The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe

Written by Peter Grehan

There is a link between forests and folklore that is so deeply ingrained in the human psyche that it is best described, by Carl Gustav Jung, as an archetype. Within many cultures forests are seen as magical places full of the strange and wonderful. They represent to the ‘civilized’ mind a dwelling place for mysterious inhuman creatures and spirits. To quote Roderick Frazier Nash,[1] “The forest’s darkness hid savage men, wild beasts and still stranger creatures of the imagination.” The ‘civilised’ Romans must have viewed the forest with suspicion. When the Germans massacred three Roman Legions in the Teutoburg forest during the ninth century, Roman historians linked the disaster with its location. To quote Jona Lendering, “The story of a military defeat in a faraway country was inevitably adorned with descriptions of large forests, sacred groves and holy trees, because the Greek and Roman authors were obsessed with the forests on the edges of the earth.”

In The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe, Steven Moffat, (who obviously loves the genre of faerie story) draws on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, written by C. S. Lewis, for inspiration, but his emphasises is on the forest itself. Apart from the Doctor and human beings there are no other creatures there. The forest becomes reminiscent of the Fangorn Forest  in J. R. R. Tolkien’s  The Lord of the Rings, while the humanoid wood characters remind us of the tree-like Ents in their role of  tree shepherds.

There is an obvious parallel to acid rain destroying our forests (now somewhat overshadowed by the greater threat of global warming) and humanity’s tendency to overlook the magic of nature in its eagerness to exploit natural resources, but the hub of the story was that of a living species in transition. Moffat has done for trees what Arthur C. Clarke did for humanity in Childhood’s End. Amazingly it works!

[1] Nash, R. F. (2001) Wilderness and the American Mind. 4th ed. New Haven: Yale University Press – Nota Bene.


Torchwood – The Blood Line

The finale of Miracle Day was almost a literal tying up of loose ends, as both Rex and Jack simultaneously caste their (actually, Jack’s blood) into each end of the blessing, thus reversing the Morphic field linking the human race and making everyone mortal again. This suggests that we are all fundamentally linked to the planet we evolved on (though why this field had no effect on all the other animals and plants that evolved here with us I’m not sure)? This somewhat begs the question, what happens when human beings finally leave planet Earth and venture into deep space? How will the morphic field affect them, or possibly, not affect them? If colonies set up on some far distant planet will the humans have to adjust to a new morphic field, or could some incompatibility take place that cause the failure of those colonies?  So while some major loose ends were tied up it has left this image of human beings travelling through space with morphic field tendrils trailing behind them, a plethora of loose ends if you will. And curiously this very question was one that was addressed in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy written by that great philosopher Douglas Adams. To quote;

…most of the things which stir the universe up in anyway are caused by dispossessed people… …every being in the universe is tied to his birthplace by tiny invisible force tendrils composed of little quantum packets of guilt. If you travel far from your birthplace, these tendrils get stretched and distorted. This compares with an ancient Arcturan Proverb “However fast the body travels, the soul travels at the speed of an Arcturan Mega-Camel.” This would mean, in these days of hyperspace and Improbability Drive, that most people’s souls are wandering unprotected in deep space in a state of some confusion; and this would account for a lot of things. Similarly, if your birthplace is actually destroyed, or in Arthur Dent’s case demolished – ostensibly to make way for a new hyperspace bypass – then these tendrils are severed and flap about at random… …And these flapping tendrils of guilt can seriously disturb the space-time continuum.  (HHGG Fit the Tenth)

It seems to me to be more than a coincidence that these two, totally unconnected, science fiction stories should hint at a similar phenomenon. I would suggest that it is the morphic field itself percolating its way into the subconscious of  science fiction writers (obviously it would only be science fiction writers who would have minds open enough to articulate these ideas) as a means of making itself known.  In fact I’m sure a study of science fiction texts would reveal other examples of the “flapping tendril” phenomenon.

But why receive these messages now? I suspect it is a warning to humanity to be very cautious of space travel. Effective space travel may be centuries away, but what are a few centuries when compared to the age of the Earth? There could be unforeseen dangers in leaving our planet that we would do well to be wary of. We may even have to invent a new religion to deal with it!

Written by Peter Grehan


Torchwood: The Gathering

I don’t know where this compulsion I have to reference what I’m watching with storylines from other completely unrelated productions comes from, but I just can’t help myself. In this week’s episode of Torchwood I found myself thinking of The Lord of the Rings. There was Jack as The Ring-Bearer becoming weaker the closer he gets to Mount Doom (aka The Blessing). Of course instead of a ring we have Jack’s blood which, like the One Ring, seems to have a mind of its own. Faithful companion Gwen plays the part of Samwise “Sam” Gamgee and the odious Oswald Danes fulfils the role of Gollum. I’m sure that if Gandalf the Grey were there he would venture to say that the mercy that has been shown Danes will prove fortuitous, since he no doubt has his role to play in defeating the evil that besets the world.

I wasn’t entirely clear as what The Blessing actually is. It seems to be a massive crack or fissure dramatically pulling surrounding debris into itself that certainly made me think of Cracks of Doom. I do have a problem though with the idea that it is running through the centre of the planet. My understanding is that there is a solid nickel-iron core spinning within a molten outer core and the centre of the world, so that jarred with me.

All that said I really enjoyed The Gathering. The whole series has been doing what science fiction should do; take a look at the world around us from a different perspective. It is a dystopic vision that hints at the real crises we may face in the future because of the success of science and technology in removing so many causes of death, enabling the human population to rise exponentially. Torchwood – Miracle Day has played our society on fast forward. With an ageing and, perhaps more significantly, increasingly unhealthy population we have a medical system geared to keeping people alive that is rapidly approaching breaking point. As the world population increases we may see it being diverted from its raison d’être to supporting the police and armed forces as they deal with the “Threat” of that increasing population.

For a time mechanised, industrial war did a lot to counter this trend. It was almost a self-regulation of the human advances in removing the causes of death through the application of scientific knowledge by replacing them with such advanced methods of killing. But now the weapons of total war have gone beyond the industrial, they are apocalyptic and as a regulation of population they are no longer effective. Full scale war is just too risky, the consequences too terrible. Governments work very hard to avoid war as a result, and if they can’t avoid them then they are confined as far as possible.

Many of the problems we are coming to terms with today, like migration, pollution, loss of natural environments and global warming are down to overpopulation exacerbated by profit seeking corporations and neo-liberalism hands-off government. The type of society we see in Miracle Day could be exactly what is waiting for us.

Written by Peter Grehan


Torchwood: End of the Road


(Episode number 8 in the series Torchwood – Miracle Day)

End of the Road had a feeling, in part, of an Agatha Christie plot about it as the main protagonists end up at the Colasanto estate led by Angelo’s granddaughter Olivia Colasanto (Nana Visitor). Inside the luxury mansion information is rapidly and efficiently disseminated across the sitting room and all without the aid of Hercule Poirot. To be fair it would have been tedious and time consuming to have revealed these things any other way especially as there were just as many new questions as answers revealed at the country mansion. In any case the arrival of the different factions of the CIA quickly brought the story back into the realm of fast paced Torchwood while rapidly and convincingly flipping the Torchwood team from outlaws to posse in a way that showed off Rex’s individual talents.

Overall though the quasi-religious overtones of last week’s episode, Immortal Sins continued into End of the Road, with the Jilly Kitzinger selling her soul to “The Families” and the sense Oswald Danes’ charmed life is about to end as the Devil finally comes for his due. Or to put it another way he is reclassified as Category 0, a classification of life reserved for those that would in normal circumstances have faced the death penalty. They are destined for the furnaces.  The angelic Angelo, on the other hand, is allowed the grace of dying naturally, more or less.

As usual there’s so much going on in this story that you’d be hard pressed not to like something, but with so many loose ends flying about I wonder if two more episodes will be enough to tie them up into a neat ending. This being Torchwood I suspect the ending will be far from neat.

Written by Peter Grehan


Torchwood: Immortal Sins


(Episode number 7 in the series Torchwood – Miracle Day)

There is a sense that we’re moving towards an end-game in Immortal Sins, whilst revealing an almost totally new dimension to the story. We see Jack back in 1920s New York doing his stuff to thwart an alien known as the Trickster, a recurring enemy alien on The Sarah Jane Adventures, from changing the course of history and thereby creating chaos. In the process Jack becomes romantically entangled with Angelo Colasanto (Daniele Favilli). Compared with previous episodes there seems to be little in the way of social commentary, unless of course you include the tendency for superstition to make human beings behave in totally irrational ways.  The church, it is suggested, makes us react with violence and aggression towards that which we don’t understand. Jack’s repeated slaying could almost be a metaphor for the Roman Catholic’s stance on homosexuality, and like the issue of homosexuality it he just keeps coming back to life.

In a peculiar way the episode almost mimics the iconography of the Catholic Church itself. It becomes the Passion of Jack, who is betrayed by his closest disciple, Angelo and hung on a chain where his scared blood is collected by one of the women of the community. Instead of soldiers gambling for his coat (safely hidden by the way) we have mysterious mobsters bartering for his body. And he doesn’t just rise from the dead once, he rises again and again. And when he finally escapes with the aid of Angelo he ascends into the world prepared for him, leaving Angelo behind. Actually he descends down the side of a tower block, but results the same. So if Jack is the son of God, who is God? Russell T Davies perhaps, after all didn’t he create this particular universe?

Written by Peter Grehan


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