A SECOND LOOK AT THE NEW DR. WHO, A LOOK BACK AT AN OLD STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION AND THE PRO-LIFE MESSAGE

SHORT TAKE:

The recent Dr. Who shows have been FAR better than the pilot and rely on puzzles, history, and most importantly, in The Tsuranga Conundrum, features — a pro-life message.

WHO SHOULD WATCH:

Anyone.

LONG TAKE:

I was not wrong. The first of the new Doctor Who's was terrible. Click HERE to see why. However, the stories immediately began improving and I had already intended to write a revised blog. But episode 5, The Tsuranga Conundrum, put me over the top and inspired me to get it done.

Let me first say a little bit about the other improved episodes. Rosa, much like TOS Star Trek's "City on the Edge of Forever", where one person's decision changes the course of history, revolves around whether or not Rosa Parks will refuse to stand for a white person on a bus in the 60s. Her act of civil disobedience, striking a blow for the dignity of every human, sparked the Civil Rights Movement. The antagonist for the show was a fellow time traveler who wished to interrupt this key event. The Doctor and company were there to protect the time line. Rosa was a lovely story and the theme harkened back to Doctor Who's original 1963 intent of being a time-traveling historian and scientist.

The other shows highlighted the female Doctor Who's natural strengths of intellect and puzzle-solving. As a woman, she does not have the upper body strength to physically handle altercations. The other doctors, aside from Christopher Eccleston, though of  "academic" builds, were still far stronger physically than this one could be. So her strength lies in her being, as David Tennant put it often, "clever". And this comes off very well again in this story.

While her companions are still not especially noteworthy, you kind of get used to them, and they have the virtues of neither being bossy nor abrasive as previous companions have been. Neither is there some long game arc with them as the linchpin to the mysteries of the universe, which is pretty refreshing. So the shows have definitely improved.

But the most recent Dr. Who episode was the icing on the cake and deserves special commendation. Doctor Who has always been pretty pro-life, much like Star Trek was pro-life. The value of sentient life was recognized,  regardless of how they looked. And there was respect for life and Creation in general, (even though there was only rarely a reference to a Creator). And Doctor Who is very much in the same vein. Enemies' lives are respected, valued and protected with as much alacrity as friends' lives. Character arcs are often about redemption, and rarely does the concept of revenge in any form rear its head.

Acknowledgement of life's importance in all forms is an understood thread that weaves itself though both shows. But only once before this most recent Dr Who show have I seen the pro-life position so clearly and plainly stated as it was in "The Child," from Star Trek the Next Generation.  In "The Child" Deanna Troi finds herself pregnant from an unknown entity. The consensus from the rest of the command crew was extreme caution and Worf, the Klingon security officer, even recommended abortion of the "fetus". But Deanna, not even knowing how she got pregnant, not knowing what was the intent of the entity who, frankly, raped her, flatly stated to her captain: "Do whatever you feel is necesssary to protect the ship and the crew, but know this, I'm going to have this baby". Not fetus, not product of conception, but "baby".  The only issue to Deanna was protection of the child that she carried and an acknowledgement that it was indeed a baby.

DR WHO SPOILERS

I am so very pleased to commend this new Doctor Who, and obviously the writer, Chris Chibnall, for making the same clear pro-life statement. In episode 5, "The Tsuranga Conundrum", the premise is that The Doctor and her companions are trapped on a hospital ship without her TARDIS. Their literal deus ex machina is temporarily out of reach on a planet several days travel away. The main storyline revolves around an attack on the hospital ship by a new mysterious alien, the Pting. But that is not really relevant to the point of this blog, so I will let you enjoy that part on your own. 

Their subplot, partially intended for comedy, is really the most important part of the story. Yoss is a young unmarried man, in the last stages of pregnancy. Now bear with me. Though the young man looks human, he is a different species and this IS a science fiction show. When asked how he knows the child will be a boy, he responds matter-of-factly: "Boys give birth to boys and girls give birth to girls. That's how it is." So – yeah – alien. Somehow this struck me as especially funny, as I am sure the writer intended. When two of The Doctor's companions, understandably confused, ask him how this could have happened, meaning – how could he, a man, become pregnant?!!! the scared new dad misunderstands and explains that it was the result of an ill-thought out one night stand.

Here is where the pro-life begins. There was never any mention of Yoss considering abortion even though he makes clear that pregnancy was the LAST thng he wanted at this time in his life and that he feels woefully underprepared to be a parent. In addition, the writer, through Yoss, goes out of his way to show the companions what his unborn baby looks like in a series of 3D ultrasound images. There was no plot purpose to this slide show, but it made a brilliant point and, I thought was the highlight of the episode. His species' gestation takes only 5 days, therefore the pictures he shows are a succession of developmental shots only a few hours after conception, then after the first day, the second day, third, and fourth, all of which show dramatic gestation of a species that looks just like a normal human child. The last picture of his unborn baby, taken three hours earlier, shows a full-term, perfectly beautiful,  baby boy to the awe and delight of the attending companions.

I thought this masterfully done. Whether the writer intended to or not, he makes it clear, even to the most uninitiated, that it takes no time at all to get from "conception" to "baby".  And giving this species a five day gestation brings that thought home in a very condensed way.

There are some predictable but still funny moments of two squeamish human men in a delivery room assisting with the C-section birth of a baby. But all the concepts are treated tactfully, so not to worry. The rest of the subplot is cute as well and involves his decision whether or not to keep his baby or give him up for adoption.

And there's a bit of lagniappe. Usually Doctor Who, and even my own beloved Star Trek, avoid religion at best and take sly jabs at it at worst. But in this Doctor Who, during the funeral for one of the guest characters, prayers are requested from saints! While, unfortunately, no mention of God was there, reference to saints, a distinctly Catholic spiritual concept, was a delightful and blessed breath of fresh air.

As I have not been shy of doing in the past, I have re-evaluated the show. I hereby backtrack on my previous overall negative impression of the new female Doctor Who. While I continue to maintain that the first was poorly done, it did not put her best foot forward. The steep incline of improvement has been quite a pleasant surprise.

So, I recommend for all of you Doctor Who fans who have not tuned in yet, to give Miss Whitaker's Doctor Who a try. Based upon shows 2 through 5 she deserves another chance.

And bravo to our new MISS Doctor Who for her profoundly pro-life message. I will be tuning in again.

A QUIET PLACE – BLESS YOU FOR THE REMINDER JOHN KRASINSKI

SHORT TAKE:

Brilliant and terrifying sci fi analogy to the terrors every parent faces in trying to protect their children from this dangerous world.

WHO SHOULD GO SEE IT:

Older teens and up ONLY, and then only ones who can manage Alien without having to use a nightlight for a month.

LONG TAKE:

Parent World – where everything can go wrong, go wrong, go wrong… (apologies to Michael Crichton), where a simple accident, a misjudgement or even a well-intentioned but ill advised act of kindness can rain unintended and unanticipated disaster upon your family.

Some movies are quite difficult to watch but they should be seen anyway. Some because they are history and we should be witness to the events even if it can only be done from a vicarious distance, such as Saving Private Ryan or Schindler's List. Some for the sheer artistry of the writer/director like Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. Others, and many of these are based on classic literature, because they teach us lessons – Dracula, Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And some for the sheer roller coaster thrill of having the pants scared off of us – like Alien.

In a small way John Krasinski's A Quiet Place fits into all of those categories.

A Quiet Place is set. almost theatrically, within the confines of a small farm in an unnamed area, populated by a family of unnamed characters only identified in context by their relations to each other: Mom, Dad, Sister, Older brother, Younger brother. This is deliberate, I understand, in order that the message will apply to any family and every family. The members of this close knit family are survivors of a world wide cataclysm wrought by an invasion of creatures heretofore unknown on this planet. Where they came from – lab experiment gone awry like in Stranger Things, alien invasion, some critter from beneath the earth – is never explained. That too is on purpose, I think. These creatures are lightning fast, have skin of armour, razorsharp stilleto claws and multilayered teeth which would make your average Alien envious. As abandoned blowing newspapers declare they are impervious to bullets or bombs. But they are blind. They have astonishingly acute hearing and will only hunt you if they hear you. And the smallest noise – a cracked twig, a dropped glass, a clink of a belt buckle WILL be lethal, especially if you are out in the woods. So the family moves in total silence – walking on sand paths laid meticulously out, food served on lettuce and eaten with the hands, games of Moonpoly played lying on a floor with puff balls. No animals, little metal, no running machinery. The family communicates with sign language and code lighting strung around the farm.

John Krasinki and Emily Blunt, married to each other and parents to two daughters, usually known for their comedies – respectively entries likeThe Office and The Devil Wears Prada – have created a masterpiece of horror fiction which ranks up there with the classics. Bridging the gap between their comedy days and this have been some significant serious movies, almost as though in preparation for their roles in A Quiet Place, which have allowed them to portray bad-ass characters, such as, respectively 13 Hours and Live, Die, Repeat.  A Quiet Place tells not just a frightening story to scare the kiddies, it tells a story intended to reflect the terror that every parent feels about trying to protect their children from the vastness of horrors, evil, and dangers of this fallen world in which we live. I know this is deliberate because Krasinski has stated as such in interviews – it is a "love letter" to his and Blunt's two (and future) children – to show what lengths good and heroic parents must go to to protect their children.

Other authors have attempted similar stories. Stephen King, for example, wrote Pet Semetery (sic) as a cathartic exercise to help him deal with the possibility of losing a child. But in that story, the parents act selfishly in order to assuage their own guilt and grief, wrecking supernatural havoc in the process. They do not ever seem to think about what would be best for their children, or even each other. But in A Quiet Place, everything these parents do, everything they must suffer together, every choice they make, every precauition they take, every bit of research they do, every exercise they perform is geared to seeking ways to help their children survive in this cruel and lethal world – just as every good parent does even when not faced with superhuman horrors.

Mom and Dad homeschool their children. There is one almost whimsical scene in which Blunt's character as Mom is teaching her oldest son to divide. All communication is done through sign language. Dad wants the boy, rightly frightened to go outside the confines of his familiar home, to go out fishing with him so he can learn to feed himself and his siblings, as the Mom explains when she is aged and pitiful, miming being old and toothless. The underlying bittersweet message is that, as things stand, it is unlikely any of them will live to die of old age. It's a gentle scene but the point is made. Mom and Dad tell their Older Son in as light a way as possible: If and when we must die for you the legacy we leave is to have taught you how to provide and protect yourselves as best we can.

In an act of incredible bravery the Mom gets pregnant and they decide, as a matter of course without question, to bear the child. All provisions and plans are made to perform this extremely dangerous activity – child birth and caring for a newborn – in silence. If you have ever given birth, just imagine trying to do it without making a sound and you will have an appreciation of to what heroic lengths these parents will go to bring forth and protect their children's lives.

The acting is terrific. Almost ALL of the conveyance of emotion and communication are done with body language and expression. While they do have sign language subtitles you really don't need them to get the drift of what they are saying. The fourteen year old daughter (Millicent Simmonds) really is deaf and her performance is stunning. Noah Jupe plays the older brother and Cade Woodward plays the youngest child. All the kids have a natural affinity and chemistry with Blunt and Krasinski – so much so that I had to check to see if any of them really are their kids – they aren't.

This is a brilliant parable embodying in the form of a sci fi the dangers parents MUST try to protect their children from. I could imagine this being the fevered nightmare of a worried new parent – where, no matter how careful you are or what preparations you make, the slightest mistep can bring down calamity and catastrophy. A neighbor who makes an unwise decision, poisons in the medicine cabinet of a friend's house, predatory humans who masquerade as care givers, car accidents, wild animals, burst appendix, an unforeseen accident, a fall down a stairs. Then there is the concern of, even if you do everything right and protect them from all of the external terrors, what can you do to teach them the right things, educate them, guide them to being able to care for themselves spiritually and physically after you are gone. And blessedly there is at least SOME acknowledgment of God. The family joins hands in a palpably sincere and faith filled plea of thanksgiving and bequest for safety – without a word being spoken or even mouthed. 

The aliens represent everything and anything that can endanger your child and how quickly and unexpectedly tragedy can swoop down undeservedly upon them, until the only thing you can do is stand between them and catastrophe to the best of your ability, no matter how hopeless it sometimes seems. And that the only guarantee you can give them is your unconditional love.

This is a brilliantly artful movie Krasinski has written and directed  – gorgeous outdoor scenes which still remind you of the sword of Damocles over their heads by the silence with which they move in it, minimalizing the communication down to only that which is most essential and it works incredibly well to draw you into their family. Krasinski's thoughtful effectiveness in his use of sound and silence is occasionally breathtaking – taking advantage of the deaf daughter's vantage point where she hears nothing, playing counterpoint to the sounds and potential sound around her as she tries to navigate in a tremendously sound lethal world. As though she is blind in a darkened room but does not see the flashes of lights around her which can make her a target for the predators nearby.

Despite some plot holes in the premise, within the Universe Kransinski has created the story is airtight and skillfully crafted to maximum effect. The slightest sound is incredibly significant, a heartbeat has the impact of a drumroll in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, and a single human scream has vastly more effect than even a Godzilla's roar in a "normal" movie. These noises, so casually easy to ignore, take on monumental importance, just as the intimacy of parent to child is magnified here in the visible incarnation of the intense constant danger which surrounds us in the real world. Careless driving drunks, rabid wild animals, cancer, lightning strikes on a sunny day, all coalesce into the nightmare vision of this one hideous monster, who can whisk your child away from you, before you can adequately react to protect them, and even as you look on in horror. It is as suspenseful as Hitchcock, as roller coaster of scares as you might ever want in a movie, and has all the earmarks of a classic – an endorsement of understanding to parents who are already watchful and alert, a slap of cold water reality of the terrible consequences which are possible to parents who may not be so attentive.

If this review alone has put you on edge and if the movie makes you just that much more concerned and wary for your children's safety, and a single child is rescued by a parent prodded even subliminally into a more wary watchfulness, then I think Krasinski has done the job he set out to do and is owed a grateful thank you. A small price to pay for the demonstration of watchful anxiety for his children to us, which mayhap makes us more watchful over our own. Thanks John.