Horatio

Horatio
[Photo by Jacquelyn Griffin)

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]



-1-

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.

-2-

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.

-3-

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?



-4-

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?
VICKI: Shh.
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.
VICKI: Shh!
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!

[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:
[Chamber]

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

[Tunnel]

(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.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

"I Fooled Them All! I am the Master!": The Space Museum/The Dimensions of Time/The Search/The Final Phase



For once, an episode of the the serial under review provides the epigraph. It's a nice moment, because it follows the Doctor being seized by three young men (boys, really, by the look of them) and, after shamming unconsciousness, the Doctor is left by two of the three (Tor and Sita) alone with the third, Dako. When they return, Dako is bound and gagged on the floor. When he is released, he describes what happened to him, "I didn't see anything. One minute was silence and the next minute a whirlwind hit me." The "old man" Doctor packs quite a punch, apparently. We then pan over to see a Dalek, which the TARDIS travelers have passed previously. This time the Dalek speaks, albeit with William Hartnell's mocking cadences, lacking the requisite grating.

The comic bit is immediately followed by the Doctor getting captured by the guards of the Space Museum.

***

The first two episodes are dominated by a neat little problem. The travelers in a flash go from their 13th Century crusader garb to normal streetwear for them. (Ian and Barbara, 1960s casual, Vicki in her a timeless dress, and Hartnell in full Victorian fig.) Vicki drops a glass of water, it reassembles (compete wit water) in her hand. They wander through dust, leaving no footprints. They are unheard and unseen both by armed uniformed men who are obviously the guards of this museum they have discovered and wandered into, and by young men in black (rather unconvincing guerrillas, but what would you?). Anything they touch passes right through them.

Then, they are confronted by the TARDIS--which they left outside only a little while before-and, in high quality glass cases--themselves. Themselves, not a picture, as P.G. Wodehouse might say, and Barbara in fact does.

The Doctor works out that the TARDIS has "jumped the time track" and is out of sync with its surroundings. They are looking at their own future, but not of it or in it, yet, so can do nothing to prevent it.

***

A nice little dilemma, no?

The is the best of the story, with the Doctor and his companions helpless and apprehensive, and even when they are pulled into sync with time, their own fear of acting in a way that will lead to the future they have glimpsed threatens to paralyze them. Ian, for once afraid either to act or to remain still, becomes snappish and irresolute. He snaps at Barbara and at Vicki too. And when the Doctor disappears (snatched by the three guerrillas), the three wander in confusion.

And now we get the first of a Doctor Who staple--the Doctor is interrogated, and resists his interrogator. And Hartnell laughs at Lobos, the Governor of Xeros (the planet on which the museum is situated), as he interrogates him, and outwits Lobos's efforts to read his thoughts, by projecting unhelpful images (walruses, a penny farthing bicycle (two years early), and men in victorian bathing suits. All the while he chuckles contemptuously, not unlike Tom Baker. It's a great scene, with Hartnell's laughter all the more cutting for how lightly the Doctor regards Lobos.

That this isn't entirely good judgment on the Doctor's part is demonstrated when Lobos kills him with the machine.

Um, yeah. Kills him. No regeneration, no special effects. Dead Doctor.

It's a reminder of how little mythology the show has at this point. No regeneration, no Gallifrey, no Time Lords. The Doctor is susceptible to death just like we are.

Except that he is successfully resurrected, so if you want to retroject 51 years of continuity, be my guest. But it's not there yet, and you're not actually watching the show on your screen.

***

As to the bog-standard help-the-rebels-gain-armaments-and-overthrow-their-oppressors plot, the paucity of rebels is a bit of a hindrance. Still, Maureen O'Brien as Vicki does the otherwise by the numbers plot beat with verve. Ian beats up some soldiers, and captures Lobos, and Barbara--well, sadly, this episode is the first where she isn't really pivotal.

And, as the Daleks spy on the departing Doctor and his friends, and as they leave Xeros, Barbara and Ian are beginning to leave too. They may not know it, but the next serial is the end of the road for Jacqueline Hill and William Russell.

The End of the Beginning is nigh...

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Without Hope, Without Witness, Without Reward: World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls




Full Spoilers for the Season Finale




Warned, we begin:

The Doctor: “Winning? Is that what you think it’s about? I’m not trying to win. I’m not doing this because I want to beat someone … or because I hate someone or because I want to blame someone. It’s not because it’s fun. God knows it’s not because it’s easy. It’s not even because it works because it hardly ever does. I do what I do because it’s right! Because it’s decent. And above all, it’s kind. It’s just that. Just kind. If I run away today, good people will die. If I stand and fight, some of them might live … maybe not many, maybe not for long. Hey, maybe there’s no point in any of this at all, but it’s the best I can do, and I will stand here doing it until it kills me. You’re going to die, too, someday. When will that be? Have you thought about it? What would you die for? Who I am is where I stand. Where I stand is where I fall.”

Yeah, this one doesn't fit in my episode-by-episode progress here, and even the last-seconds appearance of The First Doctor doesn't justify it (although, if only these episodes aired when I was blogging The Tenth Planet, all would be perfect. Truly, had we but world enough and time, this coyness blogging would be no crime...)

So why do it now?

Well, because, the internet is abuzz about this extraordinary two part story now, tonight, and I just finished watching the second part. But also because I think that Moffat and Capaldi, Mackie and Lucas, and Gomez and Simm, have centered the Doctor and his universe, friends and enemies, in a parable for our time and for all time, really.

Kindness.

What is the great thing our culture, our politics, our time lacks?

Kindness.

Decency.

Whether it's Brexit, or Theresa May's thwarted effort to sell a "dementia tax"; or the roiling mess that is U.S. politics writ large, or the rise in hate crimes, the fact is, our times are deeply divisve, angry, and cruel.

So Mr. Moffat has told us a story.

A story in which a hero finally acknowledges that he is doing the best he can do, and asks help of his oldest friend and oldest enemy. And they say no, leaving together, and when the oldest friend's hearts misgive her, she kills the oldest enemy, her shadow side, and, happy to rejoin her friend at last, turns to him, but is killed by her shadow side with his last action.

The Master laughs, malicious to his last breath, knowing that he has prevented his future self from standing with the Doctor, even at the cost of his own future. Missy laughs, ruefully, sadly, yet acknowledging the irony: Her best decision was in fact "Without hope, without witness, without reward.".

So too the Doctor. He fights on, and on, and on, carrying the day, but losing his life.

And Bill--feared and hated by the people she is serving, because of her ghastly appearance, the Cyberman who remains a woman of heart, despairs when she finds the Doctor's corpse.

Only Nardole is left, and Nardole has dedicated himself to saving the life of the children and humans left on the ship at the edge of the black hole. He may never face the Cybermen again, or they may come for him and his wards tomorrow--or today.

That's the real end of the story. That's its point. The Doctor says it in so many words. I've quoted it above, but here's the critical bit: "You’re going to die, too, someday. When will that be? Have you thought about it? What would you die for? Who I am is where I stand. Where I stand is where I fall.”

The Doctor falls, faithful to the end. Bill too. Missy too, least likely of all. And Nardole still serves.

Strip away the magic ending for Bill--too specifically foreshadowed back in The Pilot for me to resent, but, yes, magic; and to the weary old Doctor summoned one last time from death's door, only to find himself there already--and that is what we have seen. The tragic end, with happy aper├žus.

But none for Missy, who has truly changed, truly grown. She enjoys playing the old game for a bit, this time with her charismatic prior self to add to the fun. She abandons the Doctor, sadly, in contrast to the Master's flippant and contemptuous stroll away from him. But at the last, lethally embracing her former self, she says goodbye to what he meant, and explains why she's changed:
I loved being you. Every second of it. Oh, the way you burned like a sun, like a whole screaming world on fire. I remember that feeling. And I always will. And I will always miss it.

***

Oh, because he's right.
Because it's time to stand with him.
It's where we've always been going, and it's happening now, today.
It's time to stand with the Doctor.
Missy echoes the Doctor's final speech in The Day of the Doctor; she too has been going home to her oldest friend, though he may never know it; the Mistress has come home, the long way 'round.

***

The first part's brilliant, claustrophobic and creepy thriller was one of my favorite episodes even before I saw the payoff. The comic, all-too-meta comic opening transforming swiftly to a body-horror story that served as the Genesis of the Cybermen, wrung our hearts at Bill's loss--I could have written a long appreciative post about that. It deserves it.

But tonight, I can't help but feel that if do that now, you might lose the urgency of the parable.

Kindness, decency.

Without hope, without witness, without reward.

I may be a preacher of sermons for decades; I'll never beat that sermon.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

"I'll Steal you, Joanna": The Lion/The Knight of Jaffa/The Wheel of Fortune/The Warlords [The Crusades]



That's William Russell, 35 years after leaving the show, returning as Ian Chesterton (or, as this story established, Sir Ian Chesterton, of Joffa). That's not in the version I watched; I watched the existing two episodes interspersed with two reconstructions. Again, I favor the tele snap over the animations, at least thus far, because the animation is too cartoony for my taste.

The central historical conflict of this story--the Third Crusade, and Richard I's proposal to end it by marrying his sister Joanna to Saladin's brother happened, although there is doubt as to how seriously Richard intended the proposal. David Whitaker's script takes it seriously, and thus gives us an unusually tight focus for the historical drama the TARDIS team fall into.

As Whitaker tells the story, Saphadin (Saladin's brother) was enamored by Joanna's beauty; when Richard and some of his knights were ambushed, William des Preaux, of his household surrendered as Richard, and later passed off Barbara Wright as Joanna--a scheme that fell apart when Saphadin, who had seen Joanna, met Barbara, and blew the whistle.

Barbara's captor El Akir is now furious at her for humiliating him before Saphadin and Saladin (she mocks him to their faces; Saladin joins in). He spends the rest of the story seeking revenge on Barbara. Of all the sexually-themed dangers Barbara has fallen into to date, El Akir is the nastiest, because he has no desire for her except to humiliate and hurt her. Most of the other moths drawn to the Coal Hill School flame genuinely are smitten with her; El Akir is a cruel thug. (One of the things about these first two season that I love is that Jacqueline Hill generally plays Barbara as mildly annoyed at being treated as an interstellar siren. She isn't surprised, she doesn't revel in it, she just tries to (mostly) deflect it.

Between Barbara's efforts to escape El Akir, and Ian's to recue her, we swing back to the royal drama (and the Doctor's and Vicki's) efforts to ingratiate themselves with both the King and Joanna, in order to mount a rescue for Barbara, and then, when Ian is sent to do just that, to stay alive and free until her return).

So the casting is critical to the success of these four episodes. Julian Glover is an excellent Richard, just a little petulant and spoiled, but fundamentally a good man, who has learned the darkness of war and is keenly aware of the need to get back to England. Jean Marsh is superb as Joanna. Her warmth and good humor toward Vicki and the Doctor, contrasted with her haughty body language to a merchant mere seconds later distills the character down to its essence: Joanna is every inch a queen (albeit widowed), and literally condescends to warmth. When she discovers that Richard has already offered her hand to Saphadin, she explodes with a wrath that equals--no, exceeds Richard's. Glover at first bellows at her, but then underplays when Marsh roars right back at him.

Yes, roars. They're both quite credible as children of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, but Marsh is if anything more so. But underlying the quarrel is Richard's yearning for peace after years of war, and Joanna's cultural suspicion and fear of the Other:
JOANNA: I would speak with my brother!
RICHARD: Oh?
JOANNA: What's this I hear? I can't believe it's true. Marriage to that heathenish man, that infidel?
RICHARD: We will give you reasons for it.
JOANNA: This unconsulted partner has no wish to marry. I am no sack of flour to be given in exchange.
RICHARD: It is expedient, the decision has been made.
JOANNA: Not by me, and never would be.
RICHARD: Joanna, please consider. The war is full of weary, wounded men. This marriage wants a little thought by you, that's all, then you'll see the right of it.
JOANNA: And how would you have me go to Saphadin? Bathed in oriental perfume, I suppose? Suppliant, tender and affectionate? Soft-eyed and trembling, eager with a thousand words of compliment and love? [angry] Well, I like a different way to meet the man I am to wed!
RICHARD: Well, if it's a meeting you want.
JOANNA: [roaring] I do not want! I will not have it!
RICHARD: Joanna!

[Richard's palace - robing room]

RICHARD: Joanna! (to the Chamberlain) Get out. Get out! Joanna, I beg you to accept.
JOANNA: No!
RICHARD: I entreat you, Joanna.
JOANNA: No!
RICHARD: Very well. I am the King. We command you.
JOANNA: You cannot command this of me.
RICHARD: [softer] Cannot?
JOANNA: No. There is a higher authority than yours to which I answer.
RICHARD: I am the King. Where is there any man who has greater power over his subjects?
JOANNA: In Rome. His Holiness the Pope will not allow this marriage of mine to that infidel.
RICHARD: But, Joanna?

[Richard's throne room]

RICHARD: You defy me with the Pope!
JOANNA: No, you defy the world with your politics! The reason you and all your armies are here is the reason on my side. You are here to fight these dogs, defeat them. Marry me to them and you make a pact with the Devil. Force me to it and I'll turn the world we know into your enemy.
(Richard nearly hits her, and Joanna walks out with her head held high.)
Saladin and Saphadim are portrayed as honorable and moderate. So too is Barbara's ally Haroun, both loyal and compassionate. Other characters--Ian's friends Ibraham the thief are more negatively stereotyped, but the show seems at pains to depict the Islamic characters as a mix, just as the invading English are (and the crusaders' status as invaders is underscored several times).

It's interesting how secondary the Doctor is in this story. He heps save Richard in the very beginning, he backs him as he strives for peace, but ultimately, the story is moved forward by the royals, and by Barbara and the other enemies to El Akir she meets along the way. Ian has a rather funny bond with a thief who at first tries to torture him into revealing where Ian keeps his (nonexistent) treasure, but then allies with him, because Ian is willing to steal from El Akir too. By the end of the story they're positively chummy.

The Doctor has two great sequences, though, each yet another reminder of how good Hartnell was at comedy. Needing clothes to pass at court, the Doctor (his anachronistic outfit hidden beneath a voluminous cloak) enters a merchant's stall. He has Vicki hide, and while the merchant (named Daheer) is investigating a mess at one end (caused by the Doctor), he flings garments out of Daheer's field of vision to Vicki. It's all rather like smaller version of the brilliant sequence in The Three Musketeers (1973) where out heroes swipe a large dinner from a tavern by staging a mock brawl.

A later comic gem, Hartnell at his best, is when he is confronted by the King's Chamberlain for the theft of the clothes from the stall, but he defends both himself and Daheer, who bought them from the palace thief:
CHAMBERLAIN: I have been waiting to speak with you.
DOCTOR: Oh? Pray, what about?
DAHEER: Thief!
VICKI: I beg your pardon!
DOCTOR: What's this?
DAHEER: Visitor of sorrows, depriver of my children, robber of my goods.
DOCTOR: Who is this? Do you know?
VICKI: No. Oh, his face is a bit familiar.
CHAMBERLAIN: You stole some clothing.
DOCTOR: Really?
CHAMBERLAIN: You see this riding habit? It was taken from this very room. Now it is back here again.
DOCTOR: And a pretty poor garment, too.
CHAMBERLAIN: This and this, stolen from me.
DAHEER: And stolen from me.
DOCTOR: Yes, now there really is a point there, isn't there? If I stole from you, my lord Chamberlain, how could I steal from him?
DAHEER: You did. You did steal from me.
DOCTOR: Then how could I steal from him, eh, you blockhead?
CHAMBERLAIN: Please, please. Now, I had the clothes first.
DOCTOR: Oh, how nice for you.
DAHEER: And I had them second.
VICKI: Did you buy them?
DAHEER: Yes.
VICKI: From us?
DAHEER: No.
DOCTOR: Then whoever it was stole them from you must have sold them to you. Now, don't you agree?
CHAMBERLAIN: Er, yes.
THATCHER: My lord Chamberlain, a ship is in the harbour disgorging fruit from Acre.
DAHEER: That's the man. I bought them from him.
DOCTOR: He must have stolen them from you.
CHAMBERLAIN: Thatcher! You villain!
DOCTOR: Now, just a minute! Oh, my dear Chamberlain, so undignified. The merchant bought the clothes in good faith and paid for them in good money. Now please return his money.
CHAMBERLAIN: But I have to catch the thief.
DOCTOR: Now, now, now. You mustn't let an honest man suffer. Pay him!
CHAMBERLAIN: Doh! Thatcher! Thatcher!
DAHEER: Joy to you, my lord! Giver of life to my father, provider!
DOCTOR: Yes, off you go! Off you go! Well, we seem to have got out of that problem all right, hmm?
Later, there's another very sweet moment between the Doctor and Vicki when she thinks he plans to abandon her. The gentle warmth with which Hartnell reassures her is quite touching, and a far distance away from the cold suspicious Doctor we first met.

It's surprising that a story missing so much of its footage works so well--but The Crusade does; it's lighter than The Reign of Terror, but more real and interesting than The Romans.