I had to watch this video a few times before I really got it.
It’s a short film, created The Climate Coaltion, a UK organization that fights climate change, that features Charles Dance, Miranda Richardson, Jason Isaacs, and David Gyasi dramatically reciting a poem by Anthony Anaxagorou about the wonders of nature and the threat posed, not just to people but to the world itself, by a changing climate and a civilization that grows too fast and moves too far for nature to cope.
I was alerted to the film’s existence by an email from Elbow, as beneath the poem and the imagery is an underscore derived from the band’s new song, “Magnificent (She Says).” (I wrote about the song here.)
I had to tune out the imagery — and, to some extent, the music — and focus on the words. And I could see, especially once I’d read the poem itself, I could see what it was trying to say and how it was saying it.
Each voice is a different mood. Charles Dance, with a voice whose timber sounds doom, speaks to what has been lost to climate change — habitats destroyed, species barely holding on or past the edge of extinction. Miranda Richardson voices what will be if we continue on our current path, the wonders of the world that will be lost. Jason Isaacs is the voice of hope; our path isn’t fixed, and we still have a chance to change our course. And finally, David Gyasi is the voice of wonder — there is still magic and beauty in the world when we stop to recognize it, and we must save it so our children and grandchildren can share in it.
But there’s still time to rescue the tranquility the fragile space between parks, pitches and sea — the cosmos in all its wonderment and us, a blink in its starry eye.
Once I put it all together, I found the film quite moving.
I was going to find it moving anyway — “Magnificent (She Says)” hits my emotional buttons, and the images of nature in all its wonder were quite beautiful — yet it’s better knowing what it all means.
This is the only world we have. We owe it to ourselves and the future to leave it better than we found it.
I didn’t go to the protest at BWI yesterday. If I’d found out about it two hours earlier, I might have; I didn’t have anything else happening yesterday.
In the last twenty-four hours I’ve seen several writers note that the protests against Trump’s travel ban from seven Muslim countries are a feature, not a bug, of Trump’s governance. That it’s what Steve Bannon, the anarcho-nihilist behind Trump’s upholstered Oval Office chair, wants and desires. That Trump and Bannon have found an wedge issue that will open up not just space between left and right but a chasm. And Trump can use this wedge to secure his presidency, not just for four years but for a full eight.
Here’s the way New York Magazine‘s Ed Kilgore puts it: “Trump and his closest associates do not fear blue-state protests of the sort that swept the nation this weekend. More likely than not, they exult in them, and have planned all along to exploit them to show Trump loyalists they are fighting disorderly and essentially unpatriotic people who value civil liberties more than national security, diversity more than national identity, and America’s enemies more than America.” In other words, Trump loves America. Trump’s opponents love the terrorists. And Trump can tap into that fear and ride out any controversy because his supporters will love him for the villification he’s taking from the left.
Kevin Drum makes the same point in Mother Jones. The travel ban wasn’t an unforced error. It was a deliberate provocation from Bannon, one that liberals have taken in their defense of American values. “Bannon wanted turmoil and condemnation. He wanted this executive order to get as much publicity as possible. He wanted the ACLU involved. He thinks this will be a PR win. Liberals think the same thing. All the protests, the court judgments, the press coverage: this is something that will make middle America understand just what Trump is really all about. And once they figure it out, they’ll turn on him. In other words, both sides think that maximum exposure is good for them. Liberals think middle America will be appalled at Trump’s callousness. Bannon thinks middle America will be appalled that lefties and the elite media are taking the side of terrorists. After a week of skirmishes, this is finally a hill that both sides are willing to die for. Who’s going to win?”
That’s a good question, Kevin. A very good question, indeed.
Friday morning, my driver’s side headlight bulb blew on the way to work. I noticed, stopped on Shawan Road at the stoplight there that I didn’t have two headlight reflections in the bumper of the car in front of me. Just one. On the passenger side.
Hum, I thought. Hum. At the office parking lot, I investigated. Yes, indeed. The low-beam light was out.
I have the tools! I thought. I bought the special nut driver I need when the passenger side light blew! so, to AutoZone up the street I went on my lunchbreak and, twenty-ish dollars later, I had a Sylvania H7 bulb in hand.
I thought about changing the bulb yesterday. But it never got above thirty-five, and I thought today would be warmer. I should have gone with my original plan. It’s really no warmer today than it was yesterday, and at least yesterday was sunny. Today, however, is overcast. I’m not always the swiftest tool in the shed.
I knew the driver’s side was going to be tricky. I didn’t realize how tricky.
The problem is the battery. It’s right there, in the way, between me and the headlight assembly.
First, I had to find the locking nut.
I removed the battery cover for a little more working room. Unfortunately, while I could see the pictogram instructions for the locking nut (a lock in both locked and unlocked positions, with arrows pointing which way to turn), I could not see the nut itself. That was under a hose! I couldn’t reach the hose to push it out of the way, and with the battery in the way I needed something of length to push it.
Why I decided on a wooden spatula I have no idea. But when I went in the kitchen and rummaged through a drawer, it seemed like the best possible tool. It was long, it was wooden (so it was unlikely to cause any electrical shorts), and it was a very narrow handle. It turned out to be ideal. I was able to use the spatula handle to nudge the hose out of the way, and with the nut exposed I then attempted to get my nut driver on the nut.
It took a few attempts, as I essentially had to do it blind; the only angle I could really see the nut from was precisely the angle I had to get the nut driver on the nut. Once I did, there was no doubt. Not only was it secure, but it was wedged in such an angle that the handle itself was held in placed by the battery case and the frame. I turned the nut, and the headlamp assembly was unlocked.
Next, I had to find the release latch.
The idea is, hold the release latch and slide the assembly out. On the passenger side, this is possible as you can see it and reach it. On the driver side… well, on the driver side, the battery is genuinely in the way. The latch is under the battery. However! If you can slide something between the battery and the air conditioning vent right behind it — we’re talking a gap of about half an inch — you can hit the very end of the latch. And as soon as you release the latch, the latch will spring back up and the assembly will be held in place.
So I turned to my wooden spatula.
What followed was an absurd comedy of errors that lasted close to ten minutes. I got the headlamp assembly loose rather quickly. It was getting the whole thing out that took time. The spatula had no force of its own, so I had to attempt to hold it in place while also attempting to pop out the assembly.
I also managed, at this point, to tear back every single one of my fingernails from the attempt.
Once the headlight assembly was out, it was time to put the new bulb in. I thought about doing it right there, but my fingertips were numb — remember, it was only thirty-seven degrees — so I went at did it at my dining room table.
The bulb replacement was the quickest part. Pop off the leads, unhook the spring that holds the bulb in place, pop out the bulb, pop the new one in, hook it into place, pop on the leads.
Putting the assembly back did not take anywhere near as long. It was not, however, easy. I had it misaligned, and then I thought I had it in place so I locked the nut and removed the driver, only to discover that it wasn’t in place at all and it didn’t work at all.
So I had to repeat all the steps — use the spatula to move the hose, try to get the nut driver in place without being able to see what I was doing, use the spatula to try to push the release lever…
To my surprise, repeating the steps was infinitely easier than discovering the steps. I had the assembly out and back in within about two minutes. This time, I could tell it was in place — the rubber seals around the headlight assembly were tight against the body. And when I started up the Beetle and tested the lights, everything worked.
All told, it took about twenty-five minutes to replace the headlight bulb. I sort of expect that I’ll have to replace the high beam bulbs within the next few months; they’re working fine, but bulbs don’t last forever.
In the mid-90s I bought an audiobook read by John Hurt.
The book was Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I found the cassette one day at Big Lots, along with some others (Ian Fleming’s “The Living Daylights,” read by Anthony Valentine; Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Three Students,” reader unremembered), for about two dollars apiece.
The audiobook was abridged, naturally, as it ran all of about forty minutes. I would listen to it sometimes in the car while driving, captivated as much by Stevenson’s story of a man and his inner monster as I was by the sound of Hurt’s voice. Sometimes, on long trips by myself, such as on 29 between Lynchburg and Charlottesville, I would recite the story along with Hurt, imitating his voice as closely as possible — the accent, the timbre, the weight, the presence. Hurt’s voice had presence. I loved the way he enunciated his words, the way his voice could be all at once rough yet gentle, ancient yet innocent, stern yet mischievous. In short order, I developed a decent, if unremarkable, Hurt vocal impression. Of all the skills one can develop in life, a John Hurt impression shouldn’t rank high at all.
John Hurt — Sir John Hurt, now — died this week at the age of 77, following a two year battle with pancreatic cancer. A friend alerted me on Twitter yesterday evening; I was playing a game of Age of Empires II, and the news came as an unwelcome and unwanted blow.
I was gutted — am gutted — at Hurt’s passing. The way some of my friends were devastated last year by the deaths of David Bowie and Prince, that’s very much how I feel now about Hurt’s death. Even imitating Hurt’s voice-over from Merlin‘s opening sequence — “In a land of myth and a time of magic…” — makes my eyes fill with tears and my throat constrict.
I don’t even know when I became aware of Hurt. I have vague memories from childhood of seeing commercials on television for The Elephant Man, but I didn’t see that until I was in college. I saw Disney’s The Black Cauldron when it came out, but I have no lasting impression of it. My dad rented Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings, Part 1 from Acme Video when I was about ten, but I wasn’t aware that Hurt voiced Aragorn until much more recently. I think it was Spaceballs where I first saw Hurt, and the joke of his cameo in the film went over my head. (Surprisingly, I didn’t see Ridley Scott’s Alien until the Alien Quadrilogy DVD set came out.)
Where I really noticed Hurt was in Jim Henson’s The Storyteller. It aired, going from memory here, on NBC on Sunday nights. Hurt, in heavy make-up, told stories — specifically, European folk tales — to a talking Muppet dog, and those tales were dramatized with more Muppet wizardry. I was in high school when it aired, and I watched the show with my family. When the series was released on DVD, circa 2003-ish, I bought it immediately from the Wal-Mart near my house on Glenwood Avenue in Raleigh. The DVD transfer was terrible — all nine, hour-long episodes were compressed onto a single DVD — but I didn’t care. I had The Storyteller.
I enjoyed seeing Hurt in things — the billionaire H.R. Hadden in Contact, Professor Bruttenholm in Hellboy, Indy’s old friend Ox in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I loved him as the voice of the Great Dragon in Merlin. He did radio drama, too; BBC Radio 4’s adaptation of War and Peace may have been a bit ponderous, but his portrayal of the irascible Prince Bolkonsky was a delight.
And, of course, John Hurt was the Doctor.
There came a point when I said to myself, “John Hurt should have been the Doctor. But it’s too late now. It’s a young man’s role, and he’s not a young man anymore.” But then he was, cast as the forgotten (or ignored) incarnation of the Doctor, the one who fought the Time War, for Doctor Who‘s fiftieth anniversary special. I imagined, as a lark, what John Hurt’s era might have been like. Though I thought “The Day of the Doctor,” the anniversary special, was flawed and Hurt’s role underwritten, I couldn’t deny that he had done a marvelous job elevating the material, as if he had always been the Doctor, as though he were born for the role. When you ask me who my Doctor is, I used to say I didn’t have a favorite. Now, I say John Hurt is my Doctor.
There was some ineffable quality in Hurt that made him compelling, no matter his role. Maybe it was his fearlessness; he took roles, like Quintin Crisp in The Naked Civil Servant, that some said would destroy his career. In one of his greatest roles, John Merrick in The Elephant Man, he was buried so far beneath the make-up and the prosthetics, that you have to know it’s him. He could play villainous and depraved, he could play compassionate and sympathetic, and he could quite easily straddle the two, making his villains human and lending an hint of darkness or menace to his more heroic roles. You couldn’t miss him — the craggy, angular features of his face, the presence of a voice that could only be his — yet he made each role different and disappeared within it. He was always a fascinating actor to watch.
My favorite John Hurt story has nothing to do with acting, though.
Eric Clapton fell in love with George Harrison’s first wife, Pattie Boyd. Harrison’s marriage was shaky, Clapton penned the song “Layla” as an expression of his passion for Boyd, and somehow it was decided that the two men would have a guitar duel to determine which of them would “get” Boyd. (By “guitar duel,” I mean that they were going to settle the issue musically, with each man using their guitar and their music to make their case for he deserved Boyd’s love.) Hurt, who had been a friend of Harrison’s going back into the mid-1960s (they used to do various drugs, like acid, together, and Harrison produced one of Hurt’s early films, Little Malcolm), happened to be staying at Harrison’s mansion, and he was one of the judges for the guitar duel.
Hurt also appeared in the video for Paul McCartney’s song “Take It Away,” playing a Brian Epstein-esque band manager.
Hurt had good innings. He had a rich, full life and a career as varied as any creator could wish for. Our lives on Earth are short, and much of what we do will be forgotten, but John Hurt left behind a body of work that will be remembered and endure.
We should all be so lucky.
As for that cassette tape of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, it was lost long ago. I have thought at times of trying to find one, but I fear it won’t be as wonderful as I remember it.
Second star on the right, sir, and straight on til morning.
Some of these Twitter accounts could be genuine. It’s unlikely that all of them are. The anonymity of Twitter is to the benefit of these accounts. There doesn’t have to have government employees behind them. They don’t have to be an outlet from anonymous sources. They could simply be run by enthusiastic fans of the agencies or Trump critics who are creating an anonymous account and amassing millions of followers by catching the zeitgeist of the moment.
Take some of the West Wing accounts. Yes, the Trump White House is leaking like a bucket with a hole in the bottom, as articles in the New York Times and the Washington Post have made clear; the “papers of record” wouldn’t have run their stories about White House infighting and Trump’s mercurial moods without solid, if anonymous, sourcing. But I haven’t seen anything out of the White House insider accounts that couldn’t have been gleaned from paying careful attention to the news over the past few months and making reasonable extrapolations based on the personalities involved. Hell, if I had the time and the wherewithal, which I don’t, I could fake up a “White House Insider” Twitter account quite easily and quite convincingly. Frankly, so could most of you reading this.
A healthy skepticism, in my view, is warranted, and this article from New York Magazine makes that point I’ve been feeling: “less attention has been paid to the sharing dynamic that has helped these accounts blow up in the first place. People who share these accounts and their tweets desperately want it to be the case that some brave government staffers are tweeting their resistance to the Trump agenda. Because they want it to be true, they don’t bother to ask the questions they would ask if the information didn’t confirm their political biases — they retweet and like and share in a way they simply wouldn’t in other cases.”
In short, the popularity of these accounts in Twitter’s political ecosystem is a function of a confirmation bias. As I said, some percentage of them may be genuine. Heck, even the White House insider accounts could be genuine. But it’s also impossible to know, and that’s important to keep in mind. What seems like it’s real and supports your ideas may, in fact, be nothing of the sort.
I mentioned in yesterday’s post about the Women’s March in Baltimore that I stopped along the way and took pictures of churches. It’s something of a hobby of mine. Sacred architecture speaks to the better angels of our nature, a monument to the human need for community that spans decades and centuries.
As I walked up Charles Street toward Hopkins, this massive spire rose out of the foggy mists. It was a striking spire — solid, a few windows, almost formless.
Naturally, I had to investigate.
What I found was something that looked ancient, like something from the late Roman Empire. A basilica, not quite Byzantine, with arches and patios and porticos. Wikipedia tells me that was the intention; when Lovely Lane was built in the late 19th-century, it was designed “in the Romanesque Revival style,” “patterned after the early churches and basilicas in Ravenna, Italy.”
The tower, which is what caught my eye, actually seemed wrong to me when I viewed the church in toto from across the street.
That’s because, going back to Wikipedia, the tower was “patterned after the campanile of the 12th century church of Santa Maria, Abbey of Pomposa, near Ravenna.” Lovely Lane, then, combines two architectural styles — a fourth-century basilica with a 12th-century tower. Of course the tower looked wrong. It was supposed to.
The sign out front says they give tours. I may have to visit sometime and take the tour.
Satisfied, I resumed my walk toward Hopkins for the Women’s March in Baltimore. A few block away I turned and took another shot of the church’s formless tower, disappearing into the mists of a foggy January day.
Today I attended the Women’s March sister march in Baltimore.
There isn’t much of a narrative here, and I’d struggle to stitch one together. I’ll give some brief background, an account of what I did and witnessed, pictures of what I saw, and some final remarks. This is going behind a link, as there are a lot of photos embedded. I took over 150, and I’ve pared them down to 28. That took a while to do.
What follows is a rambling post about “The Final Problem” and Sherlock overall that I made on Facebook. I don’t guarantee that it will make any sense. It’s a bit random.
A coworker said to me this morning, “You either loved it or you hated it.” I didn’t hate it, but I’m not a fan of psychological horror, so I couldn’t really love it. I got what (I think) it was going for last night, but it wasn’t a journey I really wanted to go on.
The interview with Mark Gatiss in Radio Times was instructive, and it really confirmed the feeling I had coming out of “The Final Problem” — emotionally it felt like the ending of Batman Begins, and Sherlock is now out of his “Sherlock Holmes Begins” phase. I mentioned this feeling to my coworker, to which he replied: “‘He’s not the Sherlock Holmes we want, but he’s the Sherlock Holmes we need,'” which rewrites the line from the next Batman film, but it applied here. But it also feels like a giant retcon of the four seasons of Sherlock to suggest that he hasn’t been “himself” for six years and hundreds of cases (a few recorded, most not) and only now he’s the Sherlock Holmes he was always meant to be.
The fourth series, at least to me, seemed like Moffat and Gatiss said, “Anything you can do Elementary, we can do better.” Elementary has a Sherlock post-rehab, and when he chased the dragon at the end of season three, we didn’t see him high, only the aftermath. The fourth series of Sherlock has practically reveled in a Sherlock off his face, by contrast. Elementary had Sherlock’s greatest nemesis — a woman! — defeated by love and imprisoned in an impregnable fortress, and when she escapes she’s again defeated by love. Sherlock has Sherlock’s greatest nemesis — a woman! — imprisoned in an impregnable fortress and defeated by love. I enjoy Elementary, and those two things — a female arch-nemesis for Sherlock and a foregrounded drug addiction — are things that I associate with Elementary, so seeing them so prominently in Sherlock these last three episodes felt a bit odd. (The only thing that would have made them odder would have been if Eurus occupied her time in Sherrinford by painting.) I’m not sure Sherlock used these elements better than Elementary, just differently.
As absurd as Eurus’ years-in-the-making plan was, “The Lying Detective” laid the groundwork for it. Eurus was able to predict what Sherlock and John and even Moriarty would do years in the future with absolute accuracy so it would all come to a head now, as absolutely insane as that is. But Sherlock did the same thing with John in “The Lying Detective,” setting up a situation in which John would have to rescue him a month in the future under very exact circumstances. The Holmes siblings clearly would put the Second Foundation to shame to be that accurate. But their powers of observation and deduction also come across as outright omniscience — Super Saiyan God Mode Sherlock or what have you.
Speaking of the Holmes siblings, I was struck by how well they map to the Wiggins siblings from Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game series — Mycroft/Peter, Eurus/Valentine, Sherlock/Ender. Two families, each of three siblings, each of them super-geniuses, each of them (in descending age) boy-girl-boy. The oldest one is a master manipulator who goes into government, the middle one has a bond with her younger brother despite being separated by years and unable to communicate, the youngest one is gaslighted by those around him into not fully understanding the circumstances of the existence that molds him into being a driven individual with strong ethical imperatives. “Wait,” you say, “Mycroft isn’t a sadist like Peter, and Eurus lacks the empathy that Valentine has.” First, we don’t know that Mycroft isn’t a sadist (or wasn’t in his past), and Gatiss’ Mycroft has always struck me as something of an unpleasant, monstrous figure. And second, Valentine was as just interested in power as Peter (she was his partner in the Demosthenes project) and her empathy was directed at her younger brother, just as Eurus’ emotional energy, stunted though it was, was directed entirely at her younger brother, Sherlock. I freely admit I’m cherry-picking details from the Ender books and Sherlock (both in general and “The Final Problem” specifically), but the more I think about it the more I wonder if Moffat and Gatiss were influenced at all by Card’s work. Intuitively, this all feels right to me.
I assume “The Final Problem” was the overall series finale. If we don’t see this version of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson for five years, ten years, or even ever again, I’m fine with that. I loved the idea of Sherlock, sometimes I even loved the execution (particularly in series 1 and 2), but it wasn’t quite the series I thought it could have been. In some ways, I blame the format; three 90-minute episodes per series forced some creative choices that were to Sherlock‘s detriment by making every episode a movie-scale epic that served a larger metaplot. In other ways, especially series 3, Sherlock‘s storytelling felt like it was geared toward fan service moments in search of a coherent narrative; the attitude of Moffat and Gatiss toward cliffhangers, or even following up on the implications and repercussions of events in their stories, I found frustrating and tiresome. In short, it could have been a more focused and disciplined program.
Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor Year Two #11-13
Written by Robbie Morrison
Art by Mariano Laclaustra with Fer Centurion and Agus Calcagno
This week, Titan Comics wrapped up a storyline in the twelfth Doctor comics, “Terror of the Cabinet Noir.”
Paris, 1695. Cardinal Richelieu seems to be immortal, and there’s a darkness permeating French society. While the public awaits a celebration of the Sun King, the upper classes are taken by an enchanting twenty-two-year-old opera soprano, one who is as quick with the sword and an insult as she is with a song. Her name is Julie d’Aubigny, and when she crosses swords with the Doctor in the streets of Paris she embarks on a wild adventure that involves Dark Matter invading our world and possessing Richelieu, making him both near-immortal and near-omnipotent.
Julie d’Aubigny is one of history’s notorious badasses, a bisexual opera singer and swordswoman who lived fast, fought hard, and died young. Robbie Morrison’s script for “Terror of the Cabinet Noir” doesn’t shy away from her unsavory history; issue #11 features a four-page flashback to Julie’s childhood, her arranged marriage, her love for another woman that led her to join a convent just so she could kidnap her paramour and run off with her, and her skill with the sword. She’s an incredibly headstrong and self-confident woman, the smartest person in the room and one who doesn’t suffer fools at all, quite capable of defending herself with her snark and her sword, and when she steps in the TARDIS at the end of issue #11 she doesn’t have time for the usual “It’s bigger on the inside” nonsense.
Despite a rushed ending in issue #13 (I felt that it was missing a page or two as the plot skipped ahead of itself), “Terror of the Cabinet Noir” is an immensely fun story thanks to a captivating characterization of Julie as a bright and quick-witted person who doesn’t have the time for anyone’s bullshit (including the Doctor), and the artwork by Mariano Laclaustra, as colored by Carlos Cabrera, has an almost painted quality to it. This feels very much like a “companion introduction” story; besides the villain referring to Julie as the Doctor’s “companion,” there’s a nice rapport between the Doctor and Julie, we “see” much of the story through Julie’s POV and the narrative weight rests on her, and at the end of the story she says outright that she’s looking forward to more adventures in time and space (to which the Doctor notably does not say no).
Personally, I hope Julie sticks around until Titan introduces Bill in the summer. Titan has done well introducing original companions (the tenth and eleventh Doctors have traveled exclusively with comics-original companions in Titan’s comics, and they’ve just introduced a comics-original companion for the Nine/Rose/Jack team), and bringing an historical personage into the TARDIS would, I think, be quite fun. (As an aside, when I watched The Tudors years ago, I dreamed of a Doctor Who series with Sarah Bolger’s Princess Mary as the tenth Doctor’s companion.) Julie d’Aubigny would have to leave eventually — the BBC would prefer Bill (and Nardole, I’d assume) in the TARDIS as soon as possible, and Titan is already promoting the Free Comic Book Day special in May as Bill’s comics debut — but until then, she could have a nice ten-issue run (from her debut in Year Two #11 to, presumably, Year Three #5). Some television companions don’t even last that long.
If, like me, you want a nice Doctor Who pseudohistorical, “Terror of the Cabinet Noir” in Titan Comics’ Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor Year Two #11-13 is a welcome choice with its fun characters and great artwork. Plus, it’s a great jumping-on point for Doctor Who fans.
Just ignore the Cybermen on the cover to issue #11. There are no Cybermen here. Titan’s Doctor Who covers, especially when you get into the variants, don’t typically reflect the contents.
I have easily a hundred ebooks on my Kindle that I’ve never read. Either they were freebies, or I made them from files off Project Gutenberg, or I got them as part of a bundle where I was interesting in only two or three specific titles, or I bought them cheaply from one of the various ebook alert newsletters I subscribe to. My Kindle isn’t my preferred way of reading — I still enjoy the tactile pleasures of the printed page — but it serves a function, even if that sometimes seems like a virtual “to-be-read pile” of forgotten files.
Last weekend I went through my Kindle and I found that, sometime in the past, I’d downloaded Aboud Dandachi‘s The Doctor, the Eye Doctor, and Me. Dandachi’s book, a look at Doctor Who through the prism of the Syrian civil war offered for free on the Kindle, interested me conceptually, but I never got around to reading it. In light of the fall of Aleppo to Bashar al-Assad’s government forces, I decided it was time to visit the book.
A refugee from Syria’s civil war and holed up in a hotel in a seaside city, Dandachi discovered Doctor Who as a way to pass the time while the war went on around him. A short book of maybe 25,000 words, The Doctor, the Eye Doctor, and Me looks at Matt Smith’s era as the eleventh Doctor, which corresponds to the first three years of the Syrian civil war, and relates the storytelling to his experience and the war itself.
Dandachi examines several episodes of Smith’s era — in order, “The Impossible Astronaut”/”Day of the Moon,” “The Doctor’s Wife,” “A Good Man Goes to War,” “The Girl Who Waited,” “The Wedding of River Song,” “The Eleventh Hour,” “Asylum of the Daleks,” “Journey to the Center of the TARDIS,” “The Night of the Doctor,” “The Day of the Doctor,” and “The Time of the Doctor” — and explores the ideas in the episode, the character of the Doctor, and how the episode illuminates aspects of Syria’s civil war. Initially predisposed against the Doctor due to his name — in Syria, Bashar Assad is known as “the Doctor” — Dandachi finds something compelling in the Doctor, a man whose first choice is never violence but, when forced to fight, picks his fights and plans his moves. He contrasts the Doctor with the “Eye Doctor,” Assad himself (a trained eye doctor), and finds Assad wanting. Delving into the episodes, he examines how conflict hardens and scars people (“The Girl Who Waited”), how people lie to themselves to cope with horrible circumstances (“Asylum of the Daleks”), how nature abhors a vacuum and what fills it may be as bad or worse than was had been there (“The Time of the Doctor”), even how Matt Smith’s departure and the revelation of Peter Capaldi as the twelfth Doctor represented a turning point in his life. Dandachi presents a thoughtful and unexpected take on Doctor Who here, showing how the series cuts across cultures and offers universal lessons.
In the course of his exmaination of the series, Dandachi delves into the history of Syria, how Assad came to power, how the civil war unfolded, and how Syria’s population suffered from Assad’s incompetence. (Violence, as Isaac Asimov wrote in Foundation, is the last refuge of the incompetent.) He also has harsh words for the “Friends of Syria,” countries who condemned rhetorically Assad’s brutal suppression of his people but stood by and did nothing as he unleashed chemical weapons attacks on the rebels and destroyed cities like Homs and Aleppo. He writes about what it’s like to be in a city block that’s being shelled by the Syrian military and notes how unrealistic it was for the Gallifreyans of Arcadia to run out into the streets as the Daleks move in to exterminate.
An intensely political book, this book is a compelling account of what remains, even with the fall of Aleppo and a tenuous truce, an ongoing humanitarian tragedy in Syria, one man’s discovery of Doctor Who, and the lessons in life and politics he drew from the series. Occasionally repetitive, sometimes in need of a good copy-edit, The Doctor, the Eye Doctor, and Me is literate, thoughtful, and worth the time for any Doctor Who fan with an interest in geopolitics and the plight of Syria’s population.