Steven Universe: From My Crystal Heart

Spoiler Warning: There are series spoilers in the body of this article. Reader’s discretion is advised. 

As of this writing, I just finished watching the latest series of episodes of Steven Universe: in the Heart of the Crystal Gems arc. And, I think, this is an article for the fans.

I’ve written about Steven Universe, and the Crystal Gems elsewhere. It is a show very close to my heart. I wouldn’t have seen it coming, really. It is a children’s cartoon show with some very elemental illustration, brightly coloured animation, musical sequences, and humour. It is also a show with depth, character development, and world-building that slowly builds into some excellent storytelling. It talks about feelings. Some people might scoff, or laugh about feelings, but emotions are complex things, and Steven Universe doesn’t skim over that fact.

It is a show that starts off as a Magical Girls trope subverted into a story about ancient extraterrestrial mineral beings — sentient Gems that can take humanoid, feminine form — dealing with the aftermath of rebelling against an intergalactic conqueror empire with which they belonged, the horrors of war, the consequences of secrets and regrets, while also eating strange food, dealing with the zany humans of Beach City, misunderstanding human customs in ridiculous ways, and singing about their feelings: how happy they are, how sad they are, how angry they are, how afraid they are, and how it is all right to feel all those emotions: loss, pain, humour, and joy.

I have also stated elsewhere that it is a show about relationships. This is shown with how they deal with humans and their environment, but also how the Gems deal with each other: and how they Fuse. Fusion is something of a Go, Go Power Rangers mechanic where they combine together to form a whole new being to fight against monsters. But even as the show questions what monsters really are, what evil is, what good is, it also looks at the mentality of Fusion: of Fusion as an extended metaphor for intimate relationships.

Garnet, the leader of the Crystal Gems, is a Fusion and emblematic of the entire theme of the show: made all the more apparent by recent events in the series of just how inspirational she truly is. She is the Fusion of a prophetic Sapphire, and a short-tempered Ruby. And you watch as she works well, as she falls apart, as she recombines, as she is two people who after thousands of years is still getting to each other and the expression of love: the action, the living verb that is Garnet.

And the show makes no bones about it. What Garnet is, this almost permanent state of Fusion often taken once and a while, or between Gems of one kind for purposes of war or building, is not the norm. It is an exception. Not the love, of course. Love can manifest in different ways, among different beings.

And watching hem recently deal with another hurdle in their Fusion, in their reason to Fuse, in their relationship made me think about something.

Sometimes, you don’t always keep your Garnet. Sometimes you don’t always find your Sapphire and everything you think you know will happen, doesn’t … or you ignore the fact that you know what will happen, because you just don’t want to know. Sometimes you don’t find your Ruby, and that place of spontaneity and bravery amid the humility that keeps something so truly special.

I suppose that is a misnomer, however. I think what I mean is when sometimes you don’t find your Ruby or your Sapphire, when I say you don’t always keep your Garnet what I am really saying is that sometimes your Ruby and Sapphire doesn’t stay.

It can be different, of course. Sometimes you are Ruby and Sapphire, and Garnet. And sometimes you are a Garnet that has fun with an Amethyst, or a Garnet that lets a Pearl Fuse with her sometimes, or offers to show a ridiculous Peridot how to Fuse and places no pressure either which way.

But sometimes you do not stay Fused. Sometimes you have to separate. Sometimes it is just temporary as you talk outside the action that is Garnet. Sometimes you have to deal with other Gems, other people. Sometimes you have deal with the fact that you are other people too, or that there are other people that make up the totality of you. Sometimes you come back together, stronger than you were before.

Sometimes, you don’t.

Sometimes you are a Rose Quartz that doesn’t want to keep secrets, but doesn’t know how to do anything more and just as you stay with your Pearl, you find many others in your life before losing yourself to the experience, the dynamic, each time. Sometimes you are that Pearl waiting for your Rose Quartz to come back to you. Sometimes you are that Pearl pining for a Rose Quartz that will not — that cannot — come back.

Or you’re a cranky flustered Peridot that is used to the way things are, and you don’t see how lucky you are to meet other Rebels who can show you how life is, and that they will actually stay with you. Sometimes you are that Lapis Lazuli that’s been hurt and you flee the prospect of more pain while taking the barn, and the knick-knacks, while viewing the life that you left behind, that went on without you, that is going on without you on the Moon: missing it always.

You could also be that Bismuth whose Gem is inverted, and you try to do the right thing while always feeling a bit of loneliness while engrossing yourself in your work. Or, you’re that Jasper. You know the one: the one that feels like you have to prove yourself to everyone, and you wonder why you can’t hold a Fusion each time.

Or you’re a Diamond and you are hard and unyielding in your rules and strictures, but even the hardest heart can shatter under the right circumstances.

Perhaps the best thing to be, though and in retrospect, is an Amethyst. Sometimes you still don’t know what’s going on, but you don’t always care, and you just go with it until you realize that your one thousand year baggage is your own, and that you change yourself for only one person: you.

Mind you, being an Off Color — for all Gem society rejects it or hunts you down — can be fun too. You can all be freaks together, and who knows? Maybe you might become part of a great, old, chosen family of Fusion like a Fluorite, if you are brave enough, and if that is who you really are.

It’s easy, given that  Padparadscha Sapphire’ retrovision is 20/20, to look back and see the point where your foundation or body can vanish, or where you shatter, or whether or not you should have eaten all that garbage as Amethyst … or overeaten those Cookie Cat ice cream cookies that were so full of love that they made the Gem on your body, that makes up your very being, shine.

I don’t suppose there is a point to any of this. There never is. I’ve lost a lot of things over the years. Some I’d seen coming. Some I did not. Some I wish I hadn’t. You don’t always get to keep your Sapphire. You don’t always get to keep your Ruby. And Garnet, under most circumstances, never stays forever. That state of being, that insulated bubble and the barn with the weird art pieces and the animated Pumpkin entity pet can’t always be there in that current form.

Yeah. If you haven’t watched the show yet, that is a whole long, other story.

I don’t cry as much these days. But I do when I watch this show. It lets me. It’s appropriate when I do. Every time, especially now. I never thought it would have gotten into my life as much as it has. Under my skin. Into my heart. If only people were like the Gems, or even the people of Beach City where problems can always be solved through talking, and no one has to be that Jasper who sucks as Fusion forever.

But I think, as long as Steven Universe exists … as long as shows like it exist and the people that create them continue to possess this form of empathy — a strength of compassion and emotional depth — even if I never Fuse again, even if I feel disembodied, or broken, or flawed, or shattered, or “not made right” like an Off Color … even if I have to be alone like a moping Peridot, or a sad Lapis Lazuli just knowing something like it exists out there, like a Garnet who is almost always Fused and actually marries after over five thousand years honestly?

I can live with that. Despair, perhaps I am stronger than you, like an Amethyst on some Cookie Cat.

Or, you know: this lucky, awesome guy who has grown so much.

Finding My Friend in Steven Universe

I remember when I would come home from school and turn on Fox 29. I’d watch Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Blossom, Bonkers, Goof-Troop, and all the Disney cartoons. Even in the morning, I recall enjoying Gargoyles and the Saturday afternoons with Hercules, Xena, and Sinbad. And I practically lived on YTV. It felt like they were always there. It felt like they would always be there.

But that’s not right either. I think what I always thought was going to be there was that mid-to-early nineties time. You know: that period where you’re at school, where it’s sometimes easier to meet up with your friends, you’re outside a lot more, and you have more child to adolescent responsibilities going on. That is a lot of generalization, I know, especially given how no one’s childhood is exactly the same for a whole lot of different reasons but I hope that I said enough to which somebody can relate.

Fraggle Rock

Yet what I think about the most is the early nineties, perhaps even the early to late eighties when musical shows like Fraggle Rock existed. Talk about a belated nostalgia alert. Fraggle Rock was like the Rainbow Connection Muppet Movie Song extended and made into a race of beings that lived all communally with one another, discovered things in wondrous environments, and took care of one another. God felt like a kindly but brusque and clueless old man named Doc whose Dog Sprocket only occasionally was a well-meaning force nature intruding on a world of friends. I think I like that version of God more than some others I’ve seen.

I think aside from Under the Umbrella Tree, Today’s Special, and Alvin and the Chipmunks, that was the first time I really felt like there was a show that was a friend to me. They all felt like my friends and perhaps more real than the rest of my life at the time while, somehow, also managing to encompass it.

I remember the Fraggles Gobo, Wembley, Red, Boober, and Mokey. I recall how close they were together. I think about that episode when everyone got sick and they took care of each other complete with a song “Sister and Brother,” and there were lessons about life and death and storytelling. And I remember really thinking the world was like that. I definitely wished that it was.

Fraggle Friends

But time goes on and no matter how much I wanted to stay with my friends, it always going to be different. I grew up and saw sing-alongs as something silly and embarrassing. I saw talking about feelings openly as something children did: as something that made adults weak. Despite how much I gained the habit of not trusting, and even detesting the world as an adult, of wanting to go back to some idyllic time that can’t exist again, I gave up on ever really feeling like I belonged again, that there was some extended communal family like Fraggle Rock that was there somewhere in the back of my heart. It’s all differences, and hard angular edges, and expectations that you put on others.

It was Gaming Pixie that introduced me to Steven Universe.

Steven Universe

As with most recommendations I’m given, especially towards shows that everyone is talking about, it takes me forever to watch them. This is especially true when I have a whole lot of other things going on.

When I came to visit her almost a year ago, she had the opportunity to get me to watch the series as it was. It started off very slowly. It seemed silly and strange. A child’s cartoon. I’ll admit, I wasn’t even fully paying attention as I was on social media responding to people about The Force Awakens that we’d just seen recently.

Then … there was this point. It was about the point when I became to realize there was continuity to each episode. When the background of the world began to spread more constantly, and seemed to tell a more quiet and larger story while Steven, Garnet, Pearl, and Amethyst were more vocal in theirs. It may have been when the Gem species and the Crystal Gems’ Homeworld was introduced that I started to pay attention.

With more questions and mysteries to match each answer, I rewatched the old episodes with Gaming Pixie and then the others afterwards. I remember just watching Power Puff Girls casually when I was younger, and then hearing about the renaissance of My Little Pony and thought Steven Universe was something along those lines. Back in the day, I might have thought it mostly geared towards a mostly younger female audience and felt ashamed of watching it due to some perceived notion of masculinity, but nowadays I know better: especially coming to grips with having been invested with Sailor Moon on YTV.

Perhaps it all ties together. I just thought it wouldn’t relate to me. Or I didn’t want to become emotionally invested into something else. Combine that with the fact that music, especially musicals, can create a sense of vulnerability in the layer of irony making up adulthood and you might have a greater picture as to why it took me some time to get into Steven Universe, and why it affected me so much when I let it in.

Steven and the Crystal Gems

There is something very Scott Pilgrim about Steven Universe himself with his neotenous features, his pink shirt, and the star in the middle of it. But whereas Scott Pilgrim as a character lacked a lot of maturity, even though Steven continues to grow he has a lot of wisdom for a young child. He grows up in a non-normative family, with three moms, aunts, sisters, whatever role they are, and his father. The Gems themselves are all, from human understanding anyway, female.

Describing this show is a lot like trying to explain a certain kind of music without actually just getting you to listen to it. I think what really gets to me, aside from watching Steven grow, is how the show deals with diverse contemporary issues like ethnicity, gender, and sexuality without being preachy, and by telling an excellent story with natural character development. But more than that, it isn’t afraid to be vulnerable. It isn’t afraid to sing, and its song isn’t oppressive or intrusive. It allows you to get used to it first. It allows you the choice of listening to it and perhaps remembering part of why you loved music, and imaginary worlds to begin with.

It also makes me really value Steven. It makes me appreciate the wonder and the heartbreak he goes through as he grows. It also reminds me that he has a large and diverse family, not unlike the communal one that Fraggle Rock will always be in my heart: that perhaps Sense8 might be in a more live-action and grittier adult sense if the series continues on as well as it has.

Above all, watching Steven makes me want to paraphrase something his biological mother told him on video tape, and tell the Gems, his father, and his friends that he will need them, to take care of him: to encourage him to continue to be the awesome person he’s meant to be.

 Steven Universe feels like this generation’s Fraggle Rock, with Rebecca Sugar and her crew’s storytelling equal to Jim Henson, and I’m just glad that — in some ways — I can feel that way at least twice in my own life. We are lucky to have a friend like this — with friendships like these — again.

Star Wars: Preludes and Interludes Of A Space Opera

I think that if I were a Time Lord, I’d be a unique one that specializes in travelling to alternate timelines: not because I originally intended to, but due to the fact that these are places to which my senses are attuned.

Lately, not to mix metaphors, I’ve been thinking about Star Wars. I mean, when aren’t I? But bear with me. Imagine, in that period between 1980 and 1983, when The Empire Strikes Back made people truly want to know what happened next, George Lucas came up with a plan: a long-term plan.

We already know and suspect that by Return of The Jedi, Lucas was planning on heavily merchandising the hell out of his universe. Some people even think the addition of Ewoks in the last film was an attempt to particularly appeal to children and their love for toys. Even after the sixth film, we had cartoons like Ewoks and Droids.

But what if it didn’t stop there? What if aside from the made-to-TV Ewoks films George Lucas had wanted even more merchandising. At the time, LucasFilm was in the process of developing its special effects technology that would be utilized not just by itself, but by other companies and film productions as well. Even so, by the time of the cartoons it had only been a few years since Return of The Jedi and people — particularly children — were still fresh off of a galaxy far, far away and wanted more. More than that, and I can speak for myself here, fans had questions: about the Jedi, about the Republic before the Empire, and the Clone Wars themselves.

Many of these questions had been answered with the new CGI Clone Wars cartoons and the Prequel films — albeit with some gaps even now — but there was a gap of at least, what, seventeen years or so, between the films: where many of us waited after the re-release of the Old Trilogy to find our answers and immerse ourselves into new Star Wars.

Yet what if during that time, we had something else to tide us over during near two decades of waiting?

Indulge me and imagine this. After the last film and the initial cartoons, LucasFilm decides to release oncoming series that takes place during The Clone Wars. Perhaps Lucas calls them, collectively, Interludes. During this time, we get to essentially see the Republic and the Separatist Crisis, and the Jedi Knights. We get to see a young Obi-Wan and Anakin actually growing together but, more importantly, we get to see something else as well.

Jedi Team

We are witness to other characters — other Jedi and galactic denizens — and we get to watch them grow. We are introduced to the clone troopers early and see them as individuals: while always wondering why they look so like and unlike stormtroopers. And there are hints of Anakin’s back story and how he met Padme. At this stage, perhaps a few seasons or an interrelated series of cartoons (perhaps aided in the 90s by one young Genndy Tartakovsky) and live-action programs: space opera serials not unlike the material from which their structure was derived. Can you imagine that? Coming home from school to watch your Star Wars show?

And yes, the intervening years between the early 1980s and the late 90s might not have much in the way of advanced graphics or special effects by our contemporary standards but imaginary worlds have been built on much less and with more attention to detail. I mean, look at some anime from that period, or even the Old Trilogy and how immersive it was for looking all run-down, and world-weary and real: letting our minds fill in the rest. I could have seen LucasFilm making a lot of money during this time. I mean, think of an Interlude series of Star Wars: Clone Commandos playing alongside G.I. Joe. Don’t tell me that wouldn’t be bad-ass.

Clone troopers

So during this whole time, you have all these background characters getting built up, living, and dying. You get immersed in their lives. Shaak-Ti, Aayla Secura, Kit Fisto, Plo Koon and the other Jedi have many adventures and you get attached to them. You see the Jedi Initiates as children and you want to be a Jedi: relating more to you directly as a child than even Luke does in the movies. Hell, you might even want to be Clone Troopers, have their special armour and play Clones Verses Droids along with Rebels Verses Imperials in the playground.

Of course, there would be comics and books as per usual. And then periods where there are no cartoons or shows. It makes the audience wait with anticipation. You build on the culture that you have already cultivated and created. The important thing is that you leave the questions. You have Anakin refer to his time on Tatooine and being a slave and you never know everything that happened. He has moments of darkness and you don’t know what caused them. You can tell Palpatine is doing something, but you don’t know where it all began or what even started the Clone Wars at all. Then there are the other questions about what will happen to the Jedi: particularly your favourite Jedi and their friends and comrades in the clones.

1999 comes around. Perhaps there has been some intervening years where the Interludes — The Clone Wars cartoons and live-action serials — have died down. Everyone is waiting. Now take the movies know from our timeline. If you want, imagine that the ideas created by George Lucas were written out by other writers: as he had those in the Original Trilogy. Maybe he even has others giving direction to the actors: those who can relate to them and have them react in believable and human ways. Scene-sequencing is interspersed with equal amounts of dialogue and action. CGI is cut down considerably and used sparingly: with a greater reliance on prop development and real world scenery.

The Phantom Menace reveals Anakin’s origins and just why the Jedi think he is so important. Attack of The Clones, three years later, shows us how The Clone Wars began. And, finally and heartbreakingly, we have Revenge of The Sith: where not only do we see Anakin fall, but all those Jedi characters that survived up until this point are mercilessly cut down by the clone troopers that we have, despite our better judgement as adults and adoration as children, grown to love.

Think of the impact of this alternate timeline. Think of how much we could relate to the death of Aayla Secura if we had seen her in various shows fighting for worlds and having her private moments with Kit Fisto. Think about Plo Koon and his time being a part-time mentor for Ahsoka Tano — perhaps even tutoring her in piloting — only to have his ship blown apart by one of his own clones. And the Younglings, those children you saw becoming Jedi … think about the horror in that.

How would you have viewed even the Prequels that we have now if there was all that build-up to the tragedy — a well-written tragedy — that was their Trilogy and the beginning of The Empire.

So now the Prequels are over. You know what happens. And yet … there are still some mysteries. Some Jedi are still alive or unaccounted for. A Rebellion has yet to form. LucasFilm, and perhaps Lucas Arts as it might still be around this alternate timeline can play with that. The fans are devastated by the impact of the Rebellion and Luke Skywalker is felt even more keenly. You watch the films again to know that the Empire fails.

Perhaps Star Wars cartoons and shows are divided into the Preludes — those dealing with the events before the Empire — and Interludes — those focusing on events during the Empire. Maybe some of these shows happen after the Prequels in real-time and others during the 80s and 90s. This is all you have to go on so far.

But everyone wants to know what happens next. They want to know what Luke and Leia do after the Empire falls. They have only had their appetite whet with the Clone Wars and the origins of the Empire. They want more.

And then, after 2005, ten years later after more shows and merchandising — and perhaps with the aid of Disney’s resources — we have: the Sequel Trilogy. The New Trilogy.

Of course, many people might have their own alternate ideal Star Wars watching timeline. Maybe there were no Clone Wars or Prequels. Perhaps the Sequel Trilogy happened right away. But there is something else to consider and it took me a while to personally understand and accept this.

It was Tony Pacitti in his pop culture memoir My Best Friend is a Wookiee that made me consider it. Perhaps one day, if not right now, there will be a new generation of children born. These children might watch The Phantom Menace and Attack of The Clones. Then they might watch The Clone Wars. Then Revenge of The Sith. Then the Old Trilogy. And the New Trilogy. They will see all the standalone films. And right now, it is all open to them. It isn’t perfect and there are gaps and questions, but they have mysteries to explore and wonder to consume.

It would be like us discovering the magic of Star Wars for the first time and their experiences would be different but similar to our own. They have so much more to see and know. They get to do what we can only dream of doing: living a life of imagination inundated by a variety of Star Wars: decades of Star Wars. And no matter way you look at it, this will be their first step into a much larger world.

Time Travel and Retconning: Revisionism and Reconstructionism in Doctor Who

Just as the New Year is approaching, so is “The Time of the Doctor.”

Time of The Doctor

I’ve come out of hiatus again, essentially, because this is another thought that just won’t leave me alone. After I was exposed to Julian Darius of Sequart’s distinctions between Revisionism and Reconstructionism with regards to comics, I applied it to my article In a Different Place, a Different Time: Revision and Reconstruction in Comics Without Superheroes? Of course, I should have realized it was not going to end there.

I mean, come on: I already mentioned space and time in the aforementioned article’s title. And after a while of gestation and trying to stave it off, I knew what was going to happen. I was going to provide the distinctions of Revisionism and Reconstructionism, taken from Julian Darius, the latter term apparently coined from Kurt Busiek, to the development of the Doctor Who series. Let’s face it: this was just going to happen and, if we’re going to be honest with each other, it probably has in no so many words and in ways that have been covered far more exhaustively than I am going to be.

So let’s get to the point and quote River Song, as I tend to with a lot of the Doctor Who articles I’ve written, to say, “Spoilers.”

This is really going to be a brief case of looking at parallels between the development of the superhero comics genre and Doctor Who. Like the early comics versions of Batman, Superman and others, The Doctor as a character starts off as a relatively morally ambiguous character: someone who isn’t necessarily evil, but not always good. Certainly, they all have the power to impose their will on others whom they don’t agree with, or are quite willing to let someone destroy themselves as opposed to interceding on their behalf. The Doctor himself, in his very first incarnation was more than willing to abandon people to their deaths if they became “inconvenient” to his or his granddaughter’s own survival.

And this was in the 1960s. Superhero comics themselves, especially the ones I mentioned, existed from the 30s onward: from that Golden Age period where superheroes were still trying to get past their “might is right” mentality to reveal at least some of the heroism that we recognize. The Doctor, however, had an even more interesting challenge: in that he was a character in a science-fiction program that drew on a tradition of science-fiction programs and stories. He wasn’t exactly a hero then and never quite fit that mould well. He and his Companions were more explorers and, as such, the program was one of exploration that bordered on a weird sort of horror: the kind of horror that, well, basically came from the spectacle of science-fiction B movies, comics, and pulp stories before it. Even the early Doctor Who episodes, from I’m given to understand, have a very pulp and serial feel to them: with constantly interrelated chains if episodes making a story followed by standalone episodes and “monsters of the week.”

Of course, things changed for both superhero comics and Whoniverse respectively. It was the Comics Code Authority that greatly white-washed many of the darker elements away from superhero adventures. Some of them simply didn’t survive and became silly caricatures of their original selves. This wasn’t always the case and some stories managed to be told well even in the midst of not being able to question authority-figures among other things. Towards the sixties, however, there were many campy and downright silly elements amongst this genre of comics: particularly with regards to Batman and such.

Doctor Who, which started in the sixties, always had an element of the uncanny and the weird in itself. It also had elements of camp and strange, tangential adventures. For some time, the BBC had a low budget so they basically had to utilize B movie props and effects to make their monsters and their stories. And The Doctor himself became a lot more of a swashbuckling character or archetype: embodying different ideals but becoming somehow more human as time went on. The humanization of The Doctor, which began with his Companions from his early days, contributed to this and probably in no small part due to the fact that the program began as a children’s show.

But just as there were so many disparate elements and strangeness in the Silver Age of superhero comics, this was definitely the case with the original Doctor Who series. What is interesting to consider with regards to Doctor Who however is that many “silly costumes and props and styles” have become iconic in themselves and even popular in a vintage, classic, nostalgic sort of way among fans. The books and audio dramas also helped to expand many of these elements and add more to the quantum branch of reality that was the Whoniverse.

It was in the 1980s that things began to change for superhero comics. This was when Revisionism came into play. Writers like Alan Moore and Frank Miller asked themselves the question of what a superhero would be like, with the powers and abilities they possessed, in a realistic situation. They were also mindful of the pessimism, cynicism, and fear around in this particular time period and wondered how the hero would function in such a world: and what they would do to that world. This is the period in which the superhero really got dissected. Writers in this time and onward seemed to draw on the ancient classical designations of “hero”: of a person of spectacular power and skill that bordered on, or were totally amoral, to reshape the heroes of the 30s and 60s. This allowed much in the way of character development and the creation of truly epic story-lines. Of course, the danger was also created: that the dark grittiness of Revisionism would become a form onto itself and not a vessel to tell a carefully thought out story. Darkness for darkness’ sake, as it were.

With Doctor Who, I argue that its Revisionism came in 2005 with the beginning of the new series. After a gap from 1989, and television movie in 1996, The Doctor returned in 2005 under a very different premise from his earlier adventures. It is almost like producer and screenwriter Russell T. Davies created his own Crisis on Infinite Earths and destroyed much of the quantum and tangential branches of the old Whoniverse in order to create a very centralized, dark, and Byronic reality: as though he and others believed that the only way the program could survive would be to “mature” into this new spirit. It is as though they expected viewers to want something less silly and more “realistic.”

So there was a Time War, the Last Great Time War, that seemed to have obliterated many loose-ends (and cause no small heap of trouble in the loose-ends that did, in fact, continue to exist for the Universe) and leave a Doctor that was more gaunt, more lonely, and far angrier than many of his other incarnations before him. The children’s show origins of program seemed to have been burned away by rage, an attempt at a more serious tone, singular purpose, and Revisionism.

Even the inclusion of David Tennant as the next Doctor, who was a marked contrast to the sullen leather jacket-wearing Doctor who somehow began to lighten up a bit towards the end, only accentuated this kind of Miltonian grandiosity. He might as well, in a ridiculously sublime way, have been an angel from Milton’s Paradise Lost sailing through a perfect clockwork Universe skewed by Original Sin, or perhaps as a far livelier Virgil figure in a kind of Dante’s Inferno of wonders. When Steven Moffat took over as producer and the Matt Smith incarnation of The Doctor came in, the youngest depiction there has ever been (he is about my age), the dark elements were beginning to wear a little thin.

But there is something truly wonderful that was forming with Doctor Who, and its spin-offs Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Smith Adventures. Despite the darkness and the angst of The Doctor being “the last Time Lord,” there has been a great depiction of wonders. I’m not just talking about the more advanced CGI or sophisticated props and costuming provided to the program. I’m also talking about its embrace of diversity: about its inclusion of different cultures, race and even sexual orientations. And it doesn’t seem to display them as novelties but as givens. As science-fiction that, by its very nature, encompasses the future and its possible sensibilities in addition to all of space and time it is extremely encouraging to see. It might have something to do with the fact that Russell T. Davies is gay himself and wanted to include diversity, but there is also the fact that Doctor Who is the longest running science-fiction show in existence and it changes with the times and the attitudes in each era in which it finds itself.

https://i2.wp.com/static3.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20130505044335/tardis/images/c/c6/Lizard_Woman_From_The_Dawn_Of_Time_And_Wife.jpg

But the sense of wonder that is, in the words of the program’s first producer Verity Lambert, “C.S. Lewis meets H.G. Wells meets Father Christmas,” is so much older than this and it wins out over the darkness every time. It is similar to the sense of nobility and kindness from Superman or the sure sense of justice from Batman. You can also call that sense of wonder hope.

By the time of Steve Moffat, whose episodes are strong in a self-contained short story fashion but whose overall structure begins to unravel the strong Miltonian clockwork of Davies with plot holes, much in the way that the Cracks in Time began to appear, or how the Weeping Angels feed off of temporal rifts and die from paradox-poisoning (which is ironic when you consider how Moffat created them in the first place and that his stories have many plot-holes), you may be witnessing a change beginning to happen. From 2005 and onward, most of Doctor Who has taken place on Earth or has focused almost solely on humans and has maintained a relatively linear story line and premise.

But then Moffat did something. By 1995, Julian Darius argues that Revisionism in comics began to change. Writers such as Grant Morrison began to look back on superhero comics before Revisionism and draw on the idealism and hope of those periods. They took the character-writing and plot development of Revisionism and combined it with the light-heartedness of heroes against the darkness. They, arguably, contributed to the creation of Reconstructionism.

And Morrison himself was known to have really liked the strange and wacky DC elements that existed before what he considered to be a cynical Crisis plot: perhaps much in the way that some of The Doctor’s fans might view his present “gritty and realistic” situation.

Now look back at Steve Moffat. In “The Day of the Doctor” he took the premise of The Doctor having destroyed the Time Lords and, in a typical time-travelling fashion, changed and retconned time. He had The Doctor and his previous incarnations save Gallifrey. Now The Doctor has to go and find it. In one stroke, however it was executed, Moffat eliminated the heart of The Doctor’s modern angst. And in the next episode, in the Christmas Special “The Time of the Doctor” we are going to see him fall to his lowest as he is apparently on his “last incarnation” and is going to die. But we know that isn’t going to happen. We know he will survive. We know there will be a new Doctor.

And perhaps, just perhaps, this is Moffat’s attempt to apply Reconstructionism to Doctor Who. Certainly the inclusion of Tom Baker, the former Fourth Doctor that represented The Doctor’s kindliness, affability and wisdom, into “The Day of the Doctor”–representing what could be another future incarnation of the Time Lord–can be interpreted as a sign of that return to some the weird, and wacky adventures that possess no small amount of hope.

But whatever the case, we are going to see Peter Capaldi as an older, but perhaps wilder Doctor: someone who is not a soldier, a traumatized war veteran, a hero with an anguished dream, or a lonely boy but an adventurer and traveler. He is going to look for where he put Gallifrey. He is going to go out again. Perhaps he might even leave Earth in all time lines and we can see how the rest of the Universe has been doing, how other worlds and newer beings live, and how he will interact with them. Maybe after all the time that Davies has reforged the content of the program it will open up back into larger vistas beyond just Earth and the human.

There is just one last Battle of Trenzalore, a Regeneration rule to work around, and then perhaps the potential for some reconstruction, for something new, for something old, and for something new again. Either way, I look forward to the journey.

What Is a Doctor and When Does He Stop Running?

All right, so relatively soon–on November 23rd–we are going to see “The Day of the Doctor”: in which we not only find out why the Eleventh Doctor Regenerates into the Twelfth–which seems a lot less ominous now that the Time Lord Regeneration limit seems arbitrary and limited to the now-defunct Time Lord society–but we will also find out more about The Unknown Doctor.

Or maybe won’t.

I don’t really know what else to say without subscribing to a certain supposition about who this version of The Doctor–played by John Hurt–is supposed to be. So I’m going to subscribe to one of them: mainly that our friend The Unknown Doctor is from the Last Great Time War: the incarnation that utilized The Moment to exterminate both the Daleks and his fellow Time Lords and pretty much save the Universe.

There are some interesting details that could back this up. Aside from the fact that he clearly did something that he regretted, but was ultimately necessary–at least from his perspective–and that he had no choice there is the matter of the fact that Clara wasn’t even with him in this time line. Remember, you Doctor Who fans out there, the Time War was time-locked: keeping certain forces from using, or being propelled by time travel into the battlefield such as it may have been. That is why I think Clara Oswin Oswald never met The Doctor then, or traveled with him: because this field would have, by its very nature, kept her very existence out or destroyed her along with the others: and perhaps removed that knowledge from Clara herself.

But if we operate on the assumption that The Unknown Doctor was the one that either Regenerated during the Great Time War or aged from the Eighth Doctor due to possible time-dilation within the sphere of the time-lock and the sheer horrors of temporal war, it just makes the Eleventh Doctor’s judgment (and those before him) of his previous incarnation–his “secret”–all the more unforgivable.

He not only claims that The Unknown Doctor is not worthy of the moniker–the promise that he and other incarnations of the same man made to the Universe and himself–but that all of his actions, whatever they were, were “not in the name of The Doctor.”

And this is where I take issue with The Doctor’s idea of what a doctor actually is. Despite the fact that the Time Lord has no medical degrees, as far as we know of and perhaps has some haphazard scholarly qualifications (at least by his own people’s standards) from his Time Lord Academy days, he is a healer in that he tries to fix problems and “meddle” in pockets of time that aren’t “fixed.” He sees time, like most Time Lords, as a flowing current with some static and fixed places: like a stream coursing around some pebbles. He likes to re-align things back into, or really into a pattern that makes sense.

But here is the thing. You see, if The Unknown Doctor did develop during the Great Time War, then he knew what was at stake. The Daleks would have exterminated all life in the Universe if they had become the new Lords of Time. The Time Lords themselves decided they were going to ascend into beings of pure energy and obliterate the current Universe to do so. Essentially, both species were–or had become–like mad dogs and any good doctor understands that sometimes the only sane medicine at that point is euthanasia.

Does that mean that he should be proud of it? I don’t think so: though we know that he is not adverse to admitting and even using the fact that he killed both Daleks and Time Lords to his advantage when the situation arises. He has even admitted his role to his Companions to some extent. Perhaps he thinks that his previous incarnation should have tried harder, or should not have been suckered into the War–a war by the very nature of war being a situation where no one really wins–and should have done something different. Or perhaps, Doctor Eleven just hates himself: like his other incarnations tend to do whenever they think back on times that they can’t deal with.

But when it came to it: when it came down to the Daleks destroying all life, the Time Lords obliterating all Creation for their benefit, or giving everyone else in the Universe a chance: there really was no other choice.

The fact is, even though he admits The Unknown Doctor is him but not The Doctor, it’s almost like he is displacing all the blame for something onto this man and trying to forget that he ever existed. The mere fact that this incarnation of him is referred to as The Unknown Doctor speaks volumes about the truth that The Doctor has been running away from the entire time.

But now, after looking at John Hurt turn around with an old, haunted and very sad expression on his face that belies him being the villainous Valeyard or something else–perhaps serving as the guardian against any psychic vestige of the Time War infecting the reality outside of the time-lock (which The Doctor may have jeopardized by delving into paradox itself by going into his time-stream) and with the credits under him proclaiming him to be what the Eleventh Doctor says he is not, The Doctor himself–having crossed into his own time-stream–has to face what and who he has been trying to escape from and finally be forced to do what he has been fearing the most.

To stop running.

Be Careful What You Search For: The Doctor as Psyche

Disclaimer: There be spoilers here.

I’m not going to go into an indepth analysis and look at a particular Doctor Who episode. The fact is: it is an exhausting process and I know I will be missing something from it when I’m done. But there is one theme that has really caught my eye and is really, aside from the weird and zany adventures with elements of grandiosity the central focus of The Doctor as of right now.

The mystery of Clara Oswin Oswald or, in The Doctor’s own words, “The only mystery worth solving.”

So there we are. The scenario is already set and clear: as much as any Doctor Who plot really is. And now I am going to make a mythological allusion: mainly talking about what this quest and its potential results actually reminds me of. It is only fitting that in the last episode of Doctor Who “Hide,” that The Doctor said something to the effect that, “It isn’t a ghost story after all — it’s a love story.” And when he said, I said under my breath, “Yes, Doctor. It really is.”

So is the Myth of Psyche and Eros. There are many variations of the myth itself, but essentially what happens is that there is a princess named Psyche who–through various circumstances–ends up married to the love god Eros (or Cupid as he is better known): though she does not know this. In fact, until her fateful decision, she never even sees what he looks like. Not really. One of the admonitions that Cupid gives her, in fact, is that she is not allowed to look at him.

Don’t blink.

Of course, as I and many others have stated with regards to “The Snowmen,” this myth too sounds an awful lot like a fairytale: and indeed a lot of myths and parables in various ages do. There is always that one thing the character is told not to do, or is made difficult to find and of course–human and sentient nature being what it is–the character eventually seeks it out. As something of an aside, I also think it is very remarkable in that Psyche’s myth may be one of the few in existence where a mortal woman has a recognized heroic quest–complete with various tasks–in pursuing a male deity as opposed to the other way around.

Now, Psyche and The Doctor are not that alike at all. There are different circumstances, goals, influences, character genders, and fears involved on the surface. Psyche is “sacrificed” to a “dragon that harasses the world” due to a vision that an oracle gave her royal father of whom she would marry. There are gods involved. Cupid likes Psyche as well: after being sent to punish her by his mother Venus (the Roman Aphrodite). Psyche is relatively inexperienced with regards to the world and marriage. She is innocent. And it is only when others ask her who her husband is and if he is attempting to deceive her by masking his “hideousness” that she attempts to look at and potentially kill him if she doesn’t like what she sees. So literally, Psyche and Cupid, and The Doctor and Clara are entirely different situations.

Figuratively though …

The Doctor from the very beginning knows that there is something very odd about Clara Oswin Oswald. She should not exist. She was made into Dalek in “Asylum of the Daleks” and then she died, and then she was a Victorian governess in “The Snowmen” and also died. He then realizes that she can potentially exist in another timeline as the same person and species. There seem to be forces that are getting him to find her after some of his own recent losses. He is both fascinated and afraid to find the truth of her. Perhaps when, in “Hide,” the psychic tells Clara that The Doctor has “a sliver of ice in his heart” she is really saying that there has been so much grief that he has a certain level of objectivity and dispassion as a result of that. Remember, in “The Snowmen,” it was a Christmas episode with the TARDIS in the clouds and The Doctor living there away from all people. Even the interior of the TARDIS looks like a cold metal form of ice.

That “sliver” could be fear, but it may be one of those forces that influences him to “figure Clara out,” while trying to maintain a distance. At the same time, The Doctor always loves to solve mysteries and this is one he cannot resist for a variety of reasons: not the least of which being that this “mystery” seems to like him back. A lot. And there are gods involved in the Whovian Universe–although they are known as different things like Eternals, and “sun parasite-gods”–and The Doctor, like Psyche, has had some adventures into the Underworld: not the least of which being his Regenerations and some of the other places he has found himself in.

Psyche had a lantern and a knife to take with her into the Underworld. The Doctor has his own tool.

I do hope though–probably in vain–that this loose comparison ends here. That when The Doctor finds and brings the metaphorical lantern to see Clara in the darkness that, well … it doesn’t end as badly for him as it almost did with Psyche. But knowing The Doctor’s track record and what the Universe likes to do to him: I am a bit concerned.

Because Clara could be a lot of things. She could be, as some fans have posited, The Dalek Emperor reformed by Rose as the incarnation of the Bad Wolf to be a companion for The Doctor as she predicted her importance and absence from his life in that brief time she absorbed The Heart of the TARDIS. She could be a Dalek or alien-made replicant. Maybe she is another aspect of The Great Intelligence. She could also be an avatar of the returning Eternals for all we know. She could also be Romana: the Time Lady that The Doctor once spent considerable time with. Or, when The Master was disintegrating towards his confrontation with the Time Lords, the resulting closure of the time-warp could have fractured and Regenerated him into a new form existing throughout time and space: and we know now that Time Lords can change sex and gender.

Or, much worse:

Clara Oswin Oswald could very just well be Clara Oswin Oswald in the way that she is–human–and existing in different time periods and places. And by dissecting her mystery, The Doctor could drive her away from him and leave him right back where he started. Alone.

And then maybe he will search for her, as Psyche did Cupid, and go through another adventure or so. Or may be I am just reading too much into this. Perhaps that “sliver of ice” might grow again into something more awful in that isolation. We all know that The Doctor cannot be alone for too long. And imagining that shard of ice becoming a glacial heart within the being of The Valeyard … is not too far off the mark when you wonder just how much more hearts-break can The Doctor take before he completely loses it.

Of course, this is as always mere conjecture and as Doctor Who stories go, it will be something completely unexpected. But The Doctor might want to remember something else. As Neil Gaiman has written in Sandman, there is a difference between a secret and a mystery. A secret is a truth that is waiting to reveal itself. A mystery is something–or in this case someone–that just is. And I hope more than anything that he takes a mystery to be someone and gets to know Clara as she is and that the beautiful knowledge of it does not destroy him and leave him alone in the ashes.

ETA: As an aside, the following is a teaser photo from the episode “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS.” I’ll bet you all Whovians will want to read this.

It’s too bad it probably won’t be in chronological order.

Clouds and Mirrors: Dr. Who’s The Snowmen

Imagine Calvin and Hobbes, with A Christmas Carol, a Sherlock Holmes detective mystery parody, an English fairy-tale, some steampunk, and a hint–just a pinch–of true love in a whole lot of wonder.

And those were some of the most immediate feelings I had watching the Prequel to “The Snowmen” Christmas Special of Dr. Who.

Now, I am going to go into “The Snowmen” Episode itself: into Spoiler Territory.

First off, from the trailers and the title alone, I got a major Attack of the Deranged Mutant Killer Monster Snow Goons vibe: especially from the beginning when a young lonely boy–Walter Simeon–has a snowman of his own creation begin to talk back to him in 1842. I couldn’t help but feel sympathy for Walter because most of us have been there: where we don’t understand children our age–or even relate to them–and would rather have imaginary friends instead. Unfortunately, Walter made a very bad imaginary friend who would continue to be there with him for the next fifty years: essentially becoming a giant steampunk snow globe and, well, mutating with more snow being added onto it.

Also, a word of advice: if someone ever offers to feed you, it would probably be prudent to figure out of there are more words in that sentence: you know the ones after “I will feed you …” as the now-Doctor Simeon’s workers discovered to their chagrin.

Anyway, then we get introduced to Clara. And then we get reintroduced to The Doctor.

Clara goes outside of the bar that she is working at to see a Snowman appear there pretty much out of nowhere. We then see The Doctor walking by in passing and she accuses him of making it. The Doctor looks very different now: as much as the same Regeneration can. He looks … tired, and subdued. Really, he is very sad and he has reason to be when you take into consideration what happened to his last Companions. He wants nothing to do with anything save for the bare minimum of contact with some of his allies.

So after he gives her some advice, he leaves. But even when very depressed and angst-ridden, The Doctor says interesting things or his mere existence is a curiosity in itself. So what does Clara the barmaid–and later as it turns out part-time governess do? Well, it’s quite simple.

She follows him.

So we go from a the beginnings of a weird horror story to what is now a Christmas fairy-tale adventure as Clara continues to stalk The Doctor and discovers more strange and new things about him. The Doctor has a Sontaran friend/servant named Strax that attempts to get a memory-worm The Doctor has to erase Clara’s memories under his order. Strax is hilarious in that he often advocates militaristic force in all situations and speaks something like this, “Impudent human scum. Prepare to be destroyed … I mean, may I have your coat please?” The Doctor also refers to him as a Potato more often than not.

Of course, with such a mentality Strax keeps touching the memory-worm and forgetting where it is: though there is evidence to believe that the former clone soldier isn’t quite as “stupid” as he attempts to act and often does these things to annoy people if it amuses him: especially The Doctor. Also, Clara doesn’t really want her memory erased, but plays along with interacting with The Doctor: which is consciously what he doesn’t want to happen–he doesn’t want to make a new bond–but subconsciously continues to converse anyway.

This won’t be a part-by-part dissection of the entire Episode, just to let you know. The Doctor realizes that robbing Clara of her memory wouldn’t be a good idea because she needs to remember to “not-think” about the Snowmen so they don’t multiply and try to kill her … conveniently enough.

But while The Doctor is trying not to get involved with the world or–really–people, there are two other people trying to figure out what Dr. Simeon is up to. So if you watched the Prequel link above, you’ll know that there is a Silurian woman named Madame Vastra and her human maid-wife Jenny Flint who essentially solve crimes in the Victorian era.

Dr. Who has always, aside from being an epic show of crazy linked ideas has–at least in the twenty-first century–been very open-minded and progressive. I mean, Jack Harkness is an omni-sexual being and there is such a wide array of civilizations and times out there in the Whoverse that something like different kinds of sexuality is just a given really. So a primordial lizard woman and a human woman being a couple–and being married–in Victorian times is not very shocking to me.

In fact, aside from Vastra–and even then people rationalize her existence as having something of a “skin-condition” (I find it hilarious how the people of Earth’s past never react at all to aliens in Dr. Who or even The Doctor when he or his Companions are wearing entirely different styles of clothes from that time-frame: it just goes to show you how most humans are either oblivious, more open-minded, or simply do not give a damn than even we believe)–two women having a relationship and even having an arrangement not unlike marriage in Victorian times is not unheard of at all. It is pretty telling that for the past while and it seems especially now in 2012, same-sex marriage has been gaining a lot of acceptance and support in–or at least is now really challenging–the social consciousness of many places. But really, I just like how these two characters work together and understand one another: actually complementing each other’s strengths and actions.

These two confront Dr. Simeon about his activities and he doesn’t seem bothered by this (in fact he doesn’t seem to have much emotion at all), and he states that it doesn’t matter what they do because, get this:

Winter is coming.

Oh, Steve Moffat. That reference to A Song of Ice and Fire was hilarious. My Mom didn’t know why I was laughing so much.

So Vastra and Jenny eventually find Clara: whereupon they ask her why she is so interested in The Doctor. By this point in the game as it were, Clara has seen the TARDIS after climbing a spiralling ladder like Psyche chasing Cupid, or Jack going up the beanstalk, into a cloud where it is resting and she knows that there is some bad stuff about to happen at the house that she is a governess at: particularly with a pool that is frozen over after a previous governess died in it. One of her wards has been having dreams of this former governess coming back to punish her and her brother. She knows she needs The Doctor.

Vastra and Jenny force Clara to answer the former’s questions with one-word answers. At one point, Vastra flat-out asks Jenny why she thinks The Doctor should help her. Of all the words that she could have chosen, she spoke one word.

Pond.

Yeah. Of all the words. That one.

So this does get The Doctor’s attention. So he starts parodying Sherlock Holmes: figuratively and literally. He beats the giant snow globe with a stick. Then he later he does more sleuthing where, despite himself he goes up to the manor where Clara is staying after exchanging hand gestures at each other. After Clara and her wards are being confronted with a snow-version of the former governess that drowned, The Doctor pulls a Punch and Judy play by having the wee-little puppet man of Mr. Punch use his sonic driver on her.

Because, you know, “That’s the way to do it!”

Doctor PUNCH!

In fact, making another popular cultural reference, this whole episode was–like many of them but particularly this one–a Tragical Comedy, or a Comical Tragedy. Yes, I am a Neil Gaiman fan. It also doesn’t help that Mr. Punch is an enduring English symbol and archetype. Or maybe it does.

It turns out that Dr. Simeon and the Snow Globe want the Ice Governess: to use her as a prototype to make a race of ice people that will supplant humanity. Clara and The Doctor lure the Ice Governess away. This is not before The Doctor tells the children’s father that he is Clara’s “gentleman friend,” though far less eloquently and more abstract-awkwardly as he usually says things and Clara herself decides to take matters into her own hands and kiss him. Because she seems to have a special kind of impulsive streak tempered and complemented by daring and a strange form of intuition. Not deduction like Vastra: Clara is pure intuition with a devil-may-care attitude. Right: that is my last Punch and Judy reference for today.

Finally, in the TARDIS, after Clara surprises The Doctor by not being predictable about her first impressions of said TARDIS, The Doctor finally seems to give into something that he really wants and gives her a key. You know the key: the one to said TARDIS. You also know what that means. This is a big thing for him to do: after everything that has happened. I honestly don’t know how he survives losing everyone he cares for, and I can understand why he has periods where he wants nothing to do with anything.

I also understand how he can’t not stay away when events conspire to bring him and this strange Victorian girl: who speaks Cockney and free in her pub job, and “proper crisp English” with a hint of mischief as a governess for upper middle-class children … and who is also immensely beautiful. Yes. I said it.

Their relationship unfolds fast, but what is Time to a one thousand year old Time Lord and to a human being, who only lives, let’s face it, in a brief moment of said Time? It’s everything.

That is the point where the Ice Governess comes after them and drags Clara and herself to a death by falling off The Doctor’s cloud.

Because the Universe seems to be a bitch to The Doctor like that.

Of course, it’s not so simple as all that: Comical Tragedy or Tragical Comedy as it all may be. The Doctor ends up having his confrontation with Dr. Simeon and his Snow Globe. Dr. Simeon is the proprietor of the Great Intelligence Institute. There was something really ominous about the name “Great Intelligence”: as though it had more significance than being a one-off Dr. Who monster. The Doctor critiques his antagonists as stating that making a world of snow people is “Victorian values” incarnate: at least overt values.

See, that is the thing about Victorian times. There was how you were in public and how you were in private. Some people understood that you could be different in different spheres and there was an implicit understanding that what you did in private was your–and yours–own business. Of course, there is other side of it: in that some people chose–or felt forced–to embody stratified notions of gender and social interaction in all aspects of life.

The father of the two children that Clara cares for does not think it proper to show affection or even take of them himself, for instance. In addition, there were real laws in place that forbid overt or “discovered deviant behaviour”: otherwise known as displaying affection or sexuality in a non-sanctioned manner. Think of Vastra and Jenny’s relationship, or even the fact that Clara did not use her Cockney accent with the children often: to the point where they called it her “other voice” or the other voice of the lower class of Britain perhaps? Perhaps only in a society like this one can an accent be considered another voice.

Now consider that Dr. Walter Simeon grew up in this strange schizophrenic culture. The adults were sad and even considered it unhealthy that he wouldn’t interact with his peers at all. But while Clara flouted and manipulated the rules, and Vastra and Jenny were exceptions and lived as “an open secret”–with a great deal of geniality, politeness, honesty, and a whole lot of “none of your business,” Simeon dealt with it by deciding that human beings were “silly” and that he didn’t need anyone.

The Great Intelligence is a highly psychically-receptive being. It took all of these impulses from Dr. Simeon and anyone around it: shaping itself. Of course, it goes deeper than that. The Doctor talks about how the snow that is the extension of The Great Intelligence only mirrors living beings around it. But there are a lot of mirrors in this entire Episode: especially The Doctor and Dr. Simeon. Both–in a lot of ways–are scared and withdrawn little boys that do not want to interact with the Universe as it is. Dr. Simeon patterns the Great Intelligence with his need for order and an inner emptiness.

It actually reminds me of another mirror that The Doctor’s other mirror possesses:

His new Control Room desktop-theme is much different than the other recent ones. It is apparently reminiscent of the Fourth Doctor’s TARDIS room, but there is something more angular, far sharper in angle and just …. colder about that blue light in there. The inside of his TARDIS represents his past mood and mind after the loss of his Companions. Bear in mind, this is the first time we have seen this desktop of his and it is no coincidence that it looks as cold as the season of 1892. The fact is: Winter came to more than just Great Britain. If things hadn’t been challenged, The Doctor’s life would have been what the Great Intelligence wanted to make the world: a land of “always winter, but never Christmas.”

I also feel I need to make special note here: I do not say that Clara or any of The Doctor’s Companions are mere mirrors of him. Writing about mirrors reminds me of something that Virginia Woolf stated with regards to how women had–and are–perceived only entities in relation to men. This can be applied to Dr. Who and his trend of female Companions. All of them, especially Clara, are entities and fully actualized people in their own right: something that Dr. Who writers Davies and Moffat attempt to express. Whether or not this is successful is something that can be debated at length, but I personally think is something a very fine distinction that needs to be made: that just as The Doctor gives definition to them, they give definition to him as well. As it is, even though The Doctor’s desktop remains as it is so far, The Doctor himself is brought out of that mood by the warmth of another–exemplified by Clara already asking where the kitchen is in his TARDIS–prompting him to express his own and no longer deny what he is feeling.

Then you have Simeon, or the impulses that drive this otherwise emotionless man, that can only seem to function around extensions of himself … or hollow shells. Even the wrathful Ice Governess, the result of his and the Intelligence’s progress is just a mirror–a symbol–for the repressive aspect of the Age of Victoria. But as it turns out, it is Dr. Simeon who becomes the hollow shell when The Doctor’s attempt to destroy Simeon’s memory–as the thing that fuels the Great Intelligence as its mirror–backfires and the Intelligence possesses Simeon. However, as with most of The Doctor’s enemies, it made one miscalculation.

Ignoring the rest of the human emotional spectrum.

Remember Clara? Well, she is dying. And the Intelligence feeds from emotion and memory. So as Clara is dying, everyone in the manor–the children she cared for, their father that cared for her, and the others–grieve and their feelings manifest on the Snowmen and turn into water.

Or, as The Doctor put it, he can no longer stay on his cloud … because it has turned into rain.

So the Great Intelligence seems to dissipate and Clara dies.

Or do they?

In the end, there are some … interesting details about Clara. You know, even without knowing these things before hand, I knew–from her very interaction with The Doctor–that Clara would be special. Each of his Companions is special, but she will be more so.

We have essentially been watching The Doctor grow up from his first incarnation onward. Each Companion has been integral to this. It is strange to watch The Doctor interact with his future wife River Song in temporal-reverse and she will only associate with him so far because she has intimated that he has a long ways to go before he is the man she paradoxically will meet later.

I’m going to intimate some more and possibly be very, very wrong. Now we’ve seen how The Doctor acts with his other female Companions. We know he had a family on Gallifrey ages ago: though they may have all been artificially Loomed. I believe he has been married before and is no stranger to having a romantic relationship. But consider that his whole world was destroyed. He has struggled with survivor’s guilt and has a certain kind of detachment to cope with it. Even when he travels with others it just reinforces that safety protocol of distance.

I will say this now and possibly be wrong, but the only time I had seen him look at someone like he did with Clara was with Rose.

And that says a lot.

Just that one scene where they looked at each other as he gave her that silver key.

All right, I admit it. I am a romantic. But I want to express one main thought: Clara made this entire episode. Period.

So as this look at “The Snowmen” comes to a close, I just want to say a few more things. I looked up The Great Intelligence. It has in fact been in the Whoverse before and … has Lovecraftian origins even. That just makes me smile. And that is it. It is good to see The Doctor up and out again. I look forward to seeing him try to figure out the physical–if not the humanly unique and individual–mystery of Clara Oswin Oswald and where he might have … seen her before…

And where he might see her again.

Tattoos and Swordplay: Or Musings on a Watcher-Immortal War in Highlander the Series

Now for another geek moment and an old television show.

File:Duncan1-1-.jpg

So after my post on Who Watches the Watchers, I was thinking mainly about the Watchers from the series Highlander. If Immortal sword battles and decapitations are The Game, then the Watchers have always been its shadowy audience of spectators. Be warned, I am going to be making a lot of references to this show as this post goes on.

Essentially, the Watchers were a secret society created in about the time of ancient Sumeria to observe Immortals–human beings with eternal lifespans who can only be killed by beheading–and record all knowledge of them. They have a code that forbids them to reveal information about Immortals to the public, and also of their own existence to Immortals. They recruit from a variety of fields and are essentially a glorified and ancient intelligence service of field agents and researchers.

For a spectator-sport of Immortal-watching, this would obviously take a lot of resources to accomplish. Now, here is the thing. In Highlander, the Watchers have three challenges. The first is to make sure they are never, ever discovered by Immortals or the rest of the mortal public. As such, they do not want any of their lore or information falling in hands beyond their own network. The second is to never interfere with Immortal battles or conflicts, but to merely observe them and never get detected. All right, fair enough. Then there is the third task that they have: to make sure that others not only never find out about their group, but also the very Immortals that they are studying.

But how do you explain the bodies?

Yes. There are natural causalities from The Game: mainly the decapitated bodies of the Immortals that lost against their opponents.

So what happens with that?

In ancient times, when wars were fought almost all the time with swords and sharp blades, and when there were much wider and unobserved spaces either no one gave a thought to a beheaded corpse, or there was a more than a likely chance that they would never find it. Also add to the fact that little conventions like democracy didn’t always exist and people would turn blind-eyes to vigilante mobs, and government pogroms and executions alike.

Unfortunately for both Watchers and Immortals, things have changed. The media now exists, forensics has developed to the point of being able to identify tiny fibres of material and DNA, there are much more extensive public records kept and so on. One thing that was always mentioned in Highlander was how the ability of the Watchers’ resources towards secrecy has dwindled down considerably in the last century or so of information technology.

So what about those dead, decapitated bodies? Because nowadays, not only would they be found but there would be investigations. Pretty soon forensics specialists and police, as well as Interpol would find a pattern developing: some kind of ritualistic killing that seems to span across the world. I can also more than imagine that–say the Watchers have agents on the inside of law-enforcement to discourage such investigations–that someone would eventually ask questions.

All they would need is to find someone, or several someones with a purple almost cult-like Watcher’s tattoo on their wrists, order searches onto their properties, analyze their computers, find evidence carefully collected by said Watchers–who not only sat back and did nothing when these killings happened, but actually recorded them for some unknown purpose–and then go into the homes of Immortals–who they would probably think are “champion serial-killers” in a Watcher-sponsored arena of death for entertainment purposes–and start DNA-testing their swords. It would go downhill from there.

So why didn’t this happen at all in the show? Well, I think it’s very simple. You see, I think that not only did the Watcher network have agents in the media, law-enforcement, politics, medicine, education, and business, but I think they were directly involved in disposing of the bodies.

That’s right. The very organization in the show that went on about non-interference in Immortal battles and mere observation most likely were the ones to get rid of the defeated Immortal corpses. That is the only thing that makes sense, because otherwise there would have been a massively historical international hunt going on.

This also means that the Watchers have a lot of power and they aren’t exactly neutral. They would know that if those bodies were discovered, or the documentation on them weren’t doctored in some way, and Quickenings weren’t played down in the media as strange electrical weather disturbances, their Watching days–and their freedom–would be pretty much over.

So really, in a lot of ways the Watchers are pretty complicit with The Game of Immortals and they know that if the Immortals were ever discovered, chances are they would be too. Now, in Highlander itself, there have been occasional times when some Watchers rebelled against their own code and became Hunters: actually killing Immortals themselves. In a lot of ways, if the whole organization became Hunters it’s argued that they would pretty much fuck up all known Immortals everywhere. They know a lot about their pasts, their assumed identities, their properties, what they had to eat for breakfast that morning, their strengths, their weaknesses and all of that. Intelligence-wise, all the Watchers would have to do is put the right information in the right places and arguably let the governments do their work for them.

There would be complications however. For instance, Immortals like Duncan MacLeod and Darius have figured out–on their own–about the existence of the Watchers. It stands to reason that beings that are always being hunted by their own kind for their Quickenings–or essences–or by people in the past that liked to kill “witches and demons,” that they would have developed sixth senses about being followed, or if one of their mortal companions had … other affiliations that might concern them. And these are the nice Immortals.

I’m not even going to go into Immortals–like Kalas who found out on his own that there were Watchers–that wouldn’t hesitate to use torture and murder as their tools to get more information. And a lot of really old Immortals have their own resources and contacts: along with some alliances with each other. In addition to that, not all Immortals are documented or discovered yet. Some are very young and haven’t even died for the first time yet. The Watchers would need a seriously sophisticated network to keep up with that last fact. But there is more: because if a few Immortals could have discovered the Watchers, they might have been pretty circumspect about what they themselves know and deliberately planted false information of their own. Some, like Methos, might have even go as far as to infiltrate their ranks.

At the very least, it’s also been known in the show that some Watchers might have even been approached by the people they were told to observe and they might have their biases. It’s not been unknown for a Watcher to give out classified information to an Immortal that they like: and I am not just talking about Joe Dawson and Duncan MacLeod.

So really, I guess I’m talking less about the nature of the Watchers’ “neutrality,” and more about what would actually happen in a Watcher-Immortal War: an idea I got during one episode of Highlander when Duncan MacLeod was almost seriously facing down that prospect. It didn’t happen, but it easily could have.

Originally, I would have been tempted to say there would be an even split between the two, and for the most part there would be. I also think there would be factions. There would be Watchers that would withdraw from the whole conflict and preserve what they can: mostly dedicated Researchers. There would be Hunters attempting to use their own skills and governmental resources to create pogroms. There would be Immortals using their resources and bounty-hunters to hunt down anyone with a purple Watcher’s tattoo. While one faction wants heads, the other might want severed forearms as proof of jobs well done.

There would also be Watcher and Immortal alliances: some wanting to help an Immortal win The Game for power and glory, and others just trying to help each other survive. The young Immortals would be alternatively tools for various factions, and even their own agencies: seeing as most of them would not be documented during the chaos of such a War and can take advantage of the conflict as well.

It’s also possible that the governments and corporations would turn on both and both secretive kinds of beings–Immortals and Watchers–would be on the run from scientists, overzealous military and paramilitary organizations, terrorists, religious fanatics, and mobs. A shadow war would quickly become an overt and very nasty mass-conflict with the nature of what humanity is itself as the ultimate prize.

But when this is all said and done, I would just like to state that I would definitely have watched a film or a television show based on the concept of a Watcher-Immortal War. In fact, I would even read a book or fanfic based on this idea. Anyway, that is my major and one of my most long-standing geeky thoughts at the moment.

Who Watches the Watchers?

I suppose the title of this post is really rhetorical in that the question already has an answer. We do.

In case you were wondering, this article isn’t about Watchmen. Instead, it’s about Watchers. You can find the idea of them in comics, film, television, and various other media. They are depicted as either very powerful enlightened beings, or hidden organizations with more knowledge than most people. You can find them as a race of cosmic beings with large craniums within Marvel Comics, a secret society of men and women that observe Immortals in the Highlander television series, and even the Ascended in the StarGate series.

Aside from their great power and knowledge, Watchers generally have one more thing in common: they have some sort of code that permits them to observe but rarely–if ever–interfere with the existences of those either “beneath” them, or unaware of certain facts of life. This idea can also be found in Star Trek‘s Prime Directive: where by law the Federation cannot interfere with the development of civilizations that are not as advanced or as cognizant as those of their member worlds.

This means that this agreement of “non-interference” not only prevents these powers from abusing their abilities, but also helping others with them as well. Of course, as I’m sure something like TV Tropes will point out, there is always a conflict of some kind with regards to said beings following these codes and also certain “bending” and “tweaking” of the rules from time to time. Certainly, there have been instances in Star Trek itself where more powerful beings have more than interfered with “lower planes of sentience” … and I’m not just talking about Q either. I mean, you could argue that the Enterprise and the Federation it represents have evolved to the point where certain advanced beings can safely–to some degree–interact with them without causing permanent harm, but there is a really fine line there. It’s also not really what I want to talk about.

No, I think this trope of non-interference has always bothered me on a creative geeky level to some degree and I’m going to try to explain why.

Basically, these advanced beings or secret organizations–who dedicate themselves to observation–do not want to harm anyone intentionally or otherwise, or endanger themselves and existence as they understand it by “interfering.” But my issue is three-fold. First of all, if you follow Einstein’s theory that an observer of an event is also a participant–that an experiment is affected by the mere presence of an observer–then these beings “interfere” all the time simply by existing. If you have a certain amount of power–of any kind–or a presence somewhere it will affect your surroundings. I mean, yes, there is a big difference between sitting and doing nothing, and acting in said space but your mere presence changes things just by you existing.

So perhaps, in these various forms of fiction, said beings are aware of the fact that by existing they do change matters so they try to minimize the effects as much as they consciously can. Maybe some of them make a point of not observing: claiming that the material no longer interests them, or is somehow inferior to them but in reality knowing that the temptation to act would be too great or, again, by simply looking they affect matters. Add telepathy and psycho-kinetic powers along with spatial-temporal manipulation to the mix and you can more or less figure out where it can go from there.

Of course, there is the other side of the weird coin which is that perhaps perception itself by these beings determines the material plane’s very existence or, to quote George Berkeley, “To be is to be perceived.” Imagine if said watchers started perceiving a thing in a different way, or began ignoring it entirely. In essence, they could make something cease to exist by diminishing or denying it. Changing someone’s perceptions or having them ignore a thing can definitely change the world as human beings have proved many times in fiction and in reality.

Essentially, you can also say that by actively not looking or paying attention to the rest of the “normal world,” they also affect reality. In the case of the Highlander Watchers, if they stopped observing and went away, a lot of the historical lore and information on the Immortals that pop up among humanity would be lost. I suppose it could said that this wouldn’t hurt anyone–I mean no one would really ever know what was lost or not–but as these plots unfold it is never really as simple as all that. Imagine, for instance, an evil Immortal is gaining power and you know as a Watcher that if he or she continues at this rate, they will rule the world. You have the knowledge to stop them or at least help someone indirectly in doing so. Of course, the rules exist for a reason and the idea of possibly making things worse or revealing your presence to those who don’t understand you or your work are definitely barriers to overcome right there.

This is not the only series where such a moral conundrum happens. In StarGate, there have been Ascended Ancients and even the character of Daniel Jackson that have realized that if they let events continue unimpeded in the material plane, villains like Anubis or Adria will not only cause damage to that plane but potentially their own as well. Yet the argument is that the code exists for a reason. As a result, they can interfere, but only in small plausible ways in that reality: as though they are playing some sort of game or helping to write a novel where continuity has to be maintained (I really like that word, continuity), but then they aren’t really just watchers anymore are they?

There is also another saying, which only recently I realized was created by the philosopher Edmund Burke, he which he states: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

I know that this is a moral argument and that in the case of actual cosmological beings in fiction, they may have a greater understanding of reality and morality than flesh-based beings do. In fact, we can even go as far as to say they would understand the way of things far more than Einstein ever could. It feels like a cop-out to state, but we are also talking about fiction and imagination.

Yet with our limited understanding of things, you can see why it is very hard for an observer to remain perfectly neutral and not affect the reality around them. These beings and orders are still part of the world and the universe. They may be on a different level, but that doesn’t mean they are removed from everything. In fact, the idea that they have limitations–even and especially self-imposed ones–illustrates that they are not all-knowing, all-powerful, or perfect themselves. Is enlightenment recognizing your own limitations along with those of others and acting, or not acting appropriately?

Is not acting a sign of wisdom or a kind of paralysis: a fear of making things worse than they are when–by not interfering–you could be making a situation dire in any case? Also, if an observer is a part of life, then by not acting are they really living?

How many cultures and civilizations in our world would have reached the places they are at now if they did not bother to even meet each other? I mean, yes, there has been a whole history of colonization and imperialism and destroyed ways of life, but there has also been trade, and innovation, and new knowledge. And what is “higher” or “lesser?” Is it that observers are any better than physical beings, or that they are just different and have different constraints?

I guess, as these things go, this is a whole lot of armchair philosophy, but it is something I’ve been thinking about for a while. So in terms of fiction, who watches the watchers? Well, I will say again that we do.

And it can be very entertaining.

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The Man That Makes Horror into a Science-Fiction of the Ridiculously Sublime

H.P. Lovecraft envisioned a universe where humanity is a small minuscule particle of sanity in a vast morass of evil and madness. In this kind of universe normalcy is an exception and not the commonality: where humanity is either ignored by vast alien intelligences, or horrifically used by malign entities.

Even trying to understand this vastly liquid and alien universe beyond human understanding is dangerous because the person that tries will go utterly insane … or cease to be human entirely. This is a view of the universe created by Lovecraft in his works and you can see how difficult it would be to make a television program out of such a thing or even a movie.

And what’s worse is that Lovecraft was born before the time of Gene Roddenberry: the latter who decreed in his Star Trek science fiction universe that all aliens have to be portrayed as humanoid in order to convey similar human expressions of emotion. Lovecraft’s creatures aren’t even that, and the most polite things you can say about them–when you can envision what they are from how they are described–is that they are the stuff of nightmares. We don’t even have the monster to relate to in this strange place just behind our own existence.

So how can a viewer relate to a universe that is terrifying beyond human comprehension?

I believe that a human answer to a Lovecraftian universe is Doctor Who.

The Doctor is basically Christmas-incarnate with nonsensical wonderfulness, ingenious bluffing skills, and a bad-ass core of fire and ice. And when I say he is Christmas-incarnate, I don’t mean that he’s Christian but that he is just the embodiment of an event that you look forward to at least once a year.

He is a renegade Time Lord on the run that understands time and existence far differently than we do but is light-hearted enough, and wise enough, to appreciate the little things that the grandiose horror of such inhuman non-humanoid horrors like the Daleks miss every time. The Doctor lives in and adapts to an intrinsically frightening, potentially nihilistic universe by being as ridiculous and as tangential as possible: while unifying everything into a haphazard way that–quite miraculously and somehow–works.

It may be that he is insane: and by our human standards he might be. Hell, even by his former fellow Time Lords’ standards, he is probably considered crazy. It doesn’t hurt that he Regenerates into different people each time when he dies, refuses to fight with a gun, and that he travels through time and space, or that he is over eight or nine hundred years old his time. He is the weird. He is the strange. But he is also the laughable: the person the viewer laughs with but also sympathizes with.

The Doctor is the Other with a very humanoid face: but he is still the Other. I appreciate the irony of this statement on at least two levels in that I use the Other as someone who is other than human, and that there is a possible back-story to the Doctor’s character in that he was once an older Time Lord and founder Time Lord society called The Other. But more than that, The Doctor–whose real name we never know and we fear the unknown–is portrayed as the champion of normalcy and sanity against the more destructive and twisted elements of the universe that humanity doesn’t understand.

At the same time though, he challenges normalcy and sanity through his mostly human Companions: changing their lives forever in what they see with him. He shows them that the alien universe, for all it challenges human preconceptions, still has wonders and isn’t always evil. Sometimes, it is quite relatable–the other aliens, worlds, and stars–and although not humanocentric, humanity is definitely a part of the strange and entertaining mosaic.

I’m sure that there have been other articles and essays about The Doctor and the Lovecraftian. Certainly, some older series of books put them both in the same universe: including run ins with the Great Old Ones and so forth. But even if you look at The Doctor’s universe and the villains within as influenced by Lovecraftian literature, I think the thing that really hits home for me–when I look out at how large and terrifying and insensible the world can be–is the image of The Doctor as a hero: armed against all that strangeness and eldritch horror with only his telephone box-fixed TARDIS, his sonic screwdriver, some strange suit, a new face, daring, and a whole lot of curiosity.

And somehow, when I think about it like that, he is one of the few heroes that can make me smile–make me glad to see him–each and every time.

Now, I wonder who or what will be the answer to a Vonnegut universe …