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Posts Tagged ‘Doctor Who’

© zir.com

© zir.com

Fifty years ago an unnamed time traveler appeared in the gap left when modernism and fundamentalism agreed that faith and science must be at war.

Known simply as the Doctor, he is the raggedy man, the intellectual genius who weeps and laughs, the miracle-worker with a profound comprehension of the physical laws of the universe, whose imagination, fierce hope and deep love enter into those laws, bending and transforming them. He is a scientific mastermind who can be taught, who can change his mind, who continues to explore and discover, to wonder – and wander.

A living breathing creature who lives and loves and loses and fights, who dies and resurrects (himself and others), who changes and is changed by his companions, his friends, creatures he meets only once, his enemies – anyone with whom he is in relationship.

A god in a box. Which is bigger – immeasurably – on the inside.

The Doctor travels through all of space and time in his box, the TARDIS. He comes to help, to save, and often he comes especially to those who have lost hope, lost belief, lost imagination.

That’s why I’m hopelessly geeked-out on Doctor Who. If you’ve been with this blog – or me – for a while, you’ve seen me lose each of the above at times. I fought in the faith-science war, first on the faith side, then on the science side, and then I ventured into the unstable no-(wo)man’s land in between. Before I put my foot down on a land mine, though, the TARDIS whooshed in, and the Doctor, with his goofy smile and ancient eyes, invited me to fly with him.

I know. It’s only a TV show.

But there’s a story there. There’s a living idea that moves me.

My young son said to his father recently, “I can think of four wise old men – Gandalf, Obi-Wan, Dumbledore, and Sensei Wu.” I would add the Doctor to his list.

But the wise (someday old) man I love challenged our son to imagine more. He asked if he could think of any wise old women. The two of them thought hard, and together they came up with Galadriel and Professor McGonagall. I have yet to come up with any more from popular media. (Help me – can you think of more?)

With this dearth of wise old women, why would I latch onto yet another wise old (and so far very white) man?

Because if the Doctor has taught me anything, it is that everything that lives – even he – has a future. And that future, always true to the essence of the life from which it grows, often looks very different from the past. 

The wisest of old men and the most profound ancient stories are forever leaning forward, letting go of ego and convention, imagining the impossible.

I like to believe that the Doctor himself is a transitional and transformative figure in the evolution of human imagination – that in fifty more years, the Doctor will have helped to move us into a literary universe shining bright with wise old women.

Not only beautiful intelligent young women (a transitional and transformative figure of our current popular media), but also wise, wrinkled, heavy, gray, faded, quirky – even bearded! –  old women. Women who are respected, and heard, and believed in like I believe in the Doctor.

And Who knows what else?

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There’s this television show called Downton Abbey. Maybe you’ve heard of it. I don’t mind admitting I am hooked on this distinguished soap opera, and that I think in a British accent for short periods of time after watching it.

I haven’t watched the most recent episode yet, but I came across its major plot development today, by accident. SPOILER ALERT: do not read on if you want to watch it yourself and haven’t yet.

You can go here to read a good refresher, some reactions, and a bit of explanation. To sum up, Dan Stevens, the actor who played central character Matthew Crawley, didn’t renew his contract with the show, and so the show’s creator Julian Fellowes chose to kill him off in a car accident in the last episode he would appear in.

But why can’t anybody else play Matthew Crawley? Maybe I’m too much of a Doctor Who fan, but I wouldn’t be overly disturbed to see Matthew with a new face (not to denigrate Dan Stevens’ fine face at all). It would take some getting used to, but I’m sure I would recover.

I know, because each time my beloved Doctor regenerates, I expect that the new one will never live up to the old one. I felt this especially strongly when David Tennant replaced Chris Eccleston, but by the end of Tennant’s time on the show, I felt just as attached to him. And now I just adore Matt Smith.

I grant that, in Doctor Who, the two-hearted time lord is actually regenerating, and each regeneration is unique yet the same, and besides it’s science fiction and lots of natural laws can be bent – wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey . . . stuff. But I still think it supports my point – that the character should be more substantial than the actor.

In this interview, Julian Fellowes said it was unthinkable to bring in a new actor for Matthew’s character, stating:

“You want viewers to think that it is kind of real, and changing actor would be like saying, ‘Hey, guys, it is not real at all’, and lose the show some of its authenticity.”

What?

I suppose there is more than one way to think about this, but I simply can’t grasp the truth of this statement. Wouldn’t Matthew Crawley – and the whole world of Downton Abbey – be even more real if another actor successfully played the same character? It’s some sort of pathetic reality if it can only be incarnated by one set of faces.

How many actors have played Othello? And does the “reality” and “authenticity” of his character diminish each time someone new takes the stage in his character? But, to argue with myself, a new actor doesn’t usually take the stage in the middle of a production of Othello. Yet, to further argue with myself, each episode of Downton Abbey is comparable – in length, that is – to a Shakespeare play, and I’m not asking for an actor swap right in the middle of an episode.

Maybe I’m too much of a book-reader. Maybe I don’t understand or appreciate the art-form of the television show. But allowing the story to be so significantly controlled by the career choices of its actors is, in my opinion, beginning to push this story beyond the limits of believability. I grieved the death in childbirth of Lady Sybil (precipitated by Jessica Brown Findlay’s decision to leave the show), but even then I wondered if we would be seeing more deaths or disappearances for similar reasons, and began to put myself on guard.

If the characters in Downton Abbey are to be fully alive (as the best fictional characters can be), they must be allowed to tell their own stories, not to have story lines pushed on them based on their actors’ life choices.

As much as I adore my favorite Doctor Who actors –  Tom Baker, Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant and Matt Smith – none of them is really the Doctor. Their brilliant acting has only heightened his reality in my imagination.

I only wish the same could be said about multiple actors for Matthew Crawley, may he rest in peace.

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Are things feeling a little extra timey-wimey to you today? That’s because it’s Doctor Who Day! Here’s a song we wrote to celebrate.

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Danny DeVito made a movie in 1996 called Matilda, based on a book of the same name by Roald Dahl. A copy of this movie wound up in the bargain bin at a local video store, where my mother was browsing for something to entertain her grandkids so we adults could spend an evening in conversation which included complete sentences. My six-year-old daughter Luthien told me later about the movie and how much she liked it. Her favorite parts, which she described repeatedly, sounded lame to my adult sensibilities.

Typical kids’ story, I thought. Poor little child misunderstood by her parents (at least not orphaned like so much of children’s literature). People are either mean or nice, and she has some sort of magical powers to help her through her ordeals.

A week later when we took the kids to my parents’ house for a movie night, and Luthien asked to see Matilda again, I groaned and asked if we could please see something everyone would enjoy, not just the kids. But, poor misunderstood-by-my-parents me*, I was outvoted. On with the show.

Maybe it helped to have my enthusiastic fresh-faced daughter at my side, and her excessively giggly little brother primed to let loose at all the silly parts. I’m sure Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman playing the outlandish parents helped too. Whatever it was, it turned out to be a fun movie to watch together with my kids. I gave my grown-up critic the night off and joined with my kids in relieved laughter when the victorious school children chased away their mean principal once and for all, hurling the contents of their lunch bags like a G-rated mob.

Later, when the grown-up critic came back from her night out and the kids were asleep, Nathan and I had a conversation (which included complete sentences).

“That movie bothered me,” Nathan began. “All those flat characters – the perfectly mean principal, the perfectly good teacher, named Miss Honey even?! Where’s the redemptive value in a story like that?”

Both of us having only in adulthood discovered subtlety (I love Jodi’s post about this), Nathan and I appreciate stories that humanize people. We remind ourselves and our children almost daily that there are no “bad” people and no “good” people – that every person is a complex being marbled with good and evil.

Classic children’s literature, however, does not often concur. Many of these stories tell about good people (who are usually underdogs and often children) winning by destroying bad people. We see it often in today’s movies for kids too. Up, which was a fun story idea and colorful and interesting to watch, disappointed us for the same reason. The bad guy, apparently, had to go.

Not all children’s stories conform to this standard, but in those that take the conflict of good versus evil as their theme, good and evil are often personified and therefore become polarized characters. Therefore the good character must destroy the bad character for good to triumph over evil. In a more complex story, the good character may do bad things (like Edmund in the Narnia chronicles), but ultimately that character will exhibit his/her inherent goodness through repentance. If there is character development, it will most likely be the good characters who get developed, and not the bad.

At least, that is the explanation I came up with when Nathan and I had this conversation and I tried to understand why children’s stories are not often redemptive.

No expert on childhood psychology (of which, as the parent of small children, I am more painfully aware than ever), I’m pretty sure I’ve heard somewhere that children are concrete thinkers; and I think this means that subtlety just isn’t something they get. So, maybe these stories help to cement into their concrete thinking the persistent human belief that no matter the odds, good will overcome evil in the end.

And maybe subtlety is something to be gained through maturity, interacting with the world, listening and observing others. Maybe the understanding that every person – and every situation – is complex and has something beautiful as well as something ugly or dangerous or evil in it can only come through experience, cannot be transferred through external teaching.

Taking this viewpoint, I think that Avatar should be classified as a children’s story (a highly interesting, predictably violent and visually stunning one) while Star Wars is for mature viewers.

Then again, even in Star Wars, the bad guy known as the Emperor never gets redemption. And maybe Darth Vader would just be classified as a good guy doing excessively bad things for an excessive amount of time until he repents and gets to be immortalized as good.

I dunno. It just feels deeply right and true to me when, as the Doctor triumphantly said in one of my favorite Doctor Who episodes, “Just this once, everybody lives!”

*Uh, Mom . . . Dad . . . my tongue is firmly in my cheek here. (Can’t afford to lose my biggest fans!)

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