Without Friends Or Protection (Gridlock)

(136 comments)

Get it? Boe-tox?
It’s April 14th, 2007. David Tennant is still terribly happy. Avril Lavigne, Gwen Stefani, Fray, Fergie, Timbaland, Beyonce, and Shakira also chart, which feels like just about the most 2007 list of musical artists one can muster. Since Shakespeare wrapped things up, the Ministry of Defense allowed the fifteen sailors released by Iran to sell their stories to the press. This was immediately reversed for anyone who did not act on the first day. Johnny Cash’s home in Nashville burns to the ground, and Kurt Vonnegut dies.

While on television we have an unsung masterpiece - Russell T Davies’s best script of Season Three, Gridlock. There is a line of criticism against Russell T Davies that would suggest he is not particularly interested in science fiction. Instead he’s interested in visual spectacle and character bits, and happens to like the way science fiction things look and emotionally feel. But he’s spectacularly uninterested in worldbuilding - his oft cited line about not caring about Zogs from the planet Zog unless there are humans about is not just an observation about the importance of not making things too strange (after all, he did the “no humanoids except for the TARDIS crew” trick on his second script), but an observation about grounding stories in anything other than the day-to-day world of human experience. The creator of Raxicoricofallapatorius, the Moxx of Balhoon, and the Mighty Jagrafess of the Holy Hadrojassic Maxarodenfoe is clearly not averse to the presence of overt weirdness. What he is averse to is doing a story that isn’t grounded in contemporary Earth culture. And so even when, at the start of the second season, Davies made his high profile “we’re doing an alien planet for the first time” story the alien planet is just New Earth. Davies, in other words, is almost pathologically opposed to alien planets unless he can ground them in day-to-day Earth issues: busses, hospitals, and, in this case, traffic jams. As a writer, he wants either human interaction or massive spectacle.

But in Gridlock we have an odd story in which Davies manages to hit on an approach that does the worldbuilding for him, without him having to actually engage in any of it directly. The basic mechanic of the episode - tons of different people in their cars - means that Davies’s usual trick of “lots of weird and outlandish images” crashes into his other usual trick of “depictions of ordinary people with domestic lives” to create something that Davies never really manages again in Doctor Who: lots of weird and outlandish images of ordinary people with domestic lives. The result is that for the first and only time in the Davies era we end up with a cross-section of an alien society. Because of the particular central image of the story - the act of driving on the highway - it’s possible for Davies to mash up S&M cats, elderly lesbian trainspotters, nudists, and dapper businessmen into something that feels like a sane, coherent world.

The basic fabric of this world is, as is often the case for Davies, drawn from comics, in this case Judge Dredd and the gaudy excess of Mega-City One. Mega-City One fit smoothly into 2000 A.D.’s aesthetic of tremendous excess - it’s visibly from the same comic that brought us the only bear on the CIA death list. It’s also impossible to realize on television. (Heck, it may well be impossible to realize on film, though people persist in saying that the Karl Urban movie was good.) Or, at least, it should be. But in a stroke of grouchy real-world satire worthy of Robert Holmes himself, Davies casually cracks that by having this be Mega-City One after the fall, so to speak. So instead of having to depict massive city blocks the size of small cities, Davies has a bunch of cars. Repeatedly redressing the same set and finding new ways to shoot in it posed its own problems, but these, on the whole, were surmountable ones.

But Mega-City One is, first and foremost, a city about authority. And it’s one that it should be nearly impossible to actually cross the Doctor into. (Although Dave Stone made a shot at it with the Sixth Doctor Missing Adventure Burning Heart, which was meant to feature Dredd, and instead features thinly veiled knockoff characters.) The problem is simple - faced with the autocratic violence that Judge Dredd represents, the Doctor ought have no choice but to completely overthrow him. Faced with the anarchic lawbreaking of the Doctor, meanwhile, Dredd ought just shoot him in the face and call it a day. Since both characters are ontological forces within their narratives, a crossover seems difficult at best - there’s just no way these two are going to team up. They can’t, because the central joke of Judge Dredd is that Dredd is an absolutely terrible person.

Again, Davies deftly finds ways of splitting the difference. By making New New York a ruined city, he moves the authority figures out of reach. There are no more police. This is Mega-City One after Dredd’s fall - indeed, after the fall of the Judges, and of everything else. Everyone is dead. There’s no more authority to overthrow - just a headless corpse of a city slowly winding down with nobody noticing. It’s telling that what authority there was is, by and large, at fault here. The Senate becomes addicted to Umpty Candy… sorry, wait, Bliss, and basically sleeps through everybody dying of an airborne plague. Their last act is to damn the entire planet by declaring a quarantine. What initially looks like a diseased and broken system of authority is just ordinary people running through the rubble of a city that’s lost all of its authority entirely.

And so instead of having to actually collide the Doctor with Judge Dredd we get the Doctor cleaning up after Judge Dredd’d reign. Judge Dredd - or at least the system of uncaring but absolute authority he represents - is brought down on its own terms. The Doctor’s role in proceedings is instead to offer a sort of alternative. But even here, the seeds of the alternative are sewn elsewhere. While the structure of authority collapsed, there is still a larger presence keeping the world of New New York together: the Face of Boe. The Face of Boe is an interesting character - originally just an expensive prop for Davies’s first real visual extravaganza, financial expediency led him to become an oddly mythic and substantive character, as well as one who ties quietly into the longer past of Doctor Who (via the Isop Galaxy). Subsequently, of course, the Face of Boe gets tied into the mythology of Torchwood, making him an odd surrogate of the Doctor himself.

Regardless, it is the Face of Boe’s intervention that has saved everybody - an act of individual sacrifice and kindness. From there, equally crucially, we have a society that has sustained itself. In many ways the most extraordinary moment of Gridlock is the hymn. The exact way in which this plays out was, it seems, at least somewhat contentious - Tennant, for his part, was adamant that the Doctor ought remain at a clear remove from the hymn, which sets up an interesting and productive contrast between him and Martha, who joins in with the hymn and, by extension, the society. Davies, meanwhile, was more ambivalent, and the result is that the Doctor gets it slightly wrong.

Here we have, in fact, a moment where Tennant seems to misunderstand the story he’s in, albeit in a way that is almost too perfect. On the commentary track, Tennant discusses how the hymn is the thing that makes the Doctor angry and makes him decide to force the people of this world to question their surroundings. Which, yes, fine, the way in which nobody asks where the police have gotten off to and quietly ignores the evidence of the broken world around them is a real aspect of the story, but it’s not the entire story. What’s more telling is that Brannigan’s statement right before everybody starts singing is, in the end, correct: “You think you know us so well, Doctor. But we're not abandoned. Not while we have each other.” Which is, of course, true. The drivers are not abandoned, and the nature of their salvation is, in fact, community. Indeed, the message of “The Old Rugged Cross” is specifically apt. “The dearest and best for a world of lost sinners was slain” perfectly describes the Face of Boe, and indeed, Davies’s Lonely God image at large.

Meanwhile, at the bottom of New New York, lurks the past of Doctor Who. Between the implicit presence of the Isop Galaxy, the quoting of The Sensorites (Susan there describes her home planet, saying “the sky is a burned orange, and the leaves on the trees are bright silver,” both images the Doctor quotes in describing Gallifrey), and, of course, the Macra this story is absolutely drenched in Doctor Who. And not just any Doctor Who, but the old sixties stuff - obscure references that are selected specifically for their obscurity. The Macra, in particular, are there for the precise reason that they’re a monster that less than 1% of the audience has heard of, and that no decent footage of actually exists.

But they’re oddly perfect. The Macra Terror, as dedicated readers will recall, was Doctor Who’s attempt to do The Prisoner in miniature and, to its credit, prior to the airing of The Prisoner. In proper Russell T Davies style, it presents a future world that is really just built out of the imagery of the present: the colony world is really a Holiday Camp, and the story is about mechanisms of social control. Which are, of course, exactly the same thing that’s in play in Gridlock. For all that Davies pretends to have picked a more or less arbitrary old forgotten monster, he ended up picking one from a story that is about the way in which our faith in authority leads to dangerous and exploitative delusion.

But instead of falling into the at times banal anarchism of the Troughton era, in which the Doctor is simply a force that tears down the world, Davies shows the way the world is built. Indeed, the Doctor, after thinking he’s going to tear down the world and reveal the Macra lurking underneath and running everything, discovers that he’s been going the wrong direction all story, and that the hidden Macra aren’t even the point; they’re just mindless, hungry beasts. The real story isn’t pulling the world down - it’s already collapsed. It’s giving the Face of Boe help in building it back up.

In this regard the eventual revelation that the Face of Boe is just what Jack becomes after a couple billion years is perfect. In hindsight, it ties the theme of Torchwood - of existence in the real and material world - into Doctor Who. What’s key is, in fact, that the Doctor gets it wrong and thinks this is a world to overthrow, when in reality it’s a real world. The fact that this is a ground-level story about real-feeling people becomes the point of the exercise. It’s not that Davies has stumbled upon a way in which his approach leads to world-building; it’s that he’s finally shown what the point of world-building is in the first place, creating a world that is built out of the things he cares about - people and spectacle - and not out of abstracted sci-fi rules.

The result is terribly powerful, and is in many ways the story in which we can see the best aspects of the Davies era most clearly working together. This is a story about ordinary people, bizarre spectacle, and the intersection of magic with the day-to-day, in which all of those things are left about even in the mix. It’s not, as Love and Monsters or Midnight are, an experimental piece in which Davies challenges notions of what the show is. Rather, it’s Davies doing standard issue Doctor Who - a flat up Robert Holmes homage - and making it sing. The latter part of the Davies era is, as we’ve noted, characterized by the show’s awareness that it’s the biggest thing on television. Typically it engages with that. But with Gridlock we have something different: a Doctor Who story that manages to be all things to everyone. Which is to say, a story that isn’t about being the biggest thing on television, but that just calmly, quietly, and beautifully deserves to be.

Comments

elvwood 4 years, 1 month ago

Well, treating this as the review blog it isn't, this is the episode of the revival that we most disagree on so far. I didn't enjoy Gridlock much at all (though it was better than New Earth) - until we got to the utterly sublime final scene where Martha confronts the Doctor, which I saw as its sole redeeming feature. I was taken out of the story by the unreality of the people's reactions to being in the jam, which felt totally alien and unbelievable. (Mind you, I've never liked car travel anyway.) I was also fed up with aliens done as people with animal heads, and thought the Face of Boe looked silly. The cat babies set off my "genetics doesn't work like that!" alarm (see also the next story), the hymn seemed incredibly cheesy, the action sequence ripped off from Minority Report (another link to The End of the World), the emotion sellers too cartoonish... there were so many negatives for me that I couldn't see past them. I've calmed down now, but never felt the urge to watch it again.

Until now. The Mega-City One analogy struck a chord, and gives me an angle from which I might be able to appreciate it more. I also know more Doctor Who and can get the call-backs now - in 2007 I only knew the Macra were in the title of an old episode and had never seen The Sensorites (indeed, when I did watch it, I got a kind of reverse nostalgia for that final Gridlock scene and watched just that bit again).

I don't know yet if this will turn my opinion around, but I'll give it a go. Thanks.

P.S. Just caught up after my holiday. Missed out on some cracking entries and discussions!

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dm 4 years, 1 month ago

This is the highlight of Season 3 for me, I'm glad you've found more interesting perspectives that I can use as excuses to rewatch it.

What drew me to this one initially was the Season 24-ness of it, the way it built a world around a single everyday issue and used this world to reveal the underlying failures of authority inherent in the infrastructure of western society ala Paradise Towers. The approach has upgraded from "Ballard as Panto" to "Ballard as Surreal Family Entertainment" but that's hardly a stretch.

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David Anderson 4 years, 1 month ago

What is interesting about Gridlock, which you glance at, is that it's much better than it has any right to be. It's made up of chunks of stories that don't fit together but which spark things between the cracks.

If you look at the script from the point where Martha is captured up to the hymn, it looks as if Tennant's reading is right. The hymn is the mark of a society that is being lulled by ideology into not ever questioning things. Waiting for authority to sort things out instead of taking over authority. But then the next bit of story is about an outside force (the Doctor) solving things at the behest of an authority figure. And the two half-stories oughtn't to work together but somehow add up to something more that they should.

(You could do an alternative reading of the Senate. In any other Davies script the Senate would have tried to evacuate themselves without regard for other people. Compare Geoffrey Palmer's civil servant from Malcolm Hulke's Silurians who nearly destroys humanity by ignoring quarantine. Instead they took one clearly responsible action - sealing off and thereby saving the undercity - and one arguably responsible action - if you don't know how long the plague will last declaring quarantine might be the responsible thing to do. There may be a suggestion that being high on bliss, if it doesn't make authority perfect, at least makes it not utterly corrupt. Or more prosaically: being happy makes you a better person.)

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AndyRobot800 4 years, 1 month ago

It's a personal favorite for me as well - glad to see we're in agreement here. I'll follow up on what "dm" says, and say that, in a lot of ways, it's "Paradise Towers" done right.

Re: the 2012 Judge Doom movie... I watched it at home, on Netflix, the other night, and it really surprised me that it was as critically acclaimed as it was. Apparently, most of the critics watched it in 3-D, and... yeah, I can see it being visually stunning in 3-D (especially the drug sequences.) Otherwise, it was just a big dumb action movie, albeit one that looked pretty - I'm a sucker for a good '80s dystopia.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 1 month ago

This is absolutely one of my favorite episodes. I remember watching it, grumbling and rolling my eyes - "Oh, it's just one of those stories where one negative aspect of our society is stretched to a ludicrous over-the-top dystopia, yeah, we really needed another of those" - and then the reveal came; that it wasn't systematic oppression, but a final act of desperate kindness. That moment of sheer positivity cemented it in my top ten.

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Lewis Christian 4 years, 1 month ago

I have to agree with those who said "it's Paradise Towers" done right. Gridlock is wonderful. One of Russell's best.

It's also interesting in that it's the end of the "Boe" trilogy - although Utopia ties into it later - and I also like Martha's "rebound" comment too.

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Matt Sharp 4 years, 1 month ago

Ah, Gridlock - I vividly recall being extremely impressed with it all as soon as the Macra appeared as it looked like everything was going to fit together perfectly, but then suffered a crushing disappointment when it became apparent that they were 'just beasts now'.

After all, a lot of the otherwise inexplicable stuff like why people are prepared to spend decades stuck on a motorway to reach a destination that they could walk to in an afternoon, how no one ever realises that no one ever leaves the motorway, why nobody ever realises that people who take the fast lane just disappear and so on ARE explained away by the presence of an insidious alien race (one that also requires a specific gas to breathe, which just happens to be the same one generated the exhaust system) that possess mind control abilities lurking in the dark...

Too many coincidences. In fact, I suggest that the Macra ARE their former Machiavellian selves and have engineered the Bliss epidemic and the motorway business in order to provide their required atmosphere and the occasional snack, and the Doctor just never finds out about it, in which case they'll probably put everything back the way it was before as soon as he leaves.

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Lewis Christian 4 years, 1 month ago

Too many coincidences. In fact, I suggest that the Macra ARE their former Machiavellian selves and have engineered the Bliss epidemic and the motorway business in order to provide their required atmosphere and the occasional snack, and the Doctor just never finds out about it, in which case they'll probably put everything back the way it was before as soon as he leaves.

Never considered that before, but it could work!

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David Anderson 4 years, 1 month ago

The Karl Urban film is well aware that Dredd is a fascist. Consider the sequence where a citizen hides the judges hoping they'll leave and not get into a firefight with her husband, and then Anderson realises that she's already shot the woman's husband (in cold blood at that).
Also the best looking sequences in the film are due to the drug that the Judges are fighting. Does the film want you to notice the complicity between criminal behaviour and the aesthetic spectacle? Yes I think it does.

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Ross 4 years, 1 month ago

Somewhere not long ago, possibly here, I came across the idea that the Macra were never intelligent, and that what we saw in the Macra Terror was not Intelligent Macra controlling humans, but rather an unthinking biological process in the Macra inducing neurosis in humans which cause them to use their own intelligence to benefit the Macra. (In much the same way that toxoplasmids can make mice suicidal for their own benefit without themselves having anything we'd describe as intelligence. Or more directly, like the twist at the end of Stephen King's 'Dreamcatcher')

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David Anderson 4 years, 1 month ago

What you're right that the film doesn't have is the comic's wacky excess aesthetic (cyberpunk implies something more sleek and chrome finish than 2000AD although arguably 2000AD deserves the term better) - in that way it does look much more like other late 2000s action films.

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Seeing_I 4 years, 1 month ago

So glad to see a positive write-up on this, which is surely one of the four or five Davies-penned episodes which stand with the very best that Doctor Who has to offer. I love that there is such a big heap of ambiguity right at the heart of it, with the hymn and the multiple ways it can be read - all of which are arguably "right" as well as being mutually exclusive. My major reservation was the dumbed-down way the Macra were used, but your take on them reconciles and makes total sense of the way Davies uses them. Ah...going to have to watch this one again!

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Ross 4 years, 1 month ago

This is one that's sort of stained for me due to the outrage it provoked on rec.arts.drwho. It was pretty well universally misunderstood there in the same way Tennant apparently did: they took the hymn to be RTD asserting that faith is used to trick people into acting against their best interests. No one was willing to accept that the people trapped in on the expressway had been put there to keep them safe, and there was a weird insistance that what this episode hsould have been was "The Doctor spends the entire episode in a lab furiously using Science to find a cure for the plague".

Then there's the guy who insisted that having kittens say "Mama!" was literally the same as showing explicit intercourse between a human and a (normal 21st century) housecat, and that it was part of RTD's evil plot to make children sexually abuse their pets.

My sense of the reaction to this episode in particular was that there was a great deal of flat-out refusal to believe what was actually presented instead of replacing it with some kind of imaginary cliche "Standard Doctor Who Story" -- the expressway has to be a trap by an uncaring govenrment because it's Doctor Who and leaders are evil. THe Macra have to be behind it because it's Doctor Who and it's always the bug-eyed monsters; the nurse cat has to be evil because it's Doctor Who and things that don't look human are evil; the religious overtones must be to make fun of fools who believe in higher powers because it's Doctor Who therefore SCIENCE.

And one thing that really stuck with me about this episode, therefore, was that it seems like the theme of it is something like "This isn't what it looks like; there is something nasty hidden within what seems good."

Which we're going to see again erelong.

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Darren K. 4 years, 1 month ago

"Too many coincidences."

I kind of imagined that in the infinitness of space and time that the Doctor travels in, there can never be "too many coincidences". I mean, the whole story is stupid if you think about it, sure, but it carries itself off with such style and panache that it isn't worth worrying about. This is the world they live in. Plus it is a good joke about being stuck in traffic.

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David Thiel 4 years, 1 month ago

This too was one of my Series 3 favorites. Like "The End of the World," it introduced us to a bunch of distinctively-drawn characters in short order. And the random inclusion of not only a classic series foe, but arguably its most obscure, was a delight.

I was puzzled by fannish complaints about the unlikelihood of the decades-long traffic jam. This, from the same culture that continues to bring us two of the most grotesquely over-the-top depictions of the future, "2,000 A.D." and "Warhammer 40,000." Anyone who has ever read a Games Workshop codex should have no problem with hyperbolic absurdity. (My preferred 40K army is the Sisters of Battle: armor-plated nuns with jetpacks, backed up missile tanks which resemble pipe organs, right down to the keyboardist.)

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David Thiel 4 years, 1 month ago

I'll echo the sentiment that "Dredd" is at least a worthwhile adaptation. It doesn't have the budget to depict the Mega City One of the comics, and the satire is fleeting, but it gets more right than wrong.

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Pete Galey 4 years, 1 month ago

I'm broadly with you on this one - I want to love Gridlock in all its seasontwentifoursian glory, but I just keep butting up against bits that feel first-drafty. A couple you didn't mention: people pay good money for a drug that makes them HONEST, when they can get one that makes them euphoric or see pretty colours, and just tell the truth for free. I'd love to have sat in on the marketing meeting for that one. And "self-replicating fuel". Oh, so they've circumvented the most fundamental rules of the physical world, but they can't solve a bloody traffic jam? Why even bother giving a reason why they're not short of fuel? Why not quietly ignore it and leave it to us fridge-logicians to ponder about?

- Peeeeeeet

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Iain Coleman 4 years, 1 month ago

Presumably one buys the honesty drug for someone else.

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BerserkRL 4 years, 1 month ago

the at times banal anarchism of the Troughton era, in which the Doctor is simply a force that tears down the world

Using "anarchism" to mean mere chaotic destruction is a bit of insult to, you know, the actual anarchist tradition.

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Pete Galey 4 years, 1 month ago

... or alternatively, it's a very obvious plot device.

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Scott 4 years, 1 month ago

I loved this episode, but one of the main memories I have of it relates not to the episode at all, but to a truly marathon argument on Gallifrey Base about whether the fact that it is scientifically implausible that a virus could wipe out an entire planet in less than a day (or an hour or however long it was -- some admittedly ridiculously short length of time at any rate) meant that this episode was the nadir of modern Doctor Who.

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elvwood 4 years, 1 month ago

I'm in that odd little group of people who think Paradise Towers is "Paradise Towers Done Right"!

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Bennett 4 years, 1 month ago

It is a great story - but I found that the Boe revelation harms it a bit for me. Because now when I watch the final scene in the senate, I can't help but picture the Face of Boe sitting up and gasping loudly five seconds afterwards.

(I know that he mentions giving up the last of his energy, but he's survived worse than that before.)

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Spacewarp 4 years, 1 month ago

I still kind of treat even Series 2 as only a "couple of years ago", but looking through the lens of "Gridlock" at the world of 2007 makes me realise how long ago it actually was, and how attitudes have changed. In fact it's starting to look a bit Isle of Wight.

Remember the little shiver that went through fandom at the elderly female car-spotting married couple? The sense that RTD was continuing to gently push the boundaries of acceptable Television? And wasn't this about at the peak of the "Gay Agenda"?

How things have changed!

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 1 month ago

Yes, that is one of the aspects of it that's banal.

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The Lord of Ábrocen Landmearca 4 years, 1 month ago

I maintain the belief that the hymn sections of this episode are some of the most beautiful and emotionally touching moments the Davies years ever did, along with those conversations with Wilf about age and not wanting to go. Ot was nice to see the series take a step away from the usual dour moralizing of its secular humanism and present an example of explicit religious content having a positive effect on a community, wether it be in a religious context or a broader one of communal unity.

I had hoped we would see something similar in the Rings of Akhaten, where song and music (and, by implication, faith) bring desperate cultures and species together as a communal whole. Unfortunately, the series decided that another 'alien god is actually an evil alien who just wants to hurts people and destroy communities' was not a tired and dry well but, in fact, something they should return to. There was also something about a leaf, i don't really remember; by that point I was bored.

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Prole Hole 4 years, 1 month ago

Ah, I don't think you're odd but there's definitely a clash between the script and the production. I think on paper Paradise Towers is pretty fantastic, but there are a few noticeable mis-castings (Pex in particular, and Richard Briars doesn't really cover himself in glory). Corridors Doctor Who can do without pausing for breath, but killer pool robots menacing Bonnie Langford not so much. But then again, when did we lose sleep over a slightly wobbly execution when the concepts, script, drive, sheer love of language and joy in what it can do are so wonderful?

And I just generally want to add to the praise for Gridlock. It's not quite my season highlight (I think that's probably either Blink, Family of Blood or Utopia (sorry, but i just love Utopia, even if what follows it isn't up to snuff)) but it's such a great, curiously forgotten episode and it deserves much more widespread praise than it gets.

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Prole Hole 4 years, 1 month ago

That says substantially more about the quality of discourse on Gallifrey Base than it does about Gridlock...

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Prole Hole 4 years, 1 month ago

To be entirely fair it's not actually 100% established in-universe that Jack is the Face Of Boe is it? There's the offhanded comment he makes about being handsome and chosen as the face of the Boeshane Peninsula and then the Doctor and Martha look at each other and say, "Noooo!" a lot. But it could just be a co-incidence. There's lots of words that begin with "bo" sounding syllables. I mean if he wore a hat could have been the Face Of Bo-nnets? We sort-of accept as fans than it's Jack's destiny, but it's never really confirmed on screen that this is actually the case, and neither the Doctor nor Jack have ever affirmed it. At the very least there's some wiggle room.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 1 month ago

That scene ends with him saying "They called me the Face of Boe!" Which, yeah, isn't a definite, but that's clearly what's being implied. Which I feel, in turn, is implying that the end of Gridlock is somehow Jack's definite end.

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Theonlyspiral 4 years, 1 month ago

I cannot recall an action movie that takes the audience to task so thoroughly for enjoying the spectacle of itself. It makes scenes that normally would be cathartic or enjoyable and makes them uncomfortable and graphic in a way that we just don't see in mainstream cinema. I love Dredd.

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Theonlyspiral 4 years, 1 month ago

Ross: You are free to re-write my headcannon any time.

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David Thiel 4 years, 1 month ago

That's certainly what's being suggested, though nobody stops to consider that there might already have been a Face of Boe to inspire the nickname. (FoB did seem to be a bit of a galactic celebrity.) Or to consider that Jack Harkness turning into a giant, Rastafarian head would be about as stupid as the Doctor aging into Dobby the house elf.

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Theonlyspiral 4 years, 1 month ago

Any TRUE anarchist would never commit such acts after all. ;)

At this point we may have to accept that to the masses, anarchism means "Chaotic Destruction" and Literally means "Figuratively"

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Theonlyspiral 4 years, 1 month ago

I think it gives Jack a nice ending. After a lifetime that was often of questionable morality, his final act is to bring life.

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BerserkRL 4 years, 1 month ago

At this point we may have to accept that to the masses, anarchism means "Chaotic Destruction"

If "accept" means "acknowledge that this is indeed how most people use the word," then yes.

If "accept" means "acquiesce in a corrosive social practice and stop fighting against it," then no.

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David Anderson 4 years, 1 month ago

On the assumption that the honesty drug isn't widely faked there should be plenty of situations in which it's useful to have someone else know you're being honest.

Or it could be a throwaway joke.

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Triturus 4 years, 1 month ago

Ot was nice to see the series take a step away from the usual dour moralizing of its secular humanism and present an example of explicit religious content having a positive effect on a community

No, you had to wait until "Last of the Time Lords" for that...

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Theonlyspiral 4 years, 1 month ago

This just might be my favorite episode of the Tennent years*. Everything works here. Martha gets into trouble, but continues to try and act as a force like the Doctor. It doesn't work, but a lot of companions would just have been waiting to be rescued. The world building is at the new series best, and frankly we get the Tenth Doctor at his: both the ecstatic glee of saving the world and the window into the sorrow he carries in his hearts. We have redemption for Novice Haines, and closure (though we don't know it yet) for Jack. The pacing works and the scenes give us enough variety to be consistently interesting. Really, what more can we ask for?

*This does not include Doctorless Episodes, as Love and Monsters, Blink, and Turn left are all brilliant. This also does not include Silence in the Library or Forest of the Dead as those are a crossover from the Moffat years.

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Triturus 4 years, 1 month ago

Wasn't the Face of Boe pregnant with Boekind or Boemina in one of the newscasts in the background of an earlier episode? I was never sure if this was meant to imply that Captain Jack goes on to spawn a whole new race of polyamorous Rastaheads, or whether RTD just threw in the "They called me the Face of Boe" line as an afterthought, in order to generate message board content several years down the line.

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Ross 4 years, 1 month ago

I think it gives Jack a nice ending. After a lifetime that was often of questionable morality, his final act is to bring life.

Also, if there's one thing we can be sure of, in his long life, Jack is going to get a lot of head.

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Theonlyspiral 4 years, 1 month ago

That far in the future I am pretty sure you are whatever gender you want to be. The idea of programmable biology within the next billion years doesn't seem that far out there.

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Ross 4 years, 1 month ago

Also, just for the record, Jack also mentions having been pregnant before in Torchwood.

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Theonlyspiral 4 years, 1 month ago

The meaning of words is fluid. Labels change over time as do movements. I don't see anarchism ever breaking free of the baggage of chaotic destruction and the poos reputation it has gained among the vast mass of the population.

Of course I'm a federalist so take that as you may.

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David Anderson 4 years, 1 month ago

Rings of Akhaten is interestingly self-subverting if you take it as a secular humanist tract. If you take it that the Doctor is condemning the parasitic effect of religion on culture then the score is celebrating the cultural creativity stimulated by religion.

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Theonlyspiral 4 years, 1 month ago

The Doctor doesn't have a problem with it UNTIL it's working at the expense of people. The Doctor loves Akhaten and seems to be authentically happy to be there and experience the song...until it turns out to be sinister. I did not see it as "Religion is negative" so much as "Any central authority that maintains itself by sacrificing it's citizens has to be torn down".

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Assad K 4 years, 1 month ago

Yes, I remember thinking that the Senate had actually acted rather decently and responsibly, which is unusual for sci-fi governmental bodies (Of course, I am fuzzy at this time on the details, but I do remember the impression I had been left with).

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doknowbutchie 4 years, 1 month ago

I love this episode. Its mechanics don't stand up to any sort of scrutiny, but the efficiency of the character building makes it one of my favorites. Brannigan may yet be my favorite New Who incidental (i.e.: not plot-critical) character.

Also really efficient: The Face of Boe. For a guy whose prior screentime could probably be counted using only one digit, he has a heck of a lot of presence.

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encyclops 4 years, 1 month ago

"Gridlock" is one of my favorites of the whole new series and one of the reasons I love this uneven season so much. It's just beautiful, and both the main essay and the comments have called out so many of the reasons why. Far-future science fiction is one of the things you'd expect the new series to be terrible at, and yet it's wonderful. I suspect part of it is that the RTD future (and, occasionally, the Moffat future) isn't all spaceships and crews and captains and laser pistols, but places and situations where you'd find ordinary people (a tourist station, an urban center, a hospital, a cruise liner, a traffic jam).

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Ununnilium 4 years, 1 month ago

I cannot recall an action movie that takes the audience to task so thoroughly for enjoying the spectacle of itself.

Honestly, this has come up a lot lately, and... I can't really understand why "how dare you enjoy this" is supposed to be good. Indeed, I can't understand how it's not supposed to be hypocritical. Who's putting which images in front of who, now?

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jane 4 years, 1 month ago

I love Gridlock (but not the trafficky kind, or the political kind.) I especially love the plethora of symbols that infuse just about everything in this story.

For example, the Doctor's descent through the traffic. After leaving behind the safety of the mundane world of kittens, into a place that would surely kill him, he arrives in a car entirely decked out in white -- a "heavenly" vision. The next car is drenched in rainbow colors and glittery trinkets, icons of pop culture. Then comes Adam and Eve in a Garden of Eden, followed by a car all in red, and finally: the mirror. A man in a pin-striped suit, with his Magritte-inspired bowler hat, a man who's appalled by guns. It's down here, at the very lowest level, that Doctor unmasks himself, and where Novice Hame arrives to whisk the Doctor away to the Upperworld.

I've mentioned it many times before, but it's worth repeating -- Davies plays quite a bit with the concepts of the Underworld, the Upperworld, and the Place In Between. The Underworld is occupied by mindless monsters, the Upperworld by deadly bliss and self-sacrifice. (There's also something strangely prophetic about this episode. We get a future version of New York before heading off to a past version of New York.)

Of course, Christian mythology is not the only mythology invoked by Gridlock. Our first image is of Sally Calypso, and she's Blue -- like the TARDIS, but really like the first gods of Doctor Who, their unearthly hue a reflection of ancient technology: the old televisions with vacuum tubes and barely a picture. They are Beings of Light, holographs, fictions, and completely contradictory, for they are both there and not there at the same time. They speak through the television, as though they were right there in the room, with you, but you'd be hearing voices if you really believed that was true.

Sally Calypso is a great name for a mythical newscaster. Sally is a nickname for Sarah, "Princess," just to remind you that she is Royalty in our small opera. Calypso is the far more interesting name. Calypso comes to us from Greek mythology, which predates Christian mythology. And she's great! Calypso is the goddess of the Island which opens up Homer's Odyssey, one of the first myths and heroic journeys in Western literature.

"Calypso" is a very interesting word. It derives from ???????, which means "to cover, conceal, hide," and in some etymologies "Calypso" specifically refers to the concealment of knowledge. This in turn points to an older understanding of "truth" -- that it's something uncovered, accessed through revelation rather than representation. It is, I think, the essence of Art, at least as it's practiced on Doctor Who, which is all about the Reveal -- through metaphor, rather than a literal account.

Of course, it's the Doctor who ends up on the television at the end, after he's performed his bit of alchemy -- a union of the technological fix (delivered via his Sonic) and the spiritual self-sacrifice of Boe -- that enables everyone to Ascend into the Light -- which is painted as material social progress; now everyone can go where they want to go.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 1 month ago

The meaning of words is fluid, but that doesn't mean that there aren't bad ways to use a word - ways that obfuscate communication. And bringing up the fact that words change in meaning in order to shut down discussion about those meanings definitely obfuscates communication.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 1 month ago

David Thiel: Good thing that-- man, I can't work up the effort to be passive-aggressive. I don't think Jack transforming into a giant face is stupid, and I don't think the various transformations of the Doctor at the end of this season are stupid either.

Ross: WOOOOOOOOO

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David Anderson 4 years, 1 month ago

If this were the Moffat era we'd be seeing lots of complaints about Brannigan not acknowledging that the Cassinis are married.

Another niggle (and there'll be more along this line when we get to season four): for all that this is a story featuring the dangers of traffic fumes, the idea that you might take steps to reduce traffic exhaust by e.g. car sharing is rather rubbished.

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Spoilers Below 4 years, 1 month ago

I would love to see a movement to "reclaim" the word anarchy. It could work alongside reclaiming the proper definitions of socialism, communism, fascism, Nazism, feminism, liberalism, antidisestablishmentarianism...

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Nyq Only 4 years, 1 month ago

It works, aside from being competently put together, because it has Judge Anderson in it. Dredd can't carry a movie as a central character except in the way Godzilla can.
Dredd needs a sidekick - and luckily they didn't chose Walter the Wobot.

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Theonlyspiral 4 years, 1 month ago

Have movements to reclaim words ever worked in the past? Evolve or Die I say! We can come up with new words.

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jane 4 years, 1 month ago

It could also be used by someone who's genuinely trying to overcome her own propensity for prevarication, and doesn't trust herself enough to do it on her own. Again, the drug is a crutch that prevents an authentic experience -- even when that experience is as "honest" as it could possible be.

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bradluen 4 years, 1 month ago

At least in the US, 2007 was the peak of the big car craze, just before everyone went broke and had to cut back to Corollas. The trend was for bigger cars but also to make them more house-like---if your typical Southern Californian (really New New York should have been Los Nuevos Angeles) is going to spend three hours a day in their Suburban, they might as well put some nice furniture in there. All this makes the commuters in Gridlock sitting ducks (and cats) for satire, but the un-Holmesian thing about Gridlock is the extent to which it declines this opportunity. For the most part the satire is directed at the system rather than the people within it (and, as mentioned, even the system has a benign streak). This runs the risk of becoming too Thomas Kinkade-with-a-k, but the show does a fine job of showing the migrants adapting to their circumstances and getting on with being an old married couple or having kittens without idealising them. Lavishing attention on the fantastic setting and using it to do apparently mundane but really cute sketches is a pretty old trick in comics and animation but feels invigorating in live-action TV (where its relative novelty is probably for budgetary reasons). Would have been the best episode in many a Blink-free year.

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Nyq Only 4 years, 1 month ago

"Using "anarchism" to mean mere chaotic destruction is a bit of insult to, you know, the actual anarchist tradition."

Well it shouldn't be an insult to associate chaotic destruction with anarchism because it certainly is a part of the Anarchist tradition. Treating it as the defining trait of anarchism or only as a cartoon Victorian stereotype of anarchism may be an error but I guess that is why you included the qualifier "mere". However to associate anarchism with the Doctor's disruptive effect on established power structures - fair game I think :)

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encyclops 4 years, 1 month ago

Ununnilium: my thoughts exactly, but better expressed in your words.

Logically I suppose then that I should never see Dredd, for fear of accidentally, immorally enjoying the spectacle. Carrying on as I had been, then.

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jane 4 years, 1 month ago

Am I one of the few people who thinks Paradise Towers was "done right" in the first place? I love the performances of Cooke and Briers -- not as "authentic" performances but "off" in a way that elicits a sideways view on their characterizations. So much is over the top that when a scene is played more or less straight, it really stands out (like the convergence of the various factions at the swimming pool.)

But Gridlock isn't Paradise Towers in the first place -- except at the most superficial level, its dystopian industrialism. What I think's really being said is a general aesthetic preference of Davies' operatic form over "children's panto" as Phil puts it.

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encyclops 4 years, 1 month ago

David Anderson: Your second niggle is confusing me a bit. Aren't they already car sharing? And isn't it -- in the story as well as real life -- just delaying the inevitable problem?

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jane 4 years, 1 month ago

I'd like to see a movement that reclaims "chaos." Chaos isn't a pit -- chaos is a ladder.

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jane 4 years, 1 month ago

GB as a whole seems particular averse to considering anything beyond the most literal of interpretations. Which makes sense -- I mean, there's much less authority an anorak can claim through understanding a metaphor than a list of facts, figures, and technobabble.

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jane 4 years, 1 month ago

I also think the Doctor's right that a child isn't in a position to give consent to self-sacrifice, any more than a child can properly consent to sex.

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BerserkRL 4 years, 1 month ago

I love Gridlock (but not the trafficky kind, or the political kind.)

I like the political kind.

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BerserkRL 4 years, 1 month ago

it shouldn't be an insult to associate chaotic destruction with anarchism because it certainly is a part of the Anarchist tradition

That sounds a bit like saying "it's okay to use 'anti-Nazi' as a proxy for 'racist' because some anti-Nazis were racists." Chaotic destruction is far more central to the Archist than to the Anarchist tradition.

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BerserkRL 4 years, 1 month ago

Have movements to reclaim words ever worked in the past?

Self-ascriptive terms that began as terms of abuse include "gay," "Whig," "Tory," and "Sioux."

Evolve or Die I say! We can come up with new words.

"So Jews don't like people using 'jew' as a verb? Then why don't they call themselves something else?"

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David Anderson 4 years, 1 month ago

I agree that taking the audience to task for enjoying the spectacle seems rather pointless. I'm not sure what the right way of putting it is.
As an attempt: Judge Dredd in comics and the film is more than a one note joke character. He is when he works both a straight action hero and a parody of an action hero at the same time. The interaction between the two readings of the character becomes more interesting than it would be on its own. There are things to enjoy about action movies and things to be wary of, and Dredd contrives to acknowledge them both at the same time.

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Theonlyspiral 4 years, 1 month ago

What is the lure of the action movie? It's to see and revel in destruction and murder without guilt or consequence. It's not a case of "How dare you" so much as "This is where you get your jollies". I mean if you're OK with that, then you don't need to go further. On the other hand, maybe there is something a little horrific about watching people get shot in the head and killed in their homes for entertainment. You can enjoy the spectacle, but be honest about what it is.

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Theonlyspiral 4 years, 1 month ago

Tory is no longer a term of abuse? Since when? And equating the bad reputation of anarchists to anti-semitism is (at the very best) tasteless.

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Nyq Only 4 years, 1 month ago

"That sounds a bit like saying "it's okay to use 'anti-Nazi' as a proxy for 'racist' because some anti-Nazis were racists." Chaotic destruction is far more central to the Archist than to the Anarchist tradition."

Um no. Using "anarchist" as a synonym for "anti-semite" on the grounds that Mikhail Bakunin was a bit anti-Semitic would be like your analogy. Associate anarchism with creative destruction when important historical anarchists and anarchist movements associated themselves with creative destruction is simply matching words with concepts to which they have a close historical association.
I'll jump one ideology over - take associating 'socialism' with central economic planning. Now certainly there are many counter examples in the history of socialism (including left wing anarchists and quasi-anarchists as well centre leaning social democrats etc) who would be opposed to central economic planning but it would be revisionist to pretend the association wasn't real or meaningful.

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Jack Graham 4 years, 1 month ago

Phil kindly linked to my mean-spirited whingeathon about The Shakespeare Code in his last post. May I shamelessly self-promote and link to my gushing praisefest for Gridlock - http://shabogangraffiti.blogspot.com/2011/03/abide-with-me-20.html - just to prove that I'm more than an unfeeling hate-engine.

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David Anderson 4 years, 1 month ago

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David Anderson 4 years, 1 month ago

They are car sharing in the story; it's presented as a bureaucratic hoop and people who try to jump through it get killed.

In real life, it won't do more than delay the inevitable. But it would be an improvement on putting one's head in the sand which is what seems to be the leading alternative; if you get people's heads out of the sand then they might start considering ways to delay the inevitable further, and if that happens it might stop being inevitable.

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jane 4 years, 1 month ago

If this were the Moffat era we'd be seeing lots of complaints about how Sally Calypso is a fake, that the only person needing an honesty drug is a woman, that the only person needing to "forget" is a woman, and that Novice Hame's "bad-assery" of wielding a gun is a stereotypical trope and therefore misogynistic -- not to mention her fawning adulation of Boe.

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Ross 4 years, 1 month ago

I imagine the primary market is horny teenagers who plan to stick them on each other then profess their love.

Often leading to a lot of crying afterward.

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encyclops 4 years, 1 month ago

David Anderson: Oh, I see what you mean. I read that as more of a cruel irony (the Alanic kind? I'm never sure anymore) than a negative commentary, but maybe I shouldn't.

jane: Awesome.

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Ross 4 years, 1 month ago

@jane: I think that would be a fine moral position, but it seems like a bit of wishful thinking to say that it's the Doctor's position. My impression that it's the somewhat less thorough "Human sacrifice is always wrong, and the reason that child sacrifice is particularly odious is that children are Special And Innocent And Precious, not because of anything specifically about consent"

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jane 4 years, 1 month ago

Perhaps, Ross. I'm going off the line, "She should be scared. She's sacrificing herself. She should know what that means. Do you know what that means, Merry?"

But when it's revealed that a sacrifice will in fact be necessary to resolve the situation, he's more than willing to sacrifice himself. So it's not that he's against self-sacrifice as a principle, but that it has to be done with good reason, with a knowingness of the larger context -- which to me has got to be at the heart of informed consent, even if it's not explicitly stated as such. The Doctor's sacrifice is knowing, and perhaps motivated by self-hatred, but mostly on the same principle that if it's to save so many other souls, and not just to satisfy the hunger of a vampire (or that one is simply "chosen" as Merry suggests).

In a sense, though, you're absolutely right -- the Doctor is not one who readily accepts death in general, as evidenced by his desperate plea for Boe to live (trying to get back to Gridlock here.)

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Ununnilium 4 years, 1 month ago

Oh, I like that one.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 1 month ago

David Anderson: Oh, yes - I completely understand the basic tension of Dredd, his ability to communicate the temptation and danger of fascism.

Theonlyspiral: Okay, see, I must be misunderstanding this argument, because from here, it sounds a lot like the same basic one Mary Whitehouse makes - that violent things on screen are essentially the same as violent things in real life.

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David Anderson 4 years, 1 month ago

I don't think that someone who enjoys action movies does necessarily enjoy watching destruction and murder. Just as someone who enjoys Doctor Who doesn't necessarily enjoy watching monsters killing people. The monsters killing people is there to establish that there's a threat for the Doctor to overcome; but what one enjoys is seeing the Doctor being clever in overcoming a threat. Similarly with a film like the Avengers in the action/spectacle scenes one enjoys seeing the various heroes exerting physical prowess to overcome the threat of Loki. Which is not to say that's not itself problematic.

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jane 4 years, 1 month ago

Nightmare of Eden certainly suggests that a large component of the enjoyment from watching Who is derived from seeing monsters kills people -- in particular, that shot of Rigg giggling hysterically at a television screen, which shows a Mandrel battering a passenger. For Whovians, it seems, monsters are practically a drug.

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BerserkRL 4 years, 1 month ago

Theonlyspiral,

equating the bad reputation of anarchists to anti-semitism is (at the very best) tasteless

Really? Because anarchists have never been targeted for mass incarceration, exile, or extermination in the past? Because anarchists aren't still victims of persecution today? You and I must live on different planets then.

Nyq Only,

important historical anarchists and anarchist movements associated themselves with creative destruction

Ahem. I objected to a description of anarchism as "simply a force that tears down the world." Talking now of "creative destruction" is shifting the goalposts a bit, no?

it would be revisionist to pretend the association wasn't real or meaningful

Sure, but that doesn't justify equating socialism with central planning as such.

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David Thiel 4 years, 1 month ago

@Ununnilium: To each his own. I tend to be a "glass half full" guy when it comes to "Doctor Who," but I've watched "Last of the Time Lords" several times and no matter how hard I've tried to roll with it, I cannot see the Dobby/Doctor as anything other than a bad idea poorly realized.

I'm willing to buy into a lot of stuff, including but not limited to bodily regeneration, dimensional transcendentalism, block transfer computations, and the catharsis of spurious morality. But the notion that living for millions of years means that your head absorbs the rest of your body, grows to forty times its original size and grants you the ability to birth an entirely new species...yeah, that's too much.

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encyclops 4 years, 1 month ago

Or perhaps it suggests that finding the sight of monsters attacking people laughable, as opposed to horrifying, is a telltale sign of mental derangement.

Are we assuming that every strong emotion a story might stir in us -- dread, horror, outrage -- secretly reduces to pleasure simply because someone put it in a story and we decided to read that story? If we watch a film about the Holocaust, does it follow that we've chosen to do so because we "enjoy" seeing the extermination of Jews, and that Nazis are practically a drug? Or is it that there's something in the way violence is presented that makes it pornographic or not?

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jane 4 years, 1 month ago

But if that head has been lopped off by Headless Monks, it makes a lot more sense.

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jane 4 years, 1 month ago

Considering how much we laughed at the show -- and in particular its monsters -- during my purple-hazed college years, I'd even go so far as to say that our reactions to myth and fiction aren't the same as our reactions to what's real.

Comparing the Eden scene to watching a film about the Holocaust doesn't stand up -- one is historical, the other surely isn't. Furthermore, the construction of the Eden scene seems particular reflexive, not unlike all those Troughton stories where Troughton appears on a monitor. Rigg is watching TV, laughing at a laughably bad Who monster while under the influence of drugs, not an unlikely scenario for many Who fans in the late 70s. But also the insistence of the show at the time that there always be monsters -- hence, monsters as a drug, the quick fix of some spectacle.

Consider all the (GB-anorak) complaints that the modern Revival doesn't have enough deaths, and the utter disdain for "everybody lives." There's definitely some revelry in monster mayhem on the show. That Eden shows the way out not by killing the monsters, but by leading them back to their natural habitat, all the while trapping the bad guys through the power of a 3-D television, I dunno, it's awfully difficult not to read this as metaphorical commentary.

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Theonlyspiral 4 years, 1 month ago

I want to be clear here: you are saying that thousands of years of prejudice, systemic discrimination on an international level, and multiple attempts at genocide as perpetrated against the Jewish people is equal to that as suffered by the various groups that have identified as anarchists? Do you include those people who self-identify as anarchists but perform acts of destruction?

Because that's insane.

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Theonlyspiral 4 years, 1 month ago

I think this blog might be a gathering point for people who like Paradise Towers the way it is.

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Ross 4 years, 1 month ago

I interpret it as significant that this is the same episode that proposed that if you aged a human 900 years without the benefit of time lord-like aging, their head would become big and silly-looking while the rest of their body would shrink and wither.

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encyclops 4 years, 1 month ago

our reactions to myth and fiction aren't the same as our reactions to what's real

Would you agree with David that "I don't think that someone who enjoys action movies does necessarily enjoy watching destruction and murder," then?

Consider all the (GB-anorak) complaints that the modern Revival doesn't have enough deaths, and the utter disdain for "everybody lives." There's definitely some revelry in monster mayhem on the show.

I'd imagine some of that stems from a desire not for carnage as such, but for consequence; for death in a story to carry some emotional weight, rather than being merely a different sort of "well, how will they magic their way out of this one?" puzzle. I don't disdain "everybody lives" myself, but I don't think such disdain always stems from a desire for "monster mayhem," just for meaningful dramatic stakes.

I'd agree "Eden" is rich with metaphorical commentary. I don't necessarily agree that the reading is beyond debate, nor that its commentary is necessarily correct.

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Robert Lloyd 4 years, 1 month ago

Depends who you're listening to at Gallifrey Base...

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Theonlyspiral 4 years, 1 month ago

As above, so below. You might not be enjoying the suffering or death of real people when you watch an action movie, but you are watching a representation thereof. It's interesting that you choose Avengers for an example, where they explicitly evacuate innocent people and the spectacle is one of pure destruction. Compare that to the Batman Movies, James Bond, Man of Steel, Serenity, The Matrix....massive numbers of people die. We don't dwell on that because we want to enjoy the big set piece and heroic action. It doesn't change the fact that people are dying in droves.

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jane 4 years, 1 month ago

Blue Kangs are best! Ice hot!

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Theonlyspiral 4 years, 1 month ago

Pex Lives!

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Theonlyspiral 4 years, 1 month ago

I really don't mind you as an unfeeling hate engine.

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David Thiel 4 years, 1 month ago

Significant? Sure. Still stupid. (Sorry, been listening to a lot of "Jago & Litefoot" audios.)

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The Lord of Ábrocen Landmearca 4 years, 1 month ago

Oh, dietetically the Doctor is totally correct in stopping the Big Evil Alien. My issue is with the author needing to make the cool and interesting civilization's god actually be an evil alien.

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Ross 4 years, 1 month ago

More pragmatically, it got a little too weird at the end and I am not entirely sure that the Doctor didn't blow up the sun. Don't they need one of those?

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Nyq Only 4 years, 1 month ago

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David Anderson 4 years, 1 month ago

I think that not wanting to dwell on people dying in droves because we want to enjoy the big set piece and heroic action is importantly different from wanting to enjoy seeing people dying in droves. You're right that I don't remember whether New York had been evacuated in Avengers. Aren't there civilians that need saving in Central Station? If you're going to enjoy seeing heroes rescue people you've got to put up with monsters threatening people.

Now a habit of not dwelling on people dying in droves is in itself problematic. Say, we want to think about an easy military solution to some problem in the Middle East and while we don't want any of our soldiers to die we're happy not to dwell on foreign civilian casualties. But the way one confronts that is different from the way one would confront people for whom foreign casualties are an enjoyable prospect. In the same way the pernicious effect of torture in 24 isn't that people find they enjoy torture; it's that it makes out that torture is effective.

Some Wayne Booth, from Rhetoric of Fiction. Booth makes a distinction between two possible sources of enjoyment (among several others): enjoyment of a particular quality and enjoyment of raised expectations. Enjoyment of a quality is static - we are presented with some aesthetic quality, we want to see it continued. Enjoyment of raised expectations is narrative - we see a situation develop, we want to see it work itself out. That second is the source of tragic enjoyment - we want to see our expectations of Oedipus's fall met even as we wish him well. I think a complaint that there aren't enough deaths, even if we don't agree with it, is best seen as a frustration of narrative expectation: it's felt that the narrative is not meeting the expectations it's raised (consequence free) or it's not bothering to set up any expectations at all.

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Seeing_I 4 years, 1 month ago

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Seeing_I 4 years, 1 month ago

Ross: And also, "there is something good hidden within what seems nasty." This episode manages to portray both paradoxes...that's some good writing right there!

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Ununnilium 4 years, 1 month ago

I think that not wanting to dwell on people dying in droves because we want to enjoy the big set piece and heroic action is importantly different from wanting to enjoy seeing people dying in droves.

This. Heck, all of this comment.

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Seeing_I 4 years, 1 month ago

Don't worry - your disdain for "The Shakespeare Code" is right on the money.

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Matthew Blanchette 4 years, 1 month ago

I'm pretty sure it was actually a planet.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 1 month ago

My real problem here is the equation of "I don't like it" with "it's stupid".

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Theonlyspiral 4 years, 1 month ago

David's threshold for weird Sci-Fi stuff is simply much lower than everyone else's. That's all. Calling it stupid is fairly nasty. I mean I think block transfer computations and Pyramids of Mars are rubbish, but I'm not going to say that they're stupid.

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David Thiel 4 years, 1 month ago

Would it help if I wrote, "In my opinion, that's stupid?" (And not really seeing the difference between "rubbish" and "stupid," except that one is clearly more British.)

Look, I'm not out to insult anyone. I'm not saying that you're stupid. If Jack turning into the Face of Boe works for you, that's great.

But yes, I think it's rubbish/daft/naff. It exceeds my own suspension of belief. I don't think that's an especially low implausibility threshold, given that I've managed to accept xtonic radiation, sentient stars and little green blobs in bonded poylcarbide armor. Everyone's got a line; mine is drawn somewhere between Lupine Wavelength Haemovariforms and people turning into two-meter bodiless heads.

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Theonlyspiral 4 years, 1 month ago

Yes it would help. Thanks!

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Theonlyspiral 4 years, 1 month ago

Avengers's evacuating people is unique. You might not remember it, but there is a nice sequence where Captain America makes sure the damage is contained and that people are made safe. Joss mentions on his commentary track that it was important to make sure that our heroes were in fact saving people. That they are doing something more than pound on the baddies while innocents burn.

When we see people threatened by monsters, or cites full of people destroyed, you are seeing a representation of people being put in life threatening situations, and in some cases dying terrible deaths. The fact that people are on the line makes it exciting. The high body count is often a byproduct of those thrills. Rarely the pay off is saving innocents rather than the explosions.

Most films in the action vein do not do this. They do not care, and are there purely for the spectacle. That's fine. You might only want to engage on the level of spectacle. Like I said before, if that kind of engagement is all you want from media then more power to you. Some films want you to question just where those thrills come from, and follow the implications of that.

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mengu 4 years, 1 month ago

They spend most of the episode staring at it, if it were a sun they're so close they should be dead from the heat, we see light shining onto it at the beginning, and stars don't have rings. It's a planet.
Also, it implodes not explodes, so the gravity should remain--it'll probably hurt the tourism, losing that view, but the rings will stay in place.
Also also, what has the Doctor got to do with it? Clara imploded the planet.

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BerserkRL 4 years, 1 month ago

Theonlyspiral,

Your characterisation of my position bears so little relation to anything I actually said that I have a hard time believing you really "want to be clear here."

But on the assumption that your question is sincere: no, I'm not saying they're "equal." For example, thousands of anarchists killed by the South Korean government in 1950 (with U.S. complicity) is a drop in the bucket compared to millions of Jews being killed by the German government in the preceding decade.

But what the hell has "equality" got to do with it? I wasn't aware that a persecuted group has to suffer a level of persecution equal in scale and duration to that suffered by the Jews in order to be entitled not to have hate speech directed against them. My point was that using "anarchist" pejoratively is wrong for the same kind of reason that using "Jew" pejoratively is wrong.

I can't see why it's okay to be abusive toward persecuted group A so long as the level of persecution they experience hasn't reached that suffered by group B.

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jane 4 years, 1 month ago

Clara imploded it, but only because the Doctor failed to. But I rather love the shot that superimposed the planet with her eye.

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jane 4 years, 1 month ago

Everyone has a line, but some lines are more easily defended than others. Insofar as this blog has been concerned, "It exceeds my own suspension of belief" isn't particularly defensible. Not only concerning Doctor Who, which has always had a foot in the realm of fantasy (not to mention being pretty blithe about the whole continuity thing) but also on the general principle that "suspended disbelief/immersion" theory of watching drama isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Not to say that I'm particularly enamored with the Jack=Boe formulation. I can believe it -- it is, after all, Doctor Who -- but to me it kind of made the universe a bit smaller; it strips away the mystique of Boe and simultaneously saddles Jack with this particular fate. Also, the reveal itself wasn't played with any sense of drama.

However, one's objection could be properly couched in an aversion to that which seems strictly supernatural. Like, the sight of Dorium's head, still gabbing away, while his body is off wandering in some robe listening to its heart. A fair number of people were a bit turned off by the Headless Monks because no attempt was made to scientize the phenomenon. Bah! I say. The lack of scientizing makes it much more amenable to various metaphorical interpretations.

With that in mind, I kind of like Jack=Boe. First, it proves beyond a doubt that Jack's got a big head. And yet, it also rather shows (not tells) that the kind of "spiritual" fortitude of Jack's self-sacrifice is entirely rooted in the head, and that *that* is where the heart truly resides in the first place. So there's a profound irony here, the union of ego and egolessness; it's very alchemical.

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Ross 4 years, 1 month ago

Fortunately, when they introduced the character of Captain Jack they gave us the answer to the Face of Boe, the Headless Monks, and pretty much anything else:

Nanogenes, therefore shut up.

(To wit: by Captain Jack's time, some humans have access to nanomachines that can ressurrect a horribly mangled child as a hollow gasmask-faced contagious war-zombie. We may therefore reasonably conclude that some time prior to the 56th century, humanity had access to technology which could allow for essentially unbounded body customization (We also know that by the 29th century humanity has the technology to extend the human lifespan by thousands of years))

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encyclops 4 years, 1 month ago

Does David really have to defend his line? Speaking only for myself, it's perfectly okay with me if he just states it. I'm a lot more uncomfortable watching you guys jump down his throat for the relatively innocuous word "stupid." I think it's clear from context how you ought to take it. And look what an interesting discussion it's sparked.

More interesting to me than how the Face of Boe got to be a head in a jar is why, if it IS Jack, there's really no trace at all of his personality left. I guess when 900 years old he reached, be as witty and sparkly he would not.

My main problems with the Headless Monks were (a) ew, and (b) they felt more kitchen-sinky than interesting in their own right. I'm looking forward to those metaphorical interpretations.

Dobby didn't work for me either. I'm sure we'll talk a lot more about that when we get there. If it worked for you, cool.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 1 month ago

Well, that's a bit of a false dichotomy, isn't it? I don't just want to engage on the level of spectacle, but-- well, I'm exactly the kind of person that the evacuating people sequences were made for.

In other words, I feel like the way to deal with an excess of focus on spectacle that privileges violence over everything else isn't to have the story say "But violent spectacle, how dare you, it's so bad that it privileges violence over everything else and it's the fault of you people watching it", but rather, just make spectacle that does more than that. (On-topic: Doctor Who has been getting better and better at this, making saving and helping people just as spectacle-fueled as blowing up monsters.)

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Ununnilium 4 years, 1 month ago

It really does help, yeah. Because, sadly, there's plenty of people who would defend to the death the idea that it's somehow objectively stupid.

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David Thiel 4 years, 1 month ago

At this point, I'm going to stop making this thread about me. However, I did want to touch on a couple of things y'all brought up.

@Jane: Absolutely agreed on it making the universe smaller. Just as it did when we found out that Darth Vader built C-3PO and that Yoda hung out with Chewbacca.

@Ross: Good point about the nanogenes. I think that they're problematic: they're magic tech so powerful that they could easily overwhelm any story. As we saw in "Asylum of the Daleks," there's no longer a need for a episode in which the Daleks scheme to invade Planet Zog, as all they need do is seed Zog with nanogenes from orbit. (Same goes for the Cyberborg in "Nemesis in Silver.")

That said, the implication of the Jack=Boe conversation was that the transformation would be a byproduct of immense age rather than genetic manipulation.

@Encyclops: That's the other part of the Jack=Boe thing that I don't care for: in Jack's final moments, there's no Jack left. Why would his last words to his old friend be a cryptic warning rather than a charming bon mot? (Or, more to the point, "Hey, that Yana guy is really the Master.")

For some reason, headless bodies bother me less than bodiless heads. I suppose it's that the former have all of the support systems more or less intact. I actually enjoyed Dorium the Head enough that I speculated that he could be Eleven's version of Tom Baker's cabbage companion, but still, I can't watch those scenes in "The Wedding of River Song" without my b.s. detector pinning the needle.

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jane 4 years, 1 month ago

To be clear, it isn't the "stupid" that I objected to -- it's a pretty meaningless criticism on its own, a cousin to "I didn't like it." Which is fine, if a bit lazy when not accompanied by an intelligent critique.

Rather, it's the "suspension of disbelief" line of criticism that raised my hackles. Not only is it just as uninteresting and lazy, and kind of ridiculous given the other absurdities of Doctor Who, but it depends on a theory of drama that's got some problems with it. I don't doubt that David's inward groan upon the Boe!Jack reveal wasn't authentic, but it's still an effect, not a cause.

I'm much more interested in exploring the larger context for such a reaction -- what these two characters meant, and how that meaning changes when they're conflated, not to mention the context of the reveal itself: an off-handed remark in the denouement.

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jane 4 years, 1 month ago

@David: "For some reason, headless bodies bother me less than bodiless heads."

First off, thank you for the lovely critique. All valid points, more or less, depending on the intentions one brings to the show. Much more valuable than the "suspension of disbelief" canard, especially the exploration of why Jack's character would be so completely shorn of all his charm and verve, replaced with cheesy prophecy.

As far as bodiless heads go, they have a long history in the annals of Myth, from Bran the Blessed to The Green Knight. As Doctor Who has been self-consciously modeling itself as Myth (wearing the clothes of SF, not embodying SF) whenever I encounter something as striking as a bodiless talking head, I'm much more inclined to receive it as metaphor. An indication of the ego released from the bondage of the id, the better to accept divinity, for example, though I'm sure there's plenty of different interpretations to be had. In the past, it's been used as both a symbol of self-sacrifice and of oracular power, and both those functions seem indicated in Who.

This is, I think, the primary difference between Who's revival and its more ancient history. Today it's self-consciously mythic, borrowing symbols that make more sense when not taken literally. There's no need to technobabble away an explanation that serves the intention of literalism; that's not what it's really going for. The imagery is much more unsettling, burrowing like a worm into the visual cortex, when not accompanied by the comforting blanket of an explanation.

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Ross 4 years, 1 month ago

@David: Huh. I'm the other way around vis a vis bodiless-heads vs headless-bodies. I guess there's just enough precident in science fiction for "Disembodied head kept alive by technology", from Jan-in-the-Pan to Cold Lazarus that I can take it in stride.

I agree that in Asylum of the Daleks, they get to be a problem -- the thing is, they're absolutely necessary for both the plot and also the tone and theme of the episode, but they do it at the cost of making this basically the only Dalek story you ever need to tell ever again (Admittedly, this is the only time I could really buy the idea that this empire could actually take on the Time Lords, at least absent the realization I got from this blog that ultimately, the Time Lords kinda suck.)

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David Thiel 4 years, 1 month ago

I don't see how "suspension of disbelief" constitutes a canard. I would argue that no matter how fantastical a story gets, most audience members have a limit to what they find acceptable. Even the Land of Fiction has rules.

To use a deliberately ridiculous example, let's imagine a story where the Doctor suddenly regenerates into a dog. There's no traumatic event, it just happens. Maybe it serves the story, maybe it's just a button on the end of an episode, and no one ever mentions it again. I think you'd find that a lot of viewers would find that more than they could buy into, even within a universe in which characters regularly undergo bodily metamorphosis.

And I don't think it's unreasonable for the audience of a show which purports to exist within a quasi-scientific reality to expect a quasi-scientific explanation for things that would otherwise appear supernatural.

Technobabble is in no way ancient history when it comes to "Who;" there's a reason that I invoked the Lupine Wavelength Haemovariform. Ghosts, witches, soothsayers, vampires, sirens, gorgons and gods have all appeared in nuWho and its spin-offs, and all have been explained away either as "science" or "science indistinguishable from magic." The Beast was an outlier, and he was a big deal explicitly because he didn't fit inside the Doctor's conception of reality.

Inexplicable--or, more precisely, unexplained--creatures such as the Headless Monks or the hungry skulls (really, how the hell does that work?) are relatively recent phenomena. They might work for someone who chooses to view the show as mythology and metaphor, but a not insignificant portion does indeed expect a certain level of literalism, and they're no more empirically wrong than a big, giant head is empirically stupid.

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David Thiel 4 years, 1 month ago

@Ross: Good point about Jan-in-a-Pan. I think that's bugged me about Dorium: no pan.

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Theonlyspiral 4 years, 1 month ago

Yes, Doctor Who has gotten way better at actually saving people. It means when there is a death it's a little more impactful. One of the things I like best about the Rebel Flesh-Almost People is the fact that compared with most of Matt Smith's adventures, it's an absolute blood bath. Every time one of the supporting cast bites it, we think that it might just be the end of all the casualties. It also makes getting those 3 survivors out all the sweeter.

I think where we agree is that spectacle at in sequences need to do more. Too many films just escalate up for a big slaughter without thinking it through (Man of Steel) and it leaves a lot of people feeling cold. With a middle-ground for no, I think that's that
Thanks for a spirited debate. It was most enjoyable.

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jane 4 years, 1 month ago

@David: The bigger problem with regenerating the Doctor into a dog is how it plays dramatically. A lot of people would find it difficult to relate, and the lack of follow-through would make it impossible to explore the consequences of such a transformation for the characters.

And that gets at my larger point -- by and large, that's what drama is for. To use a similarly absurd situation, Kafka's Metamorphosis is all about exploring one man's experience with becoming a cockroach. The "how" of it doesn't really matter. As a metaphor, however, it's extremely rich, and the story is rightly upheld as a small masterpiece of existentialism. The horror of Gregor Samsa's condition doesn't hinge on an explanation. If anything, the lack of such delivers far more dread. What *does* matter is that his reaction, as well as the people around him, makes sense.

Of course, the show has come from a tradition of scientism -- but the idea that everything can be explained, even in quasi-scientific terms, is a philosophical position, not a dramatic concern. On this front, we can look to all the various eras of Doctor Who, and lo and behold, a variety of philosophical positions have been taken. It's not necessary for the show to be beholden to scientism, not dramatically speaking. One might object on philosophical grounds, sure -- especially in consideration of the real-world phenomenon of (supernatural) myths being taken literally and how such literalism is used as a cudgel for wielding authority; the role of science in disabusing such systems of exercising power-over is rightly lauded. However, both sides still end up missing the boat, which is that it's the power of metaphor that's inherently transcendent, and absolutely necessary for grasping the abstractions of subjectivity.

There's another thing that ends up being sacrificed when the show is beholden to scientism, and that is Mystery. Mystery only exists when something is left unexplained. And the beautiful thing about Mystery is that the "empty space" it occupies is a great stimulant to the imagination. And that, I would say, is far more engaging than requiring every absurd conceit to be hand-waved by a quasi-scientific explanation. Indeed, the explanations we might come up with on our own are often superior to those that may be offered -- case in point, midichlorians.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 1 month ago

Certainly! <3

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David Thiel 4 years, 1 month ago

Can you provide an example of a (pre-Moffat) era of the series that isn't largely "beholden to scientism?" I'm sure that there are individual examples sprinkled throughout the years--the Land of Fiction and the Celestial Toyroom being the most glaring--but I'm at a loss to identify an extended period in which gods and magic weren't explained away as aliens and super-science.

I think that part of my disconnect when it comes to the Dobby Doctor and the Face of Boe comes from the fact that, rather than being due to nanogenes or somesuch, they're presented as a natural by-product of aging a really, really, really long time. It's one thing when something is beyond our comprehension--a good example being the "Midnight" monster--another entirely when it involves a process that we more or less understand. We know that aging just doesn't work like that.

(An example from the classic series is the moment in "Logopolis" in which the Master broadcasts to the entire universe. No matter how many Time Lord geegaws you hook up to a radio telescope, that just can't possibly work.)

Our own disconnect here is that you and I are looking for different things from the show. I won't be so bold as to suggest that one outlook is wrong.

Oh, and good point about the midichlorians.

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David Anderson 4 years, 1 month ago

If a bodiless head is a metaphor for the ego released from the bondage of the id, the better to accept divinity, what is the ego released from the bondage of the id, the better to accept divinity, a metaphor for?

I don't think metaphor is inherently more transcendent than any other use of language or symbols. Indeed, a lot of talk of metaphor and symbolism can be just as restrictive as any insistence on hard scientific figures. Consider any idea that all plots are metaphors or symbolise one basic plot. Or seven basic plots.

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landru 4 years, 1 month ago

This is one write up in which I agree with you completely. Gridlock offers so much and even gives us the Macra (your point about The Macra Terror is fascinating.)

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jane 4 years, 1 month ago

@Anderson: The ego released from the bondage of id -- indeed, the annihilation of ego itself -- is a way of describing the religious experience of Nirvana. It's these internal, subjective states which resist literalist depictions, precisely because they hinge on our subjectivity.

But metaphor is inherently transcendent. It's using the map of one thing to describe another. The one thing is transcended, become more than just itself -- now it's a vehicle for understanding something else.

That said, sure, metaphor can be restrictive -- and especially when it's taken literally. Dawkin's "selfish gene" is using a metaphor; genes aren't "selfish" in the sense we typically understand the term, as genes don't have "selves" so to speak. Likewise, by anthropomorphizing them, we may fail to recognize other ways in which they operate.


@Thiel: Yes, most if not all of Who prior to the Revival was by and large beholden to scientism. For a lot of long-time fans, that's certainly a part of the appeal. (The Daemons is only a half-hearted attempt to reverse the polarity of that equation.)

I wouldn't say that a scientistic perspective is "wrong" -- and I don't reject Who stories that end up upholding it. However, I'm dubious about adhering to any singular conceptual framework. I think there's plenty of room in Who for non-scientistic stories, too. They add something to the show that was previously missing. More mystery, more elements that aren't strictly reducible to "knowable facts" -- I think my reticence regarding scientism is that it's ultimately a philosophy of control and authority. Such philosophies make me squeamish. I really dig opportunities to exercise my own imagination, and especially those stories that present multiple valid (and conflicting) interpretations.

But that doesn't mean I think non-scientistic depictions are immune from criticism. I think the Face of Boe is only okay -- I can glean some interesting interpretations from the Jack reveal, a glorious sort of irony that his head has been around for a million years and has swelled to size of nearly a planet; regardless of what I know about aging, or perhaps because of what I know about aging, it's obvious there's more going on here than we've been told. I think that's great. But as I said before, it reduced the grandeur and diversity of the universe -- it played into the concept of the Whoniverse, which Phil has done a pretty good job of deconstructing.

The Birdcage Doctor, on the other hand... I mean, it's kind of obvious that he's been made into someone small and vulnerable, a delicate edible bird if you will (I love the description of L'Ortolan though I'd never partake, even if I wasn't a vegetarian) but it's so on the nose, so obvious, there's not much else I can do with it. The woobiness of the depiction, the cartoonishness of the CGI, it just doesn't work for me. Feh. The best I can say about the Birdcage Doctor is the reference to La Cage aux Folles encourages a certain kind of slashfic, which is grand, but again, it's pretty obvious, innit?

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encyclops 4 years, 1 month ago

You probably mean something very specific by "scientistic" that I'm not 100% hip to, and as I've mentioned before some of my favorite Who stories are among those that are least invested in pseudoscientific explanations (the Mara stories, "Enlightenment").

I do want to point out, though, that science if not "scientism" is not at all in opposition to the exercise of imagination or multiple valid or conflicting interpretations. You raised an excellent example yourself: the "selfish gene" idea is hardly the only theory out there, and it's far from an unimaginative one. You can find plenty more examples in all sorts of scientific fields. As for control and authority: well, there's some discipline involved in thinking rigorously through problems and performing experiments that are controlled enough to be repeatable, yes. But the point is that, in theory, science doesn't require an appeal to authority; if you have the right equipment and raw materials, you should in theory be able to perform the same experiments in your own home and get the same results to show your third grade class. You don't have to take anyone's word for it; you can find out for yourself.

On the other hand, much of the work I did in the humanities as an undergrad involved absorbing a lot of prior criticism on various subjects and citing scholars with more established credibility to support my points. There's a lot of appealing to authority involved in such work, it seems to me, at least before postmodernism came along (and after, too, is my impression).

What I like about science (again, not sure if I mean "scientism") is that the authority is the world. You test a hypothesis by going out and taking a look. I'm not saying that shouldn't make you squeamish; just that there are other ways of looking at science...other interpretations, perhaps.

To bring it back to Who: I find that thinking about the show as though at least some of its phenomena are "natural" rather than "supernatural" is a stimulant to the imagination, not a suppressant. For example, thinking about how the Face of Boe got to be a head in a jar raises all sorts of really interesting questions. Is he a human head, and if so, when and how and why was he removed from the human body? How did he get to be that size? What keeps him alive? Are there others like him? To view him as just a symbol, disconnected from any provenance beyond RTD's brain, to say "it's just a show, don't ask those questions" seems to me a more limiting perspective. BUT I think that once you start asking them, you're still able to think about the answers as part of some metaphor. "He's kept alive by Preservative H-236" is, I think, what people imagine is a "science" answer. But from a "science" perspective, I think it's actually more the beginning of more questions. And that to me is really beautiful.

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