A Sermon for Sci-Fi Fans: Who knows right from wrong?!

Below, the cinema trailer for Season Four of the new Dr. Who.

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Although the large base of Dr. Who fans tend to be from the UK, the BBC sci-fi tv series made some headway in Europe and in the US in the past. And, also now in the present. Dr. Who is about a human-looking alien (his mother was an Earthling) who has a fancy for Earth, humanity, and British chicks. Dr. Who may be the longest running sci-fi tv series ever, anywhere. It first aired in 1963. The television show has also received many British television awards through the years.

Below, background music. Geoff, Rose.

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For those unfamiliar with the Doctor, the Doctor travels through time and space in an unsual and, perhaps, organic, transportational unit called the Tardis. The Tardis looks like an old British police call box from the outside. The Doctor tends to “land” or “appear” in the nick of time to save the day – wherever and whenever the Tardis “lands” or appears. Another thing: the Doctor reincarnates which makes it convenient for the producers to change the actors playing the Doctor.

And another thing: the old show was more of an intellectual experience; it was more about the human story. In fact, the special effects, sets and costumes were really proaste. No, I mean really, really bad…

Old Doctor v. New Doctor

I vaguely remember Tom Baker, a Scottish actor who played the fourth incarnation of the Doctor. What I remember is that Tom Baker had a lot of tude. He wasn’t a handsome actor (more frog than prince), but he had a dry sarcasm and a lovely, doting contempt for stupidity. Maybe, that’s why I liked him better than the others. Anyway, I still think the new incarnations need scarves. Tom Baker had a wonderfully long, homely-so-to-speak, knitted scarf.

How can anyone be a Doctor (after Baker) without that scarf?

Myself, I started watching the new BBC series, missed a few episodes here and there, and lost interest.

The new incarantions (ninth Doctor was played by Christopher Eccleston and the tenth Doctor is currently played by David Tennant) seem dumbed down. I hear that British women think the new Doctors are cuter. Of course, the special effects, sets and costumes are better- but still not half way to Hollywood budget.

If the latest incarnations of the Doctor have, in fact, traded IQ and nerd factor for looks and touchy-feely impotence, it makes business sense. The television show has to appeal to the new market. And if people have dumbed down in the last fifty years, I’m not surprised. Myself, I have considerably dumbed down in the last twelve years.

Dumbing down the Doctor saves the BBC some money; the BBC doesn’t have to hire scientific advisors and PhD armed consultants to define a dialogue that no one would understand, anyway. At least, I suppose, not a British sci-fi audience. Yet, it is an insult, of course, to the intelligence of sci-fi fans who chat easily about wormholes, the curvature of the time space continuum, and other scientific expressions for thing-a-ma-jigs.

A Change of Heart

Anywhoo, a friend of mine rented the second season of the new BBC Dr. Who and I got excited again about this television show. I realized that my expectations may have been unrealistic when the new series came out. After all, I had been waiting so long for my Dr. Who fix. And the high just wasn’t like I remembered it.

Below, background music. Supernaturals, Smile.

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I realize that my initial disappointment was made more pronounced because I’ve seen some really good sci-fi since my childhood. Next Generation (Star Trek) seemed to set a new standard. Captain Picard, for example, showed us all that great leaders must wield authority and power with great discipline and self-restraint. And if authority and power is not wielded and undertaken by the good, then it will be seized by tyrants for their own ambitions (and this is why anarchists are fundamentally mistaken about what happens when there is real anarachy). But even the Star Trek follow-ups (DSN and Voyager) couldn’t take it to the next level for me. Political correctness in Star Trek destroyed the possibility of a compelling, organic story that is relevant to our existential context.

Too bad, the Star trek writers were not manly enough to come up with something brutal, imperial, and exciting like I, Warf: Tales of the Resurrection or Bloody Days of the Amon-chak Klingon Empire.

So if I suspend my high expectations for sci-fi in general, the new Doctor Who is good. And I saw a little of Torchwood and it’s ok too. And ok means that it’s watchable – if not not as compelling as Farscape or immersive as the first five seasons of Star Gate.

Perhaps, the underpaid, malnourished British writers are just not up to the task when it comes to a very sophisticated audience who have been exposed to bigger and better story and pseudo-science. Hey, the UK is outrageously expensive. People there actually think a handful of tiny sandwiches of bleached, spongey plastics and animal by-poducts constitute a meal. They call that sandwiches! LOL

Final Score

In fact, Babylon Five, Farscape and Stargate took me to another level of expectation. These shows stretched my imagination to reach to galaxies far, far away. And the Doctor? Doctor Who has always filled an older definition of proper science fiction- and a deeper need. Doctor Who is about us, about being us, about us dealing with each other, and about us doing the right thing – regardless of the sacrifice.

Does the new Doctor fit this bill?

Honestly, I have not seen enough of past and present episodes to adequately evaluate the new series. But I can say some things on the matter. Just try and stop me!

The theme of doing the right thing regardless of the sacrifice is there but the emotional context seems to be getting way out of hand. Galactica made this mistake in almost every episode that I saw. Hopefully, the BBC writers can keep the Doctor’s guts on the inside of his stomach.

I’ve also noticed that some American isms have crept into the story and loused it up.

Such as… an American sense of political correctness. Yuck!

As one Dutch friend quipped, “the Americans don’t have to save the world, every time.”

And too some of the prime directive as well. Fine. That’s almost acceptable. But what’s this crap about this dark undercurrent on being lonely and alone. We get that enough from movies like the Diary of the hairy lip from London. So, err, Doctor, Are you saying that homely British chicks are disappointing life-time companions?

Worse, the Doctor’s emotions will sometimes get the better of him; he makes more mistakes; and yet he remains as emotionally limited, under-developed and inexpressive as an accomplished 40-year-old British male that attended all the right schools (in other words, a 12 year old kiddo – most anywhere else).

Fine. The Doctor still thinks that British chicks are hot, but he’s always been very, very wrong about that. We all make mistakes- myself included. But why this one? In all his adventures, it’s odd that he never stopped in Bucharest… or, maybe, Budapest. Had he done so, he would never had come calling in London again.

Still, I need a few seasons under the belt before I can pronounce a final solution.

What’s your score on the new series? Tell me in the comments.

Doing and Knowing the Right Thing

Of course, no one really notices that the Doctor often does the right thing- even when it endangers his person or someone he loves (and a subject for separate analysis). Perhaps, what is more interesting to me is that the Doctor clearly knows the difference between good and evil. At least, he did in the old days.

The kicker is, of course, the Doctor can do the right thing because… without any doubt, he knows right from wrong. Knowing these things, he quickly discerns what is just and what is required by justice. The Doctor’s command and authority of justice as virtue reminds me of something Caesar Chavez once said: that justice is “not only the best part of our being but it is also the most true to our nature.”

Also interesting, the Doctor’s human companions and, often enough, the victims of his antagonists usually cannot recognize evil plots, madmen, and evil doers. Also, a subject for another contemplative treatment.

So the Doctor is always quick to recognize evil as it is embodied in actions and acting persons (human, alien or otherwise) and their all too human imperfections. The archetype imperfections of the Doctor’s antagonists remind me of Saint Thomas Aquinas’ list of capital sins: pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth. And, typically, madmen and evil doers solicit the ready and willing complicity of human accomplices by appealing to the same list of imperfections or a greater list which are known in Roman Catholic theology as grave and venial sins.

Sin, it appears, does not just prevent us from enjoying the fruits of spiritual perfection and eternal life. It doesn’t just make our everyday lives more difficult, more tawdry and vulgar, and less savoury. It (sin) inspires and drives others to oppress, exploit, and manipulate others according to their private, sinful ambitions. Sometimes, those others are us. And, sometimes, we are the evil-doers. But we moderns are unable to oppose despots and tyrants (as they rise in their power) because we refuse to speak about, study, or acknowledge age-old problems in the vocabulary of the past.

Perhaps, we might find a hip hop term that we can all embrace in our multicultural enlightenment, because semantics is decidely more relevant to us, today, than anything that might resemble, evince or confirm the True, the Good and the Beautiful.

Or not.

Below, music to contemplate the big idea above. KLF (Time Lords), Doctoring the Tardis.

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Stan Faryna
April 10th, 2008
Bucharest, Romania

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About Stan Faryna

Stan Faryna is a Global Voices author and translator. Global Voices is a non-profit global citizens’ media project founded at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, a research think-tank focused on the Internet’s impact on society.

Mr. Faryna is the founder and co-founder of several technology, design and communication companies in the United States and Europe including Faryna & Associates, Inc., Halo Interactive, and others.

His political, scholarly, social and technical opinions have appeared in The Chicago Defender, Jurnalul National, The Washington Times, Sagar, Saptamana Financiara, Social Justice Review, and other publications.

Mr. Faryna also served as editor-in-chief of Black and Right (Praeger Press, 1996), a landmark collection of socio-political essays by important American thinkers including U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Copyright

Copyright 1996 to 2008 by Stan Faryna.

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