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Doctor Who and the Book of Jonah

July 17, 2017
As long as I can remember, I’ve always been amused and fascinated by the story of Jonah.
Not especially by the fishy bit, but by what comes after.  I love the sense of bathos in the book.
I love the part where the hapless Jonah, having done his darndest to avoid playing the role of prophet of doom, then “goes overboard” with it – and preaches up the wickedness of Nineveh for all it’s worth.
And you know what?  It works.   Nineveh repents and so God decides not to destroy it.
And so Jonah sulks.   He can’t handle the anti-climax.  He sits outside the east side of the city and stares at it it and hates it and hates himself because, seemingly, he was all revved up for some fire and brimstone.   God causes a gourd to grow that provides Jonah with temporary shelter but then the gourd dies and Jonah despairs.  It is then intimated to Jonah that his moral compass is a bit off if he’s angry about the destruction of a gourd, but he can’t handle the annihilation of a major metropolis being called off.
I find Jonah hilarious, because I’ve always been able to empathise.
There’s part of us that has a lot invested in the incorrigibility of our enemies.  Don’t you hate it when they’re corrigible?  And there’s also part of us that wants crises to be pushed to the uttermost limit.  We invest a deal of emotion in anticipation of grandiloquent catastrophe, and so the aversion of supreme crisis is often disappointing, from an aesthetic point of view.  I’m reminded of the end of V for Vendetta.  There’s been a sort of velvet revolution, you may remember, and tyranny has peacefully tumbled without the need for any more death and destruction.  But the Palace of Westminster is still blown up, because it’s always cool to blow up an iconic building.  The momentum of the narrative demands it.
In the great scheme of things, the decision to cast Jodie Whittaker the new Doctor is a reasonably trivial historical event.  I was agreeably surprised by it though, yet part of my miserable self felt deflated.  You see, I had my own grumpy Kris Marshall blog all plotted out in my head, in some detail.  I actually have nothing against Kris Marshall really, other than he’s a sort of safe, middle-brow, mainstream, prime-time drama family favourite whose casting would seem to indicate the victory of focus groups over imagination.  I wish him well, personally.
But I like to insist upon being surprised and delighted by a new Time Lord incarnation.  And now that I am surprised and delighted, the Jonah in me is frustrated.
And the comparative paucity of hysterical masculinist reaction to Jodie Whittaker’s casting is also disappointing from a Jonah-ist point of view.  It’s true that some people have sworn off ever seeing Doctor Who ever again, but some people make such melodramatic declarations whoever is cast in the role.  You can find some people on the internet who are outraged by a woman taking the Tardis helm (not that there is a ‘helm’, really), but you actually have to go looking for such people.

Most people are cool.  Daily Mail readers are outraged, I dare say… but there can be no future for humanity that doesn’t involve outraging Daily Mail readers.  Most people are not Daily Mail readers.  Most people are cool.

Apocalypse averted.  Now to get me a gourd.


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