The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

"The Ants Go Marching Two by Two": The Web Planet

This story arc--really, I can't do the usual, here, because these story arcs defy categorization. The Web Planet is weird in a way I don't associate with Doctor Who--it reminds me of early films. Yes, the obvious comparison is Méliès's 1902 film Trip to the Moon:

But it also is reminiscent of March of the Wooden Soldiers (1934), a phantasmagorical fairy tale that, like A Trip to the Moon,creates a world that is somewhat like ours, but is peopled with strange creatures and glimpsed through the prism of Victorian nightmare images.

The world of Vortis and its inhabitants are immensely detailed, lovingly evoked, and yet they are completely unrealistic. It's almost as if the Doctor and his companions have again been shrunk and are housed in a victorian puppet theater of the more gothic kind. More than any other planet the TARDIS has visited to date, Vortis and its inhabitants are fully realized, but like a cartoon.

The Zarbi, the ant-creatures of Vortis, are individually mindless soldiers, following the prompting of a single guiding force--the Animus, the main antagonist. Yet Vrestin, the main spokes--er, moth. The Menoptera are moths.

No, really:

So, Vestrin, the spokesmoth does not condemn the Zarbi completely; she says, instead, that "[t]he Zarbi are not an intelligent species, but they were essential to the life pattern here. We lived at peace with them, until they were made militant by the dark power."

The Doctor and Ian are not so kind:
IAN: What do you think they are, Doctor?
IAN: Those things out there.
DOCTOR: Well, to use the term of Earth, I suppose we should call them insects.
IAN: Ants? I've seen a colony of ants eat their way right through a house. That size, they could eat their way through a mountain. Why are they that big?
DOCTOR: Size is only relative. In this rarified atmosphere, it appears that evolution has chosen that particular form of life on this planet.
IAN: Ants.
IAN: So relentless, indestructible. What are we going to do? Have you got any ideas?
DOCTOR: Well, it's this voice. It's this, this, this, this, this Queen of the ants, you might say.
The description of the ants is interesting here. I've no proof of this, and indeed may be wronging Bill Strutton, who wrote the script, but I can't help but think that the story of the ants added to the reworked version of The Sword in the Stone (1938) in the omnibus volume of The Once and Future King (1958), plays a role here.

You see, The Sword in the Stone is, in its 1938 text, much lighter than that published in the omnibus edition. In it, the young orphaned ward of Sir Ector, his name softened from Arthur to Art, and then replaced with the contemptuous, but not entirely unaffectionate, "Wart," finds a tutor--Merlyn--who educated both the Wart and his foster brother, Kay, but gives the Wart special tutelage, in visiting the animals to see how they are governed. In the tetralogy, though, we lose the charming battle between Merlyn and Madame Mim, and the visit to Queen Morgan le Fey. They are replaced by two episodes from The Book of Merlyn, one in which the aged King Arthur is shown brief happiness by visiting the geese, and discovers the miserable, regimented life of an ant. These episodes, rewritten for the Wart, are darker than the rest of The Sword in the Stone, don't fit as well as in The Book of Merlyn, but are arresting, especially the horror of the visit to the ants, which includes loss of personality (like Barbara and Vicki undergo) and body horror (the maimed Menoptera, the grubs stand in well). Like Dennis Spooner's viewing The Web Planet as "a parable about socialism, with the Zarbi and the Menoptera as the oppressed and the oppressors respectively," so too White intended the ants in The Once and Future King as a scathing portrayal of Soviet communism.

Published only seven years before The Web Planet, The Once and Future King remains in print today, and has left a large mark. Hartnell's Doctor is not unlike Merlyn: tetchy, absent-minded, laughing at the ironies only he can see, and kind underneath it all. (Interesting, Merlyn, who lives backwards in time, affects Victorian fashions on several occasions, as well as referencing events from the 19th Century. Hartnell's aesthetic is quite Victorian professor-ish, rather like Merlyn's.) It's quite conceivable, with its fairytale setting, its darkness as well as light, and the nightmare image of ant-land White conjures up, played a role in creating "The Web Planet."


The politics and sources of The Web Planet aside, its spectacle, hand-made and old-fashioned is what lingers. The plot is stretched too long, the story is unexplained (what exactly is the Animus? Phil Sandifer writes that "[l]ater writers engaged in a kind of ham-handed retcon that proclaimed the Animus, along with some other classic villains, to in fact be explicitly part of the Cthulhu mythos (Animus is apparently Lloigar, a 1932 creation of August Derleth). Although this retcon was, all told, a pretty dumb idea that does some real injustice to Bill Strutton's creation of the Animus, the observation that there's something Lovecraftian about this monster is pretty on target.") I can't improve on that, really.)

But deeply odd though this one is, it has a magic to it--the magic lantern of clever theater work, not unlike the charm of the shows staged by the parents in A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book. It's alien, strange, and sometimes alienating. The stylized movements by Roslyn de Winter are weirdly apposite even when thy seem bizarre.

Verity Lambert's Doctor Who is a show willing to gamble on an old-fashioned--even in 1965--kind of spectacle, confident it will pull it off. Lambert wins her bet.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Wot, Fisticuffs!: The Slave Traders, All Roads Lead to Rome/Conspiracy/Inferno [The Romans]

After a month of indolence in Nero's Rome, the TARDIS team find themselves drawn to the Empire's Capital. The cliffhanger (literally, the TARDIS was hanging on the edge of a cliff at the end of The Rescue) is re-shown, and we find the travelers in unexplained (until later) comfort. With Barbara and Ian rather flintily comfortable with each other, I might add.

If we begin discussing the story collectively known as The Romans by looking at the character of the Doctor, we can see what a difference a year and the first change of companion makes. Hartnell is clearly having a whale of a time in this, the first comedy historical, scripted by Dennis Spooner. Hartnell's Doctor is buoyant throughout this episode, preening himself for being two steps ahead of everyone--and generally being right about the fact. It's a great performance; even his line flubs aren't bothering him anymore (in season 1, he seems visibly frustrated whenever he blows a line). This is Hartnell in full command of his performance and his show. The fact that this makes his Doctor more amusing and yet more pugnacious--well, all those tough guy roles Hartnell played before the Doctor left a mark.

Maureen O'Brien as Vicki is enjoying the whole thing, too--she's bubbling with laughter through most of the story, and generally enjoying being paired with the eponymous character for most of the story. O'Brien is like a partner-in-crime for Hartnell--and in fact, as O'Brien described their relationship, "“We had fun. Our rehearsals were fun, despite when he broke into spitting, snarling rages. He had a laugh, he liked to work. He liked his whisky. We had a good time.” In an earlier interview, she was quoted as saying her "job really, since the acting was no sweat, was to laugh Bill out of his rages and tantrums, which I did thoroughly, and enjoyed! He’d get very tetchy, but that was just Bill’s personality, that’s how he was." That shows even in this early episode.

Those who contend that Barbara and Ian end up as a couple could rest their case on this story alone. The chemistry between Jacqueline Hill and William Russell is dead on. In first part, their banter has a lovely, teasing, unselfconscious feel to it:
BARBARA: You know Ian, I could get used to this sort of life.
IAN: Mmm. I already have. What about another drink? [He's clearly asking her to get it]
BARBARA: Oh, yes, I'd love one. Thank you.
IAN [wryly smiles; gets up to get it]: No ice, I'm afraid.
BARBARA: There's some in the fridge.
IAN: Ah.
(Ian starts to leave the room before the penny drops)
IAN: Very funny, very funny.
BARBARA: You went!
IAN: Well, here's to the first fridge.
BARBARA: Cheers.
IAN: O tempora, o mores.
Grand as it is to see them all enjoying themselves, the plot requires them to leave the villa. So the Doctor and Vicki wander off to Rome, where he is mistaken for a politically-conspiring lutist, while Barbara and Ian are kidnapped and sold into slavery. These plots are pretty dark, at least to begin. Barbara's kindness to a sick fellow prisoner catches the eye of Tavius, Nero's steward, who buys her. Ian becomes a galley slave, and goes through a capsule version of Spartacus.

Meanwhile, Barbara finds herself trapped in Carry On, Cleo, with six-time Carry On veteran Derek Francis playing a lust-addled Nero, who falls into what I would call Rule 2: Everybody wants Barbara. These scenes are of course very dated, but well within the Carry On tradition, or even A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

The Doctor, meanwhile, is beset by Nero (who wants to kill him for receiving more applause as a player than Nero has), Tavius (who expects him to assassinate Nero); and Vicki (who wants to explore more).

Barbara and the Doctor keep missing each other by seconds, French farce style, and in fact, the entire plot resolves without them meeting each other--the Doctor and Vicki think on their return that Barbara and Ian haven't budged since they left (they reprise their fridge schtick, playfight, and, er, make up...).

It's all a romp; the Doctor even violates his "Not one line!" rule against changing history--only for laughs:

Carry on, Doctor!

Old Friends, Old Haunts

DogEars Books, June 2017
(Photo by Anglocat)

A long time ago, before a cataclysm that ended brought me to the much happier life I enjoy today, I lived in upstate New York, in a rural town where the 19th Century farmhouse I called home stood on 47 acres, and our nearest neighbor was a working farm, with a gorgeous gothic pile which I called The Marsten House.

The house was about a half hour from Bennington, Vt., and on the way there I had found the most wonderful little book store, Dog Ears Books on Route 7 in Hoosick, New York. How to describe the store? Well, here's Alan Bisbort in the The Albany Times-Union:
Hoosick Falls is the first stop on our tour, a relatively straight shot northeast of Albany on SR 7. Here you can find the venerable DogEars Books, half a mile east of the lone traffic signal on SR 7 (which is at the junction of SR 22). It’s a converted barn set off from the brick residence where owners Jeffrey and Sylvia Waite live. As you enter, classical music plays unobtrusively and Mr. Waite, usually, sits off to the side reading just as unobtrusively, while the many loyal customers browse. If you’ve come for long quiet pokes through piles of volumes, you are in the right place. DogEars Books comprises two levels and sections are clearly designated and kept in a sort of rough order. Many books are older and, because the barn is not exactly climate controlled, the barn has a not unpleasant smell of old wood pulp. The stock of approximately 30,000 volumes is shelved floor to ceiling, and the overflow from the shelves creates tottering piles that you must navigate as you browse (Lord help you if you want the book on the bottom of the pile). The only ornamentation is an interesting, oval-shaped stained glass window upstairs above the front entrance to the shop. In the wintry months, an old-fashioned wood-burning stove in the middle of the room keeps the place toasty. Attached to the front of the barn is a cellar full of bargain paperbacks, many of which have seen better days although patient perusing can yield a few treasures. Opens Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Nowadays, I split my time between Albany and New York City. I get the best of both cities this way, but there's no denying it makes life more stochastic and solitary than would be ideal. This weekend, I had to stay upstate, so I'm without my weekly fix of St. Barts and without the company of la Caterina (who is coming up for a week starting Thursday, so yay!). As the afternoon drew on, and I had time, I drove for the first time in nearly a decade to Dog Ears.

It was just as I remember it, and Jeffrey Waite, the proprietor, time a little more graven on his features than when last we met, peered at me. His eyes snapped after about half a minute and he placed me.

"I've got the that Trollope Society set of his novels in 40-odd volumes," he said casually. Then he smiled. "I recognize you now."

So, once again, and long after I thought I would never have the chance, I got to dive through the treasures of Aladdin's Cave.


The thing about Dog Ears, and Jeffrey, is that his tastes are eclectic and deep. He evaluated my theological purchases, saying of long-time favorite W.R. Inge (whose Freedom, Love, and Truth I found), "He's all right." Pause. "That's to say, he's mostly harmless." He warned me off a theologically unsound cleric as an "early Norman Vincent Peale." We chatted, he discounted some books for me, and $100 later, I walked off with some fine books on liturgy, theology, a nice Wodehouse first edition, and a crisp, clean first of Wilson's Patriotic Gore. The chapter on Holmes alone is worth the price. Best of all was just being there again, chatting books with Jeffrey. Long may he reign.


On my way back, instinct took me out of the way to drive by my once and former home. Sadly derelict, but not defeated--it looks like new windows have been installed--I turned in to the once familiar driveway, and approached.

Bits of broken wood, shredded tires and other detritus littered the forecourt. The paint was faded more than when I had owned it. I felt a creepy frisson; the places where we were unhappy, deeply so, carry associations that never entirely fade.

Nonetheless, I hope the old place finds a proper steward; it's too beautiful to be let to go to ruin. As I drove away from that symbol of a dark and unhappy time, I could only hope that the renewal and hope that transfigured my own life since could encircle the stage on which that unhappy drama played.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Everything You Know is Wrong: The Powerful Enemy/Desperate Measures [The Rescue]

The Doctor is not who he was.

Barbara notices that the "faint trembling" while it's in flight has stopped. But the Doctor is asleep in an armchair, the first time he hasn't supervised the landing. When they wake him, it's not the usual take-charge, imperious old man they know:
The DOCTOR is asleep in his chair)
BARBARA: And you know how the ship has a faint sort of trembling while we're moving? Well, I suddenly realised that it had stopped.
IAN: I believe you're right, Barbara. I think we have landed. But the Doctor's never slept through a landing before.
BARBARA: Doctor. Doctor!
IAN: Doctor!
BARBARA: Wake up.
DOCTOR: Hmm? What's the matter? What is it? What is it? Oh good gracious me! Don't tell me I went off to sleep.
IAN: Yes, you did.
IAN: At a very critical time. Oh well, I suppose it did you a world of good.
DOCTOR: Deep in the arms of Morpheus, hey my boy? Well, I feel a bit sticky. I must go and have a wash.
BARBARA: Oh, but Doctor, the trembling's stopped.
DOCTOR: Oh, my dear, I'm so glad you're feeling better.
BARBARA: No, not me, the ship.
DOCTOR: Oh, the. Oh my dear, I'm so sorry.
IAN: Doctor, we appear to have landed while you were asleep.
DOCTOR: What? Oh, I say, I must never allow this sort of thing again now, must we? No. Well, all we have to do is to turn the power off.
BARBARA: Then we have landed.
DOCTOR: Yes, er, excuse me, materialised, I think, is a better word.
He's disoriented, here, but Hartnell plays him as also gentler than usual. It's an interesting sequence, comic and a little disturbing.

Which is a good way to describe this brief, two part story.

The whole reality and illusion genre has its detractors, but this is Doctor Who's first trip to that well--and it's still only January, 1965. The Stunt Man is still 15 years in the future, to say nothing of overtly sci-fi-fi variations of the genre like The Matrix (a hair under a quarter of a century off) or Inception (35 years out).

Because we don't open with the Doctor and the TARDIS as I have. No, we open on the remnants of a badly damaged spaceship, where the two remaining crew members live in fear of the one member they have met of the dominant species of the planet Dido (named after a widowed queen who, deserted by her lover, kills herself), the choleric Koquillion. Koquillion, a spiky creature, threatens and reassures over and over again, insisting to the orphaned Vickie and her crewman Bennett, who has lost the use of his legs, that the other members of his species want them both dead.

But the Doctor recalls Dido as a peaceful planet.

Barbara meet Koquillion, who kills her. The Doctor and Ian then find themselves hunted by a fearsome beast. The beast attacks Vickie. The Doctor speaks to Bennett.

None of these statements is true, and yet that's what we see on screen.

Everything you know is wrong.

Barbara is alive (hidden from sight by Vickie), the "fearsome beast" is Vickie's pet, a vegetarian, friendly animal native to the planet. Barbara kills it, thinking she is saving Vickie, only to break the younger woman's heart.

Koquillion is Bennett (who can walk fine) who is wearing the ceremonial dress of the Didonians, whom he killed when they welcomed the crew to the planet (Bennett, a murderer facing charges, killed the rest of them, too.) We hear the Doctor answered by Bennett, but he's not there, his voice has been recorded.

One last thing happens that subverts what we think we know (although a brief moment in Marco Polo might have tipped us off); the frail elderly Doctor lies in wait for "Koquillion" and, in a manner prefiguring Tom Baker at his most severe, accuses him of all his misdeeds. When Bennett physically attacks him, and the Doctor fights back spiritedly--he even disarms Bennett (though he loses his own sword), holding him back long enough that two of the remaining Didonians can charge Bennett--who, faced with younger opponents, staggers back in fear, and tumbles to his death.


Among all these deceptions, there are some moments of truth: Barbara's defensiveness and then her shame at having killed "Sandy"(the allegedly fearsome beat); Barbara's and Vickie's mutual apologies; the Doctor's paralyzed response to asking Susan--no longer there--to open the TARDIS door.

And the Doctor's immediate rapport with Vickie.

This could have been awful; it's all on Hartnell and Maureen O'Brien. He is far gentler and kinder than we've seen him before, he's like a man coaxing a cat to come to him. O'Brien, as Vickie, plays the needy young woman who has been tormented by Koquillian for too long, and who needs hope and reassurance so desperately. The two bond, and he invited her into the TARDIS, a conclusion Barbara and Ian have already reached themselves.

So off they go, our travelers, having found some truth in friendship, only to land on an unstable surface, and topple into the next story.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

"One Day, I Shall Come Back...": The End of Tomorrow/The Waking Ally/Flashpoint

Right, if you talk about the story arc called The Dalek Invasion of Earth, this scene, usually reduced to the last bit, from "One day, I shall come back..." used as an intro to The Five Doctors, haunts the back 9 as assuredly as the suicidal Roboman opening "World's End" haunts the first three episodes. One evokes the existential dread at the core of the arc,the other--

--well, the other has been torn from its context to make it a reaffirmation of the Doctor's aspirations--a distant ancestor of the "Doctor's promise"--you know, "never cruel or cowardly, never give up, never give in."

But it's not.

It's an aging man, who has been forced by new friends crashing into his life to confront his own selfishness, his cowardice, his capacity for cruelty, his willingness to give up and flee, forced to battle once more with his baser elements.

This time, it's the Doctor fighting down his possessive love for his granddaughter--his only link to his unknown home--and letting her go when she can't achieve the life-giving separation herself, out of love for him.

The selfish old man, knowing his selfishness, does not yield to it. He does the right thing, even if it--to quote Extremis--"without hope, without witness, without reward."

Because the Doctor does not have hope (for himself); he does not consider the witnesses (Ian and Barbara are present, but even we don't see their reactions; he doesn't know if Susan understands), and there is no reward for him. He loses her. He knows he must, and the Doctor faces loss, and, for the first time in the series, does so bravely. Better still, he faces loss with grace. That's a first for Hartnell's cantankerous Doctor--think of his tantrums at Susan when she refused to leave Earth in An Unearthly Child, or at Ian and Barbara in The Edge of Destruction.

No, this moment is huge, especially in context. But it dwarfs the three episodes that precede it, so let's give it its due. And then move on.


Just as well, because "The End of Tomorrow" is almost as lame as its title (The end of tomorrow is, after all. A fancy phrase for "tomorrow night," and isn't given more meaning here.). The Doctor is out cold for the whole episode (Hartnell had been injured in shooting the prior episode); Ian makes his way toward the mines, and Barbara--

--well, once again, Barbara saves the show. Because Barbara hijacks a vintage rubbish cart, and, well, let the dialogue tell the story:
[In the truck]

JENNY: Do you think that Dalek saw us back there?
BARBARA: It must have heard the noise.
JENNY: Then we're in for trouble.
BARBARA: Yes, they're sure to radio ahead. We may have to ditch this at any moment.
(round a corner and)
BARBARA: Jenny, there's a whole bunch of them ahead of us.
JENNY: Shall we jump for it?
BARBARA: No. I'm going through.
(She scatters them like skittles)
JENNY: We went straight through them! Straight through them!
BARBARA: Yeah, it wasn't bad, was it? I rather enjoyed that. We won't be able to stay in this much longer though. They'll be after us with a vengeance now.
(My italics.)

Pity there's no clip of the moment online, because Barbara's face gets a rather manic, but still proper, smile. Barbara Wright is not to be trifled with. And is here enjoying herself a bit too much.

Later, Ian and his companion Craddock meet Ashton the profiteer on the black market, who exploits his fellow humans for profit, only to die at the paws? of the ridiculous Slyther (who wins a point for whining pitiably when it, in turn, is dispatched by Ian). In "The Waking Ally," the pattern repeats--Barbara and resistance fighter Jenny are literally sold to the Daleks for extra food by an old woman and her daughter who collaborate with them by making clothes for slave laborers.

The humanity the Doctor and his companions seek to save here is not idealized.

Meanwhile, the story of Larry Craddock's search for his brother Phil comes to its tragic end. Larry, too wounded to walk, comes face-to-face with Phil, only to discover the latter has been made into a Roboman:
PHIL: (a Roboman) Halt!
LARRY: Phil! It's my brother. Ian, it's my brother.
PHIL: Too many in working party. Dalek Supreme Control recheck. Who are you?
LARRY: Phil? Phil, it's Larry. Your brother Larry. Think, Phil! Remember me!
PHIL: You are both runaways.
LARRY: Angela. Your wife, Angela! I'll take you to her.
PHIL: You must both be punished.
IAN: It's no good, Larry.
LARRY: No, no! No, Ian!
IAN: Come on!
LARRY: Ian, get clear. Run while you've got the chance! Run, Ian. Run.
(Larry throttles Phil while Phil shoots Larry)
LARRY: Run, Ian, run.

[Phil's roboman helmet is shattered; as he dies, he groans one word]

Phil: Larry.
Meanwhile, David and Susan begin to fall in love. We are shown humanity as both loving and at its least loving--Ashton, the old woman and her daughter--while Larry, mortally wounded, fights his effectively dead brother to save Ian. Even Phil has one last flash of his stolen soul, and recognizes the brother he has killed.

Barbara, captured and forced to work in the mines, uses Dortmun's notes to get herself face-to-face with the Black Dalek. She tries to "tell the tale" of a rebellion to get a chance to sabotage the Daleks in the heart of their empire:
BARBARA: Did you see that, Jenny? That's the way they control the Robomen.
DALEK 3: Herd all humans to galleries to nine, ten and fifteen.
JENNY: Perhaps we could put it out of action?
BARBARA: We could do better than that, we could give it new orders. Tell them to turn on the Daleks.
JENNY: Yes! That's a great idea.
DALEK: They are the prisoners that reported the imminent revolt.
BLACK: Speak!
BARBARA: (reading Dortmun's notes.) This bomb is the one with which
BLACK: We are not interested in the bomb. Give your information!
BARBARA: Right. This revolt is timed to start almost immediately. As in the case of the Indian mutiny, which I am sure
BLACK: Indian mutiny? We are the masters of India!
BARBARA: I was talking about Red Indians in disguise! The plan will run parallel with the Boston Tea Party. Naturally, you already have information about this.
BLACK: Wait! Why have I not been informed of this?
DALEK 2: There has been no information.
BARBARA: Good! That means the first part of the plan is a success. Now, I warn you, General Lee and the four, the fifth cavalry are already forming up to attack from the north side of the crater. The second wave, Hannibal's forces, will of course come in from the Southern Alps. The third wave
BLACK: Attention! Attention! Mobilise defence forces!
(Barbara dashes to the Robomen control panel)
BARBARA: Robomen, this order cannot be countermanded. You must
BLACK: Take them! They are lying! Take them! Take them! Take them!
Later, of course, the Doctor and Barbara will use the Control Center to order the Robomen to turn on the Daleks, and destroy them. So this idea of Barbara's in fact turns the tide, in conjunction with as Ian's sabotage of the Dalek's bomb, David and Susan sabotaging the pit.

You'll notice that these are all moments, not essential to the plot, and that I'm not recapping it. That's because the plot is famously bizarre--the Daleks wanting to husk out the planet's core and fly the earth around the universe (yeah, and that idea actually gets another try), the to-ing and fro-ing to pad out the story to fill six episodes--no, this story lives in its moments.

Grace notes, when the dying Larry hears his name on his dead brother's lips after all;
Where Susan sees herself as loved and loving,
or Jenny sees Barbara as her hero,
and David asks for the woman he loves to stay with him.

So, in the last post, I said that the title of "World's End" was, in a sense, true.

The Doctor is alone, except for the friends he's trying to help to leave him. Susan is gone, and with her, his own roots and family, and world.

Where does he go from here?

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Shattered Visage: World's End/The Daleks/Day of Reckoning

After the oddball second season opener, the next story arc brought back the Daleks as a far more potent threat than their initial appearance. Where The Daleks was the story of the last remnants of two civilizations trying to revive their dead planet, one by destroying their erstwhile enemies, the other by reaching out to them, these episodes bring us to Earth, and to Great Britain.

A Great Britain more shattered by invasion than was Great Britain by the Luftwaffe, less than two decades before the filming of these episodes.

England--no, Great Britain--no, sorry, the whole Earth is occupied by the Daleks. Not all that many of them, seemingly. But that's all right; they've enslaved the locals, not by fear, or threat, but by stripping them of all humanity, reducing them to automatons with funky headgear, and hollow, sagging voices.

The Roboman is the specter that haunts these episodes, and if you've ever doubted Andrew Cartmel's description of the Daleks as "futuristic metal fascists," the Robomen, with their evocation of the broken spirits Victor Frankl encountered in the concentration camps in which he was imprisoned, cement the identification. The Robomen are our worst fear: that we ourselves could become obedient servants of an oppressor, all humanity lost. That we could all be Winston Smith--worse, even; Winston Smith with even the simulacrum of personality left him by Orwell's Ministry of Love destroyed.

That the visage of humanity could be all too easily shattered.


The TARDIS arrives on a deserted riverbank of the Thames. The TARDIS herself has never looked so beaten up before, her paint scaling, her side windows seemingly stove in--her exterior is almost as dilapidated as her surroundings. The iconic poster forbidding the dumping of bodies, the unexplained signs everywhere reading "VETOED,"--London is in ruins. And when the Dalek arises out of the river, and Ian and the Doctor are well and truly trapped--well, it's a strong ending for the first episode. Before that, we go through some interesting character beats--Susan merrily climbs a wall to see some indicator of when in London's history they are, and promptly sprains her ankle. On the other hand, when she and Barbara are the hands of the resistance (such as it is), and their usefulness is being assessed, she sasses her interrogator:
DORTMUN: Two more pairs of hands. Good, we need--
DAVID: She [Barbara] says she can cook.
DORTMUN: Oh, can you?
DAVID: And what do you do?
SUSAN: I eat.
Susan's quite charming in this moment, and it's a rare chance for her to be the flip, insouciant one of the party.

The Doctor's happy cleverness in working out a scientific puzzle left in the cell occupied by himself, Ian and another captive named Craddock, convinces the Daleks of the Doctor's superior mental agility--and marks him for robotization.

As to the wheelchair-bound Dortmun, obsessively refining his bomb, and launching a doomed attack dependent on its efficacy, without testing it--well, Dortmun makes me wish I believed that Terry Nation had, in creating the Daleks, foreseen Davros. Because like the creator of the Daleks, Dortmun is all too willing to weaponize people and trust to his own genius, sometimes disastrously. Unlike Davros, Dortmun still has his soul, under the obsessiveness. He gives his life testing his bomb himself, but also giving Barbara and Jenny, another resistance fighter, a chance to escape.

Meanwhile, David Campbell and Susan have a good chat about belonging somewhere and needing a real identity--and David turns down the opportunity to escape with Susan and the Doctor from his ravaged planet. He comforts her as Daleks slaughter a resistance eight they had met on the way. A tentative bond has been formed.


But these episodes aren't, at heart, character episodes. Nor are they about the plot--although it moves briskly along. Rather, it's power comes from evoking a legitimate terror, recent enough at the time of initial airing to still chill the hearts of the original viewers.

If The Daleks was a mediation on, and a fable about, nuclear war, with overtones of the Second World War, then these three episodes are peeping through half-opened eyes screened by one's fingers at the great British primal fear--what if that war had gone the wrong way--if Britain had been conquered and it, not Germany, occupied?

That terror is dramatized here, in sci-fi-fi dress, to chill parents and children alike.

It works.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Direct Coercive Advocacy and the Carter Case (Part 2 of 2)

In the first part of this admittedly lengthy exegesis, I summarized the facts of Commonwealth v. Carter, in which a trial court judge has rendered a guilty verdict in a bench trial, and suggested that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court had applied an incorrect standard in allowing the case to go to trial, but had possibly reached the correct result. Here, we'll look at the application of the appropriate standard and distinguish Carter from a decision of a very different kind, Rice v. Paladin Enterprises (4th Cir 1997)

The basic legal analysis is adapted from my 2002 article Brigaded With Action: Undirected Advocacy and the First Amendment (you can also read the article, revised in the second edition of my book. The scholarly apparatus is all there, so I'll spare you here.


In Rice v. Paladin Enterprises, Inc., a publisher was held civilly liable for a murder committed by a killer-for-hire who followed the directions in one of its books, Hit Man: A Technical Guide for Independent Contractors. (The book purported to be written by an actual hit man, but the author, under the name "Rex Feral," was in fact a mystery novelist.) The Fourth Circuit found the book to constitute a "steeling to violence" under Brandenburg. Rice is and inconsistent with Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition a subsequent Supreme Court decision, and so is of dubious presidential value at best. The reasons that suggest that the Fourth Circuit got it wrong in Rice, suggest that the verdict in Carter, whether right or wrong, does not violate the First Amendment.

In Brandenburg, I argued in the article and at greater length in the book, speech is only subject to punishment if it is tantamount ti what earlier cases call a "verbal act." As I explained there, the decision in Ashcroft is a powerful reassertion of the primary rule of free speech: that, as a general proposition, speech may only be deemed to constitute part of an illegal action under very narrow factual circumstances in which a specific relationship between speaker and actor correlates the speakers' expression to the fact-specific crime in question. the presumption that speech is inviolate is a precondition to such verbal act analysis. It is only upon a showing that the speech is the functional equivalent of a physical act that proscription and punishment are permitted.

Second, some kind of specific connection to the illegal conduct that resulted from the speech is needed--the causal chain must be sufficiently tight that the line between protected persuasion and unprotected verbal act remains as sharp as possible. Thus, in Brandenburg, and Justice Brandeis' Whitney concurrence, the requirement of both the imminence of the resultant act and a specific context in which the act takes place creates a lack of opportunity for reasoned deliberation and the temporary ascendancy of the speaker over the audience. This is similar to an agency relationship that fairly imputes the listener's act to the speaker.

In fact, the relationship of the audience to the speaker is critical in distinguishing a verbal act from advocacy. A classroom professor who instructs her class from the writings of Valerie Solanas, and urges action on the abstract level is not the same as a speaker who is aware that prompt obedience is likely because of a different relationship context. For example, Professor James Moriarity, known as the “Napoleon of Crime,” instructs his direct subordinate Colonel Sebastian Moran to kill Sherlock Holmes. The power relationship between the two make it expected that Moriarity will be obeyed; violent action on the part of Moran at the behest of Moriarity is within the scope of their relationship as negotiated by them, and as practiced. Moran's act is attributable to Moriarity even if attempted after Moriarity's death. Where the relationship is an explicit one, one agreed upon by the parties and acknowledged by them, the lack of imminence alone does not absolve the speaker. The equation is simply that a relationship plus a command equals causation. A relationship where a command takes place with both parties having reason to believe that the command will be obeyed, makes the speaker liable for the resultant act.

Another example may be helpful. Henry II, at dinner with his loyal barons, fatefully muses about his political conflict with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, asking “will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” Four of his knights take the King's angry exclamation as an instruction, and butcher Becket in his own cathedral, while at the altar; Henry disavows any intent that they *364 should have so acted. This case posits an interesting question regarding intent: what is meant by a command? If Henry was just letting off steam, and did not intend his knights to act upon his passionate language (an interpretation much in keeping with the King's well-known rages), Henry might persuasively claim that, despite the relationship, his knights did not reasonably take his remark as a command.

That is, Henry might claim either that his statement was not intended to be a command, or simply that the knights unreasonably so interpreted it, regardless of the King's subjective intention at speaking. The latter theory plainly exonerates Henry; if the statement is misunderstood in an objectively unreasonable manner, then the relationship does not act to impute liability to the King. If, however, the King was in the habit of commanding his knights to execute political opponents, and habitually expressed his will so elliptically, the agency relationship might still bind the King, despite Henry's lack of specific intent on that occasion.279
In both of these paradigm cases, immediacy is not required to establish liability because the pre-existing relationship creates a context whereby the speaker knows that the command, if spoken, will be acted upon. Speaker and actor are in a power relationship that supports such a conclusion.

Thus, direct advocacy, under certain circumstances, crosses the line to verbal act status. Thus too, indirect advocacy--Henry II's wishing for the death of the “turbulent priest” to those who feel it their duties to anticipate and fulfill his needs--can also cross this line, under the right set of circumstances. However, undirected advocacy--like Hit Man or the S.C.U.M. Manifesto--can only appeal to reason. No power dynamic between reader and speaker exists to attribute the causation of an act to the following of advocacy that is abstract--in that it is untethered to a specific factual context, not that it is bloodless. The mind of the reader remains free to evaluate, to weigh, to accept or to reject the arguments presented. The acts that result, therefore, are not attributable to the speaker, but solely to the actor. The speaker may be the spreader of error and evil counsel, but she is not herself an actor. To hold otherwise is not only to blur the lines between speech and act--even verbal act--but to reject the central tenet of any notion of free speech: that individuals are capable of receiving and evaluating various messages, and choosing between them.

Michelle Carter was involved in directed advocacy--she was addressing a particular person, trying to induce (so the trial court found) specific action at a specific time. Actually, she was engaged over a period of time, but at the time of the suicide, particularly when he left the carbon monoxide-filled truck and called her, at that precise moment, she commanded him to "get back in." In refusing to dismiss the case, the Supreme Judicial Court called this statement in particular (among others) "coercive" in the context of their discussions.

The Brandenburg rule captures an unspoken power dynamic: the audience may be swept up in the feeling created by the speaker, directed at that moment at a specific target. In short, a temporary ascendancy due to group feeling and manipulated emotion has created a power relationship such that the causal chain is established. Power, not reason, links speaker and actor.

That captures rather well the facts in Carter as found by the Court in its verdict. Whether Michelle Carter has an appeal on other grounds, her conviction does not seem to infringe the First Amendment.

""Get Back In": Commonwealth v. Carter and the Limits of Free Speech (Part 1)

Today's verdict finding Michelle Carter guilty of involuntary manslaughter is a stage, nearly the final stage, perhaps, in a terrible tragedy. It also raises a paradigmatic case of the limits of First Amendment protection, and the academic manqué in me can't help but want to explore what the case tells us about the First Amendment.

The facts in brief:
A young woman who sent a barrage of text messages to another teenager urging him to kill himself was found guilty Friday of involuntary manslaughter in a case that many legal experts had expected to result in an acquittal.

The verdict, handed down by a judge in a nonjury trial, was a rare legal finding that, essentially, a person’s words alone can directly cause someone else’s suicide.

The judge, Lawrence Moniz, of Bristol County Juvenile Court in southeastern Massachusetts, said the conduct of the woman, Michelle Carter, toward Conrad Roy III was not only immoral but illegal. Ms. Carter, who faces up to 20 years in prison, will be sentenced on Aug. 3.

Ms. Carter was 17 in July 2014 when she encouraged Mr. Roy, 18, whom she called her boyfriend, to kill himself. On July 12, while she was miles away, he drove alone to a Kmart parking lot and hooked up a water pump that emitted carbon monoxide into the cab of his truck. When he became sick from the fumes and stepped out, prosecutors said, Ms. Carter ordered him by phone to “get back in.” He was found dead the next day.
Now, in analyzing the case, I'm going to be relying on the more detailed recitation of facts provided by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, reported at 474 Mass. 624; 52 N.E.3d 1054; 2016 Mass. LEXIS 384 (2016), which gives several key exchanges between Carter (referred to as "Defendant") and Roy ("Victim"):
On July 8, 2014, between 8:09 p.m. and 8:18 p.m., the defendant and victim exchanged the following text messages:

Defendant: “So are you sure you don't wanna [kill yourself] tonight?”

Victim: “what do you mean am I sure?”

Defendant: “Like, are you definitely not doing it tonight?”

Victim: “Idk yet I'll let you know”

Defendant: “Because I'll stay up with you if you wanna do it tonight”

Victim: “another day wouldn't hurt”

Defendant: “You can't keep pushing it off, tho, that's all you keep doing”


The defendant helped the victim determine the method he eventually used to kill himself. On July 7, 2014, between 10:57 p.m. and 11:04 p.m., they exchanged the following text messages:

Defendant: “Well there's more ways to make CO. Google ways to make it. … ”

Victim: “Omg”

Defendant: “What”

Victim: “portable generator that's it”

On July 11, 2014, at 5:13 p.m., the defendant sent the victim the following text message: “ … Well in my opinion, I think u should do the generator because I don't know much about the pump and with a generator u can't fail”

On July 12, 2014, between 4:25 a.m. and 4:34 a.m., they exchanged the following text messages:

Defendant: “So I guess you aren't gonna do it then, all that for nothing”

Defendant: “I'm just confused like you were so ready and determined”

Victim: “I am gonna eventually”

Victim: “I really don't know what I'm waiting for. . but I have everything lined up”

Defendant: “No, you're not, Conrad. Last night was it. You keep pushing it off and you say you'll do it but u never do. Its always gonna be that way if u don't take action”

Defendant: “You're just making it harder on yourself by pushing it off, you just have to do it”

Defendant: “Do u wanna do it now?”

Victim: “Is it too late?”

Victim: “Idkk it's already light outside”

Victim: “I'm gonna go back to sleep, love you I'll text you tomorrow”

Defendant: “No? Its probably the best time now because everyone's sleeping. Just go somewhere in your truck. And no one's really out right now because it's an awkward time”

Defendant: “If u don't do it now you're never gonna do it”

Defendant: “And u can say you'll do it tomorrow but you probably won't”

5 During the evening of July 11, 2014, and morning of July 12, 2014, the victim and the defendant exchanged the following text messages:

Victim: “I'm just to sensitive. I want my family to know there was nothing they could do. I am entrapped in my own thoughts”

Victim: “like no I would be happy if they had no guilt about it. because I have a bad feeling tht this is going to create a lot of depression between my parents/sisters”

Victim: “i'm overthinking everything. . fuck. I gotta stop and just do it”

Defendant: “I think your parents know you're in a really bad place. Im not saying they want you to do it, but I honestly feel like they can except it. They know there's nothing they can do, they've tried helping, everyone's tried. But there's a point that comes where there isn't anything anyone can do to save you, not even yourself, and you've hit that point and I think your parents know you've hit that point. You said you're mom saw a suicide thing on your computer and she didn't say anything. I think she knows it's on your mind and she's prepared for it”

Defendant: Everyone will be sad for a while, but they will get over it and move on. They won't be in depression I won't let that happen. They know how sad you are and they know that you're doing this to be happy, and I think they will understand and accept it. They'll always carry u in their hearts“

Victim: “i don't want anyone hurt in the process though”

Victim: “I meant when they open the door, all the carbon monoxide is gonna come out they can't see it or smell it. whoever opens the door”

Defendant: “They will see the generator and know that you died of CO. … ”

Victim: “hey can you do me a favor”

Defendant: “Yes of course”

Victim: “just be there for my family :)”

Defendant: “Conrad, of course I will be there for your family. I will help them as much as I can to get thru this, ill tell them about how amazing their son/brother truly was”

Victim: “Idk I'm freaking out again”

Victim: “I'm overthinking”

Defendant: “I thought you wanted to do this. The time is right and you're ready, you just need to do it! You can't keep living this way. You just need to do it like you did last time and not think about it and just do it babe. You can't keep doing this every day”

Victim: “I do want to. but like I'm freaking for my family. I guess”

Victim: “idkkk”

Defendant: “Conrad. I told you I'll take care of them. Everyone will take care of them to make sure they won't be alone and people will help them get thru it. We talked about this, they will be okay and accept it. People who commit suicide don't think this much and they just do it”

6 At various times between July 4, 2014, and July 12, 2014, the defendant and the victim exchanged several text messages:

Defendant: “You're gonna have to prove me wrong because I just don't think you really want this. You just keeps pushing it off to another night and say you'll do it but you never do”

Defendant: “SEE THAT'S WHAT I MEAN. YOU KEEP PUSHING IT OFF! You just said you were gonna do it tonight and now you're saying eventually. … ”

Defendant: “But I bet you're gonna be like ‘oh, it didn't work because I didn't tape the tube right or something like that’ … I bet you're gonna say an excuse like that”

Defendant: “Do you have the generator?”

Victim: “not yet lol”


Defendant: “You better not be bull shiting me and saying you're gonna do this and then purposely get caught”

Defendant: “You just need to do it Conrad or I'm gonna get you help”

Defendant: “You can't keep doing this everyday”

Victim: “Okay I'm gonna do it today”

Defendant: “Do you promise”

Victim: “I promise babe”

Victim: “I have to now”

Defendant: “Like right now?”

Victim: “where do I go? :(”

Defendant: “And u can't break a promise. And just go in a quiet parking lot or something” (emphasis added).
The Court also added that "Cellular telephone records that were presented to the grand jury revealed that the victim and defendant also had two cellular telephone conversations at the time during which police believe that the victim was in his truck committing suicide.7 The content of those cellular telephone conversations is only available as reported by the defendant to her friend, Samantha Boardman. After the victim's death, the defendant sent a text message to Boardman explaining that, at one point during the suicide, the victim got out of his truck because he was “scared,” and the defendant commanded him to get back in." The Court also found relevant that:
It was apparent that the defendant understood the repercussions of her role in the victim's death. Prior to his suicide, the defendant sought (apparently unsuccessfully) to have the victim delete the text messages between the two, and after learning that the police were looking through the victim's cellular telephone, the defendant sent the following text message to Boardman: “Sam, [the police] read my messages with him I'm done. His family will hate me and I can go to jail.” During the investigation, and after cross-referencing the text messages in the defendant's cellular telephone and those in the victim's cellular telephone, the police discovered that the defendant had erased certain text messages between her and the victim. The defendant also lied to police about the content of her conversations with the victim. Finally, the defendant acknowledged in a text message to Boardman that she could have stopped the victim from committing suicide: “I helped ease him into it and told him it was okay, I was talking to him on the phone when he did it I coud have easily stopped him or called the police but I didn't.

The Supreme Judicial Court found that the First Amendment did not prevent criminal punishment for Carter's role in Roy's death on the ground that "The speech at issue in this case is not protected under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution or art. 16 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights because the Commonwealth has a compelling interest in deterring speech that has a direct, causal link to a specific victim's suicide."

This is, to put it mildly, unpersuasive.

The actual standard applicable to claims that advocacy of unlawful conduct is properly subject to legal sanction is that of Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), providing "that the constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press do not permit a State to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action."

So the Supreme Judicial Court's First Amendment analysis is quite superficial, and doesn't use the right standard.

Which in this case doesn't make it wrong.

Next: Directed Coercive Advocacy and the Carter Case

Thursday, June 15, 2017

"Look at the Scale of Things": Planet of Giants/Dangerous Journey/Crisis

Right, there are two ways I could go about this. The first is I could be glib, and say that the primary merit of this three part story (that's the originally aired version available on BritBox, so that's what I watched; I gather the four part version has been reconstructed) is that it preserves the beauty of a particularly nice-looking calico cat.

The other is to admit that the second season of Doctor Who starts with...mot exactly a whimper, but a misfire. It's not that there aren't things to like in this odd story; it's just that it doesn't work as a whole. But the good is quite worth seeing. Let me explain:

The story begins in the TARDIS, shortly after it left Revolutionary France. But not immediately; the travelers have all changed (the Doctor is swanning about in a cloak rather like that he received in The Sensorites, but (so it appears) lighter in color), when suddenly the TARDIS doors try to open in mid-flight, the console is hot enough to burn Barbara's hand, and the travelers barely manage to land intact--in fact, the scanner shatters, when they try to view their surroundings.

Team TARDIS spills out into a canyon, and discovers that they are surrounded by huge (but very, very dead) earthworms, ants and other insects. They wander around in two groups trying to figure out where they are, when they discover that giant humans live on this planet. Giant humans who use giant English products made in (seemingly) giant English manufacturing locales...

In a neat touch, the Doctor (with Barbara) and Susan (with Ian) realize the truth at the same moment, and explain it in the same words: the planet and its inhabitants aren't giants--the TARDIS and its occupants have shrunk, with the travelers reduced to an inch in height. Susan is sharp here, overriding her onetime science teacher with the same authority Hartnell as the Doctor brings to his explanation to Barbara. She is once again the brilliant "Unearthly Child" of the pilot, who has intermittently shown up when she isn't screaming. Carole Ann Ford is great as this Susan, and it's good to see her in a more mature and compelling role.

The travelers try to find Ian (who rather stupidly hid in a briefcase to avoid being spotted, and literally was carried away. Barbara makes the mistake of touching a huge seed, and begins to sicken...

Meanwhile, a greedy investor and an idealistic (albeit obsessed) scientist are hosting (at the scientist's home and personal lab) a government scientist who is testing the safety and efficacy of a new insecticide that will (if it works properly) end world hunger and make the investor a fortune (which he needs, having sunk all his money into it). The regulator realizes the insecticide is too effective--it kills everything, and for decades. When he tells the investor, in the absence of the scientist, the investor, er, kills him. Sorry, old chap. He tells the scientist that Farrow (the government scientist) was corrupt, and going to end the project--and thus no end to world hunger, so the scientist agrees to move the body.

Oh, my insecticide!

If this sounds like a crossover between Doctor Who and Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-1962), well it bloody well feels like one. The two stories run parallel to each other, only intersecting occasionally, and at the end, when the Doctor and Barbara work out the harm the insecticide will do, and they try to get the attention of the police to not just the murder, but the underlying cause. That's when this already odd story crosses over again, this time with Dixon of Dock Green--the local constable, and his telephone exchange operator wife work out that the calls to London are not coming from Farrow, and the constable makes the arrest.

Because of the disparity in size, the travelers cannot make out the voices of the people around them, and can't be heard by them. So these stories only touch so that the big people can imperil the travelers (washing their hands in a sink while the Doctor and Susan hide in the drain), or the travelers try to stop the accomplice's covering up their crimes.

The idea isn't terrible, but because it's so disjointed, it's hard to get invested in the story of the insecticide and murder.

What does work, and works beautifully, is the relationships between the Doctor, Susan, Barbara, and Ian. Ian comes last in this list because he's least well served by the script. William Russell plays his role as stalwart here, but the script makes him repeatedly grab the idiot ball. But he portrays Ian's intrepidity and loyalty simply and convincingly.

Barbara oddly doesn't tell anyone that she's been poisoned, though she works up towards it at least once, only to be interrupted. This doesn't make sense, but Jacqueline Hill puts in a performance of mounting terror and disorientation that you believe it. Earlier in the story, the unaffected warmth between her and Hartnell's Doctor, and Susan, is both charming and earned.

The Doctor is more likable in season two than in the pervious stories--after being curt and dismissive during the initial crisis, he apologizes quite humbly to Barbara, addressing her as "my dear," and treats Ian as a friend throughout. He and Susan trust one another implicitly here, and work well together. Hartnell is quite good here--light where he can be, firm where needed. His boyish enthusiasm for explosions is pure Tom Sawyer, but he sells it.

The Doctor and his companions end up back safely in the TARDIS--with Barbara restored to full size, the poison that entered her system through skin contact is too small to affect her. They realize that they had touched on modern earth, but had to dematerialize to restore themselves to full size; the effort to move in time, but not in space led to an error the shrank them.

So where have they landed now, they wonder?

The next episode's title is "The End of the World."

In more than one way, that's just what it is.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Able I Was: The Tyrant of France/A Bargain of Necessity/Prisoners of Conciergerie

Barbara the bar-maid
In Robespierre's France,
Would spare her enemies if given the chance.
She rather likes dress-up
In sumptuous gowns,
Making the other side fess up
While making her rounds.

Barbara the bar-maid
Keeps stirring the pot,
Simply jolie, not laide,
While moving the plot.


So, when we talk about six-parters, the fact of the matter is, they often sag in the middle, even the classic ones. The Mutants is my go-to story for tedium, but to be fair, I gave up on it at the end of Part 2)> But even the all-time classic Genesis of the Daleks sags a bit. And you've read my sighs on some of the Hartnell six-parters in this first season. Dennis Spooner successfully comes up with a neat solution: each episode has a reason for being there. So, for example, the first three episodes, which (1) resolve the TARDIS team internal conflict and set up the premise; (2) Ian, Barbara and Susan get imprisoned--and worse, Barbara and Susan are sent in a tumbrel to the Guillotine; (3) the Doctor starts bossing his way through revolutionary France; Barbara, Ian, and Susan are freed.

For the second troika of episodes, Spooner keeps up a plot line that minimizes pointless run-arounds. Again, each episode has its own story to tell. In "The Tyrant of France," we meet Robespierre himself. The Doctor, in his guise as a country bumpkin Deputy, manages to evade Robespierre's questions, but goes a little over the top, so that Robespierre wants to meet him again, so Lematire (a name of some significance in the show's history--but not yet) has an excuse to hold the Doctor in custody. In a subplot, Ian tries to find the English agent whose contact dies in his cell, asking Ian's aid. Léon (who was so strongly attracted to Barbara in his first appearance) betrays him.

In "A Bargain of Necessity," Ian resists the pressure to divulge what little he knows to Léon; Jules rescues him, but Léon is killed. Meanwhile, the Doctor has to break Barbara and Susan out of prison. He manipulates the jailer and gets Barbara free, but has to club him over the head to get Susan out of her cell. Alas, they are caught on their way out. This subplot is repetitive, but it's handled as high comedy--each time the Doctor has to snow the jailer, he has to try harder, because the jailer is more skeptical each time. Both Hartnell and Jack Cunningham as the jailer have great comic timing, and they real chemistry. With Susan left behind, the Doctor brings Lemaitre to meet Jules and the TARDIS team.

Finally, there's plenty of plot left for "Prisoners of the Conciergerie." The fall of Robespierre, the scheming to bring Napoleon Bonaparte to the fore, and Barbara and Ian as waitstaff/spies on Napoleon and Barras (the would-be kingmaker). Also, the Doctor and the jailer have one last pas-de-deux, with the Doctor now posing as one of the conspirators who overthrew Robespierre (who is shot through the jaw, and carried through Paris by a mocking crowd--NOT FOR KIDS! as Sue Perryman used to say.) Anyway, LeMaitre was the English agent all along, and the Doctor et al escape. But, as six parters go, it's flip and fun (the last three get a little darker, though).

So why yet another of my sub-Betjamen-esque verses?

BARBARA: Well, not very much, we didn't have a chance. But he'll be here soon, so no doubt we'll get the whole story, several times. What have you done?
IAN: Oh, it's nothing much. Let's just say I fell into the wrong hands, and Jules arrived in time.
BARBARA: And Leon?
JULES: He's dead, Barbara. I killed him.
BARBARA: Killed him?
JULES: Yes. He was the traitor we were looking for.
IAN: It was the only way, Barbara.
JULES: He deserved to die. He was a traitor.
BARBARA: What do you mean, he was a traitor?
IAN: When I got to the church, he turned on me. He was going to kill me.
JULES: He betrayed us, Barbara.
BARBARA: He was a traitor to you. To his side he was a patriot.
IAN: Barbara, we've taken sides just by being here. Jules actually shot him. It could just as easily have been me.
JULES: And what about Robespierre? I suppose you think
BARBARA: Well just because an extremist like Robespierre
IAN: Oh, Barbara, Jules is our friend. He saved our lives!
BARBARA: I know all that! The revolution isn't all bad, and neither are the people who support it. It changed things for the whole world, and good, honest people gave their lives for that change.
IAN: Well, he got what he deserved.
BARBARA: You check your history books, Ian, before you decide what people deserve.
This is classic Barbara; yes, she rather fancied Leon Colbert (who clearly fancied her), but it's the simplification of the man's cause and reasons for his devotion to it that Barbara balks at. The complexity of history, the mixed motives, the confusion of the times--all the reasons that led her to defend the Aztecs when Susan expressed her revulsion at the Aztecs for their practice of human sacrifice.

Barbara will not simplify.

The good is not obliterated by the bad, nor vice-versa.

She will insist on commemorating both, praising the good while acknowledging the bad. And she can mourn for those whom she meets, despite their flaws.

The Doctor has become infuriating, charming, mercurial and resourceful (successfully doing what Colin Baker could not, through no fault of his own);

Ian is brave and stalwart, a science teacher has become a knight;

Barbara is the beating heart of Doctor Who as its first season ends with this story.

See you for Season Two!

Monday, June 5, 2017

"Liberté, égalité, fraternité": A Land of Fear/Guests of Madame Guillotine/A Change of Identity

The story arc collectively known as The Reign of Terror closes out Doctor Who's first season, airing from August 8 through September 12, 1964. Written by So this one is well within the wheelhouse of the BBC, even in 1964. It's the first storyline written by Dennis Spooner, and benefits from his lightness of touch. Even more so than did The Aztecs, this storyline gives William Hartnell the chance to show off his comedy chops, evidenced in these first three episodes by his hard bargaining with a Parisian costumier, and his deadpan double take when he (masquerading as a provincial official and draped in enough bunting to make a good busker in a production of Inherit the Wind) is hauled by a suspicious higher-ranking official to meet Robespierre.

Spooner's script, ably directed by Henric Hirsch, even sends up the Doctor's more, er, sanguinary impulses, with a comic call-back to the Doctor's impulse to cave in (sorry! Za's head with a rock; here, the Doctor, having impressed into a chain-gang, and having gotten pretty damned fed up with being on one, tricks the Foreman into digging for buried treasure, and while his back is turned, the Doctor--you guessed it--whangees him on the base of the skull with a shovel. Unlike the stark drama in 100,000 BC, though, here it's played as Wile E. Coyote pulling a rare successful gambit. It's also sanitized for the children watching--we follow the eyes of the chain gang member looking away as the Doctor swings, and we see the foreman sleeping as the Doctor saunters off.

Spooner's script moves briskly along, with lots of neat character bits. So, at the very beginning, the Doctor wants Ian and Barbara to leave, as at the end of The Sensorites, but in the prelude to teh story, it's made very clear that, although he's nettled at their lack of faith, he's quite sure that they are in fact home. He no longer is willing to harm or abandon them--he's just done it, and is cross that they don't believe him. In fact, he goes out with Ian and Barbara, and brings Susan as well, so they can have a farewell drink to celebrate their friendship.

That they're 200 miles (in the countryside outside of Paris) and nearly 200 years off, well, he doesn't know it at the time. The travelers find a place to doss down, which turns out to be a way station on an Underground Railroad for aristos and others fleeing the Terror; two such refugees hiding in the house the travelers have entered club the Doctor into unconsciousness. Barbara, Susan, and Ian, along with the two fugitives, are captured;the two are summarily killed, the house, with the Doctor still unconscious, set on fire, and Barbara, Susan and Ian are haled back to Paris and swiftly sentenced to death.

Spooner heightens two tropes that have begun to make their way into Doctor Who. First, Barbara is catnip to men in this story. Oh, there had been previous admirers, but here both the jailer at the Conciergerie (whom she slaps, rejecting his indecent proposal that she accept his advances in exchange for her freedom), and the counter-revolutionary Leon Colbert, whom she meets after she and Susan are rescued from the tumbril, fall for her on sight (granted, the jailer is more of a sex pest).

The second trope is the prowess of Ian, who manages to spirit away a key, unlock his cell door, knock out the jailer without rousing any guards, and escape. This maths teachers can, as he already did in The Aztecs, hold his own against pretty stiff odds.

A nice human touch is that as Susan gets ill (poor Carole Ann Ford doesn't get much to do for these three episodes), Barbara suspends her escape attempts--which were well under way--and comforts her. She won't abandon her friend, neither will she upbraid her for her fear and despair. Jacqueline Hill is tremendous in depicting Barbara's low key, but palpable compassion in these episodes.

It doesn't hurt that this episode is completely in the BBC's wheelhouse, even in 1964. It's a historically based costume drama, with some low rent Scarlet Pimpernel-wanna bes cluttering up the background. The Forsyte Saga may still be three years off, but the capacity was there.

These first three episodes have been a high point of this retrospective viewing so far; of all the serials I've seen, it has been the best paced, and the lightest. The Aztecs was a stone classic, The Sensorites was much better--and more fun--than I'd expected it to be, but after watching three episodes of The Reign of Terror at a stretch, I wanted to fire up part 4. That's pretty good TV after 53 years.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

"Hail Thee, Festival Day!": A Sermon

[The text of my Sermon on John 20:19-23 & 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13, delivered at St. Bartholomew's Church, June 4, 2017.]

Hail thee, festival day!
blest day that art hallowed forever,
Day when the Holy Ghost shone
In the world with God’s grace!

I admit it, I’m a sucker for this hymn. All three versions. You heard me. We get to sing “Hail Thee Festival Day” for Easter, of course (that’s Hymn number 175), where it’s Christ our Lord breaking the Kingdom of Death. Then we get to hear it again then again for the Ascension (now it’s Hymn 216, where it’s about Christ our Lord ascending, high in the heavens to reign.

But we get this hymn one last time, today, for Pentecost. (Hymn number 225). And today—

Well, today, I could shave five minutes off the sermon by having us just sing the hymn again, and, you know, if the lyrics to this version were not so dense with meaning that in singing them, we can miss some of the implications, I’d do just that.

Pentecost is often called the Church’s birthday, and between tongues of flame, and the miracle of the Apostle’s teaching being heard in all the languages of the globe, and understood—well, there’s a lot. Quite a lot, and I haven’t even mentioned the Gospel, or the reading from First Corinthians.

But our opening hymn reminds us that Pentecost is a day of joy, literally a banner day, on which we wear red, unfurl actual banners, and let our flags fly.

Did you ever wonder why?

Let’s begin with something that’s easy to overlook.

In the other two versions of “Hail Thee, Festival Day,” we celebrate Jesus’s resurrection, and his Ascension. We celebrate our Savior, our teacher, our rabbi, who gave his life for us, and that his life did not just end on the Cross. We celebrate that Jesus returned to his friends, his community, and that his death was the beginning, not the end.

But today’s version of the hymn celebrates a different gift to us, a gift that enables us to live in this world as it is, in the day-to-day world. The Holy Spirit, the Advocate, has come. And the Spirit has done something to transform the way in which we are called to live.

There’s a symbolic, a mythic, meaning of the Pentecost story in Acts of the Apostles. When I say the mythic, I don’t mean the miraculous, exactly. I mean that, apart from its historical content, the Pentecost story expresses through its narrative a profound truth that would stand even if you reject the notion that anything like this account occurred. It fits into Biblical history and resonates with its very beginning.

Early in the Book of Genesis—chapter 11—we are told the story of the Tower of Babel. In that story, God, seeing a united humanity, with no division between them, all eager to make a name for themselves, begin to build the tower as a focal point of their ambition. Their mighty building will reflect their might as a people. It’s the first example, as far as I know, of the Edifice Complex.

Seeing these fallen children of Adam and Eve building their monument to themselves, Genesis tells us, God says to Himself, “Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.” So God goes down among them, “and confuse[s] their language,” and they are scattered. The tower and the City are never built, and the remnants of the unfinished building are called Babel—divided.

Not after today.

Pentecost is when the healing begins. The gift of speech is no longer to a threat to us and the rest of Creation. We don’t have to be forcibly divided, so that our fallen nature won’t get out of control. On Pentecost, after the onrush of the Holy Spirit, the gift of shared speech comes back, for the first time since long before Abraham left Haram. The divisions separating God’s children have outlived their usefulness, and it’s time for them to come down.

And that’s just what Paul tells us today in First Corinthians—“For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” Or, as Paul would later tell the Galatians, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

So, apart from the fact that the apostles’ preaching was able to be understood by those who did not speak their language, Pentecost is the end of the epoch in which our divisions were meant to protect us and the rest of Creation from human arrogance, selfishness, and stupidity. For the members of the early Jesus Movement, something has reached a culmination—these disciples are reaching beyond their own people to strangers, and the Holy Spirit is enabling them to do so, confirming to them that the time for division is over.

As we look out at our world, it doesn’t feel that way, though, does it?

We are divided, at home, and abroad. The time for division may have ended, but the curse still lingers, and in some ways seems to be growing worse.

Greater ease in communication has not made our divisions cease; the internet and the 24 hour news cycle may make them seem worse than ever.

Worse still, we seem to have gotten used to division, and it’s not fading away. We are still trying to catch up to Paul’s finest insight, that the labels we have long used to separate ourselves from each other aren’t made for that at all.

But Pentecost tells us that those divisions aren’t right. They do not reflect the destiny of the daughters and sons of God.

Our divisions are to be overcome.

When I used to lead theological reflections in our EFM group, I always used to call the last stage the “so what?” How does whatever we are reflecting on affect our lives, our faith, our approach to being Christians here and now.

In terms of these readings, this Pentecost, this festival day, here’s how:

We’re not alone. We have each other—here, in this congregation, other followers of Jesus, even the ones who we don’t get and who don’t get us, but also in people across a variety of traditions and beliefs who are all seeking to better love their fellow women and men.

Better still, we are told that the Holy Spirit, meaning God, is working to bind up and heal all of creation. We aren’t in charge. John Lennon wisely reminded us not to carry the world upon our shoulders. God’s already doing that, ceaselessly pouring out that Holy Spirit upon all of us, calling us to play our part in healing divisions, restoring the health of the world God created.

So the ultimate healing of divisions is not going to be my project, or your project alone. We each have a piece of that larger project, and are not responsible for the whole thing ourselves.

But how do we know how to play our part?

Paul writes that “there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.” He reminds us that “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

The gifts of the Spirit are in all of us. What is it that the inmost promptings of the heart are calling you to do? Because we can find our part in the work if we can open ourselves to discovering where our “deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Now, I’ve borrowed those words. They’re from Frederick Buechner, and they’re the best translation I’ve come upon for what theologians mean when they talk about God calling each of us, clergy and lay, to a special ministry. It’s finding that place, he wrote, “where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

And some of us find ourselves led to ordained ministry, as priests, or, like me, to the vocational diaconate. But all the people who serve here, lay ministers and volunteers, our altar guild, the incredible group of talented musicians who create beauty here every week, are responding to that call. And so are many people whose responses we don’t see, because they pursue that calling outside the church walls, and we’re here as a community and sustenance for them.

The gifts of the Spirit have been given to us for us to use them in the building up of creation, not as a Babel Tower so we can declare our might, but so that we can each of us play that part we are called to in redeeming all the mess and pain in this world.

And the Good News of Pentecost is that the work that calls to our heart, that speaks to each of us, individually, where our deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet, is right where we are supposed to be.

Hail Thee, Festival Day,
Blest day that art hallowed forever,