An Evolutionary Error They Obviously Mean to Correct (Under the Lake/Before the Flood)
|For once I don’t have a joke about this, it’s just a screenshot that adds further support to one of my points.|
It’s October 3rd, 2015. Sam Smith has debuted at number one with “Writing’s On the Wall,” while the rest of the top ten is basically the same as last week. Justin Bieber takes the number one slot back a week later, when Philip George & Anton Powers and Drake also enter the charts, the latter with “Hotline Bling.” In news, NASA announces that there’s liquid water on Mars, which can’t mean anything bad at all, the US accidentally bombs a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in Afghanistan, and a mass shooter at Umpqua Community College in Oregon kills ten after apparently warning posters on 4chan to stay home from school.
On television, meanwhile… *sigh*. Ultimately, every story about a hot streak ends the same way. No matter how imperiously brilliant, no matter how ambitious, eventually it all falls apart. The story of how it happened this time is simple enough: Moffat had to go make The Abominable Bride, and so needed two episodes of Doctor Who by someone he wasn’t going to extensively rewrite. With the frontline pick for that job also working on Sherlock with him, in came Toby Whithouse, who did what Toby Whithouse does, which is turn in a banal mix-and-match base under siege that’s not about anything but cliches about difficult men weighed down by the gravity of their serious morality. Actually it’s a step worse than we’re used to from Whithouse, who could previously be trusted to have some semblance of plot logic whereby a majority of events either set up other events or were themselves set up. Here, however, we just have a melange of Doctor Who cliches flowing into one another without anything that can traditionally be recognized as reasons. It’s not merely derivative crap, it’s incoherent and pointless derivative crap.
But we have 2000 words to spend on it all the same, so let’s see what we can do. Let’s start with the basic setup of the base, since it is, charitably, really weird. This is a pretty committedly fanwanky story, with explicit references to Dark Water/Death in Heaven, The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People, Kill the Moon, The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords, The God Complex, a throwaway about the Autons, and probably a few others I can’t be bothered to go looking for, and so it would be malpractice not to contextualize this in the larger timeline of Doctor Who. The problem, simply put, is that this ends up being completely mad. The contextualization in terms of Kill the Moon makes conspicuous the fact that this is set sixty years after The Waters of Mars, and thus thirty years after Susie Fontana Brooke’s lightspeed trip to Proxima Centauri. We are, in other words, well into the space-based future. Stories that have taken place by this point include Paradise Towers and Nightmare of Eden, which is to say that Earth is setting up colonies and expanding across the galaxy.
And yet here we have an underwater base. This isn’t completely mad; Warriors of the Deep is set only thirty-five years earlier, so we’re clearly in a period where humanity likes going underwater as much as into space. But Warriors of the Deep still features visibly advanced technology—there are elaborate defense satellites, cybernetic links with computer systems, and futuristic weaponry like “proton missiles.” The Drum, on the other hand, is a grotty underwater oil rig powered by a nuclear reactor.
The practical reason for this somewhat incongruous setup is surely that Toby Whithouse couldn’t be bothered to actually think through the future timeline or come up with an explanation for the base that had an ounce of meat on its bones. But incoherent signification is still signification. The Drum, under this interpretation, becomes a vaguely pathetic thing, powered by one obsolete technology to mine for another. And this is supportable elsewhere—Pritchard’s greed for a power cell that can zap a ship across the galaxy in an era where hyperspace travel is routine enough to be used by cruise ships suggests that the people involved in this base are desperately behind in whatever the current technological arms race is. And if we’re going to count production idiocy as substantive content we might also contrast the grungy, damp base we see here with the gleaming white techno-marvel of Sea Base 4.
Possible explanations for this technology gap abound, but I’m more interested in the tone it sets. “Ghosts in an underwater base” is frustratingly vapid as a concept, but ghosts around an atavistic oil dig is approaching some actual insight into the anthropocene. Ghosts, after all, are the exemplars of the gothic, the repressed and buried that literally come back to haunt you. Fossil fuels, meanwhile, consist of humanity burning the remnants of past life on Earth and, in doing so, gradually destroying the possibility of future life. The idea of oil being haunted is obvious—indeed, one of the greatest possible untapped Doctor Who stories is probably some alien presence that’s turning fossil fuels back into dinosaurs. (“Good grief it’s a slick black CGI stegosaurus!”)
In light of this, it seems worth highlighting the effort this story puts into explicitly making the ghosts real. They’re not merely projections maintained by the Fisher King or anything like that; they’re electromagnetic entities that exist independently of their creator and require disposal after its defeat. More to the point, they’re actually linked to the people whose forms they take, as made explicit by the Doctor’s climactic outrage at the Fisher King. Not only can they only be created when someone actually dies, it’s important that the subjects have seen the “the dark the sword, the forsaken, the temple” message and have it on a subliminal loop in their heads, which connects to the classic rules of ghosts as being bound to some sort of obsession from their lives. Indeed, the use of ghosts as a communication medium ties into all sorts of pretty nuanced and interesting takes on ghosts ranging from Nigel Kneale to Friedrich Kittler.
So we have an atavistic underwater base that is literally haunted. But by what? Well, by 1980 for one thing, which is a rich semiotic vein to say the least. More specifically, by a fake Russian village from 1980. So by the Cold War, clearly. This is, of course, the milieu out of which the base under siege originated, with the various Troughton-era monsters trying to get in all ultimately standing in for Soviet infiltrators. So the serpent is eating its own tail; the base is under siege by the haunted remnants of the very reason that bases are under siege. But this isn’t quite it; that’s a 1960s Cold War, not a 1980s one.
But as the 1980s go, 1980 is markedly different than, say, Cold War’s choice of 1983, which firmly places the story in the High 1980s. 1980 is still essentially resolving the 1970s—musically we’re still cleaning up from punk, and while Thatcher is in place, Jimmy Carter is still President. O’Donnell describes the year in terms of beforeness, and while all of her touchstones are 21st century Doctor Who references, we might as well describe it as before the 1980s.
It is here we must finally turn to the Fisher King. This is an odd name for a monster that’s basically a Bone Vervoid. The underlying concept—a dead warlord rallying its people to conquest—ties ever so half-heartedly to the Arthurian mythos from which the name originates. But if we take it at face value, what we get is the image of a wounded king whose injury in turn blights the land. Dig deeper and we find a root in the Mabinogion in the form of Brân the Blessed, whose magical cauldron can resurrect the dead, but without the ability to speak. So as with most of this story, it’s on the cusp of making sense. There’s a clear element of the proto-Gothic to the mythic Fisher King. But rooted as it is in pre-Christian mythology, it predates the Gothic’s complex interrelationship with the Weird. On the one hand the Fisher King’s wound is traditionally a punishment for philandering, which points at gothic repression. But Brân the Blessed is also a giant, and we’re firmly up against the foundational texts of faerie mythology, which puts us just as clearly against the proto-Weird.
And the same can basically be said of the Bone Vervoid. On the one hand, it’s a skeletal monster with an army of ghosts—clearly Gothic. But there are also distinct Weird trappings—it’s only trying to invade Earth because an arbitrary alien race happened to pick Earth as the “barren, savage outpost” upon which to bury the previous conquerer of Tivoli, the sort of casual indifference to the anthropic that characterizes the Weird. And while the Fisher King is skeletal, he’s clearly not a human skeleton; he’s got some sort of carapice-like shell and mandible-like spiky bits around his sideways-opening mouth.
The underlying relationship between the gothic and the weird, of course, has been extensively theorized within Doctor Who by our very own Jack Graham in his mammoth Skulltopus series, where he in turn works from China Miéville’s landmark essay “M.R. James and the Quantum Vampire.” In that essay, Miéville argues that the Weird and the Hauntological/Gothic exist in a “non-dialectical opposition” that functions as a sort of “quantum superposition,” in which each is clearly engaged with the other and engaging with the same underlying problems, and yet are unable to resolve into an effective middle ground, a point Miéville charmingly makes by designing a monster that exists at the midpoint, the Skulltopus, and observing its curious lack of prevalence. Indeed, he suggests, the two are actually increasingly divergent; he notes that M.R. James is in fact repeatedly working in both traditions, and we’ve already seen how the classically fantastic freely mixed both tendencies. It’s only in the present day that the two have acquired their incompatibility.
In explaining this, Miéville unsurprisingly turns to the political. “Hauntology and Weird are two iterations of the same problematic – that of crisis-blasted modernity showing its contradictory face, utterly new and traced with remnants, chaotic and nihilist and stained with human rebukes… The degree to which one or the other has been stronger has affected the tendency towards their separation as genres of thought and pulp. Since the 1970s their ‘separateness’ has become dominant, not because there is a ‘drive to separate’, but as a corollary of the oscillating efficacy of as-simon-pure-as-possible Weird and/or hauntology, for thinking our fraught and oppositional history since the end of Keynesianism, that great Cthulhu-swat and ghostbuster.” For Miéville this is a product of neoliberalism, which is both fundamentally allied with the weird in the way that it makes the world into an “ineluctable, inhuman, and implacable” place, and fundamentally opposed to the gothic, which risks reminding everybody of a very specific spectre that once offered an alternative to capitalism. But for our purpose the key phrase is “since the 1970s.” Which is to say since more or less the exact point where the Fisher King arrives on Earth and the ghosts start spawning from. Miéville isn’t wrong in this—it’s notable that there are no suitable candidates for Jack’s Skulltopus series in 80s Doctor Who, an absence of sufficient magnitude to suggest a substantive semiotic problem above and beyond the ones he’s tracing. And so Whithouse’s choice of 1980 as a place to haunt his atavistic oil-drilling operation from is shockingly apropos.
Equally fitting, however, is the fact that this knot of meaning is the foundation of a bootstrap paradox. For one thing, it reinforces the still potentially scant Weird reading, having events emerge without human actors, authored instead by time itself. For another, though, it’s nicely mirrors the way that all of this, in the end, resolves into nothing more than a frustrating aporia. Whithouse has essentially stumbled on the Weird/Gothic mashup of this story through dumb luck, offering his fourth consecutive story to reduce to “#MONSTER in a #PLACE” He’s come close to hitting this sweet spot before when he did fish monster vampires, but this time by having the most hauntological monster there is lay siege to a lazily constructed base he’s placed in the wrong century, and then having it all turn out to be the result of a time paradox and an insectoid giant he’s accidentally sutured together two things that an actually thoughtful writer would have noticed don’t quite work, and then, in a further stroke of absurd luck, anchored them squarely on the precise historical moment upon which the suture became impossible.
The result doesn’t work even a little bit. It’s ninety minutes of pointless set pieces and cliches that have nothing to say about anything. But the sheer quantity of material that they say nothing about is nevertheless strangely staggering. If Under the Lake/Before the Flood represents Doctor Who in neutral, idling away while the actual writers are doing other things, then its main lesson is to demonstrate that none of this—the base under siege, the classic gothic monsters that are actually aliens, the idle time paradoxes, the male angst, and hell, the 1980s nostalgia—has any remaining merit as an idea for its own sake. Any potential future utility is purely rooted in the fact that they’re standards that can be deployed without further setup in order to free episode time for an actually interesting idea. And if it took a hack of Toby Whithouse’s indolence to demonstrate the sterility of these particular components, well, at least we know now. Writers who know what they’re doing don’t accidentally expose the conceptual wound of unspeakability at the heart of the last thirty-five years of science fiction and fantasy. They do, however, return to working on the program again next week.
July 16, 2018 @ 9:47 am
I sorta lost track of the hospital story as it went along but my memory is that there should probably be a “(?)” after “accidentally” in the intro.
“Haunted oil” is one of those ideas that feels like it clicks in and will never come back out. It’s obvious but not in a derivative way. It’s not, strictly speaking, geologically accurate but that doesn’t matter, it’s the image that counts.
The fact that they’re “real ghosts” is so… I don’t know. The history of the franchise makes it clear that souls absolutely exist and can exist outside the body, so having to clarify that these are the first “real ghosts” the Doctor has encountered feels a bit convoluted, in except as it still fits together with all that ghost-lore in an absolutely perfect way and makes it feel all vaguely intentional. It’s just that there’s not a lot (not anything, honestly) really positioning them as different from, say, the ghosts in the wifi.
The viking thing was so tantalizing. As was the fake Russian village part, during production. Oh, the speculation we all had…
Anyways, here I am, standing alone in the cosmos, fists clenched against the sky, screaming to an uncaring and hostile universe that making a Vervoid out of bone and rotten flesh makes it a good monster. Color and silhouette are widely understood to be important, but texture is absolutely crucial to making a visual effect work and is so underrated. Vervoids aren’t silly looking because they are both penis and vagina, they’re silly looking because they’re penis-vaginas made out of felt.
July 16, 2018 @ 12:00 pm
Both Fenric and Ghost Light seem ambiguous between hauntological and weird (assuming I’ve caught the distinction correctly).
The most cynical bit of the story is when a ghost trails the axe on the floor for no reason other than to create tension because the deaf character can’t hear it. (The resolution of the sequence doesn’t help it.)
July 16, 2018 @ 3:19 pm
I’d say Fenric is pretty solidly Gothic, give or take the sea-monster look of the Haemovores. Ghost Light is more of a mixture, combining its haunted-house aesthetics and the Ace Dealing With Her Shit plotline on the one hand with, on the other, the coldly alien detachment of Light’s outlook, Redvers being driven mad by an encounter with an unknown associated with the un-European, and the focus on the thought-world-shattering terrors of scientific discovery. But ultimately it’s more a kind of anti-Weird, in which it’s the monsters who are terminally freaked out by being brought face-to-face with the unfathomable, uncontrollable, uncategorisable protean chaos of biological and social evolution.
July 16, 2018 @ 5:13 pm
Oh, and the wider implications of the present being haunted by the legacy of the Victorian era on the Gothic side, course.
Generally just having one of those “Fuck me, Ghost Light’s good!” moments one has periodically.
July 16, 2018 @ 5:15 pm
That’s “of course”, of course.
July 16, 2018 @ 9:34 pm
As I understand it, the sea-monster look is the paradigm of weird. Putting anything reminiscent of tentacles on your monster is sufficient to shift it into the orbit. Add to that that the haemovores’ origin is in the future; and the invocation of Turing.
I agree that in Ghost Light one of the monsters is freaked out by evolution. But I think that the thought that we’re as weird to the monsters as the monsters are to us is not alien to the genre.
July 16, 2018 @ 11:31 pm
In most respects, though, they’re vampires, albeit of an ecumenical persuasion. Linking them to the sea is surely as much about the Norse angle as anything – the Dead Men’s Ship, the venom-spewing Great Serpent trapped in a circle with his own tail in his mouth, all that.
And that future origin is one in which the Ancient One is ensnared by the cursed consequences of his own wrongful actions in the timey-wimey past, creating a cycle of guilt which must and can be broken by his change of heart and self-sacrifice. That’s a quasi-Christian moral logic of personal responsibility and effectual repentance which is at home in the Gothic but surely very alien to the Weird. Similarly, they are all footsoldiers for an entity characterised by human-focused diabolical malice rather than by inscrutable purposes to which humans are of at most incidental relevance.
On the Ghost Light point, while we may be weird to the monsters in the Weird tradition, it’s not generally the monsters whose minds snap in the face of the appalling incommensurability of our reality, while their own perspective can be shrugged off as blinkered and silly. That’s absolutely an inversion of Weird norms, which is only natural given the story’s progressive political outlook and the reactionary roots of the Weird.
July 25, 2018 @ 1:00 am
Basically I have decided I need someone to create a TV Tropes page called “Did You Just Freak Out Cthulhu?”
July 28, 2018 @ 11:02 am
“Generally just having one of those “Fuck me, Ghost Light’s good!” moments one has periodically.”
Hell yes it is isn’t it? I had the amazing experience of watching it on the Twitch marathon and seeing the comments from people that swung between “??? What the heck is going on?” and “this is some of the best Who I have seen” was brilliant.
August 4, 2018 @ 3:34 pm
Yet again on Gothic in Ghost Light, a very belated realisation: Control is the Mad Woman in the Basement. It’s topsy-turvy world!
July 16, 2018 @ 10:12 pm
(The resolution of the sequence doesn’t help it.)
Is that the bit where she feels the vibrations on the ground rather than just turning around and looking at the ghost?
God, that was awful.
July 17, 2018 @ 8:20 am
Why was it awful?
July 17, 2018 @ 9:37 pm
The feeling the ground bit was what I was thinking of.
It’s awful because, instead of turning around and looking, which she is perfectly able to do, she uses super-sensitive touch to feel vibrations; if you have a sensory disability it means you are Daredevil apparently. Quite apart from whether or not it’s offensive, it’s lazy writing.
July 18, 2018 @ 7:39 am
Alright, thanks for clarifying that. Definitely lazy writing. Although not as lazy as the Doctor not knowing sign language despite speaking languages like “baby” and “horse”…
July 16, 2018 @ 12:15 pm
I misread “Brân the Blessed, whose magical cauldron can resurrect the dead” as BRIAN BLESSED whose magical cauldron can RESURRECT THE DEAD.
I know, unintentional. But it made me smile.
July 17, 2018 @ 11:58 pm
You weren’t the only one.
Altogether now: ‘GORDON’S….’
July 16, 2018 @ 12:23 pm
What was the significance of the fake Russian village anyway? It went way over my head if there was a significance to it. Or it went under my feet.
July 16, 2018 @ 12:46 pm
It’s meant to be part of the Cold War background, but comes over as a howler of a research error. In the 80’s the standard western military thinking was that any WW3 would involve infinite numbers of Soviet Bloc troops pouring through Germany & towards the Channel. This was widespread enough to be in popular culture, such as spy fiction etc. Nobody thought that fighting would take place in Russia. This basic error just rankles over & over. If you want to make your village Russian then call it a spy training facility. If you want the army there then make it German looking. And it was only from reading Eruditorum that I found out the writer had just done a spy thriller before this.
July 16, 2018 @ 1:30 pm
I admire you for managing to squeeze so many interesting things out of this two-parter. I didn’t hate it as much as most people did – it had some intriguing bits, a great cliffhanger and was reasonably entertaining – but I struggle to think of a reason to ever rewatch it. None of the things I liked (the ghosts as a communication device, the return of the cowardly alien race from “God Complex”, the Doctor locked inside his own timestream) were developed sufficiently to work and none of them mattered in the end anyway. At least we finally got a deaf character in DW, so I guess that’s something…
I find it strange how these episodes place the bootstrap paradox at the centre of the story, even going as far as devoting an entire kinda-fourth-wall-breaking scene to explaining it. Especially since we’ve had many bootstrap paradoxes in DW before and they were rarely if ever commented upon. It’s just standard SF plot device these days – hell, frikkin’ “Lost” had a time-looped compass and nobody bothered to explain it. I’m beginning to think Whithouse just added those extra scenes to make the scripts longer…
As for the hauntological vs. Weird, I wonder what if would take to make those concepts merge again. I never quite understood why the Skulltopus is so impossible now. This essay shed some light on the issue, but not enough for me. Is it in part because the gothic usually tells us which monster created the ghosts that haunt us and how it happened… but Weird prefers its monsters unknowable and impossible to understand?
(Perfect timing by the way – I just finished the “Skulltopus” series a couple of days ago. It’s well worth a read if you haven’t read it already, guys).
July 16, 2018 @ 6:01 pm
I find it strange how these episodes place the bootstrap paradox at the centre of the story, even going as far as devoting an entire kinda-fourth-wall-breaking scene to explaining it.
It gets worse – didn’t the Radio Times devote a whole article to explaining the scene that explains the plot? It’s unnecessary explanations all the way down…
July 16, 2018 @ 3:48 pm
This story, the second episode in particular, felt to me like some sort of inevitable putrefaction of the Moffat era. Whithouse seems to have accumulated a soup of cues about how Doctor Who is ‘supposed to be’ written in this period – time paradoxes, Big Bang-style time hopping, the Doctor’s death apparently being imminent, the Doctor’s morality being criticised, a love story going on with the side characters, 12 talking to himself/us in the TARDIS, some stuff that seems symbolic for fans to dissect, and (just about) a Series 9-specific sprinkle of the Doctor going out of his way to protect Clara – but is entirely missing the elements that bring all those things to life when Moffat and company do them, such as “mercury”, or “a fucking point”. It’s a series of half-remembered gestures reiterated without content.
With the exception of the bit where a Tivolian turns up, which is purely masturbation on Whithouse’s part (albeit this would’ve been fine had it actually served any real purpose or been funny enough to justify itself).
July 16, 2018 @ 6:26 pm
I’d say New series in general rather than just Moffat. The fridging of the companion candidate, and the mirroring of the Doctor and the villain, are both Davies-era plot beats. Moffat’s done riffs on both but I think in cases where he’s consciously playing with Davies-era plot elements.
July 17, 2018 @ 1:01 pm
I love both of those readings.
July 16, 2018 @ 4:00 pm
I do know you’re being wilfully perverse, but I did boggle a bit to see you of all people reproving a story for failing to maintain consistency with the the established future-historical chronology of human technological development in the Whoniverse. Is no one safe from the insidious taint of Vulgar Lofficierism?!
July 16, 2018 @ 6:40 pm
It’s mostly that “a nuclear reactor drilling for oil underwater” feels weird for a hundred years out period. The fact that this is supposed to be when Nightmare of Eden and Paradise Towers are happening is a fun way to gild the lily, but the underlying issue is that this is a twenty years in the future sort of story that’s inexplicably been set a hundred years in the future.
July 16, 2018 @ 11:44 pm
The fact that they take the Doctor’s description of Orion seriously suggests that their society has now lost the capacity for space travel due to no longer having the requisite grasp of rudimentary astronomy.
July 17, 2018 @ 3:14 pm
Can we go further and chatise us for not having encountered Mondas yet?
July 16, 2018 @ 5:13 pm
I’ve got to tell you, El, this might be your most impressive feat yet – you were able to write an engaging piece about a two-parter so thoroughly unimpressive that I had to bring up the Wikipedia page just to remember what happened in it. I mean, it didn’t air that long ago. I’ve seen it TWICE (once on air, once with Mark Oshiro’s live commentary). I should remember more about this two-parter than I do about The Space Pirates.
The fall of Toby Whithouse has got to be the dullest Greek tragedy ever written.
July 16, 2018 @ 6:29 pm
Fossil fuels don’t come from dinosaurs. There could be a story about oil raising the ghosts of plankton, but I don’t imagine that would be as exciting.
July 16, 2018 @ 6:33 pm
Yeah, cause Doctor Who’s commitment to scientific accuracy is really solid everywhere else and this is definitely a thing they’d need to worry about.
July 16, 2018 @ 7:05 pm
That is, indeed, a fair point.
July 16, 2018 @ 7:17 pm
I think my reaction to the first episode was “Some interesting ideas, but it all hinges on whether next week’s manages to bring it all together”. My reaction to the second episode was “Ah, well. At least there’s Vikings next week.”
I did like the Doctor’s bootstrap paradox lecture, though. Completely unnecessary, but it did make it one thing the episode was doing that I hadn’t seen before.
July 16, 2018 @ 8:54 pm
Has anyone else noticed we never see Brân the Blessed and Brian Blessed in the same room? Makes you think, doesn’t it?
July 17, 2018 @ 2:57 pm
There’s some potential for a redemptive reading here built upon the image of the Doctor as ghost: that the series itself becomes its own haunt, mindlessly repeating a list of thematic elements pertaining to the show itself. In that regard, at least, this two-parter could be read as a version of The Creature from the Pit, constructed as pastiche and critique not of another show or a genre but of Doctor Who itself. Though unlike that episode, it’s not clear that anyone, including the author, is actually aware of the possibility. Replace a commentary on sexism in the genre with a commentary on ablisim, and replace racism with… err… alien racism, and the connections become clear.
Consider, too, the ways in which this story sets itself as a critique of Warriors of the Deep, from achieving the shadowy and menacing stage set that episode could not, to offering a giant and monstrous figure as a genuine menace (The Fisher King not being a Vervoid made right, but the Myrka 2.0), to preserving the ossified elements of the two-power political world while simultaneously rejecting that model (in favor of nothing, granted). It’s a New Series Underwater Base Siege done “right.”
Which brings me to the Bootstrap Paradox in relation to the show, for Doctor Who is one of the few series which is subjected to its own future. Arguably from the first episode, and most obviously in the form of the Watcher from Logopolis, Doctor Who has been haunted by its own future, brought into being by what has not yet happened but what is yet to come. Of course ghosts are real on a show haunted by itself. There’s much more to be said on that point, and perhaps even interestingly about these episodes, given that Toby Whithouse himself doesn’t seem to have meant to do much of this work, implying that his script and production aren’t so much inspired as haunted or possessed by the ghost of Doctor Whos past, present, and future.
July 18, 2018 @ 7:58 am
Interesting! But what future is this story actually haunted by? Is it the horrible (possible future of Whithouse Who? The Doctor as a ghost of his former self, mindlessly repeating some plot-related phrases just like this episode repeats “Doctor Who” tropes and cliches while reusing characters and settings? Perhaps this story banishes itself, briefly attempting to revive a long dead version of DW – a version that considers bases under siege to be the pinnacle of what DW can and should do – and then discarding it, telling us “calm down everyone, that particular ghost wasn’t real after all”.
July 20, 2018 @ 7:40 pm
I love when a fascinating post comes out of a not-fascinating episode. Well done. I hadn’t heard of the hauntological before, but I’m interested to check out Jack’s Skulltopus series and the Mieville essay.
July 23, 2018 @ 1:56 am
I’m pretty sure this is actually my most rewatched episode purely because I can throw it on, pay zero attention, and still miss nothing. It’s the ultimate “background noise” episode.
July 28, 2018 @ 11:14 am
“But we have 2000 words to spend on it all the same, so let’s see what we can do.”
El I utterly adore the fact that you can as a norm, pull an amazing article out of a mediocre story, in fact create a piece that is in the a hell of a lot more entertaining! For one thing you were touching on things such as the Mabinogion, Bran the Blessed and the Cauldron of Plenty that are right in my wheelhouse, along with The Weird and Hauntology. Brilliant!
Couldn’t we have had a near-future story about haunted oil involving Bran and his freaky cauldron? Wouldn’t that have been enough of a basic set-up?
And the thing that really rankled me was the 4th wall break scene at the start of the 2nd episode that EXPLAINS how the story works. Ridiculous. My eyes rolled.