New Doctor Who Ups the Stakes

My ongoing obsession with the BBC classic series Doctor Who continues.

Doctor WhoLast week the 11th season of the (new) Doctor Who began. This season features three big changes: a new Doctor, played by Jodie Whittaker, a new head writer, Chris Chibnall, and three new companions.

Having seen the first episode, I can’t wait to see how the new season develops with Whittaker in the title role. Whenever an actor assumes the role he (and now she) brings a fresh take on the Doctor. Usually it takes a few episodes before they find their footing. Chris Eccleston’s loopiness sparked right away. David Tennant and Matt Smith both brought a boyishness to the role that took a little time to grow on me. I never ever warmed up to Peter Capaldi’s overly dour take on the Doctor.

Whittaker was thoroughly charming. There were some rough parts to the season opener–she’s overly giddy at times–but she has a warm confidence that telegraphs a strong future.

There’s one other change that’s more subtle but I think more important. The Doctor’s companions often serve as an audience stand-in. The companion, usually female, is full of wonder and amazement and learns and grows as she travels the universe with the Doctor, surviving one harrowing adventure after another. Danger is at every turn, but no companion in the new Who era has ever truly died.

Rose was exiled to an alternate earth (still alive).

Martha became a Torchwood soldier (still alive, I think).

Poor Donna Noble survived, though only because she had her memories of her adventures erased.

Amy Pond and Rory both survived, though they were banished to the past.

Clara Oswald, well, she died. But then the Doctor did his timey-wimey stuff and snatched her away just before the moment of her death. I didn’t get it either but I loved Clara so I was happy.

And then there’s Bill Potts. Turned into a Cyberman. That’s death, right? No. Another timey-wimey thing where she becomes an immortal puddle or something.

With each companion the danger and risk is heightened, but true consequences are denied.

Not so in this season’s first episode. We were presented with a cast of four potential companions: police officer Yasmin, determined bike rider Ryan, his grandmother Grace, and Grace’s husband Graham. While fighting the big bad tooth-faced monster with a name that sounded like Tim Shaw, one of those four potentials dies.

Like, really dies. Buried and all.

Not only that, it was the FIFTH human death shown in just this one episode.

Doctor Who is nominally a children’s show. Yes, characters die, but less often than you’d think. And never, until now, a (near) companion.

Does this mean that any of the three remaining companions could die this season?

Hopefully, and not because I want to see them die, but because I want to see stakes that matter.




Classic Lit Challenge 6: Saturday

This one was a test.

For my classic lit challenge I’ve been choosing novels that have weathered decades. As in at least five. My reasoning: among the ocean of books, only quality literature will survive the currents of time.

I deviated for Ian McEwan’s novel Saturday. It was only published in 2005. Not enough time has passed to tell if it will be floating around used book sales a hundred years from now.

220px-SaturdayMy verdict: I don’t think so.

First, why I picked it up. I’d read Enduring Love by him a few years ago and I liked it a lot. I’d seen the movie Atonement, which is based on a book he wrote, and I liked it even more. I remember when Saturday came out and it got rave reviews. So, there it was, on the tables of Grace Van Vorst Church’s book sale, for just a buck.

The good: I read Saturday in a single day (a Sunday, not a Saturday). I was still in a wickedly off-kilter state of mind so I wandered into Manhattan and read chapters at various places along the Hudson riverfront, and I kept on doing so until Saturday (the book) had ended.

I NEVER read a book in a single day. Saturday, however, was fluid and seamless and kept me going.

So what’s it about? It follows a well-off and well-regarded middle-aged London neurosurgeon, Henry Perowne, during the course of a single day: February 15, 2003. As Henry navigates his unimpressive Saturday routine he ponders such things as the love of his family (very devoted all around), fears about terrorism, the looming Iraq War and his general place in life. In a lot of ways it reminded me of James Joyce’s Ulysses, or Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway in that it focused intensely on one person’s life confined to a single day. But Joyce and Woolf pulled it off. McEwan fell short. I think I know why.

Henry Perowne has no memorable flaws. He’s skillful and dutiful and faithful and even tempered. He’s boring. There were opportunities to delve into his psyche, burrow into his past, but the earliest we get is adolescence, and one that is fine enough. I wished McEwan had used the Joyce/Woolf example and dug deep into Henry’s shit.

Nope. None of that.

Another problem hearkens back to why Saturday was so praised when it came out. Way back in 2005 the contentious Iraq War was underway. Saturday takes place during a massive British anti-war rally, and Henry spends many pages ruminating on the merits of the war. He gets into an impassioned argument with his daughter Daisy (most of the passion was on her side), which mirrors the arguments of the day, almost in a textbook fashion.

Topicality can be awesome. But what happens when, with the passage of time, that enormously world-changing event ends up not being such a big deal? A decade plus on, the Iraq War seems as consequential as the Boer War in popular culture, so the debate over its merits before the fact have zero tension. Time moves that fast. McEwan is one of today’s literary heavyweights, but I’m guessing if he wrote this same exact novel today, it wouldn’t get published.

There’s much to like about Saturday. The writing is great, and the action, especially toward the last quarter of the book, was unexpected and shocking (if not totally believable). Like I said, I read Saturday in one day.

Will it last a hundred hears on? I’m guessing McEwan’s Atonement will earn that honor.

Next up, a classic that made my skin crawl.