Balance in the Force
I just read a thoughtful post on the Pop Culture and Philosophy blog about the concept of balance in the Force in Star Wars. I’ve been struggling to understand that concept myself as I’ve been reading through a lot of the Star Wars comics, both Legends canon and new canon, and thinking them through in light of the movies, Clone Wars show, and Rebels show. I don’t think the post I linked to has it right, but I’m linking to it as a thoughtful piece trying to come to grips with this issue. A quick Google search revealed quite a number of other views on this, again none of it seeming to me to get things quite right. So I wanted to put some of my own thoughts on this into writing, however, so here are some rough musings attempting to put many months of thought on this into something somewhat digestible.
Here are several things that didn’t make a lot of sense to me, when put together:
These are my rankings of Doctor Who stories from the First Doctor period. I have categorized them into five categories, rather than finding a linear ranking order for each story.
Cream of the Crop
10. The Dalek Invasion of Earth: One of the best First Doctor stories. It's the second appearance of the Daleks, and given the original naming conventions (where individual episodes were named, not overall serials, as became standard practice later in the show) you wouldn't have gotten the presence of the Daleks spoiled by the title until the end of the first episode. The TARDIS crew ends up in 22nd Century London, where the city has been devastated, with very few people in sight, all of them acting in a robotic manner. When they discover the first Dalek they come across, it's a bit of a shock, because they'd only met the Daleks on their home planet in their first appearance. Despite a ridiculous sci-fi premise for why the Daleks have invaded Earth, this story works incredibly well, which certainly isn't true of all the Terry Nation Dalek stories in this period. I don't think it's his best. That honor goes to The Daleks' Master Plan. But this is among the truly classic stories of the First Doctor period.
21. The Daleks' Master Plan: This is by far my favorite First Doctor story. A full dozen episodes (a baker's dozen, if you count the prologue episode Mission to the Unknown, which came two stories before but was really part of this story). Unfortunately, only three episodes survive, so you either have to listen to the soundtracks for the rest or watch the fan-created reconstructions based on the large number of set photos that exist and the existing soundtracks. But it's worth it. The stakes are higher than any previous Dalek story, and it has better good science fiction concepts than many of the other non-historical earlier episodes. We get to see a future Earth empire with a military that knows all about the Daleks and is trained to fight them, including two noteworthy characters, a brother and sister played by Nicholas Courtney, who later went on to play Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, and Jean Marsh as Sara Kingdom, one of my favorite companions over the entire run of the origianl series. Marsh also had earlier played Princess Joanna in The Crusade and much later returned to play Morgana in the Seventh Doctor story Battlefield, which was also the final appearance of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart in the Doctor Who show. This was the only story featuring Sara Kingdom, unfortunately, but she's present for something like eight or nine episodes of it. Terry Nation wrote episodes 1-5 and 7. Unfortunately, the seventh was a Christmas episode that has nothing to do with the rest of the story, which is its only real low point. By that point in the story, we're reliving The Chase, where the Doctor, The Meddling Monk (from The Time Meddler), and the Daleks are running around through time, and it slows down a bit, but those parts are a little better than the middle episodes of The Chase in my view. But the first half of this story and the last two or three episodes are as enjoyable as the First Doctor gets, even with reconstructions of the episodes.
23. The Ark: This is one of the better "future of humans" stories of the First Doctor. The TARDIS appears on a human ship in the future, and there's another intelligent species serving humans as slaves, in effect, although from all appearances it's consensual, and the humans are unaware of the full intelligence of these beings. Halfway through, the TARDIS crew has resolved their original problem keeping them there, and they reappear in the same spot but much further in the future. Since this is a time when the Doctor had no control at all over where the TARDIS ends up, that seems remarkably odd. Then they discover that a revolution has occurred, and the other species has turned the tables on their human masters. Instead of being victims that we feel sorry for, they are now the villains. This was a nice nod to the common phenomenon in human history of the victims gaining control and becoming just as bad oppressors as those who had oppressed them. We also get to see an invisible (i.e. money-saving) but very powerful alien race that reminded me much of the sort of thing you might see on the original series of Star Trek, which was being made around the same time period as this episode. This episode didn't win me over to new companion Dodo. But it has some funny moments between her and the Doctor, where her slang expressions (that are entirely commonplace now, to a point where it shocked me that anyone wouldn't be used to it) give us a glimpse of the First Doctor's cantankerous nature in his complaints that she's not speaking English (which I should note is her first language and not his). And this is one of the few First Doctor stories that I'd gladly show to someone who wanted to see a good example of what the best of his period was like.
Very Enjoyable Stories
2. The Daleks (AKA The Mutants, not to be confused with a later Third Doctor story): This is the serial that gave the show its initial success. It drags a bit about 3/4 of the way through, but overall this is a great introduction to the Daleks. As with most of Terry Nation's Doctor Who stories, there are deeper themes to the story than just an action/adventure romp. In contrast to some of the emphasis of later Doctor Who stories (including some of Nation's own), here we see the Doctor encouraging pacifists to take up arms to destroy a menace that would otherwise end up destroying them. This is one of the best First Doctor stories.
17. The Time Meddler: In this story we get the introduction of our first Time Lord character (not that we have that name yet) besides the Doctor and Susan, and we even get to see his TARDIS, both inside and out. His chameleon circuit works, so we see a TARDIS properly disguised. The Meddling Monk returns as well in the Daleks' Master Plan, so he's also a recurring villain. A renegade Time Lord seeking to change history for some unclear profit motive (or perhaps for some higher good, but in any case the Doctor disapproves), the Meddling Monk has set himself up at a monastery, where he's pretending a whole group of monks are present by using future technology (including a phonograph with recordings of medieval-style chant) to give the appearance of a larger population of monks (as well as to make his stay more comfortable with appliances such as a toaster). The Doctor and his companions eventually figure out what's going on, and the Doctor manages to show some know-how when it comes to how a TARDIS works by sabotaging the Monk's TARDIS (which unfortunately never manages to help him get his TARDIS working properly again so he can actually control where it goes, not until the Time Lords help him later on during the Third Doctor period). This is the first time we see a historical setting with something non-historical worked in, a formula that the show eventually uses almost exclusively for stories taking place in the Earth's past, but we still have another season or so of purely historical episodes to go before that becomes standard. It's the first time also for the new lineup of the Doctor, Vicki, and Steven. It has some moments of lagging, as historical episodes tend to do, and it's the first historical episode with discussion of the real possibility of history-changing (see The Space Museum for the first instance of this, however, although this doesn't have the complete incoherence of that story). That is a disappointment from the perspective of metaphysics, but the unique elements of this story more than make up for it.
27. The War Machines: This is one of my favorite. If it weren't for the musical companions, it would be in the top category. The adventure starts with the Doctor and Dodo arriving in Dodo's own time period (roughly the time the episode aired). She's in the first episode and maybe part of the second. She never even appears to say goodbye to the Doctor. It introduced Ben and Polly, but Polly is brainwashed for most of the episode, so we don't get to see her in her right mind very much. And much of the episode Ben hasn't really connected with the Doctor. So it's not really the usual Doctor and his companion (or companions) sort of piece. That being said, this was a great introduction to what became a much more standard format for the Second Doctor period, where the Doctor (and in the other cases his companions) is in the time period when the show was being made, the mid-late 1960s, fighting off some menace threatening the time period of the viewers of the show. In this case, it's an artificial intelligence that, in a rare case, seems to have nothing to do with aliens, but you do get some rather rudimentary-looking robot threats (in keeping with the era they couldn't have them be too sci-fi looking). The Doctor uses logical paradoxes to undo the machine, as he does in several other stories (The Green Death, Death to the Daleks, and Shada come to mind). I do tend to like Ben and Polly, but we don't see a lot of Polly in this one. There's a nice scene at the end where the Doctor thinks he's all alone for the first time since the show began, but he ends up getting surprised with some unintended stowaways at the end, leading into the next season (and his final two stories).
29. The Tenth Planet: This is the introduction of the Cybermen and the last story for the First Doctor, so there's particular significance to it, but it doesn't work as well as I'd like. The Second Doctor Cybermen stories are much better. They look like they're wearing cloth outfits instead of metal. It's hard to hear what they're saying sometimes. The Doctor is showing his age, and several of his scenes had to be given to Ben or Polly. (Both Hartnell and the character are dying of old age at this point.) At the end, after defeating the Cybermen, he just collapses and dies, only to be regenerated into the Second Doctor. They don't explain the regenaration all that well, and the final episode is missing (although there are copies of the regeneration scene that have been released on DVD and online). Fortunately, this is one of the missing episodes that have now been animated. Still, this is a decent base-under-siege story, a template that becomes much more common with the Second Doctor, and as the introduction to the Cybermen and the final First Doctor story, it's certainly one to see.
I recently rewatched the 1975 Doctor Who episode "Genesis of the Daleks" by Terry Nation. Some online discussions I looked at about "Genesis of the Daleks" made some interesting, and to my mind obviously false, claims about how it fits (or doesn't) into the overall canonical fictional world of Doctor Who.
One claim in particular claim that caught my interest was the accusation that Terry Nation contradicted some of his earlier Doctor Who episodes about the Daleks in giving the origin of the Daleks in this serial. One discussion pointed out that Nation had made an effort not to contradict his first serial "The Daleks" from 1963, where he establishes the Daleks as creations of a race called the Dals in their war against the Thals. The supposed contradiction comes with "Genesis of the Daleks" when Nation actually shows us this war between the Thals and the race that created the Daleks, and the creator race is not called the Dals but is called The Kaleds.
Here's my problem. This is not a contradiction. A contradiction takes the form 'P and not-P". There is nothing of that form here. What you do have is:
1. The race who created the Daleks at the time of the Daleks' creation called themselves the Kaleds.
2. The Thals also called them the Kaleds at that time.
3. At a much later time, probably many centuries later, after an apocalyptic destruction of all civilization and a loss of a good deal of accurate information about the details of that earlier time, someone speaks of the race that created the Daleks as the Dals.
I'm sorry, but I'm not seeing how any of that makes for an inconsistency. If we were sure the person telling us they were called the Dals was speaking the truth, that would even be difficult to get a contradiction, because it's possible they came to be called the Dals at some time after "Genesis of the Daleks" or that they were called that at some earlier time, and that name came to be the more common one to use again after the apocalypse. But we can't even be sure the Thal telling us this has the right information. Maybe it's just that the wrong name was preserved. There are quite a number of things that could explain how 1-3 might all be true. Terry Nation simply did not contradict his earlier Dalek stories. What he did is use a different name without explaining why different names were used at those two different times, but it's not a contradiction.
I think there's a certain personality type that just likes to find contradictions in everything. A lot of fan criticism of science fiction and fantasy stories exhibits similar problems to the one I've been discussing here. I could point out lots of other examples. That doesn't mean there aren't legitimate criticisms to level against authors. I've criticized J.K. Rowling in print about her concept of changing the past in the third Harry Potter novel, although I did so after pointing out some rather implausible ways of making the story work to avoid the problem I raised. The implausibility there would involve reliable narrators who would know better telling untruths, however, which is more of a stretch than someone centuries after an apocalyptic event getting a name of an extinct civilization wrong or the possibility that the group was actually called by two different names.
How you evaluate such attempts to make canonical worlds coherent in part does depend on how plausible the explanation might be to avoid the contradiction. It's nice for fictional worlds to be coherent. Sometimes that's impossible. Sometimes it involves an implausibility but is possible. And sometimes it's not all that implausible if you just think a little harder to see how things might fit together, when at first they seem not to.
It's hard not to think of critics who like to find contradictions in the Bible when I look at these stories. There are some genuine difficulties in fitting together some parts of the Bible. I've never seen one that guarantees a contradiction, especially when you take into account that inerrantists don't take the current manuscripts to be inerrant but allow for errors in transcription from manuscript to manuscript. But I have seen places where it's not easy to come up with one highly plausible explanation that shows for sure why the apparent contradiction is not a real one. In most of them, there have been several explanations, where not one stands out as the most plausible, and even most of them involve something somewhat unlikely but possible. There's none I know of where I would judge all the explanations as so implausible as to require rational evaluators to think it has to involve two contradictory statements that can't be resolved. But I'm coming from an epistemological standpoint where I think the prior plausibility is relatively high. I consider myself to be in a position where I think I have good reasons for taking the Bible as it presents itself, as God's word, and it follows from that that it's more likely that there is a solution even if I don't know what it is than that there isn't. So I'm going to take the less-plausible-sounding accounts as less certain, but I'm going to be more likely to think that one of them is probably true.
That's one difference with fictional worlds. I don't believe there even are Daleks or Time Lords, never mind that the entire Doctor Who canon is consistent. (I think it certainly isn't coherent when it comes to fundamental questions of time travel, for example.) But someone who thinks God is real and is basically the way God is presented in the Bible is going to place a higher prior probability on there being some resolution to a proposed contradiction than someone who has no prior trust in those documents. And I would argue that someone doing this is right to do so if the prior probability is based on a good epistemic state to begin with. And that makes accepting truth in texts that are hard to fit together much easier to do (and not in a way that undermines rationality, assuming the prior probability itself has a rational grounding.
That assumption of prior probability, of course, is one of the fundamental disputes to begin with, but you can't just assume at the outset that someone who is more willing to trust a set of scriptures is wrong in doing so, and pointing to potential contradictions isn't necessarily going to turn the tide of the conversation unless you first undermine the prior probability. Supposed but not actual contradictions, even if they are difficult to put together, are therefore very weak evidence against the coherence of a worldview when the person who holds that worldview is more sure of it than they are of the irresolvability of the supposed contradiction. That makes for people coming from very different standpoints evaluating the supposed contradictions very differently, and from within their world view each seems to themselves to be right in how they do that. That's something that I think not enough people on either side of such debates can see.
J.K. Rowling's Philosophy of Time
This entry will spoil one of the major plot elements of the new Harry Potter film, The Prisoner of Azkaban (and I assume the book too, though I haven't read it), so don't read any further if you don't want to ruin it. It might also ruin my favorite episode of Andromeda and one of the most interesting elements of Babylon 5, but you can avoid that by skipping the last part (when I address other movies and TV shows) if you just want to read what I have to say about Harry Potter and the philosophy of time involved.
Jeremy Pierce is a philosophy professor, Uber/Lyft driver, and father of five.