Wednesday, February 8, 2017

New Doctor Who
Headnote: British writer Alain de Botton points out in his The News: A User’s Manuel (highly recommended) that modern news reports of “unbelievable” gruesome behavior serve a purpose similar to the Greek publicly staged tragedies, serving to remind us to curb ourselves…

Call me a writer, but I am so impressed by the new improved Doctor Who stories. I can understand how an actor, on the DVD bonus interviews, says he only took on the revived role of “the doctor” because he knew the scripts would be so good. No doubt the writers know the fearsome classics of ancient Greece …

From the British Broadcasting Corporation, the TV series of my childhood has been re-envisioned. Last week a young lady at an author’s reading, “open microphone” at Owl’s Nest Books, gave me her evaluation of the new show: “It’s creepy.”

She’s right. As I watch, I can’t help thinking of how small children would be disturbed. While the original show aired during early Saturday afternoons, in half hour installments, the new one runs during the evening, from 7:30 or later, in large time blocks. Although shown before children’s bedtime, or as they say at the BBC, “before the watershed,” the show is surely for an older audience than before, and can carry a different freight load of meaning. The old show was nearly as innocent as the old Bat Man series where the villains only used knock out gas. From the new show, I recall an episode where nobody died. The doctor was so happy; he practically danced with joy, saying, “Nobody dies today!” I can relate.

As he travels in his blue box, through space and time, the doctor keeps many secrets from his centuries of living, even keeping his very name a secret.  

As for the Earth of today, someone once told me that in southern Italy, but not the north, many people practice an “amoral familism”: They set their own family above community standards, in order to justify their corruption. In one Doctor Who episode a murderous lady of such a family is ready to incinerate a populated world for her family’s profit. The doctor has supper with her at a nice restaurant, making nice conversation—and then he points out how she justifies her self esteem by occasionally not killing someone. She leans forward to reply viciously, “Only another killer would know that.” Yes, the doctor has his secrets.

The new doctor still goes weaponless; he’s still against killing. Once, when his companion points a revolver he shouts, “Jack, don’t you dare!” Jack resorts to firing into the sky. The new series was surely inspired by writers who know their liberal arts, for while the doctor is as compassionate as the Madonna and as fun loving as Dionysius, he is as merciless as the goddess of Justice. That is, after he has removed his blindfold by discovering the facts.

In one scene, when he learns the Truth, his face goes as grave as Abraham Lincoln: he confronts an alien.
Dr: “(What you are doing)…is against galactic law.”
Alien: “Are you threating me?”
Dr: “I’m trying to help you, Cofelia. This is your one chance. ‘Cause if you don’t call this off, then I’ll have to stop you.”

As for his “stopping power,” the good doctor is not without resources. As an antagonist reflects, “I thought the doctor hid himself from us out of fear; I know now it was out of kindness.” In his kindness the doctor differs from classical times, as I don’t remember any famous people of Greece or Rome, nor their gods on Mount Olympus, being known for kindness.

The Greeks said every good citizen is expected to “have a life” meaning, I suppose, that besides being well rounded, they should be able to think of something beyond themselves, such as their city-state and the people around them, humble under the gods. In one story the doctor finds an old race at the very end of its natural life span, a race with no interests, no humbleness and no compassion, neither for each other nor for other intelligent races. In other words, they no longer “have a life.”

When he asks these creatures why they would kill humans they reply, “Because it’s fun.” A fitting justice for them, surely, would be imprisonment amongst only each other, caring for no one, bored with everything. They are a lesson to me: When I win the lottery and retire as a filthy rich senior citizen who doesn’t need anybody anymore, let’s hope having a healthy interest in the world keeps me having healthy fun.

Another story drew on a line from old wisdom: “You are only as sick as your secrets.” The doctor, in deep sympathy, encourages a grown woman to reveal her secret. Abruptly she bursts out with despairing tears, lonely tears, tears of time irrevocably lost. If I been there with her? I confess I could not have cried along with her in sympathy, not I, for I have an automatic rigid control. How I became such a metamorphic rock is my own secret…

…As I watch the doctor traveling out there in time and space, I feel hope from knowing that here on Earth some BBC writers, with great sympathy, are sharing age-old secrets of the human heart.

Sean Crawford

~Perhaps the Brazilians, at present, practice an amoral familism too. Here (link) a U.S. blogger with a Brazilian wife writes an open letter calling on them to reform.

~I can remember from my childhood, back during black and white TV, watching the first doctor, an old man. His first adventure, which I caught halfway through, was to go back to the cavemen days on Earth. Next he met the dreaded Daleks for the first time, before he knew what they were. They lived in a city of steel amidst a burnt lifeless forest. This was not on the planet Skaro.

Captain Jack:
~He eventually got his own TV show: The BBC writers were so pleased that it aired after the watershed. Now they could tackle things that, for American viewers, would “rattle their chains.” Not rattled from Jack using his revolver, for in America there are more guns than people, but for things such as adultery, tortuous interrogation and homosexual love. That show is Torchwood. Highly recommended.

~From the back of the U.S. region DVD box, perhaps aimed at youth worshipping Americans: Everyone who works for Torchwood is young, under 35. Some say that’s because it is a new science. Others say it’s because they die young.

My enduring image from Torchwood is of two young men without helmets or armored vests. They remind me of the ancient Greek quotation, “An army of lovers cannot be beaten.” I guess this means no Greek in line of battle, standing shield to shield, would shamefully break the line and run, endangering everyone else, no, not before the eyes of his lover….

They stand in loose shirtsleeves, these two lovers, holding pistols, shoulder to shoulder, before a large transparent smoke-filled cube. It shelters an intelligent monster. Within the cube the atmosphere is poisonous, while the air outside is poisonous to the creature. Children’s lives are at stake. There is no time to waste: If they can kill the monster right now then children will be spared. They stand together, pistols bucking, firing into the glass, knowing that if they succeed then the escaping gas will kill them…

…I won’t reveal what happened. Let’s just leave them there, firing their pistols.

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