease, and is confused when the "Very good" food (leaves) is not to Vicki's liking.

Later, Stephanie Bidmead grabs her one shot at giving Maaga some depth:
Nervously, Drahvin 2 approaches Maaga.)
DRAHVIN 2: Maaga, shall we go?
MAAGA: Where?
DRAHVIN 2: To patrol.
MAAGA: I see no need.
DRAHVIN 2: To see what the other two are doing.
DRAHVIN 2: But, Maaga
MAAGA: Can you hear me?
DRAHVIN 2: We always go out on patrol at this time.
MAAGA: Yes, but not now. Soldier Drahvins, you can't understand anything that's different, can you? You are made unintelligent, and you remain that way for the rest of your lives. I told them soldiers were no good for space work. All they can do is kill. But they wouldn't listen. If you are to conquer space, they said, you will need soldiers. So here I am confronted with danger, and the only one able to think. Very well. I am your commanding officer. I am your controller, am I not?
DRAHVIN 2: Yes, Maaga.
MAAGA: And you obey my orders?
DRAHVIN 2: Yes, Maaga.
DRAHVIN 2: Because you are our leader.
DRAHVIN 2: You think.
MAAGA: And you don't know what that means. But because I think, I order that there'll be no patrol now. We have a prisoner. In order to save him, the other two must help us.
DRAHVIN 1: I do not understand why they would want to help a friend.
MAAGA: I know you don't.
DRAHVIN 1: We would not. We would leave him here.
MAAGA: Yes, we would. But I have heard of creatures like these. They help one another.
DRAHVIN 3: Why, Maaga?
MAAGA: I don't know. I have heard that on occasions, they even die for one another.
DRAHVIN 3: Die? For their friends?
MAAGA: There are many strange things in the universe.
Maaga is trying to understand the universe--and failing. But she has no guidance, no companions, just inferior simulacra of herself, unable to help her understand the Rills or the TARDIS team. She is able to think, she boasts, but has no guideposts for thought.

Sandifer's gibe about wanting to drink and read about feminist theory is funny, and spot on, because the trope of the evil matriarchy has been done to death, or, rather, we wish it had been, and here it is again. But there's something to Maaga's grappling with feelings, when she herself cannot experience them, when she is surrounded by distorted, dependent versions of herself. Like Javert in Les Miserables, Maaga knows thatches' getting her sums wrong, an is missing something critically important. Unlike him, she never solves the problem.

She dies because she is too much like a Dalek. She can't accept help; that would be to accept other beings as beings-in-themselves--a concept she can't even apply to her crew. And yet she grasps one piece of the puzzle: "I told them soldiers were no good for space work. All they can do is kill." At some level, Maaga knows she is failing, and Bidmead conveys her confusion as well as her ruthlessness.

So, yes, it's a failure. Yes, the trope creaks and is no way to mark the farewell arc of Verity Lambert, the show's pioneering producer. But there's a sort of reflectiveness to the portrayal of Maaga that ameliorates this one for me. She's afraid, isolated, left without proper training or equipment, and her insight--that killers were not enough to go explore the universe with--was ignored. She's cruel because she's afraid, and doesn't know anything else.

Just like a Dalek. Or even their creator....

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Light and the Dark: A Sermon on Romans 8: 26-39

[Delivered at St. Bartholomew's Church, NYS, July 30, 2017]

You don’t hear much about C.P. Snow these days. He was a scientist, a civil servant, and a novelist. He wrote a sequence of 11 novels, called Strangers and Brothers, in which he followed an aspiring lawyer and writer from his hungry youth to the brink of a distinguished old age.

Well, you can see why he grabbed my attention as a college student, right? A series of novels that asked the very questions I was struggling with myself—what to make of my life, how to follow ambition without becoming self-serving, what was the good life anyway?-—Snow’s hero Lewis Eliot grappled with them all. In today’s world, where bitter political differences are tearing apart old alliances, and even families, we can look back at Eliot and his friends confronting these same conflicts in the 1930s.

But Lewis Eliot did not wrestle with God. Like Snow himself, he was a cheerful atheist, despite his Church of England upbringing. Still—he knew religious people and several of them play key roles in the novels.

One character was based on his closest friend, a brilliant scholar named Charles Allberry, who translated the one surviving text left behind by the Manichees—the Christian heresy that believed that the whole of creation is a battlefield between the light of spirit and the dark of the flesh. They were the great adversaries of St. Augustine, and, until Allberry’s translation of a group of psalms that survived the persecution of the Manichees, nothing was known of their thought except what their opponents, such as Augustine, wrote about them.

Roy Calvert, the fictional character based on Allberry, and main character in The Light and the Dark, thirsts for God, but struggles with belief. As he tells Eliot:
“Listen, Lewis. I could believe in all the rest. I could believe in the catholic church. I could believe in miracles. I could believe in the inquisition. I could believe in eternal damnation. If only I could believe in God.”

“And yet you can’t.”

“I can’t begin to,” he said, his tone quiet once more. “I can’t get as far as ‘help Thou mine unbelief.’. . . . The nearest I’ve got is this,” he said. “It has happened twice. It’s completely clear—and terrible. Each time it has been on a night when I couldn’t sleep. I’ve had the absolute conviction—it’s much more real than anything one can see or touch—that God and His world exist. And that everyone can enter and find their rest. Except me. I’m infinitely far away for ever. I am alone and infinitesimally small—and I can’t come near.” [1]
The notion that some of us are cast away by God, that some of us are denied God’s love, because of some inherent flaw within us that we can’t identify, let alone cure, the concept that some number of us were born to be damned has haunted Christianity, especially American Christianity, from Jonathan Edwards to the present, as documented by the scholar Peter Theusen.[2]

And today’s Epistle is one of the key sources of that doctrine. In 1910, Bishop Charles Gore, a great scholar, and one of the leading lights of the late 19th and early 20th century Church of England straightforwardly declared that “There is . . . no point on which St. Paul has been more misrepresented than on his teaching about predestination. He teaches plainly that it is God’s plan to have mercy on all,” that it is God’s will that all be saved.[3] And he adds that “it is to do egregious violence to his general teaching to suggest that he entertained the idea of persons with an opposite predestination—to eternal misery.”[4]

So what, then, is St. Paul teaching us in today’s reading?

First, and obviously, that we need not be afraid that our prayers are too weak—that we don’t know how to pray, or what to ask for. The feelings of need stirring in us, the inarticulate emotions that stir us—these are themselves prayers. Or, as St. Augustine wrote in his Confessions, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”
Prayer isn’t a laundry list, or an online order that we have to get right. It’s an opening of ourselves to God, and effort to speak our hearts to God, but even more, to clear a space for that small, still voice within.

What does he then tell us?

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Let’s stop a minute there. How can that be? All things work together for good sounds awfully Pollyanna-ish to me. But then I read Susan Howatch, who asked the same question when attending a sermon at Guilford Cathedral. The preacher, the Cathedral’s Dean, asked how could you say that to the victim of a tragedy, or about the loss of a beloved friend. And he went on to explain that:
the sentence "All things work together for good to them that love God" was slightly mistranslated, and that the translation should have been: "All things intermingle for good to them that love God." This would mean that the good and bad were intermingling to create a synergy--or, in other words: in the process of intermingling, the good and the bad formed something else. The bad didn't become less bad, and the dark didn't become less dark--one had to acknowledge this, acknowledge the reality of the suffering. But the light emanating from a loving God created a pattern on the darkness, and in that pattern was the meaning, and in the meaning lay the energy which would generate the will to survive.

All things intermingle for good. The dark never obliterates the light. God is there with us, suffering alongside us, sharing our pain, just as Jesus did in his life.

And then Paul tells us that For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.

And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

But who are the called, the predestined, the justified?


But don’t take it from me; here’s Bishop Gore again: “The fact that they love God is the sufficient evidence of their election. Those who love God are also those who are ‘called according to his purpose.’”[6]

But perhaps, we may wonder, do we love God enough? The standard isn’t so high, Bishop Gore explains; all who have felt a movement of God in their heart, who feel the answering “yes” rise within them—these are the people who have been assured by Paul that their “yes” is enough.[5]

It’s not a test of merit or worth; it’s not a test at all. It’s simply opening ourselves up to life, accepting that the good and the bad will intermingle, that growth will hurt, and yet benefit us, that everything ends, and that’s sad, but everything begins, and that’s joyful.

All things intermingle for those who love.

Because to love is to be, and as Plotinus, the neo-platonist who looked on at the early church with curiosity and a little wonder put it, “Nothing that truly is can ever perish.” [6]

The rest is how we respond to that love, and how we let it change us. And as long as we are willing to open our hearts and our minds, to listen for God, to open ourselves to prayer so that the groanings of the Spirit –in other words, the true needs and wishes of our deepest selves—can come out. That’s what it means to be the called, and the predestined.

Nothing that truly is can ever die.

And what of the fictional Roy Calvert or the real Charles Allberry, whose despair was so heart-wrenchingly recorded by his friend in The Light and the Dark?

Look at all the terrible notions that Roy Calvert thinks he must affirm to enter and find the rest of God. The Inquisition. Eternal damnation. A God, in other words, of punishment and cruelty. No wonder he couldn’t find that belief that would enable him to surrender his innate sense of justice and decency!

But do you really think so good a person, who strove to find God, only to be blocked by the cruel idols that have been placed on pedestals and called God, could fall outside of the love of God, the sacrificial love of God as shown to us by Jesus Christ?

I don’t. Here I stand with Paul. Because as he writes:
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,

nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Yes, here I stand.

Here we stand.

We can do no other.

[1] C.P. Snow, The Light and the Dark , at p. 59 (1948).

[2] Peter J. Theusen, Predestination: The American Career of a Contentious Doctrine (2009).

[3] Charles Gore, St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Practical Exposition (1910), vol. 2, p. 317.

[4] Id. at p. 319.

[5] Susan Howatch, “The Starbridge Novels and Twentieth Century Anglican Theology,” in Bruce Johnson & Charles A. Huttar, eds., Scandalous Truths: Essays by and About Susan Howatch 231, 235-236 (2005).

[6] W. R. Inge, The Philosophy of Plotinus at 70 (1918).

Sunday, July 23, 2017

"It's More Fun My Way": "The Watcher"/"The Meddling Monk"/"A Battle of Wits"/"Checkmate" [The Time Meddler]

Doctor Who's second series ends with a bang, not with a whimper. The Time Meddler moves briskly (on the whole; I confess I thought that "A Battle of Wits" felt a bit more like a Terry Nation run-around than a Dennis Spooner episode, but that may be because, as the season finale, the production team felt they had to delay the revelation that the Monk hails from the same home world as the Doctor (as demonstrated by his possessing a TARDIS himself) until the end of the penultimate episode.

Still, part of one episode spinning its wheels is hardly a stinging critique of what is otherwise an episode that resets the show in sim subtle but important ways. Equally importantly, the reset is done quite well, through some really good dialogue, well-delivered.

First, where the end of The Chase focused on the Doctor's devastation at the departure of his first friends, now Vicki is allowed to grieve a little for Barbara and Ian. The two remaining members of the TARDIS team share their loss:
VICKI: I shall miss them, Doctor.
VICKI: Ian and Barbara.
DOCTOR: Yes, I shall miss them too. First Susan and now them. Come over here, my dear, I'd like to talk to you.
VICKI: What about the control panel?
DOCTOR: Oh, that's all right, my dear. It's already set. Their decision certainly surprised me, although it shouldn't, I know. But it was quite obvious they intended to take the first opportunity of going back home.
VICKI: Well, they weren't getting any younger, were they?
DOCTOR: It's lucky for you child, they're not here to hear you say that. Good gracious me. You think they're old? What do you think of me?
VICKI: You're different, Doctor. Anyway, we may land in their time one day and be able to talk over old times.
DOCTOR: Well, perhaps Vicki, perhaps.
VICKI: Anyway, it's done now. I wonder where the Tardis'll take us next?
DOCTOR: Yes, it's done now, although I must admit I'm left with a small worry.
DOCTOR: I just wanted to ask you, are you sure you didn't want to go home too? I didn't give you very much time to consider now, did I? I should hate to think that you're just staying for the sake of an old man.
VICKI: Oh, Doctor! I made my decision. I wanted to stay. Anyway, I wouldn't have anything to go back to.
A new unit is born, just in time for Steven Taylor to come blundering out, carrying the stuffed toy panda that was his mascot during his long imprisonment on Mechanus. As the Doctor and Vicki explain the TARDIS's functions, he is incredulous, giving Hartnell a chance to deliver a wonderful line explaining the ship's layout: "That is the dematerialising control and that, over yonder, is the horizontal hold. Up there is the scanner, those are the doors, that is a chair with a panda on it. Sheer poetry, dear boy. Now please stop bothering me." Steven quickly fits in, as they go exploring England of 1066.

The second reset is that the Doctor reveals that, contrary to what Barbara was told in The Aztecs, history can be rewritten--every line. If the Monk succeeds in preventing Harold Godwinson's defeat at Hastings, history will simply--reset, to accommodate the change. That is, in fact, the Monk's plan, and his justification for it:
DOCTOR: Yes, I regret that we do, but I would say that I am fifty years earlier. Now when are you going to answer my questions?
MONK: Which questions?
DOCTOR: The reason for this deliberate destruction.
MONK: I, I want to improve things.
DOCTOR: Improve things? Improve things, yes, that's good. Very good. Improve what, for instance?
MONK: Well, for instance, Harold, King Harold, I know he'd be a good king. There wouldn't be all those wars in Europe, those claims over France went on for years and years. With peace the people'd be able to better themselves. With a few hints and tips from me they'd be able to have jet airliners by 1320! Shakespeare'd be able to put Hamlet on television.
DOCTOR: He'd do what?
MONK: The play Hamlet on television.
DOCTOR: Oh, yes, quite so, yes, of course, I do know the medium.
STEVEN: Were you going to kill the Vikings?
MONK: Yes, yes, I was. You see, if I didn't, then King
DOCTOR: What are we going to do with this fellow? What can we do with this man? He's utterly irresponsible. He wants to destroy the whole pattern of world history.
(The Monk runs out of his Tardis)
Where, last series, Barbara could not change the past, the Doctor is clearly deeply concerned that the Monk will. This raises the stakes immeasurably, of course, and Vicli and Steven fret over whether their own memories will be retconned to fit the new timeline.

[A true continuity geek could try to harmonize these two concepts of time travel by pointing out that the Doctor and the Monk are not human, and could claim that their people, as yet unidentified, can change other worlds's timelines, but that humans can't change their own, without tripping the Grandfather Paradox. Suffice it to say that the show does not do this, and leave it there.]

The third reset is the Monk himself-another member of the Doctor's and Susan's people, mischievous, but with some level of moral justification in his own mind at least--he seems sincere when he says he's helping. But also when he says he's doing it to entertain himself. Peter Butterworth, best known for his many appearances in the "Carry On" series of films, is excellent here, deceptive, manipulative, but not simply evil--he gives a wounded Saxon warrior penicillin rather than let him die, even though it increases the risk of his plan's being foiled. He's humorous at times, and even seems to try to win the Doctor's approval (There are fans who have wondered if the Monk and the Master are one and the same; there is nothing in this story to support it.) Also, the Monk seems to be from 50 years in the Doctor's future. However you view the character, however, just a touch, a little bit of the mystery is stripped away by this member of his own people interacting with him. The Doctor is no longer sui generis.

Finally, this is the first of what are known as "pseudo-historicals"--"which are set in Earth's history but have a dominant science fiction or science fantasy narrative aside from the presence of the Doctor and his TARDIS." Here, the main battle is between the Doctor and his compatriot, not between Harold and William the Conqueror.

All this in a fun, well-acted romp, but one which has with some stakes--we get to care for the Saxons, especially Edith, who is unfailingly kind to the travelers.

A lovely way to close out a stochastic, but very strong, season--from the wild Victorian throwback of The Web Planet, to the sensation of Daleks in London, and to the epic of The Crusades.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Never the Twain; Or, The Tragic End of Mr. Bonteen

[On the Anthony Trollope Facebook Group, the question has arisen as to how Trollope would have written the Whoinverse. We will never know, but as a brewer of the finest ersatz Trollope, I have some ideas. . . This all makes more sense if you compare the cast of The Palliserswith that of The Five Doctors]

A dull, wheezing, groaning sound on a damp, foggy, London evening can betoken much or little. Little, if it is merely Jake's old cob, as he pulls the cart past the Universe Club. However, when the strange sound is accompanied by the arrival of an additional pillar to the Club's portico--that may betoken more than an asthmatic horse wearily treading its familiar paths. Still more, though, if a dark, saturnine, man, draped in a black cloak, somehow steps out from the pillar, and walks away from the Club, we know not yet where.

As the man in the cloak proceeded through the labyrinth of London, Mr. Phineas Finn was leaving the House of Commons. As he strode through the streets along the river, turning over his problems yet once more, he failed to mark the strange sound--a wheezing, groaning sound, just like that which had accompanied the additional pillar's arrival. So caught up was Mr. Finn in the difficulty presented by his egregious colleague, the odious Mr. Bonteen, who had successfully blocked him from office in the newly formed government, that Mr. Finn nearly walked into the tall blue box impeding his way.

"The divil--" Phineas was quite sure that he had not seen the box earlier that day. No sooner had Phineas begun to read the strange sentence on the door--"Free to members of the public"? Phineas wondered. What was free to members of the public?--than a young, sandy-haired man in cricket whites and a hat with a red ribbon stepped smartly out, followed by a youth in what appeared to be his pajamas.

"Hello," the cricketer greeted him, hand outstretched, "I'm the Doctor."

The habit formed of custom impelled Phineas to shake this Doctor's hand, and reply, "Phineas Finn. Er--how exactly did the two of you fit into that box?"

"Not two," the Doctor began to answer, when a lady with extraordinary short hair, bold features, and a marked Antipodean accent pushed her way through. "Four of us," she said, offering Phineas her hand, adding: "Tegan Jovanka"

"God bless you," the Member of Parliament replied.

"No, her name is Tegan Jovanka," the youth in pajamas said. "And I'm Adric," he added for good measure.

The promised fourth, a younger woman still, came through the door to the odd box. She, at least was dressed with propriety, thought Phineas with relief--although the tiara nestled in her hair struck him as odd.

"Nssa," she introduced herself.

"We were wondering," the Doctor interjected, seizing a brief opportunity, "if you might be so good as to help us find the Universe Club."

"I'm on my way there myself," Phineas answered, and the four followed him.

"Er, you know. . .Doctor, you're not exactly . . . dressed for the Club..."


The saturnine man in the cloak, his close-cropped dark beard and piercing blue eyes distinguishing an angular face, proceeded down the street, until a tall spare figure crossed his path.

"Lord President!" He gasped in surprise.

Plantagenet Palliser, the Duke of Omnium, and President of the Board of Trade, looked askance at the figure standing in his path.

"Do I know you, sir?" he intoned haughtily.

"Know me?" The dark figure answered with a mellifluous voice, "It is I, the Master, Lord President."

"Master?" the Duke asked, "What foolery is this--" And then, recognition dawned.

"You are that mountebank, Emilius, that so many of the women have been making fools of themselves over, hmm? I had not recognized you with the beard--hardly suitable for a clergyman, even one such as you, sir." And the Duke swept away, leaving the Master equally confused and insulted.

"Emilius? Who is Emilius?" The Master asked nobody in particular, and reversed his direction, following the Duke.


Phineas Finn was unable to secure entrance for his new friends at the Universe Club. After he reported his failure, and they thanked him for his efforts, he went back inside.

"What now, Doctor?" Tegan asked.

"The Master must be here somewhere--the Lord President himself informed me he would be," the Time Lord replied. They crossed the street, to better keep an eye on the Club.

"We should spread out," Adric suggested, "to keep a better watch."

So, each taking a compass point around the club, the travelers waited.

Night fell.


The Reverend Joseph Emilius was also watching the Universe Club, with but one thought--the murder of the wretch Bonteen, who sought to undo his marriage to his beloved (and quite wealthy) Lizzie. The busybody was becoming appallingly close to hindering Emilius--why, his liberty was positively at stake! So he waited.

"Master!" The voice was unknown to him, the appellation peculiar; even in Emilus's heterodox congregation, he was not so addressed. He wheeled, facing the Duke of Omnium--albeit oddly dressed.

"Milord Duke?" He asked.

"Duke?" The baffled Borusa asked, and peered more closely at his interlocutor.


Adric, bored, fell asleep.


As all this happened, Phineas Finn and Mr. Bonteen each burst out of the Universe Club, scowling at the other. They headed off in opposite directions. Finn, as history has recorded, went home to bed. But history has erred in its depiction of Bonteen's movements.

That worthy man stamped off in the opposite direction from Phineas Finn, only to realize some streets later that he was walking away from his own home. As he turned around, he was face to face with the quarry he had hunted these past weeks.

"Emilius!" He declared, glad of an open enemy, especially a clergyman who was debarred from physical confrontation by his orders.

"Again this strange name," the Master mused. "Who is this Emilius?" He asked.

"You hide behind a false beard, you apostate?" Bonteen spat.

"A false beard?" the Master repeated, his patience running thin.

"A rubbish beard!" Bonteen's voice carried only more venom with it.

"I am the Master," the renegade Time Lord intoned, "and you will obey me.."

Bonteen assumed a fighting stance; the Master removed from under his cloak his TCE.

Bonteen lunged at him, leading the Master to strike the Member of Parliament across the temple. Mr. Bonteen dropped like a stone. The man was dying, the Master's enhanced Trakenite and Time Lord senses told him. The Master saw no reason to refrain from speeding him on his way, and kicked Bonteen hard in the midriff.


As the Doctor tried to explain his inability to find the Master to a baffled Plantagenet Palliser, and Tegan fended off the advances of Dolly Longestaffe, the wheezing groaning sound, and the disappearance of the extra pillar, revealed to the travelers that the Master had escaped once more.

At home, Mr. Emilius slept the sleep of the just. Perhaps, he thought, as he drifted off to sleep, he could resolve his conflict with Bonteen short of violence.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Jodie Whittaker Falls Out of the World

So the 13th Doctor is Jodie Whittaker. She will be the latest to, in Phil Sandifer's wonderfully evocative phrase, fall out of the world.

I am . . . pleasantly surprised. Incoming show runner Chris Chibnall fooled a lot of fans, including me, and showed more daring than I thought he had in him. (I confess, I was underwhelmed with his Torchwood work, which too often seemed to conflate nastiness with depth. I thought much more highly of Broadchurch, however.)

The move is, not surprisingly, controversial (also, just see the comments--if you must--to the video introducing Whittaker I've embedded above).

I have say, I find the controversy. . . sad.

Yes, the obvious misogyny is just pathetic, but the entitlement is even more so.

The less overtly misogynistic rationale that has been offered is that boys need a non-violent role model, and the Doctor has provided that for 54 years.

Now, that's a nice theory, but, well, it hinges on three separate fallacies:

1. That Boys Can't Have a Female Role Model. Seriously? Boys can't admire women, and learn from them? In my adult years, two of my great mentors, one in law school, and the other years later, were women. Each in her own way made me a better lawyer, and, quite frankly, a better man. But beyond that, do we really think that boys can only learn from men? As a boy, my father was invaluable in encouraging my love of books. But--newsflash--so was my Mom, and so was the retired teacher who lived next door, and gave me a copy of Edith Hamilton's Mythology, and opened a whole new world to me. Yes, the men who helped form me modeled a healthy masculinity for me, but I learned so much from the women who taught me, cared for me, and were just around me throughout my childhood, that to not include them as role models seems, well, willfully blind.

2. Hey, Don't Girls Deserve Role Models? Yeah, it's great that they have Wonder Woman (inter many alia), but, what, will the culture bank be broken if we share the Doctor? Somehow Doctor Whittaker somehow invalidates Doctors Capaldi, Smith, Tennant, Eccleston, McGann, McCoy, Baker, Davison, Troughton, and Hartnell? Look,it's rough when the Doctor who hits where you live leaves. I've loved the show since the 1980s, and have come to agree with the Brigadier: "Splendid fellows, all of you." And yet, it turned out that Capaldi is my Doctor. It's a loss to see him go; but I admit that the notion that he'll be replaced by a woman doesn't bother me a bit.

Why can't we share?

3. The Doctor is only Sometimes a Role Model If you read my Anglocat in the TARDIS entries, or Sandifer's excellent TARDIS Eruditorum, or Neal Perryman's Adventures With the Wife in Space, you'll see one common thread: The Doctor is absolutely unheroic to begin with, and even after becomes a hero, he has appalling lapses. (Including Six's fashion taste).

And yes, that is true in the new series. Here's the Tenth Doctor, adopting as his own the Master's catchphrase:

Look, the Doctor inculcates good values, it's true; I wrote years ago of the power to persuade inherent in a "cracking good yarn (yeah, Conan Doyle that last bit). But as the Doctor, I have every confidence that Whittaker can do that too. Just let the scripts be good, and her own charisma and talent have a chance.


I can't leave this post without thanking Steven Moffat, who slowly evolved the show's mythology to get to this point, where a female Doctor can be just the Doctor. From the offstage mentions of the Corsair, to the inspired brilliance of, and redemptive arc, pursued by Missy, as played by the superb Michelle Gomez (who began with Grand Giugnol, and ended with tragicomedy, all equally well handled), Moffat's tenure as showruner changed the question of whether a woman would be cast as the Doctor from an "if" to a "when."

Whatever one thinks of his tenure--and I am an admirer, though not entirely uncritical, in many ways, this is Moffat's victory.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

"I Never Stay Where I'm Not Wanted": "Journey Into Terror/"The Death of Doctor Who"/"The Planet of Decision" (The Chase, eps 4-6]


Barbara Wright leaving, two cardigans shorn,
The Doctor is grieving alone and forlorn,
New companions to join him in traveling on,
Can't make up for first friends, happily gone.


In Journey Into Terror, the Doctor and Ian are brought face to face with, it seems, Frankenstein's Monster. After it sits up and threatens them, they flee the laboratory in which it lay. As they leave it behind, the Doctor tries to cover his obvious fear, by boasting "You know, when I was coming down those stairs, I knew that thing was going to move. I knew it." Ian replies, "Oh, did you? I didn't notice you standing around to check your premonition." The Doctor gets the last word, answering "I never stay where I'm not wanted. Come along."


Ian and Barbara did just that, of course--they forced themselves in where the weren't wanted, and then they stayed. We've come a long way since then. And by we, I mean the two schoolteachers, the Doctor, and the audience.

The Doctor has changed the most. From the unlikeable, paranoid old man who would kill a wounded man to facilitate his escape, the Doctor has become a kind of a hero. Not a warrior, per se--that will come later. But as I pointed out a little while ago, the Doctor has all the raw material to become Merlyn. Indeed, we viewers from a later time know that he is Merlyn. That hero's journey is well under way.

Ian has become the Warrior, but one who protects, not conquers. Always a kind man, he has discovered his limits--his anger, his occasional vanity and complacency. But he has discovered his potential to lead, to dare, to love.

And Barbara? What can I say about the woman who has been an Aztec Goddess, a French Revolutionist, an underground fighter against the Daleks, and a Roman concubine in a Carry On movie? She has been the heart of the show, brave, determined, sometimes a bit imperious, but always the voice of reason and compassion. It was Barbara who stood up to the Doctor when it was desperately needed, Barbara who taught Susan to grow up, and Barbara whose friendship with the Doctor brought out the deeply buried warmth he long suppressed.

Vicki and Steven will have to wait, I'm afraid; we need to say goodbye to these first friends.


The Doctor reverts back to the angry old man when he realizes that Barbara and Ian want to leave him. He is, briefly, the Doctor we first saw in The Cave of Skulls. He experiences their desire to go home as a personal betrayal and a rejection of him. Barbara tries to gently explain; he can't hear her. Ian also reverts; he declare, with all the ire of his first conflicts with the Doctor, "Oh, he's as stubborn as a mule." Vicki, who in the "Lazy Sunday in the TARDIS" prelude to this story in "The Executioners," declared that "I am redundant around here," and "I am a useless person," shows that neither statement is true:
VICKI: Doctor? Doctor, you've got to let them go if they want to. They want to be back in their own time.
DOCTOR: Don't you want to go with them, child?
VICKI: What for? What would I want to be back in their time for? I want to be with you. Doctor, you've got to help them.
DOCTOR: Don't you realise, child, the enormous risks?
VICKI: But it's up to them.
And so the old magician, recalled once more to his core beliefs--beliefs taught him by Barbara and shown him by Ian--does the right thing. And, when Barbara and Ian are back home, frolicking through London, he grieves. And he smiles.


Before I watched Journey Into Terror, and heard the Doctor declare he would not stay where he wasn't wanted, I was going to title this post "Trigger's Broom," because the show is changing almost completely underneath us. The brush, the handle are gone. Only the Doctor himself is left. Is the show still Doctor Who? Is the Doctor?


The three episodes leading to this moment have commendable elements. The obviously fake vampire teeth on Count Dracula, the bargain-basement monster Frankenstein--these work when it is understood that we are in a horror exhibit. But why does the Monster, unlike the Grey Ghost and Dracula, fight the Daleks, and not just run on its normal track, like they do? The Doctor's wrong theory that they are in an archetype of human fear is interesting, but comically exploded, first by the arrival of the Daleks, and then by the sign.

"The Death of Doctor Who}--the first of two episodes on Mechanus is taut (barring the obvious non-Hartnell stand in as the Doctor-robot). The second episode mostly works, though the Mechanoids are, um, yeah. Still, even before the astonishingly good farewell sequence, The Chase moves through a variety of situations and locations and never gets dull--an impressive feat for a six-parter.

And then it rips out your heart. Or is it hearts?

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

"It's the Chase, You Know": "The Executioners/"The Death of Time"/"Flight Through Eternity" [The Chase, eps 1-3]

Alas, I can't find you a good clip of the Beatles sequence--not, at any rate, one that doesn't give Blogger indigestion, at any rate (you can find it to watch if you look).

And, in fact, the version of the story arc called The Chase on my beloved BritBox has been cut to remove the sequence.

The setup is this: The Doctor has liberated a Time-Space Visualizer from The Space Museum. It allows (with some truly awful noises) the travelers to watch any moment in the future or the past. Ian wants to see Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, and is surprised that his wish is granted. Barbara wants only a view of Queen Elizabeth I's court, but gets to see Bacon, Shakespeare and the Queen herself discussing whether Falstaff was a slander of Sr John Oldcastle (spoiler: He was and the delighted Queen press for another play with Falstaff (also true). Then, the Beatles:
IAN: Well, Barbara, did you find out what you wanted to know?
BARBARA: I didn't really want to know anything. I just wanted to see Elizabeth's court. Did you see the way Shakespeare looked when he thought of Hamlet?
IAN: Yes, I did. I
(Vicki puts in her selection)
IAN: Well, where are we now?
ANNOUNCER [OC]: This is BBC One. The next programme is due to start in just under one minute.
BARBARA: Vicki, what year have you got on there?
VICKI: 1965.
DOCTOR: Come along, come.
IAN: You've got a television.
IAN: showing
VICKI: I want to watch it.
HOST [on monitor]: Here singing their latest number one hit it's the fabulous wait for it. It's the fabulous Beatles!
VICKI: Yes! Fabulous!
BEATLES: I think I'm gonna be sad, I think it's today, yeah! The girl that's driving me mad, Is going away.
She's gotta ticket to ride, She's gotta ticket to ride. She's gotta ticket to ride, and she don't care. My baby don't care.
(Everyone is bopping and singing along until Barbara leans on the volume and they loose the picture)
IAN: Oh, Barbara.
DOCTOR: Now you've squashed my favourite Beatles!
IAN: Vicki, I had no idea you knew about the Beatles.
VICKI: Of course I know about them. I've been to their Memorial Theatre in Liverpool.
BARBARA: Well, what do you think of them, Vicki?
VICKI: Well, they're marvellous, but I didn't know they played classical music!
BARBARA: Classical music?
IAN: Get with it, Barbara. Get with it. Styles change, styles change.
The whole first part of the episode has a "Rainy Sunday on the TARDIS" vibe that is quite charming; Vicki irritates the Doctor as he tries to get the Visualizer working; she then goes off to Ian, who is reading a science fiction anthology called Monsters From Outer Space, which he wryly describes to Vicli as "a bit far-fetched." She then drifts into the room she shares with Barbara:
VICKI: I am redundant around here.
BARBARA: Oh, nonsense. Come and sit down and talk to me.
VICKI: I am a useless person.
(Vicki sits on the edge of a 'bed' which then tips her forward making her knock over whatever Barbara was using)
BARBARA: Oh, Vicki!
VICKI: Oh, what was it?
BARBARA: Oh, it was a dress for you.
All of this is played for gentle comedy, and it's fun.

After they watch their "shows," though, and land on a sandy wreck of a planet, the travelers get one on the house: Daleks. Daleks, I might add, searching all of time and space for the TARDIS:
Barbara tries to turn off the visualiser, but gets a signal instead)
DALEK [OC]: The Supreme Dalek is ready to receive your report!
DALEK [on monitor]: The report is ready.
BARBARA: Doctor! Doctor, come quickly!
DOCTOR [OC]: Yes, all right, my dear, all right, all right. What is it now? Gracious me, can't I even relax for five
(The Doctor enters)
DOCTOR: The Daleks!

[Control room]

BLACK: Give your report.
DALEK: Our time machine has been completed.
BLACK: The operation will proceed at once. The movement scanners have located the enemy time machine, Tardis.
DALEKS: Tardis! Tardis! Tardis! Tardis! Tardis!


BARBARA: Doctor, he said the Tardis. And look, on their screen, that's us.
DOCTOR: What is more important, he referred to the Tardis as the enemy time machine.
Of course, Ian and Vicki have gotten lost already.


The first three episodes consist of the setup, and three vignettes. The first vignette, set on the dry, sandy planet Aridius (I see what you did, there--), is the least interesting. Not entirely without interest, mind, just the least interesting, in that the Aridians are cowards who agree to turn team TARDIS, whom they have rescued, over to the Daleks rather than face the Vengeance of the Daleks (sorry!) The mire-beasts plaguing the Aridians break through a cavern wall like the Kool Aid pitcher (and both with all the finesse of Chris Christie, but I digress), in the struggle, the travelers escape, regaining the TARDIS.

The second vignette is a comic little bit in New York, in 1966 (The Chase aired from May 22-June 26, 1965, so still in the future, albeit not much). We're on the Empire State Building Observation Deck, where the TARDIS materializes in front of a confused young Alabaman, Morton Dill, played by Peter Purves. (We'll meet again!)

Finally, the TARDIS lands on, and thus dooms, the Mary Celeste.

The vignettes are interesting--a mix of comic and straight Doctor Who styles. So, on Aridius, with the mercifully not yet seen mire beasts pursuing them, Ian and Vicki exchange insults:

(Vicki screams)
IAN: Don't just stand there and scream, you little fool. Run!


(But there's another one in their path)
VICKI: Oh, don't just standing there gaping, you nit! Come on, back!
(Ian throws a rock at it)
The American accents in the Empire State Building vignette are nothing short of atrocious, and Dill is played by Purves as a grinning ass, but most of the comedy works, and the Mary Celeste sequence combines some good comedy with a creepy finish. Still, unlike some of Terry Nation's other episodes, the thing moves along at a brisk, enjoyable pace, and never gets dull.


A couple firsts, in this story--the first, primitive effect at showing the TARDIS traveling through the vortex (or whatever that effect os meant to be), and the Dalek's similar ship in hot pursuit.

Also, the TARDIS crew are now the nemesis of the Daleks, their "greatest enemy."

The myth of the Oncoming Storm, it seems, has begun.

EDITED TO ADD: I meant to include, but failed to, the delightfully insane, but rather nifty, jazzy incidental music that captures the jaunty feel of these first three episodes. Terry Nation has given us his most fun script to date, and the production team has gone for it.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

“I Don’t Want to Play This Game Anymore” A Sermon on Matt 11: 16-19; 25-30

[The following Sermon was delivered at St. Bartholomew's Church this evening.]

Once upon a time—ok, it was in 1152—England was ruled by a King named Stephen. Stephen didn’t know it, yet, but he was near the end of his reign, most of which he had spent fighting rebels who believed his cousin Maude, or Matilda, should be queen.

In 1152, though, King Stephen was asked for a truce by John Marshall, one of the rebel leaders, who offered his five year old son William as a hostage to guarantee would honor the truce.

So, like Theon in Game of Thrones, but much younger, little William was handed over to King Stephen.

John, of course, broke his promise, which meant that little William’s life was forfeit. Some of his men wanted the King to catapult William back to his father, hurling him over the enemy lines. But Stephen gave John a last chance to honor his promise and save his son’s life. "I can have other sons," was John’s reply—and in fact, I’ve toned it down, since we’re in church.

So, by the customs and usages of war, Stephen had to put the little boy to death. William was led to the gallows, since hanging was the least cruel way to kill him that Stephen could think of. As one version of the story has it, the atmosphere, charged with death, and the crowd’s excitement, finally registered with the boy, and he called out to Stephen who had always been so kind to him, “I don’t want to play this game anymore!”

The crowd laughed, but not for long. Stephen’s heart was touched, and he gathered up the little boy and took him away from the gallows.

“I don’t want to play this game anymore.”

That’s what I thought about when I read today's Gospel for the first time. The little children that Jesus likens the people and the religious authorities to, who won’t play any game that they’re invited to join in.

They won’t play pretend funerals, when invited to by John the Baptist, and they won’t dance when they’re invited to do that by Jesus, who compares himself and his disciples to children playing the flute.

But why not? What are these invitations that the leaders and the people are rejecting?

The leaders, of course, have a stake in rejecting either offer, because both offers require change. And change is threatening to those in positions of power. What is to say that the leaders—the priests, the scribes, the Pharisees—will remain leaders if they agree to change? After all, they have their hierarchical Temple system, which guarantees them status and income, even under Roman occupation. The fact that they are effectively collaborating with what Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan call the Roman domination system, isn’t easy to stomach, for them, but they preserve their status and power. In fact, they even use the domination system to get rid of disruptive elements, like Jesus himself. Easy to see why they would reject the invitation. So they dismiss the austere John as having a demon, and the welcoming Jesus as “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” To repurpose a line from Mandy Rice-Davies, “Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they?”

But Jesus in today’s Gospel doesn’t limit the analogy of the children who won’t play to the leaders. This time the people are plainly included—the whole “generation” is indicted.

So, let’s look at the invitations of John and of Jesus.

John the Baptist practiced an austere, self-denying life, he called the people to repentance and amendment of life, as we Anglicans say. Or, to put it more simply, he asked them to face themselves as they truly were. John held up a mirror to those who came to see him, and confronted them with themselves, failures, cruelties, errors and all.

That experience can be . . . hard. Even the small sins can make us burn with a disproportionate level of guilt and shame. I don’t think I’m oversensitive, but even memories of my own stupidities or unkindnesses as a child can make me blush getting on for half a century later. And let’s not even talk about more recent sins.

Worse, confronting our own shadow side forces us to look at the sins that we can’t get free of, though we want to. In my mind, I can hear some 20th Century followers of the Baptist sniffing about “will power” and “resolution.” The whole 19th Century self-help tradition (which is still going on, but hasn’t really improved any) is based on that quintessential heretical premise attributed to Joseph Glanville, that “Man doth not yield himself to the angels, nor unto death utterly, save only through the weakness of his feeble will.”

While John the Baptist offers us self-knowledge, it’s not an easy gift to receive, because of guilt and shame, yes, but also, all too often because of our hopelessness in the face of the challenge to change.

Paul knows better than this.

It’s all very well to want to change, but how can we? Well into his career as Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul writes about this with an immediacy and an intimacy that you can feel almost two thousand years later. In today’s reading from Romans, he writes:
I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.
For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.
Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?
What did I cut out of today's Epistle? The rationalization, Paul trying to let himself of the hook. We know better, don't we?

John gives us the gift of self-knowledge, but he counts on our will power far too much. Paul doesn’t provide an answer other than to point to Jesus.

So let’s turn to Jesus and his invitation. Jesus invites us to the dance. He invites us to a life of abundance, of joy. He invites us into relationship with himself. And not a relationship based on shame, or guilt.

Jesus’s invitation is simpler:
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

As Paul’s continuing struggles make clear, that’s not a miraculous lifting of our propensity to sin. We won’t be magically transformed into sinless, perfect people. But it’s an invitation to lay down our burdens, to accept that God’s forgiveness is unfailing as is God’s love. An invitation to accept God’s love, when we are unloveable.

Even that can be daunting. Being in relationship with God can work changes in us, over time. C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity that “taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature.” Joining the dance means being open to life, to change, to the many little decisions that we make changing us in ways we may not even notice.

But more than that, far more than that, it means letting go of our own illusion that we can will ourselves into being who we want to be. That we can, like the religious authorities, manipulate the rules, and be righteous by following rules. The heavy burden of the law, of compliance, of obedience through fear—these are what Jesus is asking us to give up. Nadia Bolz-Weber put it simply: The Law will never love you back.

Instead, Jesus is asking us to be in relationship, to accept love, and to open our hearts to returning it.

When little William, the five year old hostage, became scared as they took him to the gallows, he was a pawn of the domination system of his day. He called out to the man he thought of as his friend, and, because Stephen viewed the boy as a child and not as a pawn, he responded in love, not as a King.

That’s what we are called to do.

Respond in love, not in a role.

That’s really all it takes.

In the name of God, father, Son, and Holy Spirit.