Dust and Darkness; I Find That Good (The Enemy of the World)

It’s December 23rd, 1967. Between now and January 27th, thirteen people will die in England when a train collides with a truck that had stalled on the tracks, 380 will die in a Sicilian earthquake, and 121 will die in a pair of submarine crashes in the Mediterranean. In addition, Mike Casparak will die of liver failure fifteen days after being the first successful recipient of a human heart transplant in the United States, while Bill Masterton will die of a brain injury sustained during a National Hockey League game, and huge numbers will die in the still-continuing Vietnam War. Also the world will progress ever-closer to the eschaton, and The Enemy of the World airs. 

The Enemy of the World is first and foremost a story about dictators. This is separate from being a story about dictatorship, which is the more usual way for science fiction to do this. There are tons of Doctor Who stories about dictatorship—it’s the default shape of dystopias, after all. But The Enemy of the World is not ultimately interested in the shape of a dictatorship—indeed, a dictatorship never actually arises within its confines. It’s not even particularly interested in the conditions out ...

Praxeus Review

Let’s start with the biggest upsides. The story did not end by suggesting environmentalists were the real problem. It didn’t conclude that disabled people should use fewer straws. Indeed, politically it was basically ideal—a clear moral and ethical point that was the backdrop for an actual adventure instead of being sledgehammered in a “the moral of this story was” ending. And on top of that, it had well-defined characters and a coherent plot.

Obviously this is Stockholm Syndrome. Once again we are in the position of being pleasantly delighted that a story has come in at “vaguely competent” with a minimum of trauma. Even better, it’s done it three stories in a row, two of them rewritten by Chibnall. (Who has apparently managed the impressive feat of rewriting every person of color on staff this year, given next week’s credits.) This feels like a result, and while we know it shouldn’t, that’s where we are.

Nevertheless, it’s harder this week to really revel in an adequate job done more or less competently than it has been for the past two. Mostly this is down to small things. To do an extreme globe-hopping adventure in Doctor Who always feels a bit ...

Everything Human Has Been Purged (The Evil of the Daleks)

It’s May 20th, 1967. Between now and July 1st, a department store in Brussels will burn down, killing 323, 72 will die in a plain crash in Stockport, 34 will die on board the USS Liberty in an accidental Israeli attack, and the Six Day War will happen, which result in a death toll on the order of 14-20,000.  In addition Langston Hughes will die of complications from prostate cancer, both Dorothy Parker and Spencer Tracy will die of heart attacks, and the world will progress closer still to the eschaton. Also, The Evil of the Daleks airs.

For a certain brand of mysticism-obsessed Doctor Who critic that views the show mostly as an excuse to talk about mirrors (and occasionally chairs), The Evil of the Daleks forms something of an apex for the series. And this is entirely fair enough—it’s one of the most overtly magically-focused stories in Doctor Who history, featuring an antagonist whose motivation is literally “I want to do alchemy.” But in their rush to celebrate its magical weirdness there’s a frustrating failure to look with any depth or care at the precise details of what spell the show is weaving ...

Fugitive of the Judoon Review

Less an episode than a trailer for some still unannounced finale, which is less of a problem than it should be. In many ways it benefits, not so much from the diminished expectations of the Chibnall era as from the specific pathologies the era has led us to expect. Sure, it can only narrowly be described as having a plot or being about anything, but that’s practically every episode these days. This one at least filled the vast chasms of space between it and a point with a lot of quality what the fuckery. 

Well. It filled the space with a lot of fan-trolling continuity porn. There’s a definite “what on Earth did the normies think of this,” feeling here. That said, Chibnall (who was surely behind the big picture decisions here) made reasonably savvy choices in that regard—a character who, while he hasn’t been seen in a decade, anchored a hit TV show in his own right and a reveal that’s long on implications for the series’ history, but that also plays as Big News in is own right even if you’re not the sort of person who goes “is this another Morbius Doctor or some sort ...

I Made My Madness Reality (The War Machines)

It’s June 25th, 1966. Between now and July 16th, a three-year-old girl will die at the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, Wisconsin after crawling under a restraining fence and being pulled into an elephant cage. Hundreds will die across the midwestern United States in a six-day heat wave, including 149 in St. Louis, and as many as 650 in new York City. Eight student nurses will die in Chicago when Richard Speck breaks into a dormitory and strangles them. This is in addition to numerous deaths in the Vietnam War, the deaths of Polish poet Jan Brzechwa, French painter Julie Manet, and the world edging ever closer to the eschaton. Also, The War Machines airs.

Looking at it in 2020, the two things that jump out about The War Machines are how prescent it is and how prescient it isn’t. On the one hand, its basic concerns about the destructive possibilities of computer technology are clearly ahead of its time. It’s not that evil computers were unknown in 1966—they started appearing in sci-fi literature in the 1950s, the same decade that Alan Turing broached the subject of whether a machine could think in his landmark paper “Computing Machinery ...

A Man On My Back (Me and a Gun)

CW: Rape

 

Me and a Gun (1992)

Me and a Gun (live, 1992)

Me and a Gun (TV performance, 1992)

Me and a Gun (live, 1996)

Me and a Gun (live, 1997)

Me and a Gun (official bootleg, 2007, Pip set) 

Ibid, video version

It is one of the most harrowing things in the history of pop music. The bulk of adjectives for it seem to fall short, fatally undermined by the fact that they’ve already been used for so many lesser songs. Brave? Raw? Powerful? Obviously. But all of these are understatements. Ultimately, the vocabulary of pop music begins to falter here. “Me and a Gun” exists in a different space than anything else. Alex Reed, writing about industrial music in Assimilate, notes that nose forms an extreme limit that you cannot progress past: there is simply a boundary past which you cannot create more or harsher noise. In its own way, “Me and a Gun” does the same thing. Its aesthetic project is closed definitively after four minutes; nothing else like this can ever be done except as a pale and frankly offensive imitation.

In January of 1985, a few months after moving to Los Angeles ...

Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror Review

Were I of a cynical mind, I might suggest that the show is in dire straits when a great man of history story that proclaims the future to belong to a white guy and suggests that it’s good to be a billionaire stands out as a relative highlight of the season. Except we all know that the show is in embarrassing shape, with a showrunner who continues to struggle with the notion of aboutness in narrative. Why take an episode whose sins all fall under the heading of “basically the same shit the program does in all its celebrity historicals” and complain about that when it breaks a five episode streak of the show breaking down in far more fundamental ways?

All of which is to say that “Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror” is pretty good, which is to say that it has the basics down in a way nothing since “It Takes You Away” has really come close to. There’s a refreshing sense of conceptual unity—the conflict between Tesla and Edison, where Tesla is a visionary inventor and Edison a more cynically pragmatic and business-oriented sort, is mirrored by the technological scavenger villains. There’s a sense of actually getting ...

This Primitive Planet and Its Affairs (The Crusade)

It’s March 27th, 1965. Between now and April 17th, 470 people will die in a dam burst and landslide in Chile, 20 will die when a car bomb is detonated outside the US embassy in Saigon, two will die when the first aircraft lost in air-to-air combat during the Vietnam War are shot down during a strike on the Thanh Hóa Bridge, and somewhere north of 250 people will die in the Midwestern United States in what are called the Palm Sunday Tornadoes, while Richard Hickock and Perry Smith will be executed by hanging for the murders of the Herbert Clutter family, Princess Mary wll die of a heart attack on the grounds of her estate at Harewood House, and the world will edge incrementally closer to the eschaton. Also, The Crusade airs.

Acclaimed Doctor Who critic Philip Sandifer (whatever happened to him?) once attempted to classify the historical stories into two moulds defined by the Season One writers of the genre. Like most of his work, this is insightful but ultimately over-simplified. The more productive approach is to read the historicals as advancing dialectically between John Lucarotti’s harder edged approach to historicals, in which they are a vehicle for ...

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