Parallel Universes

STILL A FEW COPIES LEFT : Middle Earth New Zealand photo calendar 2012

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In this newsletter:
*** In Between
*** News and Current Projects
*** Cool Things Friends Do: Building a Dream School in South India
*** Parallel Universes

In Between

The ancient Romans dedicated the first month of the year to Janus, the two-faced guardian of thresholds, looking forward into the future, looking back into the past. I don't think I have ever appreciated this state of in-betweenness as much as this past month. I am in the middle of buying a house, and in New Zealand, January is when the whole country pretty much shuts down and heads for the beach. So, nothing much has happened, except a whole lot of waiting. For the landlords to come back from their holiday. For the exchange rates to maybe come out of the worst of their slump – just my financial luck, to set out to buy a house in the middle of the worst financial crisis Europe has experienced since it introduced a common currency! For all the negotiations and procedures and formalities to complete.

It seems like such a big step to take. Looks like my gypsy days might be well and truly over, and of course, it is also an additional commitment to stay in New Zealand and make things work out here, if I ever had any thoughts of doing otherwise. Still, there have been few times in my life when something has felt so much like the right thing to do – when the proverbial "head and heart" were, for once, in complete agreement. If I have felt that it was a bit early, that I would have liked to wait another year or two, perhaps that was just cowardice. Maybe I need to get my head around the fact that my life might not end up being a complete disaster, after all.

Watching the exchange rates, those past few weeks, hover around the point where I can just, or can just not afford the price of the house, has got to be one of the most nerve racking things I have ever done. I haven't got much of a heart, or a head, for writing newsletters, under this sort of pressure, so for once I think I will succeed in keeping it *really* short.

UPDATE: As of this writing, I have signed the sale & purchase agreement – if all goes well, come the next newsletter I will be a happy home owner! (Eat that, WINZ, who hasn't got anyone in their employ who can read a cv and match up people with skill shortages, but apparently is happy to use taxpayer money to pay their employees for stalking clients on their websites, on the assumption that everyone on their rolls is just cheating.)

Featherston neighbourhood Featherston neighbourhood Featherston neighbourhood Featherston neighbourhood Featherston neighbourhood Featherston neighbourhood Featherston neighbourhood

Featherston neighbourhood



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News & Current Projects

I had been looking forward to the summer break as a chance to be able to spend some time in the studio and get some painting done. All that house buying anxiety has been putting a bit of a damper on my productivity, but at least, I have finally managed to get that second illustration for Ernst Wiechert's Der Knabe und der Wassermann out of my system. The project this was supposed to be part of has long since died – in fact, it never really took off. I did do my part (persistently), but am still waiting for those translations I was promised I would be sent about a year ago. Well – put it with the other stuff, as they say where I grew up.

Still, it was an opportunity to get my head around Adobe Illustrator, and experiment. One of the challenges with digital art, I always find, is to create interesting textures. With traditional media, texture happens automatically, through the irregularities of the material: paper, canvas, paint and brush strokes. The uniform lines, even colours and perfectly calculated gradients on the computer can look very bland, by comparison. I've been experimenting, in several of my recent pieces, with integrating photographic textures into the images. Another option, particularly in Illustrator with its handy symbol brush tool, is to layer repeated elements: in this image, the reeds have lent themselves to that treatment, and I'm quite happy with how they turned out.

I also have done some work on those last two Earthsea paintings which I never finished for the Thistle Hall exhibition two years ago. Hopefully I'll get them done next month! Once I got my head free again from the house buying hassle, one of my goals this year is to organize another exhibition, here in the Wairarapa.

The website updates have been progressing apace: I have done some more work on the photography section of my site, and will be adding new galleries by and by. You can follow the most recent upgrades on my Starsongstudio: Photography Facebook page, or on my new Wordpress blog, which I have just set up for this purpose: starsongstudio.wordpress.com. I have set up a print account on DeviantArt, where you can purchase prints of some of the photos – they will be linked from the gallery. Feel free to request a print, if a photo you fancy is not available! I will be glad for your suggestions. Setting these things up and managing my large backlog of photos is quite a time investment, so don't expect it all to happen by tomorrow! :) It will be another long term project for this year, and probably beyond. The new gallery pages also allow you to request a licence to publish any of my photos. Yup – much more professional than it used to be!



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Karunai Dhan School fundraising video *** Interview with Shobita Jones Cooze, 2008

Cool Things Friends Do: Building a Dream School in South India

I met Shobita Jones Cooze when we were both studying at Natcoll, a few years ago. I was doing the Multimedia Design course, she was in the class that had started a few months before ours, and then proceeded to do the Video Production course. There was a very limited number of female students – with the exception of Graphic Design (print design, as opposed to screen design), which, for some reason, was what all the other girls chose to study – so we tended to stick together.

Shobita and her best pal Nicki Bouzaid spent a lot of time working on the school work stations after hours, just like myself: none of us had the necessary computer equipment and software available at home. I interviewed Shobita for the documentary video that was my final study project. She told me about the boy from the slums whom she had befriended when she went to primary school in India, before the family moved to New Zealand. How he had been so excited when she gave him one of her math books, and done all the exercises in no time, but couldn't afford proper school education. Her biggest dream, she said, was to set up a school in India to help people like that get a proper education – perhaps even teach them how to make videos.

A few days ago, I spotted her announcement of a new project on her Facebook page: she is organizing an art exhibition in Wellington, to help fundraise for a new building for a primary school in Nilakottai, Tamil Nadu, Southern India. Karunai Dhan School supports affordable education for underprivileged children. Their enrolment numbers have grown so much that they need to expand with a new building. They have already raised the largest amount of the money needed, but are currently looking for the equivalent of NZ$ 15,000 to cover their shortfall. Their donations page on Givealittle.co.nz has already raised about half that amount, at the time of this writing. Feel free to contribute! Donations are in NZ dollars but can be made with any credit card. As the name implies, the idea behind "Give a little" is that if very many people give small amounts of money, mountains can be moved. Even as much as $5 will help. You can also get in touch with Karunai Illam Trust, a New Zealand charitable organization which supports the school, and is associated with the DHAN foundation in India. You don't have to live in New Zealand if you wish to contribute! :)

Read more about Karunai Dhan school. Watch the video. Or go directly to their donations page.



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Parallel Universes

My holiday treat this year was to re-watch the complete four seasons and four specials of Russell T Davies' and Julie Gardner's tenure on Doctor Who. I have raved about the series before, and in the meanwhile I have been catching up with some of the other bits and pieces of the Whoiverse – the spin-offs Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures, a substantial number of the older episodes, and what became of the Doctor once Steven Moffat took over in Season Five: I've watched as far as the 2010 Christmas Special, which I even sort of liked, but frankly, couldn't be bothered to watch Season Six.

I have stated before that I was really disappointed with the direction the show took from Season Five onward. Nothing to do with the actors – well, at least not Matt Smith, who does a fine job and thankfully, has enough subtlety to do what the scriptwriters refuse to do, give hints of some sort of continuity with the events in the previous four seasons, at least if one chooses to see them. I can't say that Alex Kingston's soap opera style of delivery does anything to endear her character River Song to me, but I guess that was going to be a lost cause anyway. How could they, after Rose Tyler. :pet hate:

I did read up the synopses for Season Six on Wikipedia (just curious, you understand) – but it all seems overly complex, rather overdone on the timey-wimey side of things, and ever so slightly incestuous, if you ask me. Not to mention, far too many guns! The Girl in the Fireplace – Steven Moffat's script contribution to Season Two – is still one of my all time favourite episodes. But it says everything that needs to be said in 45 minutes. The concept of a relationship lived in time-lapse – or reverse order – is clever, in a clever sort of way, but not necessarily clever or interesting enough to hold up over two entire seasons. What I am missing is the emotional core, the honesty and psychological perceptiveness – and yes you can do that even with characters who, by definition, live in completely unrealistic circumstances. The very thing that Russell T Davies did so extremely well. With Steven Moffat, it all comes down to special effects.

Still – Russell T versus Steve M is taking on overtones of religious factionalism in some fan circles, but this newsletter is not the place for it. What is harder, is to try to pin down, in terms of, shall we call it literary criticism, what exactly it is that fascinates me so about those four magic tv seasons. There is the acting, of course. Perhaps the biggest miracle of all is that Billie Piper and David Tennant in particular – and just about everybody else, down to the last bit part – have managed to make us completely suspend our disbelief, forget about the fact that this is a silly space opera about a guy whirling through time and space in a blue phone box, and treat the whole thing seriously as something that has something to say about love, the universe and everything.

Then there are the scripts. One thing that struck me on re-watching the entire run – with a knowledge of how things would pan out – was how very tightly the story is constructed. This is a bit of a miracle in itself, given the way the show is produced, with all those different writers, all with their own individual styles and views of the world, contributing all those different episodes. True, some seasons are more cohesive than others. Season Two scores highest on the cohesiveness scale: just about everything that happens in any of the episodes, serves to illuminate the central relationship between the Doctor and Rose, and helps prepare the events of the final episode.

Each season has its own flavour and tone, an overarching topic, and recurring themes that weave through the episodes and build unobtrusively to some big payoff in the season finale. And I don't just mean the obvious, and much publicized hooks ("Bad Wolf", "Torchwood", "Harold Saxon", "The bees are leaving").

In Season Two, it is parallel universes, and communication (or lack thereof) with the Otherworld. Not just the obvious setup of Rose's parallel universe in Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel. There is Queen Victoria, in Tooth and Claw, who longs for some form of communion with her long deceased husband, and finds that he is still reaching out to protect her. Rose and the Doctor get stuck on different sides of a time window that has closed, three millennia apart, in The Girl in the Fireplace – but if the Doctor thought he might enjoy the slow path in the company of Reinette, she has read his mind, and is well aware who he really wants to be with. Besides, there is the King of France – and he needs her just like the Doctor needs Rose.

The plot of every episode in the second half of the season, after their return from the parallel universe without Mickey, sees Rose and the Doctor being torn apart – not just in space and time, but in a different dimension. Rose is swallowed by a tv set. The Doctor gets turned into a child's doodle. He winds up stuck at the bottom of a dark deep pit, facing the Devil, no less, while she is hurled toward the stars in a spaceship, forced against her will to leave him behind. And aren't black holes supposed to be gateways to a parallel universe, according to some theories?

There is also plenty of plain foreshadowing. "Hold that lever!" the Doctor yells at Rose/Cassandra in New Earth, the first episode of the season. She'll hold that lever, to the end. One of the eeriest moments is when the Doctor is listening, head and hands against wall, for the werewolf – the Bad Wolf – prowling outside the walls of the room, in Tooth and Claw. That image will return in Doomsday. The whole point of School Reunion is to emphasize that there is no way the relationship between the Doctor and Rose can last for the rest of both their lives – but it also provides the motivation for the Doctor's farewell visit to Rose (albeit as a hologram), at the end of Doomsday. Well, that, and featuring some big fat alien space bats.

The whole of Season Three can be read as a treatise on different ways of dealing with loss and grief – rebound relationships, the deliberate seeking out of physical pain (the things they put the Doctor through in this season, no wonder he screams in pain, a *lot*), suicidal tendencies (when the Doctor challenges the Daleks to shoot him, in Evolution of the Daleks, we suspect that he means it, that he would welcome it at that point), to full-out fugue state, in Human Nature/The Family of Blood. Then he comes out at the other end of it, much like the cars who soar toward the open sky when they are finally liberated from their eternal circuit round the motorway, in Gridlock. Still, we find out that being stuck on that endless motorway was necessary to keep their occupants safe, for a while.

All with the help of Martha Jones, who is, of course, a medical doctor in training – a healer, in more than one way. He is not alone, like the Face of Boe says – who is, as we later find out, himself a very old friend of the Doctor's. Ageing, old age, and avoiding old age, are themes that crop up in many of the episodes of this season, and become pivotal in the season finale: It is precisely the thing that keeps the Doctor from ever having a long-lasting relationship with a human, the fact that he doesn't age, but regenerates instead.

Martha may seem a bit pedestrian, compared to the extra timelord powers both Rose and Donna Noble acquire at one stage – quite literally: she walks the Earth for a year, in order to save the Doctor. But contrary to Rose and Donna, she already had a life, goals and ambitions of her own, before she met the Doctor. Of all the companions, she needs him least – it's him who needs her, really. In the end, she is the only of the three companions who takes a voluntary decision to leave him, and her life in the TARDIS – and because of this, she is the only one of the three who can continue to function as a former Doctor's companion, in this universe: she returns in Season Four, and also joins the Torchwood team for a while.

In Season Four, there is a lot of cloning, and other forms of non-sexual reproduction. The Doctor's daughter (played by Georgia Moffet, the real-life daughter of actor Peter Davison, the Fifth Doctor – she meanwhile got married to David Tennant, they have a daughter, though I'm sure she's not a clone. Don't tell me fiction does not bleed over into reality. :rolls eyes:). The Adipose. And who knows how the Ood procreate, given their lack of individuality, and the fact they are all linked to a communal brain: they are certainly able to graft themselves on another species. The Sontarans and their Martha clone – everyone gets cloned. In the end, the Doctor gets cloned. Have we got used to it yet? The season also ties up the even greater story arc that started with the Doctor's and Rose's first meeting in Season One.

One of my favourite scenes illustrates well the way Russell T Davies and his directors manage to layer things up: in the first episode of Season Four, Partners in Crime, we follow Donna Noble looking for the Doctor where ever there is trouble: she now regrets having turned down his offer to accompany him in the TARDIS, in The Runaway Bride. At one point, they both follow the same suspicious alien activity, and they are about to run into each other when they both give up the trail. There is one shot that shows them standing yards apart from the joint between the two different streets they are on, when they decide to turn back and go the opposite direction. Tragic! But then at the end of the episode, we find out that there is someone else looking desperately for the Doctor, from far further away: When Donna is about to board the TARDIS, she runs down the street to dispose of her car keys, and talks briefly to a blonde girl, who turns out to be Rose. So close! How unfair.

There is also the uncanny association of Rose with the Bad Wolf. There has been much puzzling over the meaning of it. Russell T has claimed that it was a bit of a throwaway, just a quirky idea to tie the episodes of Season One together. But it plays on a deep mythological archetype: The Fenris (or Fenrir) Wolf who eats the sun, at the end of the world, in Norse mythology (He also bites off the god Tyr's hand. Hmm.) There is a sense, emphasized at various points, that the Doctor and Rose represent some cosmic principle of opposites who attract each other but have to be kept forever apart, or else the universe will collapse. Yin and Yang, Heaven and Hell, Rangi and Papa, Brother Sun and Sister Moon – mythologies are full of these sort of cosmic doomed lovers. Joanie and Bobby, for that matter.

Or it might be the big bad wolf from Red Riding Hood – the dangerous seductive stranger, against whom young well bred women are always warned. Except, according to the generally accepted order of things, we would assume that that is the Doctor: "Don't get into a car with a stranger!" – let alone a time machine! But that is exactly what Rose does, and she is believed a missing person, her boyfriend even suspected of murdering her, as we learn in one of the episodes of Season One.

Then in the final episode we find out that no, she doesn't just run with wolves, she IS the wolf. Or Shiva the Destroyer and Giver of Life – much like the Doctor himself, who "burns at the heart of the universe" and deals out death and destruction just as much as he protects life. Having looked into the time vortex at the heart of the TARDIS and seen what only the Doctor sees, for a brief moment Rose knows the universe so completely that she has the power not only to scatter the entire Dalek army into their constituent atoms, but also to restore Captain Jack Harkness to life – forever. Rose Tyler, probably the only being in the universe who is not afraid of Daleks. No wonder she and the Doctor together are just a bit much for one universe to take.

Would such a person ever return to a life of eating chips and working in a shop? Of course not: Instead, Rose somehow finds or creates her own parallel universe where everything is how she wants it to be: her father alive and a successful businessman, her parents together and happy, and in the end she even gets her own special human version of the Doctor. Though I have come to think that perhaps the main reason that this denouement at the end of Season Four rings so hollow, is because it somehow cheapens her. You'd think she can put up with loneliness just like the Doctor does: for all matters and purposes, she has become a female version of the Doctor, herself. Incidentally (or probably not), that is precisely the acting choice Billie Piper makes in Turn Left (Season Four), when Rose, on her epic quest to find the Doctor, helps Donna rectify things after they both find themselves in a parallel reality where the Doctor has died. Smart actress that she is, she does an impersonation of David Tennant playing the Doctor. She even strokes the TARDIS! She's good.

At the same time, she keeps making the Doctor do things that he knows he shouldn't. In Father's Day (Season One), they go back in time and she prevents her father from being run over by a car when she was a baby. The Doctor is furious and feels she has tricked him, but he can't bring himself to deny her – in the end it is Pete Tyler who saves the day by working things out and sacrificing himself. In Rise of the Cybermen, they stroll off into the parallel universe to pay her parallel parents a visit – after Rose discovers that in this universe, she was never born – much against the Doctor's better judgment. They are a bit cocky, the two of them together, and sometimes a little too light hearted and irreverent: the Bonnie and Clyde of time travel.

In The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit, the Doctor is so focused on Rose that he doesn't even notice the plight of the Ood (Rose does, but then the Doctor gets stuck at the bottom of the pit of hell, and they become just an obstacle that keeps her from saving him.) It isn't until the Doctor meets the Ood again while traveling with Donna, that he realizes there is something very much not right. "I was busy", he says defensively, when Donna asks him about his previous meeting with them. Too busy with Rose to do his job saving the universe? Poor Doctor. Even in the very end, David Tennant's last episode before his regeneration as Matt Smith: Haven't we always been told that crossing your own timeline is forbidden? Yet there he goes to see Rose again just before they meet for the first time, and out of all the companions he makes his farewell visit to, she is the only one he actually speaks to. Bit sneaky, isn't it? Still, who can blame him.

Worst of all, it is Rose's and her team's experiments with transdimensional travel, and her crossing over into different universes in her effort to find him again, which causes the collapse of the Void and the return of the Daleks, and puts every single universe in danger, at the end of Season Four. If it is true that you can't have the Doctor without the monsters, then apparently, you can't have Rose without the Daleks. And how about holding off a regeneration for the sake of her, and growing a second version of himself from his hand? What kind of consequences is that supposed to have for the entire Whoiverse? I rather hope some intrepid scriptwriter will one day go and find out.

Shame they never made the spin off that was to star Rose Tyler, Defender of the Earth! I would also be curious to know how she and the human Doctor will get along. From the way they were left standing on that beach staring at each other, I would imagine it won't be a smooth ride. She will probably be very confused for a while (as well she might be), keep pining for the original while at the same time resenting the way he carted her off to her parallel universe with his clone, after all the way she had come to find him – but being Rose, I doubt she will resist her natural curiosity and close her heart to the human Doctor for long. He will develop all sorts of inferiority complexes from his semi-human, semi-timelord, and semi-real status. If not worse: most of the clones we have met previously, as well as the Doctor–Donna, were extremely short lived, so we better hope this version of the Doctor actually lasts! He'll smart under Rose's rejection, but then again, he charmed her once as the Ninth, he charmed her twice as the Tenth, he'll charm her a third time round. Third time is lucky, they say! Besides – any chance to see Billie Piper and David Tennant, dream team, back together on screen. Please, dear BBC?

As to the Doctor, there is a very clear character progression, from happy-go-lucky and flirtatious, then happy and deeply in love, in Season Two – grieving and in pain, then gradually accepting and healing, in Season Three – more mature and responsible, and better attuned to his own and other creature's emotions, in Season Four. I love that moment, early in Season Four, when Donna is about to board the TARDIS, and the Doctor takes a deep breath and the bull by its horns by telling her outright that he doesn't want to be more than friends. The same fellow who spent a season sending mixed signals to Martha, and who couldn't ever bring himself to spit out the three magic words where Rose could hear them. Clearly, this timelord has learned a few things about conducting relationships with humans!

In one of the DVD commentaries, David Tennant remarks that from the actor's point of view, it is a bit disappointing that at the end of each season, the Doctor basically has to be reset to zero: alone in the TARDIS, having lost yet another companion, but ready for the next adventure. It puts a bit of a damper on character development! Still, it seems that between them, Russell T Davies and David Tennant have decided to ignore that iron law of tv serials a little bit.

In a way, by the end of Season Four, Russell T has written himself into a corner. He has built the Doctor/Rose relationship to such an epic pitch: by letting them still reach out to each other even when stuck in separate universes at the end of Doomsday (did you spot the blatant Jane Eyre reference?), by making Rose's absence such a central theme in Season Three, by showing how she and the other human companions have made the Doctor emotionally more mature, and most of all, by bringing Rose back in Season Four after having her search for the Doctor through all the universes in existence. That's a grand operatic love-beyond-death story in the best 19th century romantic tradition. The half-human, single-hearted Doctor who goes on to live and grow old with Rose, not the fully Timelord one, is the logical outcome of that storyline, according to the laws of fairy tales: the Wild Magic Being tamed and turned human through love.

But you can't have that on Doctor Who: there was just no way to write an emotionally satisfactory conventional "happy end" to the Doctor/Rose story that would also ensure the continuity of the tv series. After all, this is the 21th century, not the 19th. Who would be there to save their respective universes, if the Doctor and Rose both retired into private bliss? Besides, it would go counter to everything the entire series has stressed about the ephemeral nature of every relationship, as opposed to the importance of developing your own self independently of any particular other person. Everything has its time.

So Russell T Davies basically wrote two alternate endings wrapped into one, both in some way unsatisfactory, and it will continue to jar with everyone who got the least bit involved with those characters. Then again, what's a story that ties up neatly in the end. The really good stories – the more honest ones, anyhow, and the ones that make you keep on puzzling and pondering – are always the ones that leave you just a little bit cranky and sad.

Arohanui, from Asni



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