Daughter has four gray hairs. She’s three years old.
“I guess I’m turning into an old kid, to match my soul.”
Baby pops Daughter across the mouth in a rage. Daughter looks her in the eye and says, calmly: “It looks like you’re having a hard time. It’s okay to be mad but it’s never okay to be mean. We have to use gentle hands.” Hug, kiss; everything is still.
My daughter is getting into The Joy of Painting. It’s all happy little clouds in here. There are no mistakes; just happy little accidents.
As of today, every time Baby sees an elephant — real, drawing, toy; stylized, naturalistic; gray, blue; large, small — she responds with an enthusiastic “PBBBBBBBBBBRRRRRT!!!”
Yes, child. Exactly. You will go far.
Daughter:“Mommy, did you know that Papa used to live in California? But he was lonely, so you got him from the airport and kissed him?”
Wife:“Yes, honey. I am somewhat familiar with that story.”
Daughter:“But did you live happily ever after or not, because this story makes me bored.”
So, my daughter’s manatee (courtesy of Lan) is named Manny. Simple so far. Tonight, she revealed that “Manny” is short for his full name, Manatee Manatee I Love You.
Daughter:“Josie! Jos-eh! Do you want a hug?!” Baby:[grunts and crawls away] Daughter:“I think not.”
Early in the morning. The baby crawls away.
Wife:“Josie. Come back.” She flops her arm.
I put my head on wife’s shoulder. Kiss her cheek. “This’ll draw her in.” Indeed the baby hesitates and looks back at us, calculating whether she needs to break things up.
Wife:“She’s getting to be like Penny, that way.”
With no warning, door pops open. “Was somebody talking about me?” Daughter asks.
And the cast is assembled.
As of a few days ago, Baby has officially entered the THAT stage. All day it’s pointing fingers and “That! Thatthatthatthat! That. That!” You say no, she frowns, points harder, and insists, “THAT THAT! That that thatthatthat! That…”
She wants the world and she wants it… now.
Daughter heard her mother felt unwell, so she drew a picture of herself in the bath, with bubbles and toy fish. As you do.
I forgot that we had a Wii. It seems the last time we booted it up was two years ago. But now we have a hyperactive nigh-four-year-old, so it seemed… promising. When we booted up Wii Fit, our baby Penelope Mii went POOF and turned into a small adult Mii. Then the game went about formally explaining itself to her.
Two nights in a row now we have set her on the free run for around half a hour before bedtime. Yesterday it was miraculous; half of one story and she was down. We’ll see how tonight goes…
“Mommy, look at my great invention! It’s too bad you were not smart enough to think about it yourself.”
To herself: “Yeah, Penny. You’re right, Penny.” To me: “I love the the Penny that’s in my brain.”
My wife gave me worms. The worms are sour, and delicious.
Wife, reading off the grocery list: “Religion?!”
Daughter:“Sometimes when I’m asleep I think the walls of the room move a little bit.” Me: “Move how? Like, in and out?” Daughter:“They shift all over the place. Sometimes I’m afraid to go asleep.”
Daughter struts up to me. “Hug?”
“All right,” I say.
She stops a yard away, leans forward, and puts one foot in the air. I try to hug, but, uh. “What — this isn’t…”
“Oh, sorry,” she says. “I always pretend to do ballet when I hug people.”
“Papa said he was sorry for snapping at me but I think he’s a little bit confused. I don’t remember him snapping his fingers or pretending to be an alligator or something like that. Silly papa.”
Having hit the one-year mark, Baby’s vocabulary is exploding.
Wife says “brush”, she says “ushh” and taps her head.
Wife says “sparkles”, she says “spspsps” and points to her sister. Because, you know.
Wife says “elephant”, and she blows a trumpet sound.
Daughter says “kiss”, and she jumps into her big sister’s arms to hug and kiss her.
I heard my wife and daughter talking calmly, almost in a monotone.
Wife:“I want to hit you in the face.” Daughter:“What did you say?” Wife:“May I please hit you in the face?” Daughter:“No.” Wife:“But it will feel so good.” Daughter:“Not to me it won’t.”
I’m not sure how this conversation resolved itself.
Wife:I wish I was a little kid again. Daughter:Oh that’s sad. Want me to wipe your poopy bottom so you can feel small?
Daughter:“Yeah! I’m a rock star.”
Wife:Air is invisible, but it’s real. Look at my stomach when I breathe. See, my body is filling with air. Daughter:Love is invisible, and it’s real too!
Wife walks up to daughter’s doorway, and says, “Hey, what’s up?”
Daughter responds with “I don’t know what happened! I’m sorry!”
So. Daughter was covered in water from head to toe, naked and tangled up in yarn. Wife asked what happened; daughter became distracted, and went off on a tangent about a rabbit delivering the mail.
“Mommy, look at the card that Papa made you! It has people falling down, just like you like! And the blood drips into a heart shape!”
Daughter, watching The Joy of Painting: “His mountain is okay. But if you want to see a real triangle, come watch me paint a pyramid! I’ll show you how it’s done!”
Daughter’s deep thought of the day: “Why does the sun fade a piece of paper, but make our skin darker?”
“It’s a little red alien sitting on a clock attached to a scale that has me on it.”
“This is my invention cloud that makes teddy bears, and I’m going to build it!”
These art projects are getting strange.
Wife turns to grab a pen; in that moment, Daughter gets her head stuck in an Easter basket and baby gets her head wedged in the safety gate…
Drawing a tribute to Daughter’s monster friend, Dogs (so named because he likes dogs).
“He’s a little monster friend of mine, but he’s not alive anymore. He got lost in a store and then his parents died out. And then he grew up and he died out too. I miss him…”
She is decorating the picture with golden threads, whispering “I will miss you… I miss you already. I still love you…”
“I wish I could go back to when he was a baby and was still around. But the only way to do that is to ride a unicorn over a rainbow…”
I wouldn’t let Baby have a hair clip, and she has been glaring at me for ten minutes. Blink, child.
Took Daughter out with her tricycle. She isn’t fond of pedaling. I kept leaving her in flat spaces to catch up.
“Nnguh! The ground is too rough!”
“The wind is blowing me back! The wind! It’s so strong!”
“I told you not to go this way!!”
Actually, this is exactly the way she told me to go. I was going to go the other way…
“Hey, Mommy. Remember that secret you told me lasterday? I forgot what you said. How about you tell me all of your secrets so I can figure out which one it is.”
“I’m not afraid of the dark. I’m just afraid of the monsters in the dark.”
Some Guy: “Hey ,little girl. What’s your name?” Daughter:“Well, I don’t usually want to share my name with people.” Some Guy: “Oh, is it a secret?” Daughter:“I don’t keep secrets from my mom. She’s right over there. I’ll scream your secret out loud so my mommy can hear!”
Teaching my one-year-old to play Mega Man 2. She’s picking it up pretty quickly…
Wife, on David Byrne’s dancing: “They should just have him arrested for eye abuse.”
Byrne: “Anybody have any questions?” Wife, regarding Tina Weymouth: “Yes. Why ain’t that girl sweaty?”
“Really, Mommy? You have no idea which planet I am from? Planet Earth! It’s in the Milky Way. Gosh.”
“Josie is a baby, but she’s a bully. She keeps grabbing all my toys, so I am going to hide every toy in the house from her. I’ll leave out the puzzles for her because I am not that ruthless.”
“Mommy, how come every time you get mad at me, you call me Eric-Jon?”
“I’m so smart. I know how to drive a boat with a steering wheel. I know how to put on my shirt. I even know how to put a pillow in a pillowcase, but only if it’s sticking out a little bit. I know everything, see?”
“Mommy, when you say ‘don’t hit’ to Josie, that will only make her hit more because she doesn’t know what ‘don’t’ means. Maybe you should try another way?”
In a dream just now:
Daughter, singing: “Chicken like a lime, a chicken like a lime…” Me: “You could certainly have chicken with lime juice on it. That’s a thing you could do.” Daughter:“Nah, I want one of nature’s secret limes.”
“Oh, Mommy. I already know how to make maple syrup. You get a tree with a grayish bark, with up-and-down patterns and five points on the leaves. Then you drill a little hole, and collect the sap, and boil it! Silly mama.”
Daughter, to Baby: “See, this is a manatee. She puts her head in the water and then comes back up for air, like a dolphin. Because they are both mammals… that means they both have boobies!”
Daughter:“This coloring book is ridiculous. Why would they put flowers at the North Pole? What are they doing there? How are they growing?! I can’t even.”
Daughter, to Wife: “The troll in Glitter Force is allergic to cats, and so are you. So, you are kind of the same. You’re just like the troll.”
Baby sure does not like to sleep. Wife trying to read her a book. “Dora’s a Cunt,” she says. “What?” I say. “Dora’s Egg Hunt,” she says.
There are no stairs squeakier than the stairs near a sleeping baby’s room.
Not feeling well, so my wife picked me up pickle flavored popcorn.
Clearly she knows who she’s dilling with.
“Papa always tells me to keep things in mind, but he must be mistaken”.
Made meringues with Daughter the other day. Music playing: Michael Jackson — “Beat It”.
Wife:“I forgot my computer was shut off, unceremoniously… and I haven’t been up here yet, to…”
Me: “To rectify that?” Wife:“To kill the wabbit. Wait, what?”
Wife, singing: “If you lived here, you’d be home now… If you live here [abruptly looks out the window] what a nice cemetery!”
Wife:“The worst way to wake up in the morning is to hear a tiny voice scream, ‘one, two, three, cannonball,’ and then open your eyes to see feet lunging toward you.”
My daughter has been trying out catch phrases for a while. Right now she’s on, “Don’t even think about it, kid!” A little Edward G Robinson.
And today the baby finds her legs…
Wife trying to tell daughter lighthearted stories from her youth. Each one is an elaborate tale in which she gets someone else in trouble…
“Mommy, it’s just TV. Nothing is going to jump out of the TV and knock on our door and ask to scare us.”
Such polite monsters…
Daughter found a weirdness in The Goonies II the other day.
“Would you like another granola bar — one without raisins?”
“No, because I will still be hungry after I eat it.”
“How about a graham cracker?”
“Yes, please. I won’t be hungry when I eat it, because it’s nice and long…”
Wife: “I don’t have a choice bone in my brain.”
Wife: “What else can’t you share? Like, a bowl of soup. Don’t do it! It’s stupid!”
“Wow, that’s a nice flower. Are you drawing more flowers for the bee?”
“Yep! This is a peppermint flower; it smells like peppermint. Except… I’ve never seen one before. Maybe I will, but they are only on the top of mountains, the size of giants!”
Daughter drew a bear today; was mixing primary and secondary colors in search of brown.
I wasn’t allowed to photograph her machine for trapping monsters, because the design is top secret. As an example, it had trapped a dangerous monster bear with four legs and six arms.
“Mommy, you married a man who is pretty silly. Too bad he taunts me all the time. ”
Daughter wonders why her fingers feel pain and temperature change, but not sadness and joy. Wife tries to explain the difference between senses and emotions, and she asks why they’re all called feelings…
She lined up her stuffed animals to teach them about outer space. As part of their lesson, she drew the planet Earth…
Daughter having a conversation with a ceramic bird to delay eating breakfast.
“Be good, Breakfast Birdie. You go in the middle.”
“Tweet tweet tweet!”
“Hahaha! Thats what you said last time…”
So Baby finally pointed to herself in a mirror and said “Dzho!”
About damned time, Ishmael.
My wife is the only person I’ve known to describe “fun size” candy bars as fun because of their size.
Wife:“This is like the Bates Motel of parking lots of swimming pools.”
“Is it okay for I to sit next to you?”
“Ahh… It’s great to be a kid.”
Is my daughter written by Bill Watterson?
A sort of conversation that happens frequently:
Wife:“I just learned there was a Juneteenth celebration in Brunswick!” Me: “What did you say?” Wife:“Oh God.” Me: “Hang on, I didn’t hear you. There’s a what?” Wife:“A Juneteenth celebration…” Me: “A…” Wife:“I keep forgetting I married a white dude.” Me: “… ”
Daughter puts a sock on her hand and makes a puppet:
“Hello, my name is Penny and I’m going to destroy your world! Ha ha ha ha ha!”
The baby can count. Had a few intimations of this, but it’s beyond doubt now.
I’m holding a can; she is placing a set of toys inside. “One,” I say. Plonk.
“Tsuh,” she says. Plonk.
“Phih,” she says. Plonk.
“Foh!” She says. Plonk.
And that’s it. But. I mean.
Daughter: “Don’t eat your shirt, Josie, or else you won’t have it anymore, and then you won’t be a person.”
Daughter, in regard to Colin Firth: “That guy looks just like you, Papa!”
Packing stuff for the move. I place Daughter inside a large box. “You aren’t really going to mail me away, are you? You’re just joking. You won’t really mail me away? I don’t want to visit the penguins…”
Wife goes downstairs in the morning to find daughter in her pajamas, watching Jem, and eating chocolate pretzels. Wife takes away the pretzel bag; daughter shouts, “I’M LIVING MY BEST LIFE!”
Wife is sitting with Baby, eating breakfast.
Wife: “A piece of cereal just fell out of her mouth, onto my lap, and I ate it.”
Daughter:“That’s pretty clever.”
Daughter just met an inchworm out back of the new house. “Mmm, I will always think of you.”
It’s true love.
For a moment she was crushed that she lost her friend. It turned out that it had climbed into her hair. Crisis averted.
Now making a terrarium.
And she lost him again.
No, wait. He’s in the terrarium.
She has dubbed him Caterpie. And is singing him love songs…
So my younger daughter, unprompted, just said “PAH-LOO-KAH!”
Which of course means I have found the real Jo Palooka.
Baby went to the fair. Won a duck game. Got a Pooh bear.
“I’m gonna make Papa the best Father’s Day present ever! It’s going to be a magical unicorn, that will pop out and fight the bad guys for him, so he doesn’t have to!”
“Don’t taunt the baby!”
“You have to eat more fiber.”
“She keeps whining because she needs more attention. Pay attention.”
“If you didn’t want me to touch it, you should have been more clear.”
“If you make a schedule, you can get more done.”
Four, going on forty…
Now when the baby gets upset, instead of crying she walks around with a smug expression and shouts, “CRY!” Over and over. And over.
Daughter:“Mommy, I know we live in a world with those evil caterpillars, but we also live in a world with ladybugs. And ladybugs make me happy, and you make me happy. So this world is not so bad.”
Wife:“I’m so proud of you for doing that. It’s amazing how much difference a year makes. You were nowhere near ready to try that a year ago, remember?”
Daughter: “I remember being ready to try. You were the one who wasn’t ready to let me do it. You’ve really grown in the past year, too.”
Daughter:“If I was trapped in a desert, I would poke Josie in the eye to make her cry. Hurting her would make me cry so much that there would be a flood, and I could swim away with all of my toys. Ta-dah!”
Baby sees one of those white mannequins with no face. Points, screams: “PAPA!! PAPA!!!”
Showing daughter Castle of Cagliostro for the first time. The Count just appeared. First thing she asks is if he made the counterfeit money.
Daughter is singing, incessantly: “Ooooh, look at all the lonely people / where do they all come from???”
The last few days, whenever you ask Baby to do something, she answers “‘Kaaaaaaay,” then waddles off to do it. If you’re explaining what’s happening, she will nod sagely, and when you’re done talking will respond “‘Kay.”
Daughter:“Some people are not nice because they never learned how to be nice. Or, maybe other people were mean to them. Either way, that’s why their brain is broken.”
Daughter playing with giant Barbie-scale horse. I make a little Duplo boy dance around beneath. Daughter clenches her jaw at the boy and hesitates.
“Uhh… she’s going to try to poop in a little while, so…”
Today, Daughter drew “A turtle, an ant with lights on his antennae for he to see, and a box with a lemon on top of it for he to eat it. ”
Daughter:“Sometimes I try things, and they don’t work out right. I feel bad for people like me, and Curious George. The whole world doesn’t understand us.”
While talking to the baby, my wife kept repeating the phrase “goo-goo girls”; mind went straight to a Muppet Babies version of Golden Girls.
Me, to baby: “Get out of here, kid. You’re horrible.” Baby, to me: “Haaaaa-ri-buh!” Me: “Horrible!” Baby:“Haaribuh!”
Wife:“What does the cat say?” Baby:“Meow!!” Wife:“What does the dog say?” Baby:“Woof woof!” Wife:“What does Penny say?” Baby, in a shrill voice: “STAAAAHP!”
Daughter is drilling wife on exactly how a sperm gets to the egg, during a spontaneous pregnancy. Wants her to build her a diorama…
“Hahaha! Well, I’m laughing because the sky is always blue. Ha!
“… I don’t like the sky.”
— Penelope the Sleepless
Daughter, wearing my galoshes as she leaps into the back yard: “I’m a little grown-up! Whoooaaaaa!”
I found Daughter crouched over the sad remains of a doughnut, that appeared to have been turned inside-out.
“You’re a strange bird, Penelope.”
“Oh…? I’m just eating all the skin.”
“As I said, you’re a strange bird.”
My wife just referred to them as “potato tots”…
Wife, about Baby: “You know, whoa, she plays a mean peek-a-boo.”
Wife:“If I have to say ‘Stop riding on your sister!’ to either of them, one more time, I’m going to flip out.”
Daughter can’t understand why Wife is afraid of clowns. “Mom! It’s just paint! And they juggle!”
Me: “Why are all these snack cakes so sexual? Ding Dongs, Ho Hos, Twinkies…” Wife:“Sexual?” Me: “Yeah.” Wife:“What do you think sex is?”
Game my daughter has been working on. She’s lead designer here, lead artist. I’m just following her direction, when needed.
As she dictated:
This is a story of a unicorn. Her name is Rainbow Castle, or Rainbow for short.
Rainbow wants a doctor in case she gets hurt, and she wants a lot of houses for everyone, for she has a lot of friends.
* She is the first friend
* Cloud the cloud is second
* Rainbow the rainbow is the third
* And Bird the bird is her best-best-best-BEST friend, because she loves her a lot.
She needs to do a journey to find all of her friends, and when she finds her friends she will have a unicorn trophy.
Apparently “Momo com-bom-nah?”, in Babygo, means “Elmo come on now?”
Baby has been inconsolable the last few days. Crying, screaming, tantrums. Today she woke and said, “Papa home? No. Papa work. Come back in car. Please.”
Looks like it must be a Wonder Week…
Daughter, in the bath: “I AM THE SOAP QUEEN.”
Me, dangling Baby by her legs: “Wheeeeeeeee!”
Baby, dangling by her legs: “Uwaaaah! I don’t want whee!”
Clearest thing she has said yet. Sometimes you need to shake it out of them.
Tried to explain keyframes and in-betweening…
“A girl went on a hot air balloon and met a cow, a moon, and a butterfly, just so you know.”
Daughter just drew a diagram for her plot to escape into the back yard.
“Here’s the escape plan. You distract Mommy, and I will crawl out the door…”
The baby’s first cogent sentence seems to be, “The turtles eat pizza.” Not sure what to make of that.
Wife:“Hello, baby… Hel-lo, baby…” Me: “Hi.” Wife:“I wasn’t talking to you.” Me: “Oh?” Wife:“I was talking to my Doritos, in my mind.” Me: “Oh.”
Wife:“So Josie learned all about camels today.” Me: “Wow, really? What did she learn?” Wife:“… Camel.”
Baby was freaking out, so Daughter asked her if she wanted to sit on her lap. Baby nodded and waddled over. All quiet.
Baby, on toy phone: “Hi.” Me: “Who you talking to?” Baby:“People.” Me: “You’re talking to people?” Baby:“Uh-huh. [To phone] Hi, poopy people!”
Daughter:“Why is everyone mad at that man who wants to be leader?” Wife:“Because he said some bad things about girls.” Daughter:“But what bad things? There’s no bad things about girls.” Wife:“You need to be the leader.” Daughter:“I know. I know.”
Daughter:“Mommy, I’m going to do you a favor and lie down on the couch and watch TV all day, okay? That way you and Josie can spend quality time together.”
Wife gives the baby a piece of apple.
Daughter:What are you eating? Baby:Rabbit. Daughter:What does the rabbit taste like? Baby:Cat. Daughter:Where did you get the cat? Baby:Chicken. Daughter:Can I have a piece? Baby:No. Daughter:MOMMY! JOSIE WON’T LET ME HAVE A PIECE OF HER RABBIT-CAT-CHICKEN!
I think the baby is saying something about Pennyworm the Battlecorn…
Wife:“What are you watching?” Daughter:“A new show.” Wife:“What kind of show?” Daughter:“A fighting show. I love fighting shows!” Wife:“What? What kind of fighting show?” Daughter:“Superheroes. I love superheroes.” Wife:“What’s it called?” Daughter, irritated: “I don’t know. I can’t read, you remember?”
Daughter, age four: “I’m afraid of heights and a lot of people looking at me at the same time.”
Daughter slithering on belly, pushing along a stack of pillows to obscure herself.
“What are you, Solid Snake?”
“Mushy Worm, then.”
Me: “Wow, look at all the butter at the bottom…” Daughter: “I think they just couldn’t control their butter machine.” Me: “That’s a very interesting supposition.” Daughter: “Thank you! You’re the funniest!”
A U2 song comes on the radio.
Wife:Ugh. I don’t like U2. Me: Nobody likes U2. Daughter:It sounds like a videogame. With a song in it.
I just woke my wife while leaving the room. “Joe Biden wishes you well,” she said. “Rape whistle.”
And on that note, good night.
So now when Baby gets scared in the night, the first person she calls to is her sister. The last few nights, instead of “Mommy!” or “Papa, papa, papa, papa, papa…” it’s a wrought whine of “Pen-nyyyyy!”
Daughter puts on straw trilby I bought the day she was conceived and a scarf I bought in Chinatown.
“Look, Papa! I’m you!”
Built a snowman with Daughter. It’s wearing the same hat and scarf from earlier. She couldn’t find a full-sized carrot, though, and wouldn’t accept a baby carrot, so the face is incomplete…
Me: “My snowman has no nose.” Daughter:“So how does it smell?” Me: “Terrible!” Daughter:“… That’s not funny, Papa.”
Baby:Orange? Wife:There’s no more orange. Baby:Banana? Wife:You just had a banana. Baby:Pizza? Wife:What the hell! There’s no pizza!
Daughter, Before: “Oh, okay, Josie. You can have a hug.” Daughter, After: “Come on, Josie! Let’s hug some more!!”
Wife:“Are you okay?” Baby:“No.” Wife:“What’s wrong?” Baby:“Sad.” Wife:“Why are you sad?” Baby:“Papa. Juice. Penny. No. Josie.” Wife:“I’m sorry that Papa gave juice to her, but not to you.” Baby:“Okay Mommy. Love you. Miss you. No love Papa. Josie remember. Josie remember.”
Me: “You all set?”
(Singing, in my head)
My wife made me breakfast /
Pretty pretty breakfast…
Baby saw an animated .GIF of a Pangolin, pointed, and said, “Mommy? MOMMY?!”
My daughter says she wants to be a game designer when she grows up. All the strength to her. Hope the world is better by then…
Me: “Is Penny cute?”
Daughter:“I’m not cute; I’m amazing. YOU’RE cute.”
Daughter:“Uwaaa, wuh-woo, wuwuwuwuwuwu…”
Wife:“Penny, leave Josie alone! Let her eat her food!”
Baby:“Let, eat, food, Penny, yesh.”
Daughter was moping around all last week because she heard her mother comment we’d gotten her “a pile of crap” for Christmas. Worst present?
Me: “You’ve got a carrot hexagon, inside an apple octagon!”
The more I think about it, the more I like about the premise of Class as well. It’s like tragically, grimly accidental continuity.
Coal Hill is just this school, in a formerly working class, quickly gentrifying area of London. Full of kids, teachers, living their lives. But, a jerk in a time machine has punched enough holes in the universe that unspeakable horrors have begun to pour in.
So the school has turned into a place of incomprehensible danger and fear, that people have no rational way of quantifying. What can you do? Put up a memorial to the dead and the vanished, renovate and modernize, try to rationalize, try to keep living. But everyone knows. What had just been a normal school has turned into an urban legend, a place of dread… that still remains in operation.
What had randomly been the location for Doctor Who’s first episode, then a subtle continuity touchstone for decades, is now a character. Coal Hill has become mythologized in its own right, as a casualty of the cavalier adventure narrative of the parent show.
And into that mythology step a few brighter-than-average kids, who through it face horrors they are unequipped to cope with. THANKS DOCTOR.
When you see the Coal Hill emblem now, it comes not just with dry geeky recognition but with a sense of living menace. It has been corrupted. What had been benign, slightly wonky continuity has become a hostile mythology. It has taken on its own life, and that life is tragic.
As a writer, Patrick Ness regularly emphasizes the words that we’re using and the weight that we give them. In episode one, Ram’s father interjects about his son’s sloppy word choice.
RAM: Oh, my God! If you tell me one more time, I might literally go insane.
VARUN: Don’t abuse the word literally. It’s a good word that young people squander.
Note that he doesn’t criticize Ram’s misuse of the word; rather, the lack of consideration that seemed to go into its selection. The point isn’t a prescriptive approach to language, but rather a deliberate one.
In the case of this show, I think the most important word may be its title, Class. I think that the conflicts in the end will be less a matter of malevolence than about the consequences of righteousness and entitlement.
There are some key elements that the show has set up already: Charlie’s justified attitude toward slavery; his imperiousness when questioned on it by Tanya; that telling early moment where Ram asks him why he sounds like the Queen; his detachment, that initially we read as dorky obliviousness, upon walking into the conflict of Matteusz’s family; his calm and calculation in bringing the Cabinet with him, and in his following demeanor — on which Quill checks him in the first episode; the failure of the… whatsit in episode three to tempt him with visions of his parents.
I’m starting even to question his actions in slapping away April’s hand when she shoots at Corakinus. He justifies it by saying he hesitates in killing a friend, but at that point he hasn’t really done much to suggest he thinks that much about April. Really, his whole attitude toward the others is genial but disinterested. He’s fascinated with them, particularly with Matteusz, but they’re just tools to entertain him while he bides his time.
What have I been waiting for?
Been wasting all my time,
Watching my youth slip away
Surely is a crime.
It’s not that Charlie is an evil, malicious person out to do harm. It’s a matter of class. As Charlie loves to remind everyone, he is a prince. He is above everyone and everything, and he has his entitlement. Whatever he does, it is just — because of who and what he is. He simply is better than everyone. It’s the way he was raised, and it plays deeply into his understanding of the world. Within that framework he’s easygoing and pleasant enough, and seems willing to listen to others and entertain their views to a point. But, he’s not even the same species as these people.
To that end, it’s a little unclear what his motivation might be, but it is telling that he has this box on Earth that can in effect empty out all of the people on the planet and replace them with his own people. He’s already wearing a human skin, so it’s not like the concept is that much of a leap for him.
The issue about his parents, we can read a few ways. The initial viewing gives us a sad sentimental glow; he was the poor little royal boy who nobody really loved except as a tool (aside: how might that have affected his views of others?), and here he’s found a real family. Take another look, and we see that maybe he doesn’t miss his parents because he has a plan and he’s not so bothered that they’re gone for the moment. Dwell a bit more, and you start to wonder if the Shadow Kin were on his planet altogether by their own device. Did he play some part in orchestrating what happened? Is there a strategic reason why he might want Corakinus around?
I’m not sure that the story will go as far as that, but I think it’s becoming clear that the big turmoil in this show is going to be around Charlie’s ethics and his decisions about who he wants to be, what he cares about, how he wants to behave. And I don’t think he’s going to come to (what we would consider) the right decision very easily. “Nice” he may be, as with April, but he’s not exactly kind. It’s not natural for him to relate to others as equals. And it may take something big to force him to accept that leap.
Probably involving a few slaps from Quill.
Afterthought: Most of the sense in the main cast comes from the people of color, and the immigrant boyfriend. In the first episode Ram and Tanya joke about how glad they are to talk about something other than what the white people are up to. Ram is clearly the main character of the show; he is most affected by what’s happening around him, and goes on the most visible personal journey. The first episode opens to Ram, engaging Charlie in petty conflict — or rather, Charlie being lightly “terrorized” by Ram (see his excuse about the Quill) — and that conflict continues for some time.
Even in episode two Ram is reluctant to get involved with the chosen ones, a status that he scorns yet Charlie wears more naturally than his human skin. This really all is happening because the Doctor plopped Charlie down in the middle of Shoreditch, and being an alien — a royal alien, at that — he’s pretty tranquil about the whole thing.
So, yeah, Charlie is a problem. That’s going to be the big thing to unpack by the end of the season.
For those keeping track, there was a whole pantheon of Semitic gods in Mesopotamia, as there tend to be in every culture around the world. And as in places like Greece, eventually those deities merged and morphed and a hierarchy and rough mythology started to take hold.
The way that we use the word “god” today, it’s got two primary meanings. You’ve the generic term for a deity, then you’ve the Abrahamic God. So it was then. You’ve the word El, which is a word for several different deities, but also for an eventual Zeus-like figure. The El of els. The Definite article, as it were. Also in some stories just referred to as “I am” or what-have-you. The absolute platonic form of The Deity.
Language being what it is, the word El has several pronunciations, depending on who’s talking. You might say Al, or accentuate it as Allah. However you pronounce it, you’re talking about the daddy god of all Mesopotamian gods. The El of els is the big daddy Zeus of the region. Being the very model of a modern major gener-El, everything else is an aspect of him. He has these helpers to whom he delegates all his senses and interactions.
You’ve got these figure who are, like, the Voice of El and the Hand of El and the Elbow of El (possibly). Like the Mouth of Sauron and so on. In the original texts these guys are quite reasonably called the messengers of El. Over time the word used has developed and become “Angel.”
All of these messengers have their own descriptive names, depending on what aspect of El’s communication is delegated to them. Casti-El is the “Shield of God”; Rapha-El is the “Healer of God”; Dani-El is the “Judgment of God”; Sama-El is the “Wrath of God”; etc. So there’s a naming scheme. If you’re an angel (as has become our lore-cruft term over time), you’re something-El. You might be Kal-El or Jor-El or Zor-El…
Anyway. Backing up to that one dude, the Wrath of God? The Old Testament El was pretty wrathful, because people needed to explain tragedy. This guy took his role way too seriously, as mythological guys tend to. He got really cozy in his privileged position, his suit, his tenure. He didn’t want to start wearing body-cams or taking sensitivity training or de-escalation courses. He was all about escalation. He’s Wrath!
So then El created these new little useless people and started devoting a bunch of resources to them. Wrath went all alt-right on this deal. Samael was all, nuh-uh. What is this shit? You’re not taking my resources away. I’m not going to protect these jerks. Let’s just solve this.
So he became an adversary (Hebrew S-T-N, pronounced Satan) against these new people. Started to plot all kinds of stuff to get rid of them. Satan being another word like Angel that started off as a descriptive thing for a role someone was playing, and it came to be specific.
So, eventually El cottoned on to the stuff his Wrath dude was doing to his new toy people and he was like, what the fuck, Sam? Go stew. And so he cast his Wrath out of heaven. If you were to look up, you’d see a light streaking from the sky — like a luficer, a falling star.
It’s interesting how much of a mythology is based on generalized descriptions that, through translation, become codified as specific things, that people then argue about. Like how early Who fandom took pains to stress that Hartnell’s Renewal and Troughton’s Change of Appearance were different from Regeneration, until the Word of God came down to say, cut it out; it’s all the same thing. And it’s just a story anyway. Move along.
Anyway. If you want to know the deal with the Devil, that’s the deal. He’s the Wrath of El, who became an Adversary, and then a Shooting Star.
A fellow on reddit (yes, I know) with a history of GamerGate-related posts went on a tirade in response to another redditor’s post that engaged with a Mark Gatiss episode on a critical level. It wasn’t even that deep; it was that whole “Unquiet Dead” business, where the plot is about refugees who play on sympathies to gain entry to one’s country in order to attack it within. Which, you know, ick. Especially in the current context of Brexit. Mark Gatiss clearly didn’t intend the most obvious reading of the work, but then he’s not a very deep thinker about these things.
Anyway, as they do, the GamerGate fellow rambled on about ethics in Doctor Who commentary and whatnot, insisting that the other redditor was imagining things to suit their agenda, and that politics have no place in Doctor Who and have never been a part of the show except for where people like Russell T Davies have brought them in.
This is, of course, an amazing thing to claim. Yes, there’s all the overt political commentary that Davies and, to a lesser degree, Moffat have brought to the show in recent years — “massive weapons of destruction” and all. But it goes way deeper than that. So, trigger my response:
And Malcolm Hulke, Barry Letts, Andrew Cartmel — all very engaged. Hartnell’s third season had a stern reactionary in charge for part of it, and boy did that affect the show’s tone.
All art is political, by the virtue of being the product of a human being with a perspective on life who exists in a social context. Any art that is consciously apolitical is also political, in that it is saying the status quo is just fine, thank you. It’s making a judgment as to what is and is not appropriate to discuss, which is extremely political.
Screenwriting like any art is a form of communication. By necessity what is being communicated is a result of the author’s frame of reference. The author may or may not consciously draw conclusions (Gatiss does not), but by translating and reiterating that material you are in effect propagating and condoning it. In Gatiss’ case, his source material is in fact conscious and deliberate in its commentary. Nigel Neale is far from subtle in his reactionary views. Quatermass IV is entirely about those dirty hippies and the danger they bring. Earlier stories are consciously about fear of attacks or negative influence from outside the UK’s borders. He never made a secret of that. And when you internalize and then regurgitate this material without considering its meaning… you’re really misfiring as an artist, to start with.
It’s probably worth considering that the very creation of Doctor Who was a political act.
In the 1960s, the BBC was losing viewers hand over fist to its competitor, ITV — so they called in a Canadian expert, Sydney Newman, to figure out what was going on and take whatever steps were necessary to fix it. The problem was pretty obvious: ITV spoke to people in a way that the BBC didn’t. Whereas ITV consciously tried to show a variety of perspectives and reflect the lives of its viewers, the BBC was an establishment institution with a single very narrow perspective. It was staffed largely by old white upper-class or upper middle-class men, who attended the same few private schools — and so naturally its output reflected that, being mostly concerned with what upper-class white men with fancy schooling thought was worthwhile. You got lots of sniffy adaptations of The Classics; lots of prim and proper, uncontroversial children’s entertainment (often based on The Classics); lots of televised plays.
Newman came in, said “Bunk,” and set to overturning the apple cart. Let’s make programs that people actually want to watch. Everyone hated him for it, but he got results.
I’ll stop here to comment on motivation. Newman’s, and the BBC’s, reasons for all of these changes are more easily attributed to pragmatic factors than consciously ethical ones. That doesn’t change the substance and effect of the changes. If you endorse a bill for, I don’t know, gay marriage, you may well be doing it for the votes but you’re still carrying out a perspective with real meaning and potential consequence.
That out of the way, it is clear that the BBC’s exclusionary tendencies were high on Newman’s mind for more than just their poor business value. He was an outsider to the institution; a Canadian, a Jew, and not particularly high in the class structure. There were reasons that he understood a populist voice; he was in many ways sympathetic to a contrarian view toward the establishment.
To that end, he was really fond of science fiction — which at the time was considered extremely low art, and basically worthless on a cultural level. So of course, against all advice, he set about commissioning research to figure out how to make a worthwhile populist sci-fi show. On a bureaucratic level, this absolutely is a political move.
Then when he found a premise that he liked, he went out of his way to staff it with neglected voices. He hired on a young Jewish woman to be the first female, and one of the youngest ever, BBC producers. He hired on a young gay Indian director. This show was something that personally interested him. He wanted it to have a life outside of the old upper-class white male framework that defined most BBC output. This had to be new and fresh and exciting, which meant that it had to be the product of new, fresh (for the BBC), and exciting perspectives.
Doctor Who basically exists to flip the bird to the establishment and show what else is possible within the system that they set up — and, just to prove the power of getting weird, to get people watching.
As a result of this whole context, Doctor Who was pretty much a pariah within the BBC from the day of its commission to the day of its cancellation. It was never the correct thing, that the BBC was supposed to be doing. It was always a waste of valuable BBC resources.
This is political. And given this environment, it should be no surprise that the show’s content has nearly always been itself political, especially concerned with the voice of the disenfranchised. The Doctor has nearly always been portrayed as the underdog, an outsider, sympathetic to (for lack of a more inclusive term) humanitarian concerns. Weirdly enough, the most obvious counter-example is from an era largely guided by a Buddhist pacifist and a politically active Communist — but I guess the military framework provides all the better a canvas to explore things like Apartheid (The Mutants), indigenous rights (The Silurians), environmentalism (The Green Death), and what-have-you. Makes it easier to slip things in.
So, yeah. Of all shows, it’s a pretty strange thing to ask Doctor Who to avoid politics. But then, given how political that demand is in itself, it’s not a very rational argument in the first place…