Horatio

Horatio
[Photo by Jacquelyn Griffin)

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.
MAAGA: No.
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.
MAAGA: Why?
DRAHVIN 2: Because you are our leader.
MAAGA: And?
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.
[5]

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?

Us.

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.
DOCTOR: Who?
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]



-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.