Sunday, 24 November 2013


Wow, letters in the title.  That feels so last month.

But, this being Doctor-Who-Boxing-Day, normal service has been resumed.  So, until I do my threatened anti-50, in which I count Doctor Who's political fails in minus numbers, we're back to titles which utilise the alphabet.

I'm only half joking about the anti-50.  I had my doubts and worries all along about the whole concept of the anniversary countdown.  It seemed churlish to include bits of Doctor Who that I hate, of which there are plenty.  I mean, if you can't be positive on the big birthday...  Besides, the whole concept of the Jubilee originates as an apocalyptic and insurrectionary notion in ancient Jewish resistance to Roman power, a carnival of the oppressed... so it's supposed to be a radical celebration.  On the other hand, relentless positivity just isn't what this blog does (as you'll have noticed).  There's plenty of writing out there (some of it very good) focusing solely on what's great about the show.  From the standpoint of 'social justice Who fandom' (which, I'm delighted to learn from tumblr, is a thing), it makes no honest sense to just be panglossian about the series.  Anyone who has trudged through my whole countdown will have noticed that I increasingly allowed criticism to creep into the posts, as context.  But, ultimately, I came to praise the Doctor not to bury him.  And, while I stand by that, it always worried me a bit.

Another thing I regret about the 50 is the amount of stuff I had to leave out.  At several points during the project, I felt lost for ideas... then I would immediately find that I had too many ideas to fit into my diminishing numbers.  I ended up quite surprised by what I covered and what I didn't cover.  I was totally going to do an entry for 'The Krotons', 'Kinda' and 'Snakedance', 'Inferno', 'The Mutants', 'The Savages', 'Turn Left', 'The Next Doctor', 'The Ark in Space', 'The Face of Evil', 'The Brain of Morbius', 'Invasion of the Dinosaurs', etc., etc., etc.  Somehow, they didn't get in.  Somehow, I ended up talking about 'The Underwater Menace' rather than, say, 'Genesis of the Daleks'.  Weird.  But I suppose that's what happens when you commit yourself to a tight schedule in which you must, essentially, make up some (hopefully) passably coherent stuff, totally on the fly, two or three times a day.

This leads me to a clarification I desperately want to make: the countdown may be a list, but it definitely isn't a 'Top 50'.  It's not a list of what I consider to be 'the best'.  There is no hierarchy intended here at all, though I do consider some of the stories I wrote about to be superior to others.  Indeed, I repeatedly found myself writing about episodes that, on the whole, I don't like, over episodes that I adore but which I had to sideline.  I'm broadly in sympathy with Lawrence Miles' opinion, expressed in this much-misunderstood post, that 'ranking' lists are just not a worthwhile thing to do, and that Doctor Who really only makes sense in historical context.  I think Miles goes a bit too far, seeming to dismiss any chance that the episodes can be enjoyed on a purely aesthetic level.  That's not something I'd want to sign up to, though I do think aesthetics have to be historicised.  Being a Marxist (or rather, someone who tries to do Marxism), I believe that it's pretty much impossible to truly understand or interpret any cultural product in isolation from the circumstances of its production, which should entail an understanding of the historical moment it comes from... though an overconcentration upon production (at the expense of the other nodes of the circuit of capital) has long been a symptom of vulgar Marxism.  But there is something inherently nonsensical in the whole concept of the list, particularly in the list of Doctor Who episodes.  It treats incredibly varied texts, made in incredibly varied social conditions, for incredibly varied reasons, as all part of one unified thing... which is very questionable, except from the standpoint of being tyrannised by the logo on the front, which (as I'm sure you'll be unsurprised to learn) strikes me as a form of commodity fetishism.  All the same, the contention of this group of commodities (so to speak) that they are 'all of a piece' is a vital part of their cultural context.  You can't understand 'World War Three' without reference to the politics of the day... but neither can you understand it without reference to the fact that the man who wrote it believed it to be, in some sense, a sequel to 'The Ambassadors of Death'.  Also, I wouldn't want to issue a blanket condemnation of the inherently nonsensical.

If anything connects these two points - the absence of hierarchy in my countdown and the unexpected nature of some of the stories that made it in - then it's (I hope) that my list/countdown didn't concern itself with 'quality' or my personal preferences (though I think it did concern itself with aesthetics).  I hope I historicised the stories to an extent, remembering where they came from as I thought about them.  I certainly tried to do that more as the countdown went on, and the entries got longer, and the project morphed and mutated in front of my astonished face.  I suppose I slipped in some of my disdain for Now while appreciating Then.  But I hope I historicised that too, trying to take into account why things are different now.  And I tried to include some appreciation of Now too, for vital balance.  That was, in many ways, the hardest thing (owing to my personal prejudices, no doubt) so I was lucky that I had help.

On that subject, I want to say thanks (hopefully without starting to sound like I'm accepting a self-awarded Oscar) to all the people who supported my silly project; everyone who engaged with it, took the time to read it, commented here, shared it around, talked about it, clicked Like on Facebook, Favourited and Retweeted me on Twitter, etc.  It sounds very naff, but it meant (and means) a lot to me.  I especially want to thank Phil Sandifer, who has gone out of his way to be encouraging and to give invaluable assistance. 

While I'm thanking people, I must give a shout out to Chrissie's Transcripts Site and the Doctor Who Reference Guide, incredibly detailed and accurate sites without which the 50 would've been an immensely more arduous task for me.  And, of course, I have to thank all the people who wrote the stories that I wrote about.  And all the people who originated the perspectives that I wrote with.

Saturday, 23 November 2013


What can I do but cheat?

Three moments, not in chronological order.


Barbara Wright is in a junkyard.  She walks into a Police Box.  She's in a large, brightly lit control room.

This can happen on screen because of the cut.  The material conditions of TV production, manifested as a splicing together of two recorded moments into the appearance of one fluid event, makes this possible.  We have "discovered television".  We can put huge buildings inside small boxes.  We can put Narnia inside the wardrobe; Wonderland inside the rabbit hole.  The quintessential trait of British fantastic literature for kids - the eccentric relationship of impossible spaces - can be made visual.

Doctor Who's very nature as storytelling is utterly bound up with the limits of the material conditions of television production.  So much so that living on that limit became its raison d'etre.  Its development has always been inextricably connected with what can materially be done, and how it is done.  And what it has done has always developed what it wants to be able to do next.  As I've said elsewhere, 'The Space Museum' pushes the show onto a new track, politically speaking... and it does this partly because the aesthetics of the show - which stem from the limits and capabilities of material TV production - crunch up against an allegory about empire.  This sort of thing happens several times, but the first time it happens is that cut from the junkyard to the control room.  The kind of story that is told is fundamentally shaped by its material production.  Later, the kinds of stories that are being told demand new developments in how stories can be told.  The dialectic starts here.

This is analogous (I'll go no further than that) to one aspect of how history itself works.  The productive forces determine (in the soft sense) the ideas and relations built upon them; then they come into conflict and new ideas arise that demand new developments in the productive forces. It's fitting to find this analogy in the clockwork of a show that puts so much stress on history.  It does stress history, by the way, even when it moves away from 'historicals' and into SF.  Its mode of SF is essentially allegorical and utopian.  And that too is fitting, because of those eccentric and impossible spaces of British fantastic children's literature upon which the show is so reliant.  In the post-war era, those spaces became gateways to newly-imagined social pasts, presents and futures.  Under the rubble, rabbit holes might lead to a New Jerusalem.


The Doctor picks up a sharp rock.  Ian evidently suspects that the Doctor intends to do something brutally pragmatic and brain Za with it.  The Doctor claims he wanted to ask Za to draw a map back to the ship.

Either way, the Doctor saw a rock and decided to use it as a tool.  Given that this story is about 'cavemen' who are dying out because they've forgotten how to use their own technology, I think this is pretty big.

The use of tools played a crucial role in the evolution of humanity, making us the creature with a 'species-being' bound up with conscious labour.  Fear played a crucial role too.  'An Unearthly Child' is obsessed with fear, both as a poison and as a source of solidarity.  "Fear makes companions of us all," says the Doctor when he comes to Barbara's aid.  Fear melds society together.

In a talk I linked to here, China Mieville spoke about octopuses that have been observed picking up weapons just in case they need to use them later.  That looks like the beginnings of conscious foresight.  Maybe something like that happened to our ancient ancestors.  Maybe the avoidable 'dreaded outcome' sparked the dialectic that began the transformation of the hand and brain.  This is a vital part of a Marxist defence of the value of scaring kids.  (That's irony on the square, by the way.)

This is particularly ironic in terms of 'An Unearthly Child' if you suspect, as I do, that the bickering and jockeying cavemen are not our ancestors, but the descendants of the survivors of the nuclear holocaust that people in 1963 expected at any time.

The tool helped bring us into being... but it was always both map and club.  Its progress was always towards television and nukes.  It isn't a popular insight, but that tragic doubleness is just what progress is.


Susan looks through a book about the French Revoution.

This revolution was probably the event most foundational to the modern world.  It was a process which drastically marked the beginning of the end for feudalism in Europe.  It was a popular revolt which heralded the beginning of the great dialectic of class struggle that would mark all bourgeois society and history.

She looks through a schoolbook account, doubtless a safe and sanitised version, the way such books usually are.  She, one of those unpredictable and scary 'teenager' things that they have nowadays, one of those people who is puzzlingly neither child nor adult, one of those unearthly children, one of those youngsters listening to the Common Men, a member of a generation who would soon lead a worldwide political and cultural revolt... she reads a book about revolution that her teachers have given her, and she says to herself, in a whisper of surprised outrage...

"That's not right!"

Fifty years later, it still isn't right.  But, for better or worse, the show goes on.


Finally, an invitation to speculate.  Given that Doctor Who was so much better under social democracy than under neoliberalism, imagine how wonderful Doctor Who would be under socialism.

Admittedly, it would have to find new things to talk about...


"Go on, tell them," says Jacko to Sean. 

"Tell them what? I'll tell them nothing. They're not people like us, they're just a bunch of sardines."

The fish people in the water below do not like this.

"You heard me," jeers Sean, "Cold-blooded fishes. You haven't got a drop of good red blood in your body."

They don't like that either.  They've been surgically altered by the regime of Professor Zaroff, an old Nazi scientist who was employed by the Western powers before he disappeared (it's implicit) and who is now running the underwater city of Atlantis (the Nazis were obsessed with Atlantis).  He has forcibly turned an army of his workers into fish, complete with gills and fins and big round eyes, so that they can do the underwater jobs.  (They just don't make mad scientists like Zaroff any more.)

"A flatfish from Galway would have more guts in them than that bunch!" Sean continues.  Oh yeah, I forgot to say... Sean's Irish, hence his "gift of the gab" (sigh).

The fish people start throwing things at him.

"All right, all right, all right," laughs Sean, "Oh, calm down and listen. Listen, will you?"

The fish people decide to hear him out.  Presumably because he's like them: a man captured and exploited by Zaroff's regime.  He hasn't been surgically mutilated, but he's been put to work in the Atlantean mines.  (By now there should be no need for me to reiterate the connection between surgery and capital, the way the evisceration and infibulation of the human body expresses anxieties about life in capitalism, about how wage labour cuts into your bodily autonomy and your life and your physical freedom, dissecting your time and... oh look, I'm reiterating.)

"Look, you supply all the food for Atlantis, right?" asks Sean rhetorically, "It can't be stored, right? It goes rotten in a couple of hours. That's why Zaroff has you working like slaves night and day, right? Well, has it never occurred to your little fish brains to stop that supply of food? Feed yourselves but starve Atlantis, eh? What do you think would happen then? Well now is your chance. Will you do it, or will you stay fish slaves for the rest of your lives? You're men, aren't you? Well, start the blockade right now!"

Again, this is workplace agitation.  The jokes at the fish people's expense are clearly rhetoric.  Sean whips them up.  But the power is theirs.

I won't attempt to describe what comes next.  The fish people's underwater strike is indescribable.  And that's good.  It must be seen to be believed... and by that I don't mean 'believed' in the sense of believing that there were actually fish people who actually swam around in Atlantis.  I mean 'believed' in the sense of believing that it ever actually got made and broadcast.  To us, now, it looks like a transmission from another planet.  Again, that's good.  The planet we live on now is pretty boring compared this one.

It's a relic of a lost time, when the spectacle could still express material relations of struggle, and express them materially.  These days, there is no struggle, no contestation... or rather, the struggle has been effectively muffled and edited out of the mainstream media continuum, mirroring the way it has been materially suppressed.  These days, you beat the baddies by monologuing about how wonderful you are while the orchestral music goes insane, CGI roars at you, a pretty (white) child cries and the audience cries too (cry damn you, cry!).  Back when 'The Underwater Menace' was made, it was possible for slaves to beat the baddies with collective action, with agitation and unionisation and strikes and blockades, by the class struggle, by the revolt of the oppressed... and it was expressed (in the middle of a kids' tea-time adventure show!) as a weird and wonderful ballet, overlaid with sine waves and defamiliarising dots of electronic sound from the Radiophonic Workshop.  It was expressed as something that broke the boundaries of the everyday, both in narrative terms of workers disrupting the quotidian routine of exploitation, and in aesthetic terms as an explosion of the genuinely, unashamedly, discomfortingly strange and unfamiliar.  The gothic and the surreal and the just plain silly, self-consciously bizarre yet steeped in real history and work and politics, joining the picket line alongside the militant and the collective and the pissed-off.  That really is how its supposed to be.  That really is, ultimately, what is supposed to make Doctor Who good (when it is good) and more than just another cult franchise: its ability to express the struggle in terms of the strange.

Yes, you could see the strings holding the fish people up as they 'swam'.  Yes, you could see they were just actors in silly suits and masks.  Yes, you could see that the bubbles were a light show.  But that in itself was part of a connection to the materially real, to actual history, to the spontaneity of human action... ultimately, to labour, and thus to the essence of humanity.  Now, everything is far more 'convincing' while simultaneously being far more obviously false.  The fish people are evidently not fish people, but they evidently are solid, material, alive.  They are there.  In the plastic, flat, dead, synthetic world of CGI, everything looks more 'real' while also being evidently phantasmic, unreal, unpresent, immaterial.  The gleaming commodity has completely pushed the human hand out of view.

Just as the imperfect, weird, wonderful, material, human reality of the underwater strike ballet (d'ya see what I did there?) is a perfect representation of the imperfect, weird, wonderful, material, human reality of the collective resistance to power that it depicts, so is the smooth and depthless world of CGI a perfect representation of a world slumping into eternal neoliberal lassitude.  It is the visual expression of the glossy, shiny, expensive patina of capitalist realism and neoliberal hegemony.  It is a pretty picture that pretends, apparently with a straight face and an expectation of being believed, to be reality.

Give me the irony, the materiality and the anger of the 'hand-made' anytime.


"Not so much of that oatmeal, girl," says Meg to one of the kitchen drudges, "It's only pikemen we're feeding, not horses."

They're in Irongron's castle, somewhere in the century or so following the Norman Conquest.  Sarah is undercover, cooking Irongron's stew.

"Don't the guards on the gate get stew?" she asks, wanting to know in which pots to drop the Doctor's knock-out potion.

"What, meat for those common creatures? I should say not. They'll have oatmeal the same as the rest of us, and lusty enough they are on that. So you watch yourself if ever you take out that skillet."

So class is, perhaps, a more fundamental division than gender, but gender oppression brings its own particular problems.

"I'm not afraid of men. They don't own the world."

Well, they kind-of do... but Sarah isn't discussing actual property relations.  She's talking about the way the world should work, with no one group 'owning' it.

"Why should women always have to cook and carry for them?" she demands.

"What else should we do?" asks Meg.

"Stand up for ourselves. Tell the men you're tired of working for them like slaves."

"We are slaves," says Meg.

Wow.  No mincing words there.

"Then you should set yourselves free," says Sarah.

None there either.

"Oh? And how should we do that?"

That's a trickier question.  It always is.  But surely the first hurdle, before the plan, has to be the will.

"Don't you want to be free?" she demands.  Essentially, this has become workplace agitation.

"Women will never be free while there are men in the world, girl," says Meg, "We have our place."

You still hear stuff like that today, albeit filtered through layers of code.

"What subservient poppycock!  You're still living in the Middle Ages!"

Yeah.  We are, in many ways.  We're meant to laugh at this outburst, but there's no question in my mind that we're also meant to be on Sarah's side.

There are all sorts of problems with this story.  Sarah is - at least in conception - a stereotypical 'wimmin's libber', all touchiness and naivety.  The Doctor is deliberately (more) sexist (than usual) in her presence, and we're meant to think this is funny.  She's made the butt of much sexist behaviour, apparently for our amusement.  For instance, there's the bit quoted above about the "lusty" guards... it's obviously supposed to be cute, even as it acknowledges the particular dangers faced by women in a class hierarchy.  And so on.  Someone wants to say this story is irredeemably broken by sexism?  I'm not going to argue.

But the fact remains, Sarah responds to a woman who is by demonstrably smarter than the men she serves -  and aware of the fact that she's a slave - by saying "set yourselves free".

It shines out amidst the crap.

Friday, 22 November 2013


"Don't get any ambitious ideas," says Castellan Spandrell to his prisoner.

"I just wanted to check it was the same staser," says the Doctor, examing the weapon used to assassinate the President of the High Council of Time Lords. "You see that symbol at the end of the corridor?"

The Doctor indicates a huge Seal of Rassilon.

"What about it?" asks Spandrell.

"You try and hit it," says the Doctor, handing Spandrell the staser.

"That's the kind of vandalism we're always running the Shabogans in for," grumbles Spandrell.

Spandrell is, basically, the Chief of Police in the Time Lord Capitol.  As such, the Doctor is his prisoner, having been caught holding a rifle in a gallery near the spot where the President was gunned down.

We never see any Shabogans.   The reference is never explained.  It just seems to be part of a Gallifreyan policeman's job to arrest people called 'Shabogans' for vandalism.  But let's not pass over this too quickly.  There is regular crime here?  There are hooligans running around the corridors of the Capitol of the Time Lords of Gallifrey? 

Well, yes, of course.

The Time Lords are not just 'aliens'.  They're explicitly potrayed as the ruling class.  They have sycophantic TV presenters who interview them creepily (about process and personalities... just like Andrew Marr outside Number 10) when they congregate at elaborate government ceremonies.  They wear traditional robes and ornate, arcane bling at these state events.  They have the poshest of posh accents, like a great club of old Etonians and Oxbridge alumni... or like Oxbridge dons.  They have Academies and Colleges in the Capitol, populated by fussy, blithering, crusty old farts who reminisce about how many of these ceremones they've attended over the centuries.  They have Chancellors.  They have Cardinals and Chapters too.  One of them creates a nightmarescape for the Doctor which references Western colonialism (there is a khaki-wearing hunter who goes on safari and tracks the Doctor like big game) and the First World War.  They have a 'Panopticon', named after the surveillance-heavy prison designed by Jeremy Bentham, one of the founders of Liberalism.  They have a kind of police force, run by the Castellan, whose uniforms make them vaguely reminiscent of Swiss Guards.  They also have a President.  Their Presidents have names like kings or popes (Pandak III, for instance) and are chosen by a tiny electorate (just the other Time Lords, presumably) from a tiny pool of thoroughly respectable establishment types.  They also have a shadowy government organisation, complete with secret agents, called the CIA (Celestial Intervention Agency - yuk yuk).

Police.  Media commentators, edcuated at the same Academy as the other Time Lords, taught by the people they end up talking about on TV.  Great White Hunters.  Popes.  Kings.  Presidents.  Colleges.  Chapters.  Cardinals.  Chancellors.  The Time Lords are a concentrated synthesis of various Western power structures.  Oxbridge.  The Vatican.  Prisons.  Liberalism.  Conservatism.  The House of Lords.  The CIA.  Washington.

So, of course there are 'Shabogans'.  There must be 'Proles' so that the rulers have someone to rule, so that the dirty jobs get done, so that the Time Toilets get cleaned.

By the way... the origin of the word 'shabogan' is obscure to me.  The nearest thing I can find is a reference in V. Gordon Childe to 'Shub-lugals', cadres of labourers who were not slaves but who were paid with subsistence rations by the kings of early urban Mesopotamia.  Proto-proletarians from the dawn of civilisation.  Gallifrey is elsewhere (but by the same writer) said to be "the oldest civilisation".  Which is partly why I choose to believe that the Shabogans of Gallifrey are not the posh drop-outs we see in a later story, or drunken students, but rather an invisible group of workers who do everything for the Time Lords... but who sometimes get pissed off and riot, and then get arrested by Spandrell's Time Police.  I'd hate to think there were no rowdy Time Proles to give the Time Lords a bloody nose from time to time.  If the Time Lords are a trans-historical ruling class, an accretion of Western power principles - oligarchy, gerontocracy, white power (they're all white), patriarchy (they are all men), established religion, police, media, public school, Oxbridge, British government, US government - then I like the idea that their unseen drudges are related to one of the earliest forms of urban worker in the history of civilisation.

Spandrell takes his shot.

"Miles away," he says ruefully.

"The sights," says the Doctor, nodding at the weapon,  "So you see, I couldn't have shot the President if I tried. And equally, I couldn't hit the assassin. That's why they were fixed."

"The assassin, according to you, being one of the High Council," observes Spandrell sceptically.

"Yes, he was in the party surrounding the President. I saw him draw a staser and step forward. I aimed a bolt at him, but at that time I didn't know the sights had been fixed."

"One of the High Council. It's getting better and better."

"What is?"

"Your story. But still a story. Where's the evidence, Doctor?"

"I'll tell you where the evidence is... in the Public Register camera. I was standing right beside it."

This is all so 70s it hurts.  The era of paranoia about government conspiracies in pop-culture (well, one of the eras of that... there was another one in the 90s).  This story is riffing on familiar motifs from the conspiratorial account of the Kennedy assassination.  The supposed lone assassin is actually a patsy.  He was a CIA agent.  His supposed weapon couldn't have performed the feat attributed to it.  The assassination was captured on film, and analysis of this recording will reveal the truth.  The real assassin comes from the highest circle of power and is engaged in a cover-up.

It doesn't really matter if Robert Holmes, the writer of this story, believed that the CIA (the American CIA, that is) killed Kennedy.  In the real world, there doesn't seem to be much reason to think so, though it's the kind of thing one gets from people like Holmes, who might be best described, at least as far as we can judge him from his work, as a 'romantic anti-establishment libertarian'.  He's often called 'cynical', but he's cynical about power.

(Parenthetically... I don't find it implausible that governments conspire to kill people.  On the contrary, that's almost a definition of government.  Nor do I find it implausible that the US government would conspire to assassinate a world leader.  We know, for instance, that Kennedy himself was deeply involved in several covert conspiracies to assassinate world leaders.  That's pretty much business as usual for American presidents... except that Kennedy had to keep quiet about his 'kill list' whereas Obama boasts about his.  I don't even find it all that implausible (in basic principle) that the US government might conspire to kill the US president... but he'd have to be a whole lot more threatening to them than Kennedy was (which was not at all).  It's actually difficult to see how anyone potentially dangerous enough to need rubbing out could possibly make it through the immense number of filters and baffles which stand between the Oval Office and anyone who wants to get into it.  The really interesting thing about the endless 'debate' about the Kennedy assassination is that it almost totally obscures - at least in mainstream culture - any discussion of what the man was actually like as a politcian.  It obscures his reckless belligerence that helped bring on the Cuban Missile Crisis about a year before 'An Unearthly Child' aired, a confrontation that nearly destroyed the entire world.  It obscures his vital role in kicking off the Vietnam war, an imperialist attack upon a practically defenceless country that ultimately claimed the lives of something like two million people.  There's a case to be made that Kennedy helped conspire to bring about the assassination of an entire society.  Compared to that, the question of who, if anyone, was on the Grassy Knoll somewhat recedes, at least as far as I'm concerned.)

Relatedly, it doesn't really matter who killed the President of the Time Lords.  What matters is that Holmes puts that kind of paranoid unease - about arcane, decadent, self-involved, self-perpetuating structures that seethe with an undertow of secrecy and violence - into a fictional space synthesised from just about every signifier he could come up with for the established centres of Western power... and which he also signified as being a representation of ruling classes throughout history.

It's a sign of the times (those conspiratorial 70s) that the obsession is with occult government structures rather than with business or capital.


NOTE 4/12/13:
Dunno why I said the Cuban Missile Crisis was "a few weeks" prior to 'An Unearthly Child'.  I've amended that above.

Thursday, 21 November 2013


"I know it sounds mad," says Martha, "but when the Doctor became human, he took the alien part of himself and he stored it inside the watch. It's not really a watch, it just looks like a watch."

"And 'alien' means 'not from abroad', I take it," enquires the frankly incredulous Joan.

"The man you call John Smith... he was born on another world."

"A different species."


Joan is a sensible woman from 1913 and she's not having any of this nonsense.

"Then tell me," she presses, "in this fairy tale, who are you?"

"Just a friend. I'm not... I mean, you haven't got a rival, as much as I might... Just his friend."

"And human, I take it?"

She humouring the deranged girl.  As John said earlier, it must be culture shock.  Someone from a less developed culture trying and failing to understand the scientific romances of an ordinary school teacher... an ordinary school teacher, by the way, with whom she is far too familiar.

"Human," confirms Martha, "Don't worry. And more than that: I just don't follow him around. I'm training to be a doctor. Not an alien doctor, a proper doctor. A doctor of medicine."

This is too much.  Aliens... that's one thing.  But this?  Joan has tipped over from pitying disbelief into brusque irritation.  This is more than just silly, this is... indecent.

"Well that certainly is nonsense," she snaps, "Women might train to be doctors, but hardly a skivvy and hardly one of your colour."

Martha stops.

"Oh, do you think?"  She holds up her hand.  "Bones of the hand. Carpal bones, proximal row...." she indicates the areas she names as she goes along, "Scaphoid, lunate, triquetal, pisiform. Distal row. Trapezium, trapezoid, capitate, hamate. Then the metacarpal bones extending in three distinct phalanges. Proximal, middle, distal."

She is as irritated as Joan.  The two face each other across a chasm.

"You read that in a book," says Joan weakly.

"Yes," snaps back Martha, triumph in her voice, "to pass my exams!"

I have issues with this story.  There's the strain of bellicose liberalism, for a start.  Even as attitudes to war and empire are critiqued, the underlying assumptions valorize an ostensible ethical commitment to fighting for liberal values in the context of empire.  The story is, essentially, about anti-war cowardice leading to the assault of fanatical nihilism upon the heart of liberal England.  Run away from a fight with an unappeasable evil and you just defer your problems until that unappeasable evil comes to the English heartland (probably bringing Sharia law or something).  It shows most directly in the Doctor's donning of a red poppy, when he voluntarily assimilates himself into an increasingly ugly and intolerant trend in British society: the implicit acceptance of imperial misadventures on behalf of neoliberalism, dressed up as 'respect for the fallen' and 'help for heroes' and all that dishonest guff.  It seems that the character of the Doctor is allowed to get involved in contemporary politics if he's on the right side, the side of assumptions that 'we' supposedly all agree on.  There's also what I call (rather facetiously) the Nice-But-Then syndrome, where characters in costume dramas are there to espouse anachronistic values which rewrite history in the image of modern liberal assumptions, thus robbing real history of context, and comforting our assessment of our own present-day moral elevation by projecting it back onto 'progressives' in the past, etc.

But the scene above is great because it actually bucks that very trend.  Unlike several Who stories of recent years that are set in the past, in 'Human Nature' / 'Family of Blood' the issues of racism and sexism are not just totally effaced so that we can all get on with having fun.  Joan is a Nice-But-Then character in many ways, but she's also allowed to evince sexist, 'classist' (not a term I'm fond of, but it'll do for now) and racist attitudes.  And this isn't just done so that we self-satisfied modern liberals can feel superior to all those backward numpties in the past.  Joan's attitudes are shown to be contested within the same period by other contemporary characters, most especially Martha's friend and fellow-maid Jenny.  (Though, of course, that does tend to make Jenny a bit of a Nice-But-Then character herself... it's a fine line because, if you label every character in a costume drama as a NBT if they happen to have progressive values, you efface the existence of people in the past who really did contest widespread prejudices of their time, and thus end up back where you started, with the "condescension of posterity".)

Best of all is the fact that Martha answers back angrily, displaying her annoyance unashamedly and eloquently making mincemeat of Joan's thoughtless assumptions.  Okay, Martha could be seen as accepting the onus of having to 'prove herself' to the white woman, which would be problematic... but that isn't how Agyeman and Hynes play it.  Their version of the scene is more like Joan getting a deserved ritual humiliation.  Okay, Martha has the advantage of a middle class background and an education in modern Britain, so she's not really in the same situation as a real black, working class woman in the England of 1913, but even so... if the Doctor buggered off and left her there, she'd effectively be in the same situation, her education notwithstanding.

The scene depicts intersectional prejudice, and from an otherwise deeply sympathetic character, thus nixing the simplistic idea (surprisingly prevalent today, in the wake of partial and piecemeal social changes) that racism and sexism are Big Bad Bogeys that only Bad People do.  It tacitly recognises intersectionality, along with prejudice as structural and socially constructed - something surprisingly rare in pop-culture.  And it also depicts the only way prejudices ever get addressed: by those on the sharp end - the women, people of colour, the 'skivvies' - getting seriously pissed off and talking back. 


"I have in my hand a piece of paper," says Mr Stevens, CEO of Global Chemicals, echoing Chamberlain in unconscious admission that his promises of a profitable truce in the class war will turn out to be worthless, "which will mean a great deal to all of you. Wealth in our time!"

The ex-miners, crowded around the gates of the closed pit, are unimpressed.

"When the National Coal Board were forced to close the pit last year..." Stevens begins.

"It were a shame, that was!" heckles one of the workers, in Ignorant Yokel Speak.

"No, my friends," says Stevens chummily, presenting himself as one of them, "we must not be bitter. We must face the facts."

Note the 'we'; the most abused word in political discourse.  As in 'we're all in this together'.

"Coal is a dying industry," asserts Stevens.

The miners shout "Rubbish! Rubbish!"

When it happens in reality, the idea that the mines had to shut because they were unprofitable will be rubbish.  Mining was always subsidised.  

"Oil is our future now and the government agrees with me. They have not only given us the go-ahead for our plans, they have promised us money for future expansion!"  So the state is now subsidising a private company instead of nationalised coal and people's jobs.  "I have it here in black and white!"

There is general cheering. This story represents the working class, via the conduit of Welshness, as idiots.  The feckless, changeable, easily-swayed mob - a trope that goes back a long way.

"Money for all of us! More jobs, more housing, more cars!"  The promise of returned prosperity in the depths of the 70s.

In terms of when it was made, this is an odd scene.  Miners were powerful and militant in 1973.  They were unionised and they were winning.  They weren't sacked, helpless, grumbling no-hopers, stuck on the sidelines.

In terms of the future, however, this scene is actually prescient.  By the late-90s, British mining - together with so much manufacturing industry - had been deliberately destroyed by the Tories, partly from a pure ideological objection to the idea of powerful workers and unions, partly as revenge for the miners bringing down Heath in '74 (the year after this story was broadcast).  Huge numbers of traditional working class jobs were annihilated by the Conservatives.  Working class communities were wrecked in the process.  In many ways, the sight of a crowd of workers, made redundant, closed out of their sold-off and shut-down workplace, listening to speeches about how coal is dead, being fraudulently told that their future lies in the trickle-down effect of private profit, is a sight that predicts the result of Thatcherism.

And when Stevens says "oil is the future" he's only telling part of the truth.  The future he really has in mind is one of the corporation as pure post-industrial power structure.  Stevens is an administrator, a manipulator of executive practices, PR, lobbying, influence, delegated tasks, etc.  This is, in its way, strangely prescient of the outward features of neoliberalism... which was, after all, just getting started roundabout 1973. The theory of post-industrialism is pretty specious, to be honest, but a lot of people believe in it, interpreting neoliberalism as a reorganisation of capital along lines of services and pure information, production being relegated to a quaint relic.  This is largely bullshit, but it expresses something that a lot of people - some of them people like Stevens - believe: that capitalism can dispense with old-style workers, and all the dangers inherent in them, in favour of economies based on the shunting around of pure information.  That this is Stevens' dream is expressed by the fact that his company is secretly run by an insane computer that is also his alter ego... or should that be, his 'alter id'.  It's aim is to create "total efficiency" in society (which is explicitly stated to be equivalent to the business dominance of Global Chemicals) by sacking all workers, abandoning coal (i.e. production), turning industry into a 'post-industrial' wasteland, brainwashing all corporate executives and linking all computers in the world into itself, thus unifying all information.

Trouble is, Stevens and his 'B.O.S.S.' have reckoned without the gothic, that eternal bad conscience.  The gothic brings ghosts out of the disused mine... in the form of giant maggots.  They are definitely ghosts.  Ghosts - in the sense of the ghost story as we know it - are modern things.  Gothic Marxism (perhaps most especially in the insights of Christopher Caudwell) has identified the ghost story as a quintessentially modern phenomenon.  It is the worm in the apple of modern rationalism.  And it is a very material genre.  The 'ghosts' of M.R. James - effective founder of what we call the 'ghost story' - are gothic in that they represent the return of the repressed, but also material in that they emerge from modernity (manufactured things like prints and sheets and train tickets and mass-reproduced patterns) and that the tend to be icky and hairy and chitinous.

Giant maggots which signify the repressed dark secrets of capitalist production, erupting out of a closed mine, are ghosts in this sense.  In this story, oddly, they're the ghosts of the future.


The Doctor has refused Enlightenment.  Turlough is nonchalantly (rather too nonchalantly) picking at his fingernails when the White Guardian offers him a share.

"It's a diamond," he says, staring at the massive, glowing crystal, "The size!  It could buy a galaxy. I can have that?"

The White Guardian tells him he can.

"I would point out," interjects the Black Guardian, "that under the terms of our agreement, it is mine... unless, of course, you wish to surrender something else in its place. The Doctor is in your debt for his life. Give me the Doctor, and you can have this," he indicates the crystal, "the TARDIS, whatever you wish."

Turlough is evidently extremely tempted.  He has to struggle with himself.  When he shoves it towards the Black Guardian, it couldn't be more obvious that he is angry and disappointed with the choice he feels have has to make.

"Here," he shouts petulantly, burying his face, "take it!"

Even so, he does make that choice.

The Black Guardian bursts into flames and vanishes, gurgling and screaming.

"Light destroys the dark," comments the White Guardian.  "I think you will find your contract terminated," he tells Turlough.

Turlough takes a smaller crystal from his trouser pocket.  It's the one the Black Guardian gave him to seal their bargain.  It has turned back, charred by the same flames that consumed the Black Guardian.  Turlough drops it.

"I never wanted the agreement in the first place," he mutters.

Tegan is sceptical.

"You believe him because he gave up Enlightenment for your sake," she tells the Doctor.

"You're missing the point," the Doctor says, "Enlightenment was not the diamond. Enlightenment was the choice."

Well, isn't that twee.

Except that it's a bit more grounded that it sounds.

Listen to the words everyone's been using.  Diamond.  Buy.  Terms.  Agreement.  Contract.  Mine.  Debt.  This is the language of trade, of commerce, of business, of employment, of property, of value and wealth and commodification.  Turlough has been desperately trying to wriggle out of a contract, a job.  He was basically coerced into it and given a misleading description of what it entailed.  He responded by slacking off, dragging his feet, working to rule, fobbing off the boss with endless excuses.  The boss got sick of this and tried to sack him.  Then, Turlough was presented with an opportunity to take up an altogether more alluring contract.  This time, it was a straightforward deal: a dirty great jewel of immense value (Turlough immediately conceives of it in monetary terms) in exchange for a crude hit.  No illusions.  No lies.  Just kill this guy you know to be pretty decent in return for a big pay-off.

He started the story leaning over a chessboard, moving pieces around, deciding which pawn to sacrifice in the cause of winning the game.  He ends the story leaning over a table, staring at a prize, given the option to pick it up in exchange for sacrificing one piece.   And he can't do it.

This refers to more than just Good vs. Evil.  In the cultural landscape of Thatcher's Britain, this is obviously about the morality of being a 'rational actor', a self-interested utility-maximiser, an unsentimental go-getter, etc., etc., ad infinitum, ad nauseum. 

But it's also about much older iterations of similar ideas.  It's about hierarchy and class and the nightmare of history.  The whole story has been a race to the finish, a ruthless competition for a prize.  The contestants were bored, amoral exploiters; users of those they call 'Ephemerals', i.e. the short-lived and tiny-brained little people who are only good for labouring to make ships work.  The Eternals are always there, fixed and unchangeable, always maximising the utility of the humans that they obtain to work for them (in contracts as coercive and dishonest as the one the Black Guardian foisted on Turlough).  They "feed on" them, as the Doctor says.  They are hollow and utterly self-involved things, empty without the value they extract from the thoughts and muscles and culture of the 'Ephemerals'.  They think of them as worthless, yet obtain everything they have from them.  They look like Edwardian officers, ancient Greek warlords, Spanish imperialists... or buccaneering pirates who have entirely embraced the ethic of ruthless, no-holds-barred competition.  These are all iterations of the same thing: the top layer, the rulers... to use a more current phrase, the 1%.

They are the 'masters of sail'.  Ruling classes from all the way through history, clubbed together and amusing themselves, a band of warring brothers (and sisters), keeping the 'Ephemerals' fooled with doctored grog.

The 'choice' the Doctor mentions is the choice to opt out, at least on a personal level, of that version of history.  It's the choice to break that very, very old contract.


"Is there anything the servants can get you Doctor?" asks Edward Grove over the deep, low tolling of the clock.  "It is such fun giving them little chores to do!" he chortles, using the voice of the butler, Mr Shaughnessy.

"No thank you," says the Doctor icily.

"Very well," says Edward, vocally turning to the servants, "You may leave, all of you.  Return to your duties.  I shall chime if I need anything."

The clock is central to the organisation of time in capitalist society.  It regulates work.  Since work is life, it regulates life.  The chiming of the clock, like the jangling of the bell, is a summons to the servant, just as the factory worker must clock in and clock out at the right times.  The industrial revolution fundamentally changed how people perceived time, not only by drastically changing how long it took to do certain things, but also by subjecting the workforce to new schedules.  The organisation of labour in capitalist production centres also made time seem repetitious, on a permanent loop.  The same set tasks, over and over again, for hour after hour.  The clock is a heavily freighted symbol in any discussion of class.  The class war will centre upon the organisation and reorganisation of time.  Eight hours work, eight hours sleep, eight hours play - this was a demand of the workers' union struggle... though, of course, this is a gendered issue.  For women, both integrated into the workforce and expected to perform unpaid domestic labour, it was always something of a joke.  In the life of a domestic servant, especially a female domestic servant, the idea of time separated from the demands of 'the household' was almost an oxymoron.

"No doubt I'll need another death at some point," says Edward, "when I'm feeling hungry.  I'll let you know which one of you I'll choose nearer the time."

They thank him.  It is part of the sick joke of it all, this obligatory gratitude.

"You do need death, don't you," observes the Doctor.

Edward is a sentient house.  He is The Household (also the workplace, to servants) come alive.  He's a haunting that has become a mind, inhabiting a building.  He was created by the constant looping and re-looping of a paradox.  The Doctor has realised that the paradox which forms the foundation of his structure was created by a death.  He now needs to feed on the deaths of his servants, the workers trapped inside the paradox.  They each take a turn dying for him every time his two hour span replays itself.  For them, even being murdered has become a chore, a duty, part of their employment.  A task to be performed for the master, upon orders, and upon a fixed schedule.

Edward insists that he is alive, but the Doctor dismisses this.  Edward isn't a person, he is a pile of bricks and mortar, a loop of hours, a schedule.  He's an era.  Well, he's the Edwardian era.  He's a system that has come alive.  He's commodity fetishism, of course.  Just like the stock market is a man-made thing which is treated like a living beast, with belches and farts that 'just happen' like the weather.  He's one of those concentrations of capital that has become so concentrated that he assumes the contours of life.  But, as the Doctor points out, he has no existence except through the people that make him work.

"I can only communicate with you through Shaughnessy," points out the Doctor.  Edward has no voice except for a larynx he utilises.  Even Shaughnessy's throat has become capital to be used.

"I know," says Edward sadly, "I know I can only be a fraction of the simplest of my servants.  They will always be more than me."

This has all happened because Edith Thompson killed herself.  She was the cook in the house of the Doctor's friend Charley, when Charley was a little middle-class Edwardian girl.  Beaten down by a lifetime of class oppression and sexist and/or sexual abuse, Edith formed an attachment to the little girl, imagining her to be her only friend.  Charley was, as it turns out, only vaguely aware of the woman and, when she does finally remember her, thinks of her as someone who provided pudding.  She wasn't Edith's friend; she was a little middle-class Edwardian girl, the child of Edith's employers.  She was, to use Philip Sandifer's phrase "the nicest of her [Edith's] oppressors".  (This entry is heavily indebted to Sandifer's excellent essay about 'Chimes of Midnight'.)

Edith killed herself when Charley died... except that Charley didn't die.  The Doctor saved her.  He didn't save Edith, because the universe is unfair.  And it is predictably unfair upon certain pre-set lines.  Some people can cheat death and fate, and others get crushed by time.  You can usually tell which people will end up where by looking at where they start from.  Charley started upstairs, Edith downstairs.  Like Rafallo, Edith is one of those grease monkeys backstage who gets squashed instead of whisked off to see the universe.  The difference is that, in the case of Edith, there were consequences for the Doctor.  His failure to save one of the grease monkeys came back to bite him in the form of Edward Grove.  It's difficult not to accept Edward's assertion that the Doctor and Charley are his parents... and he takes after them.  He is a time traveller, and he grasps after experience.  He lives because Edith died.  He is fond of his servants.

In the end, the Doctor and Charley escape because they convince Edith to 'choose life' and then give her a little pat on the head as a reward.  But for Edith, choosing life means choosing that lifetime of class oppression and sexist and/or sexual abuse we mentioned earlier.  It still means being locked inside Edward Grove, dominated by the chiming of the clock.  It isn't much of an escape for her.  Charley escapes because of her privilege.  The Doctor likewise (he has spent the story being mistaken for a gentleman, understanndably enough).  The angriest thing about this angry story is that Doctor Who can comment on things like predatory capital and class oppression but can never change them... not just because it's only a TV show (or a series of audio dramas, or comics, or novels) but because it isn't in its interest to do so.  It needs settings and plots and morals and things to be angry about.

Doctor Who is, in the end, rather more like Edward Grove than anyone would like to admit.  A commodity that endlessly loops through time, feeding on the staged death tableux of its trapped playthings... but sometimes, as in this case, capable of self-awareness about it.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013


Wow.  Single figures.  Okay, time for some fun.

"I'm asking you to help yourselves," says the Doctor. 

Revolution isn't about everyone suddenly becoming altruistic and angelic.  It is, as Marx saw it, "the movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority".

"Nothing will change round here unless you change it," says the Doctor.  Here is 'freedom and necessity'.  It must be done, but they can choose to do it or not to do it.

"What will we do with two guns against all those guards?" asks Veet.

"You can't do anything, but there are fifty million people in this city. Think how the guards will react to that number."

"It's crazy talk," says Goudry, "Rebellion? No one would support you."  Capitalist realism.

"Given the chance to breathe clean air for a few hours, they might. Have you thought of that?"

The Company pumps a chemical fug into the air that makes people anxious and weak.  That's how it works on Pluto.  Here we call it ideology, or hegemony.

The Doctor and Bisham discuss ways of knocking out the gas pumps.

"I was a B grade in Main Control," says Mandrell, "The Doctor's right. It could work."

Until now, nobody has been more cynical.  But Mandrell has, in a sense, just been given the chance to breathe clean air.

The Doctor isn't stinting on the revolutionary optimism.  He suggests taking over main control.  Mandrell thinks it could be done.

"What have we got to lose?" he asks.

"Only your claims," says the Doctor.

Everyone is quite impressed by this.  It's a sign of the times that we, the audience, are evidently expected to recognise and relish the reference.  The Doctor knows full well what he's saying - and he's not just punning.  Workers don't usually have to wear chains these days, but they still have nothing compared to the Companies of this world.  They have their 'claims' of course - claims upon democracy and human rights, etc... But the Company never gives refunds unless forced to, so the workers' 'claims' are essentially the same as 'nothing'.

"Anything's worth trying," says Cordo, a man who was trying to kill himself that morning, but who is now frantic with revolutionary confidence, "If only we could win. Just think, if we could beat the Company!"

"There's no 'if' about it, Cordo," says the Doctor, "We will."

There's 'the actuality of the revolution' for you.

Robert Holmes is often called a cynic... but he was at least as much a romantic.  This story is a full-on romantic political drama of revolution.  The cynical and self-seeking drop-outs turn strike-leaders.  The cowed and suicidally-miserable worker is transformed by revolution until he's a whooping, gung-ho, gun-toting freedom fighter.  (Revolution changes people even as they change society - one reason why waiting until we've all changed ourselves for the better is functionally the same as accepting the status quo.  You change yourself by changing society, and vice versa.)  The workers collectively overthrow capitalism and set up a workers' state in about a day.  Much to the blinking incomprehension of many who have tried to understand this story, the Gatherer's final flight is treated unequivocally as a joke and an inspirational achievement.  It's not Robert Holmes being cynical about revolution; it's Robert Holmes getting infected with rebellious fervour.  Even Synge and Hacket, intially forced to aid the revolution at gun-point, gradually get swept along and start helping willingly.  Marn cynically switches sides to save her own skin... but, as with so much Holmesian cynicism, that should make us ask: who and what is this cynicism really about?  This is cynicism about the powerful.  If we just call it, in general terms, 'cynicism', then we're conceding that the actions of the powerful define politics and society.

'The Sun Makers' is often said to be a right-wing 'satire' of the UK tax system.  But I have a question:  how much tax does the Company pay?

It's a sign of how utterly the Right has set the agenda that criticising taxation is seen as an inherently right-wing thing to do.  There is, astonishingly enough, a left-critique of state taxation in capitalist states.  The Right attack taxation because they want, in this neoliberal age, to effectively abolish any penalty or restraint upon big business.  They call this 'liberty'.  They've already managed it to an astonishing degree.  Meanwhile, regressive taxation - combined with deregulation, privatisation and the erosion of the social wage - disproportionately penalises those on lower-incomes.   That is not a concern of the right.  In fact, it's a priority.

This idea that the Right hate tax is related to the idea that the Right hate the state.  But the Right is, essentially, a coalition around the defence of class privilege, and in capitalist society class privilege is defended by the state.  What the Right hates is the idea that the state can be used for any purposes other than their own.  The social-democratic idea that the state should provid services in return for taxation is too much for them.

As Terry Eagleton has written, nobody was more hostile to the state than Marx.  He saw it as an emanation of class society.  It was pure alienation of human 'species-being'.  Engels called it little more than "a body of armed men" tasked with repression.

One of the quintessetial traits of neoliberalism is anti-state rhetoric combined with the heavy use of the state to further the interests of the ruling class.  You 'roll back the state's frontiers' while also using it to fund military imperialism, police repression, bail-outs for banks and corporations during times of crisis, etc.  State funding of the welfare state is restricted and curtailed while largesse flows freely to corporations.  The US government gets taken over by oil-executives who talk about how much they hate the state while using it to plunder oil-rich countries.  Even as the state supposedly gets downgraded, it becomes ever more violent and monomaniacal in its determination to support capitalism.

In 'The Sun Makers', the state has basically been bought out and taken over by a private concern.  The Gatherer's state exists to pour profits into the Collector's Company.  The state gathers and the Company collects.  They call these profits "taxes" but they actually amount to charges for services, i.e. the production of air for breathing, the construction of suns, the provision of time for sleeping.  You have to pay to be euthanased, to be buried, to be employed, to take pills, to go outside.  The social wage and the welfare state have been abolished - privatised in all but name - and every aspect of private and social life has been commodified, marketised.  The state charges you for everything and invades your life and watches everything you do and punishes you when you disobey... but it does all this as a private contractor for a monolithic block of predatory capital.

As so often, Doctor Who expresses anxieties about capitalism in terms of aesthetics that recall Stalinism or 'totalitarianism'... but this isn't just confusion.  The essence of Stalinism was the functioning of the state as capital.  This would have been no surprise to Marx, who wrote primarily of capitalist relations and of the property form as just a social expression of such relations, one form among possible others.  Marx knew how central the state was to supporting the rise of capitalism.  The Soviet bureaucrats were no less directors of capital (or exploiters of workers) for the fact that they didn't formally 'own' any factories.

We only have to look around us today to see how prescient it was for Doctor Who, in 1977, in the early years of neoliberalism, to see the total privatisation of the state leading to pervasive state intrusion, regressive taxation, carrion-feeding austerity and social authoritarianism.

And it's quite breathtaking that, in 1977, as the tide of struggle called 'the 60s' faded into memory, Robert Holmes romantically and unrestrainedly suggested workers' revolution as the solution.

Well, I had fun.


"We waited here in the dark space," booms the Dalek Emperor, "damaged but rebuilding. Centuries passed, and we quietly infiltrated the systems of Earth, harvesting the waste of humanity. The prisoners, the refugees, the dispossessed. They all came to us. The bodies were filtered, pulped, sifted. The seed of the human race is perverted. Only one cell in a billion was fit to be nurtured."

So, In Russell's rewrite of 'Revelation of the Daleks' (which would be a better title for this story than it was for Saward's script), the Daleks are no longer harvesting the elite.  Brought to the brink of extinction, they have been forced to resurrect themselves from the 'dregs'... which seems to be synonymous with the contestants who lose game shows.  The Daleks take the people who get knocked out before the finale.  Because the Daleks have become TV producers.  They've become the people who run Big Brother and Trinny & Susannah and The Weakest Link.  They've become the bosses of reality TV.  They've become Simon Cowell.  (Which is kind of an insult to the Daleks, if you ask me.)

Big Brother, in our polity, in our system of media signs, is no longer Orwell's omniscient totalitarian leader; he's now the eternal, ever-watching viewer.  He's us.  Just like the Daleks are now us.

"So you created an army of Daleks out of the dead," says the Doctor.

Again, the gothic, the monopoly, and the zombie labour.

"That makes them half human," mutters Rose... as always, she is straight to the quick.

"Those words are blasphemy!" bellows the Dalek Emperor.

The Daleks chant in unison...

"Do not blaspheme!  Do not blaspheme!  Do not blaspheme!"

"Since when did the Daleks have a concept of blasphemy?" asks the Doctor.

"I reached into the dirt and made new life. I am the God of all Daleks!"

The Daleks chant in unison...

"Worship him!  Worship him!  Worship him!"

Bringing back the Daleks in 2005, four years after 9/11 and the start of the 'War on Terror', two years into the conquest and occupation of Iraq, Russell T. Davies makes them religious fundamentalists.  The world is in the middle of an apparent 'clash of civilisations', with religion as the supposed organising logic.  But are these new fundamentalist Daleks - 'Fundamentaleks' - supposed to be Osama and Al Qaeda?  Are they Bush and the neocon Christian crusaders?  Both?  Two sides of the same coin?

To me, they look more like another kind of fundamentalism, a more prevalent and destructive kind.

They run a massive media system based on ruthless competition.  The housemates who lose the battle for popularity get ejected into nothingness.  The Trinny & Susannah bots encourage people to carve into their own flesh in order to look right.  The weakest links get zapped, and the strongest link is the one who most effectively and ruthlessly competes, who must callously fucks over his competitors.  Society has become "a charnel house" in which people compete in competitions of spectacular triviality which are framed as epic battles.  You have to step on the other poor schlubs in order to win.  This system is publically fronted by celebrities reconfigured as hollow, inhuman monsters.  It is run by ordinary people who do evil things not because they're personally evil, but because they are employed by a systemic evil.  And it's all owned and controlled by Daleks who have absorbed a feverish and callous determination that can best be described, at least as far as RTD is concerned, as fanatical religion.

The Daleks have become neoliberals.  Capitalist crusaders, ruling a resurgent yet insane system, presiding over a world divided between the starving and the obese who "just watch telly", absorbing the working body utterly and assimilating it into themselves.  And the logic behind it all has penetrated human culture to the extent that TV runs the world, and relentlessly pushes an ideology of total competition, total dog-eat-dog.  (That this is, essentially, the world we live in is obvious since RTD uses shows of the present day, projected into the future.)  Survival has finally been formally and openly marketised.  The spectacle is omnipresent and it brazenly expresses the relations at the base of society: compete with each other so that your rulers can profit.

The Daleks have become market fundamentalists.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013


Adric has found the Doctor sulking in the TARDIS cloisters.  The Doctor has lost Romana and K9.  He's feeling his age.  His ship seems to be falling apart too.  The stone pillars, overrun with vines, crumble under his fingers.   And, to cap it off, Adric wants to be taken back to Gallifrey.

"I sometimes think I should be running a tighter ship," he says sadly.

"A tighter ship?" gasps Adric, as though this is a threatening notion.

"Yes. The Second Law of Thermodynamics is taking its toll on the old thing. Entropy increases."

"Entropy increases?"

"Yes, daily.  The more you put things together, the more they keep falling apart.  That's the essence of the Second Law of Thermodynamics and I never heard a truer word spoken."

It's only fitting that the Doctor should fight one of his most elemental battles against omnipresent entropy.  The Doctor has encountered entropy many times on his travels.  The Tribe of Gum were dangerous because their world was dying in the cold, all heat drained away.  The Moroks froze entropy in an attempt to freeze their own declining imperial history.  Skaro was a petrified jungle, everything "turned to sand and ashes".  Later, the same planet was depicted as a wasteland, with technology evolving in reverse as the Thals and Kaleds fought a backwards war of attrition.  The Exxilons built a city that sucked all life and vitality out of their civilisation.  Skagra tried to fight entropy by subjecting all life to his will, thus turning the universe into a machine for constructing more and more structure.  The Argolin were sterile, living on a desolated world.  The Melkur came to the Keeper's walled garden and started breeding blights and weeds.  The Doctor even comes from a world that has stalled entropy forever, only to find itself socially entropic.  Entropy has always been implicitly unbiquitous in the Doctor's universe.  Just as he notices it nibbling away at the TARDIS, it becomes explicitly unbiquitous.

SF is obsessed with entropy because SF is one of the cultural products most peculiar to modernity.  Modernity is, essentially, the condition of the rise and triumph of capitalism.  Capitalism is entropic.  Like the Master, it 'generates' entropy.

SF expresses the dizzying possibilities of modernity in terms of space travel and time travel.  It is not 'scientific' but it would be unthinkable without science.  The language of science is the language it uses to reiterate the old myths and legends of death and decay and eternity.  It is, perhaps, the quintessential genre of modernity.  It is how fiction tackles the "relationship of man to his tools" in a modern, capitalist age when the tools have become powerful enough to destroy worlds and (seemingly) think for themselves.  SF keeps coming back to the hyper-destructive violence of high-tech war.  It keeps coming back to the end of the world, the post-apocalyptic wasteland.  It keeps coming back to stalled and tottering dystopias.  It keeps coming back to the malfunctioning of technology, its unintended by-products, the machines that kill and ruin.

Capitalism invented the concept of entropy.  It is an insight from the Industrial Revolution, concerned with the functioning of engines.  Capitalism adapted entropy to information; Information Theory began in the Rand Corporation.  Capitalism creates more and more commodities, which depreciate in real terms or get superseded in relative terms.  They break and run down, or they get overtaken by new models.  Either way, capitalism creates wastelands of spent and useless commodities, junkyards, massive landfills, island-sized rubbish tips.  Capitalism surrounds us with broken machines and sputtering engines, and the packaging they come in, and the spent batteries that made them work.  Capitalism is a forest of belching chimneys.  Capitalism is a panorama of old cars with flat tyres, beached on great stretches of motorway covered in the grime of exhaust pipes.  Battered old police boxes by the side of the road, sat next to litter bins and abandoned bicycles.

Capitalist industry creates smoke that turns buildings black.  It creates awesome machines that end up rusting.  It creates warehouses that get boarded up.  It mass-produces chaos by making more and more things.  It does this by raising the productive forces to levels unprecedented in previous history.  The more you put things together...

Capitalism cannot help creating economic crises.  They are built into its structure.  It needs them.  These crises entail overproduction of things for profit, which will then be left unbought by people who can no longer afford them.  Bankruptcies and busts litter the land with empty shops and empty houses and people living in cardboard boxes.  Capitalism can only clamber out of such crises by destroying huge amounts of capital.

Capitalism generates destruction anyway.  Capitalism generates imperialism and war.  It fuses with nation states, and these fused blocs then compete for resources.  It creates massive industries catering to war, mass-producing more and ever-greater machines of destruction... and then those machines either sit uselessly until they are replaced, or they are sent to pulverise the other side's machines into fragments, along with their people and buildings and roads...

This is the universe the Doctor lives in.  This is Argolis and Zolf-Thura and Skaro and Uxaerius; laid waste by high-tech warfare.  This is Karn, littered with crashed ships because apparently everyone on the planet is trying to fend off death using some kind of occult science.  This is the Tharil empire; a feudal world reduced to haunted ruins by a revolution in trade.  This is Paradise Towers; modernity (Modernism, even) in decay.  This is Frontios, with its failure proof technology that fails.  This is New New York, stuck in a social moebius loop by a runaway commodity.  This is, unquestionably, the Time War.

Things have always decayed, but the ubiquity of entropy that we now take for granted is a phenomenon of modernity. The condition of modernity is the condition of being surrounded by entropy.  It is the condition of living in a world in which entropy is kept barely in check.

It is the condition of constantly inflating a punctured tire.


There's so much I love about 'Planet of the Ood'.  Picking a moment will be hard.

I love some of the things other people hate.

Unlike Lawrence Miles, I love that Donna ticks the Doctor off for his "Who do you think made your clothes?" crack.  Why the hell should Donna put up with smuggery like that from a guy wearing Converse trainers?  Who makes your clothes, Doctor?  (Apart from anything else, one answer is probably 'women'.)  Okay, he apologises for making her feel uncomfortable, which is problematic... but it isn't as if the episode lets the matter rest there.

Unlike many people, I love that the Ood thank DoctorDonna for, essentially, doing nothing.  I love that they free themselves without any help from the Doctor.  I like him better as an ally than as a messiah.  The Ood don't suffer the fate of the N'avi: they don't get Whitey leading them to freedom.  The DoctorDonna doesn't interfere.  DoctorDonna renounces any claim they might think they have to judge the oppressed, to moralise when the oppressed free themselves by any means necessary.

I love that the episode is nevertheless unambiguous about the right of the oppressed to use violence against their oppressors.  There are no patronising sermons which hold the oppressed to a higher moral standard of forgiveness and forebearance.  Violence is horrible, but the violence of the oppressed in revolt is fundamentally morally different to the violence - individual and structural - of the oppressors.

I love that the Solana doesn't have a change of heart.

I love the vacuous marketing slime in the PR lounge, tittering at the accessories they can add to their living merchandise. Just as lobotomised, in their way, as their commodity.

I love that Halpen flatters himself by being kind to his personal Ood servant while contemplating genocide against the entire race.

It's not perfect.

I have a problem with the racial politics.  By making so many of the human oppressors into people of colour, the episode effaces the particularity of race as an axis of oppression.  It seems to say that capitalism is colour blind and all it cares about is the colour of money.  This is true to an extent, and I believe that economic factors are ultimately causal, but race is a specific category of oppression within capitalism, and slavery of all things is a colour issue.

And it is, basically, another orientalist fantasy for assuaging white guilt (though considerably better than most).

But it's time to pick a moment... so here goes:

The Doctor and Donna, handcuffed, are being harangued by Mr Halpen.

"The Ood were nothing without us," he blusters, "just animals roaming around on the ice!"

Yes, yes, that's what they always say.  The [insert name of ethnic group being enslaved here] were just slightly-more sophisticated ruminants until the civilised people came along to put them and their land to good use.  That's the essence of the liberal justification for Western colonialism going back to forever.  We're doing them a favour.  Without us, they were just animals.  Today the same justification is used, but in liberal code.  Isn't it great that we bombed and invaded - now the poor little chaps can have elections and feminism!
"That's because you can't hear them," says the Doctor.  Essentially: you don't understand their language so you think they don't have one.

Readers of this blog will already be able to guess all the stuff about capital expanding into new markets and utilising all the resources it can commodify and assimilate into itself, about commodity fetishism being when people are treated as commodities and commodities are treated as people, about slavery being fundamental to the rise of the capitalist system and its imperial expansion, about capital cutting into the body of the worker, etc., etc.

"They welcomed it," says Halpen, "It's not as if they put up a fight."

Can't win, can they?  They don't act violently = permission to enslave them.  They do act violently = gas the savage monsters.  It's almost as if there's a massive great big double standard at work.

"You idiot," hisses Donna, "They're born with their brains in their hands! Don't you see, that makes them peaceful!  They've got to be, because a creature like that would have to trust anyone it meets!"

That's my favourite bit.  It is a material explanation of consciousness.  The Ood evolved to be communal, social, mutually-aiding.  In packing crates they are pressed into rows but their natural pattern is a circle, a cornerless shape without top or bottom.  They naturally see the social unity of people, to the point that they conceptualise the Doctor and Donna as 'DoctorDonna'.  None of this is because they're saints or angels.  It's because of their material nature and circumstances. Like humans in pre-class societies, they had to rely on each other.

But - and this is the really great thing - there is also, implicitly, a dialectical explanation of changing consciousness.  The Ood have changed in response to their new social situation.  They Ood have shown themselves to be intricately related to their social environment, yet they never lose their agency.  Even when parts of their brains have been cut away, their agency is not entirely gone.  As the Doctor later says, it takes many forms.  Revenge, rage, and patience.  And then, revolution.

Now that's a winning combination.

Monday, 18 November 2013


"All the resting ones I have used were people of status, ambition," says Davros.

The quintessential 80s heroes.  They had themselves brought to his business, Tranquil Repose, when they wanted to pay to cheat the ultimate human frailty.  Death was a weakness they felt they had a right to buy off.  They paid to rest until they could be awoken and cured.  They would then resume their positions of power.  Money would conquer death.  Just as Timon and Marx knew, as the ultra-commodity in a system of total commodification, money has a fantastic and phantasmic power.  It can dissolve even the most drastic boundaries and oppositions.  It can even make the dead into the living.

Davros' clients had the same dream as all ruling classes.  Their ancient forebears had themselves buried in their finery, surrounded by their treasure, expecting to take it with them.  If they couldn't take it with them, they weren't going.  That was the logic behind the pyramids...  and those monuments to dead pharoahs helped bolster the power of the living ones.  They were a unified statement of divine and material power. 

When Jobel and Takis prepare the body of the President's wife, it looks as though they have put her in an Egyptian sarcophagus.  In the long shots of Tranquil Repose, the facility is made of pyramids.

But Davros has been harvesting the bodies of all these thrusting executives, billionaires and society ladies (the only people that are considered of any value by people like him) and turning them into Daleks. In this story, the Daleks have become Cybermen: zombies constructed from bodies eviscerated and infibulated by technology... except that Cybermen are labour power reduced to pure meat, whereas the Daleks are the rulers refined and rendered into fascist tanks.  Capital is still gothic.  'Dead labour' as Marx called it.  Zombie labour.  Undead labour.  The property created by past work, accreted and collected and owned, towering over the living labourer and sucking on his or her blood.  In Doctor Who, such dead labour, alienated from people until it becomes literally alien, fetishised until it comes alive, constantly meshes with the human body.  The Daleks are another expression of this.  In this story, this vampire capital feeds even on the bodies of the rich... but, for them, this is an opportunity for expansion.  It salvages them, the way fascism always salvages capitalism when it comes under existential threat.  It opens up new vistas and markets, the way imperialism always does.

Like Milo Minderbinder in the movie, Davros thinks the rich will get how this works.

"They would understand," he claims blithely, "especially as I have given them the opportunity to become masters of the universe!"

Masters of the Universe was a range of mega-successful toys in the 80s, one of the quintessential commodities of the decade.  Tom Wolfe would adapt the phrase to describe the new bucaneers of Wall Street in his satire The Bonfire of the Vanities.  Those people made money even more phantasmic, floating it around the world in clouds of information, making it a spirit... but one that still commanded material things and living bodies.

The Doctor wonders what will happen to those deemed unworthy of promotion to the top level of Davros' new corporate/fascist regime.  The non-Masters of the Universe; those bodies who fail in the marketplace of Dalek ideas.

"Will they be left to rot?"

No such luck.

"You should know me better than that, Doctor," says Davros, "I never waste a valuable commodity."

Again, human bodies as commodities.

"The humanoid form makes an excellent concentrated protein," he continues, "This part of the galaxy is developing quickly. Famine was one of its major problems."

Needless to say, this wasn't because there was not enough food.  Under global capitalism, famines are allowed to happen essentially because the market is a shitty way to distribute resources.  You can make more profit selling too much food to a few than you can selling enough food to a lot.

"You've turned them into food?" splutters the Doctor, "Did you bother to tell anyone they might be eating their own relatives?"

"Certainly not," replies Davros, "That would have created what I believe is termed consumer resistance."

He learns the rules of business fast, this parochial fascist scientist.  His background allows him to mesh himself seamlessly into the pyramidal structure of the corporation, with its absolute apex and its total lack of accountability.  Chomsky says that corporations are "pure tyrannies", among the most 'totalitarian' organisations ever devised.  I might quibble with his analysis here and there, but he describes something utterly real.  Davros knows how the propaganda model works too: the provenance of commodities, and the brute pragmatism of power, needs to stay behind closed doors.  Davros keeps himself hidden behind a decoy, in a cellar, at the centre of a labyrith, under the presentable foyer and the marble corridors of his going concern.  He hides himself and his name behind his connections and deals.

In his crude way, Davros has literalised something about the nature of capitalist relations in the age of consumerism.  Consumerism, in its material form as advertising and branding, is cannibalistic.  It feeds us back to ourselves as images.  We consume the human form - suitably treated and cooked-up and filled with unnatural additives - all the time, in advertising, fashion, celebrity culture, dolls in shop windows, TV, movies, pornography.  We consume media ideas about how to look, how to dress, how to eat, how to speak.  We eat ourselves all the time, every day, as a meal prepared for us by the hidden and the powerful

Davros has adapted to capitalism so well that he has realised one of its strategies into real, literal, material terms.  He has fed us to ourselves.


"I've known many times," says the Doctor, "some of them much more pleasant than others."

"Well, I quite like it here, I must say," interjects Jo to cover the awkward moment, "Everyone's been most kind."

The Controller (what a giveaway that title is) nods in appreciation of her remark.

The Doctor, however, is unimpressed.  He swills more wine.  He looks like an sozzled, opinionated guy at an unsuccessful party, spoiling for a fight.

"Well, I met some people today who were far from kind," he says.  He spent the earlier part of the day taking a forced tour of the Controller's utopia, being subjected to the tender mercies of a surprisingly well-sketched terror state.

"That was a simple mistake, Doctor, I assure you," says the Controller, his voice as smooth and silvery as his strange, quasi-robotic face, "You must not jump to conclusions."

"Better than jumping from the crack of a whip from some security guard," snaps the Doctor, "Do you run all your factories like that, Controller?"

We have been granted an unusual thing earlier in this episode: a glimpse into the productive centres of a Dalek-ruled regime.  It looked like a gulag.  People in rags lugged grain while being monitored at every moment.  At one point, we cut straight from that to the Controller handing Jo a plate full of grapes.

Grapes make wine, of course.  Wine is strangely present in this story.  Back at the start, the Doctor raided Sir Reginald Styles' wine cellar.

"That was not a factory, Doctor," returns the Controller mechanically.

"Oh? Then what was it?"  The Doctor looks still more like a half-cut guy, up for some aggro.

 "A rehabilitation centre.  A rehabilitation centre for hardened criminals."

"Including old men and women, even children?"

"There will always be people who need discipline, Doctor," says the Controller, as though the point is beyond debate... but then, to people like him, it always is.

"Now that's an old fashioned point of view," says the Doctor "even from my standards."

I love that line, but it makes me feel sad.  It dates this story far more than the mullets and flares and glam rock facepaint.  I mourn a long lost time, before neoliberalism got to work on popular culture, when it was a mainstream assumption that we could dispense with crusty, reactionary stuff about some people basically being indolent animals who needed to be forced to work... so much so that even the Third Doctor could come out with it.

"I can assure you that this planet has never been more efficiently, more economically run," says the controller.

Note that.  It's never been more efficient and more "economically run" than when the bloody Daleks are in control.

"People have never been happier or more prosperous," he continues.

"Then why," asks the Doctor, "do you need so many people to keep them under control? Don't they like being happy and prosperous?"

This cuts right to the quick.  It cuts to the delusion - still widespread on the left at that time - that 'really existing socialism' was in some meaningful way an improvement.  But if it was so great, why was there a dirty big wall keeping people in East Germany?  As Mark Steel once put it:

If you had a party, and discovered some of the guests secretly building a hot air balloon in an effort to escape, you wouldn't say, "Well that was a successful night."

In many ways, 'Day of the Daleks' is a story about the failure of socialism or communism in the 20th century, and it confines itself to the predictable liberal assumptions.  The Dalek economy looks like a gulag system.  The terrible new world was brought about by the Chinese and Russians starting World War Three.  Some revolutionary guerillas in fatigues try to change history with bullets and bombs and just make things worse (natch).  Some of these "fanatics" (as the Doctor calls them) even have Che moustaches.  (And let's not even get started on the racefails and politicsfails that come with having stupid, grunting, dark-skinned, low-browed aliens recycled from Planet of the Apes.)

And yet... as has been mentioned on this blog before, 'really existing socialism' or 'communism' were actually authoritarian and bureaucratic variants of state capitalism that arose for complex and contingent historical reasons.  So you can ask the Doctor's question about social control in our society too.

I'm not an anarchist, though I have much sympathy with many anarchist ideas.  One of the founding fathers of anarchism was Joseph Proudhon.  I have my issues with him, but he did say something I love:

To be governed is to be at every operation, at every transaction, noted, registered, enrolled, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under the pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be placed under contribution, trained, ransomed, exploited, monopolized, extorted, squeezed, mystified, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, despised, harassed, tracked, abused, clubbed, disarmed, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and, to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, outraged, dishonoured. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality.

This is all still pretty much true where I am.  I dunno about you.  I expect the NSA knows you're reading this.  The British government is currently engaged in a concerted effort to make public protest effectively illegal.  And yet we live under capitalism, which we are constantly told is the best of all possible worlds.  Even the recession is getting better, we're told.

What's the matter with us?  Don't we like being happy and prosperous?


"What if there's no one out there?" asks the Doctor.  He's inside the Brannigans' floating car, stuck in gridlock.

What if the world ended when you weren't looking?

"Someone's got to ask, because you might not talk about it, but it's there in your eyes. What if the traffic jam never stops?"

"There's a whole city above us," says Brannigan, "The mighty city state of New New York. They wouldn't just leave us."

"In that case, where are they?" counters the Doctor.  "What if there's no help coming, not ever? What if there's nothing? Just the motorway, with the cars going round and round and round and round, never stopping. Forever."

What if the whole system is an utterly insane roundalay, going nowhere, getting noplace, just leaving everyone stranded, doing nothing but belching out endless clouds of toxic smoke?  What if the crisis is permanent.  What if normality is the crisis?  What if everyday life is the end of the world?

Walter Benjamin said that history was a train crash, and revolution was when the passengers pulled the communication cord.  The people of New New York left it too late to pull the cord.  Capitalism crashed around them, shattering as one of their products ran out of control (a bit like, say, a stock market or a credit system).  In the story, the product was a patch that managed mood.  It was a palliative against the horror, which only intensified the horror.  The Heaven of the state was depopulated, leaving lofty council chambers full of skeletons.  The Hell of the lower levels filled up with fumes, and monsters of the repressed started to breed within them.  And Limbo filled up with the survivors.

"Shut up! Just shut up!" cries Valerie, Brannigan's wife.

Sally Calypso appears on the screen.  "This is Sally Calypso, and it's that time again. The sun is blazing high in the sky over the New Atlantic, the perfect setting for the daily contemplation."

"You think you know us so well, Doctor," says Brannigan, "But we're not abandoned. Not while we have each other."

Contrary to what most pop-culture will tell you, ordinary people are generally pretty damned good to each other in the aftermaths of disasters.

There's a sense in which the amazing co-operation to be found, for the most part, in Tahrir Square and Occupy, was something akin to mutual aid in the aftermath of a disaster.  Under capitalism as it stands (or tries to stand) every single day is the aftermath of a disaster.  Prescient in so many ways, this episode.

The people of the gridlock are all locked away from each other in their seperate boxes, the way capitalism locks us away... but in the aftermath of the ongoing disaster of modernity, they're also making lives and friendships and networks of support.

"This is for all of you out there on the roads," says Sally, "We're so sorry. Drive safe."

And everyone in gridlock starts to sing in unison.  This may be another patch, another mood stabiliser... but it is also a real and material act, an act of solidarity.  The BLISS patches were just commodities.  The songs are communal, social acts.

Marx wrote that religion was "at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering."

One thing we can't do is think of religion, in some abstract and ahistorical way, as The Problem.  You end up like Dawkins or Hitchens, sniping at a symptom while tolerating and enabling the illness.  'Gridlock' was broadcast during the heydey of 'New Atheism'.  In his blustering attack on religion, God is Not Great, published the same year 'Gridlock' aired, Christopher Hitchens decorated his prose with erudition ransacked from a dictionary of quotations, but never once mentioned Shelley, co-author of the very first atheist pamphlet published in English.  You'd think that'd warrant a mention in a book that finds space to blither on about Mel Gibson and make tasteless jokes about child abuse.  But Shelley wasn't just an atheist, he was a leveller too.  He criticised religion, as Marx would one day put it, "not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower."  Hitchens, by contrast, wanted religion to fall so that the offices of Vanity Fair were never likely to be bombed by Islamists, no matter how many Arab children the US government slaughtered.

What is noticeable about the hymns sung by the gridlockers is that the comfort comes not from the songs themselves, but rather from the unity found in singing them.  The congregation does not exist to sing the hymns, the hymns exist to unite the congregation.  The congregation comforts itself and it protests against the need for comfort.

These people accidentally created a post-hierarchy world without realising it.  They survived the fall of capitalism, and now live in its ruins.

If they can just think their way out of their boxes.

If they can just clear the smoke...

"What if there's no one out there?" the Doctor asked.  But there is.  Probably not God, as far as I can tell.  Probably not the government, not when the crunch comes anyway.  But there are lots of people out there.  You are not alone.