Archive for the ‘Themes and Ideas’ Category

The Beast Below   Leave a comment

In the wake of the passing of Ursula K. LeGuin, I finally read “The Ones who Walk Away from Omelas.” The story has apparently been taught in schools for years and has won many awards. I even own the book it first appeared in, yet I had no recollection of reading it before.

(I read it online but I can no longer find the link. Get it, read it, or risk spoilers to follow.)

It reminded me of “The Beast Below.”

In each case, the good of the many is dependent on the suffering of one. The question “Omelas” asks is, is it worth it? What cost our perfect world? Some deny the child: it would do no good to change things anyway. Some consider the trade worthwhile. Some cherish the sweetness and beauty of their world all the more for knowing its cost. And some few walk away, preferring to face the unknown, to risk pain and suffering themselves, rather than live life bought at such a price.

The citizens of Starship UK face a slightly different scenario. They depend not for their ease but for their very survival on another’s pain. They have the luxury of forgetting. The Doctor struggles to balance millions of lives against the suffering of a single creature. Though he chooses to end the torment and carry those millions more deaths on his conscience, he is saved by the Star Whale itself: freed, it declines to abandon its tormentors, and Starship UK lives.

The Doctor would free that Omelan child in an instant.

I wonder sometimes what the Doctor would really do with our world. He doesn’t step in and change society, though he might inspire some to take it on themselves. He doesn’t end slavery every time, or stop every war. Sometimes, as Gwen speculates in Torchwood: Children of Earth, he turns away in horror. Others, he’ll stop everything to comfort a crying child.

Sometimes, that’s all we can do.

 

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(location), (date)   Leave a comment

The following may be considered spoilery.

Daleks-May-Return-Doctor-Who-Season-8

SPOILER ALERT! ALERT! ALERT!

Ypres, 1914: the Christmas Armistice. In the midst of battle, soldiers lay down their arms and sing carols instead.

Fraternization between opposing troops was not unheard of at the time. Unofficial ceasefires periodically allowed soldiers to recover their dead from the battlefield, or even just take a break from the noise. Though an official Christmas truce had been considered and rejected by the powers that be, peace broke out in several places across the front that winter. It was early in the war; later, the interminable fighting and the devastation of chemical warfare put an end to fellow feeling. Nothing like the Christmas Armistice has ever happened again.

What a perfect moment for the Doctor.

It didn’t matter to him who the soldier was; everyone is, after all, important to someone. It was enough that he saw a chance to save a life, and he took it. In the end perhaps it wouldn’t matter whether the Brigadier’s grandfather lived to fight another day or not; perhaps the Doctor’s friend would be who he was no matter what. But that the life he saved should be a Lethbridge-Stewart… a gift for the Brigadier, a gift for the Doctor, and mostly, a gift for the fans.

Does the First Doctor remember, or does the crossing of the timeline prevent him from retaining anything of this encounter? Does the Second Doctor recognize the name, and thereby pay special attention to the man? Or is it the man himself? Are his actions alone enough to endear him forever?

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“It’s just possible.”

The Brigadier has been referenced in New Who before:

  • “It’s times like this I could do with the Brigadier.” In 2008, facing the Sontarans, the Tenth Doctor misses his friend. (“The Sontaran Stratagem”)
  • That same year, the Brigadier appears in The Sarah Jane Adventures, called out of retirement to help save the world again. (“Enemy of the Bane”)
  • Actor Nicholas Courtney died in 2011. Later that year, the Brigadier’s passing is acknowledged in “The Wedding of River Song.”
  • In 2012, the Eleventh Doctor meets Kate Stewart, the Brigadier’s daughter and UNIT heir. (“The Power of Three”)
  • In 2014, the Brigadier – reincarnated as a Cyberman by Missy’s evil scheme – turns the tide of battle in favor of humanity, and receives a long-overdue salute from the Twelfth Doctor. (“Death in Heaven”)

Obviously, a much-loved and much-missed character.

The Christmas Armistice is a symbol of the best of humanity. Doctor Who is a symbol of the best of humanity. By accidentally saving his friend’s grandfather, the Doctor is rewarded for his faith in us. He is reminded that there is always hope.

A reminder for us as well.

The Rise, Rise, Rise, Rise, Rise of the Cybermen   Leave a comment

An interesting theory.

 

Posted July 7, 2017 by Elisabeth in Cool Stuff, Themes and Ideas

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“In extremis”   4 comments

def: in an extremely difficult situation, at the point of death

River makes a point: Virtue is only virtue in extremis. A good man is only as good as the choices he makes under the worst possible circumstances. The Doctor, she declares, is such a man: give him the worst, and invariably he delivers his best.

The episode is on the surface a silly one, full of Grand Moff gestures and contrived crises. In spite of this it manages to be genuinely captivating, with surprising hidden layers. What would any of us do with our backs against a wall? Would our best selves shine? Or would our base humanity, our natural drive to survive at all costs, overwhelm our intentions?

I’m not entirely sure how the episode showcases this. I suppose the threat of Missy’s execution might be considered extremis, though Michelle Gomez pleading and promising is some of the least believable dialogue I have ever encountered. The Doctor being faced with a deadly document – one he dare not ask anyone else to read to him – while blind might also be considered an extreme situation. Still I feel like the Doctor has been in graver circumstances. Davros in control of a reality bomb? Clara’s life in Missy’s hands? The choice to end humanity or let the Daleks enslave them? Somehow these cases feel more extreme – or more believably extreme – than the Master’s impending death (been there) or some strange video-game version of reality.

However, the story isn’t finished yet. We shall see what next week has to offer.

Posted May 24, 2017 by Elisabeth in Season 10, Themes and Ideas

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Pride Goes Before   Leave a comment

It is interesting to note that the three-episode arc of “Tooth and Claw,” “School Reunion,” and “The Girl in the Fireplace” has instigated more of my writing than anything else, anywhere, ever. (For example, this is the 4th post resulting from one conversation about one of the three episodes.) The reason for this I think is how much great character stuff happens in these three stories.

Across this arc we see the best and the worst of Rose. In “Tooth and Claw,” we see her compassion for the frightened maid, and her courage and leadership in helping the women escape the barn. But she’s also at her most callous in this story, provoking the Queen and joking with the Doctor in the face of others’ fear and grief. In “School Reunion” we see her petty jealousy, but we also see her overcome that jealousy for friendship and a unique bond with one of very few women who understands her experience. In “The Girl in the Fireplace,” we see the depths of her compassion and her commitment to help others, as she sets aside any feelings she may have about the Doctor in order to comfort and save Reinette.

This arc sets up Rose’s downfall. Rose spent S1 learning to trust the Doctor and herself, and expanding the boundaries of her own capability. In S2 she’s out to have a good time. She has stopped worrying about the risk, having perhaps too much faith in hers and the Doctor’s abilities. She never considers the real danger posed by the werewolf, and cares too little for Lady Isabel’s loss.

These three episodes are Rose’s last hurrah. Fans on rewatch can see the darkness gathering ahead. I don’t doubt the Doctor sees it too, though he’s happy to ignore it as long as he can. But not until “Rise of the Cybermen,” when she faces finding and losing her family all over again, when she loses Mickey, does Rose begin to understand the cost of her adventures. She’s young enough to think she’s invincible, and that the good times will last forever. After S1 she may even think she’s earned it. The balance of S2 serves as a nasty surprise.

Rose isn’t the only one who gets rearranged this season. “School Reunion” sees the Doctor face the consequences of his lifestyle. It sees Sarah Jane learn to accept what has happened to her, to see the good as well as the bad – setting her up for her own televised Adventures. “Reunion” and “The Girl in the Fireplace” set up Mickey’s final transition from idiot to savior of worlds. None of these characters is ever the same again.

There’s a quote from “The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe” that feels relevant here:

“Every time you see them happy, you remember how sad they’re going to be. And it breaks your heart. Because what’s the point in them being happy now if they’re going to be sad later? The answer is, of course, because they are going to be sad later.”

They’re going to be sad later.

The Doctor’s Big Love   Leave a comment

The Verity! Podcast on “The Girl in the Fireplace” brought up an idea that I had never seriously considered in the context of Doctor Who, but which is clearly relevant: polyamory, or the ability to love more than one.

American society is fixedly monogamous. Any type of relationship veering from the man-woman-marriage-children prototype gets a raised eyebrow at best, violent discrimination at worst. “Soul mates” are a trope many people attempt to apply to real life, often with painful results. Yet many people love more than once. The widowed or divorced person who remarries doesn’t (necessarily) stop loving their original partner. A person may love a long string or collection of people, each one different and unique.

It may not have been intentional on the part of either showrunner, but modern Who definitely pushes the boundaries.

In “The Girl in the Fireplace” (and in real life) Reinette is a married woman who is lover to the King. In the story she also falls in love with the Doctor. In her world of eighteenth century France, this is normal, as the Doctor tries to explain to his companions. But it’s also normal in the Doctor’s world. The Doctor loves Rose, but he also loves Sarah Jane. The Doctor marries River, but he also mourns Clara. The Doctor loves the TARDIS, but he equally loves his companions. The Doctor had a family once: does he ever stop loving them?

In a long life one may love many times, or many people all at once. Love for one isn’t diminished by love for another. The Doctor has two hearts and dozens of lifetimes: it seems natural that he would love a lot. It seems natural too that anyone of his courage, compassion, and charm would be easy to love. (All of us have fallen for him, right?) And in this world, can too much love really be a bad thing?

All it takes is a big enough heart(s).

Posted February 11, 2017 by Elisabeth in Commentary, Companions, Piffle, Speculation, Themes and Ideas

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Favorite friends   Leave a comment

As a combined result of visiting a recent Star Trek exhibit at the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle, and of listening to Verity! Podcast discuss “The Girl in the Fireplace,” I’ve been re-thinking what makes characters like Rose and Dr. McCoy my favorites. Earlier I theorized that it’s their courage and forthrightness that endears them to me. Now, though, I think it must at least equally be their compassion.

McCoy’s key trait on Star Trek is his humanity. His emotion balances Spock’s logic as the two help their Captain make his decisions. Caring for his patient comes first on his list every time, whether the patient is a friend, a Vulcan ambassador, or a lump of sentient rock. He risks his life to save others. He’s rough-edged, bombastic, sometimes unkind, but he is a doctor first in all things.

Rose, too, is defined by her humanity. Her first move in so many of her adventures with the Doctor is to comfort the fearful, from Gwyneth the maid to Toby the xenoarchaeologist. She allies herself with a damaged Dalek and the enslaved Ood. If she feels any jealously over the Doctor’s relationship with Reinette, she sets it aside in favor of saving a life. She is no more flawless than McCoy, but her heart is her dominant feature.

Compassion fatigue is a common problem. The modern world is full of suffering: there are so many causes to support, so many things to care about, that it’s easier for most people to just shut it off. It’s certainly a problem I have. To watch these characters fearlessly care is inspiring. It reminds me of the thousand starfish washed up on a beach: it’s true I can’t save them all, but maybe I can save *that* one.

And to that one, it makes all the difference.