10:5 Our True Faces

Season 10, episode 5: Oxygen

ELLIE: Everything’s so messed up. The trivial stuff just falls away. You realise life can be so brief and so, I just want to tell you, if we do get through this, I want to have a baby! With you! And as soon as my radio’s fixed I’m going to tell you just that. 

I’m tired. Not so much physically tired as emotionally, mentally, and spiritually tired. I don’t know if I am burnt out or if I am just going through a phase. But being awake…is a chore. Communicating is difficult. I just…want out. I can’t imagine it getting any better-in fact, I only see it getting worse. Life has never been peaceful or tranquil-as long as life has existed and competition for resources was a requirement of survival we have had violence and bloodshed. And while some scholars argue that numerically speaking violence and death have decreased as a result of technological, societal, and medical advances, these improvements mean very little to the millions of people throughout the world who are dying from human greed and selfishness.

At earlier points in human history one could argue that we didn’t know better. The notion that there are universal human rights that should be applicable to every person regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion is relatively new and evidently isn’t universally practiced. But in theory, most countries, including some of the most vicious dictatorships often at least give enough lip service to the notion of human rights that they take great pains to hide, deny or minimize acts of torture and injustice. I can imagine that if we were to bring someone from the late 1400s or 1500s to see the modern world they would be confused, impressed and maybe even frightened by the medical and technological advancements we have made.  And perhaps they would find the large-scale discussion of human rights and democracy to be strange. Though of course once they scratch the surface they would find how for all of our talk about democracy, equality, and human rights and for our vast medical and technological resource that human cruelty continues unabated.

In this episode of Doctor Who, Bill, Nardole, and the Doctor come face to face with the outer limits of late stage capitalism. Initially, Bill is, of course, enthralled with being in space, especially when she is able to look out a window and see a section of the vast universe before her. But this awe is quickly forgotten as she, the Doctor and Nardole, become aware of the danger they are in; a danger not the result of a weird alien creature but a danger created by human greed.  In this stage of capitalism everything is commodified-including the very air that those on the ship need in order to survive let alone work their jobs. That’s what unchecked greed does-it zaps the wonder of life

SUIT: Oxygen is available for personal use only, at competitive prices. 
DOCTOR: It’s only in the suits. Personal use. They only have oxygen in the suits themselves. 
SUIT: Any unlicensed oxygen will be automatically expelled to protect market value. 

In order to survive those on the ship need to have access to air-and in this case that means they need to buy it. The notion that air-a basic human need can be commodified and sold seems not only ridiculous but cruel and raises certain questions about the morality of such a society. What is it like back on the planet where the crew comes from? Is air sold there? What happens to the poor in such a society? Do they even get to exist? They would have to, since capitalism, as practiced seems to rely on a steady stream of poor bodies that can be used and discarded at will. But while the notion that air can be sold appears ridiculous and cruel-it is of course but an extreme version of what already occurs on a daily basis. In the US for instance, medical care, housing, and food are treated as privileges not rights. Both the poor and increasingly the “middle class” are finding themselves struggling to survive.  Medical bills not only devastate people economically-destroying credit and eating up any savings a person may have been able to put away-but it kills.  The medicine individuals need to live often costs hundreds or thousands of dollars. In one of the most technologically advanced nation in the world, who boosts of being the “oldest democracy” people are dying because insurance companies and the multi-billion dollar health industry, to say nothing of the government, have determined that the lives of individuals are not as important as profit.

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While Bill and Nardole initially want to leave and go back to the Tardis at the first hint of danger, the Doctor pushes back against such a sentiment. In this case, he doesn’t exactly lecture them on the virtues of helping others, but he provides a light rebuke. by running away and hiding from danger, knowing that there are four survivors somewhere on the ship, what would they be revealing about themselves? When as a society we allow people to die from lack of medical care, or when we demand that access to guns is more important than the lives of elementary and high school students, what are revealing about ourselves? When we turn a blind eye to the atrocities in Syria, which despite the near defeat of ISIS appears to be getting worse  what are we saying about ourselves? What are we saying about humanity? When we ignore the cries of black and brown bodies demanding that we hold the state accountable for their violence, what are we saying?

DOCTOR: There was no hacking, no malfunction. The suits are doing exactly what they were designed to do. What your employers are telling them to do. 
IVAN: And what would that be? 
DOCTOR: Save the oxygen that you are wasting. You’ve become inefficient. You even told me. Your conveyors were down. 
ABBY: So everyone had to die? 

We are saying that certain lives don’t matter. When we claim that healthcare is not a “right” we are saying that we don’t give a damn about those who struggle with physical or mental disabilities. We are saying that we don’t care if people who are sick-die. We are in essence practicing a form of survival of the fittest-where only the healthiest or wealthiest survive. When we demand action after a puppy dies after being placed into an overhead bin for a three hour flight but we ridicule children and adults who demand gun control measures after every mass shooting, we are saying that a puppy’s life is worth more than that of children gunned down in school or adults slaughtered at a concert. (Not saying what happened to the puppy was correct-it should not have happened. But neither should mass shootings.) We are saying that damn it MY GUN is more important than the lives of other people.  And I’m tired. I’m tired of living in a world where my life is worthless because of my lack of wealth, my skin color and sexual orientation. I’m tired of living in a world where I need to explain to people why we need to care about how state violence perpetrates non-state violence beyond issues such as “terrorism.”

DOCTOR: They’re not your rescuers. They’re your replacements. The end point of capitalism. A bottom line where human life has no value at all. We’re fighting an algorithm, a spreadsheet. Like every worker, everywhere, we’re fighting the suits.
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Towards the end of the episode the Doctor talks about a ‘good death”-which he and the others do manage to avoid-this time. But I find myself attracted to the notion of a “good” death, whatever that means. Can suicide ever be considered a “good death?” I don’t know-perhaps not-but at this point I just want to say, “fuck you” to a society that will continue to devalue life and put profit over compassion. To me, telling society, to go to hell, seems like a good death. It won’t change anything, but damn it, at least I won’t have to be so tired anymore.

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Season 10:1 The Pilot: Looking for Hope?

I’ve been a fan of NuWho for the past three or four years. As a result, I know that crying is part of being a fan of the show. As someone who hates crying or showing weakness of any kind-Doctor Who provides one of the few safe spaces where I feel as if it is ok to cry. (This is one reason why I rarely watch Doctor Who with other people). I’ve gotten to the point where I can somewhat prepare myself for the times when I am pretty sure I will cry: when the Doctor regenerates, when a companion leaves, and perhaps during the last episode or so of the season/series. Of course, whether an episode causes one to cry or not is not just about the intention or skill of the writer. Just as important are the life circumstances of the viewer.

Perhaps this is just me, and perhaps I should know better, but I typically don’t expect the first episode of a new season to be a tear jerker. Especially when the new season involves the introduction of a new company. Typically the episode focuses on the wonder and excitement of traveling on the TARDIS and being exposed to different time periods and planets. Of course this episode had plenty of that but right off the bat Bill is exposed to the heartbreak, loss, and loneliness that one experiences and/or is exposed to when traveling with the Doctor. And the viewer, well at least me, is confronted with reminders about those experiences in the real world. Only, there isn’t a Doctor to guide me through those difficult moments as a result, I found that in my daily life, I feel more like Heather, than I do Bill.

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I travel a lot-not to different planets (yet!) but to different countries, states, cities. I travel mainly for internships and for school. Now don’t get me wrong, I love traveling and I am glad I have the opportunity to go to different places. But if the visit lasts more than a week, I find myself getting restless.  This restlessness rarely has to do with the city itself, or with the people around me, but it has to do with me and after years of going through the same cycle every time I go somewhere new for an extended period of time I’ve had to be honest with myself: I’m profoundly unhappy and I hate life. Or more specifically, I hate my life. I hate who I am and all the characteristics, thoughts, weaknesses, strengths that make me me. I hate how self-absorbed I am(as I wrote a blog post that is basically all about me), I hate how I look, I hate how I can never seem to make myself happy. I travel a lot because I enjoy traveling but also because for a while at least-I am able to escape myself by immersing myself in a new location. But soon enough, I have to deal with myself. I mean, you can’t exactly escape who you are.

BILL: You okay? 
HEATHER: Yeah, I’m fine.
BILL: Sorry, can I ask? What’s that in your eye?
HEATHER: It’s just a defect in the iris.
BILL: Looks like a star. 
HEATHER: Well, it’s a defect.
BILL: At least it’s a defect that looks like a star. 
HEATHER: I’m getting it fixed.

Everything about me feels like a defect that needs to be dealt with before I can be happy or until I can love myself or be loved by other people. All I do is want to run away, in the hopes that if I run far enough or often enough that somehow I can magically learn to like myself. But I’m not an idiot. I know that’s not how life works.

In this episode, we don’t really get to learn much about Heather-her background, her past, or exactly why she wants to so desperately leave that she is in a sense willing to die-(at the very least she gives up her humanity). All we know is her desperate loneliness and her brief connection with Bill. And although the episode doesn’t touch on this except for briefly, the alien lifeform, whatever it was, was also desperately lonely.

DOCTOR: Maybe it saw something it needed. What was she like, your friend? What did she want? What did she need?
HEATHER [memory]: Everywhere I go, I just want to leave.
BILL: I think she wanted to leave.
DOCTOR: You see? 
NARDOLE: The puddle found a passenger.
DOCTOR: A left-behind droplet of a liquid spaceship. A single tear drop, alone in a strange world. Then, one day, it finds someone who wants to fly away. Not just a passenger. More than a passenger, it found a pilot, so it ate her.

I don’t know what the super intelligence alien space oil is supposed to signify. And the great thing about TV shows is that sometimes the character(s) can signify different things to different people, at different time points. And sometimes what we need the character(s) to signify might not necessarily make sense, especially to other people. But call me morbid, call me morose but for me the intelligent space oil, represents death. At the very least, it represents a form of death, since Heather gives up her humanity for what? For adventure? For thrills? To see the universe” Or for something more? At what point, does life become unbearable? At what point is the potential of what life holds-a new crush, a new love, not enough? At what point does the so called, “it gets better”-whatever that “it” is that everyone consistently talks about, that I’ve been constantly told about, come too late, if at all?

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The reason, at least for me, that Heather and Bill’s story, as of right now (who knows what will happen in future episodes. It is Moffat after all) is so sad is because it was so short. Heather, was already gone or on her way to leaving at least, when they first meet. Whatever possibilities that could have been were shut down and destroyed right from the beginning. Moffat, of course does leave room for hope.

DOCTOR: It’s a big universe, but maybe one day we’ll find her.

And knowing how Doctor Who works, they could very well one day find her. But in the real world…is hope something that tangibly exists or is it something we tell ourselves to just get through life? And what of those who no longer have hope? Heather, lost her hope-at least her hope that in her human life form that things would get better and that things could be different. Unfortunately, we don’t-(I mean I certainly don’t, but perhaps there are some space aliens amongst my readership?)  have the option to basically be consumed by intelligent space oil (though that might be a good thing?) and travel the universe. But yet, by closing off hope, we also close ourselves off to very real possibilities. In “The Pilot,” Heather was basically doomed from the moment we saw her. Yet, there seems to exist the possibility that she is continuing to live albeit in a different form. Hope still finds a way to exist, though in a different form then what is expected.  In the real world, it is often said that hope is only truly gone at the moment of death (and of course, for those who believe in an afterlife, or in a resurrection that occurs after death, hope can continue. Though even then, the hope takes on a different form. In death the hope of continuing a normal life no longer exists. Obviously for the person who died, but also for the people left behind).

So I guess, at the end of this episode, I’m ultimately left wondering what is hope? What does it look like? Can I even recognize it? What does it entail? Do I still have it? Do I even want it?