Viewing posts tagged history

Apocalypse Below (or The Tractate Face-Off)

From Panic Moon, July 2011.  Edited, and with new material in a seprate coda.


This is the end
Beautiful friend
This is the end
My only friend, the end
Of our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end


At first, 'Frontios' seems like the odd one out amongst Christopher H. Bidmead’s Doctor Who scripts. Unlike 'Logopolis' and 'Castrovalva', it’s overtly political and doesn’t seem to be powered by any underlying scientific concept. Also, it has monsters in it.

Bidmead included monsters – reluctantly – at the insistence of John Nathan-Turner.  On reflection, this seems a dodgy call. Monsters from Bidmead were always going to be too concept-heavy to realise properly on screen. Sure enough, he comes up with giant woodlice that can disguise themselves as rocks until they unexpectedly uncurl… which was never gonna look good on the day.

Apparently finding the macabre more fascinating than he expected, Bidmead also included alien machines made with bits of corpses. This was very tuned in to the then-current turn towards biomechanics and ‘body horror’ in the fantasy genre, but it proved too horrific for Doctor Who to attempt on screen (though it livens up the novelisation ...

People Like Us

Lawrence Miles on 'nice-but-then' syndrome:

Re-writing the whole world in order to prop up a specifically late-twentieth-century agenda is bad enough, but WALKING TO BABYLON sets about re-writing the whole of history. Lady Ninan is supposedly a resident of ancient Babylon, but speaks and acts like a twentieth- century post-feminist liberal, thus "proving" that "people like us" have been making the world a lovely place in which to live throughout history; despite living in a city under constant threat of foreign attack, the Lady lets Bernice, a complete stranger and obvious alien, stay in her house without any form of introduction simply on the pretext that "people like us" have to stick together; Bernice has a relationship with a (Victorian, or early Edwardian?) traveller- cum-archaeologist who, despite the Victorian era's notoriety for male violence, bigotry and misogeny [sic] turns out to be such a "new man" that he becomes a stereotypical perfect gentleman from a Barbara Cartland novel; the two of them embark on a relationship which has every possible jagged edge systematically smoothed away by the text, almost as a demonstration of how nice, kind, polite and utterly unthreatening men can be picked up in any historical period ...

Victory of the Icon 3

I have a massive, endlessly-lengthening list of books, old and new, that I want to get around to reading.  Donny Gluckstein's new book A People's History of the Second World War just went straight in near the top of the list.

Gluckstein's argument seems to be that WWII was actually two wars, fought in parallel.  One was an imperialist squabble between established empires and up-and-coming imperialist nations that were set to clash with them.  Britain, France, Russia and America (which was already a continental empire and was ready to expand globally) found themselves violently competing for hegemony with Germany, Italy and Japan.  Running beneath this conflict there was a people's war against fascism (the form taken by the new empires) underpinned by dreams of freedom and democracy.  The imperialists running the first war knew that had to appeal to the priorities of the people fighting the second war in order to enlist their support, hence the democratic rhetoric.

I mention this here because Gluckstein has done an interview for New Left Project, in which he has some things to say about Winston Churchill, the subject of my irregular 'Victory of the ...

The Surplus Population

It's getting near Christmas.  Christmas means Dickens.  Doctor Who has 'done' Dickens twice in recent years... on both occasions, the show has travestied Dickens' most famous Christmas story A Christmas Carol.  Last year we were given that Moffat-penned obscenity that shared its title.  He transmuted the tale into a gleefully cynical celebration of hubris, casual sexism, complacency and hypocrisy.  But Moffat was following a trail already blazed.

Back in 2005, Mark Gatiss riffed on the same story (which is about a selfish man who is made to realise that he owes the world a debt, only to find himself transformed by that knowledge) and turned it into a parable about how helping the apparently needy is dangerous folly stemming from thoughtless guilt... because the apparently needy (even 'foreign' refugees, running from the devastating effects of a war they didn't start) will probably want to swamp you and steal your world.

Once I'd realised (with help from others more immediately perceptive than myself) what 'The Unquiet Dead' was actually about, I became very critical of it.  However... as time passes... I begin to think I've been overly critical of Gatiss.  Perhaps even a tad unfair to ...

Historical Memory

On June 16, 1918, Eugene Victor Debs made a speech in Canton, Ohio.  He urged workers to resist the draft. 

He also said this:

Wars throughout history have been waged for conquest and plunder. In the Middle Ages when the feudal lords who inhabited the castles whose towers may still be seen along the Rhine concluded to enlarge their domains, to increase their power, their prestige and their wealth they declared war upon one another. But they themselves did not go to war any more than the modern feudal lords, the barons of Wall Street go to war. The feudal barons of the Middle Ages, the economic predecessors of the capitalists of our day, declared all wars. And their miserable serfs fought all the battles. The poor, ignorant serfs had been taught to revere their masters; to believe that when their masters declared war upon one another, it was their patriotic duty to fall upon one another and to cut one another’s throats for the profit and glory of the lords and barons who held them in contempt. And that is war in a nutshell. The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has ...

Gonzo Marx

Ruminations on alienation, commodity fetishism, myth, etc.  Don't mind me.


Battle for the Planet of the Apes

Human beings have always made stuff.  Broadly, that's what humans are: the apes that make stuff.  Even before Darwin, Benjamin Franklin called man "the tool-making animal", a description apparently vindicated by our discoveries about early humanity, which seem to show the rise of the 'big brain' driven by the needs of the hand.

The flint tools and decorative beads of the hunter-gatherers.  The pyramids and ziggurats of the great slave empires.  The water wheels and ploughs of medieval Europe.

But the rise of capitalism brought the factory system.  The division of labour.  Specialisation without expertise.  Organisation of time.  The creation of new kinds of cities that worked as battery farms for thousands of corralled workers.  Mass production.  Heavy industry.  Conveyor belts.  Fordism.  Mechanisation.  Computer-run facilities. 

The ape that makes things started to make things faster than ever before, in greater numbers than ever before. And the things started to confront the thingmaker as alien, autonomous, controlling, dominating.  When you have to watch a clock ...

Rolling the Boulder

It's JN-T Day!  In honour of the late and much-maligned Mr Nathan-Turner - who rescued Who from the stylistic doldrums, produced a slew of stone classics and stuck around longer than he wanted to because he knew his departure would mean the end of the show - here is my Timelash II stuff on the stories usually called the 'Black Guardian Trilogy'.  Much undervalued, all three of them.

For John Nathan-Turner.



'Mawdryn Undead'

Once you get past the Billy Bunter bibble of the opening (and even that is pleasingly unexpected) this develops into a highly satisfactory bit of concept-driven sci-fi, cleverly using time travel (never a major concern of the old-style show) as part of a complex but admirably clear plot, aware of itself as myth-reiteration (immortality as curse, the Flying Dutchman, etc.) and with a submerged political sense in its depiction of crime, power, unscrupulousness and luxury.

It engages with the Who mythos without being enslaved to it, using concepts from the show's backstory to create a genuinely dramatic conflict situation in the characters' here and now.

You can see everyone's point of view here, even if you don't like the way they're behaving ...

Rise Like Lions

Even as I type this, protestors are clambering over the stone lions at the base of Nelson's Column, waving anti-cuts placards while sat astride the petrified leonine relics of an imperial age that is still decaying... and trying to take us all with it.


'Warrior's Gate' came up for discussion at Gallifrey Base today.  It seems almost ridiculously appropriate.  Well, it does to me anyway.


Biroc makes me think of Walter Benjamin’s ‘Angel of History’:

The Angel of History must look just so. His face is turned towards the past. Where we see the appearance of a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe, which unceasingly piles rubble on top of rubble and hurls it before his feet. He would like to pause for a moment so fair, to awaken the dead and to piece together what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise, it has caught itself up in his wings and is so strong that the Angel can no longer close them. The storm drives him irresistibly into the future, to which his back is turned, while the rubble-heap before him grows sky-high. That which we call progress, is ...

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