Why Do You Write?

I’m a writer. Whether it’s flash fiction, or my growing mound of as-yet-unpublished short stories and novels, or this blog, or academic papers, or Sunday School notes, or devotionals, I enjoy writing. But why do I write? What is it about writing that makes me want to do it? Some writers say they can’t not write, or if they don’t write they feel sick, or their world is out of kilter. For some, writing is literally a life-line, saving them from mental stagnation, or perhaps from engaging in less positive activities.

These aren’t my reasons. There are other things I can do (most not nearly as well, however), and I don’t feel like I have to write every day. I don’t believe this makes me less of a writer. But if I don’t live to write (or write to live), why bother? Here are some of my reasons:

To Communicate. I don’t consider myself a sharp speaker. I’m not one of those people who always has the right word on the tip of his tongue. Writing gives me the chance to think about what I want to say, choose the correct words, and craft the sentences so they sing–or at least make a pleasant noise–and do this in my own time. With writing, I can also edit before I publish. Once a thing is said, there’s no taking it back. It’s out there, hanging in the air, and echoing in the ears and brains of all who heard it. When you’re writing, you can let your words sit for a day or two, and tweak them before making them public.

To Create. I have a very strong creative impulse. My non-verbal outlet for creativity is music; my verbal outlet is writing. I enjoy creating worlds and characters in my mind, and breathing life into them on the page (or screen). I derive a lot of pleasure from dreaming up possible (and impossible) situations, “what-if” scenarios, and letting them play out in a story. And I love the power stories have not only to entertain, but to educate, and to make you think about things you may never have given thought to before. This gift of creativity is a divine gift, one of God’s communicable attributes, as theologians would say. No other living organism on this planet has been given such creative ability. That alone is good reason to exercise it.

To Affect. Stories, like music, are powerful. They affect people. This affect might be fleeting, or it might be quite profound. It can be no more than giving someone a laugh, or a scare, making a few minutes’ down-time that much more enjoyable. Or the story might comfort someone through a difficult time, or help someone deal with a major issue in his or her life, touching deep into the soul.

When I was young, I was prone to temper tantrums. My mum could tell you stories of the hissy fits I pulled because I did or didn’t want to do something I was being told to do (or not to do). Often these tantrums would end up with me being sent to my room in tears. I would lie on my bed sobbing angrily into my pillow, sometimes hitting the floor or the door (depending on how mad I was) to get my parent’s attention, so they would understand how upset I was, and perhaps have a change of heart. (I’m glad to say, they always held firm and never gave in to me.) After a while, the tears would subside, but I would smolder under a cloud, like a spent fire billowing smoke. That’s when I would go to my bookshelf and pick out a book. We had a set of “Wonderful World of Disney” books, each volume dedicated to a different aspect of the Disney film output (nature, fairy tales, live-action adventure, etc.) One of these books contained fiction stories. This was my go-to book for when I was smoldering. And my go-to story featured Donald Duck (no surprise). I don’t recall the details of the story, but it involved Donald getting really upset about things, and having to choose between following the angel duck on one shoulder, or the devil duck on the other shoulder. Donald ends up learning his lesson and doing the right thing. By the time I got to the story’s end, my cloud had lifted, the smoke dissipated, and I would be back to my better self, possibly even feeling a bit guilty for getting so angry.

I don’t know who wrote that story, but if my writing could have such an impact on even one person, I’d be very gratified.

If you’re a writer, why do you write? Are you one of those “write-or-die” writers, or do you have a much more casual relationship with writing?

Who Review: Horror of Fang Rock

Intending to take Leela on a trip to Brighton, the TARDIS crew ends up on a foggy island in Edwardian England. The island, Fang Rock, is home to a lighthouse, but there doesn’t appear to be any light coming from the lighthouse, leaving ships vulnerable to the rocks in the heavy fog. The Doctor decides to investigate. But the power drainage from the new-fangled electric light is as much a mystery to the lighthouse staff. As is the dead body the Doctor finds in the boiler room. Things become even more complicated when a luxury yacht runs aground, and its wealthy crew take shelter. Not only are there mysterious goings-on, but now there are tetchy visitors to deal with. However, as the body count begins to mount, and the lighthouse staff report strange lights in the sky and formerly dead people coming back to life, it becomes apparent things are a lot more serious than they at first thought. Indeed, there’s an uninvited guest in their midst, and it wants them dead…

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 Fifteen gets off the ground with a story by Doctor Who stalwart, Terrance Dicks, his first since “The Brain of Morbius” a few seasons ago. More significantly, this is the first story with new producer, Graham Williams, taking over the reins from the legendary Philip Hinchcliffe. While Williams seems to continue the “Gothic horror” feel Hinchcliffe tried to establish, it’s noticeable there’s been a change at the helm. Perhaps where I noticed it most is in the cliffhangers. Hinchcliffe insisted that every cliffhanger be a good one. We saw this particularly in the last couple of stories of the previous season, where the cliffhangers were genuine edge-of-the-seat page-turners. The three cliffhangers in “Fang Rock” are… meh. The first is the ship running aground. The second is a scream from the boiler room. And the third, possibly the best, is the Doctor admitting he made a mistake, having locked the enemy inside with them.

This is, as you might guess, a base-under-siege story, where everything happens within a single location with the threat coming from either without or within. These were popular during the Second Doctor era (e.g., “The Moonbase,” “The Web of Fear,” and “The Invasion”), and crop up from time-to-time, even in the modern era (e.g., the Twelfth Doctor story, “Mummy on the Orient Express”). This format gives plenty of opportunity for tension and drama. You don’t just have the threat from the bad guy(s), but you also have friction within the group trying to fend off the enemy. Here, Dicks ups that tension by adding a class division, with the rich, socially-advantaged being forced to rub shoulders with the “common” lighthouse staff. To make matters worse, one of the rich people desperately wants to get back to London to secure his investments, and is willing to take stupid risks to try to get in touch with the mainland.

This all makes for a good story that keeps us engaged. Even Leela exerts herself, much to the shock of the Edwardian gentry, though her enthusiasm for taking on their adversary with knives and whatever weapons they can find is, perhaps, a little excessive at times. Her comment about not being a “tesh-nician” is a nice throw-back to her first story, the “Tesh” being the brainy tribe from Leela’s home planet. All-in-all, this is a good Leela story, which is surprising since Terrance Dicks is a bit of a self-confessed chauvinist, and prefers his female companions screaming in peril for the Doctor to rescue them.

I thought the discussion between the lighthouse staff on the relative merits of electricity, oil, and other forms of lighting a lighthouse was a bit odd. It sounded as if Dicks wanted a place for all his lighthouse research to show, and so he stuck it in some dialog. Employing the Rutans as the enemy was a great idea (the Rutans were first mentioned in “The Time Warrior,” the first Sontaran story, when the Doctor mentions the interminable war between the Sontarans and the Rutans), and making them amorphous shape-shifters was clever too. Their realization on screen was, well, not so good, at least in my opinion.

“Horror of Fang Rock” is a good story, though not a classic. I wouldn’t consider it must-see Who, but certainly enjoyable, and not a waste of time. The Doctor and Leela are excellent, and there are some great lines (e.g., the Doctor, with a big grin, informing the occupants of the lighthouse, “Gentlemen, I have news for you: this lighthouse is under attack. By morning we might all be dead.”). One to watch if you have the time and opportunity.

Who Review: The Talons of Weng-Chiang

The Doctor takes Leela to late Victorian London with the intention of seeing a variety show at the theater. However, things take a different turn when they are the victims of an attempted ambush by a gang of Chinese men. All but one escapes and he, along with the Doctor and Leela, pay a visit to the police station. It’s there that they become involved in the investigation of missing girls, assisting Professor Litefoot, who has been conducting the autopsies. But this is no repeat of Jack the Ripper. Something sinister is happening at the theater, and the star of the show, Li H’sen Chang and his puppet Mr Sin seem to be involved. And they are not acting of their own accord. Chang believes himself to be in the service of the Chinese god Weng-Chiang. But who is this warped creature, and what does he want with the women of London? More than that, how can the Doctor and Leela stop him before he murders more people to serve his own ends?

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!

Rightly hailed by fans and critics alike as one of the best Doctor Who stories ever, this six-part serial completed the show’s fourteenth season, and also brought to an end Philip Hinchcliffe’s run as the show’s producer, a position he had occupied since Tom Baker’s first story, “Robot.” And what a story to go out on! Robert Holmes’s script is first rate, the pace is good, and the sets and lighting make for a wonderfully atmospheric and creepy story.

It seems as if Hinchcliffe and Holmes were going for a Phantom of the Opera meets Sherlock Holmes feel for the story. Some of the jumping around the theater rafters that the Doctor and Weng-Chiang perform echo “Phantom,” while the Doctor’s attire and demeanor, not to mention Professor Litefoot’s similarity to Dr. Watson, and the fact he has a housekeeper called Mrs. Hudson, certainly echoes the latter.

As well as atmosphere and drama, there’s plenty of humor, and some delightful character moments. For example, when Leela goes to dine with Litefoot, she immediately picks up food with her fingers to eat. Rather than scold her, Litefoot does the same. Later, Leela tries to give Litefoot a drink of port straight from the decanter. Tom Baker’s Doctor constantly rides a line between deadly seriousness and lighthearted unconcern, which makes him both disarming, and formidable. An excellent portrayal considering he’s supposed to be an alien. Also, despite the fact that the Fourth Doctor is “less violent,’ he spends a lot of time engaged in hand-to-hand combat with their Chinese attackers as if he was the Third Doctor!

There are a few iffy moments. The giant rat is almost successful, but not really successful enough to pass muster. Thankfully it has very limited screen time. Also, I thought using flashing lights over Chang’s eyes when he hypnotizes was a little overkill, and a bit hokey. Probably the most controversial aspect of the serial is the stereotypical way the Chinese are represented. Though, to be fair, this story is set in Victorian London, so there might be an element of truth to the Chinese gangs, and they way they dressed and acted at that time. More bothersome is the fact they got an Englishman to play the lead Chinese character, Li H’sen Chang. John Bennett does an excellent job with the part, but it would have been so much better if a real Chinese person could have been cast.

Far more successful is Mr Sin, Chang’s diminutive “puppet” who actually turns out to be a “Chinese homonculus” brought back by the creature posing as Weng-Chiang. He’s a “puppet” because he is, in fact, actually a robot with the cerebral cortex of a pig, making him a deadly hybrid. The costume and performance are well-realized, making for a thoroughly creepy character.

This is MUST-SEE Classic Who. No two ways about it. For me, in a season of classic stories, this and “Robots of Death” stand out. Excellent dialog, excellent story plotting, and just about everything else done to perfection (aside from the iffy moments noted above). If you have never seen “Talons” before, you’re in for a treat. 🙂

Book Review: THE ENGLISH AGENT by Phillip DePoy

Playwright and secret agent to Queen Elizabeth I, Christopher Marlowe is back for another adventure. This time, his commission is to travel to Holland and prevent an assassination attempt upon William the Silent, an important ally to England against Spain, and one with insider knowledge of the Spanish court. Having just witnessed the tragic demise of his latest play in a seedy Cambridge pub, Marlowe is up for the job. But there’s more to this assignment, as he will soon discover. William is not the main target of the conspirators. Indeed, the very throne of England is in danger, and Marlowe may be the only thing between Good Queen Bess and the business end of a blade. If only he can figure out who, when, and how in time.

Disclaimer: My review is based on an Advance Uncorrected Proof of the novel sent to me by Phillip’s agent. It was sent for my enjoyment, and I was not placed under any obligation to review the book in return.

This is the second installment of Phillip DePoy’s new series of novels featuring Christopher Marlowe. In real life, Marlowe was a playwright and later friend of William Shakespeare. In this series, Phillip imagines Marlowe in the role of a secret agent, working On Her Majesty’s Secret Service–“Her Majesty” here being the first Queen Elizabeth. He brings an interesting skill set to the job: master swordsman, a quick mind, and an eye for plot. These combine to help him navigate the various obstacles he meets both in England and Holland, and try to figure out the main players in the plot, and the best way to outsmart them.

In my review of the first novel, A PRISONER IN MALTA, I noted the ease at which Phillip immerses the reader in the historical context of the book without turning the novel into a textbook on life in Elizabethan times. The same holds true here, where we get a glimpse of what the first performance of a play would have been like back then (a far cry from The Old Vic), and the theater culture of the day. Phillip also introduces us to some of the delightful cuisine of the period, including goose blood pudding, for which he even provides the recipe: goose blood, oats, warm milk, pepper, nutmeg, sugar, salt, rosewater, and coriander seeds. This was supposed to be a breakfast meal! (Urggh!)

I was pleasantly surprised to see John Bull, then organist of Hereford Cathedral, make a cameo appearance. Hereford is my home town, and I am a former student of Hereford Cathedral School. Needless to say, I’m quite familiar with the Cathedral, and have heard some virtuoso performances on the organ in my time.

As with the first novel, Phillip’s story is well plotted, and he keeps you guessing right up to the end. Phillip surrounds Marlowe with a wonderful cast of characters, including Leonora Beak, whose friendship, strength, and thoughtfulness is a great asset to Marlowe, and Ned Blank, a boy actor whose skill at playing female roles is threatened by the onset of puberty.

If you enjoyed A PRISONER IN MALTA, you will like THE ENGLISH AGENT. If you’re a fan of historical fiction, and especially historical mysteries, you should definitely read this series. Also, anyone with an interest in Elizabethan England will get a lot of pleasure from the way Phillip brings it to life with these stories. I give it an easy five Goodreads stars.

Now that some experts are giving Marlowe co-author credits on three Shakespeare plays, how about indulging in some speculation on what he might have got up to in his spare time…? 🙂

THE ENGLISH AGENT comes out on February 21st. You can pre-order it HERE.

Who Review: The Robots of Death

New companion Leela’s first trip in the TARDIS winds up on a sandminer that’s exploring the minerals of a distant planet. The crew hope to pull enough valuable content from the planet into the vessel to make both themselves, and the company they work for, very rich. Many of the menial tasks on the sandminer are performed by humanoid robots. They do everything from piloting the craft, to heavy lifting, to giving massages to the weary crew, obeying their prime directive not to do harm to humans. The Doctor and Leela show up just as the bodies of two crew members turn up dead–strangled to death. Naturally, the newcomers are the first to be accused. However, it soon becomes apparent that the Doctor and Leela are innocent. But if they didn’t do it, and none of the humans on board did it, that only leaves one logical, and horrifying alternative. Indeed, that alternative would surely spell the end of that civilization, which is why no-one wants to listen to the Doctor, continuing to insist that the murderer is human. As the body count increases, the Doctor must find out who is overriding the robots’ programming, before it’s too late…

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 Robots of Death” is without doubt one of my all-time favorite Classic Who serials. Part of my affection for it is sentimental, since I remember watching it the first time around. It made a huge impression on me as a seven-year-old Whovian–perhaps the closest I’ve come to literally hiding behind the sofa. The images I saw back then never left me; it’s one of the few Doctor Who stories from the Seventies of which I have vivid memories. When I introduced Doctor Who to my kids back in 2004, before there was a New Series, I chose “The Robots of Death” as their introductory story. It hooked them for life.

Why do I love this story? First, the story itself. Yes, it’s a classic locked-room murder mystery, with a nod perhaps to Agatha Christie, but it’s so well conceived and thought through. There’s no padding, with each scene either developing character or moving the story along. The script has lots of excellent Doctor and Leela interchange, humor, as well as tension and drama. Writer Chris Boucher also manages to weave world-building into the story, showing different classes of society, as well as orders of robot.

The acting is first-rate, too. Tom Baker lived the role so much, it’s hard for him not to nail every performance of the Doctor. Louise Jameson, playing Leela for only her second serial, seems to have found her voice. The supporting cast do a marvelous job, too, getting into character and selling the story, despite the strange costumes and make-up. I find the robots particularly convincing, the way they move and react.

Speaking of the robots… eeek! They creeped me out when I was seven, and they STILL creep me out. Those angular faces, and the eyes that turn red when they are switched to “kill” mode. What makes them so effective, though, is the combination of costume, movement, and voice. I’ve rarely seen all three done as well as they are here.

Some interesting continuity notes. At the beginning, Leela still has one of the guns from the previous story, “The Face of Evil.” She also complains that the Doctor talks like a “Tesh”–another “Face of Evil” nod, referring to the tribe on Leela’s home planet that descended from technicians. The Doctor’s explanation of “dimensionally transcendental,” when talking about how the TARDIS can be bigger on the inside, is quite entertaining.

I would like to nominate D-84 as the best robot companion (sort-of), even besting K9 and Kamelion. Seriously, though, for a robot, he has charm and personality without coming across too human. A great feat of scripting and voice acting.

My only complaint is that the ending is a bit abrupt. There’s no goodbye, simply off in the TARDIS and that’s it. A few minutes wishing Uvanov and Toos well would have been a nice come-down after the high tension of the last ten minutes. But that’s a very small quibble.

This is MUST-SEE Who. If you’ve never watched Classic Who, this is the one to start with. Indeed, if I could only own one Classic Who story, it would be “Robots of Death,” no question about it. I highly recommend it to Whovian and non-Whovian alike. If you don’t like this, don’t bother with Classic Who, because Classic Who doesn’t get much better.

Review of 2016

In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s now 2017. We’ve left 2016 in the dust, and not a few of you are glad of it. That said, 2016 was a great year for some. My friend Donna Everhart saw her debut novel published back in October, and from what I gather it’s doing very well–a USA Today Best Seller, an Amazon “pick of the month,” and lots of very important nods and approvals from all kinds of places. There were also weddings and births and careers launched and lots of celebrations. On July 5th our landlord told us he was selling the house we had been renting for the past 13 years, so we had to find somewhere else to live, which led to us buying a house. If you’ve been following the blog you’ve read the saga, and I think it has turned out to be a good thing. Indeed, we have a roof over our head, clothes to wear, food to eat, jobs, and breath in our lungs, so we are blessed.

But without doubt, 2016 was a year of turmoil. There was the US Presidential Election which, for many was one of the most uncomfortable elections ever. There were acts of terrorism in various parts of the world. And there were a large number of notable celebrity deaths. Off the top of my head I recall the following: David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Prince, Terry Wogan, Andrew Sachs, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, Harper Lee, George Michael, Alan Thicke, Richard Adams, Greg Lake, Keith Emerson, Maurice White… and many others I’m sure you can remember. Though death is inevitable for all of us, such a great many well-known people passing on in a single year is unusual. In this way, 2016 served as a sharp reminder of the fragility of life, and the importance of never taking a single person, or a single moment, for granted.

Turning to the blog, what were the popular 2016 articles? As usual, my quest for UK Graham Crackers got the most hits, with the Update page being the most popular. Some other popular posts (NOTE: as with the Graham Cracker post, these articles weren’t necessarily written in 2016, but of all the visits in 2016, these got the most hits):

Most Popular Book Review: CARRIE by Stephen King.

Most Popular Music Monday Post: “The Logical Song” by Supertramp.

Most Popular Devotional: Romans 12:2

Most Popular Who Review: “The Space Pirates”

Most Popular A-to-Z Post: “Another Day”

The second most popular A-to-Z Post was one of my favorites, “Rainclouds.” A couple of the others inspired short stories, one of which I completed and hope to get published somewhere.

So that’s about it for 2016. I wish you all the best in 2017. May we all have much to celebrate, whatever our goals might be.

Who Review: The Return of Doctor Mysterio

The Doctor is in New York City, trying to set traps around a device he made to reverse paradoxes he had caused, when he gets caught in his own trap and finds himself dangling 60 floors from the ground. He is rescued when a boy called Grant lets him into his room. Grant is a comic book fan, with a secret desire to be a super hero with super powers. When the Doctor gives him a glass of water, and tells him to hold a rare alien crystal, Grant mistakes the crystal for medicine, and swallows it with the water. It happens that this crystal has the power to give its owner their heart’s desire. The effects would last until the crystal passes through the ingester’s system, unless it binds with their DNA. Flash forward twenty-four years, and New York City is under threat by an alien race that wants to take over the bodies of world leaders. The Doctor returns, along with his new side-kick, Nardole, to meet this threat, but finds an unexpected ally in a masked super hero called The Ghost. The Doctor and Nardole need to find a way to stop this alien race before it’s too late. But will The Ghost be a help or a hindrance…?

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

The 2016 Christmas Special was written by show-runner Steven Moffat, and saw the return of Nardole from last year’s story, “The Husbands of River Song.” Unlike most previous Christmas specials, the fact it is Christmas is simply the pretext for why Grant lets the Doctor in through his window: when he asks his parents if he can let the strange man in, his parents consent, thinking it might be Santa. Otherwise, the rest of the story could have taken place any other time of the year. Whether or not this is a bad thing depends on your perspective. Some fans have grown tired of the overtly “Christmas-y” Christmas specials, and would like to see just a straight-up Who story on Christmas Day. However, there’s also the recognition that part of the reason for the seasonal nature of the special is the fact that British Christmas specials tend to be lighter fare, more comedic, and more geared toward broad family viewing. This explains why past Who specials tend not to be as heavy as the seasons that preceded them.

That said, one of the things that struck me with this year’s offering is how much the line between sci-fi and horror has blurred, and how much horror is acceptable for a broad “family” audience. The premise of the alien plan, transplanting brains, is fairly gruesome, but we’ve seen that kind of thing before in classic Who (“The Brain of Morbius” for example). The difference here is that the effects are better, and while we don’t actually see a brain transplant, we do see alien “brains” in jars, and a victim’s eye-less corpse. Granted, there’s no blood, but it’s still an unpleasant sight. And then there are the aliens themselves who can pull their heads open, with all the requisite slime, and goopy sound effects. These are images that would never have flown for tea-time family viewing on British TV 40 years ago. But how times have changed!

Of course, with any Steven Moffat script, things are not as they seem. The “Doctor Mysterio” in the title is not the name of the super hero, but is the name Grant gives to the Doctor. His “return” refers to the fact that the Doctor re-visits Grant 24 years after his initial encounter, when the young boy is a fully-fledged super hero, and dealing with the double life that is the bane of every super hero’s existence. Unlike previous Moffat scripts, there’s not a lot of subtle layering. Aside from the the relationship between Grant and Lucy Fletcher, whom he has loved since kindergarten, though she doesn’t know it, and the Doctor coming to terms with never seeing River Song again (see last year’s story), the rest of the story is pretty much what you see.

It’s a good story, well performed, with top-notch effects, but not remarkable. Worth watching, but not one I would get excited about. As the first new Who in a year, I’m not disappointed, but given it’s a Christmas special, my expectations weren’t super high to begin with. Maybe it’ll grow on me with re-watching. Of greater interest was the trailer for the up-coming season that ran at the end.

What did you think? Is there more to this story that I missed? Were you underwhelmed, or totally impressed? Let’s discuss…!

Christmas Devotional: John 1:14a (Continued)

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us

We spent some time on this verse last Christmas, and I would like to return to it again this year, because I think it is one of the most important Christmas passages in the entire New Testament. You see, the whole point of Christmas and what we are celebrating is Incarnation. God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, took on human flesh and made his dwelling with us. God entered into His creation in order to redeem it. But why?

Everyone has a theory about what’s wrong with the world. Just ask! You’ll hear everything from global terrorism to politicians to Hollywood to video games–even religion! But the answer to that question is really very simple: sin. We are all at heart sinful, fallen creatures, at enmity with our Creator. We think ourselves worthy of the best, and deserving of good, but in fact we are, as Scripture puts it, children of wrath, deserving nothing more than eternal punishment. We have rebelled against God, and the penalty for our rebellion is death, both physical and eternal. This is the just judgment of a holy God.

But God is also merciful. Yet how can a just and holy God show mercy to wretched people who have earned nothing but the very pits of Hell, and still be just? Sure, God can withhold His wrath, but on what basis? If sin’s debt is not paid, then where is God’s justice? If there is no accounting for sin, then God winks at evil, and the moral foundation upon which our understanding of right and wrong rests disappears. If God can let sin go unpunished, then He is, in essence, endorsing moral anarchy.

The answer is in the Incarnation. God the Father sent God the Son into the world, born a baby in Bethlehem’s manger, raised in an earthly family, knowing the trials and turmoils of mortal life, and yet keeping God’s law perfectly. He walked in our shoes, but in the way we should walk. Where we failed to obey God, Jesus was obedient. Where we missed the mark, Jesus nailed it. And on Calvary’s cross, Jesus became the spotless, blameless, unblemished sacrifice on our behalf. He gave up his life, so his pure life could be ours. As the apostle Paul puts it, he who knew no sin became sin, so we might have his righteousness. When we come to Jesus, confessing our sins, and trusting in him alone for our salvation, we are laying the filthy rags of our lives at the foot of the cross, and taking upon ourselves his pure robes of righteousness, purchased for us by his blood. This is what it means when Christians talk about Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice. He lived a perfect life, in complete obedience to God, and died a guiltless death, so that we can be reconciled to God. By dying on our behalf, Jesus pays the penalty of our sin, and satisfies God’s wrath, and His justice.

Without Christmas, we would all perish in our sin. But because of Christmas, we have hope. In Jesus, God and sinners are reconciled. May we never lose sight of this glorious truth. And may it be true of you this Christmas.

Links and Christmas Stuff

I don’t know about you, but I’m a fan of Christmas. A veritable Christmasphile. The lights, decorations, music, smells–even the cold weather. Clearly a big part of what I like about Christmas is what we, as Christians, are celebrating: the Incarnation, God becoming flesh and dwelling among us. To a lesser extent as well, however, it’s memories of the season from my childhood in England. School lessons replaced with parties and fun activities, Christmas specials on television, school holidays, the decorations in the house, and our artificial tree with white, silver, and blue tinsel for pine needles. Dad would set the tree up and string the lights, then my older brother and I would decorate it. Mum might even hang chocolate decorations that we could eat over the course of the season.

This year is our first Christmas in our new house, and my FirstBorn has done an outstanding job of decorating. We have stockings on the mantel, lights outside, and our frasier fir Christmas tree is adorned with all the lights, glitter, and sparkle you would expect. We even have the traditional cat under the tree:

OK, so Sam just wanted to get in on the act. 🙂

It’s traditional for stores at Christmas to give opportunity for their younger patrons to visit with Santa. As you’re probably aware, however, “Santa” has a rather sinister anagram. This fact is often used in jest, and sometimes it leads to unfortunate typos. This Dillard’s ad has been doing the social media rounds. I don’t know if it’s genuine, but it gave us some giggles:

It was reported a few weeks ago that Greg Lake, singer and guitarist with King Crimson and, most notably, Emerson Lake and Palmer, had died. He was 69 and had been battling cancer. I don’t know much ELP, but there is one song for which I’ll always remember Greg Lake: his 1975 classic “I Believe in Father Christmas.” By way of both commemorating Greg’s passing, and marking the season, here is the video to that song. I have matched it with the original UK single version, which I don’t hear much on US radio. The version more commonly played here is pretty bare-bones, without the choir and orchestra.

Happy Christmas, everyone!

Who Review: The Face of Evil

The TARDIS materializes in a jungle, and the Doctor, now traveling alone, investigates. He doesn’t get far before a girl dressed in skins trips and lands at his feet. Her name is Leela, and she has been ejected from her tribe for blasphemy against their god, Xoanan. But Leela has seen the Doctor before–at least his face. He is “the evil one,” whose likeness is carved into the mountain. The Doctor’s curiosity piqued, he investigates Leela’s village and finds artifacts from a spaceship that the natives treat as sacred objects. The village shaman claims to receive messages from Xoanan, but the fact he receives them in a specific location suggests Xoanan uses some form of communicator. As the Doctor puts the pieces of the puzzle together, he comes to the conclusion that these savages are the descendants of a space crew that crash landed on the planet many generations ago. The Doctor visited an early generation of these people and helped them. But in helping them, he created a monster that is now determined to destroy everything. Starting with the Doctor.

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 first Doctor Who serial of the New Year (1977) was written by a new writer for the show, Chris Boucher, and introduced a new companion, Leela. I have a vivid memory of watching the first episode of “The Face of Evil” when it broadcast. I was six, and we were visiting someone’s house on New Year’s Day. I don’t remember who it was we visited, but I do recall wanting to watch Doctor Who because there was going to be a new assistant (as we called them back then). Having been granted permission, I sat in our host’s living room in a large, beige comfy chair (it seemed large to me, anyway), and watched Leela’s inaugural episode on a big television. And that’s as much as I recall of that day.

Coming back to the story nearly forty years later, it’s another one of those Who serials that, I think, stands up very well. Boucher’s story is original, with a tight and engaging plot. He only wrote three stories for Doctor Who before going on to script editor success with shows like “Blake’s 7” and “Bergerac,” and it’s a shame; he was definitely one of the best Classic Who writers.

Boucher hasn’t given many interviews, and seems to be a bit of a recluse. I am aware of his rather devout atheism, and I think that bleeds through into the script (though the story had input from script editor Robert Holmes, and producer Philip Hinchcliffe). The idea of a technically advanced group of people who, over generations, become more “superstitious” is, however, counter-intuitive to most atheist thinking. Normally, secular anthropologists say that people, over time, grow less “religious,” with secularism being equated with progress, as primitive people shake off the shackles of naïve beliefs and embrace the “real world” as explained by reason and science. Perhaps this anomaly is due to the influence of Xoanan and his social experiment? Did Xoanan affect the generations that came from that initial crew such that technology and science wasn’t passed down to them, and they all grew up ignorant? I find that possibly the hardest aspect of the plot to swallow. Surely each generation would have taught the next, and given we’re talking about a limited number of people, it’s unlikely they would have “forgotten” so completely their history. Such things would have been passed down as more than just ritual. They would have been taught how to use the Medikit, and the rest of the surviving equipment.

In any case, this back story gives Boucher the opportunity to parody religion, though he’s careful to keep it general, and largely animistic, as opposed to taking on, say, Christianity or Islam too directly. Nevertheless, faith is firmly put in its place (as Boucher sees it), subservient to science and reason. I could get offended at this, but the serial is a work of fiction, so I can take it all at face value and enjoy it for what it is.

The subtle mocking of faith aside, this is a clever story. We have a tribe called the Sevateem, who were originally the Survey Team, but over time the name was corrupted. Xoanan, in his experiment, set them apart to develop their warrior instincts. Back on the ship live the Tesh, who were originally the Technicians, the technical crew, whom Xoanan kept on the ship to develop their mental skills. Xoanan’s plan was to see which turned out to be the superior tribe.

As for the identity of Xoanan, this is another clever and original plot twist. Xoanan is a highly sophisticated computer that the Tesh, over many years, developed to be independently intelligent. When the Doctor visited the first time, Xoanan was in need of repair, and to effect the cure he had to use his own mental energy. He thought he had fixed the computer, but it seems he had inadvertently left his own mental print behind. Xoanan, therefore, developed a dual personality, which drove it insane. The nearest thing we’ve had to a situation like this in any previous Doctor Who story is the First Doctor serial, “The Ark,” where, at the end of episode two it looks as if our heroes have saved the day, only to return some years later to find that they’ve actually made the situation worse.

Leela’s character is supposed to be intelligent, but technically ignorant. In other words, she has street smarts, and a rational mind, even if she doesn’t know a lot of facts. She has both the hunter’s instinct, and the ability to take information and form conclusions. A rather unusual traveling companion for the Doctor, which, perhaps, makes her most suitable.

Another interesting twist on the usual Doctor Who plot is the fact that the Doctor didn’t have to stay. For most of the first half of the story, he could have escaped back into the jungle, jumped in the TARDIS and left. But he doesn’t, and I think behind his decision to put things right is a sense of responsibility. It was his fault the computer turned out a mentally disturbed wannabe-god, so it’s up to him to fix it.

One little plot point that bugged me was how the Medikit was still functional after so many generations, and how the Doctor knew all the chemicals and medicines it used would still be viable. It seems the Medikit has not needed to be recharged for many, many years, and yet the guns can only carry a charge good enough for a finite number of shots before they need to be powered up again. The logic of that evaded me for all four episodes.

An interesting detail I noticed was at the end, when Xoanan makes a couch and table materialize for the Doctor and Leela to sit on while they talk. The Doctor picks up a cigarette box from the table, and inside he finds jelly babies. Many years later, in the Twelfth Doctor story, “Mummy on the Orient Express,” the Doctor will pull a cigarette case from his inside coat pocket, open it, and take out a jelly baby.

This is a great story, though perhaps just shy of “must-see.” I would certainly recommend it to all Whovians, and even perhaps to those with a less fanatical interest in the show.