Whovians and Whedonites, Niebuhr and Game of Thrones, plus other random geekery

Whovians and Whedonites, Niebuhr and Game of Thrones, plus other random geekery April 26, 2013

• I’m a big fan of essays that combine disparate fandoms — like, for example, this piece by Philip Sandifer of TARDIS Eruditorum on Firefly and Serenity.

• Or, in an even geekier vein, this essay by George Schmidt examining Eddard Stark and Tyrion Lannister through the lens of Reinhold Niebuhr’s theology. Schmidt sees Ned Stark as too much of an idealist, while Tyrion, he says, is closer to Niebuhr’s ironic realism.

• Scott Paeth chimes in:

I agree with Schmidt’s analysis, though I still have cause to wonder whether or not Martin has any such transcendent moral vision in store for us at the end of his story. Thus far he’s been fairly scornful of the idea that the end result of the political struggle is the establishment of social justice, and seems to be suggesting that, in the end, all succumbs to dust and entropy, or that on those those willing to give themselves wholly over to their will to power will ultimately prevail.

How he ends his story will tell us much about the moral world in which he dwells.

Aye, there’s the rub. We can’t yet say what the story means because we do not yet know how the story ends. That’s the trouble with attempting to analyze Game of Thrones before the series is finished. (And it’s the trouble with most memoirs and autobiographies.)

• Meanwhile, Amanda MacInnis defends Tyrion Lannister from a less generous essay on Game of Thrones from Christianity Today.

The Small Council greets the new Hand of the King.

• It’s not often that the culture-watching culture warriors blogging at Christianity Today will agree with Grandmere Mimi, but on this point they are both obviously correct: Maggie Smith is, indeed, awesome.

• “There may a fine line for a Christian mother letting her kids watch a show about vampires who kill people and a slayer who kills those vampires. … But to not let your kids watch the show because Willow and Tara, both Wiccans and both female, are in a relationship? The Wicca part wasn’t the problem. It was the latter part that made my mom draw the line.”

• “Be a hero!” says Marvel Comics T-shirt for boys. “I need a hero” says their T-shirt for girls. Ugh.

• And speaking of the Marvel universe: Big news from the kingdom of Wakanda.

• Amy Acker? Yes, I think that would work. But is the world ready for a Texan as the next Doctor?

• To borrow a term from Steve Buchheit, this report seems like a Story Bone: “‘Shadow Biosphere’ theory gaining scientific support.”

Professor Carol Cleland, of Colorado University, has a very different suggestion. She believes desert varnish could be the manifestation of an alternative, invisible biological world. Cleland, a philosopher based at the university’s astrobiology centre, calls this ethereal dimension the shadow biosphere. “The idea is straightforward,” she says. “On Earth we may be co-inhabiting with microbial lifeforms that have a completely different biochemistry from the one shared by life as we currently know it.”

• The New York Times discovers our local ghosts here in Chester County. Duffy’s Cut, just up the road in Malvern, Pa., was the site of a massacre of 57 Irish immigrant workers in 1832 during a cholera outbreak. The Duffy’s Cut project at Immaculata University has a terrific site following the archaeological and archival research slowly piecing together this horrid piece of local history. The massacre was covered up, not officially recorded anywhere, and formally forgotten. But the story lived on, encoded in folklore — local ghost stories that ultimately helped researchers to locate the site of the mass grave.


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  • Foreigner

    It is difficult to imagine any of the crew of the Serenity on the Liberator. It’s no problem at all to imagine Avon on the Serenity.

  • Magic_Cracker

    I only recently learned about the Duffy’s Cut massacre, but I grew up hearing stories of the Molly Maguires, how they continued to fight from the shadows after the coal companies crushed the nascent unions.

    Recently, I learned that there were likely no Mollies in the United States, not in any organized way, and that their existence as a vast secret society organizing a reign of terror against mine bosses and their families was a fabrication of the the Pinkertons (hired by the mining companies to provide “security) to justify their own reign terror against Irish workers who stood up and spoke out.

    I find it kind of beautiful that scurrilous lie meant to depict Irish workers as bloodthirsty terrorist was accepted as truth by those very workers and their descendants who took comfort in the idea that secret band of rebels was out there in the night dispensing rough justice to their oppressors.

  • Oh, this is super true. I don’t know that her current run is like, perfect– mostly I’m just glad that somebody realized the Carol Danvers is a better Captain Marvel than sloppily resurrecting Mar-Vell every few years when the trademark is about to expire. (& I still want the Avenger’s “Phase II” to be about them using Asgardian, Stark, serum & gamma rays to make an Air Force officer into Captain Marvel…)

  • Sun Tzu said, “All warfare is deception.” When you want to scapegoat an enemy so that you can justify consolidation of authority, a scapegoat who never exists is the best kind because no one can ever definitively say that the threat has passed and the extra measures are now unnecessary.

  • Well, as familiar as I am with classic Advanced Dungeons & Dragons alignments, I am less familiar with this specific setting. We have no cable in my house, so it is not like I can follow the show.

    On the other hand, our vast household library (as in multiple rooms and most of a hallway covered in full shelves) of science-fiction and fantasy does have the A Song of Fire and Ice series in there. Maybe I ought to give it a read once I finish what I am currently working through (Fire Caste and the Eisenhorn trilogy.)

  • Magic_Cracker

    And warfare, under the guise of law enforcement, it was.

  • reynard61

    Do what I do. If a comment is going to be no longer than a few lines with no links, I’ll write it in the Disqus box and post. If it’s longer and/or has links, then I write it and lay it out in my Notepad app and cut-and-paste to Disqus. That way, if Disqus misbehaves, I can just re-paste and post.

  • I thought the books were pretty great! I thought they would be schlockier than they were. Anyhow, I watch the show at a friend’s apartment; they have HBO & we make a night of it.

  • I just got the AD&D 1e reprints in today; lets just say that my AD&D 2e elf thief interprets TN a little differently!

  • Except in the children’s television series “Strange Days at Blake Holsey High”, where having antichiral DNA meant you were half time-traveller. (Seriously. Big second-season reveal that two of the characters are the only lifeforms in the world to have right-handed DNA. The series finale reveals that the thing they have in common is that they each have one parent from the distant future.)

    (Fun show that. Basically someone took a bunch of leftover Buffy the Vampire Slayer scripts, cut out all the violence, and replaced “Hellmouth” with “Wormhole”)

  • Mine abruptly stopped checking my spelling too until I discovered that somehow “check spelling” had gotten disabled… right click in the text field and make sure it’s still active?

  • Magic_Cracker

    I really like 1e. It gets the job done, and if as a DM you think something clunky, or don’t like a rule, you can change it. For instance, I had a DM felt that there wasn’t really any point to the Assassin class because they had armor restrictions and reduced Thief abilities. Their only advantages were that they could use any weapon (not that big a deal) and they had an “Assassinate” skill that was difficult to role-play, so he modified the rule so that they had 50% +5%/level chance of critical hit (against human, demi-human, and humanoid)((+5/-5% per level difference of opponent) for every successful attack — on the idea these guys/gals are trained target vitals, so it made them better in combat than Thieves, but not as durable as Fighters.

  • Lori

    That did it. Thank you!

  • Jenny Islander

    I thought that Lawful Evil was the alignment that manipulated the system in order to keep the people on top in power, with a vested interest in keeping the system running. Chaotic Evil would be the alignment of those who believe in a dog-eat-dog world in which anything you get you have to take from someone else and you die as soon as you aren’t strong enough to keep everyone else down. Neutral Evil would be for people who believe only in their personal goal, which happens to be destructive, cruel, etc., and will go over, under, around, or through anyone in their way. Neutral Evil characters would be thuggish vigilantes, serial killers, etc. But I’ve been playing by house rules for so long I haven’t read the alignment page in years.

  • Well sure, but now you’re just talking about being a good DM. Personally, I use the World of Darkness system– with some significant tweaks– to run my Weird Fantasy game.

  • The way I see it, Lawful societies tend to establish strong sets of laws and regulations and then see them enforced. In contrast, Neutral societies tend to have some laws but they are more malleable and adjustable. Because of the requirements of this, a Lawful society is more likely to be a bureaucratic state, while a Neutral society is more likely to be a more of a dictatorship.

    This can apply to both Good and Evil. A Lawful Good society would be more about having a strong set of laws to protect the innocent and enforce the just. A Lawful Evil society would also have a strong set of laws, but tend to favor the powerful while trampling the weak, and those laws will be rigidly enforced. In contrast, a Neutral Good society will often be one of a benevolent dictator or limited monarch, who makes and adjusts laws as situations arise to secure the common welfare and ensure no one goes abused. However, a Neutral Evil society is more of an autocracy, where the law is whatever the powerful says it is, and they make them or dissolve them as it suits them.

  • Carstonio

    Part of me wonders if a British actor as Superman is deliberate revenge for a US actor portraying Sherlock Holmes. So if Doctor Who is someone from the States, what other icon should we offer to the UK as penance?

    At least there’s a far better track record of UK performers pulling off US accents than the other way around – the only credible one I’ve heard of the latter is Connie Booth. I still cringe at Dick Van Dyke’s sad attempt at Cockney, unworthy of an otherwise talented comic actor.

  • Well, there’s no reason that they couldn’t just bring the Kree into play…
    But yeah, I would like to see Carol in the movies in some fashion. Of course, I’m not sure where the movie rights to her lie – she has pretty strong ties to the X-Men as well as the Avengers, so it’s possible that Fox has the rights to her.
    I had actually kind of hoped that Carol would be one of the pilots on the Helicarrier in The Avengers – maybe the one shooting at the Hulk – but then again, that would have likely made her a throwaway, so it’s probably just as well.

  • Rae

    Yes. I personally think it would be ideal to have a new showrunner (If anyone ever gets around to cancelling Grey’s Anatomy, I’m nominating Shonda Rimes) before having a female Doctor.

  • Rae

    Well, we’ve also got a British actor as Spiderman. And a Welsh actor as Batman. And before that, I think it was another British actor for Superman. And an Australian actor for Thor, and another Australian actor for Wolverine (who’s actually Canadian), and two different British actors for Professor X, and yet another Australian for the Joker, and an Irish actor for Scarecrow, and another British actor for Bane, and a British actor and an Irish actor for Magneto, and a British actor for Loki… and a Canadian actor when they attempted to do a Green Lantern movie.

    It’s not revenge from the UK, it’s an invasion from the entire Commonwealth that we only just now noticed!

  • IIRC, Kane ran a D&D campaign documented in a web series. But I can’t fo the life of me remember the title.

  • Except that Avon would never be able to get off any of his little bits of fantastic snark because in any given conversation, the other person would make him stop and justify his wardrobe choices.

    (There’s something delightfully incongruous about the whole grim-n-gritty thing that Blake’s 7 has going on with it’s extremely traditional 1970s Sci Fi aesthetic. The whole idea that this is a ship full of psychopaths and pirates, but they’re dressed like Jason of Star Command. Of course, I suppose Avon could always counter by pointing out that there is absolutely no reason for everyone to act like it’s the Old West just because this is the resource-poor frontier, as there have been numerous civilizations throughout history where they had resource-poor frontiers, and the only one where people acted like it was the Old West was the Old West)

  • Makhno

    He’s beheaded by a king who’s not yet reached majority, against the instructions of the lawful regent.

  • Kirala

    If they change the Doctor’s gender, I wonder how it would affect the show. There was rumor going around that Eleven would be portrayed by Paterson Joseph, who happens to be black. After Matt Smith was cast and Series 6 began to air, one ficcer imagined how things might have been different with Joseph as the Doctor, from one specific angle. That angle was the impact of the Doctor’s race on his interactions during the numerous time-travel trips through human-history-familiar-to-the-British-audience – in other words, the numerous occasions when race would suddenly become a barrier. And one commenter said, “And then I actually felt some sympathy with whoever made that casting
    decision, because they would either have had to limit the historical
    times and places the Doctor visits, or dramatically change the focus of
    the show.” In other words, removing any of the Doctor’s privilege would force the show to spend a certain amount of time – probably a fairly large percentage of time – examining the impact of that specific kind of privilege.
    As a woman, I think I would enjoy seeing the workarounds – but I worry that having all that focus on that one specific kind of imbalance would throw off the show’s ability to fairly address other kinds of imbalances. (Not to mention that the worst imbalances for women are long-term relationship and employment expectations, which wouldn’t affect the Doctor as she flits about in her nomadic life.) And having, say, a genderqueer disabled female-bodied Doctor of color…

    … now I kinda wanna see where this would go. But the Doctor still has to be British, obviously.

    (The fic I referenced is “Five Things People Might Have Read On The Psychic Paper (If Things Were Slightly Different)” by Grey_Bard, hosted on Archive of Our Own – which I will attempt to link to in a reply-comment, but I’d prefer not to expose this comment to Disqus’s caprice any more than necessary.)

  • Kirala

    Five Things People Might Have Read On The Psychic Paper (If Things Were Slightly Different)

    Also, I will add that I do not wish to see a female Doctor if they’ll just end up using her like the one at the end of “The Curse of Fatal Death”. It’s a brilliant gag and a terrible long-term plan.

  • Carstonio

    Heh. Who was the other British Superman? Collyer, Alyn, Reeves, Reeve, Cain, Daly, Routh and Welling were all American.

    The character is iconic on a level that surpasses even Batman and Spider-man. I don’t mind non-US actors portraying our icons because of their track record. I might feel more possessive of the character if the actors couldn’t pull off our accents – imagine a Clark Kent who is supposed to have grown up in the Great Plains sounding like one of Graham Chapman’s Yank parodies.

    Plus, the US film industry is so dominating that it’s more understandable if other countries feel more possessive of their icons. I haven’t seen the Downey portrayal of Holmes so I don’t know how his accent was, and I’ve heard that these films have almost nothing to do with the canon. (I’ve been watching BBC’s Sherlock instead.)

  • Well, that is a fair point, but one that I think most makes sense in a legal context; that is, I’d be curious to see people discuss whether an execution of a traitor by a king under majority is illegal? Especially given that there is no public proof of Cersi’s wishes to the best of my knowledge. Still, the fact that there IS this code of law that we’re discussing whether or not there was a transgression of, to me, is evidence that King’s Landing is LE. Joffrey is CE, or maybe NE– really probably Adolescent Evil, not settling in on the rest? It is hard to say on account of he’s given legal authority– but the system he’s exploiting is still Lawful. Not Just, but Lawful.

  • She played in it; Zack Smith ran it, which is how I know about her, via his blog. It was called “I Hit It With My Axe.” I thought it was pretty fun.

  • I mean, I think there could be a great trilogy of:

    Kree/Skrull War
    The Inhumans
    The Eternals

    but otherwise, I think bringing the Kree in would just muddy the water. Besides, I like the idea of her powers being like, “basically we like, scraped the X-gene, the radiated spider, all the Avengers stuff, Reed Richard’s cosmic power research, blood everything” to make her the Marvel icon, but that is just me. I’d really aggressively push her profile.

  • I think that the audience would be able to go along with it if the story is “The Doctor changes sexes spontaneously and this is totally not a big deal”, and the narrative would stop working if the story is “The Doctor changes sexes and it is totally a HUGE deal.” I think the former would be a bridge too far — asking them to accept that a man turning into a woman would not be a huge deal that changes pretty much everything about their day-to-day-life and how they interact with the world, that whether one is male or female is an incidental detail rather than part of the core of their identity would be over the line to LeHaye and Jenkins land (That is, “Gender isn’t part of the core of who you are” is for most people as nonsense a concept as “God might steal all the children in the world one day, and no one would be especially bothered, also we’d all randomly decide to cede all political power to the president of Romania”).

    In order to get the audience to go along with you, therefore, you couldn’t just have it be a thing that happens — it would have to become, from then on, what the show was about. Now, that might make an interesting show, the adventures of someone who’s spontaneously changed from man to woman or woman to man without having had any say in the matter, and how it changes their life and how they adapt. I don’t think anyone’s ever done that who wasn’t just looking to make jokes about nutshots and periods while reinforcing harmful gender stereotypes. But that show wouldn’t be Doctor Who.

    (One of the several wounds the old series never recovered from was that they could occasionally have something happen that ought to have become A Big Character-Defining Thing, but no one seems to really think it’s all that important. Like when Nyssa’s planet gets destroyed, and we never get any sense of her actually caring about it. Or when the sixth doctor tries to murder his companion with his bare hands, then five minutes later, everyone seems to have forgotten and they never mention it again.)

  • I think you left out a “not” in your first sentence.

    I’m not sure who “the audience” is. For my own part, I’m perfectly content to go along with sex-change not being a singularly big deal for an entity that has changed bodies several times already.

    I agree that many people would not continue watching a female doctor. Also, many people would not continue watching a male Doctor with a male companion. And various other things.

    At some point one has to decide which audience one is writing for.

  • guest

    ‘Now, that might make an interesting show, the adventures of someone who’s spontaneously changed from man to woman or woman to man without having had any say in the matter, and how it changes their life and how they adapt. I don’t think anyone’s ever done that who wasn’t just looking to make jokes about nutshots and periods while reinforcing harmful gender stereotypes. ‘

    Does Orlando count? I guess that was a book and movie, not a show.

  • Foelhe

    …I don’t know a lot about Doctor Who mythos, admittedly, but the Doctor is supposed to be a shapeshifting alien, yes? I mean yeah, gender is a big part of identity [i]for humans[/i]. Faces are a big part of identity too, but the Doctor changes his the way some people change cellphone plans.

  • SKapusniak

    If I squint at it, the situation actually makes a weird cockeyed kind of sense.

    As every porn character comes with super-sexuality powers as standard genre equipment, you’d be deluded to try and promote a porn Wonder Woman *solely* on the basis of super-sexed femaleness. If that’s all she’s got going on, it makes her no different from any other female porn character, and therefore gives no particular reason for a porn audience to watch something featuring her rather than one featuring any of the others.

    So it makes sense they want to promote their Wonder Woman as not just sexy but also tough, strong, strikes fear into the hearts of her enemies, fights evil etc. It makes her stand out from standard issue characters in porn, and therefore (they hope) makes their effort stand out with the potential audience.

    In bad straight renditions of super-heroines, I’m guessing that we’re actually getting something like the inverse of the porn thinking.

    Instead of the genre baseline being ‘female, super sexed’ and then adding ‘POWERED! TOUGH! FIGHTS CRIME’ to promote the character as standing out, the straight genre baseline is just ‘super-powered, crimefighter’ (or even ‘male, super-powered, crimefighter’) and then ‘FEMALE! SEXY!’ gets the promotion as the unique character selling point, with the unfortunate results we sometimes see.

  • Dash1

    Heck, the British already have Abraham Lincoln. Who else do they want?

    John Hillerman of Magnum, P.I. played an Englishman. My English friends have been surprised to learn that he was not in fact from England–he’s from Texas. I have been told by native speakers who heard him that Richard Chamberlain did a fine job with an English accent–learned it while working on the London stage. This was after he became famous in the U.S.–a case of a man who could have just kept making a lot of money in the U.S. but wanted to learn his craft as well as possible.

    Van Dyke said that his dialect was the result of the studio’s hiring an Irish dialect coach who didn’t know what he was doing. (I’m not sure that excuses an actor, but I don’t know how these things work. If the studio gives you a dialect coach you know doesn’t know his job, are you allowed to do anything about it?)

  • That reminds me of how disorienting it was to see Wolverine in the first X-Man movie.

    Wolverine in the comics was kind of a Big Deal initially, because he was a killer… a good guy, sure, but willing to kill his enemies rather than just knock them out, tie them up, or let them go. This differentiated him from other comics characters at the time; it violated the “good guys don’t kill” convention.

    In the movies, though, that’s not noticeable. The movie convention is “good guys kill bad guys,” so Wolverine fits right in.

    Transplanting the character from medium to another was a bit jarring for me. (Admittedly, I haven’t read comics in quite a while, and I gather that the comics conventions have changed in this regard as well.)

  • Carstonio

    It would be interesting of Van Dyke’s coach was virulently anti-British and deliberately taught a cartoonish accent as an act of revenge.

  • The reason that I was originally against a female doctor was… Hang on. Let me start over.

    The reasons that a was originally against a female Doctor included but may or may not have been limited to the following:

    1 The Doctor is for all appearances a cis-male. If he is a cis male and were to regenerate as female that would make him a transmale who had not transitioned. On the one hand, nothing against having a transmale main character. On the other hand, in this particular situation it would almost certainly come off as saying being female is something awful that one ought to have dysphoria about.

    2 If The Doctor turns out to be genderfluid, or (for reasons alien or mundane) have a weak enough gender identification that as far as The Doctor is concerned, “I have female parts,” means, “I’m female,” then that works but it also means that it’s not so much a female Doctor as a gender neutral Doctor in a female body. That kind of defeats the point of having a female Doctor in the first place. (Counter argument: Who says there needs to be a point?)

    3 The Doctor has 11 male versions. That means that there is no one way for a male Doctor to be. There would, at first at least and possibly till the series ends if ever it does end, be one female version. This has the same problem that shows with a token [whatever] always have. Whatever Female Doctor does becomes a statement on all women because there is only one female version of the Doctor to draw from.

    4 There’s a line between underplaying the fact that men and women are treated differently and making the entire show seem like it’s about that. I am in no way convinced that the show-runners can walk that line. This is what the show is about: “[The Doctor] saves worlds, rescues civilizations, defeats terrible creatures and runs a lot. Seriously, there’s an outrageous amount of running involved.” I’m not saying that it can’t also address gender issues because it could and as long as companions keep on being picked from present tense earth it probably should, but if it is going to address them it needs to do it well. Otherwise it’ll come off as shit.

    There may have been other reasons.

    All of that was defeated with the image of a redheaded female Doctor looking in the mirror and being so happy about the hair that she doesn’t even bother to notice the gender. Somehow, I think that if the Doctor treats the hair as a bigger concern than her gender (“Finally!”) and deals with the differences in treatment of men and women as they come, I think it could work. I’m not entirely sure why I think it could work.

  • Wednesday

    Not to mention, humans and timelords are bound to have different social _expressions_ of gender. I can see the Doctor regenerating with a female-body, taking one look in the mirror and mumbling about how this is impossible, he can’t be a woman, he’s rubbish at quanto-thermo magnetic resonance analysis and rugby and he likes knitting. What kind of timelord woman knits? Crochet, sure, that’s sufficiently feminine, and welding. And then he goes on a long spiel about pronouns and how he’s always wanted to try to use the fifth one for himself anyway, but discovers with some bafflement that the TARDIS won’t translate it to English for his companion. “How do you lot get by with only “he” and “she”?”

    And then e shrugs and gets on with saving the universe and meeting new life forms and the usual.

  • I regret that I have but one like to give this post.

  • EllieMurasaki


  • To be a little more precise, what happens is that the Doctor’s race is capable of staving off death (whether by age or injury) by regenerating into a new form, which they can only do a limited number of times — the canon limit is 12 regenerations for a total of thirteen different bodies, and the Doctor is currently on his eleventh incarnation (meaning, yes, it’s possible the series may be coming to an end sometime in the next few years — although canon also implies that there may be ways to circumvent this limit, so we’ll see).

  • Foelhe

    So shifting into a new body is still a major inconvenience. Okay, thanks. Still sounds like the Doctor’s society would see switching bodies as a fact of life, so I don’t know why they’d see gender as something written in stone. They could, maybe, it wouldn’t be impossible, but it’s odd to me how many people assume they’d have to.

  • It isn’t simply an inconvenience; the subjective experience is death. One person dies, another person pops into existence — they’re the same, but also not the same. It’s extremely traumatic (and also euphoric, in much the same way as several popular religions posit death to be unpleasant, followed by transportation to a pleasant afterlife)

  • Kirala

    According to IMDB, she’s of a multinational background and currently a proud American. I’m not sure whether having spent several adolescent years in England = sufficiently English, not when the citizenship of choice is elsewhere.

    Then again, I don’t recall ever seeing her act. Does she often take on English roles? I could give that a pass.

  • She’s got an English accent in The Neighbors…that is basically as much research as I did, I’ll gladly admit.