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Help. Doctor Who’s Balloon Of Human Skin Has Me Retching. I Need Alternatives.

My teenage son and I have become enthusiastic fans of Doctor Who. We enjoy the imaginative settings and characters, the show’s sense of curiosity, and the unusual perspective allowed by a story with time travel at its center.

doctor who costumesFor a long time, I’ve appreciated the way that Doctor Who helps young people become comfortable with their differences. While adolescent society in general pushes teenagers to conform, Doctor Who opens up a universe of diversity, to show that differences make life fun. In reality, we push to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry. In Doctor Who, we see a married lesbian couple in which one of the women is a lizard.

The point isn’t to make us all into lesbians who become aroused at the sight of scaly skin. The point is to open up all kinds of possibilities for people in ways that have nothing at all to do with gender identity. It’s this celebration of weirdness that excites non-conformists who watch Doctor Who, and brings them to do deliciously goofy things like dress up in costume. When they wear the clothes of their favorite version of The Doctor, they embrace this vision of inspired cosmic eccentricity.

So, this week, my son and I eagerly went to see the Aqmerican premier of season eight of the revitalized Doctor Who. We even went to see it in a movie theater, to give the viewing a sense of occasion.

My son loved it. I left with a sense of dread.

doctor who half face deep breathI remember when I was a teenager, and adults put out frightening messages about television and movies that were dangerous for people my age. There was a campaign against Satanic influences in heavy metal music. I thought it was all ridiculous, and most of it was. Heavy metal wasn’t dangerous. It was just very bad music.

I didn’t listen to heavy metal, but it wasn’t the superficial demonic gimmicks of goofy bands like Black Sabbath that turned me off. Those were just silly provocations. What turned me off was that the music wasn’t very interesting. It was simple, repetitive, predictable, without subtlety. It was loud for the sake of being loud, which isn’t worth paying attention to after the first 30 seconds of loudness has passed.

As a parent, I’ve tried to remember my own experience with excessive efforts by adults to control what adolescents see, but at the first Doctor Who episode of the 8th season, I found my limit. The episode, entitled Deep Breath, features robots that mask their mechanical identity with pieces of flesh that they harvest from the bodies of humans they have killed. As the robots try to make a getaway, one of them uses a hot air balloon that has been stitched together from pieces of human skin.

doctor who human skin balloonI understand that the Doctor Who writers meant for the robots to be a kind of dark version of The Doctor himself, and for his Tardis time machine, but the balloon made of human skin was a step too far. It wasn’t necessary to make any larger point. It was a shocking element that had no purpose other than being shocking.

Well, it worked. I was shocked. I was disgusted.

More importantly, I was disappointed. A balloon of human skin is frightening, but it isn’t intelligently frightening. It isn’t subtle. It isn’t interesting. It’s just plain abominable. It is, like the pseudo-Satanism of heavy metal rockers, a cheap trick to distract from an underlying lack of substance. It’s an insult to the audience.

I’m not against fear. I’m not even against horror. I’m against the use of disgusting cheap tricks to evoke these feelings simply in order to provoke a physiological excitement. There’s no creativity or eccentricity within that sort of fear.

There are fears that are deep and dark within the human psyche, but transcend the brain stem’s anxieties about pain and death. When we explore these fears, we learn important things about ourselves, and become the better for it. That’s not he kind of fear that Doctor Who season 8 seems to be interested in. So, this is where my son and I will leave Doctor Who.

As a palette cleanser, on this last week of summer before school begins, my kids are watching Cosmos: A Spacetime Journey. This show does what Doctor Who ought to be doing, expanding minds with possibilities rather than shrinking them down with terror of alien predators.

But what next? I’m looking for smart, creative books, audio, or video that pushes the boundaries of our assumptions about reality. I don’t care whether it’s fiction or nonfiction. I want materials for my teenager that can bring the sense of openness that I once thought we could find in Doctor Who – without the ever-present monsters and ghoulish provocations.

Any suggestions?

5 thoughts on “Help. Doctor Who’s Balloon Of Human Skin Has Me Retching. I Need Alternatives.”

  1. Tom says:

    Maybe you should start explaining why there won’t be any long term future to look forward to. Here’s some help:

    [you can ignore the “feel good” hopium ending in the summary – it’s too late for any of it]

    1. J Clifford says:

      Okay. A list of 45 tipping points (are they still tipping points if there are 45 of them?) into environmental disaster isn’t what I was thinking of when I asked for smart, creative content that pushes the boundaries of our assumptions about reality, but this source is noted.

  2. Tom says:

    Physicists Say Fukushima Reactors Pose Eternal Threat to Humanity

    MOSCOW, August 23 (RIA Novosti) – The three molten cores at Fukushima plant, each weighing a hundred tons, are so radioactive, that no one can approach them, including robots, which melt down immediately, Dr. Helen Caldicott, the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize nominee, physician and anti-nuclear advocate, states in an interview to Radio VR:

    “And no one ever will, and the contamination will go on for hundreds of years,” Ms. Caldicott cites top physicists as saying.

    Initially, TEPCO, the Japanese power provider wanted to erect an ice wall around the perimeter of the Fukushima complex, as ground water underneath the reactor is absorbing radiation and then flowing into the ocean.

    An ice wall is a silly idea given the circumstances, remarks the expert, as it would have to last at least a hundred years. Moreover, you would have to have electricity running all the time to keep the ground frozen, explains Ms. Caldicott.

    Surprisingly enough, TEPCO is not consulting with anyone, says the expert, neither with Russia, after it survived the Chernobyl catastrophe, nor Bechtel, a US major engineering company. It is, conversely, “saving money, using paper coming from homeless shelters”, and the Japanese mafia Yakuza is hiring people to do this work.

    The expert stresses they are witnessing an absolute catastrophe: 300-400 tons of radioactive water pour daily into the Pacific, and this has been going on for over three years now contaminating the ocean and its ecology.

    Radiation cannot be diluted, as many isotopes, namely strontium, are concentrated in food chains, in algae for instance. The contamination then passes on to bigger fish typically caught on the east coast from Fukushima. Radiation in the ocean and its ecology has been detected as far away as the America West Coast. TEPCO has stated more than once, the expert says, that they know radioactive water is seeping into the ocean, however, they keep assuring that it is not at levels high enough to cause a significant threat.

    [there are other opinions cited in the article]

  3. Dave says:

    Books by Ted Dekker. Some are religiously themed, but as you say, helping young people become comfortable with their differences is a worthy goal.

  4. Tom says:

    Sorry J. Clifford, i’m just tryin’ to be real here. We’ve already passed most of those tipping points and all we can expect is more extremes in weather, conditions and temperature as time goes on. There’s no putting the CO2 or methane “genie” back in the bottle (ground) now and all that Fukushima radiation makes matters worse for marine life (not to mention our own) each day.

    So live your lives and cherish each moment we still have while we can.

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