March 7th, 2014

doctor who

the Eleventh Doctor and eucatastrophe

I've been grading student essays and papers pretty much non-stop this week, and while some of them are decent, many of them are prompting my best Sherlock imitations (Ummm... no.) As a way of coping, I've also been rewatching the Eleven episodes I had seen before getting diverted by... something. Most likely Sherlock series three (which is growing on me the more I watch and analyze it) and my deep and abiding love of Chris Eccleston's Doctor. Probably also by the Cabin Pressure radio drama, whcih I've been enjoying quite thoroughly latel.

Anyway. Doctor Who. Eleven. Halfway through my third re-rewatching of "The Eleventh Hour," it struck me how thoroughly like faery-story it is. You have the importance of childhood innocence, the belief in the impossible, the sort of almost naive belief that this can possibly be made to work - that is, naive until it actually does work. IN fact, there's one word that's been flowing through my head as I watch it: eucatastrophe.

If you're not familiar, the term is from Tolkien's "On Fairy Stories." Using the version of the quote that showed up at MPTT earlier today:

Fantasy can thus be explained as a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth. It is not only a "consolation" for the sorrow of this world, but a satisfaction, and an answer to that question, "Is it true?" The answer to this question that I gave at first was (quite rightly): "If you have built your little world well, yes: it is true in that world." That is enough for the artist (or the artist part of the artist). But in the "eucatastrophe" we see in a brief vision that the answer may be greater—it may be a far-off gleam or echo of evangelium in the real world.


To my great shame, I've never actually read this essay (I know, I know), but whatever else Tolkien is driving at here, I think I get the bare meaning of the term: that it is the happily-ever-after, and more than that, it's tragedy turned into joy. It's just this once, everybody living. It's Luke's impossible shot down the ventillation shaft blowing up the Death Star. It's that moment of Sherlock being a girl's name on the Tarmac, the moment of joy in the midst of that final scene, and more than that of Sherlock standing by his grave at the tail end of Reichenbach. Which, granted, isn't quite the joy beyond all hope of things turning out well, but it's a glimpse of it, an impossible glimpse in the midst of a story that's not fully told yet. And it's the Eagles swooping in in "Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire" with the wargs bouncing around; or Gwaihir rescuing Gandalf from Orthanc; or perhaps most of all, of Frodo's and Sam's impossible rescue from Mount Doom. You get the idea.

And I'm seeing it time and time again in the latest incarnation of Doctor Who. It's just so impossible that things would turn out as well as they did. I saw this flat-out joy more than once in "The Eleventh Hour," but also in the climax of "The Beast Below" and even more so in River Song's impossible rescue of (spoilers...) (and admit it, you just said that in her voice) in "Flesh and Blood." The sheer horror, the can't-quite-look-away-from-the-screen revulsion and compulsion simultaneously... turned on a dime when you realize what Eleven is driving at with his "Hang on." I quite literally squealed.

And it will be fascinating to see how this turns out. I've got one more episode I've seen and then it's in to new waters. This may be me imposing something that's not there. But really, there's something I can't call anything other than eucatastrophe at work here, and it's helping me to hope like I haven't in over a decade. It makes me feel young and reminds me that sometimes what religious folk are prone to call the miraculous just happens. Sometmes life sucks... but sometimes it's wilder, more wonderful than what we'd expect.

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On a slightly less happy note, I read Doyle's "The Greek Interpreter" (free etext here). I won't lie: this was driven by that wonderful scene at the beginning of BBC's Belgravia. I am trying to make my way through the stories once again, as a way of reconnecting with the originals. (Because, you know, I need something to do during the hiatus...) But I must say, I was more than a bit disappointed.

First, the good. There's a rather interesting description of Mycroft Holmes toward the beginning of the story that I quoted over at Tumblr. I found it fascinating, actually - probably the highlight of the story for me. (To be fair, it is a short one.) I also liked the fact that John was able to work out the situation on his own, and a lot of the details did have a nice taste of the exotic about them, or I'm sure they would have at the time.

There also were several parts of it I really didn't like - issues I found more than a bit insulting to my modern sensibilities. The way women were treated in it, for instance, as silly little things when they appeared at all. The fat-shaming and its connection with laziness were even worse, and the thoroughly Anglo-centric nature of it all was just a bit for this proud German-American (southern German; I look a bit like the description we get of Mr. Melas) to bear up under. In a longer piece this wouldn't have been such a hard thing, perhaps, but as I'm also a woman and a bit overweight, this really didn't sit well with me at all.

I think the biggest problem for me, though, was that I simply found the story boring. Watson more or less solved it, but it was using "deductions" absolutely on par with Doyle's Watson. That essentially meant that I'd worked out the answer about halfway through Mr. Melas's recounting of events, and the final piece of the puzzle was supplied through the highly suspenseful method of waiting for someone to reply to a newspaper advertisement. The delay only seemed to exist to make Mycroft look bad (granted, I'm a bit of a Mycroft fangirl with the BBC, so my standards are probably high). It set up what I'm sure was an exciting final scene at the time, but these days I guess we're spoiled for that kind of thing.

Anyway. I do quite like Doyle fiction, and I'm sorry this one didn't quite work for me for a variety of reasons. Any recommendations for which I should read next? I've done Bohemia + Scarlet, but as for the others I'm open to suggestions.