4 years, 10 months ago
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I’ll Explain Later
We skipped David McIntee’s Autumn Mist, which was a bit of a flop. Taking up both the Eighth Doctor Adventure and Past What is the significance of retconning Planet of the Spiders out of existence? There are some answers we can simply rule out as terribly silly. It does not, obviously, do any violence to Planet of the Spiders as a 150-minute long stretch of video. That remained pleasantly inviolate on everybody’s bookshelf in VHS form, as it had for the For reasons not entirely unrelated to a desire to be ostentatious, I periodically claim to have no ethical principles, only aesthetic ones. In this regard the Remote seem almost designed to be interesting to me. That said, it’s not as though either Miles or I have terribly original ideas here: the idea that there’s a link to be found between aesthetics and ethics has deep roots. Kant made Miles’s comments on the bottle universes are difficult to quite square away. He claims to have created them to sort out the continuity between the Virgin line and the BBC Books line, with the book that convinced him that the BBC Books line wasn’t set to be in the same universe as the Virgin line being The Eight Doctors, and blames writers like Kate Orman and Gary Russell for When talking about Grant Morrison and The Invisibles I posited that Morrison was of the man’s party and didn’t know it. That is, he is hopelessly torn between a revolutionary aesthetic and a commitment to working within a fundamentally anti-revolutionary form. A similar affliction seems to plague Lawrence Miles, albeit one that I simply haven’t read enough to resolve quite at this
Doctor Adventure slot for the month, Interference is a two-part Doctor Who novel featuring both the Third and Eighth Doctors. We’ve covered it once already, and as with The Two Doctors, it is my intention not to repeat myself, though equally, not to contradict myself. Much. If I can avoid it. In any case, Interference is the big one, both literally and figuratively, setting past eight years. Nor, of course, can this be claimed as in any meaningful way similar to War of the Daleks. War of the Daleks was stupid because it ran roughshod over stories and told us that what we saw on the screen was wrong. Interference renders Planet of the Spiders non-canonical, yes, but it keeps it intact as it explicit in The Critique of Judgment, and it appears that Hannah Arendt died in the earliest stages of working on a book that would have explicitly based a theory of political philosophy on Kant’s aesthetics. I make the claim because it’s amusing and brash, not because it’s terribly original. overruling him by referencing Virgin stuff. Two major problems exist here. First, he introduces the bottle universe in Christmas on a Rational Planet and implies that the TV Movie takes place in it, which puts the date of the continuity split too early. Second, he references Tyler’s Folly, his planet from Down, in Alien Bodies, which puts him at as much blame as Kate Orman for attempting to merge point. (The perils of a blog version of this, really.) On the one hand, Lawrence Miles’s sympathies seem to lie firmly with Faction Paradox.
There are, of course, exceptions to this statement. Most obviously the decision to have Llewis become a Faction Paradox agent, which makes explicit the fact that the cowardly banality of his evil is perfect for Faction Paradox. There is,
up loads of plot for the Eighth Doctor line, writing Sam out, introducing a new companion, and, oh yeah, killing the Third Doctor prior to Planet of the Spiders and thus infecting the Doctor with a Faction Paradox biovirus that will corrupt his Eighth incarnation.
It is contentious to say the least. It makes it to tenth and eleventh place in the Shannon Sullivan rankings, it does so. Planet of the Spiders is as it always was - it’s just a story the Doctor was diverted from. Furthermore, Interference is open about the fact that this is intensely wrong. The Doctor wasn’t supposed to die on Dust. It’s tough to get too outraged about how wrong a retcon is when the entire point of the retcon Likewise, Miles doesn’t really do much of anything in Interference that isn’t just Marshall McLuhan merged with some
trite but not inaccurate observations about the way in which human sympathies and philosophical principles diverge. It’s not hard to see what Paul Cornell was reacting to when he described Miles’s treatment of politics as being like that of, as Miles recounts it, “a seventeen year-old virgin.” The terminology is a bit odd, but we have a whole post on The Shadows of Avalon coming up where the continuities.
All of which said, there’s a standard general explanation for the bottles. The Time Lords of the Eighth Doctor Adventures, fearing the oncoming War, snuck into the I.M. Foreman’s bottle universe, which contained the Virgin Adventures, where they became the Gods of Dellah, who were the big metaplot going on in the Benny books at the time. Meanwhile, Time Lords from the Virgin line snuck into the in other words, no mistaking that Faction Paradox are the villains here. But on the other hand, every cool idea Miles has seems to implicate Faction Paradox. Even if they’re the bad guys, they’re the ones with cool ideas about how the world is run entirely on aesthetic principles. They’re the ones who get to live in the Eleven Day Empire, a chunk
but flame wars broke out over this one. As you might expect from someone who went on to hire Lawrence Miles to continue this mythology, Lars Pearson said that “Interference is a masterwork that takes risks and wins, the culmination of years of novels that opens up a whole Vortex of possibility. It’ll be interesting to see where we go from here.” Which, he wasn’t wrong about “interesting,” though he was surely disappointed.
is its jarring wrongness.
Equally, the retcon is so brazenly cheeky that it serves as a shot across the bow. It’s so blatantly designed to piss certain types of people off that it’s going to regardless, but meticulously designed so that every actual objection they can raise to it is easily shot down. The technical term for this is “trolling,” this is one of the big things I mean to talk about, so we’ll save it. For now let’s highlight the fact that Cornell is on reasonably sound footing in identifying that there’s something off about Miles’s politics here. It’s not that Miles is wrong so much as that he’s terribly incomplete. Yes, he’s right that most people have what is more accurately described as a sense of bottle universe that Chris has in Dead Romance, which is presumably the one he found in the TARDIS in Christmas on a Rational Planet. I, Who 2 suggests otherwise, but given that Dead Romance strongly suggests that the Doctor went and fought the Dellahn Gods, lost, but stole a bottle universe that Chris eventually acquired and Christmas on a Rational Planet shows the Doctor with a bottle universe, this of time bought from the British government when they set their calendars forward to match the Gregorian calendar. They’re the ones who create the Remote, and who get to muck up Doctor Who’s past continuity. They’re the ones with TARDIS-like machines run entirely on symbolism and magic. And yet they’re the bad guys.
On the one hand, this is inevitable. They have
But the real news is in Doctor Who Magazine. There are some… issues to be sorted out here. In July of 1999, the Big Finish line started. The Big Finish line was and is marvelous. But Doctor Who Magazine got a bit… partisan in the rivalry between the two lines, and was pretty blatantly pro-Big Finish. but it’s such a masterful piece of trolling that it’s hard not to forgive and, indeed, encourage. Interference sets out to piss off all the right people, and does a rock solid job of it. But while this sort of trolling may be commendable, there’s a degree of hollowness to it as well. OK, you’ve pissed the most annoying segments aesthetics than a sense of ethics. In this regard he’s made it ahead of, say, Andy Lane in Original Sin, but that’s not an earth-shattering revelation, and Miles mistakes it for one.
And so in his proposed escape from this he ends up aiming for the meaningful and hitting the Banal. The Eighth Doctor section culminates in the Doctor teaching Sam that she has to “make new seems sensible. Except for that persnickety little detail of Christmas on a Rational Planet clearly implying that the bottle universe in the Doctor’s TARDIS is where the TV Movie takes place. (“Hey, that one’s got a TARDIS just like the Doctor’s! Maybe it is the Doctor. I wonder what he’s doing in San Francisco?”) Which not only screws up Miles’s explanation of what he was trying to do, it to be the bad guys, because Doctor Who isn’t able to support the complete and utter mercuriality of the Faction. This isn’t controversial: Doctor Who’s foot in the material world precludes it disappearing entirely into the churning chaos implied by the Faction. It’s too rationalist and too moderate to ever go completely down that rabbit hole. If nothing else, a skull-wearing voodoo
Although bad reviews aren’t unheard of in Doctor Who Magazine, it’s not exactly the harshest place to go for reviews either. And when “big books” have come along, they’ve usually been dutifully willing to back them at the time, even if they’re The Eight Doctors. Which makes the hiding that this book takes jaw-dropping. Vanessa Bishop calls it “impressively boring,” “misleadingly promoted,” describes the of Doctor Who fandom off, but unless your next trick is falling off a log, it’s tough to go downhill from here.
This hollowness also reflects on the main impact the idea does have. If nothing else, Miles, by killing the Third Doctor, comes up with something genuinely unexpected. He finds a place within the rules of Doctor Who where rules” and break out of traditional political structures, which are only ever going to lead, in Miles’s view, to endlessly reiterating the same structures of oppression over and over again. Which is to say that Miles ends up recreating the basic structure of Morrisonian chaos magic. Of course, everyone in the late 90s was doing exactly that, so for the time, at least, it’s understandable why Interference was messes up the hierarchy of the bottles. Either way, any plans along these lines were scuppered when Mark Clapham and John de Burgh Miller decided, in the final Benny New Adventure, that the Dellahn Gods were going to be the Ferutu from Lance Parkin’s Cold Fusion. cult doesn’t get to be the heroes of anything the BBC is ever going to put out. And Miles, to be fair, knows this. I’m in no way averse to the reading that he’s consciously writing in a manner reminiscent of Blake’s take on Milton and writing a book in which the villains are secretly the sympathetic ones - a book, in other words,
Third Doctor as “ponderous and undynamic,” and says that it “severely tries the patience.” It’s one of the most bracingly negative reviews I’ve seen in Doctor Who Magazine, and makes the eventual schisming of what “the present” of Doctor Who is all but inevitable.
It’s August of 1999. Ronan Keating is at number one with “When You Say Nothing At All,” he can leverage a properly shocking “wait, they can DO that” moment. But it’s telling how far he has to go to do it. It works, but in a way that feels like diminishing returns and increasing desperation. OK, yes, it’s terribly surprising, but it’s so over the top that it ends up highlighting just how little Doctor Who can do that still is surprising. such a big deal at the time. But equally, as I’ve indicated, this is not the most compelling moment in the history of zeitgeists. Chaos magic and its associated aesthetics were a dull and misleading turn of little benefit.
And so Miles, ironically, ends up falling into the exact trap he warns against. History repeats itself, and Miles finds himself repeating the failings of the late Troughton and But equally, this highlights the degree to which Miles simply didn’t have anything that could be described as a “plan.” Mind you, he
never pretended to. He’s consistently hostile to the sort of meta-plot driven Babylon 5 style storytelling that set into science fiction, consistently opposed Doctor Who to that approach, and has said in interviews that he pretty much just made things up each book and then picked the interesting things to flesh out further in the next book. In other words, it’s a mistake to look at the War that aims to utterly subvert the entire structure of Doctor Who.
But there’s a problem here: Miles can’t extricate himself from Doctor Who. His entire fiction writing career save for one short story in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and a lone “Tharg’s Future Shock” consists of Doctor Who and Doctor Who spin-offs. He writes things that actively resist the which lasts for two
weeks before Westlife takes over with “If I Let You Go,” which lasts a week before Geri Halliwell takes it with “Mi Chico Latino.” Whitney Houston, Ricky Martin, Eminem, Chemical Brothers, TLC, and Will Smith also charting, the last with the song from Wild Wild West, called, shockingly, “Wild Wild West,” which I bring up just to try to trigger some PTSD.
In news, Elizabeth And the successful shock of the Third Doctor section obscures the fact that elsewhere in the book things are rather more disappointing. The Eighth Doctor trapped in a Saudi Arabian prison fails to bring anything to the table that Kate Orman didn’t do more elegantly in the first two chapters of Set Piece. The impressively Pertwee eras, skipping over the human element in favor of a blind commitment to revolution for its own sake. It’s telling that Miles, when defending himself against Cornell’s criticism, slams Cornell for supporting New Labour. For all its failures, and I’m hardly a fan of that sort of triangulated liberalism, the fact remains that the portion of the anti-Thatcher left that backed New Labour did wildly more arc as some unfinished masterpiece. Or, perhaps more accurately, that’s exactly what it is - unfinished even to the point of being incompletely conceived. There is no proper War arc that got interrupted. The Miles-approved and written material that follows isn’t the “correct” version, and, in fact, is heavily influenced by other writers as The Book of the War demonstrates. There is no War arc. There are just some ideas that never got fully developed.
structure and implications of Doctor Who, but he keeps doing them within Doctor Who. Even if Down and Dead Romance are the two best books of his we’ve read, they still require an anchoring in Doctor Who to function. The entire revolution he points towards comes pre-squashed, left exclusively as a footnote to a dominating master text that it cannot ever possibly
II opened the Scottish Parliament last month, and Brandi Chastain did the whole penalty kick thing she’s known for. Woodstock 99, the last and greatest selling out of that festival, took place in New York. MSN Messenger was released, not that that’s meaningfully news. John F. Kennedy Jr. died in a plane crash off of Martha’s Vineyard. While the month this book actually came out, harrowing journey Fitz gets sent on is interesting, but the consequences are seemingly muted, with the status quo more or less seeming restored at the end. Past that, there’s not a lot to recommend the Eighth Doctor section. Where Alien Bodies disrupted the series by confronting Doctor Who with its own future, Interference is a relatively straightforward adventure with concrete good for people than the chunk of the anti-Thatcher left that stomped off to be revolutionary anarchists. It’s not, of course, a conscious failing. Miles did this better with Dead Romance. But he’s inconsistent on it. Tellingly so.
On a more basic level, there’s something fantastically unsatisfying about Miles’s conclusion here. “Make new rules” and “try something different” are gorgeously unhelpful suggestions when grappling with the We’ve already looked, in Alien Bodies, at why this likely is: simply put, the War looked better on paper than it possibly could have in reality. With actually depicting the War off the table, there’s not much to do. Miles has talked about a few ideas in interviews, and they’re interesting enough, but it’s telling that he’s never talked about anything along the lines escape from. Miles wants to say things that are unspeakable within Doctor Who. This is interesting and worth doing, but doing it within Doctor Who is the very definition of diminishing returns.
And so we’re left with a strange phenomenon. Interference is quite a good book. It is, for the most part, better than Alien Bodies, and if you want to claim it’s
Boris Yeltsin fires his Prime Minister, East Timor votes for independence from Indonesia, and Charles Kennedy becomes leader of the Liberal Democrats.
I’d make the transition to the story now, but we’re just about done with the entry, since I’ve opted to present this entry as five separate strands that cut amongst each other and are allowed to interfere with each other’s lines of thought.few implications for the Eighth Doctor. The biggest one - that he’ll someday be subverted by Faction Paradox - really just comes from the Third Doctor section. Other than the quite good conceit of the Remote, there’s not a lot else here. The book makes a far more compelling case than it means to that Doctor Who is running out of ideas. idea of a totalizing and corrupt ideology. What new ideas? What different? These are, of course, impossibly difficult questions, but that’s the point: they don’t form remotely satisfying answers to any sort of political problem. Like the observed equation of aesthetics and ethics, and, in fact, like most of this chaos magic aesthetic, they sound much more clever than they are. The superficial splendor of them is fundamentally misleading. of a resolution to the plot. This is one of the regards in which his War and the Time War most coincide: both are intended not to be depicted, but instead to hang over the text. In that regard, rather than being treated as another step towards some lost epic, we ought treat Interference as it is - a largely self-contained novel that forms the end of its particular line of thought. the most interesting Doctor Who book since Love and War I’m not going to argue with you. But it doesn’t work, and, more to the point, it can’t work. It’s the crowning moment of a doomed project - the triumphant 4-0 victory over a top team during a relegation season. It deserves tremendous respect in this regard. But that doesn’t mean it works.
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