May 25th, 2008

doctor who

On being a fan, and the first half of Season Four

I make no excuses for being an sf fan, and a Doctor Who fan. My day job requires me to engage with people trying to extricate themselves from long-running conflicts; when I get home and turn on the TV, or get out my book to read on the train, I want escapist entertainment, not intellectual stimulation - I think this is why, for instance Gene Wolfe and M John Harrison don't really do it for me, ad why I prefer The Third Policeman to At Swim-Two-Birds.

New Who has been catering for my needs: smart scripts, decent special effects and a reasonable but not obsessive respect for the programme's past. Indeed, my impression is that the current season has had more links to Old Who than ever, yet not so intrusively as to make it incomprehensible for those who are new to it. I wonder to what extent that will change when RTD hands over to Steven Moffat?

In fairness to Davies, he has not only revived the programme to beyond its previous peaks of popularity it hadn't had since the 1970s, he has also lasted longer at the top than anyone except Barry Letts and JNT. Change is inevitable in human activity, and New Who has already surmounted the more visible challenges of changing Doctor and companions; I expect Moffat will build on the foundations in his own way.

I've enjoyed the first half of Season Four more than any of the others. Each of the previous seasons had a clunker among the first seven stories (Aliens of London / World War Three, The Idiot's Lantern, the Dalek two-parter) but this year that hasn't happened. While I didn't object to the romance of Rose/Nine, Rose/Ten and Martha/Ten, I find the sparks between Tate and Tennant tremendously refreshing - not to say that there is no UST at all, but the change of emphasis is nice; and Bernard Cribbins is great as her grandfather (I fear that Jacqueline King as her mother is rather similar to all RTD mothers though).

I already wrote up Partners in Crime, but here's my take on the rest of the season so far, in the absence of this weekend's episode due to Eurovision.

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Edited to add: The Doctor and Donna go to Belgium! But in 800 AD!


On my morning commute I usually listen to the day's meditation from this site. I am not an Ignatian practitioner - I don't think it would work for me - but I find it good to at least have some space for guided reflection in my routine.

I have been thinking all week about last Monday's reading, Mark 9:14-29. It's one of Mark's irritatingly cryptic healing narratives, where the disciples are rebuked (with no apparent justification) by Jesus for their lack of faith. That wasn't the bit that grabbed me: what interested me was the description of the symptoms of the child with an evil spirit which "has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid."

Usually interpreters take this to be a case of epilepsy, but as the parent of two children who cannot speak due to autism, it seemed to me that this must also be a possibility. B in particular can get into such a fury with the universe that she pounds on walls or the floor, doing herself damage like the child in Mark's account who would throw himself into the fire or the water - actually both our girls will perfectly happily throw themselves into the water with no regard to their own safety, but for fun rather than in rage. I'm struck by the way in which the child goes into convulsions as soon as Jesus comes into view, just as an autistic person can get deeply upset by new people or new routines. (And I don't know a lot about epilepsy, but I had the impression that it doesn't usually go with speechlessness.)

Obviously it's a bit pointless to diagnose a medical condition reported at second or third hand several decades after it happened two millennia ago, and it is not the point of the story anyway. The point of the story is the cure that Jesus effects on the child, who lies there at first seeming to be dead; but Jesus lifts him up by the hand. The moral lesson is the slightly obscure question of the level of belief of the disciples, and the child's father; in the raising up of the child from apparent death, there is also a clear foreshadowing of Jesus' own coming resurrection, which indeed is made explicit a couple of verses later.

The bit about the child's hand seemed very familiar to me. Both our daughters will take your hand and move it towards whatever it is they want done - a door that they want to have opened, food to get out of the kitchen cupboard, a particular video or DVD to put on. And I found myself wondering to what extent the child was actually "cured". If B were as easy-going and generally happy as U, she could probably still be living with us; if she were suddenly to become as able as U (who is still very very disabled), we would see it as a major advance.

Yet if they were not autistic, they would be completely different people; it would be very different from, say, healing someone who cannot walk, or has been born blind, or has leprosy. Part of accepting our children's situation has been realising that it is a fundamental part of what they are; at a very early stage I became suspicious of snake-oil merchants offering "cures". Elizabeth Moon writes about this from the autistic person's own point of view in her Nebula-winning novel Speed of Dark, and Charlotte Moore gives the perspective of a mother and a younger brother in George and Sam; I quoted her best line when I reviewed her book, but here it is again:
These mysterious, impossible, enchanting beings will always be among us, unwitting yardsticks for our own moral behaviour, uncomprehending challengers of our definition of what it means to be human.
Mark doesn't tell us that the child who Jesus encountered was completely "cured"; just that he went home quietly with his father and (by implication, though not explicitly) started to speak a little. I think any parent in a situation like ours would be profoundly grateful for even a small shift in that direction.
gebealogy, genealogy

Sir Maurice, the Lancastrian

One of the more peculiar entries in our family history is a brief note about

Sir Maurice Whyte, who served in France under Henry IV and Henry V where at the siege of Rouen, with the Prior of Kilmainham, he led 2,000 Irish, and later made Governor of Montaire under Henry VI. He was called "The Lancastrian", having served under three kings of the House of Lancaster.
This would presumably explain the three red roses on the family coat of arms (see icon); but I wouldn't mind being able to find some slightly better proof of the existence of Sir Maurice. I have a sneaking suspicion that this was all invented to give a respectable background to my Elizabethan namesake.

Well, some of this is easy enough to put dates to. Since Henry V reigned for less than ten years (1413-1422) it is not difficult to imagine a military career that would involve serving under both his father and his son. The siege of Rouen lasted from July 1418 to January 1419, and the presence of the Irish soldiers is well attested, as is the role of Thomas Butler, the Prior of Kilmainham; though British and Irish estimates of the troop strength under his command are more like 500-700, a French source describes "eight thousand Irish savages" as being part of the English forces. There is no mention of Maurice the Lancastrian in any on-line sources, but probably I can get into this the next time I am in a decent university library.

The idea of Maurice having been "Governor of Montaire" needs a bit more exploration. I can't find any Montaire in France; much more likely the story refers to Montoire-sur-le-Loir, now more famous as being the place where Pétain and Hitler agreed on French collaboration with the Nazis in 1940, but which was certainly on the contested border between English and French zones of control at that phase of the Hundred Years' War. I can't find on-line references to any particular local set-up there in the 1420s; other possibilities are Montoir-de-Bretagne in Brittany, and the Château de la Montoire near Calais (though this last appears to have been in French hands between 1410 and 1488). Again, I shall just have to wait until the next time I am in a decent university library.

Would any of you have easy access to the journal The Irish Sword? Only I see that it had a very short article (pages 62-63 of vol 2, 1953) by Richard Hayes on "Irish soldiers at the siege of Rouen, 1418-19".