Who Review: The Krotons

The TARDIS takes the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe to the planet of the Gonds. These people are living in subjugation to the Krotons, a conquering people whom they have only ever heard, never seen. Prevented from exploring the outside (“The Wasteland”) due to a poisonous gas released by the Krotons on their arrival, the Gonds receive all their knowledge from the Krotons in their Hall of Learning. As the Gonds use the Teaching Machines, the brightest of their students are summond by the Krotons to become their “partners.” They enter a doorway never to be seen again. Our heroes arrive in The Wasteland, though they suffer no ill effects. They also witness one of the students emerging from the door, only to be vaporized. Finding their way inside, they tell the Gonds what they have seen, and manage to convince them that the Krotons are not as benevolent as they have been led to believe. Angered by the deception, the Gonds want to strike back. But how can they fight an invisible menace when they have no knowledge of advanced weaponry, or even basic chemistry? It’s up to the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe to either defeat the Krotons, or become their next “partners”…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

This four-part serial first aired at the end of 1968 and the beginning of 1969. It has the distinction of being the first written by Robert Holmes, who went on to become arguably the best Who writer of the 1970s (maybe even of the whole Classic Series–I think so, anyway). It’s not a bad start, better than his next offering (“The Space Pirates”), but certainly not of the high caliber we will see from him later.

There’s some good world building and character development. The Gond society has a structure, and Holmes includes details about their way of life that the Doctor can use to help them. For example, he discovers there are significant gaps in the Gond’s knowledge. Given that they derive all they know from the Krotons, the Doctor suggests the key to defeating the Krotons is in what the Gond’s don’t know. In particular, chemistry. As it turns out, the Krotons are crystalline, made largely from tellurium, which is vulnerable to sulphuric acid. So there’s good reason why the Krotons haven’t allowed the Gonds knowledge of chemistry.

Conflict arises within the Gonds over how to rebel against the Krotons. There’s a power struggle, and one man, Eelek, played by the wonderful Welsh actor Philip Madoc, rises up to take control. At the beginning of the story, Eelek doesn’t seem to be that much of a threat, but as he gains support, his ruthlessness becomes apparent. He is willing to do whatever it takes, even hand over the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe to the Krotons, in the hope that this will save himself and his people. At the end of the story, the Krotons are dead, the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe have left, but Eelek is still alive. What to do with Eelek is a problem the other Gonds will still have to deal with–a loose end that Holmes is willing to let hang. Unusual for Who, but certainly more politically true to life.

There are great moments of dialog, and some good interaction between the Doctor and Zoe. The sequence when the Doctor takes a turn on one of the Learning Machines is funny, and so typically Second Doctor. As is the scene near the end where the Doctor and Zoe, captured by the Krotons, play for time by debating who stands where, and fiddling with headsets.

Initially, it seems this story doesn’t do Jamie’s self-esteem much good. His brain is considered “primitive” by the Krotons, and he is left to tend to one of the Gonds while the Doctor and Zoe go off to play brain games. But once again, Jamie shows his resourcefulness to escape the Krotons’ clutches, and inadvertently save the Doctor and Zoe. I also love the way the Doctor refers to Jamie’s mind as “undisciplined” rather than “primitive.” Not only is that less demeaning, it’s probably a lot more accurate. Jamie is far from stupid.

The biggest down-side to “The Krotons” is probably the Krotons themselves. The concept behind them is interesting: they only exist as a kind of crystalline soup in a tank until activated by the right kind of energy, which the Doctor and Zoe unwittingly provide. They then turn into these big, hulking geometric creatures with spinning heads. And South African accents. Frankly, not very intimidating (though, admittedly, they give the Quarks a run for their money). They would have been far more menacing, I think, if they’d stayed in their soup form with a disembodied voice.

I have to say, as I re-watch these episodes, I’m beginning to wonder if this TARDIS team might be one of the best the show has ever had. I wouldn’t count Zoe among my top five companions, but she really shines alongside the Doctor and Jamie. There’s such a good rapport between them, and their personalities balance each other well.

The DVD release of “The Krotons” comes with the usual commentary track and beautifully restored audio and video. It also includes a documentary retrospective on the Second Doctor, “Second Time Around,” which discusses the Troughton era, his stories, and both the fan and critical responses to them.

Maybe not an essential Who story, but certainly worth your time.

Some Links and Stuff

zelda_wind_waker_hdOne of the rules of blogging is to use captivating, thought-provoking blog titles. As you can see, I’ve really embraced that rule today. :)

For those who don’t recognize the little dude in green on the right, that’s Link from the Legend of Zelda game, “Wind Waker,” which I am currently spending a few hours each Sunday afternoon working through. I say “I” when in reality I’m entertaining my SecondBorn as she tries to guide me through the game. I say “entertaining,” though often it’s frustrating (for her). “Left Dad. No Link’s left. Stop. Look around. NO! Look all around. Up too. What do you see? Yes there’s the sun, the clouds, the cliffs, grass… WHAT ELSE? YES! You can throw your grappling hook on that thing! Well done!” She thinks I should make videos of me playing and post them on YouTube. I’m that bad. :)

[For the gamers in the audience, I’ve just completed the Forbidden Woods dungeon, and managed to defeat the boss (Kalle Demos) using up only two fairies! OK, I know that’s pretty lame, but I managed to survive. And SecondBorn only had to yell “WHY AREN’T YOU TARGETING HIM??!” a few times…]

Anyway, enough about Zelda. On to the links…

This past Sunday, Irish radio and TV presenter/interviewer Terry Wogan died. I daresay most people outside the UK have never heard of Mr. Wogan, but he was a part of the entertainment furniture back home. His was a ubiquitous presence, but not like snow in Minnesota. More like the fragrance of home. The closest U.S. comparison I can make is to Dick Clark. Terry’s passing is a jarring reminder that nothing lasts forever. We’re losing a generation of entertainers who were so much a part of my growing up, people I never thought of as getting old and sick. And while death is as inevitable as the passing of time, you never get used to it. And we never should.

On a happier note for my writer friends, especially those in the query trenches, PW Daily (which stands for Publishers Weekly Daily–hmm…) recently announced a new agency in town:

David Batterson, previously associate editor at ‘Palm Springs Life’ magazine, is launching DB Literary Agency, a startup in San Diego.

As far as I can tell, DB Literary Agency doesn’t have a website yet, but if you’re looking for an agent, you might want to keep an eye on this. New agencies are anxious to build their client lists, so they are more likely to request.

One of my fellow commenter friends over on Janet Reid’s site, Diane Major, is having some flash fiction fun on her blog, and she’s inviting others to join in. Her article went up yesterday evening, but she has given no end date. Take it as a challenge to help get the creative enzymes sloshing. You have 30 prompts to choose from, so check it out! No, come back. Check it out after you’ve finished reading here. Thanks. :)

Lastly, the 2016 April A-to-Z Blogging Challenge is only a few months away. As of this writing, there are 589 participants on the sign-up list, and I am one of them. In fact, I’ve written almost half of my A-to-Z posts already. I thought it would be fun to write them early enough so by the time April comes around, I’ll have forgotten what I wrote, so they’ll be as much a surprise for me as for my readers. Well, maybe not quite as much, but you get my drift. What will I be doing for the challenge? Ahhh! Wait and see. March 21st is “Theme Reveal Day.” No spoilers until then.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Questions? Comments?

Sunday School Notes: Revelation 9:17-19

17 And in this way I saw the horses in the vision, and those sitting upon them, having breasplates [literally “chests”–the Greek is thôrax and can be used in either sense], fire and hyacinth and sulfur [colored], and the heads of the horses [were] as lions’ heads, and from their mouths came fire and smoke and sulfur. 18 From these three plagues a third of men were killed, from the fire and the smoke and the sulfur coming out from their mouths. 19 For the authority [or power] of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails, for their tails [are] like serpents having heads, and they do harm with [i.e., by mean of] them.

John evidently thought it important not only to tell us what the horses and riders did, but what they looked like. And it’s really not their strange appearance that’s significant; like the locusts in the last trumpet, the fire, hyacinth, sulfur, lions’ heads, and serpent heads all have symbolic meaning. That’s what should be the focus. Which means we shouldn’t get hung up over trying to picture these strange creatures. This is a vision; we mustn’t bind ourselves to a literal image of what John sees. Whether or not he is describing something that did exist, or will exist is irrelevant. He is simply telling us what he saw, and the content of that vision tells us something about what God is doing, or is going to do.

The way the Greek is phrased, one could take the fire, hyacinth, and sulfur-colored breastplates as belonging to either the horses or their riders. Given that the second part of verse 17 describes the horses’ heads, I would take the breastplates as belonging to the riders. Not only does that make sense with the sentence structure, it means the riders’ armor mirrors the activity of their horses (the fire, hyacinth, and sulfur colors mirror the fire, smoke, and sulfur coming from the horses’ mouths). They are united; the horses are not working independently of their riders.

The word “colored” is not in the Greek, but I think it’s safe to supply it. I can’t imagine what else the fire, hyacinth, and sulfur on breastplates could be other than colors. Many translations seem to agree. There are various references to fire in the Old Testament, particularly with regard to judgment. See, for example, Genesis 19:24; Psalm 11:4-7; Isaiah 30:33; Ezekiel 38:22. Psalm 11:4-7 is interesting because the writer wants God to rain “fire and sulfur and a scorching wind” on the wicked. Isaiah 30:33 not only mentions fire and burning in association with judgment (of the Assyrians, here), but it describes the breath of the Lord as a stream of sulfur. Ezekiel 38:22 also speaks of the Lord raining down fire and sulfur, alongside mention of judgment with pestilence and bloodshed. Again, all themes we have seen in Revelation. Genesis 19:24 is, perhaps, the most significant, because God judges Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and sulfur. In 19:28, Abraham looks down and sees smoke coming up from there, like the smoke from a furnace. So in that story, all three elements are mentioned. It’s hard to miss the strong judgmental aspect to the use of these elements.

“Hyacinth” is my transliteration of the Greek. “Jacin” or “sapphire” are also legitimate translations of what is undoubtedly a blue color. It’s most often used in the Old Testament to describe a fabric color. Second Chronicles 3:14 says the veil to the Holy of Holies was made of blue, purple, and crimson fabrics. Its significance for us in Revelation 9, however, maybe no more than it can represent the color of smoke. So the horses breathe out fire (red), smoke (blue), and sulfur (yellow). These are the colors on the breastplates.

“Lions’ heads” are a picture of ferocity. The lion is a formidable beast, and is presented as such in Scripture. Any encounter between man and lion will not go well for the man. Or, pretty much, for any other animal. This is behind the striking pictures given with regard to that future state of peace in the new heavens and earth, when Christ returns. Isaiah 11:6 speaks of the lion and the calf co-existing peacefully, and Isaiah 65:25 talks of the lion eating straw like an ox, and, presumably, not eating the ox. Lions are listed among vicious predators (Isaiah 30:6, 35:9), and they are used to picture impending judgment (Jeremiah 5:6, 50:44).

The picture of a horse with a lion’s head that breathes fire, has lead some to speculate that John has in mind some kind of mythical fire-breathing beast, or perhaps some kind of modern weapon (e.g., a tank or a rocket launcher). While these are, of course, possible, we must remember this is a vision, and whether or not John is describing a real creature is irrelevant. The symbolism of impending and devastating judgment upon the godless is what matters. And the fact John uses fire, sulfur, smoke, and lions in his descriptions should draw our attention not to mythology, nor to modern newspapers or military manuals, but to the Old Testament. There is a connection between God’s promises of judgment in the past, and His fulfillment of those promises here in Revelation. These horses are ultimately God’s instrument of judgment upon the godless. The world’s disregard of the Lord, particularly His gospel message and His church–the means He has ordained to call all men to repentance–brings about the world’s ultimate condemnation.

We noted how God here is using demonic creatures to bring judgment against the world. Certainly, God in His sovereignty can use whatever means He so chooses to fulfill His purposes. But where we might expect God to send an angelic host to do this, rather He, in essence, pits evil against evil. There’s plenty of Old Testament precedent for God using Satan (Job 1) and forces opposed to His people (the Assyrians and the Babylonians) to do His will. Granted, we don’t often see God turning the wicked upon themselves, but why not? Perhaps this is the most effective, and the most just way of bringing righteous condemnation to bear upon hard-hearted people. And we’ll get a glimpse of how unbelievably hard-hearted they are in the next section.

John refers to the fire, smoke, and sulfur as three “plagues” (the Greek is plêgê), which I take to be a direct reference to the Exodus plagues. There have been enough allusions to Exodus in the judgments we’ve seen so far, such a connection seems obvious–at least to me. Those plagues against the Egyptians were God’s judgment against the hard-heartedness of Pharaoh (and against their gods). Again, we will see that the unbelievers killed by the Revelation 9 plagues are just as hard-hearted, if not moreso!

A third of mankind is killed by these plagues–not by the sword, nor by the sting of a tail. As before, “one third” shows a) God’s sovereignty, in that He controls the number of people affected; and b) that this is not the final judgment–just a prelude. In the end, all will be affected. We observed, however, that while the sting of the locusts’ tails could inflict great harm but not kill (men will desire death, but death will flee from them), the fire-smoke-sulfur combination from the horses’ mouths is lethal. Perhaps we see an escalation of judgments. This is the sixth trumpet, after all–the one before the seventh and last. And that last trumpet signals the Lord’s return, as we’ll see.

Are the “sealed”–i.e., the true church–affected by this? Are they among the “third” killed, or are they counted among the two-thirds that survive? I don’t think the “sealed” are included in the enumeration here, simply because the focus is on the judgment being brought on the godless. I believe this to be the case largely from the next section. We’re told the rest of mankind didn’t repent, which implies that the church are not included. Some might want to say that the church has been removed from the Earth at this point. Possibly. But it’s also possible that John’s focus is on the rest of the world. In 9:4, talking about the fifth trumpet, John said that only those who “do not have the seal of God on their foreheads” were affected. To me, this implies that the “sealed” were around, but this is all happening around them. In which case, when John is talking about judgment upon mankind, he’s not talking about the church. Does this mean the church isn’t affected at all by these judgments? I don’t think the judgments are intended for the church, but that doesn’t mean the church won’t be affected, at least indirectly. I base that statement on the fact that, as we have seen in the letters to the seven churches (chapters 2 and 3), God’s promises to His church are spiritual. He doesn’t promise them physical protection. Indeed, in places He predicts there will be those who will go to prison, and die. What God assures His church is that they have a heavenly home, an eternal assurance, that is secure no matter what happens on Earth.

John says the “power” or “authority” of these horses is in their tails as well as their mouths. There’s an awkward phrase in verse 19–at least, awkward in the Greek. Literally it says, “for their tails are like serpents having heads” which seems to state the obvious: serpents have heads. Is he saying that the tails are actually serpents? Or that the tails have the heads of serpents at the end? Remember, this is a vision, so visual coherence is not important. John is drawing attention to the fact that the business end of the serpent is the head, and these horse tails are doing what serpent heads do: inflicting harm. The locust tails in the previous trumpet also inflicted harm, and maybe it’s the same kind of great torment that John has in mind here. This is another example of escalation, since physical anguish to the point of desiring death is now coupled with actual death.

Why a serpent? I don’t think John has in mind snake bites (if for no other reason the Greek ophis doesn’t have to refer to just a snake–any kind of serpent will do). Anyone versed in Scripture knows that the serpent symbolizes Satan, the Deceiver, the Tempter. We don’t only see this in Genesis 3, but we’ll also see the connection between serpent and Satan in Revelation 12:9. There can be no doubt about the nature of these horses now: they are evidently Satanic. The smoke from the mouth also pictures deception, which is another tool of the Enemy, this time employed against the world.

To sum up, these are horses of judgment, but the judgment they bring is not the final judgment, but a prelude. However, this judgment does fulfill the promises God made through the prophets where he said he would punish His enemies, as we have seen in the symbolic language used. In these judgments, God shows Himself to be sovereign, just, and faithful to His people.

Next time, we’ll start (and maybe complete?) the next section, 9:20-21.

Who Review: The Invasion

The TARDIS reassembles itself, with crew safely inside, after the adventure with “The Mind Robber,” only to run into further difficulties. The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe land on Earth, but a fault with the visual stabilizer renders the TARDIS invisible. The Doctor decides to call on Professor Travers, their friend from the Yeti adventures, to help with repairs. After hitching a ride to London in the back of a van, they find Travers is not at home. But the young lady who answers the door thinks her uncle, Professor Watkins, might be able to help. Except Professor Watkins hasn’t been seen since he went to work for International Electromatics. Indeed, there’s something not right about I.E., and the person in charge, Tobias Vaughn. And when our heroes try to investigate, they find not only their own lives are in danger, but Vaughn has allied himself with an alien force that plans to take control of all the inhabitants of planet Earth…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

This eight-part story follows directly on from “The Mind Robber,” creating a neat three-story arc that started with “The Dominators.” It was common in the First Doctor era to have stories that ran into each other, particularly when each episode had its own title (overarching story titles only came in Season 3 with “The Savages”), but we haven’t seen as much of that with the Second Doctor. Unlike modern Who, these story arcs don’t have any connecting thread throughout (e.g., “Bad Wolf” or “Torchwood”)–they’re just follow-on adventures.

“The Invasion” was written by former script editor Derrick Sherwin (the legendary Terrance Dicks had just taken over the script editing job). At the time, it was the longest Doctor Who story since Season 3’s twelve-part epic “The Daleks’ Master Plan.” Some think it’s too long, but I beg to differ. It’s actually quite a well-paced story. I particularly like that we don’t actually encounter the central villains (the Cybermen) until the end of episode 4. Hints are dropped throughout (Vaughn’s unnatural blink rate, and the robotic voice Vaughn talks to, for example), but up until that point, the story plays out like an Earth-bound thriller, with Vaughn as the all-too-accommodating evil mastermind.

This story sees the return of Colonel Leithbridge-Stewart, now promoted to Brigadier, and in charge of a newly-formed military group, the United Nations Intelligence Task-force (U.N.I.T.). The purpose of this group is to investigate extraterrestrial phenomenon. We will see more of the Brigadier and U.N.I.T. in later stories. Indeed, part of the reason for U.N.I.T.’s creation was anticipating the following season, when the Doctor would be on Earth more permanently.

There’s a lot to like about “The Invasion,” not least is the fact that, again, Jamie and Zoe are made good use of–they aren’t just side-line characters who ask questions and make cups of tea. In fact, there’s a nice part near the end where Zoe asks the Brigadier what she can do to help. You’re expecting the Brigadier to send her away to put the kettle on. Instead, he has her help one of his men, and then is given room to use her mathematical genius to wipe out a whole fleet of Cyberman spacecraft.

I also like the way the Cybermen are used in this story. They’re not in every shot, and their appearances are dramatically staged. In fact, they are actually scary, which is not always the case in other Cybermen stories, unfortunately. There’s a scene when Vaughn calls his Security Chief on the visual display, and after a pause, a Cyberman’s face appears. It’s unexpected, and creates a wonderfully terrifying moment. And, of course, there’s that iconic shot of Cybermen pouring out of the sewers and walking down the steps in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral (a scene re-created in the New Series 8 story “Dark Water”).

Kevin Stoney does an excellent job as the villainous Vaughn, whose body has already been converted by the Cybermen, his brain being the only part of him still human. There’s a chilling scene where Vaughn invites the enraged Professor Watkins to shoot him, which he does. It’s really quite adult for a 1968 children’s show. Vaughn slaps Watkins because he won’t do it. Provoked, Watkins points the gun and fires three shots. We see gun blasts, and hear Vaughn laugh off-camera. Watkins reels. Then we see Vaughn, still laughing, three smoking bullet holes in his shirt. Very effective drama.

The story was released as a 2-DVD set, with the eight episodes split over the two discs, along with a good amount of extras. Episodes 1 and 4 of “The Invasion” are missing from the BBC archives, so for this release, famed animation studio Cosgrove-Hall re-created the episodes using existing pictures and footage, along with the audio for each episode, to guide them. It’s not an animation style I particularly like, where most of the action is in the eyes and mouth, but it does help bring the audio to life. They did do a good job of matching sound to action, which I don’t doubt is hard to do. One major snafu, however, is that they have Zoe wearing the wrong clothes at the beginning of episode 1. She should be wearing her shiny jumpsuit from “The Mind Robber”; instead she’s in the blouse and skirt she changes into later. Oh well.

The DVD extras include a commentary track, a 50-minute “Making of” feature, and videos of how the animation was done. There’s also a really interesting short documentary, “Love Off-Air” in which Who fans talk about how they used to audio record their favorite show in the days before VCR. It includes interviews with long-time fans whose tape recordings are the only record we have of some early Doctor Who episodes.

In short, I would say “The Invasion” is must-viewing for Whovians, and essential viewing for fans of the Second Doctor.

Would Dickens Have a Blog?

Charles_DickensA few years ago, I pondered aloud whether Dickens would get a literary agent if he were trying to become a published author today. I was throwing out some thoughts on what “classic” novels are, whether writers should try to write like the “classics,” and whether those are the kinds of books that attract literary agents today.

I want to follow up on that somewhat by asking if Dickens would have had a blog. That is to say, how much has marketing changed within the publishing industry since the time of Dickens, or, for that matter, since the time of Hemingway, or Stephen King?

The old stereotype of the writer was the recluse in his writing den pounding away on a typewriter, churning out page after page of prose, his wastebasket full of crumpled paper. The writer separated himself from society, living a hermit-like existence, only coming out for the occasional interview, or to buy groceries, or use the bathroom. Maybe to bathe. Marketing was something the publisher did. Ad campaigns, PW write-ups, press releases, bookstore promotions, etc. All the writer had to do was keep churning out the magic.

These days, however, we hear how much new authors need to be “out there.” They need to carve out space on social media, get a Twitter account, discover Facebook, maybe even start blogging. And a web page is a must. We also see writers doing book tours, conventions, conferences. In other words, the days of the reclusive writer are numbered.

I’ve noticed a lot of young writers dive into this new world with gusto and without fear. They seem to be quite socially engaged, comfortable with their cyber existence, promoting their latest books to their friends, doing blog tours, and generally being a social media presence. It is, perhaps, older writers who flinch a little at the new world and new expectations. Is it fair of publishers and readers to have these expectations?

In short, I think yes, it is. This is not Dickens’s publishing world anymore. It’s not even Stephen King’s publishing world, or J. K. Rowling’s. Within the last 10-15 years, in tandem with the social media explosion, people have become much more aware of the broader world, and captivated with the idea that people in many different time zones are but a Tweet away. This blog is read by people not only in the US, but Canada, England, Australia, Singapore, and many other countries (I know, I’ve seen my stats). This article you are reading might also be read by people I’ve never met, and may never meet. It’s the closest thing I can get to being published without actually being published. This is a phenomenon that, until 15 years ago, was unheard of.

If social media had been around in the early 1800s, would Dickens have used it? I think so. If Stephen King could have posted to Facebook when CARRIE was published, do you think he would have? Why not? And when the first Harry Potter novel came out, would J. K. Rowling have excitedly Tweeted all her friends? I see no reason why she wouldn’t have. And this is why publishers are anxious for new writers to use social media, to reach out to their readers in a way that’s too nimble and direct for publishing houses. And what’s more, the modern reader expects his or her favorite writers to be more accessible. That doesn’t mean a writer can’t have his privacy. But it does mean the days of the author-hermit are gone.

Writers like King, Rowling, George R. R. Martin, and others can do without social media if they so desire because they found success in the days before there was such a thing. I believe if they were starting out now, they too would have to embrace technology. I would even go so far as to say that any writer who thinks they can get started in the publishing industry today without an online presence, or without being more socially engaged, is kidding themselves. That doesn’t mean we have to be as active online (and offline) as, say, John Green. But it does mean at some point we need to climb out of our introvert shells and say hello to the world, and find that it’s really not so scary after all. Especially when, most of the time, you can do it effectively from behind a keyboard.

What do you think? If you’re a writer, does social media scare you, or are you excited by the possibilities? Do you think Dickens would have had a blog?

Sunday School Notes: Revelation 9:13-16

13 And the sixth angel trumpeted and I heard a single voice from the four horns of the golden altar before God 14 saying to the sixth angel, the one who has the trumpet, “Loose the four angels who have been bound at [or next to] the great river Euphrates.” 15 And the four angels who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year were loosed, in order that they might kill a third of men. 16 And the number of the cavalries [literally troops of cavalry] [were] twenty thousand [times] ten thousand–I heard the number of them.

We returned to our study of Revelation this week after the Christmas break (and some church business over the past couple of weeks). Following a brief recap, we picked up where we left off: the sixth trumpet.

I want to break this section into three parts:

  1. The summoning of the angels on horses (9:13-16)
  2. The description of the horses (9:17-19)
  3. The hard-heartedness of the surviving unbelievers (9:20-21)

First a couple of textual notes. My translation of verse 13 refers to a “single voice” coming from the “four horns” of the golden alter. A number of translators simply go with “a voice,” which is a legitimate translation of the Greek. The text actually says phonên mian, “one voice,” but the word for the number one can also be used for the indefinite article (“a” or “an”). Strictly speaking, there isn’t an indefinite article in Greek, only definite (“the”). The absence of the definite article before a noun often (but certainly not always) suggests the noun should be translated as indefinite. Because of the lack of the indefinite article, some Greek writers filled the gap by using the number “one” before a noun. This could be what John is doing here, and it seems many translators think that’s the case. It strikes me, however, as an unusual use of “one” for John. So for him to then utilize “one” the same unusual way twice within a few verses (see 8:13, in reference to the “single eagle” flying overhead) is, therefore, particularly noteworthy. Perhaps it means nothing, or perhaps John is telling us that the ultimate source for the eagle’s voice and the voice from the altar is the same: God.

Not all manuscripts of Revelation have the number “four,” indicating explicitly the number of horns on the altar. And some translators render the word for “horn” here (keras) as “corner.” This may be because this altar is clearly meant to be symbolic of the golden altar in Exodus 30, which had horns on each corner (at least we can assume that’s where the horns went by comparison with the bronze altar in Exodus 27:2). By association, therefore, the horns were corners, and there were four of them. So “four” is a little redundant except that the number four in Revelation is often used to represent the fullness of creation. In this context, however, such symbolism is unnecessary. So it really is of no consequence to our understanding of the passage whether or not John originally wrote “four horns” or just “horns.” I think the textual evidence leans more toward not including “four”, but, again, it’s doesn’t make any difference to the meaning of the passage one way or the other.

As I mentioned above, Exodus 30 describes the making of the golden altar for the tabernacle. This was an altar of incense on which Aaron was to make frequent incense offerings. No other offerings were to be made on it, except once a year, when Aaron would make the offering for atonement on the horns of the altar. The atonement offering was, of course, a blood offering. We’ve noted this before in reference to the altar under which the saints gathered in Revelation 6:9, the fifth seal, and the symbolism of the saints taking refuge under the blood atonement made by the Lamb on their behalf. All this, including the fact that the altar is “before God,” points to the divine nature of the voice from the altar. God is issuing commands to the angel with the trumpet.

The voice refers to four angels who have been bound at, or next to, the great river Euphrates. Notice there are four angels. Here, I think, the symbolic meaning of “four” can apply: these four represent the whole created order, as in the four “corners” of the earth, the four points on the compass. Whatever power these angels have, it’s global. Further we note that these angels are bound, that is, they have been bound–passive tense. Someone bound them. Who? No doubt God. As we will see, the mission of these angels is to kill, but only at a specific point in time. Until that time, they are restrained from doing what they have been commissioned to do. You could even go as far as to say these angels were created for that murderous purpose (like the giant locusts in the fifth trumpet). In Romans 9, Paul reminds his readers that God raised Pharaoh up for a specific purpose: “that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth” (9:17). Pharaoh’s intentions toward God’s people were by no means good. But God hardened Pharaoh’s heart that He might show His power over the Egyptian “gods,” and lead His people out of the land in a way that foreshadows Christ leading God’s people from slavery to sin by means of blood sacrifice.

So the fact the angels are bound, as we will see Satan bound in chapter 20, and as God restrains the evil in this world, indicates that these are not kind, benevolent angels. We need to remember that not all angels in Scripture are looking out for our best interests. The murderous intentions of these beings is one reason we can be sure they are demonic. Another indication is where they are bound: near the Euphrates. If you know your geography, you’ll recall the Euphrates River runs through Syria and Iraq, joins the Tigris, and empties into the Persian Gulf. In Scripture, the Euphrates was one of the great rivers flowing from Eden (Genesis 2:14). More importantly for our discussion, it ran through Babylon. As we’ve already seen, in Revelation the city of Babylon is symbolic of corrupt civilization at its worst. It was Rome to John’s readers, but it could be any city where the forces of evil are obviously in control. The fact the Euphrates runs through Babylon, and John notes that these angels are bound near the Euphrates, presents us with a kind of guilt by association. If we look at the way the Euphrates (“the River”) is spoken of in the Old Testament, we see the connection between it and God’s judgment against Israel and Judah via the Assyrians and the Babylonians (see, for example, Isaiah 7:20, 8:7-8; Jeremiah 1:14-15, 46: 4, 6, 10, 13, 22-23). We will also see the Euphrates mentioned again when we get to the sixth bowl of God’s wrath in Revelation 16.

God’s sovereign hand is at work here. He is restraining these angels until His appointed hour, day, month, and year, when they will be loosed to enact His just judgment on sinful man. There are commentators who question whether these angels kill one third of men in the literal “taking life” sense, or if the word “kill” is meant to encompass all kinds of severe physical injury, not just death. Perhaps “kill” is only intended in the spiritual sense? We’ll discuss this in the next part.

The fraction “one-third” has come up before, and not only does this, again, show God’s sovereign hand over the acts of the angels (who told them how many to kill, or when to stop?), but it also tells us that this is not the final judgment. This is just a foretaste. That final judgment will be global. But this supernatural demonstration of God’s power and authority serves two judicial purposes:

  1. The exacting of just punishment on those not covered by the Lamb’s blood
  2. The demonstration of the blindness and hard-heartedness of the unbelievers, which only proves that their coming punishment is just.

In verse 16, John tries to quantify the demonic army in the same way he attempted to enumerate the angels around the throne in 5:11, and the number of the sealed in 7:4 and 7:9. (The number in 7:4 is a specific number for symbolic reasons, as we discussed back then. The number in 7:9 is the fullness of those sealed, from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation.) How should we treat these very large numbers? Are there literally 20,000 times 10,000 of these cavalry, or is this just expressing an extremely large number, as with the saints in 7:9? It seems when John gives us a precise number, like 4, 7, 12, 24, 144,000, or 666, that number is conveying some deeper meaning (4 = fullness of creation; 7 = completion, perfection, spiritual fullness; 12 = twelve tribes of Israel/12 apostles; 24 = combination of the 12 tribes and 12 apostles–the church in her fullness; 144,000 = the huge number of all the saints (12x12x1,000); 666 = … we’ll see when we get to chapter 13!). When we get a numeric amount expressed in mathematical terms (e.g., “thousands times ten thousands”), it seems John is simply trying to convey an inexpressibly large number. Too many to count noses and give an accurate tally.

So the sixth trumpet signals the four angels to let loose an incredibly large demonic cavalry, with the purpose of killing a third of all people on Earth. This is all under the sovereign hand of God, Who is bringing just judgment upon rebellious, sinful mankind. But this is only the beginning. This is not the final judgment, just a prelude. There’s more to come.

The Big Who News

imagesZPQ2HQB2If you’re an avid Whovian, then you are already aware of the big announcement made this weekend. If not, then allow me to break the news to you. There are three parts to the news, so here it is:

  • There will only be one episode of Doctor Who this year (2016)–the Christmas special. Season 10 will broadcast in the Spring of 2017.
  • There will be a new companion for Season 10.
  • Season 10 will be Steven Moffat’s last as show-runner.

OK, so the second piece of news is not really a surprise, but the first and third? If you’ve been following my Season 9 reviews, you’ll know that I already suspected Moffat’s tenure is coming to an end. In my review of the Christmas special (“The Husbands of River Song”) I noted rumors that Season 10 could be Capaldi’s last as the Doctor. Those are still rumors, but it’s not unprecedented for a change of show-runner to come with a change of lead actor (e.g., Russell T. Davies left with David Tennant). This gives the new show-runner a clean slate, his own Doctor, and the opportunity to start fresh. On the other hand, keeping Capaldi around for another year allows the new guy the chance to settle in, surrounded by people who know the ropes. So I could go either way on this one.

Who is the new guy? The show-runner for Season 11 (broadcasting, presumably, in 2018), will be Chris Chibnall. Chris wrote the Who episodes “42” from Season 3 (“burn with me!”), “The Hungry Earth” & “Cold Blood” from Season 5 (the return of the Silurians), “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” from Season 7 (the one with Filtch and Lestrade), and “The Power of Three” also from Season 7 (the one with the little black boxes). Chris has been a fan of the show since childhood, and was a member of the Liverpool branch of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society in the 1980s. In fact, he was part of a panel discussing the show on BBC’s “Open Air” show in 1986. Here’s a clip (watch for “Chris” in glasses and an off-center yellow tie):

Perhaps a foretaste of what to expect from the new show-runner? [Note: A better quality version of this clip can be found as an extra on disc 4 of the DVD set “Trial of a Time Lord.”] Chris Chibnall was also head writer for Who spin-off series Torchwood, and for Law and Order: UK. He also wrote the highly popular series Broadchurch starring David Tennant. So I think Who will be in very capable hands.

My thought’s on Moffat’s departure? Again, if you’ve been following my Who Reviews, you can probably guess my feelings. Moff’s a great writer, and did wonderful work under RTD. Hopes were high that the same caliber of storytelling would persist under his leadership. That hasn’t been the case. There have been some excellent stories over the past five years, but only occasionally has Moff grazed the heights of his best work pre-2010 (“The Empty Child”, “Blink”). He will go down in Who history as the show-runner who took Who to the rest of the world (particularly the States), his crowning achievement being the 50th Anniversary Special, and its 90+ country simulcast. Moff still has another season to go, so maybe his best is yet to come, but I think it’s time for a change at the top. And in Chris, I think he’s chosen well.

So we have a bit of a break between now and the next episode of Who. A good opportunity to get caught up if you’re behind. I’ll continue to post reviews of the Classic Series, but it looks like we’ll have to wait until Christmas for the next new episode.

Your thoughts?

 

Who Review: The Mind Robber

To escape the rising lava on Dulkis (see “The Dominators”), the Doctor has to make an emergency departure, taking the TARDIS outside of time and space. When the TARDIS lands, the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe find themselves in a void, surrounded by a white nothingness. Or are they in a void? Jamie hears bagpipes, and sees pictures of Scotland on the TARDIS scanner. Then Zoe sees The City, her home. Despite the Doctor’s warnings to stay inside the TARDIS, Jamie opens the doors and runs out to find his homeland. Zoe, concerned for Jamie’s safety, follows after him. What they find isn’t home, but white robots, and a world where, it seems, anything can happen. Can the Doctor rescue his companions and find a way back to reality…?

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

“The Mind Robber” is one of the more interesting Classic Who stories. It’s certainly an unusual premise for the show, and perhaps in-keeping with the trippy atmosphere of the late 1960s. Written by Who newcomer Peter Ling, it was originally a four-part story, but Script Editor Derrick Sherwin expanded it out to five episodes (after cutting the previous story, “The Dominators” down from six to five episodes), by writing episode one. This enabled him to not only set up the premise for the story, but also link this story with the previous one. However, the production team still only had a four-episode budget. Sherwin was able to eliminate costs on the first episode by using an empty set (which fit with the story), and recycling the robot costumes from another show. Extending the story also resulted in reduced episode lengths. At only 18 minutes long, episode five is, to date, the shortest Doctor Who episode ever.

The world our heroes end up in is one of fantasy and fiction, where they encounter a minotaur, a unicorn, Gulliver, and other characters from novels and comic strips. But they are not there simply to entertain: they serve “the Master,” who, it turns out, is a writer from Earth, kidnapped and forced to write stories to keep this world going. He wants the Doctor to take over from him, and hence his efforts to capture him and his companions. The Doctor has other plans, and manages to thwart the Master’s overlords, and return everyone back to reality.

This premise gives the writers and production staff a large imaginative palate to work with. And work with it they do! Some find the characters and situations a bit abstract, nonsensical, and even silly, but I think there’s a sinisterness to them. The oddness makes things that much more unsettling, which lends to the overall atmosphere of the story. The part where Jamie gets shot, resulting in him turning into a cardboard cutout with no face, is a little perturbing. The Doctor then has to reassemble Jamie’s face from a series of possible cut-out eyes, noses, and mouths, which he inevitably gets wrong, giving us a different Jamie for an episode. (This sequence was actually added due to actor Frazer Hines contracting chicken pox and having to be substituted for an episode. It works remarkably well with the story.) And, of course, there’s the unforgettable episode 1 cliffhanger where the TARDIS explodes in space, leaving Jamie and Zoe clinging to the console, Zoe’s screams fading into the credits. Spine-tingling stuff!

This is a bit of a weird Who, but worth watching. The “Master” here is not supposed to be the evil Time Lord we’ll encounter later, but there’s food for fan fiction in that possibility! Again, Jamie and Zoe show themselves to be capable companions, using common sense, and even fighting skills (e.g., Zoe’s hand-to-hand combat with “Karkus”). And, of course, the Second Doctor is simply wonderful. As always. :)

The DVD comes with extras, including a “making of” feature, and a fascinating retrospective on Frazer Hines’s (Jamie) time as a Who companion. The story’s audio and video have been lovingly restored to better-than-ever quality, which alone makes the cost of the DVD worthwhile.

Music Monday: Starman

David Bowie - StarmanThe entertainment world is still reeling from the death of David Bowie on Sunday, January 10th at age 69. He had been battling cancer for 18 months. I can’t say I was ever (or am) a big Bowie fan, but he was one of those towering cultural figures who was always there. His songs were part of the backdrop to my 1970s and 1980s (Life on Mars, Changes, Ashes to Ashes, Fashion, Let’s Dance), and there were a couple of his songs that I would list as favorites. Indeed, in my teenage years, when my friend Nick and I played guitars and dreamed of pop stardom, the set list for our dream concert included a couple of David Bowie songs: Five Years, which was one of Nick’s favorites, and Starman, one of mine. So this song has special memories for me.

Starman was a late addition to Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust album in 1972, and was released as a single in April of that year reaching number 10 in the UK charts. The song is sung from the point of view of a kid who hears Ziggy’s message on the radio about an extraterrestrial “starman” who will come to bring salvation.

The song isn’t very complex, though there are a couple of quirky things to be aware of. First, the introduction chords sound a little odd, especially the first chord. It’s a Bb but with an E added (a Bb+4–Bb augmented 4th–perhaps?), which creates a strange dissonance. You can play this on the guitar using a normal Bb chord on the first fret but leaving the top E string open. On the recording this is followed by an Fmaj7 (keeping that E-note sounding) resolving to an F, then repeated. Second, the two chords just before the chorus are an A and a G, but over the G the piano plays A notes an octave apart in a morse code style. I’m tempted to add this A note on the guitar, making that G chord a Gadd2, but the guitar on the recording is playing a straight G.

Here’s the lyric and chord sheet for the song (click to enlarge):

Starman

Click here for a pdf of the lyric/chord sheet.

And here’s David and band playing the song live (or at least singing live) on television:

J. I. Packer and the End of an Era

J_I_PackerThe news broke this past week that legendary British-Canadian theologian, writer, teacher, and speaker, J. I. Packer is retiring from ministry at age 89. For the past ten years, Packer has been losing the sight in his left eye thanks to macular degeneration. Over Christmas, his right eye became afflicted with the same disorder, rendering him virtually blind. Given his reliance upon the written word for his work, Packer is now no longer able to write or teach.

To those who have known Packer’s work, this is the end of an era. I haven’t always agreed with him, but he has frequently and eloquently expressed views I share, and been a stalwart defender of orthodox, evangelical Christianity. Among those of a Reformed persuasion, his most well-regarded work is probably the introduction he wrote to the 1958 reprint of John Owens’ THE DEATH OF DEATH IN THE DEATH OF CHRIST. While Owens’ work is a worthy read for a defense of the Reformed doctrine of Limited, or Particular Atonement, Packer’s introduction alone is almost worth the cost of the book. Of course, it is now available to read online (as is Owens’ book, since it’s nearly 400 years old!).

In a Q&A on the Gospel Coalition site, Packer says this loss doesn’t concern him. Citing Job 1:21 (“The Lord gives and the Lord takes away”), he says, “Now that I’m nearly 90 years old he’s taken away. And I won’t get any stronger, physically, as I go on in this world. And I don’t know how much longer I’ll be going on anyway.”

He goes on to say Ecclesiastes has taught him…

… that we wear out, physically we come apart. You get old, and getting old means the loss of faculties and powers you had when you were younger. And that is the way God prepares us to leave this world for a better world to which he’s taking us. The message of Ecclesiastes 12 is “Get right with God as early in life as you can; ‘remember the creator in your days of youth’ (Eccl. 12:1). Don’t leave it until some time in the future when you’re not likely to be able to handle it well at all.”

And his final words to the church?:

I think I can boil it down to four words: “Glorify Christ every way.”