Eruditorum Press

Gaze not into the abyss lest you accidentally write a book

Skip to content

Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later.Support Elizabeth on Patreon.

118 Comments

  1. Ewa Woowa
    May 6, 2013 @ 12:19 am

    Statisitics show that instances of monkey's slapping people for being stupid has dropped by 1% for every single month since this blog began…

    Reply

  2. Tiffany Korta
    May 6, 2013 @ 12:31 am

    Pardon me for sounding stupid but isn't there an extra layer between the reader and writer in Television and Movies, that of the director?

    The first example that spring to mind, and very suitable to the subject matter, is the Star Trek Next gen episode Code of Honor. As written it's a fairly straight forward Old Trek episode updated for the new show. But infamously the director choose the cast an all Afro-American cast for the aliens of the week, making the whole thing come off as incredibly racist.

    Reply

  3. elvwood
    May 6, 2013 @ 12:37 am

    Great post – again. I shall definitely take a look at one or two of the books you mentioned, as I often feel like I'm not well-versed enough in the theory to offer coherent critiques.

    As for the evil immigrant Gelth – well, I never saw it as giving that message. For me, mainly because of that speech by the Doctor but supported by the rest of the episode, I thought it was telling us to be open, even though that sometimes leaves us vulnerable. And actually that's kind of the message of Series One so far.

    Reply

  4. William Whyte
    May 6, 2013 @ 12:53 am

    Another way of looking at The Unquiet Dead is that it's actually a Pertwee-era story in Hinchcliffe drag. (Unsurprisingly, given who wrote it, you can say much the same thing about Horror of Fang Rock, which I think is the real antecedent of this, more so than Weng-Chiang). All alien invasion stories are xenophobic to an extent, and although I understand Miles's arguments about the specific context of the general election and don't think writers should be able to use "everyone else does it" as a cop-out for not thinking, at the same time, if you're a Doctor Who fan, you have to just accept a certain level of xenophobia as a plot driver and look elsewhere for the things you're going to love. And, again, the way Doctor Who has traditionally balanced this out has been with liberal-cosmopolitan-internationalist speeches about how aliens are people too, and Gatiss (as you note) gives us one of those. So I really have trouble seeing this episode as anything other than Gatiss giving the people what he thinks they want and not really thinking the implications through very far… which is what he does.

    Reply

  5. William Whyte
    May 6, 2013 @ 12:53 am

    Loved your point about Rose v Gwyneth, though. Nice observation.

    Reply

  6. William Whyte
    May 6, 2013 @ 12:55 am

    Miles is very interesting on "the celebrity historical" as a genre and its shortcomings — I'd be interested to see you engage with that when the time comes.

    Reply

  7. Daru
    May 6, 2013 @ 1:23 am

    Cheers Phil – thanks for a great and thought provoking post. I am going to look forwards to revisiting these episodes – I have an idea of actually doing this with (perhaps) the Doctor Who stories from the beginning with your essays in-hand and see how my perspective changes.

    This is one of the things I have loved about your writing – the fact that my perspective is more often than not opened up and expanded. This does relate to the intended theme you suggest above that New-Who is working with in the Unquiet Dead. Rather than attempting to hold onto my own ideas rigidly, I always enjoy seeing which of the new ideas that you offer in each essay that my head is open to.

    So thanks for your presentation of the issues with this story. At the time of watching it I was, as I have said before, not paying attention to or even aware of fan arguments – especially Miles' s. I was in a kind of Rose-tinted bliss and just watching the program from the point of view of having a blast and making zero analysis. With these new points of view in mind I look forwards to re-watching it. Thanks again, D

    Reply

  8. Scott
    May 6, 2013 @ 1:33 am

    And like it’s really just a front for English professors to tell you what to think. (Which is entertaining, as the real appeal of New Criticism, initially, was that it freed readers from the tyranny of having to know vast amounts of historical and biographical facts about writers and let them just read.)

    This is the great unspoken subtextual irony/hypocrisy of about 90% of people invoke the Death of the Author; in saying "the author's intended interpretation is not absolute", what they're usually not saying but clearly thinking is "but MINE is!"

    Reply

  9. SpaceSquid
    May 6, 2013 @ 1:47 am

    Lovely analysis, but I think you're a wee bit too charitable here. I think Gwyneth's fate and the problem with the Doctor's speech (or more specifically how the episode develops from it) combine to create a problem greater than the sum of their parts. There are two perspectives here, with the Doctor somewhere in the middle. Gwyneth believes the incoming entities should be trusted implicitly. Rose believes the incoming entities should be distrusted immediately. The latter is proved right in her suspicions, and the former is killed. Yes, this is to "punish" Gywneth for her conclusions (and there's plenty of problems inherent in that idea, too), but to me this is not a comment on limited perspective being wrong, so much an argument that reflexive trust is no better than reflexive distrust, and in fact can be more dangerous.

    So whilst I take all your points about the "implied author" (and loved reading them, since I've never come across the idea before) we're not talking about a bum note here. The episode does not do a "searingly bad" job of suggesting immediate trust is a terrible idea. Which, yes, isn't the same thing as you're discussing here, the idea that the episode is directly about immigrants being bad.

    But it's still very problematic on its own. "Don't just immediately trust what people claim" isn't a message that desperately needs to be propagated, and the risk of people over-correcting into Rose's side of the spectrum is a real concern. At least to some extent, I think Miles' mistake was in linking this problem with the fact that the episode involves what are essentially illegal immigrants, therefore coming up with an unpalatable political reading from what strikes me as an episode with merely unpalatable philosophies.

    Having said all that, I'll confess that the whole thing could have been salvaged very simply, by concluding with Rose rubbing her "rightness" in the Doctor's face, and have him angrily insist that he's going to give the next bunch of corpse-animators the exact same benefit of the doubt, because bigotry isn't something you justify through accumulated evidence. Indeed I thought this was how the episode was going to go, and was disappointed when it didn't. Maybe if a problem can be banished with just two or three lines as an episode wraps up, then it can't be that central a problem.

    Reply

  10. David Anderson
    May 6, 2013 @ 2:01 am

    I don't think it makes a difference to the principle of the thing. That is, the director's intent doesn't magically fix what the story means either. Which is to say that if something's off about the story, it's off regardless of who's responsible and why; but you can still ask about where it went wrong (script writer was racist, script writer was thoughtless, director was racist, director was thoughtless).

    Reply

  11. dm
    May 6, 2013 @ 2:07 am

    I hate any reading that redeems Gatiss but, damn it, you're right. And I think you've got to the core of why I love Series One so much. And, really, I take issue with "so far". There's not a moment in the series that doesn't feel like it's leading to that very point.

    The Doctor understands it to a point, largely in the abstract. Rose doesn't. But they grow together so much that the chumminess (perhaps even smugness) of Boomtown feels earned (it is actually one of my favourite stories ever). Of course, he later regenerates thinking that he's probably right about everything… and eventually grows out of even that.

    Reply

  12. dm
    May 6, 2013 @ 2:14 am

    I'm really interested to see whether or not you tackle the next two episodes at once. I seem to recall you referring to "Aliens of London" as 'dire' in some previous post. I hope you're rewatching these episodes with an open mind, because there's so much that is wonderful about AoL/WW3

    Reply

  13. dm
    May 6, 2013 @ 2:20 am

    Brilliant alternate ending. It's really not until the flawed, though incredibly interesting, Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks that the Doctor is willing to engage with an alien incursion with a strategy that challenges the status quo

    Reply

  14. Daru
    May 6, 2013 @ 2:33 am

    Yeah – think that last point there is describing a lot of Mr Miles's unhappiness around New-Who perhaps over him not having his work in the show.

    Reply

  15. Ross
    May 6, 2013 @ 2:33 am

    viewing this as a betrayal of what Doctor Who is and being as bad as an imagined “American TV show made in the late '60s, which claimed that dark-skinned aliens weren't quite smart enough to run their own society and thus shouldn't be allowed a vote.”

    Is it actually impossible for a UK Doctor Who fan to complain about something without accusing it of being "American"? Seriously, like 98% of the New Series thrashing I've read has consisted either of accusing it of being "too Americanized" or of homophobic slams on RTD.

    That is, authorial intent does matter – it’s the only thing that matters, in many ways – but it has to be understood as a function of the text. The text gives clues about its author. And, perhaps more interestingly, the text gives clues about its readers; one can tell by reading a text what the work expects its readers to think at a given moment.

    Holy crap everything makes sense now. How did I spend so many years in school without anyone ever telling me this?

    Reply

  16. Lewis Christian
    May 6, 2013 @ 2:45 am

    Agreed. And many two-parters feel quite separate (especially since Moffat took over) so it'd be interesting to have one post per episode.

    Reply

  17. Ross
    May 6, 2013 @ 2:59 am

    So for me to suddenly start defending Doctor Who on the grounds that it’s an over-reading may seem a bit rich. Except, crucially, that’s not what I’m doing. Rather, I’m suggesting that Miles’s critique, though not inaccurate, is an under-reading that does not read enough into The Unquiet Dead.

    I'm reminded a bit of a thing that will happen a few years in the future (Funny how psychochronography makes you do that, remember the future), when the Ginger Anti-Defamation League got very publicly up-in-arms when Matt Smith's very first scene was him complaining that he wasn't red-headed, imagining it to be some kind of slur. Their reading is so obviously wrong that one suspects they weren't so much "reading" as "looking for any excuse to complain about something." Which is par for the course when complaining about Doctor Who I guess, but still, the only way to can view "Still not ginger" as a slur is to fail to take into account the fact that the Doctor had previously expressed regret at having never been ginger, and also to fail to take into account the tone of Matt Smith's voice when he said it.

    That’s what the ending with Dickens reinvigorated means: that embracing new ideas and new worldviews is the secret to life.

    Well, until he dies a few months later. (That struck me as a sort of mildly tin note, something that felt thrown in to reassure the audience that, no, the Doctor and Rose did not just break history)

    Reply

  18. Bennett
    May 6, 2013 @ 3:05 am

    "You get Simon Callow by having good material to give him."

    As an aside, the only thing I had seen Simon Callow in prior to The Unquiet Dead was Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls.

    (Oh, and I enjoyed reading and ruminating over this post, as always.)

    Reply

  19. SpaceSquid
    May 6, 2013 @ 3:18 am

    That's interesting. I can't remember finding much at all to redeem that particular story. Indeed, when Phil finished this post asking what the show could encompass next, my immediate response was "fart jokes".

    I remember watching that two-parter and hating it so much I had to seriously think about whether I wanted to keep watching the new show, having also disliked both "Rose" and "End of…", and finding "Unquiet Dead" problematic for the reasons I gave above. If "Dalek" hadn't been as strong as it was, I might have skipped the rest of Eccleston's run at least.

    Or maybe I'd have just skipped any episode written by Davies. Which, on reflection, might have done my blood pressure the world of good over the 2005-2010 period.

    Reply

  20. Adam Riggio
    May 6, 2013 @ 4:01 am

    "The only thing I had seen Simon Callow in prior to The Unquiet Dead was Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls."

    "You get Simon Callow by having good material to give him."

    I don't see how these two statements are at all incompatible.

    😉

    Reply

  21. Scott
    May 6, 2013 @ 4:22 am

    (That struck me as a sort of mildly tin note, something that felt thrown in to reassure the audience that, no, the Doctor and Rose did not just break history)

    Although the end revelation that Dickens was planning to rework his last novel into science fiction has often made me think that there's a mildly interesting alternative history to be had out of what modern science fiction might have looked like had The Mystery of Edwin Drood been the first modern work of science fiction, and Charles Dicken's ghostly ethereal spirits had been the first modern alien invaders rather than H.G Wells' death-ray armed techno-Martians.

    Reply

  22. Adam Riggio
    May 6, 2013 @ 4:25 am

    Seriously, though, this was the first episode of the revived series to grab hold of me and shout, "This show is absolutely amazing and can be as good as it has ever been." Because I wasn't really following the Doctor Who online community at the time (the revived series was slowly recapturing my fandom, to the point where I'm part of such an online community now), I missed hearing about Miles' xenophobia objections until years later. And I thought it did make sense in that it was conceptually and linguistically coherent, but that it wasn't really the point of the episode at all.

    Because the actual message of this story has the most ethical and philosophical resonance for me. It was about Charles Dickens understanding that despite the incompleteness of his scientific knowledge, his ethical views were still valid. The joy of life is in understanding just how vast and complicated the universe is. Instead of being intimidated, frightened, or depressed by that complexity, the proper response is joy: there will always be more to explore, no matter how little time we may actually have left to explore it. It doesn't matter that Charles will be dead in less than a year. He begins the story depressed, because he thinks his knowledge of all possibility is complete: his family is estranged and he's stuck himself on tour during Xmas. He ends the story in a universe that he knows is so complex that he'll never begin to understand it completely even if he had another century: he's hopeful and happy, on his way to a wonderful last Xmas making up with his family. Cosmic truths have world-changing personal implications.

    That's why the fact of the Gelth's betrayal doesn't even really matter to this larger philosophical point. It shows that the blinkered perspective of the universe (whether Charles' skeptical secularism or Gwyneth's dogmatic religiosity) is a self-destructive mistake. Charles moves beyond this when he figures out that his thinking isn't inadequate to the fight. His first reaction when things go up the spout is to flee: he thinks all his knowledge is useless, because the true nature of the world negates his worldview. Seeing the Gelth killed by the gas lamp was his realization of what the Doctor told him earlier: his worldview isn't wrong, just unfinished. Complexity isn't about the real world being mystical and alien, but that the physical can be more complex than one's intuitive assumptions. Charles is invigorated to save the day because he understands that the aliens are weird, but still physical; they don't invalidate his world, but are a part of it that he's just not familiar with. So like all physical bodies, they have vulnerabilities.

    I once said, in philosophers' company, that I was a materialist about the physical nature of reality. And someone, shocked, asked me why I didn't believe in morality. Of course, morality can be understood as a physical phenomenon without invalidating it at all. I had run into a perspective that believed we needed a purely spiritual dimension to reality to ground moral truths.

    The Unquiet Dead: Understanding the immense complexities and possibilities of the world brings joy and optimism. That's the message it brought to me on April 19th, 2005, watching with slightly awkward commercial interruptions on the ever-beleaguered CBC.

    Reply

  23. Matthew Celestis
    May 6, 2013 @ 4:29 am

    Miles' criticism of New-Who is often very articulate. He offers some quite valid reasons to be unhappy with the direction of the show. Whatever Miles' personal motivations for being so outspoken, he represents feelings that I am sure many fans share.

    Reply

  24. SpaceSquid
    May 6, 2013 @ 4:29 am

    Is it actually impossible for a UK Doctor Who fan to complain about something without accusing it of being "American"? Seriously, like 98% of the New Series thrashing I've read has consisted either of accusing it of being "too Americanized" or of homophobic slams on RTD.

    Is it actually impossible for a UK Doctor Who fan to complain about something without accusing it of being "American"? Seriously, like 98% of the New Series thrashing I've read has consisted either of accusing it of being "too Americanized" or of homophobic slams on RTD.

    The Giant Pulsating Limey Hivemind would like to take this opportunity to apologise to our American brothers and sisters. Despite years of continual work, we have thus far proven unable to quash the 2% variance of opinion that persists across the length of our country.

    We have high hopes that by as early as 2020, we will have finally completely dominated the opinions and prose of every inhabitant of our kingdom, and placed the resulting Brain Zero – with full and total command of all British thought – inside its intended repository, known locally as "Boris Johnson".

    We beg your forbearance whilst we try to ensure the UK is as homogenised and uniform as you might wish it to be.

    Reply

  25. Daru
    May 6, 2013 @ 4:36 am

    Absolutely – I can see that he is valid in his opinions. Just suggesting that he is loud in a sense and certainly not inarticulate, as I really enjoy reading some of his work.

    Reply

  26. Daru
    May 6, 2013 @ 4:38 am

    And by 2020 Boris Johnson will be that eras Doctor.

    Reply

  27. Froborr
    May 6, 2013 @ 5:04 am

    Likewise. Had "Dalek" not been the first episode of New Who I watched, I'm not sure I would have made it through the awfulness of the Slitheen.

    Reply

  28. Froborr
    May 6, 2013 @ 5:07 am

    Well, until he dies a few months later. (That struck me as a sort of mildly tin note, something that felt thrown in to reassure the audience that, no, the Doctor and Rose did not just break history)

    Rewatching this episode in preparation for reading this article, I remembered the future quite vividly at this scene. I read it as a clumsy first draft of the glory that is the final scene of "Vincent and the Doctor."

    Reply

  29. Froborr
    May 6, 2013 @ 5:14 am

    Argh!

    Normally I feel quite well-served by my professors. For an undergraduate degree, I think they did a pretty good job of handing me the tools I needed to learn more critical theory on my own. But we went from historicism to early New Criticism, then jumped to Marxism, feminism, and queer theory, with reader-response dismissed with a strong implication of "it's bunk."

    And it's especially annoying because the concept of "implied author" is EXACTLY what I needed to resolve the issue I've been having with my article on "Feeling Pinkie Keen," where it's both blatantly obvious from the text that the author is a religious or New Age person taking swipes at skepticism, and a matter of recorded fact that the author is an atheist and skeptic.

    Thanks, Philip! I'm going to check out those books you mentioned.

    Reply

  30. Lewis Christian
    May 6, 2013 @ 5:26 am

    The Slitheen story is actually brilliant, Slitheen or otherwise.

    It annoys me when people pick out "burping bins and farting Slitheen" when criticising Series 1 / RTD. There's SO much more than that. That'd be like criticising Philip Hinchcliffe for giant clams and the giant rat, or Barry Letts for Kronos and the dinosaurs alone.

    Aliens of London is the first story of the new series proper. The first to be filmed. The first to bring the show forward. The show dives into the real world, with Downing Street and a proper Earth invasion. No more of that UNIT cover-up crap like the 70s. The world finally gets its alien invasions, and the show moves on. (The invasions get annoying later down the line, granted, but it was so innovative and fresh for the show at this point.)

    The Slitheen, Zygon-knock-offs, are also quite grim. They use people for body suits. The farting is silly, but so bleak. They're aliens squashing themselves into the skins of victims. Horrific. They're kid-friendly aliens, but they're also a brilliant threat. And, more so than that, they're real (helped hugely by Boom Town). Not just Evil Aliens. They have a reason, a goal, a proper plan, and (til the last minute) they win.

    Reply

  31. Lewis Christian
    May 6, 2013 @ 5:30 am

    More highlights from the two-parter:

    – Eccleston
    – Piper
    – The 'trapped in the cabinet room' scene
    – The consequence of time travel (Rose, a year out, etc)
    – The fact it wasn't written by Mark Gatiss

    Reply

  32. tantalus1970
    May 6, 2013 @ 5:41 am

    Unfortunately, criticising something for being too American, or inspired by or originating from America, is used as shorthand in the UK for … well, practically anything, frankly!

    The comedy writer John O'Farrell put it best when he wrote that anti-Americanism is really anti-modernism.

    Reply

  33. Jesse
    May 6, 2013 @ 5:52 am

    All alien invasion stories are xenophobic to an extent

    Yes. Or, at least, they all have that embedded in them at the start, and a writer who doesn't deliberately undermine that premise is going to end up enacting that xenophobia whether or not he intends to. This story is a perfect example.

    Reply

  34. SpaceSquid
    May 6, 2013 @ 5:54 am

    "It annoys me when people pick out "burping bins and farting Slitheen" when criticising Series 1 / RTD. There's SO much more than that. That'd be like criticising Philip Hinchcliffe for giant clams and the giant rat, or Barry Letts for Kronos and the dinosaurs alone."

    No, it wouldn't. One is a lack of money resulting in reasonable ideas not translating onto the screen. The other is just crappy writing.

    Reply

  35. Jesse
    May 6, 2013 @ 5:58 am

    Is it actually impossible for a UK Doctor Who fan to complain about something without accusing it of being "American"?

    Reflexive and ill-informed anti-Americanism is one of Miles' flaws. I don't mean "anti-Americanism" as in opposition to the American empire (I'm all for that); I mean sweeping condemnations of American culture. One volume of About Time makes a big deal about how veterans from both sides of World War I would hold joint reunions, and how it is impossible to conceive of Americans doing anything like that. Of course, northern and southern veterans of the Civil War did the exact same thing.

    Reply

  36. Ross
    May 6, 2013 @ 6:06 am

    Very much. The way it's done in Vincent and the Doctor gives the thing an emotional weight that The Unquiet Dead lacks; there's a real sense of "What we did was important even if we did not change history" there, whereas The Unquiet Dead feels more like "On a lark, I have brought Charles Dickens back to life to entertain you, and don't worry because our actions have had no consequences that matter in the scheme of history"

    Reply

  37. David Ainsworth
    May 6, 2013 @ 6:12 am

    I'd like to put the word "ambivalent" into this discussion, for several reasons.

    I think one of the interesting and laudable things this episode does is to recast existing expectations of the series within this new framework, which amount in part to a return to the original ambivalence about the Doctor himself. He's never been entirely trustworthy, except when he was, and his judgment isn't always perfect. What's most interesting to me about the big speech in this episode, the Doctor's sermon, is that we can come away from watching feeling as though he was both wrong and right; or better yet, we can come away wishing he had been right and that this story hadn't fit into the traditional alien invasion mode. (That makes this episode an unquiet fit with the following two, which whole-heartedly embrace that mode, and I wonder if their reputation doesn't suffer a bit because of the proximity.) What's brilliant here is that the Doctor's position can be clearly related to his own experiences, his survivor's guilt coupled with his direct culpability for the ending of the Time War. The Gelth aren't any war refugees, they're refugees from a war the Doctor fought in and was arguably responsible for. So when we hear the Doctor's speech, his motives don't read as entirely pure and there's some grounds to take Rose's side of things.

    That's a problem in the sense that it supports Miles' reading. But it's also a fantastic development, not just in terms of how the new series approaches character, but also in the contexts of liberal and especially neoliberal thought. Because making an audience likely to be highly sympathetic to the Doctor's argument feel ambivalent about it because of the context and because of the Gelth's subsequent behavior isn't simply about convincing us the Doctor was right in principle even if wrong in specific. It's about underlining the need for uncertainty, for diverse perspectives. Among neoliberalism's flaws is a tendency to declare itself right in ways which liberal thought ought not to accept. Xenophobia is wrong in that it does not admit to ambivalence; xenophilia can be wrong in the same way. Accepting war refugees as immigrants doesn't mean accepting war criminals. Blindly following any philosophical or political framework leads one to the dead end Dickens escapes as a result of the events in this episode.

    Reply

  38. David Ainsworth
    May 6, 2013 @ 6:13 am

    Speaking of ambivalence, I'm a bit sorry to see Talons of Weng-Chiang brought up as a reference point (and perhaps, an excuse or justification for the problems of Unquiet Dead). Or at least, I'm sorry to see it brought up in this way, although I can see the alternative would require about twice as many words. Because I think applying the same perspectives of audience and author to that text makes it extremely difficult to read it as anything other than a participation in a pre-existing genre created by Doyle which self-consciously depicts and undercuts the validity of the racism Doyle transparently offers. Racist casting aside (hardly the author's responsibility, that), every character in the story fits into existing stereotypes; nothing is meant to be realistic about the characterization. Not only are the generic lackeys as generic as they typically are (a flaw in the old series seen again and again), but the titular villain is a broad caricature who fits the Fu Manchu role while being a colonialist tyrant. Chang is a more developed character than he (heck, Mr. Sin is a more developed character). In fact, Chang's arguably doing a better job transcending the generic expectations than the Doctor manages, which may be sign of a writerly problem but has less to do with racism than with the conflicts of perspectives involved in writing a story fitting into multiple continuity traditions.

    And I think Unquiet Dead shares more of that last problem with Weng-Chiang. One can imagine a Miles novel where the Gelth peacefully coexist with humanity and this story changes Earth's future, but one can't imagine that the Gelth immigration can be allowed within the framework of the TV show. Something amounting to a reset button must be hit with respect to them, whether it be their tragic murders a la The Silurians or what we get, a sudden but inevitable betrayal. And the Gelth fit into the Who tradition of an entire species that's unified, a Monster-race instead of a group of individuals with individual characterizations. Ironically, that will make the impending Slitheen a more richly characterized alien race than the Gelth by a long ways. By making the Gelth a Monster-race, Gatiss doesn't so much fall into a racism trap directly as fall into a Doctor Who series trap.

    Of course, that trap may have much to do with racism, too. But that's a long discussion for another time.

    Reply

  39. Ross
    May 6, 2013 @ 6:16 am

    When trying to explain the old series to people, I usually find myself going into a long conversation about how the visual language of television was still being discovered and had a lot of evolving to go. And one of the things I'll go into detail a lot on is that Doctor Who apologetics often focus on how they didn't have a lot of money and that is why the visuals are often dodgy, completely overlooking the fact that at several stages of production, people actually had a choice, and at no point did it occur to anyone involved to say "You know what? On our budget this could not possibly look convincing. How about we do a story that does not call for a giant rat instead?" or "You know, if we shoot this scene from up here, the linoleum floor of the studio is going to be visible in this 'jungle'. How about we shoot from a lower angle so that the floor isn't in the shot?" or "Is it just me, or does the ambassador from Alpha Centauri look a bit like a giant green dong?"

    It's not that they didn't have the budget to do it convincingly. It's that it never occurred to them that the visuals ought to be convincing.

    (Incidentally, the captcha I just got was "mad buttrant". My day is now made.)

    Reply

  40. jane
    May 6, 2013 @ 6:24 am

    I would also recommend Seymour Chatman's "Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure" — it has all the "implied author and reader" theory, plus an invigorating discussion on narrators, and just about everything you need to know regarding the distinction between the story told and the telling of the story. And while it's a bit dry, as academic texts are wont to do, it's never so dense or dripping with jargon that the text becomes a slog.

    Reply

  41. Bennett
    May 6, 2013 @ 6:25 am

    Actually, I quite like Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls on general terms. It has its funny moments, and it's (retroactively) replete with Who alumni (Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill and the bloody Queen mate – all in one film!).

    But that's purely from a viewer's perspective, not from an actor's. And it tickles me to imagine Callow sitting down and deciding that he should be in a film where Jim Carrey climbs naked out of a fake rhinoceros's rectum.

    Reply

  42. jane
    May 6, 2013 @ 6:36 am

    I'm not so sure that recognizing the Doctor's ulterior motives supports Miles' reading — if anything, it demonstrates how woefully incomplete it is.

    As Phil noted a short while back, Buffy is now a part of the show's DNA, and one of the things Buffy excelled at was using its stories and especially its monsters as vehicles for exploring the characters' psyches via metaphor. The Doctor is obviously motivated by his experience in the War, and when this is taken as the central metaphor (rather than "immigration") I think it's a lot more clear that the resolution of the story is absolutely necessary: the Doctor can't bring his people back from the dead. The dead are dead, and having them walk around after death is an unhealthy wish.

    This ties directly into Gwenyth's reading, that the Gelth are Angels. Of all the perspectives given in the story, it's the religious perspective that takes the greatest beating — these aren't spirits, the walking dead aren't a good thing, and the attempt to reach the Other Side (or come back from it) are wholly misguided.

    Reply

  43. Lewis Christian
    May 6, 2013 @ 6:48 am

    "No, it wouldn't. One is a lack of money resulting in reasonable ideas not translating onto the screen. The other is just crappy writing."

    On the one hand, you're right but, on the other, the writing by Davies is still fine. It's a show which is, essentially, brand new. Brand new leads, new direction, new era, new century, new start. New audience… and RTD has to juggle writing for adults and kids. It's a story which works on two levels. You have the kiddy jokes and you have the adult jokes. It's all down to preference, but I do find it amusing when people can't let go of "the burping bin and farting Slitheen". Far worse are the "quite the screamer"-type jokes later on. The farting gag isn't even used that much. It's crude humour, but it's very bleak and stresses a point – it's disgusting, both in terms of the nature of the joke and in the nature of what the Slitheen are doing. They're ruthless, and childish/childlike.

    Reply

  44. Lewis Christian
    May 6, 2013 @ 6:52 am

    The only real complainers are the 'hardcore fans' who think anything "silly" should be banned. I presume those who hate the Slitheen also hate the Absorbaloff and Adipose, and creations like that too.

    Reply

  45. Lewis Christian
    May 6, 2013 @ 6:59 am

    {Eeek, I don't mean to offend with 'hardcore fans' and 'complainers'. Everyone is, of course, entitled to opinion. I can just be quite defensive. My mindset is, in terms of general fandom, 'skewed' though because I adore Season 24. Might be why I really enjoy the more light-hearted elements.}

    Reply

  46. dm
    May 6, 2013 @ 7:03 am

    Is there no place for deliberate obscenity in modern storytelling? Yes, we cringe at the gas exchange, but only because we desperately want "our show" to be taken seriously, and cannot see what place flatulence has in 'serious' art. It's the sort of black comedy that made Happiness Patrol so wonderful (although it really shouldn't be necessary, and is ultimately futile, to claim precedent when defending Doctor Who). It's is neither childish, nor childlike, it is horrifically irreverent. It is far darker than Dalek, really.

    Reply

  47. Lewis Christian
    May 6, 2013 @ 7:05 am

    DM, I completely agree. And it's not like it's a weekly thing, or even every other scene.

    Reply

  48. Alex
    May 6, 2013 @ 7:06 am

    While Mr. Sandifer provides some compelling insight into the implied author of "The Unquiet Dead," it's not entirely fair to blame Gatiss (or even Hinchcliffe) for the unintended xenophobic subtext — because, according to "The Writer's Tale" (a book of e-mails between Russell T Davies and a journalist, about the process of being Head Writer for the show), Davies did an uncredited page one rewrite on The Unquiet Dead.

    "Back in 2004," Davies writes, "we'd always talked about my rewriting as a possibility ('polishing' we called it, when we were young and naive, before we actually had scripts in our hands, and I'd never rewritten anyone before, ever), but [casting director] Andy Pryor kick-started the whole process when we wanted to offer the part of Charles Dickens to Simon Callow. We really needed Simon Callow for that part — but Mark's script for The Unquiet Dead wasn't ready."

    He goes on to say that he doesn't take credit on his rewrites because… "I have to be fair to the original writers: they work so hard and deserve that credit. It's partly arrogance as well, because I don't think my rewrites are as good as my actual scripts. (With the exception of The Impossible Planet and The Satan Pit.)…

    "Rewriting somebody else's script is like plate-spinning — keeping lots of things in the air, making them look pretty, hoping that they won't crash. In an emergency [like his rewrite for The Fires of Pompeii], I throw lots of things in there — soothsayers, psychic powers, prophecies, funny squares of marble — and hope that I can make a story out of them as I go along, like an improvisation game." (p 200, 1st ed)

    The implied author gets obfuscated pretty badly here (and throughout Davies' whole era). The xenophobic subtext in this episode may have been a leftover from Gatiss' original script, an (admittedly unlikely) addition from Davies' rewrite, or an unfortunate product of mashing both writers together.

    You can find the book here — it's a terrific supplementary text to RTD's tenure, and a great insight into writing a show as massive as Doctor Who.

    http://www.amazon.com/Doctor-Who-Writers-%2522Doctor-Paperback/dp/184607861X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1367855284&sr=8-1&keywords=writer%27s+tale

    Reply

  49. jane
    May 6, 2013 @ 7:08 am

    Everyone is both right and wrong in this story. Dickens is wrong that this is just flim-flammery on the part of the Funeral Home people, some elaborate human hoax… and yet he's right that there's a hoax being perpetuated, albeit by aliens. Gwenyth's religious reading is right only in the fact that it's an act of self-sacrifice that delivers salvation. The Doctor's right that the Gelth are aliens, not ghosts, but he's wrong about their motivation. Rose is wrong in her knee-jerk reaction about the sanctity of a corpse, but essentially right that the Walking Dead are not a healthy state of affairs.

    Reply

  50. Ross
    May 6, 2013 @ 7:08 am

    I did not like the Absorbaloff (Admittedly, this may be because he seemed like a Mike Myers character), but I loved the Adipose.

    Especially because I can say things like "In the end, the baby adipose are all beamed up by the mommy and daddypose.

    Reply

  51. Alex
    May 6, 2013 @ 7:09 am

    I say it's an "unlikely" addition from Davies because his work is usually (and demonstrably) so outspoken about diversity. Even in the three episodes of Doctor Who that Sandifer has critiqued so far, we've seen interracial relationships (Rose and Mickey), inter-species flirtation (Doctor and Jabe), and gay celebrities (flipping through Rose's tabloid).

    Reply

  52. Jesse
    May 6, 2013 @ 7:10 am

    The farts are creepy and alien and perfect for the use to which they're put. I have no sympathy for the complaints against them.

    (And I will leave it at that until the episode gets a post of its own.)

    Reply

  53. David Anderson
    May 6, 2013 @ 7:11 am

    I can't see Gwyneth as punished for her interpretation of the aliens as angels. The Doctor doesn't correct her. You could say that the Doctor tacitly colludes with her beliefs to make her do what he wants. But I think it would be wrong: it seems to me that Gwyneth would have done the same if she'd believed they were aliens as the Doctor believes.
    If anything, the bit at the end where she's still active despite being dead is presented as a rebuttal of the Doctor's interpretation.

    That said, I am rather dubious about the idea that having things we don't understand is liberating: the 'there are things undreamt of in your philosophy' as a rebuke. I can sympathise with it as an objection to technocratic ideals of managing humanity. But it's often a philistine objection to knowledge as such, and that's how it comes over in this case.

    Reply

  54. SpaceSquid
    May 6, 2013 @ 7:13 am

    Actually I don't think his writing is fine, though I'll concede the belching/farting stuff is at least fairly brief, so should be nodded at as the worst of excesses rather than story-ruiners on their own.

    They do however strike me as the reductio ad absurdum of one of the central problems of Davies' writing as I see it. Namely that he shares, say, Joss Whedon's desire to shoot his drama through with comedy, but with none of Whedon's ability to make the transition smoothly. Whedon's jokes enhance scenes, or at the very least don't detract from them. Davies' jokes can grind things to a halt. Comic timing is about more than just the speed a joke is delivered at.

    Indeed, this is why I do, indeed, dislike the Absorbaloff and the Adipose. Not because they're both obviously "comic" monsters (and with the former coming from a competition for children, I'm prepared to go to almost any length to forgive the result). It's that both are wedded to plots where people are in real danger. I'm all for comedic romps, I just think there's a limit to the dramatic stakes they can be wed to. "Love and Monsters" in particular is the story I dislike the most from the first two seasons, because I'm simultaneously expected to be terribly amused by Peter Kay and give a damn about the fate of Ursula.

    Reply

  55. BerserkRL
    May 6, 2013 @ 7:19 am

    Re "Code of Honor": and who's responsible for the stripper-pole misogyny in that episode?

    Reply

  56. SpaceSquid
    May 6, 2013 @ 7:20 am

    @dm

    Is there no place for deliberate obscenity in modern storytelling? Yes, we cringe at the gas exchange, but only because we desperately want "our show" to be taken seriously, and cannot see what place flatulence has in 'serious' art.

    It's always helpful when people can run into my brain and explain my responses. I do get so tired of figuring myself out for myself 😉

    There is an entire Kessel Run of difference between saying "these fart jokes are really embarrassing" and "obscenity has no place in art". This latter position would require people to suggest there can be no such thing as a funny fart joke. All that's being said here is that those fart jokes weren't funny.

    Obviously, YMMV, but it's entirely possible to have a relaxed attitude to Doctor Who and still find the Slitheen stupid rather than amusing.

    Reply

  57. Lewis Christian
    May 6, 2013 @ 7:22 am

    In this episode is one of my favourite jokes from the entire history of Who.

    Rose gets dressed up and asks the Doctor why he hasn't. "I changed my t-shirt," he says, and triumphantly walks off. It's just brilliant. A tiny one-liner which explains an awful lot about this man.

    It's perhaps curious, too, since the Ninth does actively dress up (see the photos in Rose) sometimes.

    Reply

  58. Ross
    May 6, 2013 @ 7:23 am

    I think there may basically be two separate questions here, first, whether there ought to occasionally be comedy villains in Doctor Who, and secondly, whether the Slitheen, Absorbaloff, and Adipose are good comedy villains. A lot of the "old guard" fans think the answer to the first question is "no", which moots the second one. If you think that comedy villains have no place in Who, then you're not going to like any of them.

    For me, the Adipose are great comedy villains, Absorbaloff is terrible, and the Slitheen are… Kind of meh. (Comedy villains are entirely appropriate in The Sarah Jane Adventures, and even there, the Slitheen are kind of… meh). As it turns out, the Sontarans are comedy villain gold, though the old guard seems determined not to get the joke.

    Reply

  59. Lewis Christian
    May 6, 2013 @ 7:27 am

    Then there's the definition of 'comedy villain'. Because surely a comedy villain is written with that in mind, that purpose. The Slitheen weren't devised as comedy villains. Or, at least, not 100% comedy villains.

    etc etc.

    Reply

  60. SpaceSquid
    May 6, 2013 @ 7:31 am

    Maybe he assumed the rhinoceros's rectum would be real, and wanted to get to watch that live. I can certainly see why that might have appealed.

    Reply

  61. SpaceSquid
    May 6, 2013 @ 7:32 am

    The comedy writer John O'Farrell put it best when he wrote that anti-Americanism is really anti-modernism.

    Is there any mileage in the idea that the two have a non-trivial intersection?

    Reply

  62. BerserkRL
    May 6, 2013 @ 7:35 am

    And there've been reunions of American and Vietnamese soldiers too.

    Reply

  63. Alan
    May 6, 2013 @ 7:37 am

    Rose is wrong in her knee-jerk reaction about the sanctity of a corpse

    But is she though? One of the things that bothers me about this episode is the way the story seems to assume that the Doctor is morally right on the idea of allowing an alien race to colonize the Earth by means of animating human corpses and anyone who doesn't want to see Grandpa shambling around with glowing green eyes is just being a selfish prick. I don't know what Gallifreyan funeral customs were like (the great weight of available evidence seems to favor cremation), but on Earth, the idea of a respectful treatment of the dead actually predates humanity itself (the Neanderthals apparently buried their dead 300,000 years ago). I think it's incredibly chauvinistic of the Doctor to decide unilaterally after a five minute conversation with one Gelth that "human respect for the dead is stupid, let's let these aliens I just met ride them around like jalopies."

    Reply

  64. BerserkRL
    May 6, 2013 @ 7:39 am

    I once said, in philosophers' company, that I was a materialist about the physical nature of reality. And someone, shocked, asked me why I didn't believe in morality.

    What sorts of philosophers were these?

    Reply

  65. Froborr
    May 6, 2013 @ 8:20 am

    Joining in with the people who love the Adipose and hate the Absorbaloff and Slitheen.

    My problem with the Slitheen is not that they are walking fart jokes, it's that they are walking unfunny fart jokes. Also, this may be a case of things not translating properly across the Atlantic, but to an American the combination of morbid obesity plus crude humor reads VERY strongly as code for being lower-class, at which point their depiction as bumbling idiots becomes quite troubling.

    My biggest problem, however, is that they are bumbling idiots that belong in a 1980s cartoon, not a modern children's show. I can see them hanging out with Shredder and Krang or Cobra Commander easily; Firelord Ozai or the DCAU version of Lex Luthor would eat them for breakfast. The Doctor deserves a better class of villain.

    Reply

  66. David Kalat
    May 6, 2013 @ 8:25 am

    I think this episode does set out, and to my mind succeeds in, undermining the inherent xenophobia of alient invasion stories. Admittedly, I watched this in the US over a year after its broadcast, so any correlations to UK elections that others picked up on just weren't on my radar screen, but there's an additional aspect to this story no-one's mentioned yet: it's the first time in the revived series where the Doctor doesn't know what's going on.

    As a longtime fan who grew up with Tom Baker's Doctor, I came into this with that background knowledge that the main character figures things out as he goes along, but I was watching this with my daughter, then a tween, who had never seen Doctor Who before and has since gone on to be a bigger fan than I am. So my reactions to the new series have always been filtered through her lens.

    And as far as she knew at the point, the Doctor arrived in any given situation knowing all the alient races, knowing how the future turns out, and with godlike powers to fix everything. Throughout this story he clearly revises his theories repeatedly and gets it wrong many times.

    But here's the kicker: confronted with a new species he knows nothing about, one that is desecrating the dead and terrorizing his favorite planet, his first reaction is to trust them and want to help. Sure, that turns out to be wrong (as Jane noted, everyone gets something wrong here), but for me the biggest part of this story is how it underlined the Doctor's moral code: trust first.

    That they turn out to be the bad guys is almost incidental–rather than being about the Doctor wrongly trusting some aliens and they turn out to be bad, it's about the Doctor encountering some bad aliens and his first instinct is to take their side, until they give him a reason to oppose them. That doesn't sound xenophobic to me at all.

    Reply

  67. Froborr
    May 6, 2013 @ 8:27 am

    Thanks, jane!

    checks if tonight is one of the nights the library is open late

    Reply

  68. SpaceSquid
    May 6, 2013 @ 8:29 am

    As it turns out, the Sontarans are comedy villain gold, though the old guard seems determined not to get the joke.

    Yes, the Sontarans are actually exceptionally funny when played that way. Speaking as one of the old guard, though, that fact doesn't save "The Sontaran Strategem/The Poison Sky". Again, it's not the comedy, it's the ping-ponging between BIG DANGER and SILLY COMEDY that causes the problem, especially over the run-time.

    Really, though, I maintain my previous position that RTD just isn't strong enough at the kind of comedy we're talking about for arguments that there's a humour-deficit problem among fans.

    Also, too; everything Froborr said.

    Reply

  69. tantalus1970
    May 6, 2013 @ 8:34 am

    "Is there any mileage in the idea that the two have a non-trivial intersection?"

    O'Farrell was writing in a political context; his argument was basically that people who complain about the Americanisation of Britain are often really complaining about things that we would have done anyway, but saying that something is too American is a great way to oppose something without having to justify why you oppose it (because it will trigger a lot of people's preconceptions about US culture)

    I think his exact quote was 'it enables reactionary xenophobes to pretend to be left-wingers', or something along those lines; I'll have to find the book it's from.

    Reply

  70. Tommy
    May 6, 2013 @ 8:46 am

    " I think it's incredibly chauvinistic of the Doctor to decide unilaterally after a five minute conversation with one Gelth that "human respect for the dead is stupid, let's let these aliens I just met ride them around like jalopies.""

    I think the point is meant to be that the Doctor has changed since the Time War. In Revelation of the Daleks, his reaction to Davros' use of corpses to cuire the fammine probelm actually correlate very strongly with Roses's own (not that I normally credit Saward's characterisation of the Doctor as being valid).

    I think what happened in the Time War was that survival and the preservation of life and creation became important to him, whatever the cost, whatever measures needed taking. He'd sacrificed his people to save the wider universe and was probably bearing a chip on his shoulder about how plentiful options for survival were being squandered, and so he attacked Rose's views pretty mercilessly because in that moment he saw her views as dangerously reactionary and holding polite human rituals over the value of life itself.

    Reply

  71. Adam Riggio
    May 6, 2013 @ 9:08 am

    There's a very specific concept behind the Slitheen (and Cassandra's first appearance, and Max Capricorn) that Davies is exploring through these villains. I wrote about it last week in the comments, but it seems to have been roundly ignored.

    They're explorations of what happens when the mind-set of a petty criminal gets to play on a cosmic scale. They're all basically malevolent Del-Boys and white collar criminals. They're characters who think nothing of killing enormous numbers of people for petty reasons: an insurance scam, a pile of black-market spaceship fuel, and a stock swindle. So the combination of high stakes and low comedy is a part of exploring that weirdness. Once I figured out what RTD was actually doing with these characters, I was far more fascinated than my initial reaction to the Slitheen ("What's with these semi-competent, trashy, farting alien villains?").

    When Aliens of London/WW3 first came out, the commenterati focussed on the reference to the Iraq War ("massive weapons of destruction," and so on), but the concept behind those characters had a lot more to do with the economic collapse that was coming by the end of Davies' run, as the petty white collar criminals' network of mortgage schemes collapsed and nearly took everything else with them.

    Reply

  72. Theonlyspiral
    May 6, 2013 @ 9:13 am

    That is perhaps the nicest thing I've ever seen someone say about "Daleks In Manhatten"

    Reply

  73. SpaceSquid
    May 6, 2013 @ 9:20 am

    Oh, I see. I was thinking purely in terms of TV development. In a more general context, that makes a lot of sense, though it's not clear to me that pretending to be left-wing is much of a winner in UK politics since the '70s. Unless you're both north of the Midlands and desire to ever get elected to anything, of course.

    Reply

  74. Theonlyspiral
    May 6, 2013 @ 9:25 am

    The reason I don't mind the Slitheen is that their plan is actually quite clever. While they might not have that much ability to adjust or deal with the Doctor, and are very very quick to congratulate themselves on a job well done, look at all they accomplish. They manage to pull off a brilliant double bluff, and wipe out the most competent people to fight them. Yes they get beaten by thenDoctor and Micky the Idiot, but if that makes them bumbling incompetents then there hasn't been a competent villain ever on Doctor Who.

    Reply

  75. Ununnilium
    May 6, 2013 @ 9:28 am

    Honestly, "author" in TV and movies is constructed of writer + director + actors + editor + casting director + lighting + effects + makeup + a whole bunch of other people, and each of them basically work how "author's intent" is described above.

    Reply

  76. Ununnilium
    May 6, 2013 @ 9:30 am

    Yeah. It's not that the sanctity of the dead is meaningless, it's just less important than the survival of an entire species.

    Reply

  77. Ununnilium
    May 6, 2013 @ 9:45 am

    I think a problem here is that several commentators, themselves, don't find the Slitheen/Absorbaloff/whatever funny, and assume that the humor is universally flawed, and they're talking past the people who do find them funny, or at least see how people could find them funny – and, to be fair, some of the latter group are assuming that the humor universally works.

    Reply

  78. Ununnilium
    May 6, 2013 @ 9:48 am

    Yes, the Sontarans are actually exceptionally funny when played that way. Speaking as one of the old guard, though, that fact doesn't save "The Sontaran Strategem/The Poison Sky".

    See, I thought we were talking about Strax.

    Reply

  79. Ross
    May 6, 2013 @ 10:14 am

    They're explorations of what happens when the mind-set of a petty criminal gets to play on a cosmic scale. They're all basically malevolent Del-Boys and white collar criminals. They're characters who think nothing of killing enormous numbers of people for petty reasons: an insurance scam, a pile of black-market spaceship fuel, and a stock swindle. So the combination of high stakes and low comedy is a part of exploring that weirdness. Once I figured out what RTD was actually doing with these characters, I was far more fascinated than my initial reaction to the Slitheen ("What's with these semi-competent, trashy, farting alien villains?").

    It is certainly the case that when it first aired, a lot of the old-guard complaints about the Slitheen were made by people who flat out refused to accept that they were a bunch of petty criminals, and not official representatives of their planet backed by the full resources of an interstellar civilization (And thus "Why don't they just use their own nuclear arsenal on Earth instead of getting earth to nuke itself? An interstellar civilization like them would surely have planet-busting weapons of its own")

    @Ununnilium: I read Strax as a character whose origin is, essentially, an attempt to explain the joke. As in "What? They're still trying to take the Sontarans seriously? Okay, fine, we'll silly them up ANOTHER notch."

    Reply

  80. encyclops
    May 6, 2013 @ 10:21 am

    What makes this line ("I changed my jumper") fascinating to me is that every other incarnation has been either a sartorial eccentric, if only by 20th century standards, or an unabashed clothes horse (3, 10, 11). It's delivered as though this is status quo for the Doctor, but it's easy to read it as a reaction against his past.

    Reply

  81. jane
    May 6, 2013 @ 10:28 am

    I think Daleks in Manhattan gets a bad rap, too — it's alchemy in the making, relying on how acting upon the symbol is an effective substitute for the real deal, and it's a story loaded with symbolism. Much better than The Lazarus Experiment (to bring this back around to Gatiss) and the relatively one-dimensional story therein.

    Reply

  82. Ununnilium
    May 6, 2013 @ 10:30 am

    I think the actual Talons entry pointed out where the "Doctor Who is just doing Victorian fiction" excuse falls down: The characters who are supposed to cut against those stereotypes, the Doctor and Leela, participate in them instead. Which is a lot worse than what happens here, I'd say.

    Reply

  83. Ununnilium
    May 6, 2013 @ 10:33 am

    I'd say it's not that having things we don't understand is liberating; it's the act of acknowledging that there are things we don't understand. Because there really, really are, and to act otherwise is arrogance at best, blinkered blindness at worst.

    Reply

  84. Ununnilium
    May 6, 2013 @ 10:37 am

    Agreed. It's a story with strong ideas and weak scripting.

    Reply

  85. Froborr
    May 6, 2013 @ 10:41 am

    Rubbish ones, by the sound of it.

    Reply

  86. Adam Riggio
    May 6, 2013 @ 10:45 am

    Was that really the initial reaction among some people? Wondering why they didn't just use their own planet's nuclear arsenal? There's a very clear scene in the actual story where the Slitheen explain that "Slitheen" is their surname, and that they're an extended family of criminals and con artists from the planet Raxacoricofallopatorius.

    Thinking about it, that was another innovation Davies developed through the course of the revived series: villains that worked as individual characters, and that individuality being at the forefront of the story. Of course, the best stories of the classic years did the same thing: Robert Holmes only ever wrote generic monster races as a means of sending up the stupidity of the whole concept. He certainly never got too wrapped up in the romanticization of season five.

    We really should be having this conversation on Wednesday, but the case of the Slitheen makes it clear. Even the Doctor, in-story, makes that mistake. First he confronts the villains about what interest Earth might be to "the Slitheen race," at which point they laugh in his face for thinking they represent any group larger than themselves. Really, it makes The Unquiet Dead retrograde in a different way than Miles identified, because the Gelth never really develop beyond that generic, collective term.

    Reply

  87. Nyq Only
    May 6, 2013 @ 10:45 am

    Alien invasion stories can have two different readings – a xenophobic fear of foreign arrivals on the one hand and a story about the evils of colonization on the other. A story about colonisation can itself simply reinforce the xenophobic reading but alternatively can itself be a critique of pro-colonisation views. So you get layered left and right readings of such stories – starting with War of the Worlds which fits neatly into other Victorian stories about foreigners invading Britain but which, on a flip side is also a critique of Britain's Victorian tendency to grab huge chunks of other people's countries. Intent doesn't help because if we look at H.G.Wells we find a heady cocktail of socialist criticism of Britain and the British Empire with huge dollops of racism (quite overt in The Sleeper Wakes for example).
    Modern anti-immigration xenophobes in the UK will cast immigrants as invaders. This in itself is a kind of literary criticism but of actual events. They are wrong of course and it is no coincidence that the people who do so are part of a political tradition that looks back lovingly at Britain's time of Empire.
    But at other times and other places the foreign arrivals ARE invaders. Australian Aboriginals looking at the arrival of the British in the 19th century aren't xenophobic to see that as an invasion – even if many of the arrivals are people being forced to move to Australia.
    So the situation with the Geth is best seen as a set of affairs – the left v right reading lies not in the Geth (who a bunch of entities doing stuff) but in the moral reaction of the protagonists. Hence the Doctor's speech matters. The doctor is saying "don't read this situation in the UKIP way – it is more complicated than that". It is the Doctor's show 🙂
    The Geth are a poor analogy with modern immigrants and asylum seekers to the UK. How do we know? The Doctor tells us so 🙂

    Reply

  88. Froborr
    May 6, 2013 @ 10:45 am

    @Adam Riggio: See, I felt like that worked with Cassandra and Max, but didn't with the Slitheen, because Cassandra and Max read as self-absorbed, petty, and devoid of empathy–that is, like every real-life petty criminal who's ever worked their way up to political office. The Slitheen, on the other hand, felt (as I said) like cousins to the incompetent, self-parodying villains of '80s Saturday morning cartoons.

    Reply

  89. Jesse
    May 6, 2013 @ 11:07 am

    There certainly are sf stories that turn an invasion story into an anti-colonial argument (or are open to that reading). Philip K. Dick's Now Wait for Last Year, for example, has the Earth dominated (not invaded, but close enough for our purposes) by an extraterrestrial power that is pretty clearly supposed to be a stand-in the for U.S., and compelled to be a part of a conflict that is pretty clearly supposed to be a stand-in for the Vietnam War. And other metaphors can come into play, too: Within Doctor Who, the obvious identification of the Daleks with the Nazis makes the Daleks' invasion of Earth into something that isn't simple xenophobia.

    But the fear of outsiders is built into an alien invasion plot in such a way that it's pretty much bound to surface if the author doesn't actively extract it (or actively insert another metaphor that crowds it out).

    Reply

  90. Adam Riggio
    May 6, 2013 @ 11:23 am

    That particular philosopher was not exactly promising. Everyone else knew what I meant.

    I should mention, as well, that my own education and research is centred in philosophy.

    Reply

  91. Iain Coleman
    May 6, 2013 @ 12:03 pm

    I wouldn't blame the burping bin on "crappy writing", insofar as the burp does not appear in the shooting script. It is a directorial flourish.

    Reply

  92. elvwood
    May 6, 2013 @ 1:41 pm

    dm: "And I think you've got to the core of why I love Series One so much. And, really, I take issue with "so far". There's not a moment in the series that doesn't feel like it's leading to that very point."

    I only said "so far" because I haven't been thinking about the later stories, so couldn't speak for them – it wasn't meant to imply they don't hold to that reading! And yeah, I love Series One too.

    Ununnilium: "It's not that the sanctity of the dead is meaningless, it's just less important than the survival of an entire species."

    Exactly.

    Reply

  93. David Anderson
    May 6, 2013 @ 1:42 pm

    Acknowledging that there are things we don't understand is a good thing. But there's a matter of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
    There used to be, or still is, a bit of a tendency in genre fiction to think that the only reason for disbelieving in, say, seances is a dogmatic insistence that we can explain and predict everything (and therefore can be certain that e.g. ghosts are an impossibility). That's buying into a false dichotomy: there's no difference between skepticism and dogmatic materialism, for instance.

    Reply

  94. dm
    May 6, 2013 @ 1:47 pm

    This really is a discussion for Wednesday. I do wish I hadn't started it here. I have my own thoughts on the very concept of the "Comedy Villain", but I think I'll try and save them. They also tie in well with Saturday's episode…

    But, for now, I'll just say that I don't generally find fart jokes funny. I do not believe that Davies expected most of his audience to, either. The point is that the Slitheen found them funny, which is really what made them such scary products of an uncaring universe. This is a group of aliens who didn't cackle or chew the scenery, they genuinely giggled at what basically amounted to (or at least stood for) the putrification of their victims.

    Reply

  95. dm
    May 6, 2013 @ 1:51 pm

    …and surely that is a deeper engagement with Hinchcliffe's legacy than "Aliens who look like ghosts and possess corpses in Victorian Cardiff"

    Reply

  96. Josh Marsfelder
    May 6, 2013 @ 3:13 pm

    @BeserkRL

    Near as I can tell nobody remembers exactly who made the mind-bogglingly stupid design choices in "Code of Honor". It's pretty much something everyone involved would rather pretend didn't happen. The script was definitely unworkable even without the production department-added racism problems though. It's quite possibly the most egregious example of the mismanagement of TNG during the Roddenberry years.

    Reply

  97. Froborr
    May 6, 2013 @ 3:15 pm

    Alas! Tonight was indeed one of the nights the library is open late–and they had none of the three books.

    Time to restructure my week to try to fit in a trip to Library of Congress on Saturday.

    Reply

  98. Adam Riggio
    May 6, 2013 @ 3:17 pm

    Another idea! Thinking back to what you wrote about Timelash, the last time Doctor Who the television series attempted to engage a historical figure in Britain's literary culture in its own aesthetic, you tore into that story for its arrogant lack of self-knowledge. Doctor Who tried to position itself not only as the heir to H. G. Wells, but the origin of British science-fiction through him, as the plot of Timelash indicates. But this is utterly ridiculous because not only did they get their depiction of Wells completely upside down, but Timelash is just too awful a piece of television to attempt that kind of claim without looking foolish.

    So The Unquiet Dead, in doing with Dickens exactly what you describe, actually accomplishes the task to which Timelash was so woefully and hilariously inadequate: enfolding a central figure of British literary/creative culture into itself. So in a way, Gatiss, Davies, and the rest did look back to the Colin Baker era as an inspiration. But now Doctor Who only does so in order to achieve the pretentions and goals that the earlier era set and so spectacularly missed.

    Reply

  99. T. Hartwell
    May 6, 2013 @ 3:56 pm

    I just didn't like the Slitheen because I don't like fart jokes.

    Rest of the episode was great, though.

    Reply

  100. David Ainsworth
    May 6, 2013 @ 5:12 pm

    I don't think that the Doctor really participates in the stereotypes in any serious way. I'm not sure righteous indignation at casual racism is the only operational response. Doc Four mostly mocks the convention he plays to. Note his casual ability to communicate with the unnamed prisoner, his interplay with Chang (who he genuinely seems to respect, unlike Greel, for whom he displays only contempt). I read Leela's "the yellow one" comment as part and parcel of her attempt to fit in, expressed as always in a way which illustrates the riduculousness of the culture she's trying to mimic.

    Reply

  101. Ross
    May 6, 2013 @ 5:43 pm

    So in a way, Gatiss, Davies, and the rest did look back to the Colin Baker era as an inspiration. But now Doctor Who only does so in order to achieve the pretentions and goals that the earlier era set and so spectacularly missed.

    That would fit with something I thought I detected in the early seasons of the new series, whereby RTD would seemingly take some of the most panned idea from the old days and demonstrate how they could do them properly (See also: the episode where the Doctor kisses a companion, the power source of the TARDIS gets opened up, a human corpse gets used to create the body for bad guy, and timey-wimey magic brings someone back from the dead.)

    Reply

  102. Scott
    May 6, 2013 @ 6:13 pm

    With regards to Doctor Who folding Dickens within itself and the numerous other points that others have already raised and noted, something else — aside from Queen Victoria, in the RTD era at least all the key historical personages the Doctor encountered were British writers; Dickens, Shakespeare, Christie…

    Reply

  103. jane
    May 7, 2013 @ 5:17 am

    I'm not so sure it's the script that's weak — I think it's the production, from the overall design to some of the directorial choices — but the script doesn't do itself any favors by not lampshading its alchemical heart.

    Reply

  104. orfeo
    May 7, 2013 @ 7:14 am

    Frankly I think sometimes monsters are simply intended to be monsterish, not symbolic of other people.

    It's also important to note that the new series of Doctor Who explicitly taps into the Doctor's sense of isolation, of his own 'refugee' nature, quite a few times. The Vampires in Venice are another example of this. Having his lost his own race and own home planet, he is markedly prone to having sympathy with any other species that has lost its home – or claims to have lost it. His reaction to the Gelth is far more intended to be about him, not about the Gelth.

    Reply

  105. elvwood
    May 7, 2013 @ 8:34 am

    The Sheffield Library Service only had Aristotle's Poetics, so I've ordered that. I'll have to look elsewhere for the others.

    Reply

  106. Elizabeth Sandifer
    May 7, 2013 @ 8:35 am

    The Poetics are dry, and may be helped by a commentary on them, as they are very much focused on the greek drama of Aristotle's time. But he still lays out the basics of plot structure for the first and rigorous time, and he's still basically right.

    Reply

  107. Adam Riggio
    May 7, 2013 @ 9:12 am

    Phil: I just realized that this is exactly what you were doing with the Three Doctors essay back in 2011, enfolding Doctor Who and the entire English literary tradition as it descendent from William Blake into each other, reading each in the terms specific to the other in ways that collapsed the codes together.

    Reply

  108. Nyq Only
    May 7, 2013 @ 10:21 am

    I agree that fear of outsiders plays a role in any story with an alien threat. However I'd argue that the paradigmatic alien invasion story (as per War of the Worlds) uses Western colonisation as a template – a more technologically sophisticated group attacks with the intent of taking the resources/land of others who they see as being inherently inferior. That doesn't mean xenophobia isn't playing a role in that story model.
    Alien infiltration stories (e.g. Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Invaders from Mars) are another matter – in which we are supposed to fear people in our society because they are actually evil aliens despite appearances. There is an element of that in the Unquiet Dead but only in part (because the aliens are infiltrating via inherently scary corpses)

    Reply

  109. Jesse
    May 7, 2013 @ 10:41 am

    It's tricky to parse, because there's a whole genre of 19th- and early-20th-century "invasion literature" that directly influenced War of the Worlds and which dealt explicitly with England's fears of Germany and France—that is, the xenophobia that one technologically advanced western power felt for some other technologically advanced western powers. So you need to factor that in, too.

    (Here I'll insert an advertisement: I have a book coming out in a few months that deals with these issues in an American context—discussing xenophobic stories about Indians and Catholics, and also discussing Body Snatcher-style stories about the Enemy Within. Among other subjects.)

    Reply

  110. inkdestroyedmybrush
    May 7, 2013 @ 4:02 pm

    what this episode appears, on the surface, to be is both a re-doing of the classic Doctor who you think you remember, and seeing what they can get on the screen with this new team and what will play with this audience. As we know, they had no idea when this was filmed what the reaction would be to the new series, so to assume that they were doing antying here other than making some good guesses as to how to make a good 45 minutes of TV. Filtering authorial intent through the production process means that certain compromises will happen.
    To me, this episode feels wildly imbalanced both in pacing and tone, and i wanted to like it more than i did. there is a lack of consistant view point with regards to the Doctor's personality that i wasn't quite keen on, which i found annoying given that both he and Rose are given as our entry into the "new" world of Victorian London. Rose is more consistant within what we've seen in the last two episodes.

    Given what we know of the season's "wounded warrior arc", it now makes sense that his default sense of the Gelth is to trust, and then be betrayed by, since his judgement is clearly shown to be faulty in places. He's not the Doctor that we know from the past, and that's a good thing. He's not as sure of himself nor does he know everything. It set up the cathartic moment of the Doctor Dances all that much better.

    Reply

  111. col-max-pyatnitski
    May 7, 2013 @ 4:34 pm

    It's a good point, but there are some exceptions…
    Madame de Pompadour at least (but then again that was a Moffat episode, so maybe goes in the same exception pile as Van Gogh, Nixon, Hitler…)

    Reply

  112. Sabrina
    May 8, 2013 @ 6:43 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.

    Reply

  113. Sabrina
    May 8, 2013 @ 6:45 am

    No, Madame de Pompadour and clockwork automaton was RTD's pitch.

    Reply

  114. Matthew Blanchette
    May 8, 2013 @ 3:47 pm

    Effective symbolism, however, does not a good story make. "Daleks in Manhattan" alone proves that.

    (Although "They survive. They always survive" IS a great line, I'll give it that…)

    Reply

  115. Scott
    May 8, 2013 @ 11:46 pm

    Curses! My brilliant observation has been foiled!

    shakes fist at heaven melodramatically.

    Reply

  116. Alex
    July 12, 2013 @ 12:38 pm

    Who doesn't like fart jokes?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v1Y32j0vxkI

    Reply

  117. Alex
    July 12, 2013 @ 12:41 pm

    It's also worth noting that Simon Callow seems to play Dickens at the drop of a hat!

    (Not to say he's not very good, of course.)

    Reply

  118. GeneralNerd
    December 16, 2013 @ 12:15 pm

    I've often railed against the notion of the Death of the Author but not being fluent in literary criticism I haven't had the words to describe my problem with the idea. You've hit the nail on the head for me, in that regard; you don't study the author to understand the text, you study the text to understand the author.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.