Christmas

globeI love the Doctor Who Christmas specials.  In fact, those episodes tipped the scales when I was deciding whether to invest my time in a program that’s about to be 50-years-old.  But there was simply no way I could shun a program that devotes an hour every December at Christmastime.  I don’t review Doctor Who episodes on my blog; there are plenty of other resources for that on the Internet.  But, for whatever it is worth, my favorite Christmas Special is “The Next Doctor”, which aired in December 2008.  It’s not the most popular of the specials, but it resonates with me.  My favorite Doctor Who episodes are the ones where The Doctor and his Companion stay right here on little ol’ Earth, traveling back to some romantic era of our own past.  And while I’ve never been a fan of the Cybermen, the character of Miss Mercy Hartigan has to be one of the best villains the show has come up with.  She is such a … femme fatale.  You can’t help but to love her and hate her.

Ah, Christmas.  The snow, the icicles, the reindeer.  The gifts!

The Christmas holiday creates its own form of time travel for me.  It takes me back to my childhood days on “The Mountain” here in Huntsville.  If you’ve been there you know what I mean.  We lived in a Federal-style, red-brick house with huge, multi-paned picture windows adorning the front.  Mom and Dad and my brother would get a real tree with real sap, decorate it right after Thanksgiving with colored lights (I prefer white lights now, but I was only a preschooler then), and position it so the folks at the Methodist Church at the end of the block could enjoy it.  And enjoy it they did.  We’d have people dropping by at all hours, wrapped in coats and scarves, bringing us finger foods, homemade breads and (no kidding) fruit cakes.

And while this was during the turbulent late 60s there was an Eisenhower-esque 1950s’ feel to our culture up there then.  I know we were sheltered and naÏve, but isn’t that what home is for?  Life is a complex and painful dance set to music that is often off-key.  Sometimes your feet ache simply from dancing too much.  I look back on those days in wonder: Is there anything wrong with having a comfort zone?  I don’t think there is.

Did the child that I was then — sitting under the tree, chin propped on his hands, eyes bright and glistening from the glow of the Christmas globe hanging from the lowest branch of that stately pine — know there was a TV program in the UK about a time-traveling lunatic who’d still be entertaining us half-a-century later?  Of course not.  That little boy didn’t think he’d even make it till Christmas Eve without bursting.  It was perfect.  It was ideal.  But did it last?  Actually, it did.  Christmastime at the Parkers’ was idyllic, restful and fun, just as a holiday should be.  Christmas has never lost an ounce of its charm, even now, as my beard goes a little gray and I look at life through a jaded prism, because the light through that prism, no matter how attenuated, still glows red and green.  At least it does for me.

Until next time,

Peace, from Keith

Copyright © 2013, Keith Parker

Doctor Who What When?

“Question is: What do you make of me?” ~ The Doctor

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I love Christmas Eve, so when the DVD of the BBC’s Doctor Who Christmas Special “The Next Doctor” (s04e14) arrived in the mail I was eager to dive right in. I was not disappointed. Since there are scads of reviews of Doctor Who episodes all over the Internet, what I wanted to do instead was give you an impression of one small slice of this episode.

After our Doctor (David Tennant) arrives via TARDIS on Christmas Eve, 1851, the history geek in me was thoroughly content to sit back and enjoy.

As Act One unfolds we’re given one of those treats time travel fiction does so well: Evoking that sense of wonder that much of science fiction has lost since those heady days of Astounding and Amazing Stories. In the opening scenes of “The Next Doctor” our Doctor meets a future incarnation of himself, a version of himself suffering from amnesia.

And that notion is one of the most compelling aspects of time travel: Meeting a past or future version of yourself (without the amnesia part; that’d sorta suck). In that first act, “Amnesia Doctor” is investigating the house where the character Jackson Lake was murdered by the show’s infamous villains and “Amnesia Doctor” gets into a rather lengthy conversation about the crime with our Doctor. After revealing more about the situation than he probably should, “Amnesia Doctor” pauses with confusion, and then says he trusts our Doctor completely and implicitly, telling him things he wouldn’t tell any ordinary stranger.

I actually paused the DVD at this point, finding that whole concept fascinating. I began to wonder whether I would trust myself with vital, personal secrets. If I went back in time — to 1983 or 1993 or 2003 — could I trust the man I was then with the knowledge that I have now? Or if I were to travel into the future with the help of an old English police box could I face my older, wiser self and explain why I’m doing “this” but not “that,” why I bought instead of saved, why I chose “Thing 1” over “Thing 2”?

This is what makes science fiction and fantasy — those twins of speculation separated at birth — such a compelling genre of literature. Allegories abound, sometimes banal, sometimes sublime, but always thought-provoking.

And we need to think and reflect and ponder and wonder, or at least I do. Time can be a merciless monster as well as a beneficent angel. But my genre — when it’s at its best — focuses on the latter. It chooses optimism over bitterness, hope instead of despair, and a reminder that tomorrow can be a better day if we’ll just make the choice to let it.

So, in conclusion, I’ll offer another brief quote from the show, and then go off searching for my own time machine. Where is the damn thing? I swear that beast has legs.

Jackson Lake — “That offer of Christmas dinner is no longer a request. It’s a demand.”
The Doctor — “In honor if those we’ve lost.”

As always,
Peace, from Keith

Commentary copyright (c) 2013, Alan Keith Parker. Quotes and images are copyright (c) 2012, BBC, and used here under fair use laws.

The World Inside My Globe

keithTo the left is a studio photograph of me that was taken right before the 1968 moon mission when Lovell, Anders, and Borman took the incomparable “Earth Rise” shown below.

As you know, I like to blog about science fiction and time travel, as well as love and fear.  And you may be thinking the Christmas Eve Apollo Mission, with its iconic photo and the reading from Genesis, is the reason for that love of spaceships and ray guns.  But oddly enough, it’s not.  I was in awe of our astronaut heroes, to be sure, but I found my own globe that day, and I still explore it 44 years later.earth rise

You see, a red Christmas ornament hung from the family tree.  I remember sitting under that pine (yeah, I was that small … or the tree was that big … or both) staring into the ornament as it hung on a low branch next to a huge, multi-pane window in our living room.  We lived on “The Mountain” in those days, a magical era for those who know Huntsville.

That crimson globe was situated so it reflected the cedars and evergreens in our front yard. a corner of the wood cabinet TV set where we would watch that incredible moon mission, and a supernatural illusion of myself, sitting in a parallel world that was so close that I could touch it … almost.

globeAnd I remember that little boy wondering, How can I get into the world inside that Christmas ornament?  It was the most beautiful red, much like the photo to the left.

And, of course, what I was thinking was not a revolutionary thought.  Not by a long shot.  It was not groundbreaking or ingenious.  Ever since there have been reflecting pools and looking glasses, children have gazed inside them and wondered where that special world is.  I was no different.  Except … except that I am unique, just as you are.  The images are mine alone, just as yours are yours alone.  And my fascination with parallel worlds that are just like ours — only not quite  — is why I do what I do.  It’s why I’m enthralled by fantasy and speculative fiction.  It’s why I ask, “What if?”

And …… It’s also why I try to inject humor when I can because, while I was mesmerized by that spectral image, my older brother crept up behind me and thumped me on the top of the head.  “Yikes, that hurt!” I said.  And it did hurt, but that,  my friends, was also the best Christmas present I’ve ever gotten.

Have a happy and safe holiday season.

Peace, as always, from Keith.

Copyright © 2012, Alan Keith Parker.  All Rights Reserved.