Outside The Government 9 (This Town Will Never Let Us Go)

(59 comments)

If you missed yesterday's mini-post, I'm releasing Wednesday's entry on Rose (over 13k and as good as I hoped it would be) as a backer-exclusive update on Kickstarter if we reach $10k there. So if you want to see it early, please consider our wide variety of inexpensive reward tiers. Also, if you've never bought any of my books, I've got a new reward tier that gets you all the existing ones in ebook form for $5 less than they usually cost. Plus you can pre-order the Logopolis book via Kickstarter. It's all right over here.


So here we are. A spinoff of a spinoff. Doctor Who’s own planet Dust - the furthest extension of its narrative reach. The single most remote object that can possibly be called Doctor Who. Faction Paradox. Its effect on the world is vanishingly small. It could be wiped from history, completely removed from Doctor Who’s warp and weft, and the observable effects would be exactly zero. Faction Paradox has had no visible influence on Doctor Who, or, for that matter, on much of anything save perhaps itself. Its writers are marginal, its ideas arcane, and, notably, even Lawrence Miles hasn’t bothered to write for it in years.

The Faction, of course, wouldn’t have it any other way. Authorized ghosts, given free license to operate in the shadow of the greater text, Faction Paradox has never been more at home. This is their nature - the parodic, mocking reflection of the established order of things. The idea of Faction Paradox as a monster hit of mainstream culture isn’t just ludicrous on the face of it - because really, who would want to read this crap - it’s wrong. That’s not what Faction Paradox is designed to do. They’re designed to lurk in the shadows. Even here, in the book named after them, they do not appear as such. It’s never quite clear who, in the story, actually is Faction Paradox. All three main characters might be Faction Paradox agents. None of them might be. Faction Paradox is too obscure and marginal even for the most marginal thing in Doctor Who history.

To revisit one question there, who would want to read this crap? Well, the answer, in practical fact, isn’t Doctor Who fans. At least not in any substantial body of them. Faction Paradox gives every appearance of being just barely profitable enough to publish, bouncing among several small presses over the years. It’s compelling enough to keep gong, in no small part because it’s obvious that many of the people working within it are absolutely fascinated by it, but its readership is tiny. I mean, I outsell Faction Paradox. Coming up with potential readerships is perhaps easier - reading This Town Will Never Let Us Go almost constantly reminds one of Grant Morrison. More than anything actually published under the Doctor Who name, up to and including Morrison’s Doctor Who work, this is the Doctor Who-related piece one can hand to a fan of The Invisibles and say “here, you’ll like this.”

That (along with his longstanding connections to the comics industry) accounts for Lars Pearson’s effort to spin Faction Paradox off into a comic series out of Image, where it lasted for two issues. We should note that when a comic dies after two issues its quality is almost immaterial. Only about 7500 copies of the first issue were sold in the first place. The second one fell off to under 5000. That’s it. You’re done after that no matter how good your comic is, because it got such a vote of no confidence from retailers that it never got the chance to be seen by anyone. As a comic, Faction Paradox was dead before its first issue shipped. If we wanted to be cheeky we could suggest that this is hardly surprising, as a comic by an unknown writer and the former artist of Aquaman that’s designed to appeal to the audience of a comic whose appeal was sufficiently marginal that its creator had to organize a magical ritual in which his fans masturbated to increase sales is not, strictly speaking, what you’d call commercial gold.

But again, this seems like what Faction Paradox wants. And if ever there was a fictional concept one could talk sensibly about the desires of, it is surely Faction Paradox. If you’re the sort of person who creates a spin-off of a quasi-sentient metafiction based around the idea of subversive parodies and weaponized deconstruction then you’re the sort who knows that it’ll have a mind of its own. These processes must be treated with respect. Of course Faction Paradox wants to be a marginal text that’s shifted around publishers and that never quite manages to define itself in a coherent manner. Otherwise people might do something dangerous like take it seriously, or, god forbid, define it.

Like everything, of course, Faction Paradox has had to quietly reinvent itself since 9/11. It’s what happens when you toss around phrases like The War - sometimes you actually get one. One that is exactly as described: an all-encompassing cultural war with the stakes being the nature of history. And Miles incorporated it big time. Even back in The Book of the War Miles was pinning 2001 down as the point where human progress stopped, and he doubled down on it in his review of Rose in 2005, saying “with one drastically potent and lethal act, a new bunch of Smiling Arabs made sure the western world became more terrified and more inward-looking than ever. More terrified, more inward-looking, and as a result more stagnant. This is not a society in which anybody wants to risk speaking, let alone exploring. In September 2001, we went into retreat.” And this logic is not so much present as the whole point of This Town Will Never Let Us Go, in which a war that cannot be questioned or even understood permeates every aspect of the world and is used as the pretext for a continual dullification of everything.

(Here’s a fun fact - there are exactly 911 words in this entry prior to this parenthetical. This is how magic and ritual work - the hazy realm of coincidence and the shape of things, such that the image becomes.)

The primary force opposing the dullification is Inangela, self-proclaimed ritualist, who is trying to raise some hazily defined Great Beast lurking beneath the city via a ritual involving tagging traffic cameras in the shape of a pentagram over a slightly rearranged map of the city. Again, firmly Invisibles territory here - this is straightforward chaos magic. The word “alchemy” gets thrown around a couple of times. We’re not in some subtle territory here. This is a book that is overtly working along the basic conceptual processes of this blog. Magic consists of symbolic manipulation, which just so happens to also be what the world largely consists of.

Except there’s this lingering and downright aggressive pessimism through it. Miles’s position is that human culture is screwed. He grants all the premises of chaos magic and ritual, and then casually declares that it’s no good and the War - now a War that is blatantly the War on Terror (not that it ever was anything different - it’s been a metaphor for the War on Terror since Alien Bodies. We just couldn’t have known it until after 9/11) - is a completely intractable problem. The world will get less and less interesting. Humanity has fallen, and will stay fallen for millions of years, after which post-humanity will finally arise. All is lost, and Faction Paradox were spectacularly ineffective in doing a single thing about it. Master narratives win, and the strangeness of the singular vanishes.

The result is absolutely bewildering. It’s the anarchic visionary approach of Morrison and Moore, only without the belief in an imminent utopian apocalypse that grounds both of them in something relatively usable. There’s a cynicism here that makes Robert Holmes look like Fred Rogers. Miles weaves a situation in which there is absolutely nothing that we can do. The only character who seems to have anything resembling a meaningful shot at agency is Tiffany Korta, a pop star of sufficient importance that she is capable of rendering the culture more interesting. Inangela’s ritual fails miserably, and more importantly fails in a way that implicates the entire system of Faction Paradox and magic, suggesting that what she does is a fundamentally pointless act. Only people like Tiffany Korta - the important people - can accomplish anything, and they probably won’t either, because, again, humanity is doomed to millennia of non-apocalyptic dullness.

All of which comes unsettlingly close to the most damning auto-critique imaginable. For all its cleverness - and let’s be clear, This Town Will Never Let Us Go is a delightfully clever and interesting book - it reads like an aggressive refutation of the possibility of its ever doing anything worthwhile. The book seems an extended argument for its own irrelevance - not least because it rejects its own namesake, relegating Faction Paradox itself to the permanent margins of society such that it is difficult to articulate any clear way in which there might be a way out. This is a chronic problem for Miles, who, of course, previously proved unable to articulate what the competing visions of history that underpinned his war might actually be. Now he’s setting up needed revolutions with no sense of how to carry them out.

I mean, I don’t want to be completely unreasonable. Having a detailed plan for a successful revolution is not a prerequisite for writing revolutionary novels any more than a relatively philosophical writer has to successfully detail every single point and idea to the level of academic precision. But Lawrence Miles tends to make his absences conspicuous and present. The Enemy is not merely unexplained in The Book of the War, it’s conspicuously absent, every entry on their nature having been seemingly deleted, with Miles going out of his way to never name them. Likewise, it is not merely that This Town Will Never Let Us Go fails to solve the problem of magickal revolution - after all, it’s not like The Invisibles solves it as such. It’s that This Town Will Never Let Us Go visibly and spectacularly marches off the playing field declaring that there’s no solution and that we’re all doomed. This, to say the least, rather more than just leaving things unexplained.

Which raises the very real possibility that Lawrence Miles is, contrary to all expectations, the sort of person who writes something like Faction Paradox and doesn’t actually expect its inevitable consequences. He does, after all, have his odd blind spots with relation to Doctor Who. No matter how much he insists on wanting out from it, as we’ve previously observed, virtually everything he’s ever written lands inside Doctor Who’s shadow. Faction Paradox can’t escape from the gravity of Doctor Who. This town will never let us go. And so it exists permanently in the margins, as it was designed to, whether consciously or not.

But if Lawrence Miles is suspicious of the value of the margins we need not be - after all, if there is one thing that is increasingly clear it is that Lawrence Miles fundamentally does not understand the magic he plays with. This is the strange paradox of him: on the one hand, he thinks he’s playing with something trifling when he’s not, and on the other he thinks that he’s further outside the shadow of the thing than he is. So Miles rejects the power of the margins even as he invokes it desperately. No matter. Because the margins do have power.

This is the secret of the wilderness years. Culturally irrelevant and largely left on the ash heap of Doctor Who’s history, the bulk of their content out of print seemingly indefinitely, they nevertheless had a strange power in that they could attempt things that could never be done with Doctor Who while it remained in the mainstream. Much like The Web Planet was valuable in part for the fact that it explored a frontier of what Doctor Who could do, the wilderness years, in a variety of ways, found the edges of Doctor Who’s capabilities. But there’s more to it than that. Even if Doctor Who proper never goes anywhere close to as far as This Town Will Never Let Us Go, the fact that its edges have been mapped that far has changed the edges. Doctor Who is, subtly, something different after the experience. That’s the power of the margins. It’s not just that the wilderness years tended to Doctor Who when nobody else would. It’s that they changed what Doctor Who was. Not in any sense as crass as influence, but in a sense of alchemy - of changing the symbol to affect the thing.

One does not need to speak the change. To do so is, in many ways, too obvious anyway. Let us instead simply bring ourselves to the cusp of it - allow the coincidence to spark, half-seen, at the edges of this essay. This Town Will Never Let Us Go concerns, in part, a girl who circles the shadowed edges of a town as a ritual to raise some buried horror from the depths. It is itself circling the shadowed edges of a town. What horror, in September of 2003, might its release be taken as awakening?

Comments

sleepyscholar 3 years, 10 months ago

It's a slow evening. The alternative was going upstairs and listening to my wife abusing my son. So I checked, and you're wrong, it was 1006 words, excluding the title. Which of course is the point of that hazy realm. It's the saying that it's 911 that's important isn't it? Cos once you've got people believing you, no one's likely to be interesting in some pedantic idiot coming along later and saying Actually it's 1006/There were no WMDs/Whatever.

On the other hand, there were 1006, and there were no WMDs.

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goatie 3 years, 10 months ago

If you exclude the italicized portion, the part about Kickstarter and not the entry proper, it's 911.

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Tiffany Korta 3 years, 10 months ago

It is very strange to read an entry were you'll constantly being named dropped! Actually weirdly enough I think that I'm actually better known on the internet than the character I "borrowed" the name from.

I'm not sure if it was deliberate on Miles part but the book is of it's time and yet weirdly slightly out of date at the same point. What with it's long bit on video tapes and the idea of a Pop star like Tiffany becoming more, just when her type were going out of fashion. Then again it sorta fit's the whole set up of being like our world but not quite.

The book suggest that everyone taking part is doing there own ritual to try and make sense of there own little world and only the most banal and self centered of the four really achieved there goal. If I thought that Lawrence Miles believed all this I'd also suggest he's doing a Morrison and the book is itself a ritual, though I'm not quite sure what the reason of the ritual is probably some kind of exorcism.

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sleepyscholar 3 years, 10 months ago

I make it 910...

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Adam Riggio 3 years, 10 months ago

I can verify Phil: From "So" to "everything," 911.

It's the perfect way to wrap up Lawrence Miles, really. He's wonderful at creating ideas that intrigue and hold your interest, and get you thinking endlessly about their possible implications. And those ideas are so interesting that they give his pronouncements a genuine gravity: we pay attention to what Miles has to say because he's Lawrence Miles and everything he says has the attraction of his creativity.

Yet it's those same ideas that lead to his getting the development of the world quite wrong. He describes a world dominated by pop stars just as that style (and the possibility of single artists dominating an entire musical landscape) fades out of fashion. He describes a Doctor Who community so devoted to space opera geekery that the only possible mode of its television resurrection is a B5 clone that never catches on with a wider audience. His ideas have this power to convince, but they're always just misdirected enough to miss by only a critical distance actual contact with the world.

And yet he seems to identify, unintentionally, that he knows this about himself. Inangela's ritual is a misdirected failure. The Enemy remains a conceptual black hole, defined solely by what it isn't with no positive content at all (a night in which all things are black). He expresses his ideas about what Doctor Who should be today in such an abrasive way that it alienates people from taking up his ideas.

The impotence of his attempt to change is itself a change. I think Phil is right here. But I have no idea what this change itself could be.

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jane 3 years, 10 months ago

"I have no idea what this change itself could be."

Logically, it would be to give up and move on. Almost there!

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Froborr 3 years, 10 months ago

Well, but that's just it, isn't it? Say "the article has this many words up to this point" convincingly enough, and people will come along and redefine "the article" until it does...

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Froborr 3 years, 10 months ago

I'm sympathetic to Miles here, actually, because I'm not too shabby at the clever manipulation of words and symbols, but all too aware that what I'm doing isn't real and doesn't matter. It's all a big game we play, and at the end of the day the world doesn't belong to the symbol-manipulators, it belongs to the wielders of material power. All the clever playing with ideas in the world, all the truths new and old, are powerless before the rote repetition of slogans by idiots.

He's wrong about 9/11, though. 9/11 changed nothing. In a thousand years, historians will point to 1968 as the year civilization ended... except in all likelihood there won't be historians in a thousand years.

You write in the Pertwee book that every generation thinks they're living in the apocalypse, but that's just the problem. We *don't* live in the apocalypse. There is no Great Change coming in our lifetime, just a long slow steady decline that began before we were born and won't end until long after we die, and there's no longer any possibility of revolting against it, if there even ever was.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 10 months ago

There is no thing as objective truth after all. Context is everything. Everything means different things to different people. To try and trap something in permanence and stasis is antithetical to Doctor Who, and be extension it's derivatives

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 10 months ago

Do you mind if I ask what it is that marks 1968 as the end of Civilization?

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Ununnilium 3 years, 10 months ago

And, of course, if one is being rewarded for arguing with reality, one can justify all sorts of reasons why it wasn't really 911, or why extreme weather and temperature changes aren't man-made...

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Ununnilium 3 years, 10 months ago

Well that's rather silly.

The symbol-manipulators have always had the power. That's why politicians are so desperate to grab power over the Internet. That's why religion is constantly invoked, for or against. That's why they try for the "zinger".

Because words and ideas are what really make the world go, and the people with material power know it, and fear it.

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Aaron 3 years, 10 months ago

Actually, the historical consensus right now (at least for American historians) is that civilisation ended in 1944, give or take 5 years.

Or, if you're Hegel, it's sometime in the 18th century that I can't remember the particulars of.

Or, if you Francis Fukuyama (which none of us is) then it ended in 1991.

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Jesse 3 years, 10 months ago

Civilization ended in 2033. All that's left is this simulation of the past.

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Aaron 3 years, 10 months ago

I love this book, and it continues to be one of my all time favourite things. If Doctor Who just produced this and the Book of the War, then it would have been worth it. It also is a very fitting ending to the Wilderness years, because the book is a perfect exorcism of those years. Everything that was done well in those years but couldn't have worked in a mainstream show is found in this book. This is the successor to the the New Adventures in a bigger way than the Bernice books were, because thematically, it's the pinnacle of what they (and some of the EDAs) were going for. But like you say, it's not something that could have mainstream appeal. It's something that will be adored by a few, and ignored by the rest.

Saying that, the most painful thing about This Town is that it's a good enough book to have reached a wider audience. Do a bit of a better job filing off the Doctor Who edges (get rid of the compassion references, explain Faction Paradox and the war a bit more, etc) and sold in a regular bookstore, and the kids who fell in love with American Gods would have eaten this up. This Town is so good, it's really quite painful to realise that no one is ever going to read it. And there's no good reason for it not to be read by the wider populace.

Sticking the Faction Paradox Logo on it, unfortunately, does the job of damning the book to the margins. Which, I get what you're saying about its extradiagetic circumstances fitting its content, but it's still frustrating.

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encyclops 3 years, 10 months ago

The symbol-manipulators have always had the power.
the people with material power know it

I don't know whether this is true or not, but I always find it uncomfortably telling that it's the symbol-manipulators who believe this most passionately, and yet seem to have so little success at seizing that power and remaking the world according to their stated intentions.

Either that, or the "symbol manipulators" are not writers or scholars or "chaos magicians," but spin doctors and politicians and advertising executives, but I don't think that's quite what you meant. That is, a small handful of symbol manipulators have figured out how to use their manipulations to precipitate material changes in the material world, and a long long tail of the rest of us spend most of our time dreaming that we have.

Symbols help. They're very important. It would be nice to think they make the world go. As a premise for fiction, it certainly makes for exciting novels. They're usually fantasy or science fiction novels, which I think is also uncomfortably telling.

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Ross 3 years, 10 months ago

Civilization ends in 2050. You're allowed to keep playing after that if you haven't reached Alpha Centauri, but it stops keeping your score.

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Ununnilium 3 years, 10 months ago

encyclops: What, so little success? When thousands of people are reading this thousands of miles from each other? When the debate over homosexuality has gone from "should we chemically castrate them, or just jail them?" to "should we give them all the rights of heterosexual relationships, or just most of them?" When politicians fall, over and over, because they reveal how little they think of women or the poor?

That's the biggest and darkest symbol in the world: Banality. The idea that all the many-fold and manifest changes of the world aren't real changes, that the 21st century is functionally identical to the 19th, that nothing you do matters. But it's just another symbol.

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Froborr 3 years, 10 months ago

Do you mind if I ask what it is that marks 1968 as the end of Civilization?

1968 is the point at which leftism ceased to be of any political significance in the West, removing any obstacles to the long slow rightward slide that has yet to end. This rightward slide, in turn, has ensured we totally ignore the steadily building environmental disaster in which we live, which is what makes the destruction of our culture within the next century or two inevitable, as opposed to merely very likely.

The symbol-manipulators have always had the power. That's why politicians are so desperate to grab power over the Internet.

I see no desperation in the highly successful attempts of the wielders of corporate power to grab power over the Internet. That ship sailed long ago; things like CESPA are just mopping-up actions.

Real power comes from people, not symbols and ideas. Those are just methods to get people to lend or pool their power. The problem is that so much power now lies in so few hands that there is no way, no matter how many symbols and ideas you toss around, to pool enough power from the people to challenge those few.

There is just barely enough left to give a slight advantage to one of the few over the others, so they wage symbolic wars to see who will get to drag those last dregs of power away.

But if you think sitting around nattering on the Internet can possibly do anything to bring down the powers that be, go ahead. It's not actually any more futile than protest marches or armed revolts, and a lot more fun.

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Froborr 3 years, 10 months ago

I should note I'm not in the slightest advocating giving up just because we're guaranteed to fail. I'm with Vaclav Havel on this one: Just because there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to believe that you have any chance of accomplishing anything, just because you are a tiny thing in the face of overwhelming power, is no reason to stop trying.

I've always taken that as the central lesson of Doctor Who: In the long run, the Doctor always fails. No matter what he does, everywhere he goes in time and space there's always more evil, more monsters, from the beginning of time to its end. Nothing he does will *ever* make the universe a less horrifying, terrible, monster-filled place. But he never stops traveling, he never stops enjoying himself, and he never stops helping the people he meets along the way.

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Matthew Celestis 3 years, 10 months ago

It's a great book, though not nearly as outstanding as Dead Romance. Dead Romance was better structured and had more engaging characters.

This Town Will Never Let Us Go is a book where the narration is a lot more interesting than the story. The way to enjoy is to just let Lawrence Miles' fascinating insights fill your head and warp your world.

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encyclops 3 years, 10 months ago

What, so little success?

This could be a very long argument. The crux of it for me is itself a bit of a symbol manipulation: that is, just which manipulators and which symbols were responsible for the changes you mention, and which other manipulators just flatter themselves that they're cut of the same cloth and are part of the solution rather than hovering about commenting on it. It's not an argument I care to have, and probably not one I'm equipped (with time or intellect (since I think you're fucking brilliant) or store of knowledge) to win.

I do want to make one thing clear:
the 21st century is functionally identical to the 19th is not a thing I said, nor do I think it's a sound inference from what I said. The world has changed -- in good ways, in bad ways -- and we do agree there. It's just that you seem certain that you know who, what, and how, and I'm not so sure I agree with your answers to those questions.

Which is fine. It's the change that matters, not the way we choose to interpret it. ;)

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encyclops 3 years, 10 months ago

I'm pretty sure I'd never read that "Rose" review by Miles until just now, and I nearly got chills when I reached his take on Eccleston. It's so like my own -- this is not the same man, but he's really appealing -- even down to the notion that he seems like the Doctor's "younger, more streetwise brother." Was that a meme going around at the time that I unconsciously picked up and thought was my own idea, or just something everybody felt? I didn't really get interested in the show again enough to start reading online chatter about it until probably around the third season, so I can't think where I would have heard it before.

It's a great review, and a great example of why I really appreciate and love Miles even though he does everything in his power (consciously and unconsciously) to prevent people from feeling that way about him. That said, I'm so completely looking forward to reading the Sandifer take. Can't wait!

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Ununnilium 3 years, 10 months ago

Froborr: You are, of course, allowed to decide that it's impossible to do anything and give up. Me, I think I'll keep changing stuff. However, I did want to make one comment:

Real power comes from people, not symbols and ideas.

Power definitely comes from people - but all power is, in the end, one person influencing another. Which is what symbols and ideas do.

encyclops: Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to imply that you were implying that. At that point I was just going off about banality.

Also: since I think you're fucking brilliant Eeeeeeeeeeee! <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 Thank you!!!

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Ross 3 years, 10 months ago

I don't know that "younger, streetwise brother" would have occurred to me, but I absolutely thought "This guy is not the Doctor, but I think I may like him better," though a lot of that is that a particular combination of the wilderness years and growing up (Being an American, the fact that the wilderness years had started did not become really apparent to me until around 1991, which means that the period I experienced as the wilderness years maps fairly closely to my adolescence and early adulthood. In fact, the new series premiered during the long and unpleasant interval between when I finished grad school and when I got my First Real Proper Grown-Up Job) had done quite a lot to crush not quite my love of Doctor Who but my ability to enjoy it at all at the time (It was reading this very blog that gave me back the ability to watch the classic series and enjoy it as an adult. So, like, thanks and all).

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Stephen 3 years, 10 months ago

Phil you ask "To revisit one question there, who would want to read this crap?"

Which suggests that This Town and the other Faction Paradox stuff is of very low quality. Whilst I've only read the stuff published by Mad Norwegian, I have to say that the range is probably the highest quality that Doctor Who or any of its spin-offs have ever achieved. This Town is probably the weakest of the bunch, and the only one where the style is more important than the story. It is, in a very real, sense the atypical one of the bunch.

I guess your use of the word "crap" is not supposed to be meant in the pejorative sense that it comes across as. But it implies, as does much of the rest of the post, that Faction Paradox does not deserve a wider audience. I would say that the quality of the writing means that it does deserve a much wider audience than it is ever going to get.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 10 months ago

Mmm, not that it doesn't deserve it. That it will never get it, yes. That it's doomed to extreme marginality, absolutely. But that it deserves it? No, that's a bit "is implies ought" for me. And as I hope the post makes clear, I loved This Town as a book.

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Froborr 3 years, 10 months ago

*ahem*

"I should note I'm not in the slightest advocating giving up just because we're guaranteed to fail."--me, at 10:11.

Power definitely comes from people - but all power is, in the end, one person influencing another. Which is what symbols and ideas do.

Yes, which is what I mean when I say that symbols are a means by which to get people to lend their power to something or pool it. But people have to *have* power to lend it. A symbol can't do anything if it isn't listened to by people with power, and the fact of the matter is that we're at the end of a half-century of a steady transfer of more and more power into fewer and fewer hands, such that all of us together can no longer muster enough power to resist the elite. So it doesn't matter how many of us you can get to listen to a particular idea, you still won't get enough power to change anything in the long run.

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encyclops 3 years, 10 months ago

Eeeeeeeeeeee! <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 Thank you!!!

This is a far more adorable reaction than I'd hoped for. :D

I should note I'm not in the slightest advocating giving up just because we're guaranteed to fail.

This is why the ending of Blake's 7 isn't really depressing to me.

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Froborr 3 years, 10 months ago

I want to thank you, encyclops, for mentioning Miles' Rose review below. Googling it led me to this article, which articulates what I'm talking about in regards to powerlessness: http://lawrencemiles.blogspot.com/2008/06/week-eleven-were-all-going-to-die-were.html

I disagree with him about Doctor Who quite frequently, but I have to say, he seems to have exactly the same view I do on where the world is, where it's headed, and why.

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Froborr 3 years, 10 months ago

I should note I'm not in the slightest advocating giving up just because we're guaranteed to fail.

This is why the ending of Blake's 7 isn't really depressing to me.


Yeah, I don't understand people who think "you are going to fail in the end" means "give up now." I mean, I know I'm going to die someday. Does that mean I should stop eating? Or that I should pretend that if I eat the right things, I'll somehow live forever? Nonsense. I go on living, knowing that I will someday die. I write knowing that my writing will someday be forgotten--probably quite soon. I vote knowing that picking the lesser evil year after year just means evil triumphs slightly slower than otherwise. That's what I mean by the ethos of despair: the idea that right and wrong remain right and wrong regardless of the probability of success, which is always and forever zero.

Like the Doctor, you keep trying to create local progress even though you know that, in the long term, progress is an illusion--that people in the year 100 trillion (not there will be people in the year 100 trillion, or the year 3000 in all likelihood) will be as bad or worse than people now, but that it's nonetheless still worthwhile to make things marginally better for the next five minutes for this one person here.

At least, I choose for it to be worthwhile, because it's the most I can get. I can't end homelessness, and no one who can end homelessness ever will. I can give a buck to a homeless person, though.

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Ununnilium 3 years, 10 months ago

Well, but why? Why is it the most you can get? Why is progress an illusion?

I've never seen an answer that convinced me.

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sleepyscholar 3 years, 10 months ago

Ununnilium: exactly. I almost referenced the collapse of WTC 7 and the moon landings. But that there are passionate nutters believing all sorts of stuff doesn't mean that there aren't also lies/distortions widely accepted as truth.

Take The Enemy, for example, two of whose number were active in Boston. They were terrorists, it transpires. Why? Because one of them was a Moslem.

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encyclops 3 years, 10 months ago

Froborr, I didn't even realize Miles had written one that was still available out there (since he deletes his posts so frequently, an impulse I also relate to though I don't do it that often) until Dr. Sandifer mentioned it in the main post above. I'll have to check out the one you've linked to soon.

I read the end of Blake's 7 as "Avon and company died," not as "all counterfascism is doomed to fail" or even as "Avon and company were doomed to fail." I do agree with you that small effort is better than no effort, and with Ununnilium that I'm not convinced progress is an illusion.

It's like life: individuals eventually die, but they hand on the baton to their offspring, and sometimes species last a long time, and sometimes they go extinct. Sometimes a similar organism still exists somewhere else; sometimes one evolves independently.

Sometime after Avon's crew is all shot down, it's not hard to imagine there's another band of rebels out there that takes up the slack, maybe even finally takes down Servalan and sends the Federation into chaos and dissolution, hundreds of years of dark ages while the colonized worlds get cut off from each other and devolve (even worse than what we already see in "The Keeper," for instance), and yeah, later on something rises up to unite them, could be good, could be bad. Things aren't quite cyclical, but they wave. That's how I see it anyway.

I really hope the B7 revival works like Battlestar Galactica (and Doctor Who, come to think of it): with some sense that the old series kinda sorta happened way in the past, and this is a brand new gang with a brand new ship but the same general band-of-thieves approach.

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JohnB 3 years, 10 months ago

You are suffering the 'free will' delusion.

As we all are.

There is no 'Why', just 'How?'.

History has no teleology, whatsoever.

This is what "This Town Will Never Let Us Go" is all about. Ghost Points. Possibilities imagined which cannot happen.

The Beast Below is mechanical.

The Universe is fixed.

The ritual fails; it must. Nothing that can change will do so.

Very depressing in the sense that Froborr alludes to.

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encyclops 3 years, 10 months ago

Sweet!

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Froborr 3 years, 10 months ago

Progress is an illusion because of death and because of bastards.

It doesn't matter what you do, what you create, what you build: You will die, everything you make will die, your civilization will die, your species will die, your world will die. In the end there will be nothing but drifting entropic dust.

And in the not-quite-so-long-term, it doesn't matter what you do against the bastards. It doesn't matter what system you create to keep them under control. Eventually some clever bastard will figure out a way to exploit the system to be a bigger bastard, and other bastards will imitate him, and we'll be right back to the default form of human society, rule-by-biggest-bastard. And then eventually maybe we'll have a revolution and set up a new bastard-control system, and get a nice five, maybe ten minutes in which the overwhelming majority of humanity who just want to live and let live are permitted to do so, until the bastards figure that system out too.

I mean, we can be anarchists, and then some bastards start beating people up and turn it into rule-by-biggest-bastard. Or we can go laissez-faire capitalist, and then some bastards go robber baron. Or we can go full-on socialist, and then some bastards go all Soviet or Maoist. Or we can be democratic socialist-capitalist hybrids, and then we got modern-day U.S. or Britain. Feudalism and fascism, of course, just cut out the middleman and go straight for rule-by-biggest-bastard.

I mean, sure, somebody could figure out something new, but I see no reason to believe that any political system is possible which can't be exploited and controlled by bastards, which in turn means that given enough time, any political system will be.

You are suffering the 'free will' delusion.

Not a delusion. Free will exists and is entirely compatible with a deterministic universe. The problem is that the universe is entirely deterministic, so our capacity to choose only matters on extremely small scales--and even then only if we have sufficient power to be the primary determinants of our own lives. Which, as slaves of the corporate system, most of us aren't.

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Tiffany Korta 3 years, 10 months ago

With the carefully created atmosphere of a Arab style market just before and after an attack by a greater power for reasons that the general public don't really understand, I think the book is more inspired by the invasion of Iraq (which of cause was a direct consequence of 9/11). The attacks seems to me to be written more like force fighting that a straight forward terrorist attack.

And of cause like most of Miles idea's once it's used to set up the plot it's more or less forgotten and The Town feels just a normal, British, town.

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Tiffany Korta 3 years, 10 months ago

You know I'm not sure they really wanted mainstream success, and considering the subject matter it wouldn't have gone down well.

I mean several of the later books could have worked as stand alone stories, hell most of them where stand alone stories, but I don't think anyone ever tried to pitch them to anyone outside those who already knew about them.

Not that I'm not saying that they didn't deserve more recognition, just that it's unlikely that it would have happened.

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Ununnilium 3 years, 10 months ago

I see no reason to believe that any political system is possible which can't be exploited and controlled by bastards, which in turn means that given enough time, any political system will be.

I see no reason to believe that any political system is possible which can't be redeemed and improved by the acts of good people. Which doesn't mean that every political system eventually will be, but it means there's a fighting chance. And that's enough for me.

and even then only if we have sufficient power to be the primary determinants of our own lives. Which, as slaves of the corporate system, most of us aren't.

The number one way of making someone a slave is convincing them they're powerless.

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Scott 3 years, 10 months ago

I'm not sure I've ever read a thread of comments in which I've veered so rapidly between awe-inspired optimism and crushing existential despair, often within the same post.

It's an odd feeling. A bit like sitting in a warm pool of water on a freezing cold day.

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Ununnilium 3 years, 10 months ago

Glad to be of service! <3

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Josiah Rowe 3 years, 10 months ago

In yet another example of this blog echoing the television series just before it happens, we got the final entry on Faction Paradox just a day before Doctor Who showed us that there is an in-universe version of The Book of the War. Synchronicity.

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Froborr 3 years, 10 months ago

You're welcome, Scott. ;)

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jane 3 years, 10 months ago

And the Library it's in is quite "alchemical" with all those bottled memories on the shelves!

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Anton B 3 years, 10 months ago

Shame that, over all, this was a pretty disappointing episode promising much and delivering little but almost inaudible gabbleogued exposition and corridor runarounds. Don't hold out much hope for the season finale. All the episodes so far have been like someone telling you about a 'really weird dream' they had but unable to remember anything but surface details.
.

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Ross 3 years, 9 months ago

All the episodes so far have been like someone telling you about a 'really weird dream' they had but unable to remember anything but surface details.

That is a really good way of putting it.

Also, I know the UK's history of race relations is rather different from the US, but how did they manage to get all the way through making this episode without noticing they'd just made the first story where all the guest cast were people of color, and they'd cast them as a crew of thieving scrap men? It doesn't feel at all deliberate, but it seems to reach Michael Bay levels of cluelessly stumbling into really unfortunate implications

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Jesse 3 years, 9 months ago

I was more put off by the fact that the Doctor met some black people and promptly forced them to work for him.

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Jesse 3 years, 9 months ago

The single most remote object that can possibly be called Doctor Who.

I nodded when I read this line on Friday. But then, this weekend, I found out about Señor 105.

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Anton B 3 years, 9 months ago

Ross - Thanks. It struck me watching 'Journey..' that Moffat is actually uninterested in the details of a narrative; he just wants to tell you what the story's 'about' and throw in this brilliant idea/twist/genre trope he's just thought of whether it progresses the plot or not. And he seems to encourage this in his other writers too.

I agree, the 'crew of thieving scrap men of colour' was either a cack-handed piece of 'blind casting' or showed a crass ignorance of racial issues in the UK on a par with Celestial Toymaker or Talons of Weng Chiang. I'm pretty sure the script would not have described the ethnicity of the characters so this is down to the casting director. Not helped of course by the deficiencies of the actors themselves who just weren't up to the task. Doctor Sandifer? You've been fierce on these issues before, I'd appreciate your opinion (you can wait till your actual piece on this episode though).

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 9 months ago

I mean, I hate making commentary on an episode I've only seen once, but I liked the episode a lot. The scrap merchants felt like they came from a sort of sci-fi that was at once familiar and not something we've seen in Doctor Who before; I described them as at times (particularly when suited up) feeling like they were out of Halo or something, though, notably, I've never actually played Halo. I wasn't bothered by the ethnicity on this watching. Maybe I'm wrong, and I'm open to arguments on that front.

But on the whole, I rather loved the episode. I thought it did a lovely job of making things feel unsettling, and I thought they balanced the fact that the TARDIS is a sci-fi concept with the fact that the TARDIS is a magical box of wonders absolutely marvelously. It was surely helped by crateringly low expectations going in, but it was, for me, as shocking as finding out Tom McRae was as good as he is in The Girl Who Waited.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 9 months ago

Huh. Well. That's certainly a tempting post to write some day.

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Iain Coleman 3 years, 9 months ago

I'm not sure black actors in the UK would regard their exclusion from certain jobs on racial grounds as an unalloyed good.

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David Anderson 3 years, 9 months ago

The crew reminded me of the slavers in Warrior's Gate. (Not the only similarity between the stories.) They're in a better business: slavery is intrinsically wrong while salvage is merely a business in which it's difficult to make ends meet without getting on the wrong end of moral dilemmas. But in both cases they're people trying to get by in a world not set up for their benefit in which a fully ethical lifestyle is a luxury.

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Anton B 3 years, 9 months ago

Thanks for the rapid response Dr. S. I'm going to watch the episode a few times more before coming to any conclusions. I just felt, as you said, very low expectations at the outset given the title-teasing High Concept premise but didn't, on initial viewing, get the pleasant surprise you obviously did.

I think you have persuaded me though that there was no racist intent in the creation of the characters but I did feel slightly uncomfortable with the way they were portrayed. I can't be any more specific and it may be, as I suggested, down to the tonal choices of the individual actors.

Ian Coleman - that's the dilemma in 'blind casting'. One can easily, as a director with the best intentions, lay oneself open to accusations of stereotyping by consciously refusing to acknowledge that some viewers may see a point about class and ethnicity where none was intended.

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jane 3 years, 9 months ago

I went in with high expectations -- I think I'm one of the few here who deeply appreciated Black Spot -- and I wasn't disappointed. Some great metaphor and mirroring and revelations.

Anton B, cue up the episode to 9:15 -- all the men are wearing masks, and when they lower their goggles they almost look like gangsters. (The Doctor also wears a mask, btw; the show is *very* self-conscious, sorry Ross.) Anyways, that imagery might be a source of your discomfort. And I agree with Iain that the nature of salvage work might play on those feelings.

However, the characters themselves are all distinct: Tricky, the empathic not-android, who's genuinely concerned for others; Gregor, the self-serving conniver; Bram, who's all bravado but more than willing to "take orders" from his brother, despite his protestations. The denouement shows a slice of character development.

After the weakly depicted Bram is done in by the Clara-monster, it's Gregor and Tricky who really get to shine. They're so contrasting, so their conjoining at the end plays on that ever-present alchemy of the union of opposites; they are mirror twins. Very happy with all this, and that it's their interpersonal dynamics that come to the forefront. They pass the racial-Bechdel test immediately, and more often than not talk about their own interests.

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Anton B 3 years, 9 months ago

Thanks jane, I most definitely need to re-view this episode. I'm usually adept at recognising symbol and metaphor and am particularly tuned toward mirroring and dichotomies but I missed the instances you reveal. *note to self. Watch again when not tired and crabby*

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Andrew Hickey 3 years, 9 months ago

Of course that's hardly surprising since 105 and (post-2010) Faction Paradox share a publisher and pool of writers (although I think 105 is far closer to Who than This Town... is, given that it's in an adventure genre and makes specific references to Who stories).
I really love all the Obverse/Manleigh stuff, actually (and not just because they're going to be publishing my novel) -- as Teatime Brutality said, the whole Faction/Iris/City Of the Saved/105 "Obverseverse" seems to combine the best of both the Lawrence Miles and Paul Magrs aesthetics. Obverse's stuff is, essentially, the EDAs done right, but without the Doctor.

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George Potter 3 years, 9 months ago

"It's all a big game we play, and at the end of the day the world doesn't belong to the symbol-manipulators, it belongs to the wielders of material power. All the clever playing with ideas in the world, all the truths new and old, are powerless before the rote repetition of slogans by idiots."

Understanding that this post will probably never be seen because of my tardiness (apologies, I only just got into the blog!) I must say:

"Slogans by idiots," are symbols. And so far as 'material power' goes, what mechanism is used to represent the transfer of material power and material power itself?

Money. Currency. Dosh.

A symbol.

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