Who Review: Attack of the Cybermen

Earth, 1985, and London’s sewers have turned deadly. Two sewer workers find themselves on the wrong end of a nasty weapon, and some thugs involved in a jewel heist fall victim to the same terrible fate. The leader of the heist, a man called Lytton, has been using a transmitter to send a signal, which the TARDIS picks up. The TARDIS lands in a junkyard, and the Doctor follows what he believes to be a distress call. This leads him and Peri to the sewers. It’s not long before Lytton encounters the force behind the sewer attacks: the Cybermen. Lytton throws his lot in with the Cybermen, putting himself at their disposal to help them with whatever they’re trying to accomplish. It seems the Cybermen have made their base on the planet Telos, since their former home, Earth’s sister planet, Mondas, was destroyed by the Doctor when they attempted to drain the Earth’s power to keep it from dying. That happened in 1986. And now they have the opportunity to set things right, and make room in the universe for Mondas by removing its sibling…

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!

Season 22 of the Classic Series started with some changes. First, the show moved back to its traditional Saturday evening time slot, having been a twice-weekly mid-week show for the previous three years. Also, the number of episodes per story was halved, and the episode lengths extended from 25 minutes to 45 minutes. This last change was probably the most radical. Who audiences were used to getting their stories in nice bite-sized chunks. While the new format allowed for more Who each week, it also meant the audience had to engage with the story for longer. Not really a big deal for teenagers like me, but maybe a challenge for younger viewers with shorter attention spans. Of course, these days a 45-minute dose of Who every Saturday is the norm. But I recall it took a little getting used to back in 1985.

Though I don’t honestly think the pre-teens were foremost in mind, if “Attack of the Cybermen” is anything to go by. This is an attempt at darker and grittier Who, with dark, dramatic lighting, gratuitous death, and blood. It certainly caused a bit of a stir.

The Sixth Doctor’s regeneration seems to have stabilized, after the checkered performance in his first story, Season 21’s closer “The Twin Dilemma.” This is a better story, though not a great story, which is a surprise as it was purportedly written by script editor Eric Saward (using the pseudonym “Paula Moore”). Other hands have laid claim to authorship (the show’s fan adviser Ian Levene, most notably), and the truth may be that more than one person had a hand in the writing. That would certainly explain why “Attack” isn’t as good as Saward’s other contributions (e.g., “Earthshock” and “Resurrection of the Daleks”).

A key element of the story is the return of Lytton, who assisted the Daleks in the previous season’s “Resurrection of the Daleks.” The fact he’s helping with a diamond robbery is, perhaps, a clue to his connection with the Cryons on Telos, for whom diamonds are commonplace. It seems they have solicited Lytton’s help in stopping the Cybermen from leaving Telos. Once they do, they plan to destroy the planet. It seems the Cryons picked up Lytton’s signal too, and that Lytton’s reputation as a mercenary reached Telos, which is why the Cryons thought he was the right man for the job. I’m not exactly sure how the Cryons, small in number and hiding in frozen chambers, were able to make contact with Lytton. Did I miss something?

Meanwhile on Telos, members of a partially-Cyber-converted work crew, Bates and Stratton, manage to escape. They plan to steal the Cybermen’s time vessel and return home, and in order to do that they need to infiltrate the Cyber base. This looks like an interesting sub-plot, and when they meet up with Lytton and his cohort Griffiths, it seems like they might be able to work together to capture the time vessel and bring down the Cybermen. Then Lytton gets captured, and Bates, Stratton, and Griffiths are all killed just as they’re about to board the ship. So all their effort was for nothing. Saward says he did this to show that sometimes things go wrong, and the good guys don’t always win. That may be so, but in terms of plot, these three characters were as gratuitous as their deaths, and that’s not good. In Doctor Who, if you’re going to kill off good guys, at least make their deaths count for something.

Those are some of the more egregious issues I have with the story. For the most part, the rest of it’s pretty good. Lytton’s character has some shades of grey, and things don’t go exactly to plan for the Doctor. Indeed, at the end, the Doctor laments misjudging Lytton and the fact that while the situation was resolved, it didn’t end well. It makes for a bit of a downer ending (like the ending of “Warriors of the Deep”), which plays to a darker, edgier story. Also, as in “Earthshock,” the Doctor finds himself with a gun in his hand blasting away at Cybermen. I think Eric Saward likes putting the Doctor in situations where he has to go against his non-violent instincts. He did the same in “Resurrection of the Daleks.” One of the more controversial moments in the story is when the Cybermen crush Lytton’s hands. While we don’t hear crunching bones, there’s more than enough blood to communicate quite graphically what’s going on. The Cryons were not very convincing, either in terms of their costume, or their mission. They seem too gentile to be taking on the Cybermen. However, I suppose given all the explosive material they have, it doesn’t matter whether they are a physical match for them.

“Attack of the Cybermen” is a much better start for the Sixth Doctor than his previous story. Aside from some design fails, and story gaffs, it contains some good moments, and solid performances from the main cast. Neither must-see nor classic, but worth watching.

Sunday School Notes: Revelation 15:3-5

3 And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying: “Great and wonderful [are] your works, O Lord God Almighty. Righteous and true [are] your ways, King of the nations. 4 Who would not fear [you], O Lord, and glorify your name? For [you are] alone holy, for all the nations shall come and they shall worship before you. For your righteous requirements have been made known. 5 And after these things, I looked, and the temple, that is the tabernacle of the witness in heaven, was opened.

Chapter 15 opens with a vision of seven angels holding seven plagues, which will complete the outpouring of the wrath of God. We then cut away to a vision of a sea of glass (like the one we saw in chapter 4), and the “overcomers”–the heaven-dwellers–standing beside (or on; the preposition could be taken either way) it, holding harps.

God’s people then begin to sing “the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb.” I don’t believe these are supposed to be two different songs. The “and” there could be translated, “even,” what grammarians would call the epexegetical use of the conjunction. In other words, “the song of the Lamb” further explains, or describes, “the song of Moses, the servant of God.” Could this be a tie-in with the “new song” sung in 5:9-10, which proclaimed the Lamb’s worthiness to open the scroll? Possibly. This song certainly has the same theme of victory and conquering.

But which song of Moses does it refer to? The words of the song here in 15:3-4 don’t correspond exactly to any song of Moses in the Old Testament, but there are certainly thematic parallels. The song sung in Exodus 15:1-18 is a victory song, recounting the mighty way the Lord rescued Israel from the Egyptians. Just prior to the song, in Exodus 14:31, Moses is referred to as “servant of God,” further hinting at an intentional connection with Revelation 15. There is, however, another song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32:1-43, delivered near the end of his life, after Joshua had been named his successor. God told Moses that Israel would stray and break their covenant with Him. The song Moses sings bears witness against Israel, warning them this will happen and exhorting them to return to the Lord. This is a very different song, one that speaks of judgment against God’s wayward people.

We noted this song of victory in Revelation 15 is sung before John sees the vision of the bowls. This speaks to the fact that God’s judgment is certain. It is an eternal truth. And this is why the church need not fear the wrath of the Lamb: God’s people are secure. What has been decreed by God from eternity past will come to pass exactly as He ordained.

As I noted, the words of the song in 15:3-4 are not the exact words of any particular song of Moses in the Old Testament, but neither are they random “religious” phrases pulled out of the air. They derive from Old Testament passages, and the context of those passages help illuminate what the song here is communicating.

Great and wonderful are your works” echoes words found in Deuteronomy 28:58-60. This is part of a passage in which Israel is warned to keep the Law or suffer plagues like those visited upon Egypt. Also, Psalm 111:2-4 speaks of God’s great works bringing redemption to His people.

O Lord God, the Almighty” is found numerous times in the Old Testament (throughout Job, also Isaiah 13:6, Ezekiel 1:24, Joel 1:15). We also saw it at the beginning of Revelation (1:8), and will encounter it a few more times yet in chapters 16, 19, and 21. This is a strong affirmation of God’s ability and authority, in this instance, to judge, and do the works He does.

Righteous and true [are] your ways” reflects Deuteronomy 32:4, part of the song of Moses mentioned earlier, which warns Israel of the fate that awaits them for turning away from the Lord. This is an affirmation of the fact that God does not sin, and has absolute moral authority to act as He does.

King of the nations//Who would not fear [you], O Lord…” These two lines can be found in Jeremiah 10:7 in reverse order. In this passage, Jeremiah compares idols to the true God, declaring there is none like Him. The same is true comparing the Beast-idol with the true God–there is no god like the one true God, and He alone is worthy of worship.

… and glorify your name?” A little later in the same Jeremiah passage, 10:16, the prophet declares, “Not like these [idols] is He who is the portion of Jacob, for He is the one who formed all things, and Israel is the tribe of his inheritance; the Lord of hosts is His name.” The nations should all glorify His name. As it is, only God’s people do.

for [you are] alone holy” The word “holy” here is the Greek word hosios, which has more the sense of “pious” or “upright.” It’s a statement regarding God’s righteousness, rather than His being set apart. Psalm 86:9-10, 12 contains this kind of language, and, indeed, much of what we find here in 15:4. It further emphasizes the true God’s superiority over idols and everything in His creation.

For all the nations come and they shall worship before you.” We can take this in two ways. Either, as in Revelation 5:9, 7:9, and 14:8, “all the nations” is referring to people from all nations without distinction, not every person from every nation. Alternatively, this could be saying, as in Philippians 2:10-11, that all nations will acknowledge the worthiness of the Lamb and the glory of God, even those who are bound for destruction. Jesus’s lordship is a fact, not an opinion, and all people will bow the knee and acknowledge that fact, either in joyful acceptance, or in grudging admittance.

For your righteous requirements have been made known.” Not only in the redemption of His people, but in His judgment of the lost. Psalm 92 begins with an allusion to Exodus 15:1, 6, and verse 2 seems to echo these words. So the context of this Psalm is the song of Moses, and Israel’s victory over the Egyptians. The psalm ends with the promise that the Lord will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity. This is what we’re about to see in chapter 16.

John then sees the temple, in other words the tabernacle of the witness in heaven, opened, and seven angels coming out. We didn’t have time to talk about the seven angels, but we did consider this “temple.” The ESV renders the Greek “the sanctuary of the tent of witness in heaven.” I’m not sure this is helpful to our understanding of what’s going on here. The Greek word naos is the word used for the Temple, and I take the rest of the verse to be a further description of this temple: the tabernacle of the witness, or testimony, in heaven.

In Exodus, the 10 Commandments are often referred to as “the testimony” (Exodus 31:18, and 32:15, for example). Under God’s direction, Moses put these tablets of the Law in the Ark of the Covenant, along with manna and Aaron’s rod. The Ark then went into the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle, and then ultimately in the Temple.

The Holy of Holies, where the Ark resided, was God’s dwelling within the Tabernacle. And the Tabernacle itself, especially while it was being carried around in the wilderness, was symbolic of God’s presence with His people. So the Temple John sees here is this Tabernacle containing the testimony, but in heaven. In 11:19, John saw the Temple in heaven, and the Arc of the Covenant in the Temple. And he made note of the fact that the Temple was open, and there was thunder, lightning, earthquakes, hail, and so on. In other words, the open, heavenly Temple brought judgment. The testimony–the witness, the Law–is the standard by which all mankind is judged. Those in Christ, bearing his name, are covered by his blood, so their penalty for failure to keep the Law has been paid. These are the heaven-dwellers. The earth-dwellers, however, stand alone in their dirty garments, about to receive the just judgment for their sin.

This, I believe, is the significance of the open Temple, and the visible witness, or testimony. It reminds the heaven-dwellers that the Lord is with them, and they are secure in Him, Christ having paid the penalty for their sin. But it also represents judgment on the earth-dwellers who have wantonly and willfully violated His Law.

We’ll pick up with verse 6 next time…

2018 A-to-Z Challenge Theme Reveal

Yes, my blog friends, I am planning to participate in this year’s A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. That’s the challenge where you blog every day for the month of April (excluding Sundays), and each day’s blog must be somehow based upon a consecutive letter of the English alphabet (day 1 = A, day 2 = B, day 3 = C, etc.).

Last year I didn’t participate, but the year before (2016), I wrote 100-word flash fiction stories based on Paul McCartney song titles. So we had “Another Day,” “Backwards Traveller,” “Coming Up,” “Distractions,” “Every Night,” etc.

This year, I’m raising the stakes. Upping the ante. Pushing myself to the limits of my sanity. For this year’s challenge, I am writing 100-word flash stories again, but with a twist…

… I’m writing each one the day before based on commenter’s suggestions. EEK!! 😯

I’m going to go ahead and take suggestions for “A”-themes (words, names, phrases starting with “A”). When I post that “A” story on April 1, I will ask commenters to give me “B”-themes. I’ll then choose one and write a story that will appear the next day. And so on for the rest of the month.

As if that’s not enough… I will periodically write another story based on one of the other suggestions, and post that on my Patreon site for my Patrons. I’ll let you know on the blog when a Patreon story is available, but only my Patrons will be able to see it. 🙂 You can go ahead and sign up to be a Patron for as little as $1/month, though I may restrict some stories to $3+/month Patrons.

So, give me some “A” themes/words/phrases… and I’ll see you back here on April 1st to find out what I came up with!

Happy American Pie Day!

It’s pie day–at least in the US. I say that because the pie/PI thing only works if you use the US date format, where March 14th is 3/14 (3.14). In the UK, it’s 14/3. And I’m not sure if 14.3 is a significant number. Maybe that can be British PI. It would certainly explain why I suck at mathematics. 🙂

So, in honor of American Pie Day, how about some Don McLean?

And how could I not also post the Weird Al parody (in anticipation of May 4th?)?:

Happy PI day!! 😀

Who Review: The Twin Dilemma

The Doctor is behaving very strangely after his regeneration. The kind and humble Fifth Doctor Peri was beginning to know has suddenly become an egotistical monster, spouting poetry, and drifting in and out of manic bouts. When he attempts to strangle her, the new Doctor realizes something must be done to restore his mind. He directs the TARDIS to the wilderness planet of Titan 3, where he can spend days, months, maybe years in peaceful introspection while Peri, his dutiful disciple, tends to his needs. A wrecked spaceship and a stranded survivor put paid to the Doctor’s plan. It also happens that twin boys, mathematical geniuses, have been abducted from their home and taken to Titan 3, where a malevolent mollusk known as Mestor requires their creative brain-power. The Doctor and Peri, exploring the planet, find themselves in the company of the twins and an old friend of the Doctors, Azmael, a tutor from the Academy on Gallifrey who had gone on to rule the planet Jaconda. But all is not well on Jaconda. It seems Mestor has taken over, and, along with his fellow gastropods, plans to use Jaconda as the base for launching their eggs throughout the galaxy. The vehicle for this will be a giant explosion, carefully calculated by the captive twins on Titan 3. The Doctor needs to stop Mestor, but with his persona in a state of flux, he may be more of a liability than a help.

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!

Change. It’s a constant theme throughout Doctor Who. Every story, there’s a change of location, a change of time, new characters, sometimes new companions, and every once in a while, a new Doctor. Often the changes are easy to roll with. Sometimes they’re a bit harder to accept, and that’s usually the case with a new Doctor. You spend a few years getting used to one Doctor only to have him change into someone new. Perhaps an actor you’ve never seen before, or one you can’t imagine taking that role. The latter scenario was true for me when Peter Davison took over from Tom Baker. I knew Peter Davison as the junior veterinarian on “All Creatures Great and Small.” I couldn’t see how he would handle playing the Doctor. After three years, he owned the part so much, it was difficult to see the unknown-to-me Colin Baker as the Doctor. It seems the BBC didn’t want to keep fans guessing, so the last story of Season 21 was the new Doctor’s first story, “The Twin Dilemma.”

I think the BBC gave us a couple of weeks with Colin Baker, so we could warm to him, and be excited to tune back in after the Summer. If that was the hope, this was not the story to fulfill that hope. As the end credits rolled on episode four, I remember being very uncertain about this change of direction, and this strange new Doctor. He wasn’t at all likable. The mood swings were too erratic. I didn’t object so much to the post-regeneration addled mind–we saw that somewhat with the Fifth Doctor. Even the violent extremes, and the dispassionate, even nasty edge to his character was different and not necessarily a bad thing. But I expected him to get over it and settle down after the first episode. The Who production team had other ideas. Apart from flashes of concern, and a few scattered selfless moments, it looked as if this was how things were going to be for Doctor number six.

I have to say this is probably my biggest complaint with “The Twin Dilemma.” It’s not a bad story–not great, and largely forgettable, but it holds together. The performances are fine, although the final scene where Mestor takes over Azael’s body is very strange, and not very well executed. Perhaps one of the nicest scenes is where the Doctor mourns the death of his friend at the end. Mestor’s costume is ill-conceived. Why even write a gastropod monster, knowing the BBC on a shoestring budget will never be able to deliver something close to convincing? The horned and feathered people’s costumes are much better, and there’s good set and costume design (aside from the Doctor’s new outfit). And Colin Baker is a good actor. A fine actor, even. But he is best when he’s just playing the Doctor. Not the manic Doctor, or the depressed Doctor, or the repentant Doctor, or the cruel Doctor, or the cowardly Doctor. Those brief moments when he’s just trying to help save the planet are the best. Yes, it’s okay that he’s a bit sharp and brutal with the bad guys from time to time. He needs to be different from his predecessors. But often, just being a different actor is enough.

“I am the Doctor,” he announces at the end, “whether you like it or not!” I really wasn’t sure I liked it. However, I tuned in to the next season to see if maybe the Summer break helped calm him down a bit.

Should you watch this? Aside from the fact it’s the Sixth Doctor’s first story, “The Twin Dilemma” is entirely missable. I really wouldn’t blame you skipping this one. As I said, it’s not a terrible story. It’s just not the Doctor at his best. The Sixth Doctor’s character will eventually settle down, and there will be some good Sixth Doctor stories. This is definitely not one of them.


Sunday School Notes: Revelation 15:1-2

1 And I saw another sign in heaven, great and wonderful: seven angels having seven plagues–the last ones, for with them the wrath of God is completed. 2 And I saw [something] like a sea of glass mixed with fire and those who overcome the beast and his image and the number of his name standing upon the sea of glass, having harps of God.

We began with a quick overview of chapter 14, and a reminder of the pattern we see frequently in Revelation, where John is given a vision of judgment along with a reminder of the saints’ standing before God. The seven letters to the churches (chapters 2 and 3) contain chastisement from Christ coupled with promises to those who persevere. At the end of chapter 6, we had a terrifying scene of cataclysmic judgment falling on the earth, with people crying out “who can stand the wrath of God and the Lamb?” This is followed in chapter 7 with a vision of God’s people around the throne, enjoying the presence of the Lord. Chapter 14 began with a vision of the saints with the Lamb on Mount Zion, and then went on to talk about the fall of Babylon. The harvesting of the righteous is followed by the reaping of the reprobate. We must never lose sight of the fact that Revelation was written to persecuted churches, congregations under pressure to conform to society, and even under threat of extinction from unbelieving rulers. This is the reality the church has lived with for over two thousand years, so the message of Revelation is as meaningful to us as it was to John’s audience.

Chapter 15 isn’t a long chapter, and it serves as a prelude to the judgment of the bowls, which takes up chapter 16. Verse 1 introduces us to the seven angels and seven plagues, and we then take a brief detour to remind us of where God’s people are before resuming the narrative with the angels in verse 5 and following. The bowls that will be our preoccupation when we get to chapter 16 are introduced in verse 7. It’s these, coupled with the angels’ plagues, that will be poured out–the last of these kinds of judgments we’ll see in Revelation, after the seals and the trumpets. Note, they are not necessarily the last in earthly chronological sequence, but they are the last that John sees in his visions.

We will see the angels pour out each of these bowls in turn, bringing plagues that resemble the plagues on Egypt in Exodus 7-11. The connection with the Exodus plagues is made certain first by the fact they are called “plagues.” Also, as we will see, they are accompanied by the “song of Moses” sung by the “overcomers” (parallel to the song of Moses in Exodus 15). Finally, the similarity of these plagues to the Exodus plagues makes the intentional connection undeniable.

John describes these bowl judgments as “the last.” He has received a series of visions depicting end-time events: seven seals, seven trumpets, and now seven bowls. Both the seals and the trumpets pause after the sixth of each, with the seventh bringing the Lord’s return. This convinces me that these accounts are supposed to be, in some way, parallel, with the trumpets either expanding on the seals, or giving the same information from a different viewpoint. The same applies, I think, to the bowls, as we will see.

Having introduced the theme for the next couple of chapters, we cut away to another vision, one that contrasts the people of God with what we will see becomes of the people of the Beast. John sees a sea of glass mixed with fire. He last saw such a sea in 4:6, in the heavenly throne room. Back when we studied that passage, we observed that the sea is often portrayed in Scripture as the source of evil (Daniel 7:2ff; Psalm 74:12-15; Revelation 12:1). These seas are tumultuous, but the sea john encounters here is like glass: calm. It is a conquered sea, symbolizing the fact that God has conquered evil, and every beastly foe that should come against the church. The presence of fire here and in chapter 4 speaks of judgment, to say that God has judged His enemies righteously, and His church has overcome. We noted how this picture of victory comes before John sees the vision of the bowls. The Lord is reminding His people that the battle is already won, and the victory is ultimately theirs, even before the battle is engaged. A timely reminder to us all.

John describes the saints as those who have overcome the beast, his image, and his number. The Greek grammatical construction here is a little strange. Literally, it says, “those overcoming out of the Beast and out of his image and out of the number of his name.” That preposition I’ve translated “out of” (ek) often describes coming out of, or being apart from something. I think we are to understand that the saints have overcome because they separated themselves from the Beast, and his image, and his number. They refused to be part of that, and differentiated themselves from those who followed the Beast. This is, I believe, consistent with them maintaining their faith despite the persecution that would follow. There’s another place in Revelation that uses ek in a similar way, and that’s where Jesus is addressing the church in Philadelphia (3:10). He promises the faithful of that church that he will keep them from the hour of testing. They will not be subject to the judgment we are about to see fall upon the world, because Christ has already taken their punishment for sin. Again, this doesn’t mean the church won’t undergo physical trial and torment, but they will not be judged and condemned. Instead, they are with the Lord in glory.

These saints overcame the Beast in that they did not become enticed by his power. They overcame his image in that they did not fall to idolatry. And they overcame the number of his name because they did not come under his ownership.

Finally, we see that the saints have harps. I’ve noted before, and I will repeat for the benefit of those in piano-only churches: the Greek kithara is the etymological root of the word “guitar.” 🙂 Harps are clearly part of the symbolism for heavenly worship, since we saw them in 5:8, where the elders are gathered around the throne singing God’s praises. The harps here are “harps of God.” Some translations take that to mean they are harps given to them by God. That’s a grammatical possibility, but I prefer the understanding that they are harps for the purpose of worshiping God. The Greek construction could be taken either way, though.

We’ll get into the “song of Moses” next time…

Short Shorts

No, not those kind of shorts… I mean the story kind.

Now you’re here, you may as well read on… 🙂

For the past few months, I’ve been participating in a daily Twitter challenge called #vss365. That stands for Very Short Stories 365 days. The idea is to write a very short story using a prompt word every day of the week for a year. How short? Well, it’s a Twitter challenge, so it has to fit into a 280 character tweet (actually, 273 when you include the #vss365 tag).

Not all participants stick strictly to the “story” part of vss, and I understand. It’s hard enough getting a story into 100 words, let alone 40-50 words. Nevertheless, I give it my British best.

Here are a couple of my entries. The prompt words are hash-tagged:

Jonas rubbed his shaved #jaw. Cleaner than his criminal record. Smoother than the road ahead. He straightened his dress and checked his wig in the bathroom mirror, determined to avoid that road as long as he can. #vss365


The light turned #red. Tommy slammed on the brakes and, as the police cruisers surrounded him, cursed his twenty years as a driving instructor. #vss365


After 15 complaints, Tom conceded his software was to blame.
He found the fault in the vocab module, and quickly wrote a #patch which he uploaded into Steve’s head. Steve registered the upload.
“Now, say after me,” Tom said, handing Steve back his rifle.


The truth was a #whisper to my subconscious. Present, but quiet. Easy to ignore.
Then the truth spoke to me. But I blocked her account. Didn’t return her calls. Avoided her.
Now I see the truth, staring me in the face.
I smile. I acknowledge.
And close my eyes.


We were drilled to #march, single file. A calm, orderly snake of soldiers, ready to engage.
But when the alien horde descended with fire and fury, we ran like children.

And there’s plenty more where those came from. If you’re on Twitter and want to read more, just search for the #vss365 hashtag. If you’d like to follow my daily efforts, follow me! I’ll also be compiling all my stories into a single document at the end of the year for my Patrons.

Who Review: The Caves of Androzani

There may be no volcanos on the dusty planet of Androzani Minor (see the previous story, “Planet of Fire”), but things are far from temperate. The mysterious Sharaz Jek is waging war against a conglomerate owned by Trau Morgus that is mining for precious spectrox, a substance produced by bats that is deadly in its raw form, but has remarkable restorative properties when properly refined. Sharaz uses androids to collect the spectrox and help him disrupt Morgus’s efforts, relying on arms supplied by gunrunners to fight off Morgus’s military offensives. This is the situation the Doctor and Peri encounter when the Doctor’s curiosity leads him to follow tracks into a cave. They end up prisoners of Morgus’s troops, accused of being two of Jek’s gunrunners. The Doctor and Peri are thrown into a cell where they await execution. But that may be a blessing in disguise, since, on their way into the cave, they encountered a nest of raw spectrox. Unless they can escape Morgus’s forces and find an antidote to the spectrox toxemia, they face certain death. Unfortunately, their only hope for survival could be Jek, who appears to have taken quite a shine to Peri…

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 Caves of Androzani” marks Robert Holmes’s return to writing Doctor Who after a six-year absence. And what a return! Since it aired in 1984, it has been consistently ranked among the best Doctor Who stories by fans–even topping the list in 2009, four years into the New Series. And the accolades are well-deserved. It also marks the end of Peter Davison’s time as the Doctor with one of the most dramatic regeneration scenes in the Classic series.

The story has two threads. The first has to do with Sharaz Jek wanting to control the flow of spectrox, and Morgus’s conglomerate wanting to make money from that spectrox, selling it to Androzani Major. These two desires conflict, hence the battle between the two sides over ownership of the spectrox. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Peri chance upon the cave system containing this valuable spectrox, as well as Jek’s headquarters. They accidentally come into contact with the webby substance, which they soon discover is not only poisonous, but lethal, and the only antidote is the milk from the queen bat which resides in the lower levels of the cave system. So the second thread is the Doctor and Peri’s quest to find the milk and leave before they succumb to the poison. Along the way, they stumble into the conflict between Jek and Morgus, which ultimately leads to their capture by Jek. However, unlike many other Who stories, the Doctor and Peri don’t appear to precipitate or hinder the downfall of either Jek or Morgus. It’s possible Peri’s sickness distracts Jek enough to make him careless. But neither the Doctor nor Peri actively assist Jek or Morgus. It’s not their battle, and they have no interest in the outcome. There’s no-one for the Doctor to save except Peri. No planet to rescue. The universe is not in peril. The Doctor could have ignored the caves, ignored the tracks, gone back into the TARDIS, and left. But he’s the Doctor, so of course he couldn’t!

Since the Doctor and Peri have no friends, and no real allegiances in this story, they find themselves facing Morgus’s firing squad, and then facing the lecherous Jek, who wants to keep Peri for himself, and considers the Doctor disposable. Indeed, Jek only helps the Doctor locate the queen bat because Peri’s dying. And he only cares about Peri because she’s a thing of beauty, and he wants to have her around so he can admire her. Surrounded by such quality people, it’s no wonder our heroes are desperate to leave! I think this scenario is part of the story’s appeal. In most other Who stories, our heroes quickly attach themselves to a sympathetic character whose cause they take up. There are no such sympathetic characters here on Androzani Minor, which adds to the tension and the edginess.

But Doctor Who is more than just a story well told. The acting is first rate, from the main cast to the extras. Even Peri’s faux American accent is more tolerable than usual (I hasten to add, Nicola Bryant’s acting is great–it’s just that accent). The sets and costumes are good, the make-up is good (especially the blistering on the Doctor’s hands from the spectrox toxemia) and the direction is well paced and thought out. The only design fail is the magma beast, which suffers from the fact that it’s a Doctor Who monster made on a 1984 Doctor Who monster budget–i.e., next to nothing. It’s rubbery and not very convincing. Thankfully, we don’t see much of it. There are also a couple of times Morgus breaks the “fourth wall,” speaking directly to the camera. It seems this was the result of a communication break-down between the director and the actor, and they didn’t have enough studio time to fix it. This is unfortunate since it comes off a bit cheesy.

There are so many excellent story points, though, that a couple of *sigh* moments really don’t count for a lot. The episode one cliff-hanger is subtly prepared for in the preceding sequence, where we cut away to Jek watching the Doctor and Peri, particularly Peri, on his monitor screen, and then preparing equipment. As we learn in episode two, he was readying the android doubles he would use to rescue them from the firing squad. The episode three cliff-hanger is regarded as one of the best ever in Doctor Who, where the Doctor is attempting to land Stotz’s ship manually, which may result in his death. But since he’s dying of spectrox toxemia anyway, he doesn’t much care. During this sequence, there’s a brief shot where I’m convinced the Doctor has a premonition of his regeneration. The same pattern we see during the regeneration sequence at the end of episode four appears very briefly as the Doctor is piloting the ship. It’s almost as if death is reaching out for him, but he holds it off until he can save Peri. And then there’s the regeneration itself. “Is this death?” the Doctor asks, fearing something different about the process this time. He sees his companions calling out to him to hang in there and live, but then the Master cuts in crying out “Die Doctor! Die!” Excellent stuff.

What more can I say? If you’re a Whovian and you haven’t seen “The Caves of Androzani,” you simply have to. If you’re new to Classic Who, and you want to see how good it can be, this is the one to watch. “The Caves of Androzani” is simply MUST-SEE Doctor Who. Period.

Sunday School Notes: Revelation 14:17-20

17 And another angel came from the temple, the one in heaven, having also himself a sharp sickle. 18 And another angel [came out] from the altar, having authority over the fire, and he cried out with a loud voice to the one with the sharp sickle saying, “Send your sharp sickle and gather the bunches of grapes of the vineyard of the earth, for its grapes have ripened. 19 And the angel threw his sickle to the earth and gathered the vineyard of the earth, and he threw [it] into the great wine press of God’s wrath. 20 And the wine press was trampled outside of the city, and blood came out from the wine press up to the bridles of the horses, about 1,600 stadia.

Last time, we looked at 14-16, which we believe depicts the harvesting of God’s people. I believe part of the reason the Lord showed that to John at this point, even though he has seen visions of God’s people in the presence of the Lord (7:1-17; 14:1), and he’s seen visions of the Lord’s return (8:1; 11:15-19), was to contrast the gathering of the saints with the reaping of the earth-dwellers, those who bear the mark of the Beast. In 14-16, we see God’s grace and mercy to His people, those who are in the Book of LIfe, and who have the name of the Lord on their foreheads. Verses 17-20, however, show us God’s righteous judgment against those who have the name of the Beast on their heads, who have rejected the Lord and His church.

The section begins with another angel coming from the temple, which we understand to represent the presence of God. The origin of the angel is important because it tells us the angel is acting as God’s representative, and not on his own authority. John calls this a “heavenly” temple. Some suggest this is because on the Day of Judgment there will be an earthly temple, too, since the Jews will have rebuilt the Jerusalem Temple. Others believe this is for John’s readers to distinguish this temple from the Temple in Jerusalem which, they believe, was still standing when John wrote Revelation (i.e., they believe it was written during Nero’s reign). I think both of these suggestions read too much into what John’s saying. The point of the “heavenly temple” is simply to remind God’s people that He is with them. I think it also points us back to Revelation 11:19, when, at the Lord’s return, the temple in heaven is opened and the Ark of the Covenant is visible.

Another angel comes out, this time from the altar. Why make the point that the angel comes from the altar, as opposed to the temple? Both could signify the same thing, that is, speaking or acting on the Lord’s authority. I think there’s more to it, however. If you recall, chapter 7 presented us with a vision of God’s people gathered around His throne. Chapter 8 began with the opening of the seventh seal, and silence in heaven preceding the judgments of the seven trumpets. Those trumpets will herald God’s righteous punishment on the godless, not, I think, as something that will only happen when the Lord returns, but something that has been going on over the course of church history. Just prior to the first trumpet, an angel stood at the altar with a golden censer, the incense from which represents the prayers of the saints rising up to God. The angel then fills the censer with fire from the altar and throws it onto the earth. The prayers of the saints could well be the cries from believers under the altar in 6:10, crying out, “How long before you will judge and avenge our blood?” We see in 8:3-5 that prayer rising before God, and then that prayer being answered. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to equate the angel at the altar in chapter 8 with the angel from the altar here who has “authority over the fire.” That angel tells the sickle-holding angel to reap the grapes: the time for the Lord’s vindication has come. Those who have followed after the Beast, including those who persecuted the church, will receive their final judgment.

The “grapes,” “vineyard,” “wine press” language is purposeful here, since it points back to Old Testament judgment language. Two passages to note in particular are Isaiah 68:1-6, and Joel 3:13 and 17. Both are passages where God pronounces judgment, and they use imagery very similar to what we read here in Revelation 14. The process of stomping on grapes in a wine press to produce wine was familiar to the Mediterranean culture of John’s readers. John says that the blood from those entering the wine press of God’s wrath is as high as a horse’s bridle, and about 1,600 stadia. Why give height and length measurements? What’s their significance? We’ll return to that in a moment.

In his vision, John says that the treading of the wine press takes place “outside the city.” Which city? Is this the city in 11:8, where the bodies of the two witnesses lie in the streets? This city was called “Sodom” and “Egypt,” that is, it represented a city in rebellion to God (and, hence, the earth-dwellers and their response to the gospel). Alternatively, is this the city, Jerusalem, the city of God’s people? We know that criminals were punished outside the walls of Jerusalem, signifying the fact that their crime put them outside the dwelling of God’s people. That idea would fit here, since the earth-dwellers are receiving the just judgment of God for their rejection of Him and His church. Given that “the city” is symbolic, I’m not sure it’s important whether or not Jerusalem is intended. It’s the concept of being judged outside of the city walls, where criminals are punished, away from the Lord’s protection that I think is foremost here. God’s people are with Him on Mount Zion. Those who are not the Lord’s suffer the just penalty for their sin beyond Mount Zion.

What do we make of the measurements? First, the blood of the judged reaches as high as a horse’s bridle. This is battle language. We’ve already seen horses used as part of God’s judgment (e.g., 6:1-8), and measuring blood flow in terms of horses’ bridles was part of the language of the battlefield. It was familiar to them, and rarely taken literally. In this instance, I don’t think it’s hyperbole. Rather, it’s symbolic, painting a picture of how great the judgment will be, and how many will be affected. In chapter 19, we’ll see a battle scene involving horses, with quite a graphic description of what happens.

Similarly, I don’t think the 1,600 stadia (which, by modern reckoning, is about 184-190 miles) is meant to be taken as literally how far the blood flow reaches. But it’s not a random number, either. We’ve learned by now that when John mentions a number in Revelation, it means something. Normally we can figure it’s meaning by the way it’s used (7 is a number of spiritual completeness, 10 is earthly completeness, 4 represents the whole world, 1,000 represents a very large amount, etc.). However, I’m not 100% certain what this 1,600 is supposed to represent. The two best suggestions I have are:

  • The Mathematical Answer: 1,600 = (4 x 4) x (10 x 10). If 4 represents the created order, and 10 represents worldly completion, then perhaps it’s saying that the blood covers all of creation totally. No-one of the earth-dwellers is saved from the wine press.
  • The Geographical Answer: The approximate distance from Tyre, which is in modern-day Lebanon, north of Israel on the Mediterranean coast, to the Egyptian border is 1,664 stadia. So it would cover about the length of Israel. That may not mean anything more than the fact that it’s a distance John’s readers would have been able to picture, like saying it’s the length of California.

I am certain that John did not intend us to take these measurements literally, mainly because in the midst of all this symbolism, a literal quantity would be out-of-place. To be consistent, if everything else is symbolic, then so must this number. And whether we take the Mathematical solution, the Geographical solution, or some other understanding, John’s point is to describe the extent of God’s judgment.

As we consider these verses, it’s well for us to remember that the enemies of God who are consigned to the wine press are not only those who have been actively and verbally persecuting God’s people. They aren’t just the most outspoken critics of the faith, or bold-faced God-haters. These are all people who wear the name of the Beast on their foreheads. They are people who would rather be owned by the Beast than by Jesus. They could be your neighbor, your brother, your sister, a parent. Not all earth-dwellers are nasty people. Many are, indeed, nice, ordinary, decent, upstanding people. But in their rejection of the Gospel, they have declared themselves for the Beast. This is why the outpouring from the wine press of God’s wrath is so large. But let’s not forget that the number of the saints is also extremely large (chapter 7).

We don’t know either the final count of the earth-dwellers, or the final count of the heaven-dwellers. And this should drive our evangelism. Our heart’s desire should be that the number of souls in God’s wine press will be few, and the number on Mount Zion with the Lamb will be much greater. May our evangelism always be with a vision of the wine press before us, that we may reach out to the lost that, by the grace of God, they may be spared that final reckoning.

A Change of Tack

When I launched my Patreon, I said I would post Patreon stuff here, but only Patrons would be able to unlock and read it.

Well, I’ve changed my mind. I’m going to keep the blog articles and Patreon content separate. From now on, all Patreon goodies will be over at my Patreon site. I’ll still link to them here, but Patrons will have to go to Patreon to find them.

At some time in the future, I might change my mind and move Patreon stuff back here. But let’s see how this works out, okay?

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