Doctor Who: Nightmare of Eden

Doctor Who Story 107 – Nightmare of Eden

Written By

Bob Baker

What’s It About

When two spaceships materialize in the same airspace, they become fused. This causes a drug smuggling ring to be exposed, but where are the drugs coming from, and who is responsible for their transfer?

Their worse than idiots, they’re bureaucrats
This image foreshadows that Doctor Who is about to enter the 80s.
This image foreshadows that Doctor Who is about to enter the 80s.

After a few seasons of scripts by Bob Baker and Dave Martin that didn’t work, it is pleasant to see one of them turn in a script which does, by and large work. Baker’s “Nightmare of Eden” is probably his strongest effort since “The Claws of Axos.” From the start, he creates a concept that is realized fairly well on a BBC budget: two ships, a luxury liner and a transport ship, become fused when they attempt to materialize at the same coordinates in space. And it is from this crisis that the drama unfolds. The drug smugglers in this story had a good racket, but this one mistake was the catalyst that revealed their actions and led to their downfall. This is what I enjoy about the story, it is a fairly good mystery (although, it isn’t too hard to work out who the smugglers are), and the accident is what shed light on the mystery. Like many mysteries, it is the one mistake which trips everyone up. So, Baker has crafted a story which blends the sci-fi, monster aspect of Doctor Who with a mystery (drug running rather than murder). And his big, conceptual ideas become the backdrop rather than the main idea of the show. While there are a number of big ideas in this story, they all service the mystery and fit together, interlocking quite well. Even the Continual Event Transmuter fits the idea of spaces fused together, and creates three interlocking locations: the Empress, the Hectate, and Eden. In a way, this foreshadows the conclusion of the story.

This is a confident script, and, overall, it works. It is a solid effort. The production lets it down in a few places, but that is hardly Baker’s fault (well, unless you criticize him for not realizing the ability of the production to service his ideas). But there is a completeness and competence to “Nightmare” that other stories in this season lacked. “City of Death” is still the highlight of the season, but “Nightmare” is clearly the second-place story. And, as I said, this is probably Baker’s best work since “Axos.”

My Rating

3.5/5

Doctor Who: The Creature from the Pit

Doctor Who Story 106 – The Creature from the Pit

Written By

David Fisher

What’s It About

The Doctor and Romana arrive on the planet Chloris. It does not take them long to be captured by the power-hungry Lady Adrastra, who controls the metal-mining industry on the planet. A mysterious shell in the forest has captured her attention, and she demands the Doctor’s help in studying it. But the Doctor soon discovers that the shell is connected to a creature that is in a pit, a creature that eats those who cross Lady Adrastra.

She tipped the ambassador into a pit and threw astrologers at him

creature I’ll go ahead and state outright that I don’t really care for this story, and, apart from a few funny lines of dialogue, I was largely bored by it. It is obvious Lala Ward is trying to refine her portrayal of Romana (as this was her first filmed story). Eratu, while getting points for not being a humanoid creation, is rather odd and hard to take seriously in some of its more phallic moments. And the pace is a bit of a mish-mash. Christopher Barry, while generally a good director (at least, I like him in the First and Second Doctor eras), doesn’t seem to find a good pace for this one. Part four especially seems uneven.

These things aside, there is an interesting idea at the center of this story. The first time I watched it, I largely read it as a “the monster is really quite civilized and the humans are really not” story. We’ve had this in Doctor Who in the past, “Galaxy 4” being a notable example. But what struck me about the story this time around was that the savages, characters who the Doctor would often ally himself with in other stories, were no better than the oppressive regime of Adrastra. Fisher is subverting a Doctor Who trope here, and when the obvious villain has been defeated, the savages and an advisor quickly attempt to fill the power vacuum. And so, this story isn’t really about a misunderstood monster; it is about power structures—in this case, economic since the entire conflict was initiated by an attempted trade agreement. Eratu was attempting to offer the people of Chloris a mutually-beneficial trade agreement that would bring prosperity to both planets. It just happens to upset the balance of power on Chloris. So, “The Creature from the Pit” is actually high-concept science fiction, and it is certainly a theme worth exploring.

And yet, for me, it is hard to watch. The story certainly looks good in many places: the costumes are great, the sets are well-realized. But the pace and directing don’t really emphasize the ideas in this script, and much of the silliness, while helping to maintain interest in the story, doesn’t really bring attention to the ideas lurking beneath the surface of the story. For me, this story was an ambitious failure, which is a shame because I normally enjoy David Fisher stories. But while I may not enjoy the execution, I admire the ambition.

On the whole, and I may have more to say about this in a future post, I feel sorry for the Graham Williams era. Sure, there are some great stories in it, but I feel that this era of the show is one of identity crisis. Doctor Who is trying to find its place in a post-Star Wars world. Williams had the unenviable position of producer when these films came out. He was producer when Doctor Who had to move from gothic horror to light-hearted science fiction. Season seventeen is the season where this identity crisis comes to a head—the very first scene is Romana trying on different regenerations, searching for a new identity. And “Creature” fails to find its voice, unable to find the balance between the high concepts in Fisher’s script, the silliness of Tom Baker and Douglas Adams, and the directing of Christopher Barry.

My Rating

1.5/5

My Favorite H.P. Lovecraft Stories: A Top Ten

A photo of H.P. Lovecraft
Source: WikiCommons.

For nearly two years I have been reading through a copy of H.P. Lovecraft: The Fiction. I completed it this month, and decided to share my ten favorite stories from the book. There were others that I enjoyed (“From Beyond,” “Herbert West—Reanimator,” “The Picture in the House,” and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward), but they didn’t quite make the top ten cut. I tried to limit my list to stories that I would be likely to read again for fun.

  1. At the Mountains of Madness – Hailed as Lovecraft’s most successful novel, At the Mountains of Madness is gripping and chilling in some places, slow and dull in others. But the scope and ambition are admirable. This story lays out a history of some of Lovecraft’s mythology, all in the guise of arctic exploration gone wrong. I confess this is not my favorite of Lovecraft’s works, but the exploration of the Old Ones is interesting. The arctic horror is awesome!
  2. The Cats of Ulthar” – Lovecraft loved cats, and this story illustrates why you should always treat cats with respect. This story is perfect for a Halloween reading or recitation. It is simple, concise, and it reads like a fairy tale.
  3. The Colour Out of Space” – This story relates the horrific aftermath of a meteorite crash in the backwoods of Arkham, MA. This may well be Lovecraft’s best story. It is clear, concise, and incredibly creepy. I don’t scare easily (when reading, anyway), but this story did it. I remember sitting on the couch at one in the morning, desperately trying to reach the end because if I didn’t finish the story, the cosmic horror could transcend the story and emerge in my house.
  4. The Call of Cthulhu” – This is Lovecraft’s best-known story. Many of the themes and ideas that Lovecraft flirted with during his early career brilliantly come together here.
  5. The Festival” – There is something about the tone and atmosphere of this story that I find fascinating. The story takes place during the Christmas season, and I think that is what works for me. Christmas is frequently portrayed as a magical time; why wouldn’t it be magically horrible as well? What better time than Christmas to learn about the dark legacy of your family?
  6. The Music of Erich Zann” – After “The Colour Out of Space,” this is one of Lovecraft’s more accessible stories. I love the idea of forgotten streets taking someone to hidden parts of a town. I love that music can act as a conduit to the otherworldly. This story is a lot of fun.
  7. Pickman’s Model” – Like “The Colour Out of Space” and “The Music of Erich Zann,” “Pickman’s Model” is a story that is accessible to a general readership. It is creepy and plotted well. In fact, I would say Neil Gaiman’s A Short Film About John Bolton takes inspiration from this story.
  8. The Shadow Over Innsmouth” – Another genuinely creepy story, this novella follows Robert Olmstead, who is looking up genealogical data. He decides to visit Innsmouth, a town that many people in New England tell him to avoid. It is a dying town. If you’ve enjoyed the Silent Hill games, or Stephen King’s short story “Jerusalem’s Lot,” you will enjoy this story.
  9. The Temple” – One of Lovecraft’s best early stories. A World War I lieutenant-commander on a German sub slowly descends into madness as his crew encounters mysterious nightmares and visions.
  10. The Whisperer in Darkness” – This is my absolute favorite story by H.P. Lovecraft. I prefer it to “The Colour Out of Space.” It follows Albert Wilmarth as he corresponds with Henry Akeley, a man who believes extraterrestrial creatures live in the woods around his cabin. As Akeley begins to collect evidence, which he sends to Wilmarth, the aliens begin to harass him. The story is somewhat predictable, although it doesn’t quite work out the way you expect, but the atmosphere and tension is masterfully conveyed. After reading through this story, I coincidentally began listening to Role Playing Public Radio’s actual play of “Convergence,” a Delta Green scenario which features the aliens from “Whisperer.” I highly recommend both.

Now that I have finished Lovecraft’s fiction (well, the non-collaborative fiction), I’m trying to decide which weird fiction/supernatural horror writer to read next. I’ve already read The King in Yellow by Robert Chambers. Ideally, I would like to start on Clark Ashton Smith, but the collected works series I want is a bit pricey. I may read Poe since I already have a complete collection.

But I am always open to more suggestions. I’ve enjoyed Lovecraft. Who else should I check out in the weird tradition?

Is There Such a Thing as “Proper” Doctor Who?

Doctor Who Story 105 – City of Death

Written By

David Agnew (Douglas Adams)

What’s It About

After noticing a series of time jumps while on holiday in Paris, The Doctor and Romana discover a plot to steal the Mona Lisa. But the theft of the famous painting is only one part of a centuries-long plan by Count Scarlioni to make contact with a damaged spaceship 400 million years in Earth’s past.

My dear, nobody could be as stupid as he seems.
The Doctor, Romana, and the Eiffel Tower
Did we mention we filmed this on location . . . in Paris? (Source: BBC Doctor Who web site. Copyright by the BBC.)

If I had to level one criticism at “City of Death,” it would be the establishing shots. Many scenes were shot on location, and I would be surprised if any of them ended up on the cutting room floor. But admittedly, this is nitpicking. “City of Death” is a Doctor Who story in which everything works. The story is clever and complex. The performances are top-notch. The visual effects are good. The dialogue is sharp. Julian Glover has always been a boon to Doctor Who, and watching him trade witticisms with Tom Baker is a joy. The only real flaw is that the characters spend a great deal of time running through the streets of Paris, but if you are going to film characters running through the streets of any city, Paris is probably the best choice. It’s padding, but it is visually interesting padding.

But I want to move to one of the themes of this story. The Doctor and Romana discuss art in part one, Romana believing a computer is just as good at creating art as a living creature, the Doctor disagreeing. Later, a discussion ensues about which Mona Lisa is the real one. Sure, there is the original, but by the end of the story there are six others, each painted by Da Vinci. They are authentic Da Vinci reproductions of the same painting. So, are they real or are they fake? Philip Sandifier goes in to great detail on the real vs. fake discussion on his blog. Here, however, I want to talk about authentic and fake as it relates to Doctor Who as a concept. Specifically, is there such a thing as a proper Doctor Who story?

Source: Tardis Data Core. Copyright by the BBC.
Source: Tardis Data Core. Copyright by the BBC.

As I have been making my way through Doctor Who, I have fallen in love with the stories done in the 1960s. Part of this was due to my reading about the historical context of this decade’s stories. I love historical criticism, and it makes sense that I would apply this lens to Doctor Who. What other show has been around long enough? As I watched these stories, I fell in love with the concepts. I love the Doctors, and I love the attitude of the show. Hartnell and Troughton are my favorite Doctors, and it grieves me that their runs on the show are incomplete. The Pertwee era was a jarring experience for me. The show I had fallen in love with redefined itself. While I enjoyed the first Pertwee season, the rest of his era produced far more misses for me than hits. The Tom Baker years have been similar. I feel like an enigma, as far as Doctor Who fans go: I am more tolerant of Hartnell and Troughton stories than Pertwee or Baker stories. If I like stories from these latter two Doctors (and I do, indeed, like many of them), it is because I think the stories are good—but not because I consider them good Doctor Who stories. I like “The Green Death” because it reminds me of Fringe or The X-Files. I like “The Talons of Weng-Chiang” and quite a few other Hinchcliffe/Holmes stories because they remind me of Weird Fiction. From Pertwee on, I evaluate the show based on how well the stories are told, and how interesting the concepts are. I don’t necessarily think of them as Doctor Who. And let me be clear, this is a personal thing. I don’t for a minute think that my view is the only correct view. I acknowledge that my view is defined by what I love about seasons 1-6, and how Hartnell and Troughton played the part. But I cannot hold other fans to my standard.

The diversity of stories in this show is evidence that Doctor Who regenerates with its lead (or, more accurately, with its producer and script editor). And because of this diversity and constant renewal, it is hard to get at a definition of what a “proper” Doctor Who story is. For every attempt to define “proper” Doctor Who, there is an exception: The Doctor fights against injustice, except when he doesn’t. The Doctor travels with an assistant, except when he doesn’t. The Doctor can travel anywhere in time and space, except when he can’t. The Doctor fights monsters, except when there are no monsters. The Doctor loves humans, except when he doesn’t. Doctor Who is about the Doctor, except when it isn’t. Perhaps the only real qualifier for a “proper” Doctor Who story is “a story produced or licensed by the BBC with the name Doctor Who attached.” It isn’t what any one person feels Doctor Who should be, with the possible exception of whoever is running the show at any given time—with the acknowledgement that the next show runner may completely disagree.

There have been a lot of discussions among fans as we approach the 50th Anniversary, as Matt Smith’s departure has been announced, about what is next for the show. And in these discussions, the Doctor as icon is discussed. The Doctor is supposed to represent certain traits or attitudes. But my problem is that I have never viewed the Doctor in this way. Sure, certain versions of the Doctor fit certain traits or attitudes, but for me, the Doctor is more interesting as a character, not as a character-type. If we can so easily define the Doctor as (insert quality here), don’t we essentially take away the central premise of the show, the question in plain sight: Doctor who? In recent weeks I have started to think that the biggest threat to Doctor Who is an over-familiarity with the Doctor as a character. The show is weighed down with 50 years’ worth of fan interpretation (dare I say, fan theology), and all the mystery surrounding the central character has been drained from the show. The Doctor is our puppet, who dances however we want him to, nevermind that he is an alien and is under no obligation to respond how we want. I have always enjoyed a flawed Doctor, one who makes mistakes; one who doesn’t know everything about the universe, a Doctor who has his own agenda, which may not match what the companions want, or what the audience wants. That is what I love so much about the Hartnell era: The Doctor has his own agenda; it drives his actions. It creates conflict between himself, Ian, Barbara, and Susan. This conflict creates growth for all the characters, and they change. For me, at its most uninteresting, the show gives us a Doctor whose motivation is general do-goodery. He no longer has a personality. He is an icon. He is a representation of ideals. He is a trope.

A photo montage of the 11 Doctors.
We’re stuck with these chaps. All of them. (Source: Digital Spy. Copyright by the BBC.)

This has been a long digression, but I want to make clear that it is only my interpretation, my understanding of character as it applies to the Doctor and what makes Doctor Who interesting to me. Many fans enjoy the Doctor as an icon for good, as an icon for justice and equality. And I certainly respect that view. The Doctor has been an embodiment for justice, equality, and peace for much of the show’s run, new and old. Unfortunately, it makes Doctor Who less interesting for me; this is why I start finding enjoyment based on plot, concepts, and general storytelling, because the main character just isn’t that interesting to me anymore. And this makes me sad.

But, as in “City of Death,” does this make any other Doctor Who story less authentic, less Doctor Who? Absolutely not! All eras of Doctor Who are truly Doctor Who, whether we like them or not. That goes for my favorite seasons and my least favorite seasons. That goes for what has come before, and what may yet come. Since there is no single creator of Doctor Who, beyond the BBC—which isn’t really a creative force in this instance, but a source of production—there is no truly unifying vision of Doctor Who. It can, and should, change. A show doesn’t reach 50 years without changing, sometimes drastically.

And as much as I wish I could view the show objectively, as a dispassionate viewer, I can’t. I spent a lot of time watching and writing about 1960s Doctor Who. I used to watch this show with my mom when I was very, very young. When it comes to being a fan of the show, I do have criteria for what I love, for “proper” Doctor Who is. But if my criteria doesn’t match yours, that’s perfectly fine. We can disagree; conflict creates growth, so long as it is healthy and respectful. I may not be happy with the current form of the show, but I know a lot of people who are; I am thrilled for them, and just a bit jealous. I’m jealous because I can’t quite enjoy the show in the same way they can (and I live in hope that certain rumors floating around the internet are true so I can enjoy the show in a way that I feared I would never enjoy it again). In the end, all Doctor Who produced and licensed by the BBC is authentic; it is all proper Doctor Who.

My Rating

5/5

Film Analysis: The Grey (2012), Part 2

This is part two of my analysis of The Grey (2012), which I wrote for The Bible and Film. You can find part one and the introduction here.

John Diaz, the Untempered Masculine

John Diaz is the loner of the group. “It’s every man for himself,” he says when he disagrees with Ottway’s decisions. Diaz is ruled by masculine bravado. The only woman in his life was a prostitute who was a “piece of horrible ass.” Diaz has no family. He does not believe in God. He is loud, brash, and a drunkard. He refuses to admit weakness. As the survivors set up camp in the forest, Diaz asserts his gross masculinity and attacks Ottway’s leadership:

DIAZ: You guys with your fucking rules and orders and bullshit. Where are we? Look around. This is Fucked City, population five and dwindling. Two days, three maybe, if we really pull our shit together. And who’s in charge of that right now? This fucking guy? The Great White Hunter and his jerry-rigged fucking wolf sticks?

TALGET: Why are you constantly breaking balls and bitching about everything?

DIAZ: ‘Cause I wanna live, motherfucker. You understand that? I don’t want some timber wolf shitting me out on this mountain.

OTTWAY: You’re scared.

DIAZ: What?

OTTWAY: You don’t need all that nonsense, all that chest-puff bullshit. What’s wrong with being scared?

Diaz stands in line with his companions
Diaz stands in line with the other men. He is no longer an outsider. (Source: The Grey DVD. Copyright 2012 by Open Road Films.)

As tensions escalate, Ottway says, “Talking tough means jack shit now. You’re not scared? You’re a fool. Worse, you’re a fucking liar.” Ottway, as the alpha, puts the challenge down, not by killing Diaz, but by attempting to bring balance to his unbalanced masculinity. Ottway offers him solidarity; he helps lead him from ego to self. Diaz is literally brought back into line when the alpha wolf enters the camp. Diaz stands between the group and the wolf. In a close-up of the men’s feet, Diaz slowly backs up until his feet are in line with the rest of the men. The unity of the group is further illustrated in a deleted scene where the four remaining survivors work together to start a fire. They encourage one another. Diaz has joined the pack.

John Diaz’s journey becomes complete when he admits his own frailty. As the final three survivors—Ottway, Diaz, and Hendrick (Dallas Roberts)—come upon a river, Diaz decides this is a good place to die. He wants his final moments to appreciate the view of a mountain in the distance. In the commentary track Carnahan says that Diaz knows that Ottway and Hendrick would do anything to keep him going, even dragging him. This would lead to all their deaths. Thus, Diaz decides to embrace his frailty and chooses how he will die—appreciating the beauty of nature. He reflects on the life he once knew. “What I got waiting for me back there?” he asks. “I’m gonna sit on a drill all day. Get drunk all night. That’s my life? Turn around and look at all that. I feel like that’s all for me. How do I beat that? When would it ever be

Ottway, Diaz, and Pete converse in a long shot.
An intimate conversation filmed long rather than close-up. The audience is not a part of this group. (Source: The Grey DVD. Copyright 2012 by Open Road Films.)

better?” He cannot beat nature, but he can appreciate it. Throughout this scene, Diaz refers to Hendrick as brother, indicating their bonding through hardship. He reveals his first name as John and laughs as he discovers Ottway is also named John. “Of course that’s your name,” he laughs. “Thank you, John.” Hendrick also introduces himself; the three men are now fully known to one another. He gives each of them a parting gift to help with the journey. The entire scene is framed as a full shot despite the intimacy which would usually be framed as a close-up. Carnahan revealed in the commentary that he wanted the audience to know that these men were connected, they were close. The audience had no place among them. The audience could only look at the men from afar because we had not earned the right to be there. But this shot also emphasizes the scale of nature in relation to the men. They may now be brothers, but they are still insignificant compared to nature. They cannot conquer it; they cannot win. After Ottway and Hendrick leave, there is a long shot from behind Diaz. His head is barely visible over a log. The river and mountain dwarf him. As the sounds of the wolf pack grow closer, he utters his last line: “I am not afraid.” He has found meaning in sacrificing himself for his brothers. Because of Ottway’s guidance, he has rejected bravado and embraced the beauty of nature rather than its cold cruelty.

Faith or Reason?

Ottway’s purpose was bound to the men of his pack. When Hendrick dies, Ottway cries out to God:

OTTWAY: Do something. You phony prick fraudulent motherfucker. Do something! Come on! Prove it! Fuck faith! Earn it! Show me something real! I need it now. Not later. Now! Show me and I’ll believe in you till the day I die. I swear. I’m calling on you. I’m calling on you!

There is no response, so Ottway decides, “Fuck it, I’ll do it myself.”

The question, of course, is what will Ottway do? What proof does he want? Rescue? Purpose? Death? Ottway is alone once more; his pack has been killed. He must confront the very question he started with: should he commit suicide? For Ottway, faith represents a return to his wife. There is no proof that death will reunite them. He wants to believe God exists because this will mean being reunited with his anima. He is willing to sacrifice his reason if God will reveal himself. Like Tolstoy, he is conflicted by his reason and by his desire for faith (pt. IV). God would put all this suffering and pain into context. He would create order from the chaos. Camus would call this absurdity, the desire for meaning in a world that intrinsically has none (Bragg). Ottway stumbles further, the weather taking its toll, tree branches ripping at his coat and skin. Nature scourges him and, according to Carnahan in the film’s commentary, it is laying him bare. Ottway finally falls to his knees and stacks the collected wallets into a cross. He looks at the pictures in each wallet, photographs of wives, daughters, and sons. In Diaz’s wallet he finds only a driver’s license, indicating that the man was truly alone. Ottway folds his hands over the wallet as if in prayer. In this moment Ottway realizes the greatest irony of his journey: he has arrived at the wolves’ den. He is surrounded by them. The alpha steps forward, indicating that this is between the two of them. He and Ottway are opposites; they are the two alphas. The alpha is death, and they have been locked in combat for the entire film.

This final scene connects the flashbacks Ottway has been having throughout the film. For the third time, he remembers his wife’s final words:  “Don’t be afraid.” For a third time, he remembers the words of his father’s (James Bitonti) poem:

Once more into the fray

Into the last good fight I’ll ever know.

Live and die on this day.

Live and die on this day.

Ottway prepares himself for battle.
Ottway chooses to fight, but does he fight for his life, for faith, or for something else? It is up to the viewer to decide. (Source: A Full Tank of Gas. Copyright 2012 by Open Road Films.)

These words have haunted his life, the words of his wife and of his father. In this final moment, they have coalesced. The two most important people in Ottway’s life offer their wisdom. If he fights the wolf and lives, it will be a miracle, a true sign from God. If he fights and dies, he will finally discover the truth he has been seeking and perhaps be reunited with his wife? Either way, he wins. He only loses if he refuses to fight. The film ends as Ottway rushes toward the wolf.

Carnahan does not show the fight. Thematically, this makes sense. The struggle had already happened. Ottway’s journey ended when he made his choice to fight. The audience is not given a concrete answer to whether or not God exists, and in doing so, The Grey allows viewers to make their own choice based on their experiences and beliefs. In an interview with Rebecca Cusey, Carnahan said:

I think if you’re an atheist, you look at the film and you say ‘He didn’t believe in God.’ If you’re a Christian: ‘100% he believed in God.’ I like that. I like that things coexist. I’m a hell of a lot more interested to hear people talking to me about the film than for me to be telling them about the movie.

It was this ambiguity that turned off test screeners, even though they admitted they would be talking about the movie for days to come (Wallace). This ambiguity is a universal struggle for humanity. What is the purpose of life? The book of Ecclesiastes is one of the most existential books in the Bible. The Teacher laments, “The people of long ago are not remembered, nor will there be any remembrance of people yet to come by those who come after them” (Harper Collins Study Bible, Eccl. 1:11). He goes on to say, “I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind” (Harper Collins Study Bible, Eccl. 1:14). Similarly, Job attempts to understand suffering after losing property, family, and health. In both books, the ultimate message is to have faith in God.

Ottway cried out for God to show him something real. But would Ottway consider God’s revelation to be real? In his moment of despair, was Ottway was willing to put aside reason for faith. In his interview with Rebecca Cusey, Carnahan said he wanted to deal with “the contradictions that exist in all of us at times in reference to God or to spirituality or to religion in general. There’s a duality of a guy calling on God: ‘Where are you when I need you?’ and then at the same time ‘God helps those who help themselves.’” Until Ottway was ready to make a choice and to live (or die) by that choice, he would continue to be frustrated by uncertainty. His leap to faith was to make a choice.

In The Grey, Carnahan created an allegory that confronts human mortality and the search for meaning. Diaz found meaning by achieving solidarity to the group. This led to his selfless sacrifice. Ottway found meaning by embracing the mystery of faith, by choosing to fearlessly fight for life rather than passively allowing death to stalk him. Both men needed each other to find this meaning. Diaz needed Ottway’s guidance to find balanced masculinity in admitting weakness and frailty. Ottway needed Diaz and the other survivors to give him a purpose and remember how to fight. In the end, by not providing a clear resolution, The Grey forces audience members to wrestle with the ending, to ask what they believed happened, and to reflect on how they understand meaning and purpose in their own lives. Ottway’s journey in The Grey has been their journey all along.

Works Cited

“Camus.” In Our Time. Narr. Melvyn Bragg. BBC Radio 4, 3 Jan. 2008. BBC.co.uk. Web. 3 June 2013.

Cusey, Rebecca. “Interview: Director Joe Carnahan on God and Spirituality in Thriller The Grey.” Patheos.com. 23 Jan. 2012. Web. 2 June 2013.

“Deleted Scenes.” The Grey. Dir. Joe Carnahan. Universal, 2012. DVD.

“Feature Commentary.” Dir. Joe Carnahan, Ed. Roger Barton and Jason Helman. The Grey. Dir. Joe Carnahan. Universal, 2012. DVD.

 The Grey. Dir. Joe Carnahan. Perf. Liam Neeson, Frank Grillo, Dermot Mulroney, and Dallas Roberts. Universal, 2012. DVD.

The Harper Collins Study Bible. Ed. Harold W. Attridge and Wayne A. Meeks. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2006. Print. New Revised Standard Version.

Tolstoy, Leo. A Confession. Trans. Louise Maude and Aylmer Maude. 1921. N. pag. Minnesota State University Moorhead. Web. 2 June 2013.

Wallace, Lewis. “Survival Flick The Grey Is a Tear-Jerker for Tough Guys.” Wired. Jan. 2012. Web. 2 Jun. 2012.

Film Analysis: The Grey (2012), Part 1

The Grey movie poster
Source: Wikipedia. Copyright 2012 by Open Road Films

A month ago I took an intersession class about The Bible and Film. For three weeks we learned about film analysis and how to identify universal themes in film. It was great fun, and I enjoyed analyzing movies that I normally wouldn’t choose to watch. Our final project for the class was to write an analysis of a movie of our choosing. I had been looking for an excuse to rewatch The Grey (2012). The paper was longer than a standard blog post, so I have divided it into two posts. The following post is part one; part two will be posted Monday. Since this is an extremely existential film, this is only one way to look at the film. Ultimately, each viewer who engages with this movie will probably reach different conclusions. I would enjoy hearing other peoples’ perspectives on the movie.

Wolf at the Door: Faith, Reason, and Masculinity in The Grey (2012)

Perhaps the most divisive part of Joe Carnahan’s The Grey (2012) is the ending. In “Survival Flick The Grey is a Tear-Jerker for Tough Guys,” Lewis Wallace revealed that the audience felt the movie promised an epic showdown between John Ottway (Liam Neeson) and the alpha wolf, a battle which the movie failed to deliver. The disappointment is easy to understand. The official trailer marketed The Grey as a man versus beast, survival thriller. It emphasized men fighting to return home, and it ended with shots of Ottway preparing for one-on-one battle against a wolf. But director Joe Carnahan had other themes in mind for his movie. Carnahan places his characters in a world devoid of meaning, a world where death stalks them on all sides. Using nature as a metaphor for encroaching death, The Grey explores Ottway’s struggle for faith and purpose after deep, personal loss.

The central concept of The Grey is similar to Tolstoy’s parable of the well in A Confession. In this religious autobiography, Tolstoy told of a time in his life when he longed for God but felt proving the existence of God was impossible. He relates a parable about a traveler who is pursued by a beast. The traveler takes refuge in a well but discovers a dragon at the bottom. Stuck between the beast and the dragon, the traveler grasps a branch growing out of the wall, but he soon discovers mice gnawing on the branch. The only solace from this predicament is a few drops of honey on a leaf. Such is the plight of man, doomed to die with nothing but temporary joy for distraction. Having come to see life as such a bleak prospect, Tolstoy contemplated suicide, but he felt he was too weak to go through with it. He struggled with the contradiction of longing for a God he could not rationally bring himself to believe in (pt. IV). All the while, death continued to stalk him.

The Existential Landscape

The characters in The Grey also face death. In the film commentary, Carnahan explains that each man was injured in the crash; these injuries increased in severity as the film progressed. This is seen most clearly as Burke (Nonso Anozie) suffers from an escalating case of hypoxia. Later in the film, Diaz coughs up blood due to implied internal injuries. It is only a matter of time before these men’s bodies fail.

The men face death on another front: nature. From the first shot, director Joe Carnahan signals the immensity of nature. The camera pans across trees and mountains using a low shot. Clouds slowly drift across the shot. Wolves howl. There are no humans and no evidence of civilization. The camera cuts to an oil refinery. Pipes and smokestacks replace the trees, the mountains with buildings. Smoke replaces the clouds; the sounds of machinery replace the wolf howls. Humanity has entered the wild and now attempts to tame it. In the film’s commentary, Carnahan said that “there aren’t many industries that perpetrate the rape of the natural world like the oil company. They are intruders, interlopers. They don’t belong there.” Nature wants these men gone. After they crashed in the snow-covered stretch of the Alaskan wild, blizzard conditions continually strike the men. A wolf pack hunts the men, picking them off one at a time. In his opening monologue, Ottway says they are on “the edge of the world” and he moves like he “imagines the damned do: cursed.” This curse is death, and it is never lifted from the men. It will one day overtake these men just at it will overtake everyone. As the Teacher says in Ecclesiastes 8:8, “No one has power over the wind to restrain the wind, or power over the day of death” (Harper Collins Study Bible). It is up to each man to find meaning because death could arrive at any moment.

John Ottway, the Broken Self

Ottway and his wife in a dream.
Source: Critic’s Loft. Copyright 2012 by Open Road Films.

In the opening, Ottway makes his way past a church and stops in a bar for one last drink before he kills himself. In his voice over, he confesses that he has “stopped doing this world any real good.” He thinks about his wife (Anne Openshaw) who had died. In a shot after the plane crash, Ottway lays with his wife under a blanket. The camera is low beside him. He looks at his wife as she caresses him. She is suddenly pulled away, leaving Ottway alone in the snow. Ottway is like Job, his loved ones taken from him. Job’s words would resonate with Ottway, “Why is light given to one in misery, and life to the bitter in soul, who long for death, but it does not come, and dig for it more than for hidden treasures; who rejoice exceedingly, and are glad when they find the grave” (Harper Collins Study Bible, Job 3:20-22). Ottway is a man who had his anima ripped away from him. His happy ending never came, and now he longs for death.

Ottway has another problem, however. He also longs for God. His aching desire is to see his wife once again, and the afterlife is the only place this is possible. But Ottway only believes in things that are real. “I wish I could believe in that stuff,” he confesses to Talget (Dermot Mulroney) as the survivors huddle around a campfire and think about God and fate. “This is real, the cold. That’s real, the air in my lungs. Those bastards out there in the dark stalking us. It’s this world that I’m worried about, Talget, not the next.” Ottway longed for death when he was alone at the oil refinery. His only desire was to return to his wife, but his hand was stayed from pulling the trigger when he heard a wolf howl. Ottway found his purpose in the wilderness among the survivors. His purpose is keeping these men alive. He shapes the survivors into a pack. This is not a hunting pack, however, but a pack of social unity, a pack with a common goal: survival. To borrow from Camus, this is a pack united in solidarity. Ottway is their alpha. The greatest threat to their solidarity is John Diaz (Frank Grillo).

Part two will be up tomorrow.

Works Cited in Part One

“Camus.” In Our Time. Narr. Melvyn Bragg. BBC Radio 4, 3 Jan. 2008. BBC.co.uk. Web. 3 June 2013.

 “Feature Commentary.” Dir. Joe Carnahan, Ed. Roger Barton and Jason Helman. The Grey. Dir. Joe Carnahan. Universal, 2012. DVD.

 The Grey. Dir. Joe Carnahan. Perf. Liam Neeson, Frank Grillo, Dermot Mulroney, and Dallas Roberts. Universal, 2012. DVD.

 The Harper Collins Study Bible. Ed. Harold W. Attridge and Wayne A. Meeks. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2006. Print. New Revised Standard Version.

 Tolstoy, Leo. A Confession. Trans. Louise Maude and Aylmer Maude. 1921. N. pag. Minnesota State University Moorhead. Web. 2 June 2013.

 Open Road Films. “Official Trailer.” TheGreythemovie.com. Open Road Films, 2012. Web. 4 June 2013.

 Wallace, Lewis. “Survival Flick The Grey Is a Tear-Jerker for Tough Guys.” Wired. Jan. 2012. Web. 2 Jun. 2012.

Doctor Who – Destiny of the Daleks

Doctor Who Story 104 – Destiny of the Daleks

Written By

Terry Nation

What’s It About

Romana, bored with her current form, regenerates. Afterward, she and The Doctor get caught between The Daleks and the Movellans, who are at a stalemate in their long war.

Seek, Locate, Do Not Deviate
Romana 2
Another positive for this story is the clever costume for Romana, which is a play on The Doctor’s costume. (Source: BBC Doctor Who web site. Copyright 2013 by BBC.)

Fan opinion, with a few exceptions, considers “Destiny of the Daleks” to be a poor story. And while I am always happy to go against fan opinion, in this case I would have to agree. “Destiny” has a lot of problems. While it has a few things that I enjoyed, they are not enough to redeem the story for me. Strikes against this story, the regeneration scene (which was a necessary plot point since Mary Tamm had left, but it was played for humor—to mixed results), the recasting of Daleks as logic-based robots rather than anger-based mutants, an overly-simplistic attempt to convey a Cold War stalemate, and a production that was at times extremely half-hearted. The last two items on this list are mixed for me. I like what Terry Nation was trying to do. The Daleks and the Movellans were at an impasse, neither able to gain an advantage against the other since both sides used logic in their strategies. Granted, this would have worked better with the Cybermen, not the Daleks, but overlooking this, it creates an interesting twist on the Cold War: neither side can attack due to nuclear armaments, the only way to gain an advantage is to embrace self-destruction. It is an idea that has been explored in different stories (in film: War Games, Star Trek VI, and in the horrendous Superman IV). It is natural that Doctor Who would give it a shot. In fact, they had just one story earlier in “The Armageddon Factor.” And while I didn’t enjoy that story, it did explore the metaphor better.

As for the half-hearted production, there were a number of things at work here. The sets were a mixed bag, many of the background performers obviously didn’t take the story seriously, Tom Baker varied wildly in his performance, and the money just didn’t seem to stretch as far. But what impressed me is the direction. It wasn’t perfect, but Ken Grieve made great use of the steadicam. This resulted in some great panning shots and Grieve made good use of frame-in-frame. He seems to have done the best he could with what he had to work with. Grieve’s efforts help this story, but not enough to make it a success, as far as I am concerned.

My Rating

1.5/5