The Fictional Spectrum: Sheldon Cooper

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Welcome to a new series of posts.  This will be about fictional characters who seem to exhibit autistic traits.  I believe fictional depictions of autism can help us understand it. I think a great place to start would be with the example of Sheldon Cooper of Big Bang Theory, played by Jim Parsons.

“But wait”, you say, “Chuck Lorre, the creator of Big Bang Theory said that he didn’t intend for Sheldon to have autistic traits.” Personally, I think part of the reason he said that was probably because he didn’t want trouble. Regardless, Jim Parsons actually said he based his portrayal on a memoir by John Elder Robinson called Look Me in the Eyeabout his experiences as an aspie.

I act like Sheldon more than I care to admit. I am obsessed with routine.  In some ways, it helps because I get ready for work on time. But if something happens to change that routine, I can get angry. So does Sheldon. One of the funniest examples I can give is in an episode where Penny is sleeping over at Sheldon and Leonard’s apartment, which means when he gets up the next morning, he can’t watch Doctor Who. Later in the episode, Penny does wake up and only fifteen minutes are left and Sheldon quips “…at this point, it’s Doctor Why Bother?”

Sheldon also seems to lack empathy. When his girlfriend Amy receives a commendation on a project, he seems unaware that he should be happy for her, so she gets upset with him.  I have trouble reading emotions as well. This is actually an unfair stereotype of autistic people.  Contrary to appearance, we autistic people can read emotions, it’s just more difficult for us.

Sheldon has no social life. He seems to have no romantic interest in women. Yes, he does have a girlfriend, but he’s celibate with her. In one episode, the cast ponders how Sheldon will actually reproduce because of this. This results in what I think is one the funniest moments of the series:

While I am certainly straight, I have not pursued a romantic relationship with women. Oh, I’ve had female friends, but they’re platonic.

However, Sheldon also exhibits positive traits.  One of the best examples I can give is in the episode that shows how all four of the men on the show got together.  Towards the end of the flashback, Howard and Raj are experimenting with something dangerous.  Sheldon is the only who acts quickly enough to stop it from killing anyone by throwing it down the elevator shaft, saving everyone.  Oh sure, now the elevator is out of order until the writers change their minds, but that’s minor. He even covers for Leonard so he can still stay in their apartment.

Another great example of Sheldon’s positive side is when Penny slips on her bathtub and has to be rushed to the hospital. Despite the fact that he has little knowledge of how to drive properly, he still goes out of his way to help her. We even get a tender scene at the end. In fact, by this time, he’s grown to see Penny as a friend. She apparently does as well because she gets him a Christmas present. He does seem to have a negative attitude towards Christianity, but he holds it for her sake and even buys her a gift out of gratitude.

I feel a character like Sheldon can really help people understand the difficulties autism can create.  Jim Parsons has even gotten fan mail from autistic fans because they feel his character is inspirational. After all, despite his difficulties, Sheldon has a job and can support not only himself, but a roommate as well.  I commend Jim for his ideas about this character.

 

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One Faith, Many Paths: Nicole Kiser

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How Long have you been a Christian?

I became a Christian and was baptized at the age of 8 yrs old. I was born in 1983. I’ve been a Christian for a long long time. In fact, it’s really strange meeting people older than me who are “younger” than me in their faith.

What evidence would you give for God’s existence?

There’s lots of evidence that God exists, but one I can think of off the top of my head would be the Big Bang Theory. The Big Bang Theory, at it’s essence, says that the universe is not infinite. There was a time that everything that makes up the universe (matter, etc) did not exist. The universe has a beginning, and will have an end.

We know that, logically, nothing comes from nothing. Therefore, the universe must have come from something. The Something must be infinite or eternal (otherwise it too must have a starting point) and it must be powerful enough to start a universe. This Something, whether it as an It or a Person with intelligence, is God.

You notice I’m not arguing for the Personhood of God, just that He must exist. (This is vageuly based off the kalam cosmological argument.) My belief in God does not stand or fall on this one thing though, it’s simply one of many evidences and arguments out there that God must exist.

What is your Favorite Bible verse and Why?

Philippians 4: 6-7 “6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

and

2 Corinthians 12:7b-9 “…..I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

As far back as I can recall, I’ve always had problems with anxiety. At times, the anxiety has been so over whelming that I’d get anxiety attacks (which feels like you can’t breath). I have very little control over it, in the sense that I can’t will my anxiety away. It simply exists and I simply must deal with it.

The Philippians 4 verses I learned as a child when my mother discovered I was having extreme anxiety about being driven over bridges because I was seriously afraid they would collapse. These verses taught me I shouldn’t let fear control my life, that when I was anxious I should pray, and if I prayed God would give me peace.

The 2 Corinthians 12 verses I learned much later in life and they taught me that it was possible that God would allow me to suffer so that a greater good would be worked in and through me. God also gives his grace (a different kind of peace) to those he allows to go through suffering. No suffering is pointless and through God we’re able to bear it with joy.

My anxiety is always with me. But because of that anxiety I’m also reminded that God is with me and he’s more powerful than the fear. This gives me the strength to live beyond the anxiousness and it forces me to choose, every day, whether I really believe in a Good God. (Never let anyone tell you that anxiety means you don’t have enough faith! It’s not true at all!)

What was your childhood like?

My Dad enlisted into the Air Force before I was born, so my up-bringing was… unique. I was born in Germany (I have no idea how to spell the city I was born in because of that) and I spent most of my life on military bases and in military housing. I grew up seeing people wear BDUs (now called ABUs), Blues (formal Air Force attire), and having perfectly cut hair (and no beards). Everyone had perfectly manicured lawns (you had to to live on base) and all the buildings were a horrible tan/brown colors and really really old.

(And in case anyone wonders, I only knew one pilot. And while I probably saw more planes than the average kid, it was not very much more. My Dad’s career field had nothing to do with the flight line or planes, so he was typically stationed in places that were more support focused.)

My parents were not what, I think, outsiders might expect from “military” people. My Dad had a fantastic sense of humor and never ever brought the military life-style home with him. My Mom came from a spunky (primarily) Italian family, so she laughed as much as she yelled. I also had a younger sister that I did not like very much because she kept destroying all my stuff (I like her as an adult though). We were all really weird, unique, and little clusters of chaos…. in some ways quite the opposite of the very structured life style we were surrounded by.

When you’re in the military, the kind of family you have makes or breaks you. Everyone else moves away (or you do), so you find all you’re left with is your immediate family (and sometimes not even that in the case of the enlisted parent). There were some tough times, and I faced unique challenges as a “military brat”, but I always loved and was loved by my family. In many ways, I was very fortunate.

What is your current job?

I’m currently working a part time position as a Real Estate Assistant. I like my Boss and my work environment. The pay is alright when I’ve got work (when things are slow I don’t get paid much) but I mostly enjoy it for all the things I’ve learned. Part of my job is taking pictures of the homes my Boss sells, so I’ve been all over town and been in all kinds of houses. It’s really fun! I’m doubtful I’ll ever have a job this fun in the future. (Though you never know! This job came to me unexpectedly, so maybe the next will too!)

Who is your favorite Biblical Figure and Why?

Actually, I don’t really have a favorite. Each person shows me a little bit more about the human condition, about myself. It also shows me what God is like and how he responds to different people in different circumstances. This, to me, is far more interesting than a particular individual.

Who inspires you to be a better person?

My church family. I grew up in the church and took it’s (positive) influence on me for granted. As an adult, I became lax about finding a new church family when I got married (and moved) and sort of drifted. It wasn’t until I realized I was stunted spiritually that I seriously began looking for a new “church home”. Unfortunately, I rushed into it and picked the worst possible church in the area I was living in at the time. It was… well, it was a mistake. The next place I moved I was a lot more careful and managed to find a church that was healthy, vibrant, and–yes–inspiring. Having been without, and having been in a bad one, I can say assuredly that a good church inspires me more than any other one person or thing I’ve ever come across.

50 Years of Doctor Who: The Tom Baker Era (1974-1981)

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“Well, of course I’m being childish! There’s no point being grown-up if you can’t be childish sometimes.”

Jon Pertwee felt as though he’d lost a family.  Roger Delgado, the first actor to play The Master, died between the fourth and fifth season of his era.  Katy Manning left the show after “The Green Death.” And Barry Letts, who had been like a father to him, was stepping down as producer.  (He was allowed to help hire the next successor, however) Originally, Letts wanted to have an older Doctor, but the new head of serials, Bill Slater, suggested Tom Baker.  The Fourth Doctor’s era had begun.

About Tom Baker

Tom Baker was born in Scotland Road, Liverpool.  He left school at age 15 t0 become a Catholic monk, but left after six years because he had lost his faith.  In 1955, he began two years of service in the Royal Army Medical Corps, taking acting as a hobby at first before turning professional in the 60’s.  In the 60’s, he was part of Laurence Olivier’s National Theatre Company.  He got some movie roles, but was soon unable to make ends meet.  In fact, when he became the Fourth Doctor, he wasn’t even acting!

Tom Baker’s era is the longest so far.  During his tenure, Doctor Who began airing in both the US and Australia.  Before David Tennant, Tom Baker was the most recognizable actor in the role.

After his tenure ended, Baker played Sherlock Holmes in a BBC adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles. He also made an appearance on the acclaimed BBC comedy Blackadder.  He played Puddleglum in their adaptation of  C.S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair. He also had a small role in the so-bad-it’s-good Dungeons and Dragons movie.  He was the narrator on Little Britain and recently became the last Classic doctor to play his character in 2009 for Big Finish’s audio dramas.

Changes:

  • Tom Baker had three producers: Phillip Hinchcliffe was influenced by the Hammer horror films, causing much controversy.  In 1977, Graham Wilson took the show in a lighter direction.  In 1980, John Nathan Turner began his tenure as the show’s longest-serving producer. Because his changes resulted in Tom Baker’s departure, I’ll talk more about him next time.
  • Final use of the tunnel opening.  In 1980, Turner proposed a new “starfield” opening that was used, with modifications, well after Baker left.
  • After Baker’s fifth season, six-parters were no longer broadcast.  The final six-parter that aired was “The Armageddon Factor” (It would’ve been “Shada”, but a production strike halted it after it was only halfway complete. The story can still be viewed on the BBC’s Classic Doctor Who website, with Tom Baker narrating what’s missing.
  • First appearance of Davros:  “Genesis of the Daleks”
  • In “The Deadly Assassin”, we learn that the Master has used up all his regenerations.  This sets up events in “The Keeper of Traken”, in which Anthony Ainley becomes the new actor for the role.

Conclusions

Tom Baker is my Doctor.  He was the first Doctor I ever watched.  I instantly loved how witty and clever he was, always ready with a snide remark. For instance, when he encounters a rather hammy villain in “The Pirate Planet”, he asks him “What would you want with the Earth? You wouldn’t know what to do with it, besides shout at it.” He had a childlike glee, possibly fueled by too many jelly babies, which he would constantly offer to friend or foe alike. He even offered one to Davros in “Destiny of the Daleks”! I do enjoy the others, but for me, none will ever top Tom Baker.

The Companions

Sarah Jane Smith

Instead of repeating what I said last time, I’ll explain why Sladen left the show. As her time went on, Sladen noticed that her character arc had downgraded. In her words, she had become a “cardboard cutout.” She was tired of constantly being kidnapped or hypnotized.

Dr. Harry Sullivan (Ian Marter)

First Appearance: “Robot”

Last Appearance: “Terror of the Zygons”

(note: made a guest appearance in The Android Invasion)

Dr. Harry Sullivan is boring.  Part of the problem is that he was cast before Baker, when they were going for an older actor. Sullivan was originally meant to be the person doing the action scenes. But Baker was actually capable of doing stunts (until he broke his collarbone in “The Sontaran Experiment”). Instead, they decided to make him a bumbler.  It’s sad when the most memorable thing I can think of that he did was cause the Doctor to shout “Harry Sullivan is an imbecile!”

Leela (Louise Jameson)

First Appearance: “The Face of Evil”

Last Appearance: “The Invasion of Time”

Leela comes from a race of primitive humans called the Sevateem.  The first time she met the Doctor, she was frightened of him because he resembled their god of evil.  When she learned she had nothing to fear, she joined him out of curiosity.  I thought it was neat how the Doctor constantly took her aside in attempts to educate her to rely on science rather than superstition.

K-9 (voiced by John Leeson in every appearance except in episodes filmed between 1979-1980, in which David Brierly voiced instead)

First Appearance: “The Invisible Enemy”

Last Appearance: “Warrior’s Gate”

K-9 the robot dog is probably the most recognizable companion, since he’s almost the mascot of the show.  He can fire lasers, scan the area and provide info the doctor. He can even play chess!

K-9 was not without problems. It’s radio signal was on an AM band and interfered with the cameras.  It would often careen into objects or people.

There were actually three K-9s, all played by the same prop.  The first one, Mark I, left in “The Invasion of Time” and was replaced by Mark II in the same story.  Mark II left in “Warrior’s Gate”. Mark III appeared in the failed pilot for K-9 and Company.

Romana I (Mary Tamm)
First Appearance: “The Ribos Operation”

Last Appearance: “The Armageddon Factor”

Romana is a Time Lady fresh out of the Gallifreyan Academy when she is appointed by the White Guardian to assist the Doctor in finding the fragments of the Key to Time. I liked her smug attitude and she had such great chemistry with the Doctor. One of my favorite scenes is when the Doctor suggests that her Gallifreyan name, Romanadvoratrelundar, was far too long.

The Doctor: By the time I’ve called that out, you could be dead! I’ll call you Romana.

Romana I: I don’t like Romana.

The Doctor: It’s either Romana or Fred.

Romana I: All right, call me Fred!

The Doctor: Good. Come on, Romana!

Romana II (Lalla Ward)

First Appearance: “Destiny of the Daleks”

Last Appearance: “Warrior’s Gate”

In “Destiny of the Daleks”, Romana grew tired of her body, so she decided to regenerate.  This Romana had mannerisms similar to the Doctor’s.  She also had great chemistry with the Doctor, so much so that they were married in real life–for sixteen months.

Adric (Matthew Waterhouse)

First Appearance: “Full Circle”

Last Appearance: “Earthshock” (w/5th)

Adric is probably one of the most hated companions ever.  In my opinion, he doesn’t deserve it. Yes, he was smug and a little bratty.  But he was also very intelligent and very good at outsmarting villains by pretending to side with them.  I think he was a great character, just poorly written at times.  I’ll explain more about him next time.

Nyssa (Sarah Sutton)

Fist Appearance: “The Keeper of Traken”

Last Appearance: “Terminus” (w/5th)

Nyssa wasn’t originally intended to be a full-fledged companion.  However, the writers liked her character so much that they decided to keep her around. I’ll keep her around for next time.

Tegan Jovanka (Janet Fielding)

First Appearance: “Logopolis”

Last Appearance: “The Resurrection of the Daleks” (w/5th)

John Nathan Turner created Tegan because of the show’s popularity in Australia.  (Although to me, Janet didn’t sound very Australian) Since I consider her more of a Fifth Doctor’s companion, I’ll save her for next time as well.
Best Stories:

Genesis of the Daleks (6 episodes)

This is the episode you must watch if you watch any story from the Classic period.  It was, according to Russel T. Davies, the “first shot of the Time War”. It’s an excellent introduction to Davros.

Pyramids of Mars (4 episodes)

One of Robert Holmes’s best stories. The Doctor encounters Sutekh, a Martian pharoah.  Sutekh is a bone-chilling villain, all thanks to Gabriel Woolf’s voice.

The Brain of Mobius (4 episodes)

This story was a great twist on Frankenstein, with a scene that was quite controversial for its time.

“The Robots of Death” (4 episodes)

I had a hard time selecting just one Leela story. I finally chose this one because it’s an excellent homage to Isaac Asimov.

The Key to Time Arc:

The Ribos Operation (4 episodes)

The Pirate Planet (4 episodes)

The Stones of Blood (4 episodes)

The Androids of Tara (4 episodes)

The Power of Krull (4 episodes)

The Armageddon Factor (6 episodes)

This is the introduction of Romana, who was appointed by the White Guardian to help the Doctor locate the fragments of the Key to Time.  To really enjoy the story, you should watch all six stories I listed above.  This is the highlight of Tom Baker’s era.

City of Death (4 episodes)

Before Douglas Adams wrote his magnum opus, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he was a script editor and occasional writer for Doctor Who. This story is almost universally hailed as one of his best.

The E-space Trilogy

Full Circle (4 episodes)

State of Decay (4 episodes)

Warrior’s Gate (4 episodes)

This is actually part of a larger arc themed around the concept of entropy.  The stories are quite cerebral, but well-handled. You really need to watch the entire trilogy, that’s why I picked all the stories in it.

The Keeper of Traken (4 episodes)

Anthony Ainley’s version of The Master debuts in this story and it’s an excellent introduction.  The story is well-paced and excellently written and Sarah Sutton’s small role as Nyssa is an example of great acting.

Logopolis (4 episodes)

This is it, the grand finale for Tom Baker.  It’s one of the best finales ever, with a great battle between him and the Master.

Worst Stories

The Creature From the Pit (4 episodes)

Oh, dear God, this story SUCKS! The script is weak and the monster is terrible, even for its time. Oh, and it was originally intended for Mary Tamm’s version of Romana, not Lalla Ward’s.

The Horns of Nimon (4 episodes)

This story had a weak script and budget restraints and was on the verge of the strike that halted “Shada”.  It was basically a recipe for disaster.