Viewing posts tagged eruditorum

It's Funny, Isn't It? (The Pirate Planet)

It’s September 30th, 1978. Between now and October 21st, three people will be murdered by Bruce John Preston in the Australian town of Mount Isa, numerous people will die in Cambodia following a Vietnamese invasion, and an unknown number of people die in the African National Congress following an attempt to poison 500 people to kill an unidentified infiltrator. Also, Frederick Valentich dies in an aviation accident shortly after encountering what he described as an unidentified flying object, Jacques Brel dies of cancer in France, the world comes closer still to the eschaton, and The Pirate Planet airs on BBC One.

In The Pirate Planet, Doctor Who presents one of the most confused central metaphors of its long and generally confused history. The concept is admittedly ingenious: Zanak, a hollow planet that materializes around other planets and then consumes them in their entirety. On top of that, as is gradually revealed over the course of four episodes, all of this exists to feed power to the elaborate machines keeping the tyrannical Queen Xanxia alive and with a facsimile of her youthful body. So on the one hand we have a brutal metaphor for capitalist/imperialist expansion and the ...

We Change Things. We Make Things Happen (The Sun Makers)

It’s November 26th, 1977. Between now and December 17th, an airplane carrying the University of Evansville basketball team will crash, killing the entire team, another plane crash at Madeira Airport in Portugal kills a hundred and thirty-one, and sex worker Marilyn Moore is injured in an attack by the Yorkshire Ripper. Despite the relative paucity of major disasters, the world still creeps ever closer to the eschaton and The Sun Makers airs.

The usual observation about The Sun Makers is that Robert Holmes attempted to whine about his taxes and accidentally wrote a Marxist parable. Annoyingly, the usual observation is in this instance correct. The Sun Makers is, on a superficial level, about taxes—there’s a joke about a “P45 return corridor,” several cracks about needing a “wily accountant,” and the basic fact that all of the crippling payments the population of Pluto is forced to make are explicitly called taxes. And yet any attempt to interpret it as the whinging of a conservative writer grumpy that he should actually be expected to contribute to the greater society swiftly runs aground in the face of practically everything that isn’t one of these details.

The biggest problem is ...

The Information, The Strategy, The Consciousness (The Deadly Assassin)

It is impossible to talk about The Deadly Assassin without getting into the weeds of Doctor Who continuity, a sentence that is arguably the most depressing thing yet written in this project. Phil Sandifer manages to belch forth nearly 13,000 words of typically fanciful speculation (although at least this time he manages to avoid anything quite so masturbatorily pat as “the Doctor is from the Land of Fiction,” a critical conclusion so sickeningly self-congratulatory that it’s no wonder its author has disappeared off the face of the Internet and indeed the planet), but he’s hardly alone. Vast swaths of what Doctor Who gets up to when its worst instincts are indulged—waffle about the Eye of Harmony, Rassilon, Shabogans, and indeed Gallifreyan lore in general—all find their origin point here.

The degree to which this is a flimsy reed upon which to build a mythology is more than faintly staggering. It is not that, as (probably) Tat Wood suggests, this is a badly written mess. It’s just that what it actually is isn’t a self-conscious major epic that’s trying to set a huge swath of lore down but a daft bit of satire of British politics and the Kennedy ...

After All, You Have No Choice (The Pyramids of Mars)

It’s October 25th, 1975. Between now and November 15th  one person will die in a school shooting in Ottawa, fourteen people will die in the Netherlands following an explosion at a petroleum facility, and twenty-nine people will die when the Edmund Fitzgerald sinks on Lake Superior,.Furthermore, Wilma McCann will become the first of Peter Sutcliffe’s victims, Pier Paolo Pasolini will be repeatedly run over by his own car on a beach in Ostia, and Lionel Trilling will die of stomach cancer. Meanwhile, the world will slide ever closer to the eschaton, and Pyramids of Mars airs.

Of the stories to be held as consensus greats by Doctor Who fandom, Pyramids of Mars is one of the most puzzling. In many ways, it is the least remarkable story of its era. There are stories that are remarkably good, a few that are remarkably bad, and several that are remarkable in the sense that they’re unusual and unlike the things around them. Pyramids of Mars is none of these things. It does a variety of things well, it’s true, but none of them to such an extraordinary degree that it stands out for them, while on a number ...

Strong And Fierce In You Like a Cancer (The Ark in Space)

It’s January 25th, 1975. Between now and February 15th, Edward Wilson and Robert McCullough will both die in attacks in Belfast, Clyde Hay will be the final viction of the Skid Row Slasher, a hundred and three civilians will be slaughtered by Ethiopian troops in Woki Duba, and two thousand and forty one will die in an earthquake in China. In addition, CEO of United Brands (formerly United Fruit) Eli M. Black will commit suicide shortly before it emerges that he paid a large bribe to the President of Honduras, P.G. Wodehouse will die of a heart attack in a hospital in Long Island, and Richard Ratsimandrava, the recently installed President of Madagascar, will be assassinated, sparking a civil war. Also, the world will slide ever closer to the eschaton, and The Ark in Space will air.

The Ark in Space marks the first time since The Daleks that Doctor Who has done an outright post-apocalyptic story, and the first time in which this happens on Earth, instead of on a Planet of the Convenient Metaphor People. Instead Doctor Who has entered the phase where it begins to fantasize about the end of the world. This fantasy ...

I Never Liked This Planet (Invasion of the Dinosaurs)

It’s January 12th, 1974. Between now and February 16th, twelve people will die in an IRA bmombing of a coach bus on the M62, and a hundred and seventy three people will die in a fire in Sāo Paulo. The implementation of the three-day week will cause massive economic strain on the United Kingdom, which does not directly kill anybody, but is linked to large spikes in crime and mental illness. In addition, Batman creator Bill Finger will die of a heart attack and movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn will die of old age. Beyond that, the world moves ever closer to the eschaton and Invasion of the Dinosaurs airs on the BBC.

There are two key strands of thought in Invasion of the Dinosaurs, both of which come filtered through the oddities of Malcolm Hulke’s politics. The first, as noted by Tat Wood in About Time, sees Hulke responding to The Green Death by offering his own take on the conspiracy-minded thriller within Doctor Who. Wood proceeds to suggest several antecedents for this, making a selective but nevertheless fairly broad accounting of the genre to show where Hulke might have been pulling in contrast to Sloman and Letts ...

The Masters of the Earth (The Green Death)

It’s May 19th, 1973. Between now and June 23rd, forty-eight will die in a plane crash in India, six will die in a pair of IRA bombings in Coleraine, thirteen will die in Argentina when snipers open fire on protesters in the Ezeiza massacre, and six year old boy in Kingston upon Hull will die in the first fire of Peter Dinsdale’s near decade-long spree of arson. This relatively sparse major death toll masks the steady progression of the world towards the eschaton. Also, The Green Death airs.

The Green Death offers a genuinely uncanny trick of perspective—like one of those lenticular images that shifts as you move in front of it. One second it’s the most 1973 thing imaginable, a cornucopia of glam semiotics. The next it’s a strangely contemporary thing, with concerns that have not aged a day. The obvious explanation for this is that very little has changed in forty-seven years—corporations continue to be killing the world according to the logic of a supposedly dispassionate algorithm. Sure, the climate crisis has edged out industrial waste and the sheer size of the computers has ratcheted downwards, but the basic concerns really are the same. We knew ...

A Vermin Race (The Sea Devils)

It’s February 26th, 1972. Between now and April 1st, 125 will die in a coal sludge spill in West Virginia, 19 will die in an avalanche on Mount Fuji, and the Easter Offensive wll begin in the Vietnam War, lasting into Octoer and resulting in somewhere between fifty and a hundred thousand deaths. In addition, M.C. Escher will die in a hospital in the Netherlands, the world will inch ever closer to the eschaton, and The Sea Devils will air.

Within the innate conservatism of the Pertwee era, Malcolm Hulke remains one of the most interesting figures. At one point in his life, he was a member of the Communist Party, and while this membership at some point lapsed, he appears to have been a lifelong socialist and leftist. And yet the era of Doctor Who he’s associated with is one of its most resolutely conservative. More to the point, his stories are not the ones that most challenge that tendency. Three of his Pertwee stories are earth-based military action pieces that trend away from the era’s nominally progressive glam instincts. The other two are space-based stories displaying the most uncomplicated liberalism imaginable. The overall impression is of the ...

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