In about an hour...

The Doctor Who Christmas Special starts in about an hour, and I'm still at my aunt's house.  Hopefully, my parents are getting ready to get going.  But I'm a little worried. I'm also super-excited.  For one thing, I can't wait to see more of that Victorian lizard person, she was an awesome character.  And I want to see more of the new companion.  Fingers crossed that we're meeting next season's full-time companion.

Also:  I'd love to be able to go on tumblr again.  Apparently the new episode has already aired in some places, and that means people are referencing it, and not everyone tags diligently.

It's funny how, around some events, the mechanics of society are suspended in the temporary chaos until enough time passes that everything sorts itself out.

Talk to you tomorrow.

Happy Doctor Who Christmas Special Day

So it's Christmas.  Again.  Didn't we just do this last year? Not having a terrible day, but I couldn't sleep last night.  Not that I was excited about Christmas or anything.  (Well, I'm excited about the return of the Doctor.  But that's not till 9pm.)  So when my parents got up at 5am to go to my brother's house so they could be there for their grandkids' Christmas morning, their walking around and stuff made it even more difficult for my partner and me to get to sleep.

So we got up and did Christmas Morning with my parents before they left.  We exchanged gifts (they liked what we got them, and they got us some pretty awesome stuff) and talked for a while, then we went back to bed.

Then, virtually instantly, my parents woke me up six hours later and forced me to get out of bed and go to my aunt's house.

Like I said, it's not a terrible day.  My aunt and uncle have WiFi, don't mind me sitting on the computer, and I like these relatives, and I like my cousins, and they have an adorable new puppy.  (Looks kind of oldish.  I don't think that it's a Christmas-Gift-Puppy, which is good, because those are a terrible idea.)  But I woke up with a splitting headache, made myself nauseous brushing my teeth (nearly choked on my toothbrush) and got carsick on the ride over.  Then I did a bunch of Khan Academy on the couch at my aunt's house, which doesn't exactly put me in a fantastic mood.

And it's getting better.  My headache is fading, I'm not in a car anymore, and I'm done Khan Academy for the day.

(Also:  Tumblr is weird to browse at my aunt's house, because of the number of blogs I follow that occasionally post porn.  Good thing I'm sitting with my back to a wall.)

Old Who

Taking a rather long break from working on one of my midterms earlier, I watched an episode of the old series of Doctor Who.  Or, not an episode.  A storyline, which spanned 3 episodes. The one I watched was The Happiness Patrol, about a dictatorial planet where you can be arrested and executed for being unhappy.  It's one of the very well known episodes which gets referenced a lot, though I couldn't actually determine whether it was the first major media piece to use that premise.  I know I've seen it quite a few times since.

I've been sort of slowly and haphazardly working my way through the old episodes of Doctor Who, less influenced by any sort of order than by curiosity about particular parts.  I watched the first episode, then I watched some Tom Baker stuff, then I watched the episodes with the Valeyard, and now, apparently, I'm curious about Sylvester McCoy.  (I tried to watch the movie, but it was so 90's-style cheesy I had to put it off for another time.)

With relatively little experience in them, I've yet to find an episode of the old Doctor Who that moves me to tears the way a lot of new Who does.  Maybe it's the difference in media quality compared to my expectations, or the difference in time meaning that the episodes speak to different cultural issues.

Still, I love seeing the way the series builds its continuity across the decades it's been running.

I will report more on this topic in the future.

Why I really, really love Doctor Who

It's not the middle of a season.  I haven't even been watching Doctor Who lately.  I'm just listening to a Chameleon Circuit song.  But it suddenly hit me, the way it suddenly hits me every couple months, why I love Doctor Who. And I don't mean why I like it.  This isn't "Oh, it's a great show."  This isn't "I love the community" or "The show makes me cry," even though all those things are true.

But occasionally, even if I'm not watching it, even if I haven't seen an episode in months, I find myself wishing the Doctor would drop into my life, to shake things up, to pick me as a companion, not because I want to see the universe (though I'd love to) or even that I want to meet the Doctor (though I totally do), but because of what he does to people.

The way the Doctor makes people see themselves in the best possible light, makes them believe they can be whatever they want and do whatever they want, makes people believe in themselves, the way guidance counselors always say you should. I want someone to drop into my life and make me believe that I can change the world, that I can really help, that I can make the world a genuinely better place.

And the next thought that generally follows is, damn, the Doctor isn't real, that's never going to happen for me.

Except that just thinking that reminds me that I am capable of feeling that way.  It makes me feel an incredible rush of motivation to make the best of the life I've got.  More than anything else, Doctor Who makes me want to really live my life, to help people and to be there for humanity.

In a way, just watching the show is being a companion, in the way that really matters.  In the sense that it makes you see yourself in that best possible light.

That's what I love about Doctor Who.  There's plenty else I like about it, but what I love about it is that, I truly believe, it makes me a better person in watching it.

Happy Doctor Who Christmas Special Day

In the classic tradition of major religions appropriating the celebration conventions of the dominant religion of their time, Doctor Who has selected December 25th as the date of its annual special episode, when the Doctor returns in the middle of the off-season to remind us all that brighter days, both figuratively and literally, are ahead. In honor of this celebrated day, many businesses and organizations conveniently close down, to ensure that everyone can be at their TV by the time the episode airs.  The United States government even recognizes it as an official government holiday!  (And they say that the US isn't a Whovian nation.  I mean, most of the founding fathers were Whovians.  Probably.)

I think it's important, amid the celebrations, to not forget about the core values of knowledge and science triumphing over superstition, and the fragility of Earth's place in the universe -- and how vitally important it is to protect it.

Merry Christmas Special, everybody.

Some more thoughts on the Doctor Who season 6 finale

I wrote, before, on the season finale of Doctor Who this year, "The Wedding of River Song." Spoilers will be present in this post.

In the post, I expressed a little bit of disappointment.  Not much.  I still loved it.  It was still deeply moving.  But it wasn't quite the earth-shattering brilliance I was expecting.  It leaned a little bit too heavily on loopholes for my taste.

Well, I've watched it several more times since then, and I have to say, I am increasingly impressed.

The ending, I admit, still feels just slightly cheap.  It was more a vehicle to keep the Doctor alive to continue having a show than it was a deeply sensible and brilliant wrap-up.  But this plotline, which his hypothetical death justified, was extraordinary, deeply moving, and as brilliant as I was hoping the actual death would be.

Seasons 5 and 6 progressively deconstructed the idea of the Doctor as a hero.  It showed the risks he poses to the people who travel with him.  It showed the damage he can do, dropping into people's lives and shaking them to the core.  It showed the way the universe might rally against him, the way he makes worlds fear him, the way he might terrorize the universe.

Moffat showed the Doctor losing faith in himself, coming to believe that he should die.

Then, in a life-affirming culmination, at the climax of the last episode of season 6, River Song, the woman who loves the Doctor more than anyone in the universe, shows him a distress signal, begging the universe for help.  To save the Doctor.

And from every corner in the universe, voices cried out.  "Yes, of course.  We'll help."

As River said, "I can't let you die without knowing you are loved.  By so many, and so much.  And by no one more than me."

I know it's just a story.  I know that the way Moffat tells it doesn't prove any deeper truths about the universe.  But what he showed us was a world, a universe, where passion and excitement and optimism and love can genuinely triumph.  He showed us the criticisms to the argument, spread across two series, and he shot them down.

I like to believe that we live in that sort of world.  A world where living life with passion and excitement, and loving and helping and fighting for the people we meet, whenever the opportunity to do so presents itself, and at the same time fighting for ourselves, isn't a path to self-destruction.

Ultimately, no one living can work out the moral calculus to figure out the best possible way to make life beautiful and exciting for as many people as possible.  Until someone works it out, I'm going to take the side of earnest, passionate, and unironic trying.

I'm glad to see that Moffat and the Doctor are on that side, too.

Memory, Ethics and Amy Pond

This is a Doctor Who post.  These are totally my favorite kind of posts, you know.  Also, spoilers. Amy Pond's journeys with the Doctor have been a central part of the narrative of series 5 and 6.  There have been plenty of recurring themes throughout her time with the Doctor, but I've just noticed that one in particular neatly bookends her adventures, and crops up a few other times in between.

Amy and the Doctor pointedly disagree on the ethics surrounding memory, and this disagreement highlights the perspective differences between a deontological and consequential ethical system.

Amy appears to believe that the moral value of an action is contained within the action itself -- for example, she still holds herself accountable for murder (or, at least, for deliberately allowing someone to die) in the alternate universe in the season finale, even though it never happened.  And in the second episode of series 5, she can't imagine how she could be held accountable for her actions in the voting booth, when she tried to persuade the Doctor to leave Starship UK, because her memory was wiped of the event, so she lost the perspective basis on which she judges the value of her actions.

This quality of her perspective also crops up in the Doctor's death scene -- she feels she has to do something about it, because it's not about whether the Doctor should or shouldn't die.  It's about whether she did, or tried to do, something.  In "The Girl Who Waited," she and Rory (more Rory, who was there for the event as it occurred) obviously have a problem with having abandoned older Amy.

The Doctor, on the other hand, is a fairly strict utilitarian -- to his mind, the consequences of an action are the only thing that determines its moral value, and that value is determined by whether it causes suffering to conscious beings.

In "The Beast Below," he doesn't care that Amy doesn't remember choosing to try to get him off Starship UK.  He cares that her decision made it more difficult for him to save the star whale.  And in the case of older Amy, he doesn't feel a wrong was committed because the second Amy will have never existed.  This view has also apparently rubbed off on River Song, who consoles Amy that she didn't commit murder because the timeline in which the murder took place didn't happen.

If you haven't already guessed, I think the Doctor is right -- it matters what happens as a result of what you do less than it matters what you did in the first place.

Talk to you tomorrow.

My personal journey approaching and through the Doctor Who season 6 finale

SPOILERS. At the start of season 6, the Doctor died.  And, at the very end, he --sorry, hang on.

Seriously, SPOILERS.

...

Alright. He survived.  I don't think very many people really believed he wouldn't.  (I know at least one person who did, but it seems unreasonable to think that the BBC would let them end the show.)

I blogged recently about Doctor Who and humanism, and I think it would be fair to say that I had faith in Steven Moffat's ability to pull this plot out.

That is, I was confident the Doctor would be fine until a few weeks before the episode, a couple of days after The God Complex.

If you watch the show, and have an obsessively philosophical bent, you may have noticed that the new series has an underlying theme of the dangers of extremist religion.  Doctor Who has always been themed around opposition to the fears of the British public, hence the Nazi-like Daleks and communistic Cybermen of the old series.

The God Complex was about the dangers of faith -- a Minotaur-like alien that feeds on faith was manipulating captured individuals into re-framing their individual faiths into faith in the Minotaur.

The context of the episode equivocated faith in Islam, conspiracies, oppression,

and the Doctor.

It occurred to me, just in time to start to worry, that Moffat's plan might have really been to kill the Doctor.  To end the series on the lesson that, sometimes, heroes die.  Sometimes, they don't come back.  And that any idol can be dangerous to put your faith in.

In the end, the way the Doctor got out of it -- the endless repetitions of "The Doctor Lies" and "Time can be rewritten" set up his clever manipulation sufficiently to justify his weaseling out of it.  As part of the story of the series, I thought it was pretty good, though it wasn't quite as brilliant as I expected it to be.  It worked, but it was more 'acceptable' than 'genius.'  And the episodes leading up to it did manage to persuade me that it was possible everything could end.  That was impressive.

The Humanism of Doctor Who

Gladstone over at Cracked posted an article today called "How Doctor Who Became My Religion," which, I feel, hit on a lot of very important points.  In my labels box, one of the self-affected titles I've put down is "Whovian." If you're not familiar with the term, it's an arguably-insulting term for fans of Doctor Who.  (Like Trekkie.) For all the weirdly religious vibe of Gladstone's article, he's right.  Doctor Who, as a story, has all the necessary equipment to be the spine of a religious faith.

The religion/fandom comparison is far from a new thing.  CollegeHumor recently did a video on it:

and Greta Christina wrote an article for Alternet about it, a while ago: "What if People Actually Treated Religion as Just a Metaphor (Like Trekkies and Secular Jews)?".

Both the video and the article make the point that there are real differences between religion and fandom -- but they have a hell of a lot in common, too.

[It's important to me to point out, right now, without any ambiguity: I think there are important differences between fandom and religious faith, and I think that fandom, even when it reaches religion-like fervor, is safe, sane and legitimate in ways that religion is not.  Just so we're absolutely, unambiguously clear.]

The thing is, there are a few different kinds of stories.  There are stories like the ones Stephen King writes, or Hemmingway, the sorts of stories that are just about a group of people.  The kinds of stories that don't really spark much fanfic.  Then, there are myths.  These kinds of stories -- Harry Potter, Doctor Who, Firefly, Twilight, the Bible, have a sort of universal quality.  The characters are just slightly so distant from real humanity that they become symbols.  There's something aspirational about them. I don't think the true-to-life, Stephen King/Hemmingway style stories  are inherently less valid than the fanfic-inspiring types.  It think they're both valuable artforms.

Bringing it back to Doctor Who, though, there are good reasons for the Whovian fandom to be as religiously devoted as they are.  And, as a sort of religion, I think there's a lot to be said for Doctor Who.  Because the Doctor is one of the very few heroic, even deific, figures in fiction who champion humanism.

If you find yourself thinking "What would the Doctor do?" when faced with a moral difficulty, you're the sort of person I want in my life.  Because if you're being honest, you know that what the Doctor would do is work as hard as he possibly can, at the cost of his own safety and wellbeing, to find a solution that makes as many people happy as possible.  You know that the Doctor will abandon blame as soon as he sees an opportunity to get everyone somewhere peaceful and safe.  You know the Doctor would only ever harm another living being if there's no choice between that and saving innocents.  You know that the Doctor would say the two most beautiful words in any language are "Everybody lives."

Add to that a love of adventure, a healthy disrespect for authority, and a sincere and passionate dedication to living this life like it's the only one you're going to get, and it amounts to a pretty good life compass.  It doesn't hurt, either, that they're up-front about it not being true, in the strictest sense.  Gotta respect the absence of unjustified metaphysical claims in any quasireligion.

And, yeah, Doctor Who usually makes me cry, too.

Just wait until I start writing about existentialism and Firefly.