Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Little known facts (/theories) about the Doctor

As many of my close friends know, I'm a huge Doctor Who nerd. Not in any obnoxious fanboyish way, but I certainly don't take the show lightly either. Put it this way if you understand references like "reverse the polarity" and "70's or 80's?" then we're about on the same page. Unlike many other serious fans I try not to get too caught up on the minutia and technicalities, or how accurate the science may be. Don't get me wrong, the science can be VERY questionable and as someone who is passionate about science it definitely bugs me when that happens, I'm just not prone to ranting about it. I'm more fascinated by the general themes of the show and the way it conveys its stories.

Despite my fandom, I stopped following any news pertaining to Doctor Who at the start of this year because I didn't want to find out who the next actor would be well in advance (which wasn't easy). I felt like I over-analysed Matt Smith before he picked up the role and that negatively effected my reception of his performance. I wanted to see how much of that effect is inspired by first-impression and how much is my own bias tainting the experience. It was a challenge forcing myself never to read Youtube comments or look for updates on the upcoming specials, but I nearly made it all the way.

Obviously, my efforts to remain ignorant about the next Doctor Who actor were sharply curtailed by his tiny appearance in the 50'th special. (Which was outstanding, by the way). Though I confess I may have caught a fleeting glimpse of him splashed over suggested videos on Youtube and the BBC website when checking for the broadcast time of the recent episode (I tried not to look so I didn't make out much detail, but still mostly figured out who he is). At least they weren't too far in advance of his actual cameo, so I don't feel very cheated.

Now the cat's out of the bag, however, and we've had a few more seconds to digest his particular take on the Doctor, I'm free to discuss my thoughts on him, so that's something. First, though, I thought I would do something to honour this change of Doctor Who era.
To that end, I've collected several observations over the course of enjoying the show that not everyone acknowledges or knows about, and in light of Matt Smith's departure, I thought now would be a good time to offer some of those details to the curious or nerdy.

So without further ado (what does that even mean, have I been "adoing" all this time? I'm so sorry!), here are some rarely known facts about the Doctor. Afterwards I will briefly address my own feelings on the latest regeneration and where the show may be going from here.

1. The Doctor, and perhaps Timelords in general, possess near super-human strength.

Confused by this? It doesn't seem very implied, does it? But there are several things to bear in mind. Firstly, the Doctor has been through some serious trauma and displayed incredible resilience to it. Everything from being bled almost to complete exsanguination and still having the strength to carry his companion around (for seemingly no reason) to falling out of an aircraft and crashing through a glass roof to land face-first on the floor, and he always picked himself back up. We've seen the doctor get beaten, tortured, knocked out, poisoned and various other injuries and every time he still struggled back to his feet and persisted.

Superhuman strength might be a general Timelord trait. In "The Impossible Astronaut" River Song remarks that the child who had been inside the astronaut suit (spoiler, it was actually her) must have been "incredibly strong" to force her way out of it, and as she's saying this the camera pans to the peeled metal and destroyed restraint mechanisms. We learn that River was engineered to be the perfect enemy of the Doctor, but we never hear anyone explicitly say that she was made to be stronger than a Timelord. Now, maybe she is, but all we know for certain is that they were trying to make an ACTUAL Timelord and River was as close as they could get. Part of that process, apparently, involved giving her remarkable physical strength.

In the Rings of Akhaten we see him holding up what seems to be an incredibly heavy stone door. Now granted he is (somehow) using his sonic screwdriver, but the fact that he is physically reacting to the strain implies that in some way all it's really doing is acting like an extension of his own arm. You might argue, I suppose, that since canon establishes that the screwdriver operates through a "psychic interface" that maybe it's exerting a psychic strain on his mind to generate enough power to hold the door back, rather than a physical strain (though canon also establishes that the "power" of the screwdriver comes from its charging dock in the TARDIS, not the mind of the user). In that sense perhaps the screwdriver is acting more like artificial telekinesis. Perhaps, but the writers don't really seem to put that much thought into these things, so really I think it's just that the door was very heavy and the sonic was extending his reach, but he was ultimately holding up the door with his own physical strength.

In the classic series we see the fourth Doctor get grabbed by an android of some kind (I forget which episode this is), one who is clearly far stronger than a human. Rather than buckling under its grasp we see him fight back, grab at its hand and slowly wrench it away from his person as if vastly overpowering it. In that vein, Nine has a wonderful habit of ripping people's arms off with his bare hands, be they alien manikins or robots, as does Ten when wrangling with a Pyrovile familiar. In fact we see Ten perform several strength feats including shoving a firmly wedged man through a small gap in some wreckage and, in that same episode, yet again wrestling a robot's hands away. In this case the robot was explicitly stated to have "ten times" the strength of a human.When Eleven is bound by handcuffs in "The Wedding of River Song" we see him lunge forwards despite several trained soldiers holding him back and will himself close enough to grab and hold onto River's wrist despite their struggle against him.

Perhaps his hidden strength is the reason our tragic hero always seems to have a spring in his step. Perhaps it contributes to his bravado when facing off against incredibly dangerous beings. It may be a pleasant boon to his Martian karate throws and the reason why he was happy to fling people about despite being in a very mature regeneration at the time. Maybe he doesn't even understand how strong he is. For him it's probably normal. Nevertheless it isn't uncommon for him to swing Daleks about or floor an android with a single punch (which we'll be getting back to later). Whether the writers intended it or just to make him seem impressively resilient when faced with physical challenges, the circumstances dictate that the Doctor, and perhaps all Timelords, are naturally gifted with immense physical strength. Hell, in his first episode, "Robot", the fourth Doctor straight up karate-chopped a brick!

Why doesn't he use it more? Well, he's the Doctor. He tries to avoid using muscle so long as there's a way to use his brain instead. But when necessary, he will get physical. We'll go further into detail on that later as well.

2. The Doctor is WAY older than even he thinks he is.

Consider the evidence. We know from various examples that a single Timelord lifetime spans literally centuries. The second Doctor claimed to be about 450 years old, and having only recently regenerated and still knocking about with the same old companions, we can deduce much of that time was spent as the first Doctor prior to his leaving Galifrey. Much later, the fourth Doctor would claim to be "something like 750" years old. At this point we're already getting the sense that he's a little hazy about his age. Which would make sense when you are both that old and living a life that is literally outside of linear time. How do you count the days when you spend them hopping all over the calendar? He keeps this (general) age fairly consistent for most of his run as the fourth.

Then, however, the sixth Doctor proudly proclaims himself to be 900 years old. Sound familiar? He later stuck with the "900" figure through most of the first few seasons of modern Who. It seems like it was a kind of mildstone for him after which he didn't really want to keep counting properly. Yes we see a lot of "I'm 903", "I'm 906", but at the same time, we're also noticing him slowly age. Unlike the ninth Doctor, for whom we see almost no break between adventures, the tenth does actually take a few breaks between televised stories to wander about and brood. He does this very rarely, but it does happen at least three times. Donna even mentions that he "looks older" after travelling alone grieving for the loss of Rose. Perhaps the grief wore on him a little? More likely it's because he had been alone for a very long time, and as we know from Matt Smith, it can literally be centuries before he will start to visually age even a little bit. We'll get back to that in a moment.

But for now back to the classic series. Later on we will hear the Seventh doctor claim to be 950. That sounds like another suspicious rounded ballpark number doesn't it? We also see him as a notably aged looking version of the seventh Doctor in the TV movie, in which he explicitly states that he was "nearing the end of his seventh life". This could be interpreted two different ways. He could be narrating from a future perspective, knowing he was about to be murdered and as such explaining his life was about to end, but I think it seems more sensible to assume that what he was really saying is that he was at the end of that regeneration's natural lifespan, which would explain his aged appearance. As I said, we know from the first and eleventh Doctors that he could easily age as much as 400 to 600 years before he actually looks old - so factoring in that he was already fairly mature in this regeneration, that still makes it at least a few centuries since he first admitted to being 900!

The 50th special clouds this theory somewhat. Eleven claims to be "1200 and something", which seems completely contrary to what we've already learned. He also says "unless I'm lying", which seems to deflate the theory that every one of them KNOWS he is not actually 1200. Then, reinforcing this contradiction, we see that the War Doctor identifies himself as being about 800 in a confident manner that the other two seem to have no issues with. Is this his actual age? Were six and seven just grandstanding when they claimed to be over 900? More likely, in my opinion, 800 is just a number he settled on to mark the general period of his life towards the end of the Time War. A kind of reset, if you like. I get the sense he one day decided "It's silly not to know how old I am, so from now on I'll just say I'm 800 and start from there". (We'll call this his "faux age".)

This also tells us something new, however...

If 9 claimed to be 900, and the War Doctor claims to be 800, and if we are to assume that he has started his tally anew in order to create a more consistent age for himself (meaning, he actually stuck to this tally), that implies Doctor number 9 spent about 100 years knocking about before bumping into Rose at the start of the first season, where he actually was 900 years old. So even though the writers may have been intending to tone down his age by including this conversation in the 50th special, it actually ADDS an extra entire century to his tally! So how old does that make him?

Well, first we have to decide how much we're going to trust him. There are some minor discrepancies here and there (more likely attributable to hack writing than anything). For example... if the first Doctor was over 400 before looking like an OLD man, are we really to trust Eleven when he first told us, in "The Impossible Astronaut" that he was 200 years older than when we last saw him? After all the Master managed to make Ten look like an OAP just by artificially ageing him 100 years. Could Eleven really live that long without visibly ageing AT ALL? I really don't know, but an argument could be made that perhaps he only really spent a few decades on the run and simply decided to start calling himself by a more realistic age. An argument could be made, but I think if we're going to ignore EVERYTHING he claims about his age, not just the ones that blatantly don't make sense, then really we have nothing left to work with. We'll assume he was telling the truth, attribute Ten's rapid ageing at the hands of the Master to the Lazarus tech NOT his natural lifespan, and maybe throw in an extra few years to fill the gaps between his visits with the Ponds or Clara to round things off.

So let's see...

Let's assume he was telling the truth when he claimed to be 950 something during his seventh incarnation. Since we see him as an aged version of himself in the TV movie, and we know how slowly Timelords age, that means it's been multiple centuries since he was 950. Let's say 3 centuries to be balanced (a full 450 year lifespan would be too presumptuous as he was already mature when he first regenerated into that form, and two centuries is too little as canon establishes the Doctor can live that long without ageing at all). So that makes him about 1250. We don't know how long the eighth Doctor lived before regenerating into the War Doctor, but he clearly was notably aged (though not OLD) since the TV movie. Let's add another 3 centuries, as, like the seventh already being old, the fact that he is still youngish means there's no reason to assume the full 450-500 lifespan has passed, which the first and eleventh Doctor's have both demonstrated is required to send him all the way from young to old.

So at the time of his regeneration into the War Doctor, he was probably at least 1500 years old. But wait, I'm missing something aren't I? In that same minisode with the eighth Doctor we see the War Doctor newly regenerated as a YOUNG man. When we next see him he is very aged. VERY aged. Yet again we have an entire lifespan lived out by a single incarnation of the Doctor, which as we have established is anything up to 3 or 400 years all the way up to, in Eleven's case, well over 600 years. Add that to the figure we've already gotten so far, and it's beginning to become clear that the math just doesn't make sense unless he is FAR older despite calling himself 800, so far we're up to over 2000 years old. On top of all that, thanks to the dialogue between the Doctors in the 50th special, we now know to add at least a further 100 years before Eccleston takes over and he starts calling himself 900 again (his faux age). That makes him chronologically at least 2100 at the start of series 1 of modern Who.

How much time you think has actually passed between the on-screen introduction of the ninth Doctor and the dawn of the eleventh Doctor is up to you, but I'd say it has to be well over a decade despite what he claims (and I'm being very generous there). Let us not forget Donna noticing that Ten "looks older" after moping about after losing Rose. Given how slowly he ages, who knows how long that period really was? But then, we see Moffat take the reigns of the show and demonstrate very little regard for the how long the Doctor lives. Unlike the previous writers, that managed to squeeze in two entire doctors in the space of a few short years, this one gets to live for well over 300 by his own reckoning (using his faux age, he is 906 at time of regeneration, then 1200 "and something" by the 50th special, which really equates to 2106 to 2400 "and something"), and that's not even counting the Christmas special, in which he ages yet another 300, followed by yet another jump into his future at an unspecified age in which he is far older.

(Note; at one point it is stated by Romana that the Doctor has been travelling in the TARDIS for 523 years, and while this does establish his age at the time of him leaving Gallifrey (about 230 given the other available data) it does NOT establish at what point in his life the first televised stories took place, nor how aged he looked at the time of leaving Gallifrey. Having said that, the use of stock footage in "The name of the Doctor" suggests he was, in fact, already elderly-looking at the time of first entering the TARDIS. Some have suggested the first life a Timelord leads is far more mortal, having only one heart and ageing faster, but I think we can more likely attribute this discrepancy to the trend of bad canon writing that has permeated the latest couple of seasons and simply dismiss Romana's earlier comment as "misinformed" to excuse it. Enough time off-camera does not appear to elapse following the transition from the first to second Doctors for us to say that most of his 450 years of life up until that point was spent in his second incarnation. This strongly suggests he lived most of those years during his original life, which in my view overrules the discrepancy. Of course, we're still left with the problem Moffat has created, of the Doctor looking old at the age of 230, in which case maybe the theories about a Timelord's first life are true. Nevertheless, everything else still fits and no new contradictions are introduced by this problem.)

So, think you know the Doctor's age? You sure don't. Neither do I, but according to the rules set by the show itself, he has to be at least over 2700 years old at this point! Far, far older in fact. Probably by a wide margin. It's impossible to pin an actual number on this, but if I were to be generous I would go so far as to say he isn't more than a stone's throw from his third millennia! Now obviously you can't take it too seriously, the writers likely have no idea how old they really want him to be which is why they keep retconning it, but if you want to be faithful to the mythology of the show, he has to be far older than he is admitting, despite the fact that three of his incarnations all seem satisfied him claiming to be far younger than this. The truth is, he probably has absolutely no idea how old he is. No wonder he just makes it up.

3. The Doctor doesn't need to eat as much as human beings.

This one is simple deduction. With a handful of exceptions, the camera basically doesn't break away from the Doctor through most of his time during his ninth and tenth incarnations. Each adventure tends to set up or lead right into the next, making it almost one long unbroken day. He eats like five times on screen (I'm not trying to offer an accurate number there) and whenever his companions eat with him they seem to consume more than he does. He eats christmas dinner once or twice and we see him get through a full back of chips in "Last of the Timelords", but for the most part it's just a buffalo wing here or a generous helping of "peanutbutter fingers" when in someone else's kitchen.

This "fact" is up for debate, and there's really no telling how often he eats off-screen. An argument could be made that we don't really see the companions dine all that often either, but at the very least I think we can agree that he doesn't have a very big appetite. Even when he's not jumping from one adventure to the next entirely by himself without seeming to eat for days on end, when his companions do the same it's not unheard of for them to proclaim how starving they are after a while and sit down to eat while he's off adventuring (as Rose did in "The Impossible Planet") even if, as in Martha's case in "Gridlock", they find themselves losing their appetite when offered recycled waste biscuits. It still seems to be the case that the companions eat or get hungry on screen way more often than the Doctor.

Of course, eleven does develop an odd fixation with fish custard, but there are exceptions to every rule. After all the sixth Doctor never seemed to lose any weight despite being more portly than any of the others, though to be fair, he did regenerate that way. It's up to you if you believe this one, but I think it makes sense that a more advanced species, especially one that can live for thousands of years and as such may come to suffer depleting resources, might have evolved a more efficient metabolism.

4. The Doctor is (still) a proficient hand-to-hand fighter.

Due to the massive variation between the different incarnations of the Doctor in personality, preference, and in some sense skillset (2's musical talent, for example) it's often assumed that only the third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) was skilled in hand-to-hand combat, which he wasn't shy about showing off. However it is my belief that those old skills are still there when he truly needs them, and perhaps the Doctor's decision to run and avoid conflict is less to do with vulnerability, and perhaps more to do with him having mercy on his enemies.

This sentiment is nicely expressed in "The Family of Blood" in which the antagonists are punished by a vengeful tenth Doctor, and realise at that moment that he had only run from them because he was being kind. Fittingly, it is also one of the rare episodes in modern Who in which we see the Doctor exert physical force over someone as he violently shoves one of them into a black hole, showing that even though he avoids conflict like he's made of wet newspaper, he has a strong arm when necessary. Ten was extremely pacifistic as Doctors go, but even he occasionally wrestled with the Master over a remote or brandished a cutlass when necessary.

A more telling demonstration of his physical prowess, however, requires a jaunt back to the ninth Doctor. Among his martial talents is the ability to catch a poisoned dart between his fingertips, as well as being able to deftly block and then rip off an attacking robot's arm (back to the strength again). Also, in the final episode of Eccleston's run we see him face the fact that his companion, Rose Tyler has seemingly been killed. Captured by enemy soldiers, the positively steaming with rage Doctor is escorted to a cell with Jack Harkness. Right before being ordered into the cage, he and Jack exchange a look, upon which they swiftly dispatch the soldiers. The brutal parry face-first into a solid wall that we see the Doctor use doesn't skip a beat, and is the kind of response one would expect of a hardened warrior.

This should come as no surprise as we are already well aware by this point in the Doctor's story that he fought in the Time War, likely on the front lines. We learn more of this as the show progresses, and now, after the 50th special, we know he actually spent an entire centuries-long lifetime battling the Daleks and other enemies in the Time War. I would imagine he couldn't have gone all that time using nothing but his usual quirky devices and cunning schemes. At some point he had to have picked up a gun. But was there any close quarters combat involved? Well it certainly seems like he had some practise, and there was obviously plenty of opportunity for it. I doubt one can fight a century's long war on the front lines without ever needing to throw a punch.

Returning to the 11th Doctor we see multiple examples of him apparently knowing his way around a fight. Yes there is that comical scene in one of the minisodes where he gets hit with a ball and jumps up in a karate stance, but no I'm not taking that very seriously. While it may be a sign of his old Martian karate instincts, but more likely it was just part of his usual goofy persona that always tries to look silly. However we do see him straight up KO the android scientist played by Bill Patterson with a single punch when running to stop him from blowing up. We also see that he's pretty good at taking a punch, like when Rory decked him in "The Big Bang", not unlike when the tenth was floored and popped back up yelling "hell of a right hook" with admiration and seasoned recognition of the skill of the one who struck him.

But all of this is concerning modern Who. What about classic Who? Well in one particularly impressive scene that is just drenched in baddassery, fourth Doctor uses an exquisite arm-lock throw to take down a man who was trying to kidnap an unconscious Sarah Jane. The sixth Doctor, although rather gracelessly, certainly displayed an emotional capacity for violence when he attempted to choke Peri in his post-regenerative haze. The seventh Doctor virtually beat the Master to death in a one-on-one fight during their last confrontation in his final episode (even though he was under the influence of an animalistic rage due to the environment he was in, he still won the fight fair and square). On top of that, the Fifth Doctor displayed exceptional skill with a rapier in a fencing match with one of his enemies, a skill which, as I mentioned, is also demonstrated by the tenth Doctor.

The classic series was a lot less willing to show this kind of direct violence after the third Doctor, which seeded this impression of a pacifistic, almost weak (despite his cunning) protagonist which in turn has continued to a lesser extent through the modern series. But when we see the Doctor march confidently towards an enemy of extraordinary power, maybe we should remember that it isn't necessarily just front. Sure, he may favour a manipulative speech or a tricky deception, but maybe at the same time he knows that if he really had to, he could bitch slap his enemy half way to the end of the universe. It isn't just his mind that is powerful, after all he can't always have a bunch of wires and kitchen utensils handy to make a cockamamy contraption every time an enemy attacks.

5. The Doctor is virtually immune to cold.

We actually see many examples of this over the course of both the classic and modern series, some of which are questionable in canonicity. For example, the animated adventure "The Infinite Quest" which is never mentioned again in the actual show, in which we see the tenth Doctor casually stroll out into weather that Martha can barely tolerate. We also see something similar in the episode "planet of the Ood" in which they emerge from the Tardis onto a snowfield where Donna immediately remarks on how freezing it is but the Doctor barely reacts.

His tolerance of cold was shown implicitly in several classic Who episodes as well, but is never really made a point of. It's arguable that he is just good at hiding his discomfort with these conditions, but when we see him drop out of a spaceship into the frozen vacuum of space without flinching, or cling to Clara to keep HER warm when they materialize in the cold town of Christmas in the latest episode without showing any sign of cold himself, it seems evident that he has some sort of advantage.

Where does this ability come from? Maybe he was raised in a part of Galifrey that was incredibly cold? Perhaps it is a "Timelord power" such as his regeneration, his mild telepathy, or  his ability to conserve oxygen in his body for several minutes as demonstrated multiple times in the classic series. Even the Dalek nanogenes seem to be incapable of infecting him, and until recently the Cyberman were incapable of assimilating him. It seems being a Timelord comes with all sorts of perks. Nevertheless, it adds an interesting element to him that may be explained if we ever learn more about his origins.

6. The Doctor's family died long before the Time War.

This will come as less of a surprise to seasoned Who nerds. The second Doctor, when accused of being so decrepit that he probably can't even remember his own family, admits that he can if he really tries, but the rest of the time they "sleep in my mind". It seems obvious he is talking about people who long ago died, certainly he wouldn't be flying around the universe alone if he misses them. The reason for the first Doctor running away from Galifrey has never been given, but since he brought his granddaughter with him (and there is some debate about whether they were really related or if "Grandfather" was a term of endearment) I think it makes sense that he fled to escape the memories of his family dying. Bringing Susan with him was like holding onto the last piece of that life he had left.

Make not the mistake of thinking that the Doctor's life of peril only began when he ran away. It's true he lacked something of the backbone of the man we now know, at one time being more than willing to bash a mad-man's head in with a rock out of fear of his own survival or even contemplating betraying his own companions to get out of a fight spot. Despite all that, the Master told us that the Doctor was already hard at work saving the universe even when he was just 90 years old, when he sealed the rift of the Medusa Cascade. We can also deduce from the Doctor's admission that looking into the Untempered Schism "hurts" that he was also drafted into the Timelord Academy and had to go through that rite of passage, cementing the fact that he was well on his way to becoming an active time traveller from as young as 8, and probably where he got his first doctorate that would eventually lead to his new name.

And let's look at that. Why does he keep his name a secret? Is it because he has some dark skeleton in his closet? This was heavily implied throughout most of season 6, but the pay-off ultimately was that the War Doctor WAS his dark secret, and really it had nothing to do with his name. I think he left his name behind because he wanted to put his past behind him. He told Donna he lost his family a long time ago, and that it still stung him. That kind of loss would seem to be more than natural causes, and certainly it precedes the Time War, as to feel that sort of pain on missing someone would confirm what I said about him not abandoning them to travel time and space. He left Galifrey BECAUSE he lost his reason to stay there.

Perhaps, given the way he never looks back, the way he dances about the cosmos like a whimsical fairytale character, given the fact that he tries never to get close to anyone, and the dangerous way he has always lived his life even when he was much younger... perhaps the death of his family was his fault. I know I would change my name and run away if that happened, wouldn't you?

Peter Capaldi

Well with that out of the way and a new world slowly approaching next Fall, let's talk a little about this momentous change. I will admit, as one of the many critics of Matt Smith who were still attached to their "first" Doctor (in my case Tennant), I'm actually going to miss the timey wimey floppy-haired idiot more than I was expecting. His final parting words, despite sounding like something a stoner would say while analyzing a magic eye painting, were suitable and moving. Unlike Ten, who fought against his death to his dying breath, Eleven accepted it with a sober contentedness, complimenting without undermining the previous regeneration.

As for Capaldi. My first thoughts? Bad way to go. Never re-use an old actor to play The Doctor - are you kidding me? Look what happened with Colin Baker. Aside from him being a generally dislikeable Doctor his first adventures were irrevocably undermined by the nagging question: "Wasn't that the guy who played the jerkish Timelord in that one episode?". Good call, choosing someone who previously played an unpleasant character to now play a Doctor with an unpleasant demeanour. Great way to exacerbate the effect and make him even less well-received. The Hellishly bad first episode of his run didn't help matters either.

Don't get me wrong, Capaldi is a GOOD actor. He really is. Other than being a bit grating and simple as a roman his performance was fluid and moving. His role as the amoral, stressed out bureaucrat in Torchwood was vividly cringe-inspiring, not as an indictment to his skill but because his performance asked for that and he played it almost too well. But now we have this guy being recycled from those previous sickly roles in which he was so visually memorable and we're being asked not to be reminded of that every time we look at him. Hell, I didn't even like it when they pulled that with Martha Jones. Every time I watch that first episode to have Freema in, I find myself distracted by that glaring detail.

In the pro side, I have to give the casting credit for choosing someone visibly distinct from the previous two men to fill the role. I feel that the 50'th special really validated a lot of what I first said in objection to the casting of Matt Smith. As brilliant an actor as he is, he is just too similar to Tennant. Very slender, youthful(ish), side-parted big, floppy brown hairdo, old man business suit. Seeing them side-by-side you could easily imagine that one is meant to be a younger version of the other, were it not for the fact that Ten's head could easily fit inside Eleven's about 2.5 times. I am glad they went in a very different direction this time, which is what they should have done last time. Just like how every previous Doctor was visually unique relative to one another.

Capaldi's brief cameo also seemed to have undertones of seriousness. A certain intensity and power in his blood-shot eyes that I welcome after enduring nearly 4 years of Saturday morning cartoon performances and plots lifted straight from the scribblings of an aspiring children's bedtime story writer. I want to see a man who isn't all flippity floppity swagger and exaggerated eccentricities. I want an adult show, or at least one that doesn't feel like a children's show with adult elements.

His performance is going to have to be exceptional to shrug off the taint of his previous Who roles, and judging by the depth of those roles, he may well be capable of it. Re-using an actor though... really risky, not the way I would have gone. I wish they hadn't done that because now I feel the burden slightly falls to me to actively try to NOT see him as those other characters. If they liked the actor so much, they should have not used him THEN and kept him for NOW, same as they should have done with Freema. Mind you... Martha, despite her character's flaws, managed to make that role her own and her previous appearance was only a problem when watching that episode. Maybe it will be the same with this.

I hope the new guy is up to the task. He's old (which limits what stunts he can get away with, but it has worked well in the past) and his face conveys a certain, very specific kind of character. There are only so many ways you can go, with a face like that, and mad-man-with-a-box isn't one of them. Maybe that's a good thing. We'll see. I look forward to finding out, and I hope he makes me eat my words, just as Smith did, when I say... I don't really like him, and wish they had picked someone else.

Nevertheless his fleeting introduction after Smith's departure was interesting, funny, mad-hat as is to be expected, and didn't at all remind me of his previous characters. It wasn't enough to really sample his personality, but then Smith's introduction was absolutely nothing like how he would later shape the character. I think there's a chance this could well go somewhere interesting. 

Good luck, Capaldi. You have some big and clownish shoes to fill.

As always I may update this blog at a later date if I think of more of these rare facts. I certainly have more than I simply haven't remembered while writing it so there's a good chance this will happen. Thanks for your time, and Merry Whomas!

Sunday, 1 December 2013


On my side of the pond we don’t have thanksgiving, but I like to think we appreciate the motivations behind the holiday and share in the general sentiment of gratitude and love that goes along with it. But sometimes I feel like the idea behind this holiday is kind of lost in modern cultural translation. And no I’m not talking about the historical horrors and abuses underlining it or any of that nonsense, I think it’s fine to let a holiday move on to a new meaning.

What I mean is, we have lost perspective of what to give and why. Instead of giving thanks for what we have, we thank each other for giving. An honourable concept, certainly, but perhaps a little too intertwined with static concepts centred on the bounty of food you are blessed with and other such thank-worthy, but somewhat trivial things. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, but the name always felt like it should call to something more than that.

Perhaps, instead, we should re-purpose part of this season to something less specific. Something more generally about gratitude and appreciation. Thanksgiving is over, but perhaps the spirit of giving thanks need not end with it. I’m proposing a new holiday. A single day dedicated to a simple concept. Giving thanks not or what you have been given, or will be given, but for what you already have. A thanks-having.

Think about it. How many times has this happened to you?

You wake up to find that something is wrong. Maybe you’ve suddenly acquired a terribly sore throat, or a pulsing headache. Maybe the sweet bliss of sleep had allowed you to temporarily forget having lost something. An item of furniture, a job, a friend. Waking up to that negative change is the worst moment of your day.

You wish you could go back to before it happened. To before the pain or loss wasn’t there. You catch yourself looking back on past-you with envy and anger. Wishing that person had taken more joy in what they had while it was there. Even a relatively mundane problem like an ailment can torment you as your sore throat or headache or whatever it is burns away at your nerves and instils this terrible sense of discomfort that you can only imagine escaping.

You can no longer remember what it feels like to have a throat that lacks that ragged, clawed raw feeling. You wish you could again sample just a moment of normalcy where that blasted ache went away and gave you the sweet few seconds of reprieve like all the pressure in your head had simply been diffused with a gentle pop of a balloon. That tiny sliver of what every other day is like would be the greatest relief to you, and yet in everyday life how often do you take the time to truly appreciate it?

Perhaps this scenario is altogether more serious and heartbreaking. Maybe a loved one has gone from your life. Their place at the dining table conspicuously barren. Maybe that stab of not seeing them there still gets you every day. Did they truly know how much you loved them? Of course they did, you tell yourself. And yet you find yourself wishing for just one last chance to look them in the eyes and say it all while you commit to memory every curl and crease, every splash of colour, every unique peak or valley of their voice. You wish you had that perfect moment where the two of you both completely knew all was well in the world that you may revisit that instant at any time.

The truth is of course they knew how you felt, and no memory is really that pristine. These standards we hold our past selves too are unfair and little more than fodder in the eternal war we wage against ourselves. Nevertheless, why do we go through life mourning the things we lose, suffering the burdens we have acquired, always wishing we had taken the time to really “know” those times where all was well? Why not just do it? Why not dedicate a day towards ticking off a check-list of things to sit and just... enjoy?

It is a common argument in philosophy that we NEED the bad things like pain or loss in order to give the good things value. Perhaps that explains why pain even exists at all. As a biological mechanism I always found it silly. An internal alert that never shuts up chanting “SOMETHING’S WRONG” in your ear as if you could magically snap your fingers and set it right instantly. I always looked upon that system as utterly flawed – but then, perhaps there is merit to this idea. Maybe without it, life would be even more complacent and dreary.

I have, in the past, heard people attempt to argue against this point by saying things like “I don’t need to nearly lose my leg in order to take joy in the fact that I still have mine”. I find that to be disingenuous. We’ve all experienced that moment of absolute panic where something we love or depend on was nearly lost to us. A child left behind in a supermarket. A favourite toy mysteriously gone missing. Your life endangered. That moment when you get it back is undeniably ecstatic, and filled with a far deeper appreciation for having it than you ever experienced before.

Maybe we do need the bad, but there’s no reason to wait until it arrives at our doorstep to at least attempt to cherish the good. There’s really no point in waiting until we nearly lose something before we dedicate ourselves to that moment of true appreciation for it. Let us all agree to do that anyway. At least once a year, let us take note of everything that is actually right in our lives and simply love it. Is this something that anyone finds easy to do? Has society trained us to value only the negative? Even if so, let us break that programming for this one day.

Right now, pick something on your body that isn’t hurting. Imagine the coming day when that part of you inevitably fails or finds itself under attack by the cruelty of life. The moment when it is in unbearable pain, and you’re there cradling it, wish you could return to a moment when all was well. THIS moment right now.  As you are there, trying to envision a return to that status quo which seems so impossible, you are also here, right now, actually able to experience and memorize that boring normalcy in all its simple splendour.

I’ve tested this in years gone by, and it DOES actually work. When I have found myself lacking a pain I had been feeling, I took the time to do exactly what I had been chiding myself for not doing. I took a moment to simply enjoy not being in that pain any more. To attempt to understand what it feels like not being in that pain. What DOES a normal, unhurting throat feel like? What DOES a headachel-less head feel like? I meticulously scanned these feelings that I may know, next time it happens, that even if I've lost the good, I took the time to truly experience it while I was able.

I forced myself to appreciate what I had so that next time my future self would not find his anguish further salted with the knowledge that he never really took advantage of that chance to be grateful for what he had while it was there. It does actually take the edge off when you return to that pain. It alleviates that extra little weight you feel from wondering what normalcy feels like. If only we could learn to do this with everything our life grants us. How much richer might life be? How lighter would the darker days become?

Of course, the memory you’re trying to forge as you dutifully take note of your blessings is not perfect. Even when you are in pain next, it’s not like you can escape into your memories and really experience that relief. But the mere fact that on some level you actually know that you did take the opportunity to analyse what it feels like to not be in pain seems to somehow mitigate that longing for that same relief even when you’re suffering.  Even if you can't truly revisit that feeling, you know that you did all you could to memorize it, and somehow that's better.

At the end of the day what we’re talking about here is regret. Regret makes everything worse. Regret sours the good times with undertones of “could have been better if I...”. It tarnishes the best of memories with overall sense of “it’ll never be that good again”. Regret makes the things we should be grateful for into shaming devices on behalf of those with less, as we assault ourselves with forced empathy to turn our contentment or success inwards into a loathing for our privilege.

Yet I dare say, as someone who is themselves impoverished, that I would far more appreciate you enjoying what you have rather than squandering it with such futile and patronizing sentiments. Be thankful for what you have and don’t waste your life waiting for it to end or lose meaning. Live in ownership of your success, not constant fear of it. Even if it’s just one moment, be glad that you have what you have and forgive yourself for having it. I do.

Never allow yourself to be in a position where you find yourself not only losing what you had, but regretting the fact that you couldn’t simply take the time to be happy while you had it. And that’s what I want this holiday to really be about. Taking inventory of your gifts and privileges, but not feeling guilty for having them. Celebrate them! You don’t need to be told to spare a thought for those less fortunate, you should be doing that anyway. But when was the last time you spared a thought for yourself? Not lashing yourself for trespassing some immaterial line between comfort and selfishness.

Well this is the time. This is your time. Thank for what you’ve been given, thank for what you have. Whether you thank a deity, your parents, nature or even yourself (now there’s a concept!). Be thankful, be grateful, and let yourself really live in the moment. It’s okay, you have my permission. Do what the nice internet man says. He’ll take the hit. He’ll pay the imaginary price that your ingrained self-deprecation is demanding must be paid. You just leave that with me, and give yourself the gift of blissful self-awareness for just one day.

Give yourself the gift of selfish joy, allowing yourself to simply be with no strings attached. To take pleasure in everything you have without attempting to purchase it with an equal balance of shame. Give yourself the gift of acknowledging everything that is right in the world. It hasn’t ended. We’re not yet in nuclear wars. Wishing for world peace and an end to hunger is a noble sentiment, but at the same time, we don’t need to reach for the stars to have wishes granted. There are many wishes you have yet to make in darker days to come that for you, presently, are already granted.

So on this day, this thanks-having, I challenge you to write a small note of everything you can think of that isn’t wrong in your life. Every part of your body not currently hurting. Every luxury or convenience in your home. Every friend or loved one still in your life. If you’re young, take that much-envied chance to really grasp what it means to be young and enjoy that energy and power that comes with it. If you’re old, take some time to reflect on all the happy memories you already have, and the fact that you are still here to make more.

Take stock of all these things, and please... just be aware of them. Be aware of what it feels like to still have them. For them to be right and functional and normal. You don’t have to force it, you don’t need to be rolling around with joy. But perhaps, if you can manage a smile... next time things are much harder, the memory of that quiet little moment, that tiny contribution to the positive side of the scales will make things seem... not quite so bad.

The greatest bounty you’ve ever had that you should be grateful for, is life.
Wishing you a happy thanksgiving, happy thanks-having, and genera happiness.