Friday, 10 April 2020

Bad Friday

It’s Day 15 of the Nationwide Lockdown implemented to reduce the spread of the coronovirus that causes COVID-19. And I’m not okay.

My flat is a mess, my kitchen is worse and I spent much of the night and this morning crying. I must have used up at least half of one of those valuable toilet rolls.

I have little reason to feel like this. I don’t have frustrated kids to worry about. My job is secure. We don’t start online lecturing for another week so I’ve had time to process and adjust mentally. I have a lovely spacious flat and the most beautiful green view. I have internet, electricity and running water.

But this Friday is overcast and the lockdown just got extended by 14 days (so there are another 21 to go). I’m separated from my family by a closed provincial border and I’m spending the Easter Weekend on my own for the first time in my life.

But I realised that today, this day we commemorate as Good Friday, is the one day of the year it’s really okay to feel like this.

About 2000 years ago, a small group of disciples of a revolutionary Jewish teacher spent this day in absolute despair and terror. The man they had been following, whom they thought was the promised Messiah, had just been betrayed by one of their own, falsely accused and sentenced to death by crucifixion. It had happened so fast they probably hadn’t even processed it properly. They were so afraid and disappointed that one of the bravest and most outspoken of them denied that he even knew Jesus out of fear he too would forfeit his life. Only one of them was even brave enough to attend the execution. The rest were probably in hiding.

None of it made sense. None of them could see what God was doing and how any good could possibly come of this. They were expecting the coming of the Kingdom of God and freedom from centuries of political oppression. And all those hopes had just been shattered.

The thing was, they could only see the terror and pain of the here and now. They didn’t see God’s bigger plan. They didn’t know that it was wasn’t a literal kingdom that Jesus had come to establish at that time. They didn’t realise that the oppressor he had come to free them from was not political or even physical but the slave-master of sin. It wasn’t the feared Romans Jesus was defeating but that more fearful emperor - Death itself.

It’s okay if this Good Friday feels like a bad Friday. It’s okay if we feel confused, fearful or lonely. God knows and he sees the bigger picture. The night before his crucifixion, Jesus was so afraid he begged the Father if there was any way he could avoid it. While dying on that cross, he experienced loneliness we can’t even imagine. He knows what we are feeling.

But he also knew that God knew what was happening. He knew that something better was on its way. And it was something that would change the world forever.

This isn’t the first Good Friday I’ve spent in tears. 9 years ago I had just received news that meant I probably couldn’t do my Master’s in Oxford. I was confused and dejected then as now, but there was light on the other side. God knew exactly what was happening, and the result was not what I expected.

There is light at the end of this. There always is.

Reflections on that other difficult Easter

Monday, 17 July 2017

First thoughts on the Thirteenth Doctor

I debated whether my compulsory comments on the new Doctor should be a Facebook post or a blog post but I wrote a blog post on Bill, so I figure it's only fair. (As a side note, I still haven't seen any of Bill's episodes but I think the DVDs for Series 10 Part II come out this week so I can order the series soon).

Firstly, to get the elephant out of the way, I will clarify that I don't like the idea of a female Doctor. (By which I mean, of course, having a female version of The Doctor. I don't have a problem with female doctors, as I hope to be one soon). But the Doctor is a person, not a position. And as a person I don't think his gender should be changed (more on that below for anyone that really wants to know).

Having said that, if we have to have a female Doctor, I am really glad with the choice of Jodie Whittaker. Here are my reasons:

1. She's not Tilda Swinton. (I was really worried earlier this year when I heard the bookies were putting good odds in favour of Tilda, especially because both Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie's castings were leaked to the bookies). I was kinda at a point where I would be happy with anyone that wasn't Tilda Swinton (who I like as an actress, but just can't see in the role of the Doctor).

2. I really liked her in Broadchurch. It was a very different role, but it was a tough part to play and she did a sterling job.

3. She's relatively unknown (outside of the UK). I like that Doctor Who takes little known actors and puts them in the spotlight.

4. Her surname is Whittaker. I grew up on Adventures in Odyssey audio dramas so anyone with the surname Whittaker is automatically awesome.

Finally, I kinda like the idea that if we have to have a female Doctor that it's Thirteen. There's something appropriate about that. (Yes, I know she's not really the thirteenth regeneration, but she'll still be known as "The Thirteenth Doctor").

Footnote on the elephant:

I like the idea of female leads and the idea of women breaking into positions traditionally reserved for men. I'm not displeased by the prospect of having our first female president in South Africa in two years time. (It's not a foregone conclusion, and I'm not sure how I feel about the leading woman candidate, but the possibility does make me cautiously optimistic). I'm often pleased when I hear that someone has become the first woman to achieve this or that, but with the Doctor it's different. It's not just a case of giving a woman the lead role in the story. It's changing the gender of an already existing character. And that I don't like. Not if you want continuity. If it was a parallel universe, I might be willing to accept it, but not this Doctor in this universe. I've always been uncomfortable with Time Lords changing gender in regenerations, but could let it pass when they were side characters and it could be considered an unusual characteristic. I wasn't happy when the Master shifted gender but could handle that because he/she has always been insane. Not so with the Doctor. With him, I find it a lot harder to swallow. He's been male for all of the however-many-thousand years he's lived now, and I feel like changing his gender changes something fundemental about his character, in a way that changing his hair colour and apparent age and dress sense does not. I realise not all people feel like that, but that's why I'm uncomfortable with a female Doctor.

Despite this, over the last few months, I have been slowly getting used to the idea that they might cast a woman in the role and by the time they get to filming and releasing (and I get to seeing) her first season, I'll probably be quite used to the idea and enjoy it none-the-less. And I have a whole season of Capaldi still to watch!!!

Sunday, 24 April 2016

My first thoughts on Bill

So, yesterday the BBC announced the new Doctor Who companion. We still don't really know anything about her except that she's played by Pearl Mackie and her name is Bill. They announced the news by releasing one of their famous minisodes, but all we really got to see was her arguing with the Doctor about why she should be scared of Daleks.

So here are my (not very serious) first thoughts.

1. Is Bill named after Billie Piper? (Clara was apparently named after Elizabeth Sladen, so it wouldn't be a stretch.)

2. Is her real name Aubrey? (My grandfather's real name was Aubrey, but everyone called him Bill)

3. What is her surname?
A) Jones-Smith? (I know she's a bit old to be Mickey and Martha's, but this is a show about time travel)
B) Pink?
C) Blue?
D) None-of-the-above

Probably (D), but you never know

5) Bill is going to be the first companion played by an actress who was born after me.

4) Did we just see a new companion get killed by Daleks in her first episode? Again?

Here's a link to an interview with the actress. She's really excited.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

When The Lion Called: Eight Years On

Eight years ago, on 26 November 2006, I nervously clicked on the "register" button for the online forum of a website called The Lion's Call, little knowing that it would change my life. I was fairly new to the world of the internet, my family having only gotten a dial-up connection at home in the January of that year. This was before the days of Facebook (at least it hadn't yet become a "thing", although MySpace was popular with my friends) and I was highly suspicious of signing up to anything that required giving out email addresses and other details. But this website, which I had been browsing recently, seemed like a friendly and safe site and it made clear that it was a Christian site and there were strict rules about minors being allowed to join and what could and could not be posted. I decided to risk it. In retrospect, I was a bit like Lucy Pevensie, taking those first cautious steps through the wardrobe into a woodland of snow and a great adventure.

The Lion's Call website (TLC) was created by Kristi Simonson for fans of C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia series and, apart from the discussion forum (which was what I was signing up to join) it had other interesting features including a character builder, some simple games, and write-in threads like "you know you're addicted to Narnia when...". The forum in those days was small and mainly involved discussions relating directly to the Chronicles of Narnia books, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe film (which had been released just less than a year before) and speculations about the Prince Caspian film that would follow it. I think the first thing I ever posted on the forum was a comment on a discussion about what became of Susan Pevensie after the events of The Last Battle, something I had been thinking about a bit in the last year. The ideas I had had about that became the germ of my (still ongoing) fan fiction story about Susan, which one of the TLCers was to convince me to start four years later. After joining the forum, it became a regular ritual to visit the site when I got a chance and read and comment on the latest discussions.

In February of the following year, I started University and I would often visit TLC when I was dropped off early in the mornings before the library had opened and the computer LANs were not yet busy (few people had their own laptops in those days). As the years passed, the website grew, and the forum became larger and more active. We found that many members had more in common than just our interest in Narnia and we started discussions on other topics including other fantasy worlds (especially Tolkien and Middle Earth) and faith and religion. We also had many members who were budding writers of fiction or poetry and so forum threads started on discussing writing, and people would share whatever they were working on. The site developed well beyond Narnia and became a real community where people felt safe sharing even personal issues.

I had known from the start that the site also had a chat room, but I never went anywhere near that part of it. Chat rooms were dangerous and "evil"; my parents wouldn't approve and you weren't allowed visiting chat rooms on the university computers in any case.

But then in December 2010, four years after I joined, there were posts on the forum about a planned Day of Prayer to be held in the website's chat room. Enough things had changed by this point that I felt confident enough to venture into the chat room to join the prayer session: and by now I knew that I could trust the people on the site. Also, earlier that year we had finally upgraded to broadband internet at home and I now had my own netbook computer. I was also a whole lot older and (theoretically, at least) two degrees wiser.

Joining chat opened up a whole new chapter in my life. These people with whom I had only communicated remotely (by reading and responding to forum posts, often overnight, because of time differences) I could now "chat with" (using text) in real time. I also hadn't realised, but in the last year or so more and more of the discussions had moved over from the forum to the chat room (which would explain why the forum had become more quiet than it had been). More importantly, I got to know the other members on the site at a deeper level because we could ask and respond to more personal questions in a less formal and less public setting.

I joined TLC chat at a critical period of my life. I had been applying for scholarships to Oxford and the TLC community had played a large part in encouraging me through that process and praying for me (even before I joined chat). Being the shy, reserved person I am, this online community gave me a safe place to share my concerns and struggles (I had always been better at articulating my thoughts in writing than in speech).

In June 2011, I joined Facebook for the first time. By now, it had been confirmed that I was going to Oxford, and I wanted to be able to keep contact with my friends and family in South Africa. By this time, TLC, had developed something of a presence on Facebook as well and through that and private messages I became Facebook friends with some of the TLCers (cautiously, and only with those I trusted, because on TLC itself we were encouraged not to divulge private details). And for the first time the window was opened onto the "real lives" of many of my TLC friends - I got to learn their real names, see what they really looked like and learn a bit more about their lives outside of TLC.

Picture by Lily of Archenland
When I moved to Oxford, I was privileged to meet two TLCers in real life: a British girl, and an American lady, who was visiting the UK with her husband. I got to stay at the home of the British girl on a number of occasions and we have since become good friends.

It's impossible to describe all the things that have happened in these past eight years, but I wouldn't have missed them for the world. I am now a staff member on the website and editor for our news team. The social, spiritual and intellectual blessings gained from being part of the TLC community is something that can't be measured. I am eternally grateful that I clicked on that "register button" all those years ago.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

My Whovian Theory

With all the crazy way-out and wacky Doctor Who theories floating around, here's another to add to the mix. You can call it my "Missy Theory," but it's a bit more than that as it attempts to explain various odd things that have been going on. It's completely ridiculous and if Moffat dares anything remotely like this I will personally march the length of Africa and remaining distance to have words with him. But here it is:

In the cliff-hanger finale of Series 7, Clara enters the Doctor's time stream in order to reverse the harms caused by the Great Intelligence having done the same thing. Not content to leave Clara to her fate, the Doctor insists on going in himself to rescue her, despite the potentially devastating consequences of such an action. The Doctor finds Clara and we're all wondering just how they are going to get out of this one, when Moffat throws one of the greatest curve-balls of his career and introduces a never-before-seen regeneration of the Doctor played by John Hurt. This is a mysterious regeneration that the Doctor himself has chosen to forget/suppress and is described as "the one who broke the promise". We are so taken aback by this sudden revelation, and the intrigue it presents for the highly anticipated 50th Anniversary episode, that we forget to worry about how Clara and the Doctor are going to escape the Doctor's time stream. Several months later, the Anniversary episode arrives and a month after that, the Christmas Special and the climax of the Eleventh Doctor's tenure. All this excitement and build-up and the emotions of Eleven's passing mean that we don't have time to fuss over the technicality of how Clara and the Doctor escaped his time stream.

But that has passed, and we're up to the 12th Doctor's fourth episode. The dust has settled and we're adapting well to this very different and yet somehow familiar new Doctor. But just how did he and Clara escape? Will we ever know? Probably not. But what if....what if they didn't escape? Or rather, what if there was no possibility of them getting out on their own?

Moments before entering his time-stream, the Eleventh Doctor has an emotional heart-to-heart with his sometime wife, River Song. She is present on the scene only through a mental link with Clara resulting from an earlier dream-induced time-travel conference. Through the course of the episode, we learn that the version of River who is present is River from after the events of Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, where she dies in order to rescue hundreds of people trapped inside The Library's computer's hard drive. The Doctor, in return, uploads her consciousness to the library's computer where she is destined to live out her days (or eternity?) with her crew of archaeologist friends.

The last words that River says to the Doctor before he enters his time stream (after begging him not to go at all) are:

River: Oh there's one more thing.
The Doctor: Isn't there always?
River: I was mentally linked with Clara. If she's really dead then how can I still be here?
The Doctor: Okay, How?
River: Spoilers. Goodbye. Sweetie.

What did she mean by this? Surely more than simply that Clara is still alive. The Doctor already believed as much so that's hardly a spoiler.

Here's my theory. What if, knowing that the Doctor would never be able to exit his time stream and rescue Clara, River found a way to rescue both of them by uploading them from his time stream onto The Library's database? I haven't worked out the details of how this would be possible but it's hardly more impossible than any other means of escape the Doctor might find.

What if, on being uploaded to The Library, instead of finding themselves in the parts of the library we recognise from Silence/Forest, they are uploaded into a kind of adventure room/simulation programme on the computer's hard drive. I get my inspiration for this from various science fiction sources that I grew up with as a child. I imagine it as something like the holodeck from Star Trek, but inside a computer. Or something like the Imagination Station from Adventures in Odyssey (which is pretty much the same principle). The living-inside-a-computer bit, takes inspiration from various places (including Silence/Forest themselves) although is probably largely influenced by one of my favourite television programmes as a kid, the little-known 90s Canadian CGI series, Reboot. My "holoroom" would be comparable to a "game" from Reboot, but with significant differences. Obviously there are parallels here with The Matrix, but since I have yet to actually watch any of  The Matrix films (I know, I'm a bad person), I'll leave you to make your own comparisons to that.

Based on this theory, I hypothesise that everything that has happened since Name of the Doctor has actually been simulated adventures experienced in this holodeck-type-place. I realise that this has some serious problems and some even-more serious consequences for what has happened in recent episodes (which  I'd rather not even think about), but let's gloss over those for the time being. This theory does explain a few oddities that have taken place recently: like the presence of three Doctors at the same place at the same time; like how the Doctor was able to change his actions to end the Time War on Gallifrey when the Time War ought to be time-locked and inaccessible; like how the Doctor was miraculously able to get himself another twelve regenerations, just as he was about to run out.

But, more significantly, it explains a few of the mysteries raised thus far in Series 8: Who is Missy, and what is The Promised Land? I suggest that whenever someone "dies" in the holodeck-world, (because this is all happening inside a computer database and they are all saved as data), instead of actually dying, their data-string consciousness is transported out of the holoroom into another, central part of the library's hard drive - the place we see River and her companions at the end of Forest of the Dead. This is "The Promised Land" also known as "Heaven".

And who is Missy? Well she's not actually Missy, her name is Miss E, short for "Miss Evangelista". Who? The pretty but ditsy girl who was on River's archaeological team when she met the Doctor in The Library. She was incorrectly uploaded to the library database the first time and as a result was able to see the falsehood of what was going on when others couldn't. Her face got fixed in the clean upload after River's death, but I'm not quite sure what that did for her intellect. Now, how and why Miss E has become the gatekeeper of The Library world (well the part where people go when they die in the holoroom) beats me; and I'm not sure exactly why she thinks that the Doctor is her boyfriend (when the Doctor's wife lives in the vicinity) but I'll leave it for someone else to figure that part out. :P

As I said at the start, this is a fairly horrible theory, and Moffat had better not be attempting anything of the kind. But I've had a bit of fun playing with it and wanted to be able to share it. It's already had some handy side effects. Since I originally came up with the theory we've had an episode with Robin Hood. Not only did Robin Hood turn out to be real, but but he was uncannily just a little too perfect - matching certain versions of the legend down to exact details. We've also had some other impossible stuff like good Daleks, and a town called Christmas (I'm just joking about that last one).

So that's my theory. I realise it has plotholes the size of the crack in Amy's room, but whenever were plotholes a problem for Whovian fan-theories?

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Steven Moffat doesn't kill people

Warning: This post contains SPOILERS for Doctor Who Series 1-7. There are NO spoilers for Series 8 as I have not seen any of it yet :P

The current executive producer and lead show-runner of Doctor Who, Steven Moffat, is constantly accused of being a heartless, cruel writer who spends all his time ruthlessly killing off characters, especially main characters. I'd like to argue that whatever else you might say about Moffat, this particular accusation is unwarranted and in fact quite far from the truth.

Although he only took over the helm of Doctor Who in 2010, Moffat had been writing stories for the show from the start of its revival in 2005. For the first four seasons of what's become known as NuWho (during which Russel T Davies was running the show) Steven Moffat wrote one story for each series.

Characters dying in a show like Doctor Who is nothing unexpected. It's full of danger and aliens and monsters and fighting, so it's inevitable that characters will die. More often than not, these characters are unnamed bystanders, extras, but in Doctor Who they are frequently characters whose names we do learn and who do play a significant, though short-lived, role in the story (like the infamous Star Trek "red shirts"). If we go through the episodes of Series 1, we can see how this plays out.

In the first episode, after her initial encounter with the Doctor, Rose Tyler meets up with a conspiracy theorist called Clive Finch, who seems to know a whole lot about the Doctor and runs a website documenting various sightings of him that have been reported. Rewatching this episode on one occasion, I wondered what ever became of Clive; why he never showed up in any later episodes. As I kept watching, the question was shortly answered: he is among various unknown and unnamed characters who are killed by the auton invasion at a shopping mall. In the second episode, Rose and the Doctor meet a sentient tree alien, Jabe, who becomes very friendly with the Doctor. She sacrifices herself in order to help the Doctor save all the other people on board the satellite. In the third episode, a young serving girl with psychic powers named Gwyneth also sacrifices herself, this time to save the world. In other episodes we see the British Prime Minister and various government officials brutally killed by the Slitheen, Suki from Satellite Five among various employees who are frozen to death and turned into flesh machines, and, in the closing episodes, "Lynda with a Y" is among other characters who die defending themselves against the Daleks. There is one set of episodes, a two-parter, that are an exception to this pattern of tragic deaths of minor characters. In Steven Moffat's The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances, although it appears that characters are turned into monstrous zombie creatures with gas masks, the Doctor manages to save them all from this terrible fate by using nanogenes to renew their DNA. Towards the end of the second episode the Doctor makes his famous exclamation: "Just this once, everybody lives! Everybody lives!" And it seems that this statement is truer than he realises. This is the only episodes in Series 1 and arguably the only episode of the entire Davies-era in which nobody dies at all.

But if we look at the other episodes that Moffat wrote for Davies, we see a distinct pattern emerging. In the episode he wrote for Series 2, The Girl in the Fireplace, the doctor successfully saves Madame Le Pompadour from manic maintenance droids who want to use her brain to fix their broken spaceship. He even succeeds in preventing them from killing anyone else in the process. This episode does have death but this is only because, when the Doctor returns to fetch Reinette so she can accompany them on the TARDIS, he arrives too late (some years later) and she has already died from illness. This scene is necessary to the plot since it would not have suited the overall storyline to have an 18th century French noblewoman join the TARDIS crew. It is therefore not an unnecessary tragic death like so many inthe other episodes. I should also note that before the Doctor arrives on the scene, various crew members of the space ship had already been killed by the manic droids, but both instances of death in this episode happen outside of the Doctor's (and audience's) immediate experience.

For Series 3, Moffat wrote perhaps his most famous episode, Blink, in which he introduced one of the most terrifying Doctor Who monsters, the Weeping Angels. It seems that here at last we start to see the heartless Moffat that he is reputed to be. This episode is a thriller that has you at the edge of your seat throughout because all it takes is one blink for these monsters to claim their victims. At least that's how it comes across when watching. But when you think about it, it's not all quite so bad as it seems. One could almost argue that nobody dies in this episode at all. Or more accurately no one is killed in this episode. We do see the sad death of Inspector Shipton, but he dies of old age after the angels sent him back in time. He was still able to live a full life, just not at the right time. The same happens with Sally Sparrow's friend Kathy who is sent back to the 1920s and falls in love with the first guy she meets. Moffat actually hasn't created the worst monster of Doctor Who, he's created the one monster that doesn't kill its victims at all, and he admits this himself through the words he penned for the Doctor: "they are the only psychopaths in the universe to kill you nicely". Moffat has in fact invented a killer that doesn't kill. It just displaces you from your current life and lets you "live to death" in an earlier time. Not so heartless after all?

Moffat's final episodes for the Davies-era see a continuation of this pattern. For Series 4 he wrote the two-parter Silence in the Library and The Forest of the Dead. This story bears a resemblance to many of the other non-Moffat ones in which a crew of characters is slowly killed off one-by-one (in this case, by a flesh eating swarm of darkness), until almost none are left. And then the episode ends with the most tragic death (by self sacrifice) of a mysterious woman named River Song, who seems to know a lot about the Doctor from his future and to have been very close to him. You think the episode is going to end on this sad note and that yet another potential companion and friend of the Doctor is lost forever (like Jabe and Reinette and Lynda with a Y) but this time the Doctor realises that because he had known in his future that River would die, he had had time to come up with a plan to save her. He isn't able to bring her back physically, but he can upload her conscious into the library's massive computer database. And apparently, in the process, all the other crew members who were killed off throughout the episode have also been uploaded to the computer's dream world. So not only is River alive, but so are her friends; and they are together. We get a lovely monologue from River at this point in the episode:

"Everybody knows that everybody dies and nobody knows it like the Doctor. But I do think that all the skies of all the worlds might just turn dark if he ever for one moment, accepts it. Everybody knows that everybody dies. But not every day. Not today. Some days are special. Some days are so, so blessed. Some days, nobody dies at all. Now and then, every once in a very long while, every day in a million days, when the wind stands fair, and the Doctor comes to call... everybody lives."

It looks to me that rather than exulting in killing off characters, Steven Moffat is constantly trying to find ways for his characters to escape death. If these examples aren't convincing enough, consider this: There is another episode in Series 4 which was not written by Moffat, but which he did influence. It is The Doctor's Daughter written by Steven Greenhorn. In this episode, the Doctor's DNA is used to create a sort of clone of the doctor (though with the DNA altered in such a way to create a "daughter" rather than a duplicate copy). The episode ends with his genetically created daughter tragically dying (again mostly for plot reasons, because they did not at this point want to introduce a new character, especially one with Time Lord DNA). Originally that was to be it; Jenny was to die and for whatever reason, not regenerate. But apparently Steven Moffat on hearing about this, intervened and insisted that they bring her back to life (but without the Doctor's knowledge), leaving it open for her to return one day. She has not yet returned, mainly because that was never the intention. But is that enough to convince you that Moffat doesn't like characters dying?

I haven't even gotten to the point where Moffat took over the show and I shan't go into detail for all these episodes. But his tendency to avoid or overcome death, rather than actually kill off characters, continues to be a theme throughout. Although he is famous for killing off Rory Williams numerous times, only one, (perhaps two), of them are actually "real" deaths (not dreams or someone messing with Amy's head), and even after those, Moffat finds ways of bringing him back. Amy and Rory's exit of the show in Angels Take Manhattan does not see them dying as such (although we do see their gravestone), but once again Moffat uses his kindly psychopaths, the Weeping Angels, to send them back in time; away from the Doctor but with each other and able to live out their lives till old age.

In Moffat's second series, Series 6, he begins the opening scene by killing off none other than the Doctor himself - completely dead; so that he cannot even regenerate. But this is immediately followed by a discovery that it is the Doctor in the future whose death we have witnessed and the remainder of the series is an exercise in showing how it is that in fact the Doctor did not die (which includes him being murdered again at the midpoint in the series - this time with poison and no ability to regenerate; but River Song steps in at the last moment and saves him. Again). In Series 7, the new companion Clara Oswin Oswald is the latest supposed target of Moffat's killing sprees. She manages to die twice in her first two episodes. But by now it's becoming increasingly difficult for anyone to believe that someone who dies will genuinely stay dead. And the speculations are all about how he's going to explain her not being dead.

Moffat isn't a murderer. He doesn't like killing characters. Sure, he likes to make us think that characters are dead, but far from the heartless person he is made out to be, it seems rather that he doesn't have the heart to let anyone stay dead. Of course, this is an oversimplification of matters and there are exceptions (note: Lorna from A Good Man Goes to War). Of course he is also not the only writer of Doctor Who stories to make us think a character (especially a companion or the Doctor himself) has died only to bring them back again (see: Jack Harkness, who as character may have been Moffat's creation, but whose immortality probably only came later; also see the partial regeneration of Ten in Journey's End). But I think there is enough evidence to argue that Moffat is not really the cruel-hearted killer of characters he is made out to be. On the contrary, he is constantly on the search for ways to ensure that "Everybody Lives!"

Post script: You will notice that I haven't mentioned Moffat's other television series, Sherlock. I originally planned to include it, but I thought there was enough to talk about in Doctor Who and I haven't yet seen Sherlock Series 3. So I decided to leave it out. Maybe one day I'll write a follow-up.

The illustrations are just for fun - I am aware that they contradict the point of the article. But they do illustrate the kind of reputation I am disputing.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Lessons from the TARDIS

Warning: Potential spoilers for all of Doctor Who post 2005 (especially 1.13 The Parting of Ways, 6.4 The Doctor's Wife and 7.13 The Name of the Doctor). This is written with the assumption that you are familiar with the stories.

I'm always a little hesitant to make spiritual applications to secular things. But here I am doing it again :-p And I suppose that it is something Jesus himself did in parables (taking the secular and using it to explain sacred lessons). Various people have pointed out the God-like characteristics of the Time Lord known as the Doctor in the popular British TV series Doctor Who. I did it myself some time ago in my post The Doctor and Jesus. It tends to make me feel a little uncomfortable, although I have seen it done well and sensitively. I have no problem, for example, pointing out character traits of the Doctor that can demonstrate Christ-like behaviour (as one might do with biblical characters such as Noah and Joseph and David). It's when people start seeing him as a replacement for God or an incarnation of Jesus (problematic for various reasons, not the least of which are his many faults), that I feel they have gone too far. I suppose that it is the Doctor's super-human abilities (which enable him to save planets and races and overcome death), that lend to his being compared to God and/or Christ. But it recently occurred to me that there is another character in Doctor Who which can provide for us lessons or illustrations about God and his character and how he interacts with mankind. The Doctor's sentient space ship, the T.A.R.D.I.S, bears a number of similarities to the Christian concept of God. And so I present to you five "Lessons from the TARDIS".

1. "I always took you where you needed to go"

The TARDIS is notorious for messing up the Doctor's instructions and taking taking him and his companions everywhere but where they want to go. The Doctor plans to take Amy and Rory to sunny Rio, but they end up in a cold rural Welsh village, just in time to rescue the earth from an invasion of Homo Reptilia. He tries to take Rose to a concert in Sheffield in 1979 but they end up in Victorian Scotland a hundred years earlier (and help to save Queen Victoria's life – and the world). He promises to take Donna to Ancient Rome, but but they arrive in Pompeii just in time for Mt Vesuvius to erupt. Even in the Classic era, he seldom ends up where he planned to take his companions – regularly getting either the place or year (or both) wrong.

It is never entirely clear whether it's the Doctor's lack of flying skill or the TARDIS' unreliability that is at fault; perhaps it is a combination of both. We know the Doctor didn't care much for following the TARDIS instruction manual, and that River, who was taught by the TARDIS herself was much better at flying than he was. But at the same time, the splinter-version of Clara that visits the First Doctor, telling him which TARDIS he should steal, mentions that her navigation system is “knackered”.

In the last episode of Series I, The Parting of Ways, it seems that there is even more going on than the Doctor's flying skills or the TARDIS' navigation system being unreliable. In this episode, we discover that the various occurrences of the words "Bad Wolf" throughout the series were not coincidental, but part of a greater plan which the TARDIS had some sort of control over.

In the episode from Series VI called The Doctor's Wife, the episode in which we learn the most about the TARDIS (because it is the one time she is given a voice), the Doctor openly questions her unreliability. Her response is profound.

I just want to say, you know, you have never been very reliable. 
And you have? 
You didn't always take me where I wanted to go.
No, but I always took you where you needed to go.

The Doctor is stumped. He can't argue back because he knows she is telling the truth. Every time he ended up somewhere other than where he intended to go, it was for a good reason. Usually she brings him to a place at a point in history just in time to save the world (or universe) from a terrible fate/destruction. Sometimes, it is for his own good or character-building or that of his companion(s). Though he has many narrow calls and sometimes he regrets (at least in part) the outcome, I don't think he could ever say to the TARDIS, looking back, “Why did you take me there?” There was always a reason for her taking him off course and it was always for the good of him, his companions and the universe as a whole.

It is in this respect, that the TARDIS reminds us of the Lord. We often find ourselves in places where we can't understand what is going on and why the Lord has let us end up in that place. But without fail, whenever we look back, we can always see how that was exactly where we needed to be at that point in time. Whether for our own good, or for the good of others, all the things in our lives that might look like accidents, really aren't. He always takes us where we need to go.

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. (Rom 8:28)

From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. (Acts 17:26)

2. Outside of Time

A second characteristic of the TARDIS that reminds us of the nature of God, is the manner in which she exists outside of time. I've never fully understood the mechanics of TARDIS time travel (I don't think it's ever fully explained), but we know she enters this tunnel that exists outside of time and space (the time vortex) and from there she can take the doctor to any point in the universe and in history. We see this in The Doctor's Wife when Idris gets confused about tenses and the past and present and starts talking about things that haven't happened yet.

The Doctor: Why am I a thief? What have I stolen?
Idris: Me. Are you going to steal me? You have stolen me. You are stealing me. Oh! Tenses are difficult, aren't they?

We get an even more powerful idea of this in The Parting of Ways. Rose, having absorbed the soul of the TARDIS makes the following famous speech:

I am the Bad Wolf. I create myself. I take the words...I scatter them, in time and space. A message, to lead myself here. You are tiny. I can see the whole of time and space, every single atom of your existence, and I divide them. Everything must come to dust. All things, everything dies. The time war ends. How can I let go of this? I bring life. The sun and the moon, the day and night. I can see everything... all that is... all that was... all that ever could be.

The TARDIS herself can't usually create life, but in this particular situation (I'm never quite sure how much is TARDIS and how much is time vortex and what the actual difference is), we get the idea of how transcendent the TARDIS is with respect to our little closed sphere of time and space. Even the Doctor, who can travel in time, needs to physically travel backwards and forwards to experience different occurrences. The TARDIS on the other hand seems to exist outside of time and knows all things that have happened and will happen simultaneously. That, in fact, is how she was able to always take the Doctor where he needed to go.

And so with God. He created time and exists outside of it. To him tenses are meaningless (except in his understanding of how they apply to us). He knows the beginning from the end and has seen all the days of our lives before any has come to be.

From everlasting to everlasting you are God.
A thousand years in your sight
are like a day that has just gone by,
or like a watch in the night. (Psalm 90:2b, 4)

For thus says the High and Lofty One
Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy... (Isaiah 57:15a)

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast. (Psalm 139:7-10)

3. "This was when we talked"

One peculiar characteristic of the TARDIS is that although she is sentient and intelligent, she is not usually able to communicate with the Doctor. There is no direct interface between them and though the Doctor can speak to her (and it seems she hears him), she does not speak back.

Except once. In The Doctor's Wife, the soul of the TARDIS was removed from the machine and poured into the body of a human woman, Idris. Suddenly she was given a voice, and she could tell the Doctor things directly. They could discuss past events (their running away together), their present struggles, and even some hints about the future were given (“the only water in the forest is the river”).

While the circumstances are vastly different, God too does not normally speak to us directly. His communication with us, for the most part, is through what we can see in the world he has created, from his revealed word (the bible), from the events that happen in our lives, and sometimes through the mouths of others speaking on his behalf. In Old Testament times, he revealed his Law to the patriarchs and Moses and the prophets and for a long time that was all people had to go on as direct communication from God. I suppose the Law might be compared to the TARDIS instruction manual. Men in general had (and still have) the same attitude to God's Law as the Doctor did to the manual: “I threw it into a supernova, because I disagreed with it.

But once, just once, for a short period, God, like the TARDIS, did communicate with us directly. This was when he came to earth in the form of a human, Jesus Christ. As Idris contained the soul of the TARDIS, so Jesus was the essence of God poured into the body of a human. During this time, he explained in person who God was, what he had done in the past and what would happen in the future. Of course, Jesus did a lot more than this. In the case of Idris, her “incarnation” was accidental (the work of a hostile enemy), whereas Jesus' incarnation was intentional and planned from before the beginning of time as the means by which God would save humans from their sinful and doomed nature.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1: 1; 14). 

God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. (Heb 1:1-3)

While the plan was different, and Jesus' death was far more important to all people, there is one similarity in their deaths. When Jesus was crucified, his enemies thought they had won. They assumed that he was defeated once and for all, but they were wrong. Jesus, because of his holiness and lack of sin, could not remain dead, but was raised again to life triumphant. So Idris, when House thought he had destroyed her, found that the last laugh was not his. He made the mistake of trying to kill her in her own TARDIS shell. He had placed her in a body that would not long survive being inhabited by a TARDIS soul, but as the body decayed, her soul was set free and able to return to it's true house.

One of the last things Idris says to the Doctor, before the soul of the TARDIS left her, was “I'll always be here, but this is when we talked”. The TARDIS is still with the Doctor, but they have reverted to the old manner of living. There is no more direct communication, but they still live and travel together. She is always with him and there for him, making sure he ends up exactly where he needs to be.

Are you there? Can you hear me? Oh, I'm a silly old... Okay. The Eye of Orion, or wherever we need to go.

So, when Jesus returned to heaven, the time during which God lived on earth and communicated directly with mankind was at an end. But we have the record of what he said and did while he was here to encourage us and help us to understand better what it is God wants from us as we live.

4. "I stole you"

This has the potential for entering muddy waters, but I don't think it needs to. Bear with me as I try to make the point I have in mind. One of the most poignant (though also humorous) moments in The Doctor's Wife is the following conversation:

Idris: Do you ever wonder why I chose you all those years ago?
The Doctor: I chose you. You were unlocked.
Idris: Of course I was. I wanted to see the Universe so I stole a Time Lord and I ran away. And you were the only one mad enough.

This is a funny moment, but interesting too. Which version of the story is true? Despite what she says, the TARDIS does not hesitate to refer to the Doctor as “my thief”, implying that she does not take full responsibility for their running away together. I think the answer is that both versions are true. The TARDIS almost admits as much earlier on in the episode (when we still aren't entirely sure who she is): "Then you stole me. And I stole you." The Doctor wanted to run away, so he stole a TARDIS. The TARDIS wanted to see the universe, so she left her doors open for him to find her. The TARDIS provided the means of escape, but there was also a desire on the part of the Doctor to make use of those open doors and use the TARDIS as his means of escape.

This is a terribly inadequate description of what happens at salvation and I honestly don't want to take it any further, but I like the idea of it as a springboard for understanding the problem. I don't think we'll ever find the answer to the question of how we come to salvation (of our own free will or by God's sovereign will) by asking which of the two options are the right one. Like the question of whether the Doctor stole the TARDIS or the TARDIS stole the Doctor, the answer isn't either/or. Both are simultaneously true.

If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (Rom 10:9)

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. (Eph 2:8-9)

Also, this is probably taking things too far, but since I'm already here, one more point. The story of the Doctor's original departure from Gallifrey is a little bit more complex since The Name of the Doctor aired. No longer is it simply a question of the Doctor or the TARDIS choosing each other. When I first watched the scene where Clara confronts the First Doctor, telling him to steal a different TARDIS to the one he was actually planning to take, I really liked the idea. But then I realised that it contradicted the TARDIS' version of the story from The Doctor's Wife where it is implied that he stole that particular TARDIS because she was the one with unlocked doors. We don't know anything about the other TARDIS the Doctor was planning to steal before Clara intervened (whether or not her – or his; do we have male TARDISes?) doors were unlocked, or whether the Doctor was planning to break in somehow. Whatever the story was, could I make a half-hearted suggestion that Clara's role in this story was like that of an evangelist (by which I mean any Christian sharing the Gospel with another person) who pointed the Doctor to the right TARDIS?

I'm gong to leave this issue here. (*hides from barrage of responses*)

5. The Doctor's Wife (an unusual marriage)

Finally, I always found the title of the episode The Doctor's Wife slightly confusing. I get the point about the Doctor and the TARDIS being like an old married couple – always together, often arguing, but sharing a deep respect, care and love for each other. Amy put it best when she said “Look at you pair. It's always you and her isn't it? Long after the rest of us have gone”.

But at the same time, I found this rather incongruous in the light of the Doctor's relationships with his companions. If the Doctor was really, in some sense “married” to the TARDIS, how dare he go about falling in love with Rose Tyler, flirting with countless other women, and in the very same series in which The Doctor's Wife takes place – marrying River Song?

I should probably put some context to my complaint. I read a review of The Doctor's Wife before ever seeing an episode of Doctor Who. As a result, I went into the first episode (and those subequent) with the idea that the Doctor was in reality (secretly?) married to the TARDIS. Remember, I had very little idea when I read the review of who the Doctor was, what he was like and how his relationship with the TARDIS and his companions worked. As I watched more and more programmes, I realised where and how I had been mistaken in understanding the Doctor's relationship with the TARDIS. But I still felt slightly annoyed by the title The Doctor's Wife, if for no other reason than that it had mislead and confused me.

I get it now, of course. The relationship with the Doctor and the TARDIS, while bearing some resemblance to a marriage in its consistency, duration and their care for each other is not in any sense a conventional marriage. As discussed above, they can't even have direct conversations with each other. It's a kind of transcendent marriage – they are soul-mates; but in a very different way to how the Doctor and River could be called soul-mates.

In fact, largely based on the characteristics discussed in the previous points, the relationship between the Doctor and the TARDIS is in some ways similar to that of a Christian and Christ. We talk about “giving our lives” to him, and much of the vocabulary of love and marriage can apply to a Christian's relationship with Jesus. This does not mean that Christians should all forego earthly relationships with other humans, that we should dedicate our lives to him and never love or marry a human being. On the contrary, he wants us to have relationships with other people as representative of the kind of relationship he has with us.

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Saviour of the body.... Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. (Eph 5: 22-27)

The relationships between the Doctor and his companions belong on a completely different plane to his relationship with the TARDIS. They are not mutually exclusive because they are not the same kind of thing. Just as we have a love-relationship with Christ that does not contradict our relationships with people. Of course, we need to be in relationships with people who will respect and understand our relationship with Christ, in the same way the Doctor needs companions who respect the TARDIS and whom the TARDIS respects in return. The Church is described at various points in the New Testament as being the Bride of Christ. We can understand a little better how this works when we understand the role of the Doctor as the husband of the TARDIS.

I hope by this post to have been able to share my thoughts on how we might be encouraged by characteristics of the TARDIS in understanding our relationship with God. You're welcome to disagree with any of my analogies because I'm sure they have problems.