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.
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Hell Bent: Facing the Consequences

OHILA: You have gone too far. You have broken every code you ever lived by.
DOCTOR: After all this time, after everything I’ve done, don’t you think the universe owes me this?
OHILA: Owes you what? All you’re doing is giving her hope.
DOCTOR: Since when is hope a bad thing?
OHILA: Hope is a terrible thing on the scaffold.

When Clara died, the Doctor suffered. The pain he felt was excruciating. So he does whatever he can in order to bring Clara back. But there are consequences to his actions. There are always consequences. What happened to the Doctor and Clara in Face the Raven, wasn’t fair. Especially after everything the Doctor and Clara had done for Gallifrey and the Time Lords. Although the High Council never intended Clara to die-it happened. It was an unintended consequence. But the Doctor wasn’t going to let Clara stay dead. Not if he had the power or the access to technology to do anything about it. And damn it, Gallifrey and the High Council owed it to him and to Clara. Clara and the Doctor rescued them numerous times and the Doctor was going to make sure that he got what he was owed.

The problem with this sense of entitlement is that it obscures the role that the Doctor’s and Clara’s played in Clara’s death, and it downplays the negative consequences that could have resulted from the Doctor’s actions. The reality is that Clara died not just because of the situation that the High Council placed her in, but the Doctor’s and Clara’s carelessness, combined with Clara’s compassion, also contributed to her death. Clara and the Doctor always assumed that death could never touch them. The Doctor always saves Clara and there are very little consequences, at least for them. They became sloppy and reckless.  And Clara of course, was going to head to her death with dignity. She wasn’t going to allow the Doctor to use her death as a means to go on a murderous rampage. But the Doctor (and Moffat) were not going to let Clara stay dead.  But there are consequences to the Doctor’s decision. Maybe in the scheme of things not as drastic or destructive as they could have been. The Doctor’s memory of their relationship is wiped out and while Clara is still technically dead, at the end of the episode she and Me/Ashildr are ostensibly traveling throughout the universe before she supposedly heads back to Gallifrey to be plucked back into her time stream. For Doctor Who, this is as close to a happy ending as the show sometimes get. In real life, the consequences for acting out a sense of entitlement and a disregard for the potential destruction that arise from said actions, can reverberate for years. And unlike in Doctor Who, going back in time, or plucking people out of their time streams before death snatches them away, is impossible.

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Fifteen years ago, four planes were hijacked by terrorists. Two hit the twin towers in NYC, one hit the Pentagon, and one crashed in a field in PA after the passengers managed to wrestle control away the hijackers. In total, nearly 3,000 people were murdered and thousands of other people continue to experience mental and physical anguish from losing loved ones, surviving the carnage, or even just being near ground zero and breathing in the toxic fumes.

After the attacks, people were hurting and angry. People wanted revenge. We wanted to get back at those who planned such horrific violence. We demanded to know who would do this to us. Even those who did not lose anyone, had a desire for revenge and war.  But if we are honest with ourselves, looking back at the collective grief and national mourning the country experienced as we grappled with the aftermath of the attack, we revealed our sense of entitlement.  We were angry not just that so many lives were lost in a horrific action, but that it was American lives that were killed. Innocent American civilians were slaughtered. And we couldn’t bring them back so we wanted to do the next best thing: get revenge.

But what we failed to realize then, and what many continue to realize now, is that the 9/11 attacks did not occur in a vacuum. 19 people didn’t randomly wake up one day and think, “I think I’m going to just attack and massacre thousands of people today.” The 9/11 attacks were responses to the horrific foreign policy designs that the government made in the previous decades, in the name of the American people. 9/11 resulted from policies that armed and trained the mujahedeen in Afghanistan against the Soviets. The mujahedeen used the language of jihad and militancy to defend their actions. Those ideas didn’t die just because we stopped supporting this faction.

Moreover, the US government’s  involvement in the Middle East, from our blind support of Israel at the expense of Palestinians,   to the sanctions that killed half a million Iraqi children,  helped foster a sense of hatred and resentment against America. While the US government’s foreign policy decisions do not justify or excuse the deaths of innocent American civilians, they do provide some historical and political context for the attacks.

In Hell Bent, the Doctor banished the president of Gallifrey and broke some rules but, the consequences appear to be pretty limited. His relationship with Clara has ended and his memories of her have disappeared. But in the real world, revenge and anger have deadly consequences. In a desire “to make things right,” and “defeat terrorism,” the US invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, and have used military force in Yemen, Libya, Pakistan, etc. The consequences have been catastrophic. At the very least, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been slaughtered, and millions more have been terrorized. While the US hasn’t suffered another major terrorist attack on such a large scale, our wars and bad decisions have led to the rise of even more brutal terrorist groups such as ISIS  that have killed thousands of innocent civilians. But because those deaths weren’t American, their lives are automatically deemed less valuable.

In this season of Doctor Who, the mythological “Hybrid” was a source of worry and fear for the Doctor and for those on Gallifrey.

ASHILDR: What if the Hybrid wasn’t one person, but two?
DOCTOR: Two?
ASHILDR: A dangerous combination of a passionate and powerful Time Lord and a young woman so very similar to him.

ASHILDR [on scanner]: Companions who are willing to push each other to extremes

The Hybrid that caused so much fear, wasn’t an offspring from the Daleks and the Time Lords, but it was the Doctor and Clara. They were the ones who apparently posed such a great threat to Gallifrey.

DOCTOR : She’s my friend. She’s just my friend.
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We waged wars and military operations throughout the world in the name of terrorism and to stop those that planned and executed the 9/11 attacks. But in the fifteen years since, has the US government gotten any closer to stopping terrorist groups from thriving? Have we truly saved lives? Some say that because al-Qaeda or other terrorists groups haven’t pulled off such a massive attack in the US that this proves that the US government’s military operations have been successful. But thinking about the broken and wounded military veterans and the children and civilians in the Middle East blown to bits, one has to ask, at what price have we achieved this illusion of security? We wanted to hunt down and eliminate terrorists, but in doing so, we ourselves became terrorists. I’m not asking us to forget what happened or to stop mourning. I am asking us to reflect on how our nation’s desire for revenge ensured that millions of people in the Middle East experienced a version of 9/11 over and over again.

The Witch’s Familiar: A reflection on justice, mercy, compassion and the War on Terror

DAVROS: Compassion then.
DOCTOR: Always.
DAVROS: It grows strong and fierce in you, like a cancer.
DOCTOR: I hope so.
DAVROS: It will kill you in the end.
DOCTOR: I wouldn’t die of anything else.
DAVROS: You may rely on it.

After 9/11, George W Bush promised that those responsible would be brought to justice, “The search is underway for those who were behind these evil acts. I have directed the full resources of our intelligence and law enforcement communities to find those responsible and to bring them to justice. We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.”

And to be sure, those who participate in a crime should be held accountable. Of course, in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the actual hijackers were killed. But those who helped plan and train the hijackers as well as provide funding could be held responsible. But in this case justice was equated to American military might. While the American approach to justice is ostensibly about prevention, in reality it is about punishment and revenge. Those in the highest levels of the government were embarrassed by 9/11. How could a group of terrorists, no matter how well organized or funded, manage to attack the world’s only super power? Those in the intelligence agencies were embarrassed. The FBI, The CIA, The NSA, etc. the very ones charged with protecting the nation failed. And as a result, they vowed, “never again.” The nation embarked on a path that led to two failed wars, to massive government surveillance with very little oversight, to the scapegoating and vilification of American Muslims, to the stripping away of civil liberties and in a twist of fate: the very actions the American government took to eradicate terrorism simply created a power vacuum which enabled new terrorist groups, such as ISIS to thrive. And of course, in an attempt to defeat the new terror threat, the US government provided aid and/or weapons to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, two nations well known for funding various terrorist groups throughout the world.

The United States, in a quest for revenge and punishment, has killed hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of Iraq and Afghan civilians. Some wonder if one could claim that the United States committed genocide.

In Witch’s Familiar the Doctor is supposedly provided with the opportunity to destroy the Daleks. If there were any group in the universe that should be destroyed without a second thought, the Daleks would be it. They are hell bent on dominating the universe and are intent on creating a pure species. They are based on the Nazis who have to be one of the most hated villains in the world. In fact, the term genocide was coined after the Holocaust and the Holocaust stands as a marker of injustice and oppression. Who wouldn’t want to be able to go back in time and destroy the Nazis? Yet the Doctor refuses to destroy the Daleks. (Of course, he also knew that Davros was trying to trick him. But genocide isn’t an action that the Doctor takes lightly so I can’t imagine his response would be different if Davros had not been tricking him.)

DAVROS: The cables, Doctor. Touch them. Imagine, to hold in your hand the heartbeat of every Dalek on Skaro. They send me life. Is it beyond the wit of a Time Lord to send them death? A little work and it could be done.
DOCTOR: Er, why would you be telling me this?
DAVROS: Genocide in a moment. Such slaughter, not in self-defence. Not as a simple act of war. Genocide as a choice. Are you ready, Doctor? So many backs with a single knife. Are you ready to be a god? 

It is a bit intoxicating to imagine that one has the power to eradicate an embodiment of evil. I, know that if given the option to destroy the Daleks, the Nazis, the Islamic state, etc. I would have a difficult time passing up the opportunity.  The United States, after 9/11 believed it had the power to destroy terrorism. Not just Al Qaeda, the engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan were not called “the war on al Qaeda” or “the war on Saddam Hussain” but the US launched a “War on Terror.” And this war continues not just in Afghanistan and Iraq (despite the official “end” of the Iraqi war) but also in Yemen, Syria, and Pakistan. Not to mention the hundreds of countries that US Special Forces are in. Even now, even as Iraq is falling to pieces and the Islamic state continues to advance in Syria, the United States continues to at least publicly push the idea that it can eradicate terrorism.

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The United States government did not hesitant to deploy its military force into Afghanistan on the wake of September 11. And it even attempted to use 9/11 as a justification in Iraq.  The desire to eradicate terrorism is used to explain the US involvement in Syria and Yemen, even as it is forced to join forces with Al Nusra front in and other terrorist groups in Syria-the very ones they are fighting in Iraq!

For the Doctor genocide is not even an option.

DAVROS: Compassion then.
DOCTOR: Always.
DAVROS: It grows strong and fierce in you, like a cancer.
DOCTOR: I hope so.
DAVROS: It will kill you in the end.
DOCTOR: I wouldn’t die of anything else.
DAVROS: You may rely on it.

Davros viewed the Doctor’s compassion as a sign of weakness and stupidity. In fact, that would be Davros’ undoing. The Doctor recognizes that Davros is using him and when the Doctor’s regeneration energy flows to the Daleks, the he knows that it would also strengthen the Daleks in the sewers who would then rise up against the “living” Daleks. Now one wonders, isn’t the Doctor being unjust when he leaves the Daleks and Davros to be killed by the sewer Daleks? Isn’t the Doctor being unmerciful? I’m not sure. I struggle with that question. On the one hand, part of me wonders, “Well isn’t he just leaving Davros to die? How is that merciful?” Yet on the other hand, I can also see Davros’ fate as the result of his own actions. Davros continued to try to manipulate the Doctor and he tried to use the Doctor’s regeneration energy for his own purposes. If Davros hadn’t been so blinded by his desire for immortality and his corruption, if he had thought about his actions a bit harder, he might have realized that the Doctor’s energy would spread to ALL the Daleks on Skaro. Not just the ones directly under his control.  This brings up the question of justice and mercy/compassion. Are those concepts incompatible with one another? Does justice negate the possibility of mercy and compassion or vice versa. If the answer is yes, then the Doctor was behaving unjustly. But if justice and mercy/compassion can coincide, I wonder if it is possible to state that justice was served yet the Doctor was able to also show mercy/compassion? And what his actions toward Missy? He tells her to run and refuses to take her with them on the TARDIS to safety, after he discovers that she was trying to get him to kill Clara. Though perhaps he knew that she would somehow escape? She always does.

In regards to American domestic and foreign policy after September 11th: there was no discussion, at least publicly on what justice and compassion/mercy would mean in this context. Justice was immediately equated with punishment and American military might. Very little thought, if any, was given to alternative reactions to Afghanistan. What if the United States, in an attempt to truly get serious about ending terrorism, decided to stop sponsoring terrorist states? For example, Saudi Arabia was not condemned for its endorsement and spreading of Wahhabism, which can be argued is the underlying theology of many terrorist organizations. What if the United States decided it was going to stop supporting authoritarian regimes that oppress its people? What if instead of invading Afghanistan (and later Iraq) the United states decided to up its humanitarian aid and send an “army” of diplomats, activists, nonprofits,  who would work with the civilians there in an attempt to make joining terrorist organizations less applying. Even if all the aforementioned suggestions sound horrible, what if the government spent the same amount of money trying to think of nonmilitary options as it does on expanding the military?

The Doctor, who is by no means perfect, is at least willing to entertain questions of mercy, compassion and justice. The Doctor is willing to entertain the idea that sometimes mercy and compassion should hold sway rather than a desire for punishment and revenge.

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