Monday, 6 October 2014

Cynthia's Daughter

Saturday's 'Doctor Who' episode, 'Kill The Moon', provoked a couple of different reactions from me, which went in different directions.  I'll deal with the emotionally safer bit first.

Spoilers obviously.  Stop reading now unless you've seen it or don't mind.


It started out quite promisingly with the need to explain why gravity on Cynthia (which is what I call the Moon - I'll tell you why if you want) seemed to be the same as on Earth.  The explanation was that Cynthia had gained a lot of mass, or "put on weight" as the episode inaccurately observed.  I'm not sure it was the right amount of "weight" to be honest but I'll ignore that.  It did bother me when the explanation for that was that Cynthia was an egg and had an embryo inside her.  This has an odd ring of truth about it, but I'll come back to that in a bit.  For now, I'm given to wonder where that embryo was getting all the extra mass.  So far as anyone could tell, there was nothing coming into Cynthia except of course for meteorites and sunlight, and the quantity of sunlight involved wouldn't be enough to be responsible for that increase.

Nonetheless, this can be rescued in a few ways.  For instance, the mass could come from dark matter captured and converted by the embryo, or from another dimension.  After all, this is Doctor Who although I sometimes prefer to see the alien in a box which can go anywhere in space and time and is smaller on the outside as a framing device which enables the writers to write anything from 'Black Orchid' to that thing about antimatter monsters at the edge of the Universe, er, 'Planet Of Evil'.

The idea that she was an egg but the thing which hatched out wasn't round is a blooper.  If something is made of solid matter and more than about 500 kilometres across, it just will be roughly egg-shaped, i.e. round.  It has no option but to be.  If it was any other shape, the bits which stick out amount to impossibly high mountains which would crumble under its gravitational pull and collapse under their own weight.  It will be round.  It can't be anything else.  Therefore, the egg thing is fine but the thing which hatched out not being egg-shaped is not.  It might be explicable but no explanation was offered.  This was annoying, but probably just reflects the fact that Doctor Who isn't really science fiction and that's entirely fine.

The odd ring of truth is that it's been suggested that the place might be hollow in real life because of "ringing like a bell" when the Apollo crews landed, but quakes clearly indicate that's not so because of how the vibrations bounce around inside.  David Icke and others of course accept the idea of hollowness.

One big thing which was ignored, probably through ignorance, is that if this planet had no satellite, it would lose its magnetic field and the surface would be exposed to deadly radiation from space.

A bit of fan speculation can rescue all this.  The embryo wasn't made of baryonic matter, it ate dark matter while it was inside Cynthia and the population of this planet was going to go and live under the sea afterwards to protect itself from the cosmic rays.  It's OK, although it's a bit of a kludge and I don't really buy the non-baryonic matter thing myself even though it was me who just made it up.  But anyway.

A good non-sciency bit (let's face it, all the sciency bits were bad, weren't they?) was the idea that people had turned their backs on space and that this incident had persuaded them it was a mistake.  I have a thing about people turning their backs on space but I won't carp on about it because it might not be shared by many people reading this.  Suffice it to say that the fact it was set where and when it was made a lot of sense.


Trigger for reproductive ethics in the next bit.


The bit that really hit me was the abortion subtext.  It was pretty heavily emphasised and I found it quite hard to handle.

Angels fear to tread at this point.  I still think "no uterus, no opinion", although the phrasing there is imprecise and it should be something like "no subjective expectation of the physical possibility of pregnancy, no opinion" - androgen insensitivity women who are unaware of their status, for example, would be entitled to an opinion, although recent research has blurred that still further.  My situation is far more clearcut.

If you've read enough of this blog, you will know that I consider the pro-choice/pro-life debate to be the central ethical issue.  Nothing else is as important because it divides people so strongly and raises the issue of first-hand experience and when it is and is not relevant.  I've talked about that elsewhere though.

The writer of this episode is male, which immediately invalidates his opinion regarding abortion and abortion metaphors.  Having said that, it tugged very successfully at my heartstrings mainly because of the Thing I Do Not Talk About.  This is one of those occasions when I despise myself utterly for my reactions to something which is, in the final analysis, merely a fictional TV programme when I can be completely dry-eyed and callous when someone's child is in hospital with a life-threatening condition and yet when I see the lions lying on Denys's grave in 'Out Of Africa' - a big game hunter for God's sake! - I melt down emotionally.  I hate myself for this, absolutely despise and disgust myself that I care nothing for real situations but am set off by fantasy ones, but there it is, I don't know what to do about it.

So the writer got the response he wanted.  Oddly, a lot of viewers seem to have missed the massive flashing neon sign which almost literally hung over the episode that it was about abortion - the word "ABORTED" was in bright white lights illuminated on the bomb display - and I can only think that on some level they didn't want to see it or go there.

I still have problems aside from that.  The population of Earth was asked to turn off their lights to signal consent.  This is a clearly pro-life metaphor, but "no uterus, no opinion", so I can make that observation but not comment.  I can, however, comment on this.  I strongly suspect most of the light from the dark side of this planet is from street lamps, not houses, and the people responsible for those are likely to be working for municipalities and not be a representative section of the planet's population unless by 2049 the streets are generally unlit due to the enlightenment of the people who are now walking them, which seems unlikely and is again an invention of my imagination, not the writer's.

The Doctor disappeared from the situation on the clear grounds that it wasn't his decision, which is mixed because it can be seen either as abandonment or staying out of a choice which wasn't his.  It does however raise the issue of whether the Doctor is in fact male.  Every Doctor so far has been male and every regeneration of other Time Ladies and Lords we've seen with one exception has been of the same gender as its predecessor, but given Romanadvoratrelundar's variations when she was experimenting with her own regenerations and the Doctor's own comments that he might be female, we do in fact know that it is possible to vary a lot.  Shame he always seems to choose a white male phenotype.  We don't really know how they reproduce anyway.  It might be that no Gallifreyan is entitled to an opinion, or that they all are.

The episode also chimes with his "Do I have the right?" speech in the Genesis Of The Daleks.  If he's going to have qualms about killing embryonic daleks, it's easy to suppose he will have the same about space bat angels whose hatching has unknown consequences.

I'm just going to make one more comment about reproductive ethics.  Clearly I don't see myself as being entitled to an informed opinion on the pro-life/pro-choice debate owing to the discrete issues of the impossibility of being in that position, plus the perceived impossibility.  Now I've been a good girl so far in this and not "gone there", but I'll just briefly dip my toe in the trans water and say this:  if the pro-feminist position is "no uterus no opinion", why has this trans person got any right to avail herself of trans safe feminism?  What's the difference?  It seems to me that the door handle in on the inside of both of those and I'm not.

Anyway, I went out of the room for a bit and on returning found that not only had all the characters regenerated and had different names, but they all seemed to be working in a hospital and oddly failed to avail themselves of regeneration when they were seriously injured in a car crash.  On the other hand, the Doctor now seemed to have become a woman called Connie, so that was at least something.