Doctor Me? Doctor You!

I have a contest idea:

Given that:

  1. Doctor Who is wildly popular;
  2. Following each regeneration, the Doctor can end up looking like anyone;
  3. He can appear at any point in space and time;

The BBC should sponsor a ‘Doctor You’ fanvid contest, in which the most implausibly plausible people play the Doctor. In the interests of actually being able to finish in a reasonable amount of time, contestants should create only the pre-credit opening scene.

This whole idea is inspired by the realisation that Matt Smith looks TOO MUCH like the Doctor. He’s not entirely credible because he’s too plausible.

See, David Tennant and Christopher Eccleston are really not unusual-looking. Their only visible eccentricity is in their clothing, and even that isn’t something that would leap out if they walked past you on the High Street.

And that’s why we experience delight when we see, for example, Tennant yelling, ‘Allons-y!’ and leaping out of a spaceship in a suicidal suborbital descent, down through a Victorian skylight, just in time to send the Time Lords back into oblivion.

One look at Matt Smith’s features, though, and we’re more inclined to say, ‘Oh well, he would do that, wouldn’t he?’ Worse, we’re left slightly mystified when he demonstrates normal human emotions, which is a good deal of the time.

So let’s play with the assumption that Doctor could look like anybody. That there’s really no reason he wasn’t more than slightly Sheldon Cooper-esque back when he was in his 200s. That he might be a corpulent middle-aged middle-brow more likely to yell ‘Trot!’ than ‘Run!’.

None of these details really matter. Not nearly so much as the fact that this is a (mostly) human character wandering alone in the Cosmos with the fate of civilizations resting on his –or her– shoulders. That’s character enough, don’t you think?

Anyway, everyone should make an entry. Here’s mine….

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An American Dreamer

He swung and missed at every ball, and never blamed the bat. And every time he stepped up, he believed – he believed this time was different.

Tim at the base of Mount Yasur

Vanuatu seemed made for Tim Drefahl, and he for it. He wasn’t the typical Peace Corps volunteer. Older than most, much younger than the rest, he struggled to find his place in the fraternity. Perhaps it was his outsider status that made him a true friend for some of us and a devoted, caring member of his adoptive family in the Maskelyne islands.

In his first real foray outside the confines of Reaganite California, Tim found himself bewildered by the sarcasm and piss-taking of his newfound expat mates. He struggled and, as he always did, adjusted. By his second year here, he was leaning into the banter, trying gamely to give as good as he got.

No such struggle was required in his integration with ni-Vanuatu society, not at first. His love for the people of the Maskelynes and his devotion to their development gave focus to his unquenchable determination. An American Dreamer to the last, he KNEW that, with a liberal application of sweat and willpower, anything could be achieved. No matter what the world threw at him, no matter how he struggled to find his stance, this was one lesson he never un-learned.

Tim could be thick, occasionally breath-takingly wrong. He was awkward, often comically lacking in timing and sense. But he was true. Few people can be said to be genuinely pure of heart, but this man was one. And the world, with its piercing subtleties and sharpened edges, made sure that he paid more for every lesson.

Tim never learned caution and never lost hope. He stumbled into success and failure with equal resolve and unending faith in the rightness of his cause. It was his misguided clarity, ultimately, that closed Vanuatu’s door to him. Contracted to work in the administration of donor funds on a project close to his heart, he butted heads continually with departmental staff. No battle was too small. Right was right and wrong was wrong and that was it.

He was too Good. He succeeded too well. His project stayed on track, more or less, but winning so bluntly guaranteed that he would not work here again.

His exile from Vanuatu was purest misery. Alone and nearly friendless, he kept himself going through a year teaching English in Korea with the promise of return. But an extended vacation was the most he could muster. The world, as usual, exacted its price. The realisation that he could not make this his home nearly broke him.

He never stopped fighting, though; we knew he wouldn’t. Back to the US, then to Seoul for a time, just long enough to find a new passion: The city of Osaka, Japan. A clownish barbarian at the gates, he threw himself into this new exploration with blind enthusiasm. Appropriating friends like a pinball gaining points, he bounced and stumbled and clutched his way toward work, a home, a place of his own.

But the world does not reward the quixotic. Courage untempered by caution is brittle indeed. The causes are unclear, but on the 22nd of June, Tim was admitted to hospital with severe head injuries. He lingered for a few weeks, and on July 13th, 2010 he died.

“I miss you,” wrote one of his newfound Japanese friends, “I’m very sorry that I couldn’t save you even though I was near you.”

There are many in Vanuatu who feel the same.

The world is not gentle to the innocent, but no matter how it battered him, Tim Drefahl never let it win. Vanuatu offered solace for a while and, on an island ringed by an azure lagoon, there are people who will never forget his duty, his devotion, his love.

The World, Alas

Two doves flee like untold secrets from the lane
Where fallen frangipani moulder. Sweet decay.

Behind and up, the hillside’s clad in mauve petals,
A decade’s worth of candy wrappers cast
Aside in moments by adolescent hands.

These hands. These hands are holding hands
In fervent, sweating, anxious rhapsody.
Aching out hilarity, too close to see the comedy.

A ten year old with awkward teeth, all knees
And elbows, nestles in the crook between the boughs
And spies upon the lovers, mystified.

The world, alas, is far too hurried for the truth.

Parts of a Rumour


this is only evidence

the rattling that betrays
a flock of sparrows
in the branches of a barren shrub

and pressing the stems
like a small cold wind

the rattling that betrays
a cat in a dry rose bush

collected like parts of a rumour


there are no petals
on a wet black bough

no apparition to blend
these two mysteries

that I found your love without looking
is not your fault
and not mine

Bislama Bons Mots

[Originally published in the Vanuatu Daily Post’s Weekender Edition.]

I’m going to leave current events alone for a week. Not for lack of news, but because the smaller things in life need our attention, too.

This week, let’s take a lighthearted look at a few expressions that make Bislama such a delightful language. Before we do, though, I must apologise to native Bislama speakers: I’m not going to tell you anything you don’t already know. Nonetheless, it’s sometimes useful to record such trifles for posterity.

Because of its impoverished vocabulary, Bislama relies heavily on metaphor, imagery and euphemism. The pictures it paints are remarkably vivid and often frankly indecent, generating wild laughter among the interlocutors. Propriety dictates that I leave out the most scandalous of them….

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The Devil at our Shoulder

[Originally published in the Vanuatu Daily Post’s Weekender Edition.]

ABOUT THIS SHOW: 40 Dei plays at Wan Smolbag Haos in Tagabe on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The show starts at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are 50 vatu for adults, students and children. Because of its popularity, attendees should arrive at least one hour before show time to be guaranteed seating.

The thematic heart of 40 Dei (40 Days), Wan Smolbag’s powerful new play, is the story of Jesus’ 40 days of suffering and temptation in the desert. With Satan constantly at his side, Jesus fasted, contemplated and steadfastly resisted the Devil’s threats and inducements. Even in the extremities of suffering, he accepted his humanity, refusing assistance either from above or below.

As the New Testament tells it, Jesus embarked on this pilgrimage of suffering immediately after his baptism. It was, in a sense, his preparation to enter into the world. We first meet Matthew, the protagonist in Jo Dorras’ stark, deeply probing script, as he emerges from his own moral desert, a wasted youth of faithlessness, drinking and violence.

Lying on the roadside, bloody, filthy, half-clothed, Matthew presents a repulsive figure. Only Lei, a pastor’s daughter, sees him for what he is – a lost soul. Ignoring imprecations to leave this filth, this ‘doti blong taon’ where he lies, she instead recalls the parable of the Good Samaritan to her father.

Matthew awakes from his stupor to a vision of love – a beautiful young woman beside him, joyous music and light emerging from a nearby chapel. He is transformed, and decides at that moment to leave his errant past behind, to seek redemption and salvation.

But as with Jesus in the desert, the Devil is always at his side. And Matthew is human, all too human. Beset by difficulties, he tries to navigate the narrow passage between hypocritical moral rectitude and the nihilistic, hopeless existence of his young friends.

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I know this winter isn’t going to end.
The thought itself’s imperishably old.
What cold can best preserve, it cannot mend;

And cold preserves itself, so don’t pretend
That Spring will leaven spirits with its dole.
I know this winter isn’t going to end.

I’m not so bold that I could not defend
Against my guilt, against the life you stole.
But cold can best preserve what cannot mend,

So now, unlike Raskolnikov, I lend
No weight to claims that time can heal the soul.
I know this winter isn’t going to end.

The day you died, I ceased to be your friend;
Became instead the warden of your soul.
What cold can best preserve, it cannot mend.

Your life gave in to time and mine to cold,
And this, love, is my curse, my fate, my goal:
What cold can best preserve, it cannot mend;
I know this winter isn’t going to end.

Note: I wrote a somewhat different version of this for my friend Tracy when Chris died, years ago now. It’s a mild variation on a villanelle, a song form first used in 16th Century France. It’s simple, sentimental and true.

I found myself searching for something to say after Tracy wrote to tell me that a mutual friend had died, unexpectedly and far, far too soon. This is what came out.

It should really be sung, a capella, with a slowly moving melody reminiscent of Cathedrals, by Jump Little Children. Maybe Tori can come up with something….

It’s for John, and for all of those who knew Shannon best.

A Plausible Man

Outside the hotel the city was black, reflective. In the lobby, a Miles Davis number quietly contemplated heroin. The whole town was in fugue. Rain before and snow to come; nothing now but cloud and calm.

Aidan stepped out smartly as the Jetta rolled up. He was at the driver door before the occupant finished shifting into park. A fast Young Republican type, Brooks Brothers aspirant, tossed Aidan the keys, his eyes already scanning the entrance to the lounge. As if dodging a tackle, he swung smoothly round the quarter panel.

“You scratch it, I fuck you up,” he said, as if to the world in general.

Impassive, Aidan lowered himself into the driver’s seat, engaged the gear and slid away.

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Tales of the North Atlantic

[Originally published in the Vanuatu Daily Post’s Weekender Edition.]

Tawi blong mi;

I write to you from the enthralling, magical island of Manhattan. This jewel of the North Atlantic is a marvelous place. It is visited by all the races of the world. They are drawn by its legendary abundance and wealth. Here, one can achieve one’s every desire. One has only to learn the curious local rituals to gather a bountiful harvest.

The Manhattoes – as they’re known – seem peculiar to us, but we should not judge them based only on a passing glimpse of their kastom and tabus. We can’t expect everyone to be like us.

The people of this lovely island have a peculiar cargo culture in which they equate meaningless numbers with material goods. I confess it’s a difficult concept to grasp. Let me explain….

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Au Péché Mignon

[Editor’s note: The author was afflicted at the time of writing with a pinched radial nerve, which has led to chronic pain in his right hand. As a result, he has left off his normal florid prose to write in the concise ‘telegraphic prose’ of the young Earnest Hemingway. We apologise for the inconvenience.]

[Editor’s other note: Originally posted in October, 2005. Copied to the Scriptorum because the author [sic] thinks it’s worth keeping.]

The café is a clean, well shaded place. The kind of place a man appreciates once he’s lived long enough to appreciate good, honest coffee. The kind of coffee picked by hand by the good, honest people of Tanna.

The cafe is named Au Péché Mignon. The man likes to call it the little sin. The kind of sin worth living for. The kind of sin people forget about when they are searching for something to die for. It is a good sin, the little sin. An honest sin.

The waitresses are both named Marie. They stand together at the end of their shift, waiting for the man to leave. Their dark faces take on a copper hue as the sun sets over the bay.

Marie, the younger one, says, ‘There he is. Just like yesterday.’

‘And every day,’ says Marie, the older one.

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