Friday, 31 July 2015

Round and Round

Jeremy Corbyn is a decent man, and he’s closer to my viewpoint that just about anybody else in mainstream politics, but he’s still basically just a moderate Social Democrat.  The media buzz about him being “hard Left” is ludicrous nonsense.   It’s a sign of the media’s extreme Right-wing agenda/viewpoint, a centre-ground shifted to the Right beyond anything known since the early 20th century, and the widespread (and very consciously inculcated) political illiteracy that now pervades the UK like a plague.

I think Corbyn’s usefulness lies almost entirely in the opportunity he presents for us to push the conversation in certain ways.  I will push him over the other candidates, and I will support the good stuff he says and does as Labour leader (if elected) because it’d be insane to do anything else.  The opportunity for propaganda is itself reason to do this.  The subsequent opportunity for anti-reformist, anti-Labour propaganda when Corbyn sells out - because he will, make no mistake... they always do, the structural logic of the situation makes that inevitable - will be worth having too, speaking as a revolutionary.

The Labour Party will be relieved to learn that I have no intention of practicing entryism.  I will not be paying them £3 for the chance to vote for Corbyn.  I have no illusions about Corbyn, or the Labour Party, or what Corbyn can do with the Labour Party, or Labour’s chances of winning in 2020 whoever’s leading it.  The last thing Corbyn needs is people joining, voting for him, getting him elected, and then never getting further involved in activism, or in helping him push the party leftwards (which is what will happen with the new members). 

In many ways, Liz Kendall is a much better leadership prospect for the 'really-existing Labour Party'.  Corbyn is the candidate for people like Owen Jones, who have an essentially fantasy-based idea of what the Labour Party is.  It’s a machine for controlling and containing the Left and Social Democracy.  There's an idea out there that the Labour leaders are cowed into abandoning Left-wing principles by the media.  Bollocks.  You don't climb the Labour Party's internal greasy pole unless you are, in real terms, very very Right-wing indeed.  Labour is a thoroughly - even fanatically - neoliberal, atlanticist party which provides a kind of kennel for those elements who would otherwise be dangerously homeless.  Its main purpose it to sidetrack people who want Social Democratic policies, and channel them safely into a reformist project that is, essentially, a neverending roundalay.  Moderate the slogans to get elected.  Get elected.  Play it safe.  Get voted out when playing it safe lays you open to the vagaries of an unchallenged capitalist system.  Then play it safe to get elected again.  'Twas ever thus, to an extent, but especially since the Blair revolution, when the Labour Party was essentially remodelled into a slick, larger-membership, higher-profile version of the SDP.

I am so sick of the Labour Left’s delusions about what can be achieved with this rigged game.  In many ways I have more contempt for the so-called Labour Left than I do for good honest Blairites or Tories.

And I am so sick of the moral blackmail.  “We have to get the Tories out!  Get the Tories out at any cost!  Do anything to get the Tories out!  If you don’t support Labour, and support a moderate [i.e. Right-wing] Labour leader, you’re selling out the vulnerable people who’ll suffer under the Tories!”  Firstly, what about the vulnerable people who did suffer - and would suffer again - under Labour?  Labour pursued Tory policies, often with greater venom, vindictiveness and efficiency than the Tories.  Their specialty, from almost the very beginning.  Secondly, is this eternal fucking roundabout really the best we can do?  I mean, really?

I’ve been an implacable opponent of reformism since I read Rosa Luxemburg at college.  But even this year, at the election, I was saying “for god’s sake, vote against the Coalition, even if it means voting Labour, if you live somewhere where it might make a difference”.  I said it with no illusions, but as a stop-gap, a triage measure.  I was like someone with no faith in homeopathy, grasping at a homeopathic remedy to treat my cancer, because every other option is closed off and, after all, what harm could it do?  But that's the "We've got to do something?" logic of the panicked.  That's the same logic that makes otherwise sensible people think it might be a good idea to support NATO bombing Libya.

I begin to think that, as with what Oscar said about charity, electoral reformism is not only a trap but actually evil.  You perpetuate the disease by offering palliatives for the symptoms.  Lesser-evilism may be the greatest evil of all, even when practiced in the 'no illusions' way that I have sometimes practiced it.  It may sound cold, but maybe what we need is a few decades of undiluted Tory rule.  Maybe that would be an acceptable price to pay, if it meant stepping off that roundabout.  Because that roundabout is kind-of attached to an underground battery, and every time you spin it, you generate more charge that gets stored in the battery, and the battery keeps the whole fucking machine working.

I've never believed that suffering is good for you.  Never.  It's a pernicious lie our culture tells us.  But, y'know... hope isn't working terribly well lately, is it?   Palliatives don't cure diseases.  A vial of homeopathic remedy doesn't make a dent on the cancer cells... and, in any case, with Labour, a better analogy would probably be a vial of acid.

Suffering may not be good for you, but sometimes desperation can make you strong.

The working class movement is now so decimated that it makes less and less sense to think of Labour and the Unions as weapons in a struggle powered from below by working class activity. The old, standard logic used by people like me to justify engagement with reformists is falling apart, leaving us with some very bleak and stark choices to make.

I’m not sure that unremitting Tory rule might not be the only way to reinvigorate resistance from below.  I mean serious resistance by the way, not one-day strikes and marches and clicktivism.  I mean blood on the streets resistance - which is now pretty much the only way Austerity can ever be seriously challenged in the rigged game of the neoliberal millenium.  Even as it weakens the working class, Tory torture fuels their resentment and rage.  Better ten riots than no strikes.

The Tories want to take us back to the 19th century.  Maybe we should let them.  After all, there was no tradition of working class struggle before the working class invented it - and they did that in response to relentless, unaccountable pumelling from a system that represented them not at all, that gave them no outlet, that had no mercy for them, that locked them up for being destitute and let them die for the want of a bed.

Resistance and organisation came from despair, originally.  In the decayed and destroyed ruins of the tradition that used to give Labour any semblance of usefulness, maybe despair is the only thing we have going for us.  Let the fuckers burn it all down.  Then, maybe, we’ll get it together to burn them down in return.  What choice will we have?  You got any better ideas?  Any ideas that don't involve keeping on turning that fucking roundabout forever, charging up their batteries, and never getting anywhere?

"Being without becoming" - Disjointed Thoughts on Dialectics and the Third Doctor, Part 1

"Being without becoming [is] an ontological absurdity" says the Doctor in 'The Time Monster'.

He's talking about time, about the fact that time is - by definition - a process of change.  Time is what entropy looks like to those of us in the midst of it.  Entropy increases, thus time's arrow goes forward.  'Becoming' is just a way of saying 'change'.  Everything is always in the process of becoming something else.  Every apple is in the process of becoming a rotten apple, or an eaten apple, or seeds resown.  'Ontology' is the fancy name used by philosophers to mean the study of what it means for things to exist, to be real.  The Doctor is saying: "the idea of things being frozen in time is inherently absurd because things that don't change effectively don't exist".

Though, of course, in 'The Time Monster', things and people do get frozen in time.  The story shows us something happening which has already been established as impossible.  It's almost as if we are being explicitly invited to read the story metaphorically.

This is something that doesn't quite happen in 'The Three Doctors'.  As Phil Sandifer has said, the story should be set in the Land of Fiction.  The moments when Omega materialises an ornate chair from nowhere, and when the Doctors make a normal door appear amidst all the bubbly orangely madness, are moments when we see how Omega's realm should have been done - as an openly metaphorical realm of familiar imagery surreally employed.  We have a similar problem in 'The Trial of a Time Lord'.  Clearly the entire trial should have occured in the Matrix, in the realm of metaphor, in the nest of sinister and surreal Victoriana, instead of in a bog-standard courtroom with some spangly bits stuck on because it's in space.   Omega's realm should have been such a place.  It should have been like the Land of Fiction, or Goth's Matrix, or the Valeyard's Matrix, or Heaven in A Matter of Life and Death.  We are, after all, clearly engaged in a life and death metaphor here, with things disappearing from our world and being stranded in another, and then hauntingly returning to attack our world.  However, as I say, 'The Three Doctors' attempts to foreclose on such readings by stubbornly insisting upon sciency-sounding jargon.  Black holes, anti-matter, etc.  The metaphorical possibilities of being transported from one realm of reality to another of unreality are shut-down (the attempt is at least made) by the technobabble about matter being processed so it can exist in a world of anti-matter.

Thing is, it never quite takes.  Anti-matter is rarely used to mean anything scientific in sci-fi.  The name itself is metaphor, expressing a scientific concept that is very hard to grasp in literal terms, especially for the layman.  In sci-fi, 'anti-matter' is usually metaphorical.  In 'Planet of Evil', anti-matter is straightforwardly hauntological!  It is evil matter.  Ghostly matter.  Gothic matter.  Hammer matter.  It can infect our world, bringing ghosts with it, making jungles into haunted spaces, turning a sci-fi boffin from a Dr Jekyll into a shambling, simian Mr Hyde.  In 'The Three Doctors', despite the attempt to shut down the metaphorical reading, anti-matter refers to the realm of ideas, and more particularly to the way of thinking about the world that sees ideas as primary, as more fundamentally real than material things.

As Engels pointed out, all philosophy can be divided into idealism and materialism.  Idealism, in this context, refers to the notion that ideas are in some way more fundamental or more primary or more influential than matter, and that material things exist in some way 'after' ideas.  Materialism, in this context, refers to the notion that material reality is more fundamental, more primary or more influential, and that ideas stem from matter rather than the other way round. In many ways, materialism has won this argument.  Modern science is pretty unambiguous in its findings: ideas are products of brains, which are products of material processes.  The material world existed long before anybody had any ideas about it, and would continue to exist if there were no ideas.  However, it's interesting how many scientists harbour idealist conceptions in other areas.  Take Richard Dawkins, for instance.  In many ways, a classic example.  His scientific viewpoint is decidely materialist.  We don't even need to get into the old debate about whether his genes-eye-view of evolution is reductionist and determinist.  We can take his own account of things at face value and declare, undoubtedly with his agreement, that his worldview is materialist rather than idealist.  There is no mystical component.  In the beginning there was not the word.  However, in spite of himself, his ideas about memes are highly idealist. He tries to ground his view of culture in a hard-headedly materialist understanding modelled on his view of genetics, but his account flies off into the realm of idealism.  Memes are themselves entirely notional units which exist only in poor-defined and fuzzy metaphorical accounts.  Dawkins sees society and culture as made of such notional units (their size, complexity and nature fluctuates with the needs of his storytelling) which interact almost without human agency.  They occupy human heads like germs in bodies.  They replicate like bacteria in the gut.  They spread like diseases.  They self-organise and use people as hosts.  And this dance of these selfish memes, these impersonal little idea-creatures, forms the basis of changes in human society and, ultimately, human history.  They get transmitted in novels and films, etc, until they occupy enough heads to make sufficient numbers of people act in ways that change the "moral zeitgeist".  It really is like computer viruses causing widespread changes in how computers work by replicating and transmitting across networks.  It's an account that is as essentially mystical as it is incoherent, even as it models itself on a materialist account of biological evolution - a delicious irony coming from such a crusty so-called atheist and sceptic.  Ironies pile on top of each other when Dawkins tries to use the memetic view of culture to explain the otherwise inexplicable (to him) popularity of supposedly irrational ideas... and falls directly into the most embarassingly vulgar and irrational kinds of idealist reductionism.  The really interesting thing here is that Dawkins arrives at this thoroughly idealist view of society, culture and history via the route of vulgar materialism, the kind of vulgar materialism which insists upon a reductionist genes'-eye-view of evolution coupled with a reductionist view of brains as being like machines which run software.  And this is where we can draw a distinction between vulgar materialism and dialectical materialism.

Dawkins' materialism is vulgarly positivist because it is based upon treating reductionism as though it is more than a tool, as though it represents something true about how the world works.  Reductionism is fine as a method - it has done some wonderful heavy-lifting in the history of science.  It is, essentially, the procedure of studying things by taking them apart (either literally or metaphorically) into bits and pieces and then studying the pieces in isolation to see how they work on their own.  And that's fine.  You can learn a lot about rivers by studying water molecules.  The great mistake made by so many people is the idea - which is impliclty held often by people who would explicitly reject it if it were offered to them - that you can understand everything you need to know about rivers from the study of water molecules because rivers are essentially nothing more than aggregations of lots of water molecules.  A more dialectical view of materialism would see an interrelation of material at various levels, from the molecular to the social.  It would remember that rivers are also things that people use socially.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Variant Iterations

"I can't think why you would want to spend so much time here Doctor," said Felix, "it seems a very odd place to choose as a regular holiday destination."

"I think it's rather pleasant," said the Doctor brightly, "especially since we cleared out the former management."

"The former management?" asked Felix.

"Oh, Drumlins Westmore tried to enclose this place a little while ago," said the Doctor.

"Drumlins Westmore?  Sounds like a British general.  General Sir George Drumlins-Westmore OBE."

"Ha!  No, it's a corporation.  The Drumlins Westmore Interplanetary News and Entertainment Media Group.  Or something like that.  There's probably an Inc in there too somewhere.  They set up a department on one of their office worlds devoted entirely to fiction.  Hired loads of struggling wannabe authors.  Lured them in with promises of agents and publishing contracts and regular meals."

"You mean they started publishing novels?  They created a sort of novel factory?"

"No, they didn't publish anything.  They got the writers to spend all day writing stories featuring brilliant, dynamic, hyper-capable, unbeatable employees of the Drumlins Westmore Corporation.  Heroic corporate accountants and lawyers and lobbyists and marketing executives.   Capitalist atlases who never faltered in their noble determination to cure all of society's ills by privatising everything... into the hands of Drumlins Westmore, naturally.  The writers took to it with depressing ease and speed.  As a rule, the more principled a writer, the quicker they accomodated themselves to the work.  You should've heard the byzantine self-justifications I had to listen to.  Anyway, the fictional Drumlins Westmore employees from the stories all appeared here as a matter of course.  And, also as a matter of course, they immediately set about taking over.  It worked too.  Effectively, Drumlins Westmore pulled off a hostile takeover of the Land of Fiction."

"But that's all over now?" asked Felix.

"Oh yes," laughed the Doctor, grinning so widely Felix thought her head was about to split in two, "we couldn't be having that sort of thing now could we?"

They walked and the Doctor expounded.

"It's the people you meet here, you see.  That's why I keep coming back.  That and a strange feeling I get... a feeling of coming home.  But in a good way."

"It doesn't seem entirely safe here," said Felix, "even without those Drumlins and Westmore gentlemen."

Felix looked around warily, as if expecting a corporate accountant or a marketing executive to leap out at him and attack.

He was still somewhat on edge after half an hour of hiding behind a rock from a platoon of huge robotic tripods.  He and the Doctor had spied them in the far distance.  The Doctor had insisted they duck out of sight, just in case.  Even so, she had leaned around the rocks and spied on the things with her telescope.  Felix had taken a turn.  Through the telescope he saw them, metallic tendrils flailing from the bulbous bodies suspended at the tops of their tall and jointed legs.  They were lumbering towards a far-off cluster of settlements connected by rivers, backed by gorges, and interspersed with farmland filled with grazing sheep.

"Most household accidents happen in the home," said the Doctor absently.

Felix was getting accustomed to her sometimes oblique way of speaking.

"Nowhere is entirely safe," he translated, with the rueful air of someone announcing the solution to a riddle five minutes after everyone else in the room had figured it out.

They had been trudging uphill for almost half an hour, and were nearly at their destination.  The dirty winding road ended at the gates of a deeply improbable-looking castle.  Felix thought it looked like something from the tales of Hoffman... except for the colour scheme, or rather the lack of one.

"Should we not have helped the people in that country?" asked Felix, "Those tripod things did not look pleasant."

"The people of Erewhon can look after themselves," said the Doctor.

Felix looked up at the massive, grey castle door as they approached it.  It was set into the grey stone walls.  The portcullis was grey.  The drawbridge upon which they stood was grey.  The water in the moat beneath their feet was grey.

He looked down at his own body.  His pale grey hands emerged from his darker grey sleeves.  At least his army greatcoat was still more or less the right colour.

"This will wear off, won't it Doctor?" he asked.

"You've already asked me that," said the Doctor.  Inspecting a closed hatch in the door.  She looked entirely at ease with her greyness.  It suited her somehow.

"Well, it is a matter of great concern to me," replied Felix.  "I do not wish to be in black and white for the rest of my life."

"This land is in black and white," said the Doctor, "I don't know why.  It just is.  We'll go back to being the way we were once we leave."

She turned back to him.

"Besides," she said, "I think you look very fetching in monochrome.  A young soldier of the Kaiser's Army, like you.  Suits you.  Although I suppose that, for the full effect, you should be moving at about 16 frames per second."

"I feel ridiculous.  I feel like Charlie Chaplin."

"Nothing wrong with that," said the Doctor, "Chaplin was a genius."

"A genius?" snorted Felix, "making those ridiculous films?"

"I'm enormously tempted to make a bigoted remark at this point.  A remark involving a certain European nationality being notorious for lacking a sense of humour."

"Oh they were funny enough," said Felix, affecting a mature loftiness, "it's just that I always found them disturbing too... jarring."

"Benjamin would've understood," said the Doctor.

"Benjamin who?" asked Felix.  The Doctor had never mentioned anyone called Benjamin to him before.

"Slightly after your time," said the Doctor sadly.

Felix felt foolish and ignorant.

"Of course, I've met Chaplin here," said the Doctor, "or rather some of his characters...  only the early ones for some reason.  If you meet any, you could ask them for some pointers about coping with life in grayscale."

"I'm glad this amuses you," said Felix, looking down again at his own silvery grey skin.

"Honestly Felix," said the Doctor approaching him and putting a hand on his shoulder, "don't worry.  You'll get used to it.  Trust me."

"Maybe I don't want to get used to it," protested Felix.

"But Fee, think of the aesthetics of the thing!  The silver screen has a magic all its own!  And black and white captures such mood, such atmosphere, so many dimensions!  Think of Man Ray!  Think of Murnau!"

"Some more things slightly after my time?" asked Felix.

"I did you no favours," said the Doctor, "whisking you out of Europe just as Modernism was about to take off for real.  Not that Murnau was all that modern in anything but technology."

"You got me out of the war," said Felix.

"True," said the Doctor, "and I don't suppose there was ever anything more Modern than that war."

Felix looked down.

"Do you still feel guilty about leaving it?" asked the Doctor.

Felix nodded.

"Should I not have stayed to fight?  Is that not what you do?"

"I fight my wars, or the wars of people who want my help.  I don't fight for kings and empires."

"We were told we were fighting an empire.  The British empire."

"Empires don't fight other empires to end empire."

"I had a duty to my country."

"You had a right to your life."

"I'm not sure I had the right to leave my friends behind."

"Like Sassoon," said the Doctor, sounding sad and lost.

Felix looked at her.

"A poet," she said, "again, after your time.  But only just."

"You just can't help yourself, can you?"

The Doctor bit her lip and looked down.   

"What I'm trying to say is that these things..." she hunted for the words, "well, they're never just... black and white."

Felix smiled in spite of himself.

"I know, I know," he said with a weary chuckle, "life is... what's the phrase?  Nothing but 'shades of grey'?"

"Yes well, let's hope we don't meet anybody from that book," said the Doctor.

"State your name and attribution," barked a stentorian voice from behind them.

The Doctor whirled round.  The hatch in the castle door had opened. 

"I am the Karkus," growled the Doctor, jutting her pointy chin forward so that her battered top hat tilted alarmingly close to falling off the back of her head, "Earth; 21st Century; comic strip creation; the Hourly Telepress."

"Not autheticated," said the voice flatly.  The hatch snapped shut.

"Oh," said the Doctor, looking crestfallen.

She looked genuinely at a loss, which amused Felix almost as much as it alarmed him.

"That should've worked," she said, "it always has before."

"What do we do now?" asked Felix.  He was rather hoping the Doctor would suggest retracing their steps, maybe making a return visit to the Blue Angel.  He'd rather liked that barefoot dancer.  And the place had felt like home... albeit a part of home he would never have dared to visit back in the old days.  The Doctor hadn't liked it much.  "I'm more of a Weimar girl myself," she had muttered.

The Doctor shook her head slightly, as if to clear it, and turned back to the door.  She rapped on it smartly with her knuckles.

The hatch snapped open again.

"State your name and attribution," said the voice from within, exactly as before.

"I am the Karkus," repeated the Doctor, using the same truculent growl, but this time augmenting it with what Felix could only imagine was meant to be a germanic accent of some kind, "Earth; 21st Century; comic strip creation; the Hourly Telepress."

"Not authenticated," said the voice again and, as before, the hatch snapped shut... or rather, it tried to.  On this occasion, however, the Doctor had suddenly whipped a long spoon out of one of her pockets - at least, Felix assumed that was where it had come from - and jammed it into the open hole before the hatch could close.

"Hang on a mo, old chap," she said, dropping her false voice completely and reverting to her usual curving, flowing Bolton accent, "could you tell me why my attribution is not being authenticated?"

There was silence from within.

"I mean," continued the Doctor, "I realise that the bureacracy here has become considerably less efficient since the departure of the Master Brain... and that's all to the good, don't get me wrong... but even so, you must be able to tell me what's gone wrong, yes?  Hmm?  Pretty please?  With sugar on top, and so forth?"

"Query accepted," said the voice after a dubious silence.

"Well that's a start," said the Doctor, nodding approvingly and keeping a firm grip on her long spoon.

The silence resumed, but it somehow seemed to have become a busy, concentrated silence.  It had become the silence of activity.

"Why do you carry a long spoon on your person?" asked Felix, even as he reflected that he really should have learned not to ask questions like that by now.

"You never know when you might need to sup with the Devil," said the Doctor, "especially here... though I have grounds for thinking that particular character might have escaped some time ago..."

"Query response," barked the voice from behind the door, "The character known as the Karkus is already logged as being within the Citadel."

"Aaaaah!" exclaimed the Doctor, "I see!  Well that's no problem!  Check your records and you'll see that the Karkus went through many versions before his eventual retirement from the strip section of the good old Hourly.  Many of those versions are completely incompatible with each other in terms of backstory, style, etc, to the point where they must exist in seperate continuities.  Blimey, he was officially relaunched and rebooted at least twice.  And that's without counting the so-called 'Young Karkus Adventures'... but nobody likes to talk about those.  You should've heard Zoe on the subject.  You wouldn't think she even knew words like that."

"Do you claim to be a variant iteration?" asked the voice from behind the door.

"Yes," said the Doctor immediately, "that's it.  That's exactly what I'm claiming.  I'm a variant iteration.  That's what I am all right.  Oh ho yes.  I'm a variant iteraion, me.  No question."

She looked across at Felix and twitched her eyebrows at him.  He had to cover his mouth to suppress a laugh.

There was another little slab of busy silence before the voice asked.

"State details of your variation," said the voice cunningly.

The Doctor's eyes narrowed, making her look like a chess player whose opponent had just done something unorthodox with a bishop.

"I'm... sorry but I'm from a Karkus strip in which the Karkus has lost his memory.  Dull storyline.  But then the amnesia plot is always dull.  At least, I imagine it is.  I can't actually remember."

"You also fail to match the physical description and set gender of the character," said the voice.

"It was part of the my storyline," replied the Doctor instantly, but with a touch of desperation, "the character changed gender.  Some people didn't like it, but there you go.  I'm still the same inside.  You should see me under these clothes.  All muscles and pectorals and washboards and that kind of thing.  They use my before and after photos in adverts on bit torrent sites.  I got ripped in three weeks."

More silence.

"There are no records in our files of such a storyline," said the voice, now sounding openly sardonic.

"Of course not, that storyline was lost.  Someone junked it to save shelf space of something.  They never found any of it, despite the best efforts of fans."


"Oh for goodness sake!" exclaimed Felix exasperatedly, "I thought you said this place was a democracy now!"

"Democracies run on paperwork just as much as tyrannies," said the Doctor, "but you have a point."

She turned back to the hatch.

"Look here mate," she said, adopting a tone of chummy familiarity, "we're all working stiffs here, amirite?  I realise you've got a job to do, and I realise it's an important job, and I admire how seriously you take it, but... has it really come to this?  Checking and double checking the minute details of a chap's life, just because she wants to walk through a door?  Who is it that you think I am?  What mischief do you imagine I might be planning to get up to in there?  How long has it been since the White Robots and the Toy Soldiers got reprogrammed and went off to live together in that big commune?  A long time.  There's even a generation of their kids now, I understand.  Has there been any trouble since then?  Beyond the obvious trouble you're bound to get in a world where Iago is friends with Richard III, I mean?"  Her voice adopted a slightly wheedling tone.  "C'mon, we're all fictional characters together, aren't we?"

"Are we?" asked the voice after a long pause.

"Yes," said the Doctor, "of course."

The hatch opened a little way and the Doctor withdrew her spoon.

"Not authenticated," said the voice, and the hatch snapped shut.  This time, unimpeded.

"Reminds me of Herr Weißhaupt at the hotel," said Felix, "He was only the doorman but you would have thought he owned the place."

"Hmm," said the Doctor, frowning and looking at her spoon, which now had an unsightly dent in it's long handle, "I only wanted to look around the castle.  Retrace my steps.  Set off a few alarms by walking though some light beams.  A bit of nostalgia."

"Nostalgia literally means 'the pain of the past'," said Felix.

"I know that," snapped the Doctor.

Felix felt himself blush.

"I'm sorry," said the Doctor.

"No, I'm sorry," said Felix, "it comes of being a schoolmaster's son.  Papa always liked showing off his knowledge.  I suppose it rubbed off on me."

"I'm hardly one to talk," said the Doctor.  "Perhaps we should go and see Ichabod Crane.  Now there was an insufferable schoolmaster.  And goodness only knows who he stayed that thin with his appetite."

Felix was relieved.  The awkward moment had been erased as the Doctor had ridden off on another of her trains of thought.  He wondered for which station it was bound.  All he knew was that he wanted to be along for the ride.


They trudged back down the long, winding, dirty path.

They met some fascinating travellers on their way.  A voluble Irishwoman called Molly Bloom, a young governess of steely intellect and dignity called Miss Eyre whom the Doctor approached with something like reverance, and a pair of Russian aristocrats named Myshkin and Oblonsky who were travelling together in mutual fug of amiable bemusement.  Felix took an instant liking to two young men they met further on, Messers Nickleby and Smike.  Nickleby and Felix had a good long chat about the ethics of classroom discipline.  Felix's father had been notably lenient, which Nickleby applauded.  Smike said little, but sat under a tree with the Doctor, shyly eating chunks of cheese which the Doctor had found in one of her pockets wrapped in a piece of brown (which is to say grey) paper.  The Doctor insisted he ate them, telling him he needed fattening up. 

Felix began to see what the Doctor meant about it being the people here who drew him back again and again.  Having said that, the Doctor studiously avoided some of the travellers.  She wanted nothing to do with a superficially charming Italian man who introduced himself as Count Fosco.  And when they encountered someone called Humbert, the Doctor immediately kneed him in the groin, took his stepdaughter by the hand, and walked off.  Felix asked what was going on but the Doctor only muttered something about a nice turn of phrase being no excuse.  She chatted naturally enough with the young girl, who trotted along beside her with an air of bland lassitude.

The Doctor then stopped for a long chat with a dogged land surveyor who called himself only 'K'.  She advised him solmenly not to bother trying to get into the castle.  "No point," she said, "trust me." 

"Hang on a minute!" said the Doctor suddenly, startling K.  She abandoned the conversation with him (which was only going round in circles anyway) and turned to the little girl, who was now chatting with Felix by the side of the road.

"You," she said, pointing at her, "you're still in copyright!"


"Why are we going back?" asked Felix.  He was feeling weary and exasperated, but he was also concerned about he Doctor.  She was anxious, upset, frantic.  It was hard to tell with her face rendered only in silvery grey, but she seemed to have gone very pale.

"You heard Dolores!" the Doctor replied, shouting back to him from over her shoulder as she strode ahead, "you heard what she said!"

Young Dolores - whom they had left in the care of Miss Eyre - had told them that she and her stepfather had 'escaped' from somewhere.  From the account she gave, Felix thought the place sounded like a cross between a prison and a gigantic filing cabinet.

"I don't understand why those people were being held prisoner," said Felix.

"Well, Humbert deserves to be locked up," said the Doctor, "but the point is, he wasn't locked up for the right reasons.  He and the girl were being kept locked up because they're still in copyright!  That's why you never meet late Chaplin characters!  The rights to the movies he made after 1918 are all still owned by someone!  All these years I've been coming here and I never realised!  Never stopped to think about it!  You never meet anyone here who's still in copyright!  So where are all the copyrighted characters being kept?  Hmm?  I never thought about it!  Never let it trouble me!  I just never asked the question!"  She was fuming with herself.  "I just accepted it!  'It's just the way it is', I said to myself!"

"Like the black and white," said Felix.

The Doctor stopped abruptly and faced him.

"Exactly," she said, and she looked downcast and ashamed, "You were right Felix.  We shouldn't just accept the things as they are.  We should always question.  'Doubt everything', as old Charlie-boy used to say on his daughter's questionaires.  We should always worry about how the world we're in works, and how it changes us."

She turned on her heel and resumed striding up the path towards the castle.

"Well," panted Felix, "since I'm so wise, perhaps you'd like to answer my very pertinent question!"

"Which of your many pertinent questions are you referring to?"

"The one about why we're going back to the castle."

"Because that's where Dolores said she escaped from!"

"But my point," said Felix, stopping to hunch over, hands on knees, and dry heave from exhaustion, "was: why are we going back there when we know we can't get in?"

The words came out as little more than a whisper, but the Doctor seemed to hear them anyway because she called back: "Because I've just remembered something."

"What?" gasped Felix, making a valiant effort to straighten up and get started again.

"Continuity!" shouted the Doctor.


They collapsed back at the castle doors.  Felix fell face down into the dusty grey dirt and had to traverse the final few feet to the drawbridge crawling on all fours.  Even the Doctor was showing strain by this point.  She was wheezing loudly and sweat was pouring down her now indisputably pale face.  She had even abandoned her beloved astrakhan jacket because of the heat.  It lay in a crumpled heap by the side of the road about a quarter of a mile away. 

"I'm dying," groaned Felix, "I haven't had to run that far and fast since training..."

"You'll survive," croaked the Doctor.

Felix looked over the side of the drawbridge at the grey water of the moat below... far too far below to be reached.

"Do you think they'll let us in for reasons of compassion if we beg for water?" said Felix, "Is that your plan?"

"No," said the Doctor, "We don't need to rely on compassion.  What we need..." and here she seemed to self-consciously gather herself up and address herself to the silvery sunniness of the heavens, " the strength of Karkus!"

In any other context, Felix would have assumed that what he saw next was an hallucination brought on by heat and exhaustion.  As he squinted through his tear-filled eyes he saw a man appear out of nowhere in an explosion of stylised zig-zags.  The man was about seven feet tall, and seemed to be made entirely out of muscles.  The ridges on his bare chest were so defined they looked as though they had been picked out in black, as if someone had painted a vast spider's web across his front.  The muscles heaved and rippled like an obscene, fleshy bouncy castle.  The man was wearing a back cape, black leather gloves, and a black leather mask and skull cap reminiscent of those worn by medieval executioners.

"You will get up," shouted the man hectoringly, and in a psuedo-germanic accent even more ridiculous than the one the Doctor had adopted earlier, "and put the hands above the head."

The man glared down at Felix, and his grey eyes displayed an alarming mixture of malice, contempt and pig ignorance.  And yet, there was something strangely noble about him.  It was as if he had self-consciously turned his truculence and anger into a shield by which to camouflage the ridiculousness of his appearance.

Felix was irresistibly reminded of old Feldwebel Bendel, who had somehow managed to instil terror in all the young recruits despite being short-sighted, nasal, duck-footed, and so small and skinny that he almost disappeared behind his disproportionately vast moustache. 

Unfortunately, the dignified effect that the strange man had achieved with his weaponised arrogance was somewhat undermined by the appearance of the actual weapon he held in his hand.

"Or what?" gasped Felix, "You'll shoot me with that thing?"  He indicated the 'gun' with his eyes.  "What is it, a child's spinning top?  A miniature model of a Christmas tree?  A piece of abstract sculpture?"

"This is my anti-molecular ray disintegrator!" declared the man, sounding genuinely as if he expected Felix to be awed and terrified.

"A what?" asked Felix.

The man seemed momentarily at a loss but he rallied himself quickly.

"It is a powerful gun!" he declared.

"Pfft," said Felix, and allowed himself to collapse back onto the ground.

"I said get up!" bellowed the man.

"I know guns," said Felix, as if talking to the dirt, "I've shot them and been shot at with them.  That's not a gun.  That looks more like a new type of egg whisk."

The man actually growled. 

There was a polite cough from behind him.  He wheeled round, surprised.

"Hello again," said the Doctor, conversationally.

"Ahh!" exclaimed the man, mouth wide open and teeth gleaming.  He looked satisfied with his new opponent.  He put his 'gun' back in his belt and spread his arms.  He faced the Doctor in a battle-ready half crouch.  He snarled.  He pounded his rippling chest.  He slapped a fist into his palm.  His triceps competed with his biceps for which would bulge the most.  His feet pawed the ground like a tiger getting ready to lauch itself at a crocodile.  His eyes gleamed.  He raised both fists.  He quivered like a coiled spring.  He yelled a belligerent and triumphant "Rrrrraarrrgghhh!" sound.  He sprang.

4.8 seconds later the Doctor had him on the ground, sobbing, in a full nelson.

Felix wanted to facetiously complain about the Doctor's use of an illegal move but he couldn't get the words out for laughing.

"Mercy!" bawled the man.

"Do you submit?" demanded the Doctor, pushing one of her knees viciously into the small of his back.

"I submit!  I submit!"

She released him and rolled back into a sitting posture.  She crossed her legs.  All aggression seemed to have suddenly drained out of her.  She now looked relaxed, affable and amused.  Her hat had fallen off.  She looked around and saw it lying in the dust a few feet away, but seemed not to be in a rush to retrieve it.

The huge man picked himself up off the ground and stood directly in front of her.  His attitude was a curious hybrid of resentment and humility.  Then he fell to one knee.

"Command me, Mistress," said the man.

The Doctor grinned and shook her head.  She ruffled her hair to knock out some of the dust.

"Fetch my hat would you, Karkus old chap?" she said to the man as he seethed meekly at her.

Felix boggled as the man obediently jumped up and trotted over to the Doctor's hat.  He picked it up and brought it back to where she was sitting.  He held it out to her like a lady-in-waiting offering Marie Antoinette a fresh eclair.

"This is the Karkus!?" spluttered Felix.

"That's him," said the Doctor, "the man himself.  In his first and most famous version... the version of him which appears out of thin air when summoned by someone who needs him.  As I eventually remembered."

"Oh," said Felix, "I see.  But why would he come when called by someone needing help and then attack the way he did?"

"It's a bit dirty, old bean," said the Doctor to the Karkus, as if mildly outraged at being offered a dusty hat.

The Karkus started brushing the hat with his hand, looking stoical but thoroughly at a loss.  Felix got the sense that he would instantly be happy again if asked to crush the hat with one fist, or stamp on it, or tear it to pieces with his teeth.

"Ah well," said the Doctor, readdressing herself to Felix, "that's the Karkus you see.  That's how he works.  If you want his help, you have to beat him.  At least, that's how it works with this version."

"What kind of hero is that?"

"In some ways he's a bit like Wonder Woman," said the Doctor.

"Who?" asked Felix.

"An Amazon," said the Doctor, accepting her now-dusted hat from the Karkus. "Another comic strip creation.  She originally furthered her creator's strangely utopian fixation on bondage.  Part of the original point of the character was that she was tall, powerful and gorgeous, and frequently got tied up... and then tied other people up.  Thrills galore there, if that's your thing.  The Karkus is similar in that he was invented by a woman writer who liked the idea of a character who was your typical muscle-bound, misogynistic meathead of a male supervillain but who had to become the slave of any woman who could beat him up.  They summon him, he attacks them, they win, he becomes their slave.  That's the formula... at least of this version of the character, before they ballsed him up, before men got their hands on the comics and decided to feel oppressed by the concept.  Classic Karkus - proper Karkus! - spends his entire time being physically vanquished and dominated by beautiful women who then lead him around like a puppy dog, ordering him about.  Which is precisely what has just happened again, you'll notice," she added, smoothing a stray slab of her hair behind one of her ears before placing her hat back on her head.

"Isn't it enough for you that you have me to run around after you doing everything you say?" asked Felix.

"Don't be churlish, Fee," said the Doctor, "you know you love it."

"I'd also quite interested in meeting this Wonder Woman," said Felix.

"We'll see what we can do," said the Doctor.

"Should I take away his gun?" asked Felix, indicating the Karkus.

"No need," said the Doctor, "his gun doesn't exist.  Can't do.  It's stupid."

The Karkus looked down at his belt where his gun had been.  His mouth turned very thin and his chin wobbled slightly, but he said not a word.

"All right?" asked the Doctor, raising an eyebrow at him.

"Yes, Mistress," said the Karkus sullenly, "I am your slave."

"Yes you are Karkus, my old buddy," said the Doctor, "yes you are.  And you have to do everything I say, don't you?"

"Yes Mistress," said the Karkus.

"Yes," said the Doctor. 

And though she was smiling, and her tone was jocular, there was anger in her eyes.

"Uh oh," said Felix.

He'd seen that look before.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Is this a Shabcast which I see before me? (Shabcast 8)

What bloody man is that?  It's bloody Jack Graham.  Again.

The curtain rises on Shabcast 8.  Listen and/or download here.

Another Shabcast so soon?   Yes, but don't get used to this kind of schedule.  It's only happening because time is out of joint.

This time, myself and my actorly buddy Elliot Chapman (returning guest from the Macra shabcast, and Big Finish's new Ben Jackson) discuss Shakespeare's great tragedy 'Macbeth' (we only shabcast about things that begin with 'mac'), and Shakespeare generally.  We even say the word 'Macbeth' occasionally... hopefully without bringing too much theatrical ill-luck down upon ourselves.  We chat as we watch the TV film of Trevor Nunn's legendary production from 1978, starring Ian McKellen and Judi Dench, and produced by Verity Lambert.  The second most profound material she ever televised.

Elliot will be appearing in a production of 'Macbeth' soon to run in Redcliffe Caves in Bristol, produced by Insane Root as part of the Bristol Shakespeare Festival.  Jack will be appearing in the kitchen soon to make himself an evil sandwich as part of a obscene, perverse ritual.  Root for us insanely, and download our shabcast.

When shall we two meet again?  Probably to discuss macaroni cheese.


Saturday, 4 July 2015

Shabgraff in Wonderland (Shabcast 7)

"[T]he speaking of language is part of an activity, or a form of life."
- Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations

Today is the 150th anniversary of the origins of Alice in Wonderland.  A century-and-a-half ago today, Lewis Carroll took a boat trip with the Liddell family, and told the children a story.  Alice Liddell asked him to write it down.  He started the next day.

To celebrate, follow me down the rabbit hole and listen to Shabcast 7 - here.

A special one, this.  I'm once again joined by Josh Marsfelder (of Vaka Rangi) and for the first time by the wonderful Jane of many fames.  We watch (and chat about) the neglected 1966 Jonathan Miller TV version of Alice in Wonderland.  A forgotten masterpiece.  Well, maybe not forgotten... but not exactly remembered either.

This podcast had various titles before I settled on my final choice: 'Alice Narrates Herself'.  It was going to be called 'Cobwebs on the Tea Urn', then 'Mock Turtles all the Way Down', then 'Pig Latin'...  I even toyed with a facile but amusing 'Shabcast Madness Returns'.  I eventually settled on a title which reflected something myself and my guests all seemed to notice and cherish: the fact that this production gives control of the narrative to Alice herself, and lets her tell the story.  One of the many things which makes this production unique.

I'm very proud of this episode, not just because I was lucky enough to get Jane to guest with myself and Josh, but also because the dynamic of the discussion is lovely.  The three of us attend a tea party, detached from time (it's the evening for them, the middle of the night for me) and talk at cross purposes for ages... though, of course, unlike the Hatter and his friends, we're hopefully not talking nonsense.  I love the way our distinct perspectives each hook into something different about the story we're watching, and the way we overlap and converge.  We don't always end up in exactly the same territory... but we get to read and enjoy each other's maps.

What could be more apt?


UPDATE (Same day):

I somehow forgot to link to Josh's pieces about Alice.  Here they are: 

And here's Jane's essay about LOST, mentioned in the Shabcast:


EDIT (Also same day):

In the original version of this post I mistakenly claimed that today was the 150th anniversary of the publication of the book.  I have corrected this howler.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Spare Parts, A Love Story (more podcasting)

Yet more audio news, listeners. 

This time I'm a guest on the lovely, cuddly, clued-up Oi! Spaceman podcast, hosted by married couple Daniel Harper and Shana Wolstein

Here's my episode.

We discuss the Big Finish cyber-masterpiece 'Spare Parts' by Marc Platt, and loads of other stuff including Cybermen in general, emotion in drama, capitalism, communism and fascism...

I know, it sounds a bit dry, but we also do loads of nerdy chatting about Doctor Who, and there's plenty of mucking about and giggling.  Also, I receive my first ever aural blowjob. 

Shana and Daniel have a great podcast going (I've been enjoying their back catalogue and its been a blast) and I was honoured to be asked on.  I had a great time, and I think you will too if you lend us your ears.  Your spare ones will do.