Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The 7th Regeneration of Christmas

The Seventh Doctor was played by Sylvester McCoy from 1987 to 1989.  Initially, they weren't quite sure what to do with his character, since in his first episodes he was a rather benign bumbler, similar to several earlier incarnations.  Gradually, though, either the writers or McCoy himself evolved a much more nuanced take on the Doctor -- a skilled tactician, master of psychology and manipulation, but still deeply caring, inquisitive, and humanitarian.

But yes, he did keep the question-mark themed clothing.  (Groan.)  I do remember watching a few of the Seventh Doctor's adventures on PBS in the early 1990s.  It was strange to see another actor besides Tom Baker playing the part, but McCoy pulled you in... it was fun to watch him do his thing, and it always seemed like he was keeping many more secrets than he let on.  I missed out on seeing fan-favorite companion Ace, an initially troubled teen who evolved into a skilled warrior.


"A stitch in time... takes up space."

"Anybody remotely interesting is mad in some way."

"There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, and the sea's asleep, and the rivers dream; people made of smoke and cities made of song. Somewhere there's danger, somewhere there's injustice, and somewhere else the tea's getting cold. Come on, Ace. We've got work to do."

The Seventh Doctor is an AQUARIUS.  I'm not sure how good the fit is with this sign, since many of its characteristics -- inventiveness, intelligence, loyalty, and unpredictability -- can probably be applied to nearly every Doctor.  Was this incarnation also "detached, contrarian, and perverse," as is also sometimes said for Aquarii?  I'm not sure.  He did once try to teach Ace a lesson about her truant ways by taking her back 100 years to visit the heyday of a grand mansion that she burned down before she met him.  A bit perverse, if you ask me...  :-)

From the above, it seems that textbook Aquarians are supposed to be coldly objective, with a sarcastic edge.  Thus, their New Year's Resolution is to get mushy.  No ironic hipster detachment for you!  Letting in more emotion may be messy and difficult, but it leads to a richer and more honest life.

[See the introduction for more about sources and motivations for this series of posts.]

Monday, December 30, 2013

The 6th Regeneration of Christmas

The Sixth Doctor was played by Colin Baker (no relation to Tom) from 1984 to 1986.  Although I haven't seen any of his episodes, I get the feeling amongst Whovians that this is an incarnation that many fans want to forget.  The Sixth Doctor was full of contradictions and clashes.  Some may scoff at the levity of his multi-colored clown suit, but it may have signalled his internal chaos.  I probably shouldn't give him the pop psychiatry diagnosis of "manic-depressive," but it seems right from what I've learned: sometimes he was bombastic and witty; sometimes he was petulant and volatile.

A big chunk of the 1985 season was devoted to a long story arc called "The Trial of a Time Lord," in which the Doctor was put through some byzantine ordeals, later found out to be orchestrated by an enigmatic Time Lord known as the Valeyard... who himself may have been a far-future incarnation of the Doctor himself.  It turns out that the series itself was on trial at this time, since its ratings were slipping.


"Planets come and go. Stars perish. Matter disperses, coalesces, forms into other patterns, other worlds. Nothing can be eternal."

The Sixth Doctor is a CAPRICORN.  Some appropriate keywords that I found for this sign include authority, discipline, and ambition.  One possible negative trait is fatalism, which seems to apply, too -- especially to that quote above.  Nevertheless, Capricorns are also patient, practical, and good with humor.  (This is still the heroic Doctor we're talking about, here!)

This sign's New Year's Resolution is to release fear.  In some cases, it may be that all those personality swings, including the brash and sometimes abrasive extroversion, may spring from internal clashes that circle around fear.  Good Capricorns are said to be trustworthy and respected, but that can come at a cost.  The source that I got these resolutions from said that "So much gets bottled up that you tend to lose touch with your need for spontaneous expression. Remember these old, wise words: The only thing to fear is fear itself."

[See the introduction for more about sources and motivations for this series of posts.]

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The 5th Regeneration of Christmas

The Fifth Doctor was portrayed by Peter Davison from 1981 to 1984.  After the longevity and popularity of the prior incarnation, the writers were going for a big contrast.  This Doctor was less brash, more vulnerable, and more comfortable with letting randomness pull him along (rather than having to put his finger in every pie, as it were).  And, to paraphrase one of his later incarnations, for some reason he liked to wear a decorative vegetable...

Despite the Fifth Doctor's casual nature and whimsical attire, the plots of his time grew a bit more serious.  One human companion was killed in action, and another proved to be a secret agent with murderous intent.  The end of the Fifth Doctor's reign came when he sacrificed himself to save still another companion.  I haven't watched any of this Doctor's episodes, but I did see him come back through time to meet the Tenth in a special short made for charity.


"There's always something to look at if you open your eyes!"

"You may disguise your features but you can never disguise your intent."

The Fifth Doctor is a SAGITTARIUS.  I'm sure I must be making the shoe fit somehow, but the list of characteristics seems to match up yet again... "optimistic, jovial, honest, but also a bit tactless, blindly optimistic, and reckless."  The Fifth Doctor seemed to try first to turn enemies into friends, and only fight them as a last resort.  His idealistic emphasis on making the world a better place also seems to mesh with the Sagittarius penchant for pondering the meaning of life and valuing freedom and truth.

The New Year's Resolution for the sometimes flighty Sagittarius is to think about cooling your jets once in a while.  Instead of looking ahead to the next, greener pasture, have a look at what's around you right now.  As with some of the other signs, such a remedy can also feed into the other aspects of this personality type, such as philosophical contemplation.

[See the introduction for more about sources and motivations for this series of posts.]

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The 4th Regeneration of Christmas

The Fourth Doctor was played by the fantabulous Tom Baker from 1974 to 1981.  This is the Doctor that most Americans my age remember from PBS reruns back in the day, with the long multi-colored scarf, frenzied hair, and robot dog.  He was certainly my introduction to the franchise, and the one that I had the toughest time putting aside when the idea of other Doctors was introduced to me later on.

The Fourth Doctor was distinctly younger than any of his prior incarnations, and he had a frenetic, eccentric energy that seemed to light up any room he was in.  His collaborations with Earth-based U.N.I.T. tailed off, and he again took to the stars with his companions.  I remember prim Sarah Jane and wild, technology-phobic Leela, but he also traveled with a younger Time Lord (Time Lady?) named Romanadvoratrelundar (Romana for short).


"There's no point being grown-up if you can't be childish sometimes."

"Homo sapiens. What an inventive, invincible species. It's only a few million years since they crawled up out of the mud and learned to walk. Puny, defenceless bipeds. They've survived flood, famine and plague. They've survived cosmic wars and holocausts. And now, here they are, out among the stars, waiting to begin a new life. Ready to outsit eternity. They're indomitable. Indomitable."

The Fourth Doctor is a SCORPIO.  Again, I'm surprised at the way this Zodiacal progression continues to fit with each incarnation in turn.  (In case you haven't realized, we're just going sign by sign with the Sun through the year, not skipping around.)  Characteristics of this sign include "emotional, forceful, passionate, magnetic, and obstinate."  That's the Fourth Doctor to a tee.  Dawn Ellis described Tom Baker as "...a complete Scorpio in the best sense of the word -- intense and curious and crazy-passionate when faced with amazing mysteries."

Is it any surprise, then, that the New Year's Resolution for a Scorpio is to sit still once in a while?  :-)  Tumult and passion may be fun for you, but it's also important to stick with something long enough to really internalize all aspects of it, and to bring it to completion.  I'm not a Scorpio, but this is definitely a lesson I could learn better.

[See the introduction for more about sources and motivations for this series of posts.]

Friday, December 27, 2013

The 3rd Regeneration of Christmas

The Third Doctor was played by Jon Pertwee from 1970 to 1974.  The stories of this era often found the Doctor stranded on Earth and forced to work with the para-military organization U.N.I.T. to defeat the monsters and aliens that were coming to call.  With such a milieu, it's probably no surprise that the Third Doctor ended up channeling a bit of James Bond and Austin Powers -- i.e., dapper clothes, karate chops, and a fancy car.

Despite being slightly older in appearance than his previous incarnation, the Third Doctor was a bit less of an absent-minded hobo and more of a take-charge action hero.  He stood his ground against U.N.I.T.'s Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (who would nevertheless remain a good friend of the Doctor's over the decades) when necessary, and he protected his female companions gallantly.  I haven't yet seen any of his adventures beyond some brief clips.


"Courage isn't just a matter of not being frightened, you know. It's being afraid and doing what you have to do anyway."

"A straight line may be the shortest distance between two points, but it is by no means the most interesting."

The Third Doctor is a LIBRA.  A list of traits for this sign that I found online began with the four words "Diplomatic, urbane, romantic, and charming."  Certainly seems on-target for the dashing dandy that this Doctor appeared to be!  Libras are supposed to be all about harmony, balance, and maintaining good relationships, and this era certainly saw an increase in group collaboration for the Doctor, too.

The suggested New Year's Resolution for the Libra is to embrace intensity -- i.e., to let your hair down once in a while and stop trying to keep everything in a harmonious state of, well, balance (Libra the scales, duh).  The ancient Greek oracle at Delphi had two mottos written in stone: one was the infamous "Know Thyself," and the other was "Nothing in Excess."  Libras might think they have that second one covered automatically.  However, if you're always keeping an even keel and never letting the boat rock around once in a while, that's a form of excess, too!  :-)

[See the introduction for more about sources and motivations for this series of posts.]

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The 2nd Regeneration of Christmas

The Second Doctor was played by Patrick Troughton from 1966 to 1969.  The producers should be commended for not just going for a carbon copy of their original star.  The cranky old Doctor's new incarnation was a breath of fresh air.  The Second Doctor was noticeably younger than the first, and has been described as an impish, sometimes even child-like, "cosmic hobo."

As the 1960s wore on, the "history lesson" episodes got fewer and fewer, and the "monster of the week" episodes began to dominate.  The Second Doctor's companions included Jamie, a Scottish piper fresh from the Battle of Culloden in 1746, and Zoe Heriot, an adventurous woman from the mysterious fuuuuture of the 21st century (whose tight catsuits were an obvious attempt to draw in the Emma Peel fans in the audience).  I've got to admit that I've only seen brief snippets of this Doctor and no full episodes.


"I'd like to see a butterfly fit into a chrysalis case after it spreads its wings."

"I hate computers and refuse to be bullied by them!"

The Second Doctor is a VIRGO.  Since I haven't seen much of this Doctor, I have to trust that Dawn Ellis' assessment of his characteristic fussiness is a good fit, and that his "...frustration at things not going the way they're supposed to (mainly when people do the opposite of what he's told them) is palpable, but he goes along and cleans up the mess anyway, usually finding some kind of insanely amazing treasure along the way."  I wasn't quite sure how well the go-with-the-flow style of a so-called cosmic hobo really meshes with a Virgo's supposed meticulous and perfectionist nature.  But other descriptions of the Second Doctor talk about his ability to deceive and manipulate his enemies when necessary, so apparently more wheels were turning below the surface than he sometimes let on....

A good New Year's Resolution for the hard-working Virgo is to take more time outs and replenish yourself between constant bouts of being of service to others.  Maybe learn to play the recorder, or jot down some musings in your 500-year diary?  :-)

[See the introduction for more about sources and motivations for this series of posts.]

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The 1st Regeneration of Christmas

Merry Christmas!  Today starts our holiday journey through space and time....

The First Doctor was played by William Hartnell from 1963 to 1966.  From all appearances, the original idea was that "Doctor Who" was to be a quasi-educational show for children, teaching them about various historical periods and events using the plot device of time travel.  This Doctor wasn't so much a hero or a savior, but more a slightly cranky, absent-minded professor.  Of course, once the ratings for the shows with scary monsters came in, the producers knew that more adventure needed to be in the offing!  :-)

In the earliest adventures of the First Doctor, he traveled with his granddaughter Susan and two of her teachers.  It took them all a while to reveal (or to figure out!) that the Doctor and Susan were alien exiles, Time Lords, from the planet Gallifrey.  I've only seen a handful of these early black-and-white episodes.


"Our lives are important -- at least to us -- and as we see, so we learn... Our destiny is in the stars, so let's go and search for it."

The First Doctor is a LEO.  Just look at that lion's mane of hair, and his often self-centered demeanor.  Leos are also supposed to be creative and outgoing, and this Doctor definitely takes charge and thinks his way out of danger.  (Pretty much all the Doctors do that, of course, so maybe this first incarnation carries a natal stamp through all his other lives, too.)  Other key personality traits of Leos are said to be generosity, heart, and playfulness.  Although he often appeared annoyed and impatient with the events around him, he was always quick with some silly bit of humor.  I chuckled out loud a few times reading through some of his quotes here.

The New Years Resolution for the fiery Leonines among you is to step back a bit and share the limelight.  It doesn't always have to be about you, y'know.  (Something my lovely wife tells me all the time.)  The generous side of the Leo personality should make this not too much of a chore.  The site where I found these Zodiacal resolutions did give the Leos a bit of consolation, though:  "The less attention you seek for personal gratification, the noble side of your nature shines. Ironically, this leads to even greater recognition in the long haul."  :-)

[See the introduction for more about sources and motivations for this series of posts.]

Monday, December 23, 2013

WHO will you be?

Happy Christmas Eve Eve, everyone!  In preparation for my 12 Days of Christmas posts to start on Wednesday, I'm setting out the format here for what I'll be doing.

(Caption for the above picture: "Put your hand in the hand of the man from Gallifrey")

Each post will start with a brief intro to one of the Doctor's incarnations, with a special picture made with a nice TARDIS template/outline that I found here.  That will be followed up by a favorite quotation or two from the Doctor du jour, which I found from the extensive collection at Wikiquote.  My original intent for the quotes was to show how each incarnation was uniquely different from the others, but I think they'll more show what's stayed the same over the last 50 years.

Then comes the interesting bit:  Last year, a writer named Dawn Ellis posted a fascinating idea that suggests there is a link between the personalities of each Doctor and the progression of the Sun through the Zodiac.  It's all tongue-in-cheek, of course, but it's amazing how many aspects line up.  I'll give a quick summary of how well each incarnation compares with the typical characteristics that astrologers propose for each sign.

(I should reiterate that I definitely don't believe in the usual literal interpretation of astrology!  I just don't see any way that the positions of the planets in our solar system could have the proposed effects on a person being born at a particular time.  Nevertheless, astrology provides a very cool and complete "map" of personality archetypes, and it uses colorful, poetic symbols that seem fine-tuned to dovetail with the the quirks of the human subconscious.)

Anyway, since the New Year is also upon us, I will follow up these Doctor/Zodiac musings with a selection from a list of Sun-Sign themed New Year's Resolutions that were posted about a year ago by someone named Sherene Schostak.

Should I call them New Year's Regenerations?  Originally, the idea that the Doctor "regenerates" into another face and body -- when on the brink of death -- was a simple explanation for a new actor taking on the role.  (Does that mean Darrin Stephens is a Time Lord, too?)  However, it's also a wonderful metaphor for how we essentially morph into different people as we age and experience more of life.  The New Year's Resolutions that are right for us in our 30s may not be the ones that are right for us in our 40s.  So, you, good readers, can choose from a baker's dozen of options over the next few weeks, depending on Who you happen to be right now -- and Who you want to become in the new year.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Doctor is my Co-Pilot

"Another Doctor Who post," you may ask?  Apologies to anyone who doesn't watch the show, but thinking about that itinerant time traveler has been taking me to some strange places lately.  It's also gearing me up for an accelerated pace of blogging, coming up in a few weeks, but more on that in a bit.

The idea that I seem to be encountering at every turn is: Doctor Who as a Religion.  More specifically, the concept of the Doctor as Savior.

Artist: Mandie Manzano
Okay, yes... blasphemy on the one hand, nerdy obsession on the other.  I see the silliness.  In my defense, I can point to many others who are talking about it... in videos... in books... academic conferences... and even stage plays.  It's no crazier, I'd contend, than other sci-fi inspired bouts of religious creativity.  Brits have cornered the market on Jediism.  Here in the States we have, um, another religion founded by a sci-fi author... which I shouldn't really mention by name, since I don't want Jerry McGuire, Vinnie Barbarino, and their lawyers rappelling down from the rooftops.

But with the Doctor we have a singular, chimerical, personal savior.  His character was summed up wonderfully by long-time Who screenwriter Terrence Dicks:
"He is still impulsive, idealistic, ready to risk his life for a worthy cause. He still hates tyranny and oppression and anything that is anti-life. He never gives in and he never gives up, however overwhelming the odds against him. The Doctor believes in good and fights evil. Though often caught up in violent situations, he is a man of peace. He is never cruel or cowardly. In fact, to put it simply, the Doctor is a hero. These days there aren't so many of them around."
I tell you, with some trepidation, that what brought this home to me is Christmas. I know I've said before that I walk a somewhat solitary spiritual path, but I still love Christmas.  The good cheer need not have any sectarian limits, I like to think.  I also adore all the phantastical myth-making around the persona of Santa (see past Rankin-Bass musings here and here).  However, the one aspect that always seemed kind of closed off to me, due to my lack of some specific literal beliefs, is the wonder of the nativity.

A week or so ago, "O Holy Night" was playing on the radio (Nat King Cole's classic rendition) and for some reason my mind went to the Doctor.  Coming back again and again to save us petty humans, because he thinks we're just so cool.  Sometimes being brought back from the brink of inhumanity by his all-too-fallible human companions. And, once, being summoned back into life by humanity's collective yearning for salvation (in "Last of the Time Lords"). 

It only lasted a moment, but the nativity never meant more to me.

So where do I go with these thoughts of a fictional alien traveler in persona Christi?  I'm not yet sure.  In the short term, I've set myself a mini-challenge to post on the Twelve Days of Christmas.  There are 12 incarnations (more or less) of the Doctor, after all.  My weird disposition for the occult also urges me to somehow fold in the 12 signs of the zodiac, too.  I'm planning to start short daily posts on Christmas Eve, and go through the season up to Epiphany.  Being that it passes through the new year, I'll also try to mix in some resolutions, too.  Is it relevant at all to GAMES (the nominal pursuit of this blog)?  I have no idea, but I'll at least try to keep that in mind.


Monday, December 2, 2013

Vermeer's Game

On my drive home from work today, I heard a fascinating interview with the director of a new documentary about some strange methods possibly used by 17th century artist Johannes Vermeer to create his masterpieces.  The idea is that he may have built some complex combinations of mirrors and lenses to project images onto (or near to) his canvases to aid in the construction of his famously photo-realistic renderings of life.

The radio interview is here, and additional information about the documentary is here.  The NPR reporter was almost aghast at the insinuation that Vermeer may have "cheated" somehow using these techniques.  The director retorted wonderfully:
"Art is not sports. Art is an activity in which one human heart communicates to the other human heart. If Vermeer used this method, which Tim believes pretty strongly he may have used, that makes Vermeer better, not worse. What this means is that Vermeer was not only someone with wonderful and beautiful ideas, and someone capable of miraculous compositions, but that he was willing to put in the incredibly intense work to translate those ideas to paint on canvas. And it's very possible that Vermeer himself may have invented this device."
One thing I forgot to mention:  the director is the guy on the right...

...and it was rather surreal to hear the voice of the normally silent partner of the two talk about this project.  It is also quite spot-on for these particular stage magicians (who often delight in the deconstruction of their craft) to be interested in these techniques.  Is it too much of a cliche to say it?  I'll say it.  "It's all done with mirrors," after all.  :-)

I can't help but think about possible links between Vermeer's mirrors and lenses and some other famous optical marvels of that time period.  It was probably no coincidence that the 1600s also saw the development of the magic lantern -- an early version of the slide projector -- which was used not only in stage shows, but also in spooky initiation rituals and spiritualist seances.  Earlier this year I talked about the fictional (?) and magical (?) "looking glasses of divers virtues" described in the anonymous Rosicrucian manifestos of the early 1600s.

And, of course, there's the Glass Bead Game itself.  Although the game itself is supposed to be a highly abstract symbolic presentation of complementary and contrasting ideas, Herman Hesse described its origins as a set of colored glass beads strung on an abacus-like set of parallel wires...
"The wires corresponded to the lines of the musical staff, the beads to the time-values of the notes, and so on. In this way he [the creator of the game, Bastian Perrot] could represent with beads musical quotations or invented themes, could alter, transpose, and develop them, change them and set them in counterpoint to one another."
I've always loved the subtle ways that the concepts of reflection, refraction, and the focusing of light (through those colored beads) could be used as metaphors for the infinite alchemy of ideas made possible by something like the Glass Bead Game.  Well now, I've just got to create the darn thing...