Colonialism By Any Other Name…

10.9 The Empress of Mars

The Empress of Mars provides a one-sided view of colonialism and empire state building. On the one hand it rightfully critiques old school colonialism as practiced by the major western powers until the 1960s. On the other hand, its stark and blunt portrayals of old school colonialism masks the dangers of neo-colonialism which often uses the language of self-defense and humanitarian intervention to disguise its true selfish purpose. It is easy to see how antiqued and horrible the Victorian soldiers’ attitude towards Mars is. But it is important to remember that modern actions are not above reproach. The fact of the matter is that we try to hide the horrific actions perpetrated by western military intervention throughout the world.

In the Empress of Mars, the Doctor, Nardole, and Bill come across a handful of Victorian British soldiers…on Mars. And needless to say their attitude is a bit…well dated. This is most vividly and humorously expressed when the soldiers scoff at the notion of a female police officer.

BILL: Well, we’re sort of police. 
DOCTOR: Speak for yourself. 
BILL: What, you can deal with big green Martians and, and, and rocket ships, but you can’t deal with us being the police? 
GODSACRE: No, no, no, no, no. It’s just such a fanciful notion. A woman in the police force. 
BILL: Listen, yeah? I’m going to make allowances for your Victorian attitudes because, well, you actually are Victorian.

But their dated attitudes are also expressed in their frequent references to the British Empire. Tied with notions of empire are of course individual greed.

 

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One striking aspect of this conversation is how blunt and nonchalant Catchlove is. He freely admits that their purpose is to gain personal wealth and to expand the British Empire. Today, while you might hear such candid discussions in leaked government memos or conversations, “empire building” is now often discussed in terms of self-defense or humanitarian intervention. This is not to suggest that old-school colonialism also did not pretend to adhere some higher humanitarian or divine mission, but they were also pretty clear that they believed it was their divine mission to conquer and tame “savage” civilizations. Today the conversation centers around notions of self-defense and helping the marginalized, even though modern western military action often endangers both national security and the very marginalized groups it claims to save.

In this episode, it becomes clear early on that Catchlove is the villain of the story. And for many of us today, we can clearly point to how devastating and awful European colonialism was. Acknowledging the awfulness of the past and making reparations to those who suffered is a must, but at the same time, such an attitude makes it easy to pretend that our modern day actions are not as horrific as those committed in the past.

For instance, the war in Iraq was based around false notions of self-defense. The US claimed it needed to attack Iraq because Saddam Hussein was tied to al Qaeda and had weapons of mass destruction.  The nation was still reeling from the 9/11 attacks and the Bush administration attempted to exploit the nation’s renewed thirst for military violence and the wider world’s sympathy for America’s pain in order to ram through their military and political objectives. Of course, as it became increasingly clear Saddam Hussein had no ties to al Qaeda.  (Shough he did support other terrorist organizations at some points during his reign. See Trump’s Saddam.)

When it became clear that the there were no weapons of mass destruction or evidence of Saddam Hussein’s ties to al Qaeda, justifications quickly took on a humanitarian tone. Conversation shifted to how horrible Saddam Hussein was.  Of course it was true. Hussein was a vicious dictator and as a dictator the rights, freedoms, and even lives of his citizens mattered little. His concern was with political power. However, if that were truly the impetus behind the 2003 war in Iraq then Saddam Hussein should have been removed a long time ago. And if concern for human rights really is the basis of American military intervention, then allies such as Israel and Egypt would be at the receiving end of our military might rather than beneficiaries via money and arms. The discourse on human rights often serves to legitimize unjust western action regardless of the consequences.

In addition to claiming that the only reason they helped this ice warrior that they decided to name Friday (see how colonialism has no qualms about renaming the people and lands they have conquered) they have turned him into little more than a glorified butler/slave. Though of course, as it becomes clear, the belief that Catchlove and the soldiers have control over “Friday” backfires spectacularly.  A key part of European colonialism was turning the portion of the population that survived disease and slaughter, into slaves. Modern western intervention, often depicted as fighting for the rights of marginalized groups, of course rejects enslaving the population. Yet westerners seek to control the population in other ways including by enforcing their notion of democracy which is less about human rights and more about capitalism. This  form of capitalism  seeks to place western and private interests over the needs and desires of non-western nations.

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In this case, the Doctor is warning Catchlove and the other British soldiers to leave. Mainly for their benefit since the Doctor recognizes that Friday was tricking the British. But Catchlove stubbornly refuses to leave because Mars is now the property of the British Empire. Plus, of course they belong. The British have a mandate from their empire and from God to conquer. They belong everywhere. One may be tempted to say, “well, there. Today, such a notion of owning another country is completely off base. At least for westerners.” (SARCASM ALERT: Because westerners are supposedly the most enlightened of people who are above petty political squabbles revolving around “owning” others.).

But while western powers may not claim to “own” other people or their countries, there is a continued presumption of the right to use their land at will. For instance, the United States continues to build bases throughout the world, in developed and in developing countries.   While the bases need to be built with the support of the hosting nation, American imperialism thinks nothing of building/maintaining thousands of bases throughout the world-something it would loathe to allow other nations to do.  Moreover, because the US is such a power house, it can threaten to withhold much needed aid to any country that refuses to give in to US demands.

In The Empress of Mars, the critique of British colonialism is obvious. Catchlove in particular is portrayed as selfish, egotistical, and greedy. He does not even pretend to hide the fact that he and the other British soldiers arrived on Mars to gain riches nor does he gloss over his belief that Mars rightfully belongs to the Empire. Yet this bluntness also hides the nefarious character of modern day western action throughout the world. Whether or not recent foreign interventions such as the war in Iraq can technically be called colonialism is up to debate, (though I personally view it as a form of colonialism) western action continues to devastate and is often based on the notion that western countries have a right and duty to intervene in other countries affairs or to topple governments. The language used to disguise such misadventures reference self defense and human rights, but the aftermath is filled with death and destruction.  In other words, modern western countries have more in common with the likes of Catchlove then they would like to admit.

 

 

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The Dangers of Seeking Security over Freedom

Season 10, Episode 8: The Lie of the Land

BILL: They’re doing something to us. The Monks. I can’t think straight.  It’s like they’re saying they’ve been here forever, and I know they haven’t, but part of me is starting to think that it’s real. Every day I have to, I have to remind myself that everything that you, me and the Doctor did actually happened, and it wasn’t just a dream. Why do it? That’s what I don’t get. They invade somewhere, take control. Why go to the trouble of changing the past? 
NARDOLE: However bad a situation is, if people think that’s how it’s always been, they’ll put up with it. That’s ninety percent of the job done.

In the episode, The Lie of the Land, we see the consequences of Bill’s decision to ask for the Monk’s help in order to save the Doctor. Not only have the monks turned the world into a dictatorship where freedom is limited and the monks are worshipped as heroes, but they have managed to change history to such an extent, that their presence is viewed as being a permanent part of the landscape. They have managed to trick humanity into believing that they saved humanity numerous times from disasters and that their dictatorship has been going on for decades, if not centuries. As Nardole points out, people will put up with a situation if they believe that the situation is just how things are. Bill, however, manages to hold on to the truth: the Monks are lying; they are ruthless  totalitarians who claim to have provided security and safety to humanity when in reality they only bought back widespread bondage and slavery.

The most shocking part for Bill, is the fact that the Doctor seems to have decided that the monks were correct after all:

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Bill, is rightly incredulous at such thinking, especially coming from the Doctor. And as viewers, we are supposed to side with Bill. We of course, just like Bill, have an inkling that either the Doctor is faking or something must have happened for him to spew Monk propaganda. No one in their right mind, if they had a choice, would believe that authoritarianism amid the violation of human rights would bring security and safety. Of course, history proves that people fall for that lie again and again.

Both Hitler and Stalin rose to power during periods of incredibly upheaval. Their respective countries had just been devastated by war: World War I (1914-1918) and the Bolshevik Revolution (1917). Hitler took power in a context where Germany suffered not only the loss of millions of its citizens, but their defeat was one of utter humiliation. The Treaty of Versailles created new boundaries for Germany while giving away some land to the victorious allies,  the Germany military was defanged: their numbers drastically reduced and limitations imposed on the types of weapons they were allowed to have, (though the allies, were also supposed to eventually disarm) and Germany lost all its colonies.   However, the most humiliating clause forced Germany to accept full responsibility for World War I, making them responsible for all material damages aka they were forced to pay reparations.  The economic situation worsened with the onset of the great depression.

The time period before the Russian Revolution was one of oppression.  In the 1890s Russians were suffering under exploitation and severe famine. The advancement of Nicholas II to the throne did nothing to initially appease the growing pains of industrialization that Russia was undergoing. The ill fated 1904-1905 war with Japan did not improve matters and the Russian intervention in World War I left an already exhausted citizenship even more on edge. However, the 1917 Revolution, which saw the overthrow of the tsar dynasty, did not lead to peace and prosperity. In the immediate aftermath, Russia pledged into a devastating civil war.

Both Hitler and Stalin solidified their support and their power by claiming that security for the people would come only under Hitler and Stalin’s authority and the implementation of their ideals. The two dictators became the physical manifestation of all the hopes and dreams that Germany and the Soviet Union hoped to achieve. Of course, there was pockets of opposition, however, those who opposed Hitler and Stalin had to reckon with an extremely powerful personality cult. While viewers look at the worship of the monks in The Lie of the Land as ridiculous, it parallels the cults that surround real life dictators.

Dictators promise to provide strength and security in response to total obedience. The Doctor, although, he is still pulling Bill’s leg in this scene, makes some very good points about the nature of free will and humanity’s inability or unwillingness to learn from history:

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The Doctor slams humanity’s ill use of free will while also regurgitating the argument made by the monks and totalitarians/state governments everywhere: “things were going downhill and a strong, authoritarian figure needed to take control.”

While this type of thinking is not as extreme in modern western countries, the reality is, that the notion that security comes at the cost of liberty is alive and well in so called democratic countries. The “War on Terror” and the domestic and foreign policies implemented in its name, are the direct result of this twisted belief that prioritize security over all else. We see this in the so called “material support for terrorism” cases that the FBI brings which, instead of catching high ranking, powerful terrorists, often nets the mentally ill, mentally disabled, and/or poor.   (For an in-depth look at this travesty of justice check out the series, Trial and Terror by the Intercept). The language of security is being used to go after undocumented immigrants,  those applying for asylum,  and now legal residents.

It is natural for humans to want a measure of safety and security. Especially in the light of terrorism, natural disasters, war, and other forms of violence. But the problem arises when people think that dehumanizing others, creating a false history, and slowly curtailing individual rights will lead to security. No, it only leads to even more death and destruction. We might not be worshiping powerful dictatorship like aliens-but the devastating consequences of believing in the myth that “national security” can be guaranteed is all too real. We see it in the shoddy FBI terror cases and the brutal Gestapo like tactics of ICE.

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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Season 10:2 SMILE

GOODTHING: No, it’s not a joke. Mum is dead. Mum is dead. And Hopeful, she’s dead too. And her friend Sunshine, she’s dead. And Eliza. And quite a few other people are dead.
KEZZIA: Why are you saying this? You can’t say things like that, grinning like an idiot.

I sat down with my new therapist. The topic of the conversation: emotional avoidance and emotional regulation. Apparently emotional avoidance makes emotional regulation difficult, if not impossible.

Therapist: In order to control your negative emotions, you need to face and process them. You can’t just ignore them and focus on the good emotions.

Me: Why not?

Therapist: That’s just not how humans generally work. You can’t just push down your negative emotions and hope they disappear. They won’t. Paradoxically, if you want to be able to control your emotions, you have to be able to deal with them.

I have no problem expressing anger. In fact, if I shut down my other emotions (such as sadness, nervousness, fear, etc) long enough, the emotions eventually convert into anger. This anger, even if it is directed outwardly (for example, at the current American political landscape), often gets redirected inwardly. So even if an outside source makes me angry, I am more likely to want to harm myself than anyone else. This inability to deal with emotions combined with my tendency to want to harm myself is what drove me to therapy in the first place.

In September 2017, I found myself at the top of an eight-story mall parking garage. I was looking down trying to decide whether I wanted to jump or not. I had been on a downward slide for months.  The triggering event however, was literally a five second clip from a documentary in which a former CIA director justified killing children in order to wipe out a terrorist target. The way the former director talked about it, and the nonchalant look on the faces of my professors and peers sent me over the edge. I was in class with people who either directed or responded to situations that often directly or indirectly result in the deaths of innocent people. Some of the younger students were hoping to find themselves in such a position one day. But instead of getting angry at the documentary, at my classmates or at my professors, I turned that anger inward. I told myself, “fuck a world where this happens” but my actions said, “fuck me for not being able to do anything about it.” Clearly, I didn’t jump. An eight story building is pretty high. My therapist pointed out that if I had jumped, chances are I would be dead. But for some reason I didn’t jump. I decided to try and get help one more time. What stopped me? I’m not sure, a mixture of fear that I would survive the jump and be gravely injured, a fear that it would hurt if I died, and a bit of a naïve hope that maybe I could make a positive difference in the issues I care about if I only stayed alive long enough to do so.

For the past few weeks, my therapist has been trying to discuss the importance of me being able to process my emotions in the moment without shutting them down. In fact, the reason I am blogging again is because I admitted that this blog was the only healthy outlet for expressing my emotions. So of course, I do find it a bit funny that the first episode I am writing about now that I am back to blogging is one about emotions. In this episode, humans programmed the vardies to make sure that humans were always happy. But the problem is, that despite how much we try to delude ourselves into believing otherwise, life hurts. We feel pain, grief, depression, jealousy, anger. We hurt ourselves and we hurt other people. We live in a world where those in power have no qualms about benefiting the rich, neglecting the poor, and droning children. Relationships suffer and end. People die.

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DOCTOR: No one had ever died here before this lady. The Vardies, they’d never heard of grief before. This place is all about hope and the future, and happiness. No one ever thought about the opposite. The Vardies didn’t know what to do with it. They identified grief as the enemy of happiness and everyone who was experiencing grief as a problem, as
BILL: Compost.

My inability to face my emotions, far from making me happy or giving me strength, has created a cycle of destruction that is difficult to break free from. I am acting like my own damn internal Vardy. Any emotion that I perceive to be a sign of weakness or that is uncomfortable (except in my case, for anger), I try to eliminate or at least ignore. The problem is, that trying to narrow my range of emotions to those that I think are acceptable is slowing destroying me.  Even as I write this blog post, there is a resistance within myself; trying to prevent me from fully experiencing and acknowledging the emotions that writing this stirs within me.

Emotions hurt. They can be unpleasant. Acknowledging them means dealing with the underlying issues that give rise to them and that in and of itself is a difficult process. I don’t want to deal with my chronic feelings of loneliness and emptiness. I don’t want to deal with how growing up in an emotionally abusive home impacts me. I don’t want to acknowledge how my research, which I love so much, also inspires feelings of helplessness and sorrow.  I don’t want to acknowledge that I’m scared about the future. I am scared that everything I’ve worked so hard for will be destroyed. I’m scared that more people will die because of the policies of politicians drunk on power.

DOCTOR: Once, long ago, a fisherman caught a magic haddock. The haddock offered the fisherman three wishes in return for its life. The fisherman said, “I’d like my son to come home from the war, and a hundred pieces of gold.” The problem is magic haddock, like robots, don’t think like people. The fisherman’s son came home from the war in a coffin and the King sent a hundred gold pieces in recognition of his heroic death. The fisherman had one wish left. What do you think he wished for? Some people say he should have wished for an infinite series of wishes, but if your city proves anything, it is that granting all your wishes is not a good idea.

I wish I didn’t feel as deeply as I do. I wish I could handpick which emotions I get to experience and discard the other ones. But I can’t. whether I like it or not, part of being a healthy human is being able to experience a range of human emotions and properly process them. Those who are unable too are often diagnosed with serious mental illnesses.  I don’t know what the answer is or how to get better. I do know that there isn’t a magic haddock who can grant my wish of limiting or even eliminating my emotions. That’s probably a good thing.

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?

The Return of Doctor Mysterio

To be honest, the 2016 Christmas episode, The Return of Doctor Mysterio isn’t the most theologically, philosophically, or politically deep episode. Understandable, since it aired on a Christmas day, a day that many want to be light hearted and fun though the reality is much more complicated. Part of the delay in writing about the episode has been because I had no idea what to say-especially in light of what is going on in the United States and internationally. Those who have been following my blog know that I am an advocate for social justice and I have been critical of unjust policies put forth by both the Republican and Democrat parties. Injustice has no bipartisan affiliation.  I believe that both parties exist to serve their own interests and often those interests come at the expense of the marginalized and the oppressed. But within the past week, Trump has demonstrated that unlike past presidents of both political persuasions that he is determined to push through unjust policies in a speedy and unprecedented manner. All presidents have used executive powers, for better or for worse, but Trump has demonstrated that he will use his powers to discriminate against undocumented immigrants, refugees, and green card holders.

President Barak Obama deported more undocumented immigrants, then any other president before him, and Trump is intent on beating Obama’s record. The War on Terror, since it’s initiation by George Bush has had a disproportionate effect on Muslims, or those who are perceived to be Muslims, and Trump is intent on escalating the War on Terror and has no qualms about discriminating against all Muslims. Past presidents, including Bush and Obama have at least given lip service to the notion that the US is not at war with Islam per say but with jihadist terrorism. For Trump, no such distinction exists. One week into his presidency, and Trump is determined to break the mold, and to do so in a negative way. The last few years have already been difficult for those who fleeing Bush’s and Obama’s bombs, for those oppressed not only by jihadists terrorist groups but by western allies, for black, brown, and native bodies who are not only killed by law enforcement officials but also find that their deaths and their lives are discarded and forgotten. The next four years promise to be worse.

For some of us, this is a continuation and escalation of the work we have been doing. For others, we might feel like Grant. We were busy going about our lives, before an unexpected disruption caused our lives to change. In Grant’s he was sick young child  eagerly awaiting Christmas before the Doctor shows up. For some of us we were going to work, going to school, taking care of kids, hanging out with friends.  And then we realized, that the status quo was no longer an option. Grant’s superpowers meant that he could no longer go back to being a normal kid, for some of us, particularly in the United States’ Trump’s election and more so his executive orders, has meant that we can no longer look the other way towards injustice. Under Obama, we could pretend that things weren’t so bad, because it wasn’t effecting us. It was just effecting people over there-in Yemen, Iraq, Syria. But Trump, for better or worse is forcing us out of our complacency.  And while being forced out of complacency is a good thing, it is very easy to get overwhelmed. Especially for those of us suffering with injustice. In order to be effective in the next few years, we are going to have to take care of ourselves and others. And the Doctor provides some helpful tips on how to do so.

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  • Recognize when you are being stretched too thin. Grant was busy trying to save people, keep a job, and work on his personal life. In the episode it was humorous to watch Grant run back and forth between his superhero alter ego and his regular normal self. His powers and his desire to help others was consuming his life. In real life, activism presents similar dangers. And the stakes are incredibly high. People’s lives are on the line-hundreds of thousands of people are expected to die if the Affordable Health Care Act is repealed and not replaced with a comprehensive alternative, thousands of people fleeing war torn countries in the Middle east, which in many cases are being bombed by the US are being denied refuge. People who have risked their lives to help the US army, and are thus in mortal danger are being abandoned. Black, brown, and native lives continue to be slaughtered at the hands of police and Trump’s response seems to be to further militarize and empower the police. These are all significant issues and some impact us or our loved ones. But the reality is, if we don’t take care of our bodies, our minds, an dour souls, we will be useless.

DOCTOR:. When everyone thinks that the Earth is being attacked from space, what then?
NARDOLE: Mass panic…

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  • Don’t give into fear mongering. For the past 15 years or so, the War on Terror has basically been a long comprehensive lesson on fear mongering. Trump’s policies on deporting millions of undocumented immigrants from Mexico and blocking refugees and asylum seekers from predominately Muslim majority countries did not arise out of thin air. His policies are viable precisely because he is feeding on the fear that many Americans (and let’s be real western countries in general) have about the “other.” Undocumented Mexicans are portrayed as criminals who are bumming their way in the United States. They aren’t husbands, wives, and children, fleeing a country wrecked by drug wars-drug wars that the US helps fuel by both its demand for drugs and the “war on drugs.” Muslims, Arabs, and people who are perceived to be Muslim or Arabs, are portrayed as terrorists and westerners as their hapless victims. Although the majority of people killed by terrorists are Muslim and from Muslim majority countries. And even though, scant attention is paid to the ways in which American foreign policy has killed hundreds of thousands of civilians.

DOCTOR: New York isn’t a capital city. It’s a shop window. When the world is in danger, come hide with us. Harmony Shoal will open its doors to the terrified leaders of the world. 
SIM [on monitor]: And they will come running. 
DOCTOR: A few hours later, every politician and commander-in-chief will have a zip in their head. An alien sitting inside their skull. In one day of terror, the executive authority of Planet Earth will pass to Harmony Shoal.

  • Fight against hatred. In The Return of Doctor Mysterio the Doctor and Grant are fighting against aliens that are attempting to take control of the bodies of influential governmental leaders. In the real world, it isn’t aliens that we need to be concerned about but hate, greed, racism, combined with massive amounts of political power. Trump’s policies, ISIS’ reign of terror, Hitler’s “final solution,” and numerous other examples of genocide, political oppression and marginalization, are often rationalized on the basis of hatred disguised in the language of national security. Horrific events, whether the end of World War I and the decimation of Germany, 9/11, more recent terrorist attacks such as the Paris attacks in 2016, the Orlando night club shooting, etc  or coups such as what occurred in Turkey in 2016, are often used by those in power to create policies that target the reigning regime’s enemies, real or perceived. For Hitler, his enemies were the Jews, the mentally or physically disabled, the LGBT community, etc. For groups like ISIS, anyone who disagrees with their narrow interpretation of Islam are enemies to be vanquished. For those orchestrating the War on Terror, it is Islam and refugees who pose a threat. For Erdoğan in Turkey it is anyone who dares stand up to his increasingly authoritarian policies.

GRANT: Are you sure he’s going to be all right? 
NARDOLE: Hmm. He’s the Doctor. He’s very brave and he’s very silly and I think, for a time, he’s going to be very sad. But I promise, in the end, he’ll be all right. I’ll make sure of it.

  • Everything will be all right-but we need to be there for one another. I’m not going to sugar coat it, life, for many people was already hard and it will only get harder. If the past week is any indication, dark days, and darker nights are ahead of us. But there are thousands of people in the United States, and millions outside of it, who have decided that enough is enough. The world has enough hate, the world has enough discrimination, the world has enough violence, and now it is time to step up and put a stop to it.  They have joined hands with those who have spent years and decades advocating for a better world. Whether you have been advocating for justice for years or you have recently decided to become an activist, recognize that you are not alone. The recognition that we are part of something larger is going to be essential for our survival, especially for those of us who struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts. It is essential that we help one another and encourage one another, especially in the face of inevitable setbacks and resistance. We will be ok. We can do this. We will do this. We are brave.