10:7 It Begins with a Whimper

Season 10, episode 7: The Pyramid at the End of the World

DOCTOR: The end of your life has already begun. There is a last place you will ever go, a last door you will ever walk through, a last sight you will ever see, and every step you ever take is moving you closer. The end of the world is a billion, billion tiny moments. And somewhere, unnoticed, in silence or in darkness It has already begun.

When our little worlds that we have constructed come crashing down, we often assume it is the result one major event. We begin to divide our life into two distinct phases: the “before” phase and “after” phase.  We look fondly at the “before” stage-where everything seemed perfectly normal. Life was good or at least stable and predictable.  we had certain beliefs and relationships that we were so sure about, and we understood our world. The larger world is tough and unpredictable but we each have our own little worlds where we go for comfort. But the “after” phase is filled with pain, uncertainty, chaos. Our little worlds are ripped apart and the compass we used to guide us no longer works.  We wish we could turn back time and stop that one major event from occurring. But the reality is, major events are the cumulation of thousands of smaller events.   Catastrophes rarely come out of nowhere-instead they accumulate over the months and years.

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At first the Doctor assumes that the end of the world that the Monks foretold is going to come via a break out of World War III. After all, he monks placed a pyramid right smack dab in the middle of a hotspot where Russian, Chinese, and American soldiers are stationed. The assumption, not entirely invalid, is that somehow an event will be triggered that will cause infighting amongst the countries with the three greatest armies. Moreover, all three countries are nuclear powers (out of the three, China supposedly as the least. Though when it comes to nuclear war, you don’t need many cause to global disaster) . Additionally, the US, Russia, and China are allied with other countries that have access to nuclear weapons. This is the type of war that would make the previous global wars look like small skirmishes in comparison.

MONK: The human race is about to end. The chain of events is already in motion. Life on Earth will cease by humanity’s own hand. Observe. 

But of course, such an event is almost a bit too obvious. I mean, most of us, if we know that a major catastrophic event is going to happen, will try to do whatever we can to avoid it. If I see a car heading towards me and I have time to step out of the way, that is exactly what I am going to do. But if it is dark, foggy, or storming outside and I can barely see two feet in front of me or hear the sound of an approaching car, chances are I won’t see the vehicle until seconds before impact. In a similar way, the Doctor points out that the monks are using misdirection.  They want humanity to focus on the obvious threats while allowing smaller threats to go unnoticed until it is too late to stop them. What the Doctor and the others need to look out for is something small that has the potential to snowball into a global event.

In real life, we often focus on the major life catastrophes that can come out of nowhere: freak accidents, major illnesses, terrorist attacks, mass shootings. Yet even those major events are composed of thousands of smaller incidents that went unnoticed. Safety instructions that were discarded, misread medical reports, individuals who are acting a bit off. Yet we don’t pay attention until the event is so beyond our control that there is nothing we can do to stop it.

This weekend a part of my world shattered. A former mentor, someone I trusted, someone I cared deeply about, someone who had guided me through some of my difficult moments in grad school was recently arrested and charged with a crime. Without going into details-this crime, was not a “victimless” crime and from the little bit that has leaked out, it also doesn’t appear to have been a one-time thing. The behavior sees to have been repetitive and compulsive and something that this person kept well hidden, until eventually the actions came to light.

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I thought I knew this person. Yes we hadn’t really talked since I graduated, but still. I knew this person. I had worked with this person. I had long conversations, lunches, and even spent Christmas with their family. Yet I couldn’t see this coming. There are some people I know who it wouldn’t surprise me if they got in trouble with the law. It would be sad, but it would also be one of those, “I didn’t know this person would do this, but I’m not surprised.” Not so with this person. And I’m left wondering, how could this happen? This person has destroyed his life and shattered those of his loved ones. I can’t help but ask, “why” and “how could they let things get so bad?” I don’t have answers to those questions but I imagine that when the behavior started, it started off small. It started off as a mistake or as something that wasn’t a big deal, let alone illegal. And it probably didn’t impact this person too much. This person kept going to school, working, raising a family, etc. But somewhere along the line-things changed. It became a compulsive behavior that took over their life. It laid waste to everything that they had not just once but multiple times. Their career, their family, and future plans were destroyed. The fall seems so sudden to those of us who are watching from the outside, but I can imagine that for this person, the fall was a long time coming.

DOCTOR: And whatever it is will kill all life on Earth, not just humans. Plague discriminates. So this isn’t a plan, it’s a mistake. Somebody, somewhere, is doing something that’s about to blow up in everybody’s face. 

In this episode, the Doctor has to try and look beyond the obvious for what could spark a global disaster. The notion of a bio-chemical attack is obvious, but the Doctor rejects the notion that this would be an intentional action. The problem would not be in some lab where infectious disease are created or where top-secret military biological weapons are kept and/or tested. No, it would be the result of a small, almost indiscernible accident. This is how disasters often start. Small, unimportant incidences take on a life of their own. Mistakes become habits. Habits become addictions. And before anyone knows what it is happening the truth comes out and people’s worlds are shattered. It’s not a global catastrophe but for those involved, the world they once knew is obliterated. And the blast impacts numerous people from the center to the periphery.

I thought I knew this person. I thought my bullshit detector was pretty good. But the person who was arrested is a stranger.

Doctor: …Long story short, misplaced decimal point resulting in a bacteria that turns any living thing it touches into gunk. 
BRABBIT: So why is it going to end the world? Has it been dispersed already? 
DOCTOR: Ah, no, it’s still in the lab. I think I can contain it. 

In the episode, the only way to contain the bacteria was to destroy it. But even then, the Doctor’s previous actions-specifically his lying to Bill about being blind, has its own unintended consequences. Bill isn’t going to let the Doctor die so she gives the monks consent to rule the world.

Likewise, it is the little actions, the hidden actions, the little events that make up life that can quickly create a monster that unwittingly destroys your life and the lives of those you love. Little mistakes quickly add up. Things done in secret, often come to light.  And at a certain point, it becomes difficult if not impossible to stop what you have started. I still care about this person and always will. I pray that this person receives the help that they need. I pray for their family and friends who must be devastated. I believe in a God that loves everyone. I believe God loves this person, their victims, and their family and friends. I pray that this person knows how much God still loves them. I pray that their victims know that God never abandoned them. I pray that someway, somehow, all those involved will use what occurred to help others-particularly those in danger of being taken advantage of and abused.

As for me, picking up the pieces is not an option because that assumes that what was broken can be recreated in this case that is impossible. I’m left wondering, who can I trust now? (Yes yes, God, but let’s be real, we also need other humans). Can I trust myself and my judgments about other people? People have let me down so often, I’ve been abused, neglected, and abandoned by those who were supposed to care for me. And then this happens. And I wonder, where and when along the way could this have been stopped before things got so bad?

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10:4 Knock Knock

The Landlord in Knock Knock is holding onto false hope-this false hope tells him that if he just sacrifices six people every 20 or so years, then Eliza-the person he loves-will never die.  He transfers this false hope to her and he disguises the false hope in lies.  For 70 years he told Eliza that she was his daughter and that she had to trust him. He knew what was best-he stated that the lives lost-were necessary.  In one striking scene, the Landlord stops the record that had been playing on loop-the record that was keeping Bill’s housemate Pavel trapped- he not yet part of the house but also not fully human. He claims:

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But I would argue that hope itself isn’t a distraction or cruel-but false hope is the type of cruel hope that the Landlord describes. This is a hope based on lies and it leaves destruction in its wake. It can be difficult to separate false hope from true hope. Is it false hope to believe that, for example, you and your family might be spared in a war zone? It is false hope to believe that your friend, who is desperately sick may survive a life-threatening cancer? Does hope need to have a strong possibility of succeeding in order to be “real?” If so, then what is the point of hope? I don’t think there is a neat and tidy answer to that. Hope tends to verge on the impossible. But for me one of the key markers of false hope is the devastation it leaves in its wake and the belief that preserving this hope is all that matters-even at the cost of other lives.

DOCTOR: What do you remember of the past, Eliza? 
ELIZA: My father, he knows what’s best. 
DOCTOR: Yes, the lice preserve the appearance and the voice, but not so much the memories. He’s not your father, am I right? 
LANDLORD: No! Stop talking! 

If you are Christian, regardless of where you fall on the conservative-progressive spectrum, hope plays a central role in your theology. Especially important is the hope that God stands with you and others who are suffering and that all the pain and suffering in this world does not have the last say. God’s love is bigger than all the destruction and suffering in this world. How Christians express this hope can differ depending on whether one identifies as fundamentalist, conservative, progressive, Evangelical, Protestant, Catholic etc. But hope itself is a key part of Christianity. Unfortunately, the hope that Christianity presents-particularly to those who are marginalized has become warped over the centuries. This hope which pushes back against oppressive societal and religious structures, which attempts to destroy the inequalities between the haves or the have nots, has been co-opted by those in power to create anguish and distress. The hope of a God that cares for all and stands against injustice has instead become a hope where violence is king, where the “other” aka anyone who is different from you gets thrown into hellfire, and where the rich are seemingly much more important than the poor. Jesus-the one who eschewed most earthly forms of power and prestige is instead transformed into a modern-day Herod or  Tiberius Caesar. The heart of Christianity is transformed from a focus on a radical, redemptive God, to a power-hungry God, bent on protecting the status quo. Some Christians seek to hide the gospel in a bunch of bullshit lies and when someone dares to counter their lies-they become angry and desperate, like the landlord in Knock Knock they demand silence.

ELIZA: Father, what’s the matter? I don’t understand. 
DOCTOR: Your father would have had better things to do than playing with insects in the garden. But he isn’t your father. When you were ill, he was sent out of the house by the doctors who are failing to save his mother! 
ELIZA: His mother? 
DOCTOR: Eliza, he’s your son. Your loving son. 
ELIZA: My son? 
LANDLORD: (crying) Forgive me. Forgive me

The lies that the Landlord told Eliza came crumbling down within one night. The life that he had managed to build over 70 years disintegrated because Bill and the Doctor were able to recognize the truth and speak it. The Doctor tears apart the lies and false hope that the Landlord used to keep his mother, Eliza alive. The amazing thing is that even after the truth has been brought to light, the Landlord continues to pine for the lies and false hope. He rejects the possibility of a new life and instead wants to hold on desperately to the normal life that ended when he was a kid.

 

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Over the centuries Christianity has become the servant imperial power. Even with the end of “classical” colonialism Christianity is used to justify wars that kill hundreds of thousands of people, that force the poor to struggle to survive, and that okays horrific abuse-if done in the name of Christ. And the crazy thing is that so many Christians prefer this false and warped Christianity. This form of Christianity pretends to offer freedom but in reality, it traps people in their own selfishness and it punishes those unlucky enough to have dark skin or to be on the receiving end of western bombs. This form of Christianity says death-particularly the physical death of the “other” is a necessity. And while I think some Christians know that this Christianity is false and yet they choose to hold onto it anyway, many others genuinely believe the lies they have been told. So when others present a different version-one that calls out blind nationalism and militarism, one that claims that Christ is not synonymous with state power-they become angry.  

LANDLORD: Eliza, finish them now. Take them, or you’ll die! They’ll destroy you! 
DOCTOR: What’s the point in surviving if you never see anyone, if you hide yourself away from the world? When did you last open the shutters? 

The false hope this form of Christianity espouses is one that results in the division of humanity based on shallow differences and it breeds contempt, violence, and hatred. What is the point in believing in a God that is just as bad or worse, then some of humanity’s worse dictators? What is the point in believing in a God that has no qualms about “blessing” some individuals, while allowing others to die horrific deaths or experience intense suffering? But letting go of this god can be difficult. It can be scary to open up the window and see that there is something different out there. Likewise, it can be scary to let go of a hope we have held onto for so long that it becomes a core part of our identity. Even if we find out that this hope was nothing but a bunch of lies.  This form of Christianity-based on imperialism, power, greed, and violence will never completely vanish. Humans will always choose to hold onto lies that provide them short term benefit but that are harmful and that ultimately result in the destruction of themselves and others. But there is a different way of seeing the world. There is a different way of viewing God and faith.  The God I turn to is one who loves all-but stands with the marginalized. This God isn’t obsessed with nationalism or military might. There is no set script-some forms of Christianity say-if you believe this, pray this, or do this-then life will be good. But that’s not how life works.

Knock Knock ends with all of Bill’s housemates surviving-but of course the ones who had become part of the house decades ago-were lost. That’s the danger of false hope-once you refuse to hold onto it, you can move forward, but it can be difficult to repair the damage that has already been done. But in letting go of the lies-you  just might help bring about a better future. At least, that’s my hope.

10:3 Thin Ice

Doctor:… if your future is built on the suffering of that creature, what’s your future worth?

Current US President Donald Trump ran on the platform, “Make America Great Again.” His campaign attracted swaths of the population that felt as if the global economy had left them to behind. However, instead of blaming those with power, these voters blamed the vulnerable: people of color, immigrants, children, and refugees. In the minds of some voters, making America great again apparently meant making America white again. And instead of ushering in a new economic utopia where the heyday of industrialization reaps benefits on factor workers, coal miners, etc and other blue-collar workers, the beneficiaries have been the economic and political elite-from both parties. Republicans leaders get to try and shove their racist, poverty hating political agenda through and Democrats have the opportunity to reinvent themselves as heroes of the vulnerable and marginalized, although in reality Democrats have been all to happy to use marginalized groups for votes and then ignore them when in power. Both Republican and Democrats claim to want to create a more prosperous country, but what does this country look like and is it a country worth serving let alone fighting for?

Which lives matter?

In the episode, “Thin Ice” the Doctor berates Bill for being upset about that a child is killed.  I, for one, do believe rage has a time and place, and I view Bill’s rage as justified, it must also be acknowledged that rage instead of being an impassioned cry for justice can be used to mask hypocrisy and a thirst for power.

BILL: Save him. 
DOCTOR: I can’t. He’s gone. 
BILL: Do something and save him. 

Bill watches helplessly as a child is killed right before her eyes. The fact that the death is bloodless one does nothing to eliminate the fact that the child’s life is snuffed out.  Bill begs the Doctor to do something and is angry when he nonchalantly responds that he is unable too. If I am not mistaken, every companion, at least in Nuwho has expressed some sort of disgust and shock at the amount of lives lost during the Doctor’s journeys. They often serve as the Doctor’s conscious, reminding him that the people and/or creates slaughtered often had hopes, dreams, etc. In other words, the companions, at least at the start of their adventures with the Doctor, serve to remind him that those killed shouldn’t just be another number added to a long list of those killed. I empathize with Bill in this scene. I believe that her outrage at the child’s death and the Doctor’s seemingly uncaring attitude is genuine. I do think that the Doctor dismisses her anger all to quickly. However, the Doctor also provides numerous thought provoking arguments when he tries to counter Bill’s rage. His arguments can be applied to those who are relatively privileged and hold a measure of power.

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Understandably, a good portion of Americans find themselves angry and powerless in the face of the Trump administration. As a result, many people, particularly those who may have been politically indifferent now find themselves politically engaged. I am not trying to knock those people or their new-found activism. I am however positing a question that I think needs to be taken seriously: is this new-found activism based on a passion for justice or simply on a fear that the current administration’s policies will negatively impact their lives and their families? In other words, will this sense of rage continue whenever President Trump is no longer in office?

Let’s be honest, it is human nature means to care predominately about issues that directly impact our lives. Moreover, there are so many cases of injustice that it would be impossible for any one individual to adequately deal with them all. It is ok to hold some causes dearer to the heart then others. But the reality is, that many issues are intersectional-meaning they do not just stand alone. And my fear is that the focus only on events that impact our own personal lives means that the marginalized who are often screwed over regardless of who is in power are overlooked. For example, the women’s march in which women of all races, ethnicity, etc participated is great. But where were the white women when black and brown lives were protesting the deaths of unarmed and mentally ill people at the hands of the state? Where were the protests against the Obama administration’s increased use of drone strikes, which murdered numerous innocent civilians? Yes, some argue that the Trump administration presents a much direr existential threat than previous administrations. I am not here to debate whether or not that is true. But I argue that his administration didn’t simply come out of thin air. His election was the result of numerous political, social, and economic factors conflating. In other words, ignoring the plight of others because their pain does not directly impact us-eventually comes back to bite us in the ass. Injustice builds upon injustice.  It is easy to look at the suffering of others and believe, “that will never happen to me.” History demonstrates again and again that such an attitude is fool hardy. The distinction between oppression that directly impacts us and oppression that does not, is a useless and arbitrary one.

DOCTOR: You know what happens if I don’t move on? More people die. There are kids living rough near here. They may well be next on the menu. Do you want to help me? Do you want to stand here stamping your foot? Because let me tell you something. I’m two thousand years old, and I have never had the time for the luxury of outrage. 

Like I said before, I believe outrage has a vital place in social justice movements. I especially believe that those who are part of groups that have historically been the victims of state oppression deserve to have their outrage acknowledged. Far too often, their outrage is suppressed in the name of “peace.” But it is important to acknowledge that outrage, especially on the part of those with privilege, can serve as a way to avoid taking concrete action and making difficult decisions. Outrage that doesn’t lead to action is useless. I mean, many Americans are outraged at the horrific treatment Native Americans underwent during European colonialism and the beginnings of the American empire, yet these very same people ignore or downplay the continued suffering of native Americans. Or, many Americans condemn the slave trade and express anger that many of America’s founding fathers supported such a horrific system yet they show a shocking apathy towards state sanctioned murder of people of color at the hands of police.

A worthy future?

DOCTOR:… What makes you so sure that your life is worth more than those people out there on the ice? Is it the money? The accident of birth that puts you inside the big, fancy house? 
SUTCLIFFE: I help move this country forward. I move this Empire forward. 

There is no denying that Trump and the current Republican Party express a blatant disregard for the well being of those who do not look like them or have their vast resources. In this context it is easy to want to view the established Democratic Party as saviors. But rhetoric needs to be matched by actions. The Republican Party has made it clear that they do not value the lives of immigrants, children, or the poor. They are willing to hold hostage or completely cut the already inadequate American safety net. Democrats have capitalized on this by giving the appearance of standing up for justice. No, they claim, they won’t give up on DACA recipients. They will fight for healthcare for children. Yet their actions have been less than stellar. I would argue that the Republican Party represents the Sutecliffe that the Doctor and Billy see-openly arrogant and racist. While the Democrats represent the popular image of Sutecliffe and the one he holds of himself: charming, advocating progress, etc. But the empire that both parties endorse is one that views certain lives as expendable. The current Republican Party-especially the far-right branch openly admit their disdain for people of color, women, LGBTQ, people from “shithole countries” (aka non-western ones). While the Democrats are subtler: they will stand up for DACA recipients until it no longer benefits them. They will listen to Black Lives Matter advocates, at least until the election season is over.

I think it’s time that Americans-regardless of their political leanings really consider the type of country they want to be a part of. What values should we hold dear? How do we define progress? Because right now, the United sates views the suffering and deaths of the “nobodies” as a necessary price to pay for progress.  And the result is a country not worth boasting about, much less fighting for.

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