Who Review: The Invasion of Time

The Doctor is behaving very strangely. First he leaves Leela and K-9 in the TARDIS while he consults with a group of aliens. They then travel to Gallifrey, where the Doctor demands to see Chancellor Borusa, and claims the Presidency, which is his by right after the death of the last President-elect, Chancellor Goth (see “The Deadly Assassin”). He orders that the induction ceremony take place as soon as possible, and that his chambers be redecorated to his specifications. This includes lining the walls with lead. Things go from strange to stranger when the Doctor orders all aliens expelled from the Citadel, including Leela. She is forced out into the wastelands, an environment that is all too familiar to her. Then the Doctor orders K-9 to take down the transduction barrier that protects Gallifrey, and laughs when three aliens materialize to take over control of Gallifrey. Has the Doctor turned traitor? And if so, why? Is Leela’s loyalty in the Doctor, despite his actions, misplaced? Or is there more to the Doctor’s apparent insanity than meets the eye…?

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 Invasion of Time” is credited to David Agnew, but there is no David Agnew. This was a pseudonym oft-used in the BBC when a script editor wrote a story. Since writer and script editor are two separate jobs, and it wasn’t permitted for one person to be credited for both on-screen, it was common practice for the script editor to use an assumed name as his writer credit. In this case, “David Agnew” is script editor Anthony Read and producer Graham Williams.

The premise of the story is good and original. The last time the Doctor was seen to be turning on his friends was in “The Evil of the Daleks.” In that story, the Second Doctor had a falling out with Jamie–though it was all part of a plan to trick his adversaries. Here, the Doctor needed to get Leela out of the way for her own good, which is why he ordered her to be banished. And, of course, the whole point of allowing the aliens to invade is to have them reveal themselves so K-9 can identify their home planet and beam them back home. The twist comes, however, when we learn at the end of episode four that the Vardan invasion was a ploy to lower Gallifreyan defenses to let the real invaders in: the Sontarans.

The appearance of the Sontarans was a genuine surprise. We hadn’t seen them since the Fourth Doctor’s first season story, “The Sontaran Experiment.” And my, haven’t they grown since then! They must have been eating their Weetabix, because they have developed eyelashes, and become quite tall. The problem with this is that the Sontarans are supposed to be a clone race, so these Sontarans should look like every other Sontaran. Not only that, but these Sontaran costumes are just not very good. The original 1975 costume was far superior. I’m not sure if this is the fault of the budget, or bad design, but whatever, it’s a bit of a let-down.

The last couple of episodes are essentially devoted to the Sontarans chasing people down corridors, and then chasing the Doctor and his friends around the TARDIS. I honestly don’t recall much plot going on in these final episodes, apart from Time Lady Rodan making a rather snazzy looking Demat Gun (a very powerful weapon forbidden by the Time Lords) that the Doctor uses to kill a Sontaran (which is itself a big surprise, given how much the Fourth Doctor hates guns and violence). The blast from the Demat Gun gives the Doctor amnesia concerning the events of this adventure, though I’m not entirely sure why that’s necessary. After all, that’s a very specific amnesia: not total, and not temporary. From a story perspective, if the Doctor is going to forget a certain event or story, there ought to be a reason. And I can’t think of a single one.

Leela is in her element working with the wasteland tribe to plan an attack on the Citadel. For one last time she gets to be the Sevateem warrior, firing arrows and throwing knives. It’s also kind of cool to see more of the TARDIS, including the swimming pool and the art gallery. But this does come off as padding to make what really is a four-part story into a six-parter.

And then we have Leela’s departure, which is simply lame. LAME. Louise Jameson, who played Leela, wanted her to be killed off, since that would be a fitting and noble exit for her character. In the end, the production team decided killing Leela would be too traumatic for the children in the audience. Instead, they contrived a romance between Leela and the Time Lord guard Andred, something that no-one would have seen coming. For all the screen time they have together, there’s not a moment when they spark, or seem to show any interest in each other aside from a mutual desire to stay alive. Would Leela seriously give up travelling with the Doctor to stay on Gallifrey with a guy she hardly knows? I don’t think so. K-9 stays on Gallifrey, too–again, for reasons not entirely clear. But never mind, somehow the Doctor has K-9 Mark II in a box ready to break out for next season!

As I said, this isn’t a bad idea for a Doctor Who story at all. Even bringing the Sontarans in as a double-twist is good. There’s just such a lot wrong with the costumes, the sets (the Doctor’s lead-lined door seems extremely flimsy), the acting (especially the extras), and the overall execution of the story. If anything, watch it for the first four episodes, but after that, feel free to wander off and make tea or check your email. You won’t miss much. If the Doctor can forget anything ever happened in this story, I’m sure we can too.

Sunday School Notes: Revelation 12:13-17

13 And when the dragon saw that it had been thrown to the earth, it pursued the woman who had given birth to the male [child]. 14 Yet two wings of a great eagle were given to the woman so that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place where she is nourished there a time, and times, and half a time, away from the face of the serpent. 15 And the serpent threw from his mouth water like a river before the woman in order that it might make her [be] swept away by a river. 16 But the earth gave help to the woman and the earth opened its mouth and it swallowed the river that the dragon threw from its mouth. 17 And the dragon was enraged by the woman and departed to make war with the rest of her seed, those keeping the commandments of God and having the testimony of Jesus.

Last time we read about the dragon being “cast down” to the earth after its humiliating defeat against Michael. As we discussed, it’s interesting that John does not call this a victory for Michael. I think the wording is deliberate, not to detract from where the victory truly lies: at the cross and and the empty tomb. The dragon (Satan) could not defeat Michael because Jesus had conquered Satan on the cross and at his resurrection. With the heavenly battle lost, and the saints of God secure in their Savior, the dragon’s attention turns to the place he has been thrown: the earth. He goes after the woman who had given birth to the male child (i.e., the church, God’s people, from whom the Messiah, Jesus, had come). But Satan’s attempts to attack the people of God are thwarted by the Lord giving wings of an eagle to the woman to carry her to her safe place in the wilderness. I say the Lord gave her the wings because this seems like a clear use of a “divine passive”–the passive voice being used to imply God working in the situation. After all, who else could give eagle’s wings to the woman?

“Eagle’s wings” are used often in the Old Testament as a picture of God’s protection and deliverance. In Isaiah 40:31, for example, we read that “those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Given what follows, however, I think the Lord is drawing John’s mind to the Exodus, and Exodus 19:4 in particular. Exodus 19:4 is part of a prelude to the Ten Commandments, where the Lord is recounting to Moses what He has done for him and Israel to that point. The Lord speaks of delivering Israel from Egypt, bearing them on “eagle’s wings” and bringing them “to Myself” there in the Sinai wilderness. This is the picture we have hear of the Lord bearing the woman, God’s people, out of the way of evil, to a place of safety in the wilderness.

All indications in verse 14 are that this is the same place described back in verse 6–a place prepared by God where she is nourished for 1,260 days. Which is the same as 3-and-a-half years (time, times, and half a time). This was also the same length of time that the witnesses prophesied at the beginning of chapter 11. It is a figurative number representing the duration of church history, from the resurrection to the End Times. Why this number? Because of it’s correlation to Daniel 7, and in this case, Daniel 7:15-28 especially. There are things about Daniel’s vision that make sense in Daniel’s time, things that are beyond the purview of this study. But there are aspects of Daniel’s vision that require the hindsight of the cross to appreciate. That perspective is what Revelation gives us. When Daniel sees a beast appearing to conquer the saints, and these saints being given into his hand for three and a half years, John is telling us that Daniel caught a glimpse of history far beyond his lifetime. Daniel’s vision also shows the Ancient of Days coming, and there being victory and vindication for God’s people, which John indicates is what is promised through Christ for all those who are his.

The serpent, Satan, is not happy at the woman’s flight, so it throws out water from its mouth intending to drown her. The Greek verb for “throw,” ballō, gives a sense of the violence of the serpent’s action and intention. It also brings back to mind the Exodus story, where the Lord parted the Red Sea for His people to cross on dry ground, but then when the Egyptians tried to cross, He brought the waters crashing down, throwing the Egyptians into the sea and covering them all (Exodus 14:26-29).

Why does this water come out of the serpent’s mouth? We’ve already seen in Revelation that the mouth is used to denote speech, and when combined with a sword, or fire, pictures spoken judgement. In Revelation 1:16, Jesus has a sharp two-edged sword coming from his mouth, and in 2:16, he threatens war against false teachers with this sword. In 11:5, the two witnesses breathe a consuming fire from their mouths upon those who try to harm them. These are all figurative of spoken judgment, whether a curse from the Lord (see the letters in chapters 2 and 3), or even the faithful proclamation of the gospel which, to those who do not receive it, is a word of condemnation for sin, not life.

Why does John say the water comes from the serpent‘s mouth, not the dragon’s? They are one and the same creature, but the change in reference is interesting. The serpent is, perhaps, the most infamous representation of Satan in Scripture, from its appearance in the Garden of Eden. There, the serpent deceived Eve into taking and eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Satan is the adversary of God and His people. He is the accuser, and he is the deceiver. The picture presented to John here is one of Satan coming against the church with deceptive and misleading words. In the seven letters, we read of false teaching in the church, and those who would try to lead God people astray. Satan’s intention is to drown the church with lies, so God’s people no longer know the truth and fall away from Him, just as Pharaoh’s armies were washed away by the Red Sea.

But the Lord has promised spiritual protection to His people (see chapter 11:1-2). So the earth swallows the serpent’s river, keeping the woman safe–that is, Satan’s attempt to draw God’s people away from Him fail. God protects His own from the Enemy’s deceit. Once again, the language here reflects the Exodus story, and Moses’s song in Exodus 15, where he recounts how God dealt with the Egyptians. Using poetic language, he speaks of God stretching out His hand and causing the earth to swallow up the Egyptian army (15:12). The Lord reminds John (and us) that though His church may be battered, beaten, and bruised for His sake, their security is in Him. The gates of hell will not prevail against Christ’s church (Matthew 16:18).

Foiled a second time in its attempt to destroy the woman, the dragon, fuming with rage, goes after “the woman’s seed,” which John describes as being those who are faithful to the Lord. But if the woman is the church, who are her “seed”? Jesus, the Messiah, was the child of the woman, and we understood this to mean that the Messiah was born of God’s people (i.e., Israel). I think the idea the Lord is communicating through John is that of every Christian individually as a child of the church. If we think of the woman as the corporate church, the body of Christ as an entity, the seed of the church is us–every believer who has come to faith through the testimony of the church. Christians are not born Christian. Unlike Muslims or Jews, there is no such thing as being born Christian. You can be born into a Christian family, but we are all born children of Adam, rebel sinners who need to come to Christ to be forgiven of sin and become adopted children of God in Christ. That change takes place as a work of God’s Spirit in the lives of people who, having heard the gospel message, respond in faith, repent and turn to Jesus. That gospel message might come through a co-worker, a friend at school, a pastor, a parent–however it comes, that gospel message goes forth and as a result births new children into the Kingdom of God. So, the seed of the woman represents those who come to Christ as a result of the testimony of the Christ’s church, from the Apostles, through the early church, right up to today. If you are a Christian, that includes you, and me.

This means, however, that the serpent, Satan, is coming after us. And this has been true for the past 2,000 years, and will continue to be true until Christ returns. As we have said, God never promises His church physical protection. Christians will be harmed, and even killed, as a result of the serpent’s attack. However, we are secure in Christ. His promises are sure, and we will never be snatched out of his hand (John 10:28).

In most translations, verse 17 ends with a line that reads something like, “And he stood upon the sand of the sea.” However, there is uncertainty in the Greek manuscripts over whether this should read “And he stood…” or “And I stood…” If the former, it makes sense at the end of verse 17. If the latter, then it might be better placed at the beginning of chapter 13. Bearing in mind the chapter and verse divisions are later additions and are not part of the inspired text, whether it’s 12:17 or 13:1 is not important. Whether or not the dragon is on the shore, or John is on the shore makes a difference to our translation and perhaps, to a small degree, our interpretation. We’ll look closer at this verse as we begin chapter 13 next time, Lord willing.

Who Review: Underworld

The TARDIS materializes at the end of the known universe on the R1C, a ship whose crew is on a quest to find a missing vessel, the P7E, which carries their valuable genetic race bank. The crew of the R1C are Minyans, a race who had received much help from the Time Lords in the past–so much so, they regarded the Time Lords as gods–but grew to resent Time Lord dominion over their planet, Minyos, and expelled them. The Minyans divided, and a civil war broke out that destroyed their world, leaving the two ships to find a new home. But the ships separated, and the crew of the R1C has been pursuing the P7E for thousands of years, using Time Lord technology to rejuvenate themselves when they become too old. Needless to say, as a Time Lord, the Doctor is not welcomed with open arms by the crew. Nevertheless, with the help of Leela and K-9, he proves his good intentions by helping the ship avoid being crushed by rocks when its size causes a gravitational pull that makes it the most attractive thing around. The ship crash lands through the soft surface of a planet in formation. But this is no ordinary planet, and there’s more to its hostile inhabitants than meets the eye…

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!

Writers Bob Baker and Dave Martin pull from Greek mythology for their tale, specifically culling from Jason and the Argonauts, and their quest for the golden fleece. Names have been changed to veil the reference (Jason is Jackson, the Minoans are the Minyans, Orpheus is Orfe, the Persephone is the P7E, etc.), but, as with the Gothic horror-based tales of the previous few seasons, it doesn’t really matter. Cast as a space quest, the story stands on its own, which is good for those who don’t know their Greek mythology.

As far as stories go, it’s not bad. I think the use of scientific principles to help explain key story elements, and add to the drama (in particular, the fact that large objects in space have gravitational pull), is well done. It’s certainly not the best Baker-Martin story, but it’s an entertaining four-parter with an engaging plot that doesn’t have a lot of holes (at least that I could find).

Where “Underworld” suffers most, I think, is in its realization. As with “The Invisible Enemy,” Baker and Martin have ideas that stretch even the most generous BBC budget. And at this point in the show’s history, the budget was anything but generous–especially given that this is the penultimate story in the season, and so much of the money had already been spent or allocated. To help cut costs, the production team decided to do something very experimental, and unheard of until that time: use Color Separation Overlay (“green screen”) for over a quarter of the entire story. This way, they wouldn’t have to build sets for certain scenes, instead using scale models of the sets upon which the actors would be superimposed.

Back in 1978, this was extremely risky. Everything was analog, with cameras physically linked to ensure co-ordination, and recording direct to videotape without the modern luxury of post-production computer clean-up. With this in mind, it’s quite an achievement for its time, and credit must be given to the technicians who pulled it off, as well as the actors who do a great job playing against blank walls. However, it’s hard to avoid the fact that, by today’s standards, it’s shy enough of believable to be distracting. There’s one scene in particular where the Doctor, Leela, and Idas float down a gravity lift. They achieve the effect with the actors standing on boxes which are hidden by the CSO. Did they not have wires and harnesses available? Would that have been too expensive? It would have been a lot more credible if they had been hanging rather than standing. As it is, it’s hard for the actors to not look like they are standing on something solid.

But it’s not just the CSO. The props don’t look as slick as one might prefer, and there’s an overall feeling of, well, shabbiness to it. And those tall helmets? And the googly-eyed robot Seers? Even some of the acting by the extras leaves a bit to be desired. Leela would have died in one corridor scene where her gun gives out. Thankfully, the guard chasing her forgot what his weapon was for when he was standing directly in front of her!

As I said, “Underworld” is not a bad story, and certainly watchable. However, I would consider it more a curiosity than must-see. Unless you’re a die-hard Whovian, or a completest, feel free to skip it.

Sunday School Notes: Revelation 12:7-12

7 And there was a war in heaven, Michael and his angels had to make war with the dragon. And the dragon made war, also his angels, 8 but he did not defeat [Michael], nor was a place found for them still in heaven. 9 And the great dragon, the serpent, the Ancient One, the one called Diabolos and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world, was thrown to the earth, and his angels were thrown with him. 10 And I heard a great voice in heaven saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God has come, and the authority of His Christ, for the Accuser of our brethren, the one who accuses them before our God day and night, has been cast down. 11 And they defeated him on account of the blood of the Lamb and on account of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life as far as death. 12 On account of this, rejoice, heavens, and those who dwell in them! Woe to the earth and the sea, for Diabolos has gone down to you having great anger, knowing that he has a short time.”

Last time, we read about a woman giving birth to a son, and a dragon who wanted to destroy the child, but the child was taken to God. The dragon then turned his attention to the woman, but she fled to the wilderness where she was given a place of nourishment for three and a half years. Referencing back into the Old Testament, and even into the Gospels, we understand the woman to represent God’s people (Israel, fulfilled in the church), and the son is Jesus, the Messiah, born out of Israel after centuries of struggle. The dragon is Satan (as we’re told explicitly in this week’s passage). Jesus’s escape from the dragon came at his resurrection, and the pursuit of the woman by the dragon is what has been happening to God’s people ever since. Spiritually, God’s people are secure in him, spiritually nourished with eternal promises, even if physically the church is beaten and oppressed.

John is now shown a war in heaven between Michael and his angels and the dragon. It’s important to remember this is a vision. We mustn’t get distracted with questions over how literally to take Michael and an actual conflict. That’s not to say there isn’t a heavenly being named Michael, and that there wasn’t an actual conflict, but we need to remember John is here presented with a picture of spiritual realities behind physical events. Our primary concern is to understand what the Lord is telling John through this vision.

Daniel chapters 10 and 12 speak of a Michael, and given that Daniel forms the background to a lot of the visions in Revelation, this is where we ought to turn for our understanding of who he is. In 10:6, Daniel sees a vision that compares in many ways to the vision John has of Jesus in Revelation 1:13-16. This man is said to be the “son of man”–a title applied to Jesus in the New Testament. In verse 13, the man tells Daniel of Michael, a prince who fights with him. He reiterates this point in verse 21, saying that no-one contends against Persia and Greece by his side except “Michael, your prince.” Daniel 12:1 describes Michael as the “great prince” who has charge of Daniel’s people, that is, it is his duty to protect Daniel’s people. So, this “son of man” and Daniel fight together for Israel, God’s people, against the wicked hosts of Persia and Greece (or perhaps the spiritual forces at work behind them–see Daniel 8).

So Michael is a co-fighter with the Son of Man, looking out for God’s people. Can’t Jesus fight his own battles? Why include Michael? Perhaps because Jesus, the Son of Man, was fighting a different battle, an earthly one for which Michael’s battle is the spiritual counterpart? In Revelation 12:7-8, Michael and his hosts fight against the dragon, and the dragon and his hosts fight back but do not prevail. Notice, the text does not say that Michael won, but that the dragon wasn’t able to defeat Michael. Could this be because Jesus won the victory over Satan on the cross? The dragon was not able to get the better of Michael in heaven, because Jesus defeated him on earth.

Verse 8 says that there was “no place found still in heaven” for the dragon and his angels, meaning they no longer had a place in heaven. The idea of Satan having a place in heaven may strike us as a little strange. But this isn’t saying Satan has a mansion in glory; rather, from the context this seems to be referring to Satan’s place as the accuser of the saints before God. Since Jesus defeated Satan at the cross, there is no longer anyone accusing God’s people before God’s throne. Satan has been cast down; there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). The message for John’s readers (and to us) is that the Satanic force behind their oppressors and all those that work against God and His people has been defeated. Whatever might be going on physically, the real battle in the heavenlies has been won. Their Accuser has been cast down, and no longer has a place before God bringing charges against His people. All this happened at the cross, so there is some overlap between these verses and verses 1-6. When the woman’s child was taken up to God, and the dragon pursues the woman, behind that scene was this battle scene, where the dragon and his host was defeated and cast down.

There’s a voice from heaven (literally, a “sound”–the Greek phonē is a generic word for noise or sound that takes its precise meaning from the context in which it is used; here, where words are being produced, the sound is clearly a voice), declaring that the salvation, power, kingdom of God, and the authority of His Christ has come. Not that these things weren’t a reality prior to this moment, but now they are coming to bear. This power and authority has been demonstrated in the fall of the Accuser. An interesting cross-reference at this point is John 12:31-33, where Jesus tells his disciples that the judgment of this world has come, and the ruler of this world has been cast out.

The conquest of God’s people over the dragon has been won by the blood of the Lamb, and the word of their testimony. We understand that the latter is dependent upon the former; without the blood of the Lamb, there is no testimony. And it is that testimony, that confession of faith from God’s people that demonstrates they belong to the Lord, and are covered by the redeeming blood of the Lamb who was slain on their behalf. This testimony is not simply words, however. These people were prepared to be martyred for the Gospel because they “did not love their lives as far as death”–which is to say that they didn’t cling to life, but were willing to give up their lives for the Gospel’s sake. Christians are not required to become martyrs, but we are to love the Lord more than life itself such that, should we have to, we would be willing to be with the Lord rather than deny him.

Verse 12 is an exhortation to the heavens to celebrate the casting down of the dragon, but a woe to the earth because that’s where he has gone, and the dragon knows his time is short. Verse 13 will pick up on this: knowing his time is short, having been unable to defeat the mother’s child, the dragon will go after the mother–i.e., the church. God’s people are now under attack from Satan, and that attack will be vicious because he knows his days are numbered. This is a picture of church history from the Resurrection until now, and who knows how much longer. Not that Satan hasn’t been behind the persecution of God’s people prior to the coming of Christ, but that persecution has an added urgency and intensity now that he has been defeated. Satan has lost, and he is going to go out inflicting as much damage as possible. But God’s people need to remember: the battle is won, they are secure in the heavenlies, and there is no longer anyone to accuse them before God.

Next time: Revelation 12:13-17… or 18…?

A History Moment: The Queen’s Sapphire Jubilee

This past Monday, February 6th, Queen Elizabeth II of England, my former monarch, celebrated 65 years on the throne. It’s a bittersweet celebration for the Queen since this also marks the 65th anniversary of the death of her father, King George VI. According to the people who determine these things, 65 years is a “sapphire” celebration. The Queen celebrated her Silver Jubilee in 1977 (25 years, and I still remember our street party), her Golden Jubilee in 2002 (50 years), and her Diamond Jubilee in 2012 (60 years). She is, however, the first British monarch to celebrate a Sapphire Jubilee. Not even Queen Victoria managed that–she reigned a mere 63-and-some-months years. King George “I-want-my-colonies-back” III just missed his Diamond Jubilee, spending 59 years on the throne. King Henry III (1216-1272) and King Edward III (1327-1377) both achieved Golden Jubilees, which is quite remarkable for monarchs in the middle ages!

A point of interest. Some books cite Queen Elizabeth’s reign as starting in 1953. As I understand it, most monarchs are usually crowned shortly after the death of the previous monarch, so their coronation year usually matches the year the title passed to them (the year of ascension). In Elizabeth’s case, her father died on February 6th, 1952, but she wasn’t actually crowned queen until June 2, 1953. Part of the reason for the 14 month delay was to properly observe a period of national mourning for the dead King. But 14 months seems a long time. Other than allowing time for the extensive preparations (which included the first time a coronation would be televised live), I’m not sure why it took so long. But that’s why some books say she has been queen since 1953–they’re looking at the actual coronation date, not the ascension date. Most historians go with the ascension date, making this year her Sapphire Jubilee year.

Given the Queen is 90 years old, and her mother lived to 101, she might yet get to Platinum (70 years). We’ll see… 🙂

Our “street” (more like “cul-de-sac”) Silver Jubilee party in our
neighbor’s back yard. June, 1977. That’s me in the bottom left corner. 🙂

Who Review: The Sun Makers

The TARDIS crew land on Pluto, and much to the Doctor’s surprise, it is inhabited. Not just inhabited, but developed, with tall buildings and multiple suns. However, the citizens of Pluto are not happy with their taxes, and are oppressed by the Company that rules them. It was this Company that made the suns that give Pluto its habitable environment, though the majority of the population is forced to stay inside and work, so few people have ever actually seen these suns. There is a small rebel group living underground that would like to overthrow their overlords, but consider the task too overwhelming. Captured by these rebels, the Doctor needs to convince them he and Leela can help lead their rebellion, but the suspicious-minded rebels will take some convincing that the Doctor isn’t a Company spy. Meanwhile, the Company tax gatherers have their eyes on the newcomers, and soon begin to see them as a threat to sustained profitability. The Doctor and Leela need to find a way to help the rebels, before they are liquidated…

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 Sun Makers” has to be Robert Holmes’s wittiest Doctor Who script. Holmes always managed to get humor into his stories, but this one is laced with jabs at the late 70s British tax system–some clear, and others more subtle. It seems Holmes had recently been audited by the tax man, and was feeling the sting of the assessment. Naturally, as a writer, this was the easiest vehicle for him to express his displeasure.

But the witty lines aren’t just at the expense of the Inland Revenue. At one point, the Doctor asks Leela if someone insulted him. Leela shoots back, “With a face like his, he wouldn’t dare!” At another, Leela instructs K-9 to shoot some guards. After successfully complying, K-9 asks Leela if his performance was satisfactory. “Yes!” says an exasperated Leela. “What? Do you want a biscuit?” One might object that, given Leela’s background, she wouldn’t know about dog biscuits. However, I can imagine this being something she had heard the Doctor say. Initially, the Doctor didn’t want K-9 to follow them out of the TARDIS. “Pluto,” he tells K-9, “is not a planet for…!” (Some Disney humor, there.)

A good Doctor Who serial can’t survive on gags and parody alone. There has to be a story, a plot, characters, maybe some world-building, and drama. Thankfully, Robert Holmes is more than capable of mixing all these elements, as is evident from his previous stories (e.g., “Spearhead from Space,” “The Time Warrior,” “The Ark in Space,” and “The Talons of Weng-Chiang”). There’s the pompous Gatherer, the oily Collector, and the hapless and hopeless workers. Then there are the underground rebels, ready to fight, but with a leader who doesn’t have it in him to rouse the necessary force, so they stagnate in the underground tunnels. The Doctor gives them purpose and a plan, making their impossible dream achievable. But with such a small force of fighters, the odds are definitely against him.

The rebellion the Doctor incites is, actually, quite brutal and violent. The rebels have no qualms about shooting their former oppressors. The climax of the insurgency is when they take hold of the Collector and throw him off the side of the building. The rebels watch him fall to his death, and cheer at his demise. When it’s all over, they see the Doctor off with waves and a cheerio, as if they’d all just been for a walk in the park. Quite surreal, and yet quite typical of 1970s Doctor Who.

At the end, the Gatherer turns out to have been a Usurian (word play on usury, no doubt), a creature whose natural form resembles seaweed. He had taken humanoid form to avoid suspicion, but the stress of his shrinking profit margin causes him to revert back to his original state. As the Gatherer shrinks and descends into his chair, the Doctor explains what’s happening to those gathered around him. He then plugs the hole in the Gatherer’s chair, securing him in place, and asks the crowd, “Would you take orders from a lump of seaweed?” I wonder how those people, trapped inside their buildings, who had never seen sunlight, would know what a lump of seaweed is, let alone whether they would be ruled by one!

All in all, this is good Who. It’s a lot of fun, with some great lines and an interesting story. It sounds like Robert Holmes had a lot of fun writing it. The props suffer from a very limited budget, but the performances are excellent. Maybe just shy of Must-See status, but not by much.

Sunday School Notes: Revelation 12:1-6

1 And a great sign appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars. 2 And she was pregnant, and she cried out, suffering greatly and in agony to give birth. 3 And another sign appeared in heaven, and behold a great fiery dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and upon its heads seven diadems, 4 and its tail drags [down] a third of the stars of heaven and casts them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman about to give birth, so that when she gives birth, it might devour her child. 5 And she gave birth to a child, a male, who is about to shepherd all the nations with an iron rod. And her child was caught up to God and to His throne. 6 And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has there a place prepared by God, in order that there they might feed her [or “she might be fed”] for 1,260 days.

In chapter 12, John sees a vision of a battle between a woman and her offspring, and a fiery, or red, dragon. In order to unpack this vision, we need to start with some fundamental questions:

  • Who is the woman? Is her offspring who is seems to be (i.e., Jesus)? Is she Mary? If so, what’s the significance of the sun, moon, and stars, and the birth pangs? If not, then who else could it be?
  • What does the dragon represent?
  • What does all this mean in relation to the rest of Revelation?

We began, however, with a reminder about the chronology of Revelation, i.e., there really isn’t one. Sure, we get the idea that the ends of chapter 6 and chapter 11 are at the very end of time, but beyond that, we can’t be certain when anything happens. Nor can we assume that because one vision follows another sequentially, that they also follow each other chronologically. Such is evident by the fact that chapter 11, depicting the Christ’s final return, is followed by chapter 12, where Christ clearly has not yet returned (as we will see).

John describes the woman as being clothed with the sun, and having the moon under her feet, and she has a crown of twelve stars on her head. She is also pregnant, about to give birth. This child is male, and will shepherd, or rule, the nations with a rod of iron. Clearly this child is someone the nations ought to fear, and the dragon definitely fears–enough to want the child dead. This “great dragon” is fiery (or “red”), with seven heads and 10 horns. I interpret the seven diadems on the seven heads to mean a diadem on each head, not seven diadems on each head. This dragon swipes down one third of the stars with his tail.

It seems quite obvious by the description of the child that this male offspring is supposed to Jesus. Indeed, the ruling with “a rod of iron” is a direct reference to Psalm 2:7-9, a Messianic psalm. Given who the dragon is (see verse 9, and below), it’s not surprising that he would want to destroy this child as soon as he is born. However, he is snatched up to God and His throne. This is a reference to Christ’s ascension and exaltation (as in Philippians 2:9). Verse 5, therefore, gives us the ministry of Jesus in a single verse, starting with his birth, and ending with his being raised to the Father.

If the child is Jesus, doesn’t that make a strong case for the woman being Mary, his mother? This view is held by the Roman Catholic Church, and while it has the appeal of fitting the physical reality of Jesus’s birth, it doesn’t fit the symbolism. First, she is clothed with the sun, has the moon at her feet, and is crowned with twelve stars. One place in the Old Testament where these symbols all come together is in Genesis 37:9-10, where Joseph dreams that the sun, moon, and eleven stars all bow down to him (presumably the twelfth star). In Joseph’s dream, the sun and moon are his mother and father, and the twelve stars are the twelve sons, who went on to become the twelve tribes of Israel. If we look back also at Revelation 1:16, Jesus has seven stars in his right hand. Verse 20 explains that these stars are the angels of the seven churches to whom John will write. Those angels represent the churches. If we take these symbols together, they seem to point more to the woman being God’s people, Israel in the Old Testament, and the church (i.e., Old and New Covenant believers) in the New Testament and beyond.

If the woman is the church, or God’s people, in what sense does she “give birth” to Jesus? In the sense that the Messiah was born out of Israel, of David’s line. And the woman’s suffering in childbirth speaks to the suffering of God’s people in the years leading up to the Messiah’s birth, under oppression from Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Greece, and then Rome (see Micah 5:2-4 for an interesting parallel to what John describes here). The woman’s flight into the wilderness mirrors Israel’s escape into the wilderness in the Exodus, after crossing the Red Sea. In Scripture, the wilderness is a place both of temptation, or testing, and of deliverance. Israel encountered many trials in their wilderness wanderings, but during that time they were fed and protected by God. Jesus spent forty days and nights in the wilderness being tempted by Satan, and he was sustained by his Father (Matthew 4:1-11). David escaped to the wilderness when pursued by Saul (1 Samuel 23:15 ff.). Elijah also fled from Jezebel in the wilderness, and the Lord was with him (1 Kings 19:1-8).

What of the “place” prepared by God? The big giveaway here is the number of days the woman is nourished in this place: 1,260. This is the same number of days the witnesses prophesied in chapter 11. We determined from the symbolism surrounding them that the witnesses represented the church, which we had just seen as the temple. The inner court of the temple was “measured” (i.e., protected by God), meaning that the church spiritually is secure, though physically (the unmeasured outer court) the church will suffer–just as the witnesses did. Jesus told his disciples that he was going to prepare a place for them (John 14:2-3). This “place” is, therefore, representative of God’s spiritual protection. The dragon wanted to destroy the church spiritually, but God preserves His people, and will continue to preserve them until Christ returns for his bride.

We already noted that the dragon is Satan, Diabolos–or the devil–the “ancient serpent.” We will see the serpent referred to later in the chapter, so it is well to note here that the dragon and the serpent are the same thing: Satan. The dragon has seven heads and wears seven crowns. Seven is the number of completeness, and the diadem is a crown indicating rule and authority. (The head can indicate something similar, which is why I think the heads and the crowns share the same symbolism and should be considered together.) This dragon has complete rule on earth, perhaps mediated through earthly kings or rulers. His red, or fiery coloring puts us in mind of the red horse in 6:4, whose rider takes peace from the earth, setting men against one another. Red is also the color of blood, and symbolic of oppression and violence. There are ten horns on the dragon, which represent power. In his vision of Jesus as the Lamb of God in chapter 5, the Lamb had seven horns (5:6). We also see similar imagery in Daniel 7:7 and 20. This passage in Daniel is important for Revelation 12, and we’ll be coming back to it later.

The dragon’s tail drags down, or sweeps away, one third of the stars. If the stars represent the church, then does this mean one third of the church will become apostate? Is this saying there will be a large number of believers who fall away because of Satan’s influence and power? This seems a very plausible interpretation, however it flies in the face of everything we’ve said about the church in the preceding verses. These “stars” are God’s people, the true church, those who are saved and spiritually protected by Him. If we’re now saying God will fail to protect one third of them, then either our interpretation of verses 1-3, and 5-6 is incorrect, or that’s not what John is saying about that one third of the church. Naturally, I’m inclined to think the interpretation of John’s vision thus far holds together, so there must be another way to see this “swiping down” of one third of the stars.

I think that way is to remember God never promised the church physical protection. While He will preserve His people from ever falling away, there will be many in the church who will suffer physical persecution, even unto death, at the hand of Satan and his proxies on earth. It’s possible the reference here is to the suffering of Israel prior to the coming of the Messiah, since Jesus’s birth comes after the swiping of the stars. Daniel 8:10 speaks of a horn that grew to great power such that it threw down some of the stars and trampled on them. That could be seen as a reference to Antiochus IV Epiphanes, whose persecution of the Jews led to the Maccabean revolt in 166 BC. However, we need not be limited to a specific time frame since this is a vision. Whether speaking of Old Testament or New Testament believers (or both), this is a reference to the suffering of God’s elect, His church, due to persecution and Satanic oppression. We’ve seen “one third” used a couple of times already. One third of the earth and the trees were burned up in the first trumpet (8:7), and a third of mankind was killed by the four angels in 8:15. The point is that the disaster doesn’t fall upon the whole, but upon a large portion of the whole. Likewise, Satan will cause physical harm to a large number of God’s people, but not all.

Yes, there will be those within the church (and even entire churches) that will show themselves to be not truly of the Lord by falling away (1 John 2:19). Some of the churches addressed in the seven letters of chapters 2 and 3 seem to have such people in their midst. And, indeed, we’ve all known people that used to sit beside us in church who are no longer following the Lord. They went out from us because they were not really part of us. But the people John is talking about here in Revelation are those who are truly the Lord’s, and yet suffer for His name’s sake. To those, as to all Christians, are the promises of eternal life, security in Christ, and the glory that is to come.

Lord willing, we’ll continue next time with 12:7-12.


Book Review: THE LAST LETTER by Susan Pogorzelski

Fifteen-year-old Amelia (“Lia”) Lenelli writes letters that she keeps in a time capsule which resembles a My Little Pony lunchbox, buried two feet under the soil in her father’s flower garden, in a place marked by a turtle statue. The letters are addressed to “Whoever…” Whoever might one day read them. Some day far in the future, perhaps. Someone Lia will never know. So she pours out her heart, talking about the sessions with her doctor, trying to find out why she’s having trouble sleeping. Why she is suddenly doing badly in school. The fatigue, and other symptoms that seem to be robbing her of her life, her friends, and everything that she knew to be normal. They test for every kind of disease and disorder, but the results come back negative. Maybe she’s just making it up, trying to get out of school. But why would she want to feel this way? Perhaps if she can give it a name, she’ll have hope for a cure. Because right now, she’s just surviving. And as hope runs thin, even survival gets hard. If she can just write one last letter, one last way to make her life real, when it seems to be hanging by a thread…

Susan Pogorzelski’s first full-length novel is a semi-autobiographical account of her struggle with Lyme Disease, an affliction that is much more widespread that most people realize, and hard to diagnose since it often mimics the symptoms of other diseases. Part of Susan’s reason for writing is to raise awareness of Lyme Disease, but it’s also to help the rest of us understand what it’s like to live with it.

Amelia’s story unfolds in the form of the letters she writes to her unknown reader who, presumably, will one day unearth the time capsule. This letter format gives her the freedom to talk about her life, her hopes, her fears, and her feeling of helplessness as her world crumbles around her. Susan’s prose does an excellent job of conveying the emotional struggle of a high school girl who is forced to watch life from the sidelines, and whose closest relationships are shaken, all because of something outside her control, and seemingly beyond medical treatment.

I found it both sad and fascinating, as I was invited into this young girl’s life, to see through her eyes, and to experience something I hope I never have to go through. Perhaps the fact many of Lia’s experiences reflect Susan’s own is what gives her prose a resonance with reality. It’s hard to read and not feel at least sympathy, if not be affected by this girl’s struggle, and the bravery she shows battling though days when she hasn’t the energy to leave the couch, or when her friends turn their backs on her.

I don’t know how this is “officially” classified, but I would call it literary YA. The focus of the novel is not so much on a plot, but on a person, Lia, and her life over the six years covered by her letters. It’s particularly poignant that this time period covers the events of 9-11. Lia’s reflections on that tragic day, especially in light of her own personal sufferings, make for thoughtful reading as we’re challenged to consider bravery and survival in two very different contexts.

I’d say this book is for an older YA reader (and above, of course), given the emotional depth of the narrative. Susan’s novel is an excellent example of the power of fiction to draw the reader into a reality unlike their own. What she does in this book is more challenging and affecting than any medical description, or textbook definition. By reading Lia’s story, you get to live the disease with her. And it’s a credit to Susan’s skill as a writer that it works to that end. May it have a wide readership, and achieve the purpose for which it was written.

The Manhattan Trip, Day Three

Our last day, nay, last morning in Manhattan revolved around two major events: 1) Sarah’s audition for Carnegie Mellon, and 2) Getting our flight home on time.

Carnegie Mellon is actually in Pennsylvania, but they hold auditions in New York (and possibly other places), probably because places like New York are a good source of people aspiring to work in the theater. They had rented studio space on Eighth Avenue, about a ten minute walk from our hotel. Sarah needed to be there at 8 am. Her audition would be some time after that. Our flight for Charlotte departed at 12:59 pm. Janet’s sage advice, and our experience from Thursday, told us we needed to be leaving Carnegie Mellon no later than 10:30 am, sooner if possible. But what if Sarah’s audition didn’t get through in time?

I formed a back-up plan. There was a later flight from JFK to Raleigh-Durham, which is about 80 miles from our home. If we had to, we could take that flight, and my wife would come and get us. Clearly, it would be wonderful if we didn’t need this plan, especially since it depended upon the nice folks at American Airlines transferring our tickets, and it would put my wife out having to make a 3-hour round trip to pick us up. But more than anything, I didn’t want Sarah to be worrying about how we were getting home. I reminded her that the whole reason we were there was for her auditions. If she flunked the audition because she was concerned about getting home, then what was the point? “We’ll get home somehow,” I told her. “Just worry about giving a great audition.”

We checked out of the hotel and made our way to the audition, well ahead of schedule. Since we were leaving straight after, I went in with her and sat with her, along with the other candidates and parents, through the orientation. The people running the audition handed out forms for each applicant to complete, which they handed in at the table (see picture) along with a head-shot. When Sarah delivered hers, she told them she had a flight to catch at 12, so if at all possible, she’d like to audition early. They made a note and, sure enough, when they called the first group of five, she was among them.

Sarah’s audition was in two stages. The first concentrated on her acting. She prepared two monologues for Carnegie Mellon: one as Ophelia from Hamlet, and the other as Eliza Doolittle from My Fair Lady. She would have done the latter for Juilliard, but they didn’t want to hear her do an accent. Carnegie Mellon were more receptive to this, however, much to Sarah’s delight (and I can vouch for her skill at sounding like a Brit). The second stage was the singing part. I don’t recall what song(s) she had prepared, but this was the part she was most nervous about. Strangely, she’s more comfortable singing a cappella than accompanied. This was fine for Juilliard, but here she had to sing with a pianist. I gave her some pointers (I’m a musician and her father, it was my duty!), but I’m sure she did fine despite my advice. 🙂

Those blessed and most generous Carnegie people put Sarah in the early group for singing, too, which meant we were out of there by 10! Woohoo!! Now we needed to get to the airport. Janet had warned us that they would be doing work on the E-line, so we needed to take the E-train on the F-line. (Yes, it does sound really confusing to a non-New Yorker–it’s not just you. Can you believe New Yorkers talk like this all the time? “Take the 1 to 6th at 34th and the F to the Q on 112th at 59th where you get the 2 at 10th at 45th…”?!!?!) There was a station on Sixth Avenue we could go to, which wasn’t far from us. However, our week-long, unlimited MetroCard was only good for one person (we had hoped to be able to share it), so I needed to buy a single-trip MetroCard for the train ride to the AirTrain. Not all subway stations have card dispensers, and I couldn’t remember if the station on Sixth Avenue had one, so we detoured to Penn Street Station. Penn Street is a large hub, where you can not only get a subway train, but you can get on Amtrak or get a bus. It took much longer than I had hoped to find a ticket dispenser.

On the way out, a man in one of the Amtrak lines collapsed with his hand gripping his side. Men in uniform rushed over, and someone called for medical assistance. It was like a scene from a movie. I don’t know what the man’s problem was. He didn’t grasp at his chest, so I don’t think it was a heart attack. It might have been a ruptured appendix from where his hand went, but he also had crutches, so maybe there was another issue. I felt bad hurrying away, but there was literally nothing we could do, and we were in a bit of a hurry. As we left Penn Street Station, we saw an emergency vehicle come screaming down the street, no doubt either coming for, or containing our poor friend.

We reached the station on Sixth Avenue, and then searched for the correct track. We found the F-line. Were we were headed downtown or uptown? Once we decided where JFK was, we then followed the arrows to the correct track, or at least what we hoped was the correct track, and waited for the E-train. While we waited, I recalled the map of the subway system, and how each line is separate, and began to wonder how you could have an E-train running on the F-line but going to all the correct E-train stops. How does that work? Are we really going to get there, or are we going to find ourselves at some F-stop without a clue how to get to our E-stop?!! But Janet said, take the E-train on the F-line. She knows New York better than you. Trust her. If she’s wrong, you can mock her mercilessly on your blog. And hers. Assuming you get home and are not stuck going around in circles on the New York subway for the rest of your life…

An F-train pulled into the station. We let it go. The next train came. Another F. I looked at Sarah. “If the next one’s an F, let’s just take it and see how far we get.” We let it go. The next train came. An E! We climbed aboard. On the side opposite us was a digital display showing what station we were at, the rest of the stations ahead of us, and how many stops away each of them are (very useful). I recognized the names of some of the stops from Thursday. Under the station name about 20 stops away, it said “JFK AirTrain.” Woohoo! It was close to 11 by now. I was glad to be on our way to the airport at last, but I was still a little nervous.

We needed to take the AirTrain to Gate 8. We were getting on at the stop before Gate 1! Checks the time… deep breaths… Thankfully, the  gates aren’t far apart, and a couple were not on the route (or didn’t exist at all–I’ll let your imagination decide which sounds better), so it only took about twenty minutes. We then crossed the terminal, up escalators, down escalators, and along corridors until we got to security. I expected long lines, given this is JFK. It was almost deserted. We sailed through security, and found our gate, just in time for boarding.

Except the flight had been delayed, and wouldn’t be leaving until 1:30.

Don’t anyone try to convince me the Lord doesn’t have a sense of humor. 🙂

The rest of the trip home was uneventful. I was glad to be back. It was nice visiting New York, but I don’t think I could stay there for an extended period of time. Sarah can’t wait to go back. She would live there if she could.

To finish up, here are some lessons learned/tips for those planning a trip to New York:

  • Don’t pack more than you need. I took a duffel bag which contained clothes, my travel mug, a short story I needed to edit, a book to read, travel-sized toiletries in a clear bag, tea bags, and a pad and pencil. There was nothing more I needed, and I used all these items. Neither Sarah nor I needed to check any luggage, so we could leave our plane and head out immediately. Also, we didn’t have a lot of luggage to carry getting to the hotel, or returning to the airport.
  • If you are a tea drinker, check ahead of time to see if your room comes with a coffee machine, or some kind of hot water dispenser. If it doesn’t, either find another hotel, or make sure you locate the nearest Starbucks.
  • If you’re used to spending less than $10/person when you eat out, be prepared for a shock, or stick to fast food. You will need a good dining budget.
  • Make sure you have opportunities to charge your phone. Either take a portable charger, or find places you can charge up your phone (e.g., hotel, Starbucks, a literary agency…). Don’t wait until you’re at 5% and stranded somewhere on Tenth Avenue to think about this!
  • If you have a smart phone, Google Maps is your friend. Especially if your sense of direction is as bad as mine. Seriously, though, aside from letting you know where you are in relation to the rest of the city, it displays all the landmarks and places of interest. If you don’t have a smart phone, get maps of the city and the subway.
  • If you intend to walk places, wear good walking shoes.
  • Don’t linger on sidewalks. Walk with purpose. If you have to stop to get oriented, move to the inside edge of the sidewalk, or into a building.
  • Smile. Be friendly. Don’t be afraid to ask people for help. I spent over an hour walking the streets and didn’t once feel threatened.

And finally, a word for my writer friends–especially those who frequent Janet Reid’s blog. Some of you might think I’m something special because I got to visit New Leaf and have an audience with Janet. Not so. I did nothing that any of the rest of you couldn’t do. Namely:

  • I frequent the comments enough that Janet knows who I am. This is not required, but if she’s seen your name in the comments, or you’ve won a contest, she’ll be less guarded than if you tell her “I’m a writer who reads your blog” but she’s never heard of you. It’s common sense, really. If you were in Janet’s shoes, wouldn’t you be a bit warmer toward someone you’ve had previous contact with as opposed to a total stranger? The more you know an agent, and the agent knows you well enough to know you’re not a jerk, the more open they will be to giving you some of their time. Again, common sense.
  • I emailed Janet to let her know I would be in town. Janet extended an invitation to me, but I could have just as easily asked to stop by. Whatever you do, don’t call Janet, and don’t just turn up. If Janet wants you to call her, she will tell you when she emails you. Don’t assume permission until it’s granted. By the way, this applies to all literary agents, not just Janet Reid.

If you do get a chance to visit Janet (or any agent for that matter) be respectful of her time. We visited around lunchtime, but when we got back, Janet had work to do and she pretty much left us alone. If she hadn’t invited us to use the conference room, we would have left.

Sorry I didn’t have a lot of pictures for this installment. We were too busy trying to get to the airport to stop and take photos. Once we arrived at JFK, however, I did take this one, just for my friends over at Janet’s blog. They’ll understand:

Thanks for reading! Feel free to use the comments for any questions you might have about my time in NYC, or just to comment!

P.S.: Here are two VERY different musical takes on the New York experience. The first is by ex-10cc members Godley and Creme, giving a somewhat cynical foreigner’s view of the city in 1979. The second is by Billy Joel, a native New Yorker, pining for his home town from California in 1976.

The Manhattan Trip, Day Two

As I mentioned yesterday, the main purpose of this New York trip was so my FirstBorn, Sarah, could audition at Juilliard and Carnegie Mellon. Day Two of our adventure, therefore, started early with a trip uptown on the subway (the 1-Line, to be precise) to Juilliard, which is near the Lincoln Center, and not far from Central Park. The journey by train only took about fifteen minutes, and then we had a short walk from the station to Juilliard. On the way, I spotted the Mormon Temple:

Why take a picture of it, especially since I am not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints? Well, first, I’m a theologian, so things like this interest me anyway. But also, if you Google “Mormon Temples”… go on. Google. I’ll wait. Do you see how everywhere else, Mormon Temples are big stand-alone buildings with tall spires? I’m not sure whether it’s because of city ordinances, or just lack of space, but the Manhattan Temple is not quite as impressive looking. Yet it still has the trademark golden Angel Moroni blowing his trumpet atop a… pole? Not quite a spire, but I guess it had to suffice.

We arrived at Juilliard, and I walked with Sarah into the lobby area where they were receiving applicants. I asked if she wanted me to stay, since they did offer a tour to parents and friends of auditioners, and maybe she wanted me to hang around for moral support. She said she was okay, and would text me when she was done. Juilliard hold their auditions in the morning, then ask their applicants not to leave town while they select those they want to see again. If you have been selected, you get an email from them between 2 and 4 that afternoon. Sarah was warned that if she got a call-back, she could expect to be at Juilliard as late as 11 that night! She probably didn’t think I would enjoy waiting around that long, so I wished her well and we parted ways.

Those who know me know that I’m a huge Beatles fan. Well… okay, I’m not that big, and I find enormous insects to be kind of gross, so let me re-phrase. I really like the Beatles, and have for over 30 years. Being from the UK, I have always known who the Beatles were. But it wasn’t until John Lennon’s assassination in 1980 that I really started paying them more attention. Since my Beatles fandom helped fan the flame of my interest in music, and my desire to learn to play instruments, that tragic event was quite a seminal one in my life.

After the Beatles split up in 1970, John moved to New York. His battle with the Nixon Administration to get a Green Card is the stuff of legend. It’s a battle he eventually won. John and his wife Yoko moved into the Dakota building, just across the road from Central Park, where they lived and raised their son Sean. And it was just outside the Dakota building on the night of December 8th, 1980, that John was shot. Those who were around at the time will remember the international outpouring of grief. Hundreds gathered in Central Park singing his songs, mourning together. Not long after, a section of Central Park was given over to Lennon’s memory. Called “Strawberry Fields,” after one of his most famous Beatles songs, its centerpiece is a large circular mosaic:

“Imagine” is probably John Lennon’s most famous non-Beatles song.

One sign says that “Strawberry Fields” is supposed to be a “Quiet Place.” Given that it’s right next to Central Park West, a major road, it is amazingly tranquil, with benches all around, as you can see in the picture above. Each bench carries a dedication. One in particular caught my attention:


After lingering a little, I made my way across the road to the Dakota building. It’s still the residence of the rich and famous today, which is why there’s a guard post and “Authorized Persons Only Beyond This Point” signs. I believe Yoko still lives there. Of course, I had to go and stand in that fateful spot, the place where one heart stopped, a million hearts were broken, and lives were forever changed. It gave me a chill.

I hadn’t had breakfast and seriously needed a cup of tea, so I started making my way in the vague direction of Seventh Avenue. I could have taken the 1-Line back to the hotel, but I decided I’d rather walk. According to Google Maps, it would take about 40 minutes to get to the Hotel Pennsylvania from Central Park. I had the time, and I really wanted to take in the city, so off I went!

I breakfasted on a bagel at a Starbucks on West 59th Street, not far from the Lincoln Center. The tea was okay (“English Breakfast”) and only cost a couple of dollars, so I was happy with that. Sarah texted me while I was there to say she had finished orientation, she would be auditioning soon, and I shouldn’t wait around for her. She had the MetroCard I bought yesterday that was good for a week’s worth of unlimited travel, so she was fine.

With the help of Google Maps (don’t get me started on my lousy sense of direction!), I oriented myself toward Seventh Avenue and started walking. Before long, I found myself on Ninth Avenue, and a district known as “Hell’s Kitchen.” I’m not quite sure why Hell’s, but I understood the “Kitchen” part: restaurants! Lots and lots of restaurants. At least five flavors of Korean, Mexican, Chinese, Greek, you name it! There’s even an Afghan Kebab House:

One restaurant (Chinese, I believe) had a sign on the door boasting “MSG-Free, Vegan, Gluten-Free…” and other ways it catered to every possible preference and allergy under the sun!

My family (and sometimes I) enjoy the show “Project Runway,” which is kind of like “American Idol” for fashion designers. Every week, the contestants go shopping for fabric at this amazing fabric store called Mood. It so happens, Mood is located on West 37th Street, between 8th and 7th Avenues. Since it was so close to the hotel, I made a point of swinging by just to see what it’s like in real life. Here’s what I found:

It doesn’t look much from the outside. The sign on the front says that the ground floor is for upholstery fabrics. If you want the fashion fabrics, you go through a door at the side and take the stairs to the third floor. I almost went in and shouted, “Hello, Mooood!!” but resisted. Thankfully.

While I was at Central Park, I got an email from my literary agent friend, Janet Reid (regular blog readers will know who Janet is). Before leaving for New York, I had emailed her saying I would be in town. She invited me to stop by the office, namely New Leaf Literary and Media. Her email that morning was to tell me I should call after 11 am to arrange the visit. It was after 11 by the time I got to the hotel room, so I called her, and she told me to come on over.

Fifteen minutes later, I was on the 22nd floor of 110 West 40th. Janet met me at the door and invited me in…

Bear in mind, folks, I’m a writer who has been stalking following literary agents on social media for the past six years, hoping to find one who will be receptive to my work. Since most agents live and work around New York City, it’s not often I get to meet one in the flesh. Here, I was about to meet a whole office full of them!

Janet introduced me to Joanna Volpe, head honcho of New Leaf, and agent to Veronica Roth, Leigh Bardugo, and numerous other best selling authors. I also met Jaida, JL, Mia, and I’m pretty sure I met Danielle and Sara (see the New Leaf website to put faces to these names)–everybody was busy working so I didn’t have much time to stop and chat. Janet then took me back to her office where we talked for a bit. Then Sarah texted to say she was done with her audition, and where was I? Janet invited her to the office. When she arrived, we all headed out to lunch at the eatery next door.

It’s always a wonderful thing when you can combine good food and good company. I don’t recall the name of the restaurant, but they had a falafel burger on the menu. I checked with the waitress and, indeed, it promised a burger-sized falafel on a bun. I love falafel, so I ordered that with eager anticipation. I wasn’t disappointed:

It came with coleslaw that really needed more vinegar, and potato chips that were clearly homemade, but lacked flavor. The burger was the star, and it more than made up for the rest of the plate.

Over lunch we talked about Sarah’s audition (it went well, but she won’t know anything until this afternoon), publishing, and Janet’s blog (on which I am a frequent–perhaps too frequent–commenter). Janet also took pleasure in tormenting me (“You’d like to meet [literary agent] Jessica Sinsheimer? Oh, I had dinner with Jessica the other evening. We talked about you!” My mouth drops. “Just kidding!” Grrr.)

Once our bellies were full, we headed back to New Leaf. Our phones needed to charge, and Sarah was waiting on an email from Juilliard, so Janet invited us to hang out in their conference room and recharge our phones while we waited. I have a theory that Janet is trying to keep the list of agents that I query very short–as in, only her name. At Bouchercon 2015, after telling Janet that literary agent Jessica Faust, with whom I had a pleasant fifteen minute chat, was on my query list, she replied, “You have a list??” When we got back to the 22nd floor, Joanna was using the conference room, but kindly vacated it so we could use it. I’m certain that if I should query Joanna Volpe, Joanna will say to Janet, “Colin Smith… do I know him?” And Janet will say, “Oh yes. He’s the guy that kicked you out of your conference room.” See what I mean?

Over the next couple of hours, Sarah went over her monologues for Carnegie Mellon, while I read some of the books in the conference room. One picture book I read that was quite entertaining was THIS BOOK IS NOT ABOUT DRAGONS by Shelley Moore Thomas and Fred Koehler. Throughout the book, a mouse insists there are no dragons in the story, while in the background we see clear evidence of dragon activity. I also started reading GHOST COUNTRY, the second in Patrick Lee’s series that started with THE BREACH (which I have read).

By the time four o’clock rolled around, Sarah had not heard from Juilliard, so she decided to head on over there just to be sure. We said our goodbyes to Janet, and I went back to the hotel while Sarah took the train back uptown. While Sarah was gone, I asked at the hotel cafe if they could fill my travel mug with hot water. Of course they could! Only $1.50 for a medium cup, and $2.00 for a large cup. I frowned and walked away. Sarah returned to say that Juilliard was a “no.” She wasn’t terribly disappointed since she knew it was a long-shot. It seems Juilliard gets about 3,000 applications every year, out of which they select 20 students. The experience was worthwhile, however.

To celebrate/commiserate, we ate supper at one of the Irish pubs nearby. The one we chose, The Blarney Rock Irish Pub, was relatively inexpensive, and served veggie burgers. A great combination! I drank Blue Moon (they had it on tap), and Sarah got a hard cider. Sarah tried their shepherd’s pie, which she said was actually very good. My veggie burger was also good, as were the fries (no, they were not chips–and as Irish as they might claim to be, I wouldn’t expect proper chips in the States):

We then walked back to Korea Town to visit Paris Baguette, a Korean bakery, where we picked up some food for breakfast tomorrow. Sarah suggested we try Starbucks for hot water. It seems she had been able to get a cup of hot water free of charge from them. So we found a Starbucks and, sure enough, they gave us two large cups of hot water, no charge. I have never felt so much love for Starbucks in my entire life. To complete my New York experience, we stopped at a street vendor and I got a large pretzel, which I took back to the hotel to munch on while I drank a cup of tea using our Starbucks hot water. (Yes, Sarah and I both brought tea bags from home, because that’s what we do.)

And that pretty much sums up our second day. Day three promised to be nerve wracking. Sarah’s Carnegie Mellon audition was at 8 am, but we didn’t know when she would be seen. Our flight out of JFK was scheduled to leave at 12:59 pm, so we needed to be leaving for the airport between 10 and 10:30 am. Did we make it out in time…? Find out tomorrow!