Sunday, 31 October 2010

Gods and Monsters

Happy Hallowe'en.

I was watching The Bride of Frankenstein yesterday; appreciating the fact that James Whale invented the self-analysing comic horror film decades before Wes Craven thought it would be tremendously cute to have characters in a slasher film talk about the narrative rules of slasher films.

At one point, the insane, camp, gin-swigging Dr Pretorius (played by the ridiculously watchable Ernest Thesiger) shows Frankenstein (Colin Clive) his collection of creations: tiny people that Pretorius grew from cultures and... well, it's pretty much indescribable.  Watch it for yourself.  If you've never seen it, you need to.

It isn't explicitly said, but clearly both Pretorius and Frankenstein anticipate (the former with relish and the latter with fear) the breeding of a new race.  Pretorius, for all his campness and his disdain for every human female he meets, seems interested in the breeding potential of these creations of science.

Meanwhile, Frankenstein's monster turns out to have survived the first film and, having learned to talk, expresses his demand for a "friend"... by which he is taken to mean a woman with whom he can mate, though he doesn't express this desire himself. What the children of Boris Karloff and Elsa Lanchester would have looked like is odd enough to contemplate by itself, without imagining babies with cuboid heads and electrified, badger-striped hairdos.

It got me thinking about the origins of the novel Frankenstein.  I don't mean all that stuff that's supposed to have gone down at the Villa Diodati, which is depicted at the opening of Bride of Frankenstein as an arch costume drama, rather than the hazy blur of bullshitting and indolence and copping off that it probably was.  I mean the work and influence of Luigi Galvani, who suggested in 1791 that electricity was an innate property of animal life, and that it might even be the "vital force"... supposedly after noticing the legs of a dead frog kicking when he touched the nerves with his scapel during a lightning storm.  (I'm told he was searching for the testicles, having formed the theory that frogs kept them in their legs.)  Galvani's conclusions about animal electricity were flawed and were superceded by Volta, but 'galvanism' caught on as an idea.  And as morbid, gothic entertainment.  Galvani's nephew Giovanni Aldini became something of a hit, giving demonstrations of how dead bodies could be made to react to electrical charges.

In one famous incident in 1803, Aldini had the corpse of a just-hanged murderer, George Foster, brought from Newgate to the Royal College of Surgeons, where he electocuted the body, causing its jaw to twitch and one of its eyes to open.  When Aldini probed its rectum, the body is said to have arched and kicked and raised its fist as though in fury.  Well, you would, wouldn't you?  This was one of many such experiments carried out by many scientists at the time.  There was another guy who claimed to have briefly reanimated some decapitated kittens.  Awwwww.

According to Mary (writing well afterwards) these experiments were one topic of discussion amongst the bright young things - Byron, Shelley, Mary herself, et al - at the Villa Diodati, alongside the experiments of Dr Erasmus Darwin.  Erasmus Darwin - the grandfather of Charles - was supposed to have bestowed life on pasta, much to the fascination of many people.  Mary claimed that this story, combined with the experiments in galvanism, inspired her to think that a creature might be constructed from parts and then be brought to life.

Erasmus Darwin - who had known Mary's father, the radical philosopher William Godwin - was, interestingly enough, a proto-evolutionary thinker.  In Zoonomia and some of his poems, Erasmus put forward (sometimes obliquely) notions of life developing and changing.  His last poem traces life from primordial soup (presumably minestrone with sentient noodles in it) to modern society.  It was a hit with Romantics like Wordsworth.

The later Darwin would agonise over publishing his findings, knowing that he would be subject to fierce attacks by those who saw natural selection as dethroning God.  Which is what Mary's story is supposed by many to be about: a scientist who challenges God.  The idea that Frankenstein has 'played God' has far more life outside of the novel than inside.  It isn't a central concern of the book.  By contrast, the first theatrical adaptation was called Presumption! or The Fate of Frankenstein, and in James Whale's films people harp on at length about how Frankenstein has meddled in things that man should leave to God.  Of course, in Whale's movies, this is surface patter, lying on top of the deeper concerns.

Whale himself was both irreligious and openly gay.

Many film critics have suggested that the films, especially Bride, can be subject to a gay reading.  They point to the way the camp Pretorius separates Frankenstein from his future wife (his bride, you might say) and propositions him, suggesting that they collaborate in creating new life from seed, as though Pretorius is attempting some kind of gay biological procreation.  Meanwhile, the Monster (who is a despised and hunted outsider) uses one word for all prospective relationships, be they with men or women: "friend".  His friendship with a blind pauper is interpreted as a potential marriage, interrupted by ignorant and intolerant yokels.  Ultimately, he is incompatible with the "bride" that Frankenstein and Pretorius create for him.

The other way that this film is often read is as a Christian allegory.  The Monster is put into Christlike poses several times, especially when captured, tied to a pole and raised in the air, his hands tied above his head.  Crosses abound (though most of these are in the film because several scenes take place in a graveyard).  And so on.

I can't pretend to be sufficiently familiar with the critical literature to evaluate these claims.  Apparently, a lot of people who knew James Whale consider them bullshit - but then they don't need to have been intentional in order to be present in the texts.

There's an interesting (if flowery) article about this stuff here.

Anyway, it's impossible to deny that a story about a creator who makes a man, gives him free will, turns him out into the world and then comes into conflict with him has to be, in some way, a reiteration of 'Genesis'.

In light of this, it's interesting to look at the first ever depiction of the Monster, an engraving created for the 1831 publication by the truly great and shamefully undervalued artist Theodor von Holst.

And to compare it to another famous image of a newly created man...

There's more than a slight resemblance.  Adam, of course, doesn't have to take in the sight of his creator's eyes wide with horror as they look upon him... not just yet anyways.

There's no reason to think von Holst didn't take direct inspiration from Michaelangelo.  Holst was a Romantic with a love of the gothic and the supernatural, but it would be a mistake to think of Romanticism and the gothic as a repudiation of the classical, just as it would be wrong to think of Modernism as a repudiation of Expressionism (which horror films like The Bride of Frankenstein illustrate well enough). 

Holst studied under Fuseli, who painted Mary Shelley's mother Mary Wollstonecraft, the great feminist and author of Vindication of the Rights of Woman, who died a little more than a week after giving birth to the future author of Frankenstein.  

Holst was also the great uncle of the composer Gustav Holst, who wrote The Planets suite, which includes a movement entitled 'Mars, the Bringer of War', routinely used directly in sci-fi (Quatermass) or as inspiration for sci-fi music, including Peter Howell's music for 'The Leisure Hive'.  This is perfectly fitting because The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells is (like Mary Shelley's Frankenstein) one of the foundational texts of science-fiction, thus trading on the percieved connection between Mars and war and translating this into the context of the nascent 'alien invasion' sub-genre.  (As everyone knows, War of the Worlds was dramatised for the radio by Howard Koch and performed by Orson Welles' and John Houseman's Mercury Theatre of the Air, causing widespread panic in America upon the eve of Hallowe'en in 1938.)  It's also fitting because The Planets is a synthesis of astrological notions and musical modernism, which strikes me as pleasingly analagous to my idea that sci-fi is a reiteration of myth and legend in the idioms of the technological age.

The Mercury Theatre broadcast (which featured George Colouris, who would later be cast by Welles as Mr Thatcher in Citizen Kane... and would later go on to even greater achievements, playing Arbitan in 'The Keys of Marinus') is supposed to have had such an amazing effect partly because the American people were skittishly aware that they were on the brink of entering World War II.  Holst's 'Mars, The Bringer of War' takes something of its terrific and stentorian power from the fact that it was written during World War I, during the period when people gradually became aware that the 'Great War' was a horrifying scrabble for muddy and blood-soaked land, with bodies ploughed under barbed wire by great, rolling, implacable, metal monsters called tanks.

Tanks looked like the machines of the future.  They were.  They were the final death knell of the pre-capitalist society.  Bayonets gave way to steel behemoths.  Industry and technology could now make things like that: inhuman, unstoppable, alien, seemingly out of human control.  The trauma of them still echoes through Western culture, with the Daleks themselves partly confected from the memory of these utterly inhuman, bolted, riveted, armour plated, gun-sprouting war monsters. 

Of course, part of the peculiar power of Frankenstein lies in the fact that the Monster is something man made.  He is a product.  An artifact of human creativity and labour.  The Universal version even has dirty great bolts sticking out of his neck, just to emphasize his status as a cyborg (like a Cyberman or a Dalek), as a thing made of bits and pieces, like a car made from parts on a production line.  Frankenstein's monster is the first great monster of Western culture that is made, that is something that humans have fabricated and constructed ourselves.  Instead of encountering it as a hostile part of the landscape, like a predator, we place it in the landscape, and our treatment of it makes it our enemy.  The book expresses a moment in Europe when science was on the rise, when Enlightenment and Reason had become both causes and dogmas.  It was all to do with the slow, lingering death of feudalism and the slow, inexorable rise of capitalism.  It's a big topic, but thinkers from Rousseau to Mary's own father had confronted the old order (Things as They Are, to use the alternative title of Godwin's novel Caleb Williams, a bitter and radical condemnation of the power of aristocracy) with what they conceived of as Reason.  Mary's book is also partly a rebuke to this.  The child of Reason, the product of the new and scientific and sacriligious man, the product of the age of bourgeois production, is a monster that becomes the victim of the flaws in the creator's project and then comes back for revenge.  And breeds.  Tanks breed.  Bombs breed.  Cars breed.  Toys breed.  We have to make them, but they hardly seem like ours at all.  We don't control them.  Or our control becomes more and more remote.  The product of the new age ultimately gives the lie to the ideals of liberty and justice.  Like the tank that is created by capitalism to fight wars for freedom and peace... by bulldozing the bullet-riddled corpses of kids into the mud.

(The solution to this riddle is to be found in the work of Mary's husband Percy, who - in his unsure and unreliable way - was a radical who understood that the people are the ones who have to enforce change, and that that change can be a monster itself rather than a graceful victory for Reason.  In Prometheus Unbound - those Romantics loved Prometheus... Frankenstein's alt title was The Modern Prometheus - Shelley writes of Demogorgon, the monster that can be invoked to destroy tyranny.  Demogorgon.  The Peoplemonster.)

But back to the problem, as identified.  The products that turn.  Marx called capital (the product of human labour appropriated and confronting us as hostile and alien) a vampire.  Mary Shelley had the product of the work of the scientist become a murderous reproach to him.  We still routinely invoke the word "monster" when talking about such products.  We need the language of monsters.

And this just may be a central concern of sci-fi, including Doctor Who.  Voc Robots are created things that turn against us, products that kill.  Xoanon.  The Oracle.  B.O.S.S.  The Peking Homunculus.  WOTAN and his War Machines.  Autons.  Daleks and Cybermen are created things too, half organism and half machine.  Killing machines with people trapped inside somewhere.  Many Doctor Who monsters (more than you'd think) turn out to be created things, or partly created things.  The Ice Warriors have visors and guns integrated in their shells; the Sontarans are clones; the Zygons live on the milk of a cyborg monster.  They're all, partly, the deformed and disowned children of Frankenstein.

Of course, there's a more direct child.  Morbius.  Solon is the mad scientist, living in the castle with the deformed servant, listening to the thunder as he plots to reanimate a criminal (by probing the rectum?), scheming to make a monster from scavanged bits and pieces, ultimately turned upon by his creation, hunted down by torch-weilding locals, etc.  But that's got much more to do with the movies - Universal and Hammer - than it has to do with Mary Shelley.  Even the Sisterhood come from Rider Haggard via Hammer.   

Doctor Who is itself Frankenstein's monster, made of scavanged and second-hand bits and pieces.

That's why its amusing to think of the Character Options toys that so many of us Who fans collect (no doubt made with oil that has to be controlled through invasions of which many of us disapprove).  We're like Dr Pretorius, playing with his little people in jars.  Gods playing with our monsters.  Just make sure you keep the lid on the jar with Cpt. Harkness in it... unless you want your little people to breed.

Anyway, I'm tired of all this brainstorming.  Hallowe'en is over.

Good night.  If you can.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Auntie in Distress. And Dat Dress.

A belated embedation for Mitch Benn's brilliant song 'Proud of the BBC'.  Flawed as it is, the Beeb is ours.  It must be defended.  And not just because it makes Doctor Who either.  Though that's a big one, obviously.

See also Mitch Benn's site for details.

Friday, 29 October 2010

The Lords Temporal

This is an edited and tweaked version of something I wrote for the old site.

If 'The Deadly Assassin' has a central thesis, it might be this: power is no guaranteur of responsibility. Or even sensibleness. This tale shows us beings like us. Godlike in their technology, they are also childlike in their small-mindedness.

In 'The Deadly Assassin', the Time Lords are senile gerontocrats living on ossified priviledge. They natter, bumble and scheme. The less shot-away amongst them spend their time snapping at each other with haughty contempt or scheming over appearances and expediency. Robert Holmes deliberately strips Power of its outward signs of dignity and virtue and superiority.

They are locked in a rigid class system. They fail to understand their own technology, their own power, their own myths. They "adjust the truth" to suit their agendas. Their outwardly civilised society begins to crumble into anarchy when two of their renegades return and start fighting out their neuroses. The sit on a massive computer lake of information in which nestles a surreal and nightmarish dreamscape filled with elemental terrors. Their Panopticon (literally: place where all can be seen) hides secrets. The biggest secret is a singularity, a piece of cosmic anarchy that they've slaved to their technology and then forgotten about. This is a picture of denial. Like the lies that are "good for public morale" overlaying the sordid truth, their society pretends to be controlled and calm but rests on hidden and deadly knowledge.

As a satire, it isn't subtle. Robert Holmes chucks in random signifiers from various power elites of Western culture: British public schools, Washington DC, the Vatican, Oxbridge, etc. Gallifrey seems to be his scathing picture of an oligarchial and decadent world, run by liars or killers or the senile, reported by snobbish and fautous twitterers content to reel off the official-view of the upper echelons. Trials are manipulated for convenience. Elections are devoid of real democracy. Behind the specious words about "our traditions of fairness and justice", the system's Swiss Guard-style private police use torture and assumption. Hildred is a brutal bungler; Spandrell's intelligence and independence only highlights how unusual he is in his world.

 "Aren't you worried Wikileaks might find out about this?"

Most outragously, the story seems to riff on the Kennedy assassination. 'The Deadly Assassin' isn't an allegory of Dealey Plaza, but it does play with our collective (often confabulated) consciousness of that political slaying. The Doctor is a "patsy", his alleged weapon has misaligned scopes, the real killer is from within the top circle of power, the truth is changed by Borusa's cover-up.

We even have the cheekily named Celestial Intervention Agency, of which the Doctor is assumed to be a member... and, indeed, the Doctor has been involved in Time Lord-sanctioned interventions. Is he a C.I.A. agent? This one throwaway reference muddies the waters (or rather stirs waters that are already muddy). The Time Lords speak of their policy of neutral observation of the universe (Gallifrey is the place where all can be seen) and of their strict non-interventionism... but, like the Western 'democracies' that speak of international law and then organise coups d'etat in places where they feel their interests are threatened, they can always ask their "C.I.A." to intervene on the quiet.

As ever with Holmes, the language is amazing. This story gave the Who-myth so many words and phrases: "High Council", "Matrix", "Rassilon", "Eye of Harmony", "Castellan", "APC net", "Celestial Intervention Agency", "artron energy", "shabogan", etc. etc. And we have Borusa's aloof and suave variety of verbal dexterity. I needn't quote, you know what I'm talking about.

It's heady stuff. It's so mythic that it has firmly buried itself into the subconscious of the whole show, providing Who with its own personal origin-legend. It's also politically complex, witty, cynical, surreal. For all its flaws, you can't help but marvel at it. Apart from everything else, there are those astonishing costumes! Of course, subsequent return trips to Gallifery sullied its reputation... but that isn't Bob Holmes' fault. After this, Gallifrey started looking like every other high-tech alien world, lit and furnished like a Habitat showroom.

RTD's attempts turned Gallifrey into Hogwarts with a bog-standard Bespin-style citadel, and then into Coruscant. The fact that the costumes are all wrong in the new series - the ceremonial circle-based shoulder-display thingies worn by guards! - is a sign of a wider failure to grasp what the Time Lords are supposed to be. Gallifrey, should it ever be seen again, needs to be like the place in 'The Deadly Assassin': a dark, gothic labyrinth of high politics, murky motives, unaccountable power, shadows and oligarchy and cover stories... and, crucially, decadent idiocy. Not a backdrop for an ex-Bond doing a Voldemort.

Admittedly, the plot of 'The Deadly Assassin' makes no sense at all. And the music is naff. As is the make-up. And the title is rubbish. 'The Deadly Assassin' indeed! As opposed to what? 'The Harmless Assassin'?

Nine out of ten, as Borusa would say.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Taking the Piscine

The great underwater strike ballot & blockade scene from 'The Underwater Menace'.  Seemed timely to me.  This is how you fight power-mad maniacs who are determined to destroy your society while pretending to save it.

Well, maybe not exactly like that.  You get the general thrust, I'm sure.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Twee... but Pertinent

Yep, here's the best of my Pertwee stuff from Timelash II.  Thrill to my confusion as I struggle to get to grips with an era that itself struggled to get to grips with fuel controversies, miners' strikes, feminism and loads of funny stuff like that.  Lots of new material in amongst the stuff I posted at Gallibase. 


I remember the first time I saw 'Inferno'. I was at university. I popped into town and bought the VHS release with pretty much the last scrapings from the bottom of my overdraught. I took it back to my digs and watched it in one sitting, surrounded by half-read Penguin classics, half-written essays and empty beer cans.

I remember, somewhere towards the middle of the story, practically praying to Someone Or Other (the gods of TV probably) that the writer would have the balls to refuse to reveal what the green slime was and/or what the Primords were.

I remember being well pleased when I got to the end without having had some clumsy sci-fi "explanation" foisted on me.

The Primords are just there. They represent the animal in man, unleashed. The are the externalised form of the snarling beast inside the Brigade Leader that makes him enjoy his fascistic work so much, of the apes inside Sutton and Stahlman that make them tear and snap at each other.

Luckily, the story also has some intelligent things to say about the way people are shaped by the societies in which they live. That fine fellow Mr Benton, when raised in a fascist world (or possibly just employed by one), becomes a brutal sadist... so it's not about our bestial original sin but about our choices within society as we find it and as it shapes us.

UNIT guards make their own lives but not in circumstances of their own choosing.

I know the evil-version-of-regular-character-in-alt-world thing is hardly original... but 'Inferno' does it better and smarter than any other take on the same idea that I’ve seen.

Also, as The Discontinuity Guide says, the "so free will is not an illusion after all!" scene elicits a cheer (or should do) from the viewer.

It's a powerful piece of work because of the ideas, even if they’re not stunningly profound or original, and because of the strength of the direction. The constant background thrumming of machinery, the hazy heat of the outside world, the bleak industrial wasteland in which the project seems to nestle, the use of brilliant 'stock' music by Delia Derbyshire, the incrementally jacked-up claustrophobia, the sweating actors, the performances that ratchet up the tension, the nightmarish apocalypse in Episode Six with blistered zombies catatonic as the air fills with hot ash, the well-integrated stock footage of lava explosions, the stunningly tight and tense cliffhanger to Episode Four with the countdown reaching zero as the Doctor and Stahlmann face each other over a gun... it goes on and on.

Also, the open question of whether the alt-world is a fascist or communist tyranny leads to all sorts of interesting (to me anyway) avenues of thought, including the observation that, either way, it’s more similar than it is different to the democratic world of the Brigadier and UNIT. The basic structure of both societies is essentially the same, i.e. capitalist with varying degrees of state control. The intention of the piece is probably to imply that dictatorships are ‘all the same’, be they right-wing or left-wing in their ideology. But, to me, this is a dead end, and an implication that obscures more than it reveals. But I’ve covered this stuff more fully (far too fully, probably) in another post.

‘Terror of the Autons’

Well, it's bollocks, obviously... but it's also the moment when Doctor Who becomes Doctor Who in the public sense, when it begins to correspond (in a fuzzy, broad, general way) to the mental image of the show that the Gen Pub will adopt, nurse and be disappointed to find the show diverging from in the years ahead.

The Master is a cardboard King Rat in a Nehru collar. He is born fully formed in all his inglory; talking nonsense, having silly plans, twirling his moustache (practically), failing to kill the Doctor time and time again despite his professed hatred, plotting to take over/destroy the world for no adequately explored reason, etc, etc... but Roger Delgado is mesmerisingly good, refusing to send up the daft material.

Jo is utterly irritating... she's the quintessential daft, blonde, screamy, cutesy dollybird that will be perceived as a template for the ur-companion from now on... despite the fact that no companion before or since her has ever really been very much like that.... but Katy is lovable… if you decide not to worry about the depiction of a woman as an infantile accessory to all the grown-ups (i.e. the men). To be honest, if you’re going to let that sort of thing worry you too much, vast swathes of Doctor Who are going to become pretty much unwatchable. I’m not saying you have to accept it uncritically.

Robert Holmes delivers his silliest script so far... but it's also relentlessly and determinedly nasty, filled with imaginative murder, haunted by suffocation and strangulation (with an obsessive harping on such ways of dying that is borderline disturbing and entirely delicious)...

This develops some things that are submerged in the original Auton story: an implied critique of mass produced consumer culture and a representation of alienation through hostile commodities. The death in this story emanates from mass produced commodities, from consumer goods. Grotesque plastic dolls spring to life and lunge at your jugular, ghastly 70s novelty chairs eat you alive, phones strangle you, fake flowers squirt glue at your face, etc. As in ‘Spearhead’, the evil nestles and coils amidst boring business guys in boring offices. As in ‘Spearhead’, the factory manager is enslaved by mind control and colludes with the Nestenes as they mesh with his means of production in order to mass produce the units of themselves that will infiltrate the market and take over our high streets, enslaving us before we know what’s happening. They also find a way in under our noses by disguising themselves within the context of policemen and police cars. Ask these bobbies where they’re taking you and you’ll find blank-faced, eyeless horrors lurking under their latex masks. They’re there to stop you opposing the immanent ascendency of the evil commodities, the products of human labour and industrial production that are now so far out of our control that they confront us as something hostile and alien.

This is Holmes at his silliest, nastiest and most sneaky, undermining the whole of the adult world and implying that everything modern and nice and happy and cute hides razor sharp jaws that will snap closed on you when you least expect it. It could hardly be called satire, still less is it consciously Marxist allegory, but, nevertheless, it taps right into anxieties about consumer culture, authority, the unaccountable goings on in boardrooms, the bland horror of mass produced commercial kipple and the way we’re now so alienated from the things with which human labour and industry is cluttering up the world.

Shame about Roy Stewart being asked back to play essentially the same racist stereotype he played in 'Tomb of the Cybermen'... but it's almost emblematic of the slightly nauseous, off-colour, icky tone of the whole piece.

The whole thing is almost perversely bright and gaudy and multicoloured... it gives it the quality of a surreal nightmare, a bad LSD trip in which the colours of the world get brighter and sunnier and realer even as (to borrow from the great Dr Hunter S Thompson) you watch your dead grandmother climb up your leg with a knife in her teeth.

It's also repetitious, meandering, plotless, characterless... i.e. worthless if you expect it to aspire to anything resembling "drama". It's fun, but of a very queasy kind.

‘The Mind of Evil’

There is a very old idea about ‘human nature’, that we are born with certain characteristics already implanted or programmed in our brains, usually inherited from our parents and ancestors. You will find this idea laced throughout the whole of modern Western culture. Ruffians and villains in Conan Doyle are often said to have "vile antecedents". Oliver Twist is incapable of being a pickpocket because, despite being raised in a pauper's orphanage, he is a middle class child displaced amongst the scum classes. Similarly (because J.K. Rowling is nothing if not studiedly unoriginal) Harry Potter is "unfailingly kind" just like his late mum, despite being systematically emotionally and psychologically abused up to the age of 11.  I could go on at great length.

This conception of human nature (please take the quote marks as read whenever I use that phrase) is directly and inextricably linked to class, and to questions of social role, crime, etc. It is still claimed today that people end up in prison because they have inborn tendencies which lead them there. These days we use the language of genetics. Before genes, people used the language of blood. Before that, people used the language of the Bible. The medieval church claimed that drastic and dreadful social divisions were justified because people were born into one category or the other, based on their bloodline. They were the descendents of Cain or Abel, and thus carried the blood of a vile murderer or a goody-two-shoes innocent. Of course, the idea that the peasants were peasants because they had murderer's blood doesn't account for the massive amount of warmongering and killing and torturing and executing done by the supposed descendents of Abel (i.e the Kings and Dukes and whathaveyou). Of course, even today a great deal of chin-scratching cogitation goes into deciding what genetic factors might be causing black urban gun crime... while nobody wonders if the carpet-bombing Prime Minister must have killer genes. And, as John Ball pointed out, if we're all descended from Cain or Abel, that also means we're all descended from (non-murdering) Adam and Eve... so how does that work?

As many thinkers have pointed out, being in prison isn't necessarily a mark of violence or evil (or even, in many cases, actual criminality) so much as a mark of refusing to play your assigned social role. It starts in childhood, with kids medicated for personality disorders for such heinous sins as "disrespecting authority" etc. Also, prisons are a massive system of social control and punitive reinforcement. Vast numbers of people in the American prison system today (which increasingly resembles a kind of privatised system of gulags) are there for non-violent drug crimes. There are many examples of, for instance, disabled people sent away for life because they were caught with a few ounces of weed that they obtained to use personally as a palliative. Meanwhile, the captains of finance who devastate our world and societies, or the politicians who demolish victim populations in the Middle East, somehow mysteriously avoid trial and incarceration.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that I don't like 'The Mind of Evil'.

Of course, it would be ridiculous to say that we're born without any innate characteristics. We're all born with the grabbing reflex, with "face recognition software", with syntax (if you believe some people), etc... and we're probably capable of being born with the innate set of mental aptitudes that can lead to, say, musical ability, etc. But the tendency - even amongst people who, for instance, edit the journal Science or flog lots of popular science books - is to talk about "genes for homelessness" (which wouldn't be the only silly thing that Matt Ridley believes) or "genes for crime". "Crime" is artificially essentialized into something called, say, "aggression" or "anti-social behaviour" and all sorts of varied and contingent social behaviours are artificially lumped together under this term, while others (the warmongering of leaders, for instance, or the drug dealing of big tobacco firms) are mysteriously ignored, presumably because they are seen as inherently non-criminal.

There's a very interesting (and largely amicable) discussion about this stuff between Richard Dawkins and Steven Rose, here. I particularly like the fact that Rose is wearing a long, multi-coloured scarf.

It’s been pointed out to me that there’s nothing in the story that directly implies that the prisoners are ‘born bad’. They might, it is suggested, just as well contract the evil via their experiences. Well, okay, but that is still hugely reductionist. I’m no fonder of environmental or social or economic determinism than I am of genetic determinism. And the serial depicts prison simplistically as a place where violent, selfish, ruthless, brutal thugs go. No other perspective is even nodded at. We have to confront the text as it stands, and that is where it stands.

Plus, in a story that features an American ambassador during the time of the Vietnam war... well, the show seems completely unaware of any idea that an American ambassador during the Vietnam war (or a Chinese ambassador during the reign of Mao, for that matter) would probably be directly or indirectly complicit in more murder, destruction, violence, rape and torture than all the crims in Stangmore combined. Imperialism is even namechecked at one point... as a bit of rhetorical Stalinist flim-flam for the Brigadier to smirk at.

None of this would be quite so bad if the story didn't also revolve around a dirty big nuclear missile. The cumulative impression is the standard bit of wishy-washy liberal twaddle about "oooh, the darkness of mankind... oooh, there's violence in us and that's why we have nukes and stuff...". Crime isn't possibly seen as about alienation caused by hierarchical and unjust societies, nor is it something that leaders do too... it's something that people with Evil in their heads do, and people like that go to prison. If you're in prison, you're Bad. It's that simple. This is implicit. As is the notion that the weapons of mass destruction with which imperialists threaten the planet are not economic phenomena, or chips in a power play, or actualisations of the conflict inherent in capitalist competition between states, but expressions of our collective guilt, our original sin as a species. My question, as ever, is: who's "we"?

All this is so odd because Don Houghton's other story 'Inferno' seems to take the opposite view. The beast in man (I don't dispute that we bear "the lowly stamp of our origins") is released by environmental factors like green slime (this is still Doctor Who, after all) or is something that is brought out by our social context (i.e. fascism… or perhaps communism) and is still, fundamentally, something that we have the free will to control.

‘The Claws of Axos’

I like this one a lot. It’s trippy. And the organic imagery anticipates an oncoming turn in the aesthetics of sci-fi/horror movies towards an obsession with warped, twisted, weirdified bodies. I'm not sure I'd call it "surrealist", as some do. It's more like the idea of an LSD trip created by someone who's never actually taken LSD but has heard that 'I am The Walrus' was supposedly inspired by it. (Was ‘I am the Walrus’ out when this was made? I know it must’ve been out by the time they made ‘The Three Doctors’…)

As you might expect, I like the depiction of the British government (via Chinn and his boss) as utterly cynical, self-seeking, petty, bureaucratic, xenophobic, etc. As ever in this era, the military get an unduly flattering depiction… but we should also remember that the Brigadier’s ‘establishment’ status is attenuated (at least for Letts and Co.) by his connection to the U.N. rather than the British government. In fact, this story makes a point of showing them in conflict, with Chinn bitching about the U.N., calling the regulars in to arrest the UNIT people, getting little or no cooperation from the Brigadier, etc. The Doctor gets to voice his standard bit of condescending criticism of the “military mind” and what he perceives as the Brigadier’s “shoot first, ask questions later” approach… of course, he has reason to still be sore about the Silurians. But this story implies a difference between Chinn’s automatically hostile attitude to the aliens (which appears to be linked to his comment about “England for the English” of which the Doctor so volubly disapproves) and the Brigadier’s approach. Certainly, as the story progresses, the Brig and the rest of UNIT end up directly opposing Chinn’s plan to get a monopoly on Axonite for the British state. This is liberal moralism, of course (U.K. government = bad… sometimes… when isolationist; U.N. multilateralism = good) but it isn’t without some bite.
It complicates a story that would otherwise be yet another tale of the alien ‘other’ coming to menace us poor, defenceless humans (which is an encoded form of the old ‘savages surround the wagon train’ thing) and turns it into a story about a scrabble for power and exploitation.

It’s interesting that Axos is represented as a scavenger (“the claws of Axos are now deeply embedded in the Earth’s carcass!”), as a vampire (the story’s original title was ‘Vampire from Space’), as hiding its true nature behind golden people, as tempting the humans with offers of immense economic power disguised as appeals to humanitarianism, and as meshing themselves with the Nuton Power Complex, which is a nuclear power station providing energy for a vast area of Britain.

Marx is one of many people who has compared capitalism to vultures and vampires. Gold was the basis of the world capitalist economy for a long time and is an unsurpassable symbol of the madness for accumulation, wealth and economic power, not to mention conspicuous consumption. Humanitarianism and ethical concerns are still regularly trotted out speciously by corporations and imperialists as a cover for their real interests. And fuel is one of the preoccupations of Doctor Who all the way through, but especially in this era. It mirrors a very real obsession of British society. From North Sea gas to striking miners, from nuclear fuel as the bright future to accidents at Sellafield and Chernobyl, from the 1973 oil crisis to BP being chucked out of Iran after the 1979 revolution… during Doctor Who’s original era, fuel was hardly ever out of the news.

The continuing resonance of issues surrounding fuel is testified to by one of the very first stories of the revival in 2005, ‘Aliens of London’ / ‘World War III’, in which the Slitheen want to start a fake war (using fake reports of “massive weapons of destruction” possessed by evil aliens who’ve crashed a ship into a famous, tall, urban structure) that will end up with them cashing in on the profits from selling the entire world as a gigantic ball of radioactive fuel. Do you think RTD was getting at something? (Fair disclosure: I hated that story when it was first broadcast. Thank goodness I grew up.)

But, steering back towards ‘Axos’, I must just say this: people don't starve because there isn't enough food. That's kid logic. They starve because they’re poor and there isn’t any profit in feeding poor people… which makes the kid logic seem significantly more sensible than the kind of logic that leads to butter mountains and grain dumpings while, in other places, famines destroy lives. Of course, the scientists are the only people in the story who seem to take seriously the idea that Axonite could be used for famine relief (though Winser is obviously thinking of his career too)… and there are plenty of very clever scientists (much cleverer than me, for instance) who might believe such a thing.

I must also say this: Pigbin Josh. Yeah, ‘cos homelessness is so funny, isn’t it?

‘Colony in Space’

Drab, protracted and filled with aliens that would look distractingly silly were it not for the even sillier haircuts that surround them. Its integrity as a story in its own right is dented by the unnecessary presence of the Master.

But… this is a story about ordinary people trying to make something better for themselves in a society in which ruthless private interests are ranged against them. Law and order poses as impartial but exists to legitimate the unimpeded self-interest of the corporations. IMC is a gangster operation, but a legal one. They (and the other corporations, it is heavily implied) have turned Earth into a hellhole and now they want to get their claws (they even fit claws to their mining machinery) into any other world they can, plundering them for profit and damn the people who get in the way.

Still relevant enough, I'd argue.

This story has an unusual respect for the token "hothead". Winton (what a wonderfully wet name for the character) is not turned into a psycho by ‘fanaticism’, he doesn't die for his militancy. He is depicted as being as right and/or wrong as the moderate Ash... and Ash has to go to extremes before he can win.

The characterisation is interesting, full of unexpected gestures. Caldwell (the ever-reliable Bernard Kay) is very sympathetic; the employee of the monstrous organisation who tries hard to retain his illusions in the face of ever more obvious illegality and ruthlessness. The Doctor switches off the "entertainment" with disgust. The IMCers celebrate and get tipsy - a great little human detail, which also becomes a satisfying minor plot point. And the quiet way that Dent says "goodbye Ash" when he knows he's sending the man (and an entire population with him) to his death.

This is a Western as well. And there we run into problems because the natives/Indians are depicted according to some of the standard stereotypes: silent, inscrutable, changeable, primitive, etc. Even so, IMC is shown to be employing a racist strategy of lying about native massacres... which Ash's people (who have a modus vivendi with the natives) are shown to be inclined to believe. And, it becomes a little more complex again when the natives become part of a sub-plot/theme about the degeneration of a high-technological culture that created an ultimate weapon which drained their culture of all vitality along with the world where they lived... which chimes with the way Earth is described as ravaged by the high-tech society that the violent corporations have created there. The implication is that the humans on Earth might well find themselves brought to the same pass as the Exarians, their culture decimated by their own technology, carrying spears and worshipping machinery they no longer understand.

I like it for its straightforward anti-corporate and anti-exploitation and anti-nuke sentiments (it clearly isn’t technology as a whole that is being criticised). But it fails to develop many of its themes, such as the inherent conflict between colonists and natives, which could've been an interesting look at the way ordinary people went to America or Israel (or many such settler colonial states) to make better lives free of domination or poverty or discrimination... and found themselves displacing and dominating and impoverishing the people who lived there before them, and justifying this on racist grounds. As it is, the story doesn't really pick up on the irony that Ash and Co. are menaced by very much the same displacement that they themselves have started to inflict upon the natives.

And, if we're honest, as drama, it fails to thrill except in parts.

The problem is that the serial lacks a sense of the mythic or legendary. Doctor Who, I think, is usually at its best when it combines a deep sense of the political with a deep awareness of itself as mythic text. I'd have reworked the story slightly in terms of Shakespeare's The Tempest. Give one of the ordinary natives who deals with the colonists an eloquent and resentful voice. Make Dent into Ash's treacherous brother. That sort of thing.

‘The Dæmons’

The Pertwee era has already been accidentally naff. With this, it becomes actively cheesy for the first time.

The themes about magic vs. science are moronic and facile. The attempt to get the mass/energy stuff right only makes the loony-toon nature of the "science" on display more obvious. Science may *explain* the magic, but scientists (from the village medic to the Professor to the Doctor to Azal) are depicted as arrogant and dogmatic. Azal self-destructs when confronted by an emotional act that he's incapable of understanding. Puh-leeeeeeze. But then Miss Hawthorne is a silly caricature who just dogmatically asserts her POV all over the place.

It's Wheatley/Kneale for dummies. Which is saying something because Kneale is nowhere near as smart as he's supposed to be and as for Wheatley...

I could live with most of the above if the story was fun in its own terms but the script is horrible, constantly overegging the pudding to absurd degrees... so Miss Hawthorne can't just say "the Devil", she says, "Lucifer, the Horned Beast, Beelzebub, the Dark Prince..." etc., etc., etc. The road sign says that, in addition to Devil's End, there's another local village called Satanford or something. And the script is loaded with a constant barrage of what the writers imagine to be cutesy badinage between the regulars that just sounds like the worst sitcom ever written.

And then there's the bloody Morris dancing. There's no excuse for that.

I quite like the way the Master (beautifully played by Delgado, who is so good he carries whole sections of this nonsense singlehandedly) tries to recruit the villagers to his cause using reactionary rhetoric. The script makes a subterranean connection between Satanism and reactionary Little Englandism here... and I know only too well that plenty of people in such places would happily rally to a kind of Daily Mail fascism-lite if it were couched in the right terms.

But the crowning cock-up is that scene where the Third Doctor - who is at his most arrogant and bumptious all the way through this story - patronisingly ticks off Jo in public for not showing her boss enough respect. I tell you, I could puke.

And then there's the crashingly inappropriate description of Hitler as a "bounder". That's a word to describe a Terry Thomas character, not the leader of the Third Reich.

It's full of good ideas... but the road to 'The Ghosts of N-Space' is paved with good ideas... which Barry Letts forces Pertwee et al to dance across wearing very, very dirty boots.

‘The Mutants’

From elsewhere on this blog:

Two words: Stubbs and Cotton. They’re a cut above yer usual sci-fi guards. Why? Because they behave like real people. Well, they behave a bit like real people (this is still Doctor Who after all). They call their boss “his nibs” when he’s not about. They grumble when the alarm goes off because they’ve got to cut short their tea break. They’re not idealised. Stubbs is prepared (though obviously not eager) to kill “Mutts” before he gets savvy to what’s really going on in the system he serves. For ages they’ve carried on standing their posts, despite casually saying that the Solonians should’ve been given their independence years ago when anybody bothers to ask them.

These are clearly meant to be normal working stiffs. Stubbs has a regional accent (a rarer and therefore more pointed detail back then) and Cotton is a black man with a Caribbean accent (again, a rare and pointed detail). The choice of a Caribbean actor (albeit a very bad one) to play Cotton is indicative (I don’t know if it’s specified in the script that Cotton should be a black man but it hardly matters). The Caribbean was a nexus point of empire – the natives were all but annihilated by Westerners and the islands were subsequently used as a crucial staging post of the slave trade. (Also, in the context of black slavery, the word “cotton” is itself redolent of many pertinent associations.) And it had to be a conscious anti-racist statement, in the early-70s context of racial strife and a resurgent National Front. Stubbs and Cotton are best mates, despite their ethnic difference. The sci-fi context makes them both “Overlords”, i.e. both defined by their common humanity… but they go on to redefine themselves as being against some of their fellow humans, i.e. the Marshal and what he represents. This is the key thing about them: in the course of a struggle against the forces of reaction, they undergo a change. They see and hear things that bring about their political awakening. They shrug off “false consciousness” as they fight alongside Ky and the other Solonians. Just as white and black workers can join forces, so can they join forces with colonial people that their own nation has subjugated.

Everybody knows that ‘The Mutants’ has things to say about apartheid, but mostly we nowadays think of apartheid in connection with the old South Africa. But Rhodesia was an apartheid state too. It had only been a self-declared independent republic since 1965 and, in 1972 was still run by the racist white-minority government of Ian Smith. It would not be until 1979 that pressure from nationalist resistance fighters and revolutionary guerrillas would force Smith to come to terms and hold proper elections, in effect granting “majority rule”. The Marshal is very reminiscent of Smith. He refuses to go along with the official policy of peaceful relinquishment devised by a crumbling system. He dreams of doing what Smith did, declaring independence from the Empire while retaining the minority rule of the “Overlords”.

In 1972, people could still see the turmoil in Britain’s colonies (or former colonies) on the TV news. A generation had lived through a process of imperial divestment, during which the British Empire dismantled itself because the Second World War had left Britain economically bankrupt. The Earth Empire in ‘The Mutants’ is clearly the British Empire (rather than the French or Portugese) because it is taking itself apart. Britain had little choice but to peacefully grant independence to her former colonies once they achieved non-communist “stability” because empire had become too expensive. France, by contrast, squandered lives and treasure trying to hold onto her possessions, only to be defeated at length… but in France in ’68, many students and workers and ordinary people had expressed their solidarity with those brutalised by their own country’s empire, which had once included what the French called Indochina… which had since become the target of another empire, and the focus of more protest.

The last bit sounds far too kind to the Brits, who were actually unsparingly brutal in their suppression of independence movements in many of their colonies.

Other stuff I like about 'The Mutants':

The brilliant music and production design; the great monsters; the trippy sequences in the cave; Sondergaard is a hippy drop-out kind of scientist; Pertwee really lets rip with the moral indignation, especially when denouncing Jaeger; Ky is clearly the leader of a national liberation movement that practices violent revolt, yet he is ultimately a sympathetic figure; the sequence when the Skybase's bulkhead is breached is (for the time) extremely well done...

It's sad that the villainy is depicted as the rogue behaviour of one colonialist, rather than official government policy. This blunts the allegory and dampens down the message... but, still, it's clear that the Solonians’ problems are not just caused by the Marshall but by the system of colonial domination that produced him.

All in all, this is pretty great stuff. Only in the turbulent early 70s (and possibly only in the semi-hidden-from-adult-radar context of Doctor Who) could mainstream TV engage quite so clearly against British imperialism and, most pleasingly, for national liberation movements, even violent ones. It goes beyond the usual ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’ cliché that Star Trek: The Next Sodding Generation could make whole episodes about, and directly puts Ky in the right. Some people kvetch about the fact that his first act as a floaty glam-rock angel is to kill the Marshall. Is the idea that it is somehow beneath a 'more highly evolved' being to be violent?  Or that killing a genocidal racist imperialist is a terrible thing to do?  Good on him, I say. The story clearly doesn’t hold it against him, if you’ll allow me to anthropomorphize a television serial for a moment.

The A.N.C. were called “terrorists” by the South African government, and Thatcher agreed – a characterisation that the Tories – via David Cameron (the blue-blooded, royalty-related, Eton and Oxbridge, millionaire, class warrior bastard!) - only got around to repudiating in 2006… and then, I have no doubt, insincerely and for PR purposes only (the slimy, two-faced, Tory reptile…. etc., etc.). Ah, but bringing up the A.N.C. leads to an obvious question: a story about colonial domination and apartheid in which the oppressed natives are as pasty as the oppressors? Doesn’t that miss the point of racism? No, of course not. The test case is Ireland, the first place to feel the jackboot of British colonial imperialism. The Irish were white, just like the people invading and crushing them. Of course, they were quickly repackaged in terms of insulting religious and ethnic stereotypes by their oppressors, as are all oppressed people. Insulting and belittling stereotypes of the Irish are still going strong today. Racism is the retrospective rationalization, not the reason. And you only have to imagine that this is about Ireland rather than Zimbabwe for a moment to see how radically this story can be read.

In fact, let’s imagine it’s about Iraq today.

Oh, and as for Salman Rushdie and his garbled reference to the “Mutilasians” in that tedious, pompous, pretentious book of his… well, maybe I shouldn’t rake all that up again. After all, he got the Who-community's equivalent of a fatwah at the time. Ian Levine called for him to be forced to listen to 'Doctor in Distress' on a perpetual loop, and put him on his Enemies List between Michael Grade and Pamela Nash. A bunch of pudgy blokes in parkers gathered in Trafalgar Square holding placards saying that the book was "cringeworthy" and had a "deus ex machina ending". Ouch.

At Gallibase, someone tried to get their head round how utterly Rushdie misrepresents and misunderstands ‘The Mutants’ by suggesting that he actually got his version of the Mutts from ‘The Brain of Morbius’, in which a lone Mutt makes a cameo appearance. But, as someone else pointed out, it seems unlikely that he’d have easy access to either story in 1988… perhaps he got it from the novelisation. Well, who knows. But I love the idea of Salman Rushdie furtively reading the Target novelisation of 'The Brain of Morbius'. He'd have to hide it inside a copy of Health and Efficiency in case Martin Amis or Ian McKewan (or some other pompous, high-brow, literary wanker) saw him with it.

‘Frontier in Space’

Lots of conventional liberal moralism. Cold war = bad. Racism = bad. Understanding between different peoples = good. Etc.

Analyse it for a split second and it stops being enjoyable space opera and becomes dunderheaded rubbish. Wars start between opposed military/imperial powers because of diplomatic misunderstandings between essentially well-meaning commanders do they? Bleurgh.

Still, we get some meatier stuff when we see the Lunar colony, with its imprisoned dissidents and peace activists (with the professor sounding like Bert Russell and looking like Trotsky). The Doctor makes the peace sign, which is nice.

Plus, we get the Master teamed up with the Daleks. It's brief but its fun, especially when the Master mutters mockingly about the Daleks behind their backs.

This would be more enjoyable if you could watch it knowing it will lead into 6 weeks of the Master and the Daleks fighting a massive, exciting space war with the humans and Draconians as allies. Sadly, you have to watch it with the spectre of the dullest Doctor Who story ever made looming on the immediate horizon.

Good space ships and costumes (the silk evening gowns of the Earth President and her political interrogators being especially satisfying as an example of total, unashamed, psychotic 70s kitsch). And then there’s the greatest example of "hint hint" acting in Who: the scene where the Draconian prince tacitly asks his deputy to arrange the kidnapping of the Doctor and Jo. He goes all slit-eyed and starts talking all slowly and meaningfully and over-enunciating everything. He does everything but actually nudge the deputy in the ribs. It's a joy to watch.

‘Planet of the Dalekzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz……’

Lazy, shoddy, trite and dull, dull, dull. I can never watch this one without falling asleep and dreaming that I'm lost in a beige labyrinth in which the beige walls are lined with beige books, all of which have every word replaced with the word "beige".

‘The Green Death’

They seem to have set out deliberately to make an angry swipe at environmentally destructive companies, business ethics and practices in general and so on. Does it come off? Weeeeell...

I enjoy the use of the boardroom context for evil that takes the form of thuggery, mind control and megalomania... and, theoretically, I like the idea of an eco-story about a nasty old corporation that befouls the land and is opposed by a commune of hippy scientists...

Trouble is, the "Nuthutch" and its denizens are so twee, so tourist bourgeois... and the working class are depicted only as grumbling luddites who distrust both the bosses and the people with the real solutions, i.e. the army (!) and the cutesy, university-educated, trendy, Good Life-esque band of nice middle class kids. Also, the workers, through the conduit of their Welshness, are patronised into being childlike supporting figures. They don't notice or care much about the environmental destruction, which is implicitly assumed to be a more important problem than their jobs and lives and livings. (Though, it has to be admitted, Jones is depicted as managing to be both Welsh and clever simultaneously… and might conceivably be a local, working-class kid made good.)

So, in its terribly liberal moralistic way, this attempt at an angry, political story misses the chance to engage with what unscrupulous businesses do to ordinary, working people, and also misses a chance to depict those people as a force for change.

I like B.O.S.S. though. I expect the writers intended him as an embodiment of ‘everything bad in the system’, the ultimate bad boss. But he can – with a little effort – be read as an embodiment of the system as a whole. He represents unaccountable hierarchy in reified form. He also represents alienation. He’s a product of human creativity that has enslaved its creator. He's capital itself gone rogue. He's a product of the system and he's running things, overtaking his creators. He’s the system automatically taking itself out of human control, as it frequently does. He is taking the system's impulse towards ruthless competition and monopolisation to its logical (mad) extreme. And he hums Wagner while trying to take over the world, which is made of win.

Which brings up B.O.S.S.’s peculiar little speech in which he calls Stevens a “good little Nietzschean”. Well, we all know what Wagner and Nietzsche call to mind, especially when mentioned together. The writers seem to be trying to suggest a link, or a sympathetic resonance, between the monopolistic and rapacious ways of corporations and the ideology of fascism… which is interesting. There are indeed resonances between the methods and structures of corporations and dictatorships. Chomsky, for instance, describes corporations as pure tyrannies, the most totalitarian institutions ever created. They’re ruthlessly and pyramidally hierarchical, highly bureaucratic, often work as internally ‘planned’ or ‘command economies’ (whatever their rhetoric about free trade), have little or no internal democracy, suppress internal dissent, spy on employees, monitor employee orthodoxy, guard their secrecy zealously, fight to keep themselves as near totally unaccountable as they can, are imperialistic in their desire (if not their need) to expand into and take over new markets, employ armed muscle (or rely on the armed muscle of the state), promote their viewpoint through relentless and clever (if often crashingly naff) propaganda, etc.

Furthermore, corporations have a long and inglorious history of doing highly profitable business with fascist dictatorships (including the Nietzsche-and-Wagner-fixated Nazis), or with any tyranny that will open up to them. They don’t even really care if a tyranny describes itself as ‘communist’, as long as it’s open for business (i.e. Murdoch in China).

However, much as individual bosses and capitalists may be highly reactionary or even racist (the foaming anti-Semite and Nazi sympathiser Henry Ford being the classic example), corporations themselves are resolutely non-ideological. Their representatives and adverts and spokesmen may spout specious concerns for freedom and ethics and choice and so on… and on a human level, there may be ideological convictions to neoliberal doctrine, usually held with religious fervour and an imperviousness to evidence by capitalists, corporate managers, mainstream politicians and especially by the pundits and ideologues who write about them all in the mainstream press. But the corporation itself is just a machine for making a profit. They may have the legal status of human beings in the States but they have “neither body to punish nor soul to damn” (as said by either Edward Thurlow or Andrew Jackson, depending on who you believe) and, consequently, corporations themselves do not believe things.

Of course, if a machine for making profit, with neither body nor soul, could somehow start thinking and believing things, it might well talk like B.O.S.S.

The almost unfeasibly brilliant David Harvey has pointed out (opening himself up to wanton misinterpretation by assorted idiots) that neoliberalism is quite happy to embrace (or at least talk about embracing) ‘progressive’ values and movements (i.e. gay liberation, feminism, anti-racism, etc.) as long as these movements are repackaged in commodified and individualised forms as 'identity politics'. By contrast, Nietzsche’s ideas about the “Superman” wouldn’t play well in PR campaigns nowadays, or when ‘Green Death’ was made… precisely because people associate Nietzsche with Nazism and anti-Semitism.

It’s actually a little unfair that Nietzsche should be associated thus, because he loathed anti-Semitism… but I won’t weep for his reputation because he was a vile misogynist (“Thou goest to women? Forget not they whip!”) and his ideas about various competing “wills to power” permeating the natural and social world lends itself to the conclusion - which he himself espoused - that exploitation was an inherent and eternal aspect of human life, impossible to abolish… an ideology that would would appeal to those who claim that capitalism represents the best possible refinement of human social arrangements, and that to strive for anything better is an inherently forlorn hope. That would surely appeal to B.O.S.S., as it appeals to most capitalists, or beneficiaries of capitalism.

‘The Time Warrior’

Bob Holmes does a pseudo-historical, and he does it in the manner of Dennis Spooner, i.e. the vertigo of anachronism (but using little details) and all sly jokes at the whole idea that Who can depict history at all.

The scene where Sarah meets Irongron and then Linx is one of the finest of this era. Sarah is, at this point, genuinely a young, career-minded, independent woman of the early 70s (or at least as close to one as Who can get) meeting a medieval thug and then an intergalactic soldier. It's bursting with character, witty, funny, layered with irony and underpinned with real danger. The cast chuck themselves at it with evident delight, an appreciation of the cheeky self-mockery that the script mandates and a willingness to go serious when needed. So, after all the fun of Sarah's refusal to believe that she's talking to anybody but actors, we're suddenly not laughing when Irongron says "I'll have the manna from your bones you little chicken!" and Sarah starts to look worried.

But we're never called upon to take it too seriously. Or are we? I for one certainly start to take the brotherhood/rivalry between Irongron and Linx (brothers under the skin, as the script points out) pretty seriously. The hi-tech, imperialistic militarism of Linx is counterpointed by the small-scale, vicious ambition of Irongron… thus bringing out the psychological pettiness of even the most sophisticated warmongering, and the imperialistic (i.e. brigandish) motives behind even the most primitive squabbles between propertied people.

The other way that Irongron and Linx chime is in their attitude towards women. To both, women are a peculiarity, an extra, a resource and a disappointment. Linx – who is from a cloned species - even defines human sex as “a primary and secondary reproductive system”. His disdain for women is utilitarian. They’re an inefficient way of creating new people. Similary, to Irongron, they’re just drudges who irritate him by not serving him very well. In light of all this, it’s nice to see Sarah angrily refusing to make the Doctor coffee.

Bob Holmes may poke fun at Sarah’s earnestness, naïveté and touchiness, but he doesn’t ridicule her feminism per se. In fact, he makes a point of showcasing the sexism of feudal society (with Irongron comparing Lady Eleanor to a “narrow-hipped vixen” and defining women as there to “do the lowly work”), and then giving Sarah that great scene where she upbraids Irongron’s female drudges for submitting to male rule. She’s naive, certainly, telling the women that men “don’t own the world”… when, at this point in European history, they really did own pretty much everything… but her refusal to accept the viewpoint that “women will never be free while there are men in the world” is clearly championed. The irony is that the woman who says this is depicted as strong-willed, opinionated and clearly intellectually superior to all the men she serves. And what’s more, she understands (perhaps without realising that she understands) that the more profound division in society is not between men and women but between classes; this is obvious when she tells Sarah not to give the guards at the gate any stew. Sarah’s outraged outburst in response to her resigned servility – “What subservient poppycock! You’re still living in the Middle Ages!” – is a genuinely funny and witty bit of Spoonerian anachro-vertigo, but also makes a point about history. Things change, attitudes change, and the process is driven by people. What we might (with due scepticism) call ‘progress’ comes partly from people refusing to accept that this or that entrenched inequity is inevitable and eternal.

(Of course, another motor of historical change is the development of technology, which Holmes seems to acknowledge with the stuff about humans developing nuclear weapons ‘too early’ if they get rifles in the Middle Ages… which implies that ‘we’ in the 20th/21st centuries are mature enough to handle nukes, which is highly dubious… and the whole underlying notion of successive and ordered ‘stages’ in history is actually far too mechanistic and ahistorical to pass serious muster, but we’ll let it by.)

Holmes might not be particularly well informed about feminism as a set of political ideas, but he at least tries to engage with Sarah’s opinions and convictions. Sadly, most subsequent writers will marginalise this aspect of Sarah’s personality, or turn it into an excuse for wet homilies about “women’s lib”. By the time of ‘The Ark in Space’, Sarah’s political convictions (because that’s what we’re talking about here: political convictions) will be pretty much sidelined. By the time we get to ‘School Reunion’ and her subsequent Adventures, Sarah has become domestic, motherly, romantic and prone to lots of sentimentality. It’s disquieting to notice how many fans use words like “brash” and “shrill” and “irritating” and “extreme” about Sarah’s first appearance. Whatever else she may be, she’s not “extreme”… but then neither is she just the adoring accessory that Jo usually was, so some fans (and fans are still mostly male) will see her as a scary militant, liable to burn her bra at any moment. Which is probably why they keep watching.

‘Invasion of the Dinosaurs’

They only did this because they were assured - assured, I tell you! - that they'd get dinosaurs that didn't look stupid.

Well, the dinosaurs do look stupid. This must be acknowledged and then passed by.

Story? Well... truncated to four episodes, rewritten so that not everyone turns out to be a traitor and restructured so that we are allowed to believe for a while the Sarah really is in space... and you'd have quite a good story.

Actually, it's quite good as it is, but seems to trot when it needs to gallop and wobble when it most needs to keep its balance.

I like the way that the middle-class, liberal/lefty, tutting-at-the-modern-world intelligentsia types are depicted as closet totalitarians and self-righteous elitists. Very true, if you ask me.

Things get a bit weird when it turns out that so many members of the British state and establishment appear to have become radical eco-terrorists. Very unlikely, if you ask me.

I suppose the idea is that ‘back to the good old days’ is a reactionary idea that, in various forms, can have an unfortunate appeal to both establishment types and right-on tree-huggers. Fair enough. And quite perceptive about some of the inherent weaknesses of some of the counter-cultural movements, held over from the 60s, that were winding down at about this time.

First episode is great. Things go downhill when Pertwee is called upon to do a "comedy" cockney accent. Dear god, it hurts.

Loved the novelisation passionately as a kid. My original copy had the pterodactyl attacking a black and white Pertwee. Read it about 712 times. Doctor Who AND dinosaurs in the same story? To me it was very Heaven. The book fell apart in the end and I had to buy another copy, which had a tyrannosaurus in front of St. Paul's. Which just wasn't the same, somehow.

All together now: "KKLAK!".

‘Death to the Daleks’

Funny old stick, Tel-Boy Nation. His scripts are often glib and breezy treatments of oddly thoughtful concepts wrapped up in acres of cliché. A bit of inspired directing can bring stuff out of them. That's what's happened with 'Death to'.

Identikit middle-class space officers (one of whom is called Tarrant, natch), anonymous grunting natives, a standard bit of 70s Von Daniken rubbish, a mineral that sounds like a very private anatomical location, the usual chase/capture/sacrifice/escape nonsense and typically shrill Daleks... and yet, somehow, it becomes a genuinely creepy and sorta fascinating puzzle box of a story.

It's as though the alienating effect of some of the unusual images (a pitch black and silent TARDIS control room, for instance) adds depth to the proceedings. We have the superb idea of the semi-living roots of the city, the humanoid "antibodies", the Exxilon controller in the chair who collapses into dust, the gleaming rooms filled with dusty skeletons, the whole notion of a high civilization ravaged by its own runaway technology and regressing to religion and ‘barbarism’... if this story popped up in Season 18, a) it would look entirely at home and b) some people would gush about how intellectual it is.

The story keeps coming back to confrontations between primitivism and technology. The Daleks have to swap laser beams for old fashioned bullets and are then overpowered by spears and arrows... yet, ironically, their great weapon turns out to be the oldest killer of all: disease. The city itself is like a giant leech. It sucks up all power, technological, intellectual and cultural. It doesn't just feed on the energy of engines and lasers but on the energy of the mind, on sanity and rationality. Its feeding has left the planet and the people barren. Its upper pylon, the one that absorbs all the energy, even looks like a totem pole… which reminds me of Feuerbach, and what he said about Man making a totem pole which reflects his own powers and then bowing down before it, imagining that he bows before some other, greater entity… when all he is really bowing to is his own distorted image. (At least... I think that was Feuerbach...)  That’s what the Exxilons are up to, isn’t it?

Briant (the director) is also helped by some occasionally clever production design. Okay, the Dalek ship looks like a hubcap, but the Exxilon city has a creepy and beautiful monumentalism about it (even if, at the end, it’s obviously a polystyrene model being attacked with a kitchen blowtorch)... and the Exxilons themselves seem, at times, to blend with their barren planet. They look like moving rocks.

Somehow, the powerless and increasingly strung-out Daleks are all the more scary for being temporarily innocuous and accompanied everywhere by comedy 'Laurel & Hardy' parp-parp music. Meanwhile, the music goes into a totally different gear elsewhere and hypes up the creepiness very effectively.

Of course, we have the usual libelling of tribal people in which they are depicted as grunting, spear-chucking, girl-sacrificing primitives... though the story then pulls the rug away a bit and turns them into the abused and exploited slaves of the imperialist Daleks (and humans!)...

Also, the co-opting of Von Daniken, and all that stuff about the temple in Peru that must’ve been built by aliens… that relies on the assumption (the underlying assumption of Von Daniken’s ‘work’) made by Westerners that so-called ‘primitive’ people in South America, Africa and other colonised places are incapable of civilization. Any great ruins that white people happen to find are therefore mysterious anomalies. When Cecil Rhodes and his bunch of gangsters moved into Zimbabwe (which Rhodes would eventually, with a fine display of modesty, take it upon himself to rename ‘Rhodesia’) they found ruins that spoke of such sophistication that they were unable to credit them to the ancestors of the ‘savage’ tribesmen. A whole system of implicitly racist and/or culturalist pseudo-science (of which Von Daniken was just a crackpot-populist spinoff) developed in the West to “explain” such impenetrable mysteries.

But, back to Exxilon… this being a Nation script, we also have the obligatory rebels... but they then become oddly moving when shown to be rationalist dissenters from religion, lead by the oddly affecting Bellal.

In a way, this is emblematic of Doctor Who. A kid's adventure story fashioned from Dan Dare, von Daniken, every bit of trash going... but full of ideas, done with such directness, employing linguistic cleverness and raising so many signs and symbols that it somehow becomes more than the sum of its parts. Of course, I might just be biased by the years I spent as a kid watching the VHS again and again and again...

‘The Monster of Peladon’

An amiable enough runaround, if you switch your brain off. But it really is the Who equivalent of listening to Jeremy Vine and Andrew Marr talking about unions: “blah, blah, blah… Winter of Discontent… blah, blah, blah… rubbish on the streets… blah, blah, blah… longest suicide note in British political history… blah, blah, blah” and every other cliché in the book.

‘Monster’ is standard, mainstream, cretinous, bourgeois liberal moralism attempting to comment on a political situation in which a Tory government has just been brought down by a wave of miners strikes more powerful than anything since the 20s.

The underlying assumptions represent the ideology of ‘balance’ and ‘impartiality’ and ‘national interest’ and every other chimera of the mainstream media.

The Pels are all in it together. The Queen and her High Priests, the guards that enforce the law and order, the miners who actually carve the trisilicate out of the rock. Sure, there are classes… and sure the working classes have some legitimate grievances… but, underneath all that, the Pels all have common interests that are only upset by the reactionary troublemaking of Ortron and, even more, by the psychotic fanaticism of Ettis.

In other words, control the xenophobic right-wingers in the government, and make sure the compromisers like Gebek run the unions rather than the looney-left, and the country (sorry, planet) can team up to get everyone the best deal... because that's what everyone wants, right? Because extremism exists at the edges of a spectrum of normalcy in which we all pull together and compromise for the national interest, right?

The state is, in this view, fundamentally functionalist; an honest broker. The smooth running of society is upset by the extremists on both sides. Meanwhile, the flaws of the establishment can be solved by persuading the people at the top to be more democratic and liberal and nice and cuddly and feminist... because they're not ruthlessly determined to hold on to their power, privilege and wealth at any price, and equally determined to keep exploiting the people who have to spend their lives digging in dark pits. Oh-ho-ho no. The idea! You'd have to be a mad militant to believe stuff like that.

Mind you, this story manages to notice that imperial military repression is what greets any attempt at economic self-determination by weak states that provide crucial commodities and resources to empire... though it depicts this as perpetrated by rogue elements that are actually betraying the empire concerned! It's like suggesting that the coup in Guatemala wasn't organised by Eisenhower and the CIA on behalf of the United Fruit Company but was actually the work of freemasons who wanted to sell the bananas to Russia. Bleurgh!!!

This is probably the most politically idiotic Doctor Who story ever made (at least it was until earlier this year) but even so, all it does (for the most part) is mirror the ideological assumptions that still underlie all mainstream discourse today.

‘Planet of the Spiders’

Lupton is believably petty and small as a villain… and understandable; driven to his actions by a society that has worked him dry and then discarded him.

The spiders are ego, rampaging selfishness, greed, the willingness to step on people to feed your desires. The Doctor finds one on his own back and must purge himself. The old man dies so the new man can be born.

Tommy is healed by the crystal and suddenly finds two lines of Blake more beautiful than all the shiny trinkets in his collection.

It’s cheesy but poetic; full of clichés and also possessed of a heartfelt directness. Call me an old softy, but I love it.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Blobs in a Snowstorm

With extra material by Charles Daniels (so there'll be at least one bit of it worth reading).

What is Doctor Who but a "carnival of monsters"? A peepshow for kids that want to look in on lots of other worlds full of funny little creatures doing funny little tricks, like arguing and fighting and being chased and eaten by monsters? In fact, that's TV generally. Well, actually, it's fiction generally. But Doctor Who is what's being examined here. A cheap 'n' cheerful carny entertainment, proffered by el cheapo entertainers. The purpose is to amuse, simply to amuse. Nothing serious, nothing political......

Except that entertainment is inherently political, as is fun, as is the imagination, as is the love of monsters. Monsters, as China Miéville has put it, are "good at meaning" things. He says that we're a teratoculture, that we make monsters as part of our inherent humanness. They're all over the caves that prehistoric man painted. We're the animal that is scared of our predators... but also wonders how cool it would be if four of our different predators all donated body parts to some chimera creature that exists only in our heads. And we still love monsters, even in our world of technology and capitalism. We go to them for amusement, to fend off the boredom. And they mean things for us at the same time.

Inter-Minor (a world whose name suggests interiority and petty little concerns) is run by grey-faced, bureaucratic, xenophobic, snobbish, isolationist killjoys. It reminds me of what James Connolly said about the consequences of dividing Ireland, that it would be a “carnival of reaction”. And right he was too. The Inter-Minoran rulers could be the Catholic Church in the South, cracking down on fun (though they’re a bit too disapproving of colourful kitsch and bling to convince as Catholics) or the Protestant ruling minority in the North, holding down the Catholics. Bit of a stretch? Yeah, okay, probably. But either way, they hate the Scope because it might amuse the Functionaries, the exploited underclass who are shot down for stopping work and protesting. And the Functionaries do look interested! The "official species" won’t let them look, however. They fear the contamination brought by the multi-coloured, sequin-plastered fakers who want to bring colour and fun to their world. They don't want the functionaries getting ideas. Like the British imperialists on the SS Bernice who generalise about “Johnny Chinaman” and the laziness of their “Madrassi” (which is a racist slur, in case you didn’t know), the Inter-Minorans don't think their beasts of burden can be trusted to pause working without also losing their discipline and becoming dangerous.

Is this a protectionist state tyranny that fears the freedoms brought by the free market - personified by the entrepreneurial Vorg? Maybe, but this story also critiques British imperialist racism... and Vorg is hardly an ethical paragon. His business is the cruel and utterly callous exploitation of the "monsters" that find their way into his little malfunctioning techno-zoo. A machine that separates people into their little boxes and keeps them there, running round in circles, doing the same things over and over, stuck in time, unalive and unaware of it. If capitalism is better than the state bureaucracy of the Inter-Minorans, it is still depicted as a system of exploitation and alienation... which the Doctor shuts down too.

Also, when Kalik outlines his plan for allowing some drashigs to escape (thus causing havoc, leading to a war, increased xenophobia, regime change, national unity and docile functionaries) it sounds like what some would now call ‘shock therapy’. Use the terrorist attack, hurricane or invasion as a cover under which to restructure society along reactionary neoliberal lines while everyone is scared and reeling. No doubt Kalik would have his own version of a PATRIOT Act and lots of Lurmanophobic terrorist scares, probably followed by a savage spending review. If Kalik is a protectionist and a statist, he’s behaving like a neoliberal. Or a neoconservative. They're pretty much different facets of the same thing. Of course, one of the things one learns from reading people like Naomi Klein and Chomsky is that the ideologues of the weak state and free trade are the very people who advocate protectionism and ultra-statism in practice. The free market couldn’t afford to run itself and still make profits without massive public investment and subsidies. But I digress…

Meanwhile, the metaphor of the Scope for all fiction continues. It's a machine that moves characters around from box to box. The people inside are also characters controlled by a lazy author (like the soldiers in the War Games or the characters in the Land of Fiction)... or perhaps even existential beings observed but unhelped by amused and detached gods. As flies to wanton boys to the gods are we, etc... Vorg twiddles the dials to make the monsters in his technological flea circus jump. He’s a script writer adjusting the characters. He twists the “aggrometer” (!) and the people on the screen start fighting… he twists it back and they wander off for tea. And Jo gets to comment further on the mechanics of Who story construction: “isn’t it time for the monster bit about now?”

If TV is a system of levels, one within the other, dimension within dimension, play within play... then Doctor Who, with its integral system of big spaces inside little boxes is the same TV dimensional system ramped up and amplified, something that this story analyses and cheekily disrupts. The TARDIS inside the boat inside the Scope inside Inter-Minor inside your TV inside your world... and the Doctor walks around inside your TV breaking down the barriers between the compartments, screwing up the circuitry... the different genres (the historical and the monster story) break into each other, just as the entire system of worlds within the Scope eventually breaks out into Inter-Minor, leaving you wondering - at that back of your mind, especially if you're a kid - if the Drashigs are also going to break out of the TV into your living room... and devour you before they rampage through Britain devouring all the xenophobes and bureaucrats and little Englanders and carny show people and bored workers...

On top of all this we have a satire of bad sci-fi that is ten times better and cleverer (and considerably less smug) than anything Douglas Adams would later go on to do, either in Who or elsewhere. In fact, it also simultaneously satirises anti-sci-fi snobbery. Kalik mutters at the ridiculousness of the Lurman names. They have a weapon called "the Eradicator" and a leader called "Zarb" and they think the Lurmans are daft!

Speaking of daft… why is the Skarasan in ‘Terror of the Zygons’ widely held to ruin (or nearly ruin) the story, while the plesiosaur and drashigs in ‘Carnival’ are not? The answer is as interesting as it is simple: ‘Zygons’ attempts some kind of naturalism in its aesthetics; ‘Carnival’ does not. Proof that the effectiveness of an effect is as much to do with its context as its intrinsic realism (or lack thereof).

I could go on. At length. But I'll have mercy on you and hand over to Who forum legend, party animal and eccentric genius Charles Daniels. Here is his take on ‘Carnival’. I don’t personally agree with absolutely every word of it (and it goes without saying that my quoting him here doesn’t mean he agrees with me about everything… or even anything), but it’s brilliant – no doubt about that. Read it:

Imagine that Carnival of Monsters had been made in 1988, with the 7th Doctor
and Ace. Fandom would have been all over every frame - debating the origin of the Scope, how the Doctor TRULY ended up in there -- did he plan it all along for some arcane purpose? Trying to find meanings hidden within the design of the machine; The choice of the exhibits.


The Doctor coming out and using his status as a Time Lord to control the situation!! That would have been wrapped IMMEDIATELY into the Cartmel Masterplan, with loads of needless bitching about how "the Doctor never did that in the olden days!"

In truth, the Carnival of Monsters is extremely subversive stuff. There are elements in there that make any McCoy tale look positively tame when it comes to self-referential context.

What's the FIRST THING WE SEE in Carnival of Monsters? The Doctor arrives on the planet in outrageous attire, with his lovely girl companion complaining about how disappointed she is with his choices of destination.

Leslie Dwyer's time as the Doctor is widely held to have been undermined
by the loud, tasteless, multi-coloured coat that he was forced to wear.

Oh wait! That's Shirna and Vorg. Easy mistake to make.

I'm sure the eeriely mirroring situation is just a freaky coincidence. After all, this is
a Pertwee story, and subtext wasn't invented until 1982 when they aired ‘Kinda’.

Anyway, I don't know how I confused them with the Doctor and Jo Grant, they didn't arrive in the TARDIS. They arrived on an assembly line where they were treated like mass produced objects. Again, no possible hint of irony could possibly have been in Robert Holmes' mind when he wrote that. He's not exactly a writer known for using comedy double acts to promote subversive material, now is he? I'm sure he didn't mean to say that Doctor Who had become rather formulaic in recent years.

Right, so everything I said before, let's just take that as unintentional co-incidence.
You write about two people travelling through space to exotic worlds together, there's bound to be some overlap with a completely different set of characters in the same universe who just happen to travel through space together.

So what about Vorg and Shirna? Well Shirna is the assistant. And Vorg is a somewhat shady seeming, but apparently nice enough, alien with a small, innocuous-looking, machine that can manipulate time and is bigger on the inside than the out. (It's the size of a tall trash can, and can contain entire oceanliners and desert planets.)

Oh and while Vorg tries to calm his assistant when the machine starts to go bonkers, he keeps insisting that everything is alright and he knows how to operate the machine, when he blatantly doesn't.

So yeah, it just gets more and more dissimilar a parallel as I continue. Doesn't it?

Okay, enough with the sarcasm.

Vorg and Shirna are Doctor Who.

They are a statement about Doctor Who WITHIN a serial of Doctor Who.

And what are Vorg and Shirna (aka Doctor Who) trying to do? Well they arrive, reckon their audience is stupid, and then try to con as much cash out of them as possible.

"Step up step up for the monster show! Step up for the monster show! You schmucks!"

Not exactly the BEST thing you can say about Monster Show fan-...oops, I mean Doctor Who fandom, is it?

No nostalgia. Just plain old "Get the mark's money/viewing figures/AI numbers."

Nearby two aliens note that their scientists are puzzled as to why virtually every alien species looks more or less roughly humanoid. Again -- SERIOUS. TAKING. THE. PISS.

Meanwhile the Doctor and Jo are running around in corridors, getting captured, escaping, getting terrified by monsters, running around in corridors, getting captured, escaping, getting terrified by monsters, running around in corridors which Jo insists they've been in before but the Doctor assures her that the corridors all look identical and it's just her imagination, and then they discover that it actually IS the same corridor again and again. And they are surrounded by people who repeat the same actions AGAIN AND AGAIN!

The Doctor's life comes into peril on multiple occasions -- he's almost microwaved to death due to some rather harsh immigration laws, he's almost eaten, etc etc. But for once it's not the Doctor being generally clever, insanely lucky, or his foe's being generally bad at killing people that saves him.

This time around, at every turn the Doctor has saviours who step in on his behalf.
Who are these saviours? A bunch of bickering bureaucrats with unbelievably awful hair. Each of the bureaucrats is driven by a need to outdo the other in a petty game of political backstabbing. Each time the Doctor is threatened, petty bureaucrats advance their own agendas to save Doctor Who... I mean, the Doctor. I mean...well, I don't want to suggest that Robert Holmes was suggesting something about the way decisions were made at the BBC in the 1970s. It's just an eerie coincidence, just like the Vorg/Shirna parallel we debunked earlier.

In brief, the entire history of Doctor Who is deconstructed and taken the piss out of.

And that's not too terribly hard; We've seen horrifically unsubtle stabs at it, say with the LITERAL cliffhanger in ‘Dragonfire’. But what makes Robert Holmes impressive is that he did it under the nose of fans who have seen the episodes multiple times. The difference is that the same fans who are happy to pick apart the socio-political importance of ‘Battlefield’, tend to dismiss Pertwee as a load of old pro-establishment rubbish. Which doesn't pan out if you actually sit down and watch Pertwee stories.

Things like ‘The Green Death’, which was entirely blatant and in-your-face, were far more relevant and necessary than say -- an impassioned speech against nuclear war, which by 1989 wasn't too terribly controversial an idea. You've got the Peladon stories, the ‘Frontier In Space’, the Silurians -- all of which are trying to address relevant points with varying degrees of success. But ‘Carnival of Monsters’ is the Pertwee story that looks inward, and gets away with it.

Now, I should finish on that last line but that would mean I'd have to drop another point entirely, but it's one thing that I mustn't over look -

The Pertwee stories also are a great source to see the fundamental shift of social expectation.

Dystopia, oppression, and state violence were THE EXPECTED NORM of the 1970s. In a modern production all social ills are cured or taking their first steps to being healed within 45 minutes of the opening credits. For instance, even in the first Ood story we see the human characters shift their perceptions radically at the end of the story when they record the Ood deaths. And that sets the stage for the ABSOLUTELY UNAVOIDABLE sequel in which the Ood are freed.

In the ‘Carnival of Monsters’? The powers that be of Inter-Minor push the working class to the brink of insanity and then shoot them dead in cold blood.

Not only is this NOT all fixed with a happy warm bow at the end of the story -- it's NEVER EVEN ADDRESSED.

The Doctor doesn't get involved. He doesn't free the enslaved masses. He doesn't demand retribution for the "forcibly retired" members of the workforce. He just pisses off.

But he doesn't piss off before he laughs, chuckles, and essentially endorses Vorg on his quest to con innocent people out of as much credit bars as possible.

I’ll only say one thing in response to the above. The Ood aren’t “freed”, they free themselves. And in the last episode of ‘Carnival’, Pletrac can’t get the transport to take Vorg and Shirna away because “the functionaries are refusing to work double shifts”. When they protest on their own they can be shot down. When they unite, all the ruling class can do is grumble and look scared. That’s why I like the fact that the Doctor doesn’t free them. They don’t need him to. They can do it themselves. We need a bit of that sort of thing ourselves.