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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.

36 Comments

  1. elvwood
    January 27, 2012 @ 4:13 am

    I am convinced that the hyper-stagey performances are deliberate; and they work really well for me in setting up a particular atmosphere for this story, so naturally I'm going to say it's "a full-throated embrace of overacted lunacy" rather than just "bewilderingly ill-advised". Whatever Terrance Dicks may have intended, I don't believe Peter Moffatt (note the double-T: this is one thing that distinguishes the 1980s director from our current beloved-of-some showrunner) was even trying to do a horror story, as such; so it doesn't seem a failure for it not to come out like that. There are certainly problems with the production, not least the reveal of the Great Vampire, but (as you pointed out when discussing the memory cheating) this isn't the Holmes era, and Moffatt shouldn't be pilloried for trying to do something different with a script which is effectively of that time.

    [The obvious retort is, "so what was he aiming for? If it's not a horror story, what is it?" – and here I'll have to think more before answering.]

    I'm going from dim memory here, but wasn't this the story where Moffatt took a look at the changes CHB had made to the script, said "sod it – this isn't what I signed up to direct" and restored a lot of Dicks's original?

    Reply

  2. Keith
    January 27, 2012 @ 6:01 am

    I always felt that this was the most thematically-consistent "regeneration" season, running with a theme of entropy/decay and rebirth that culminates in the death of Doctor 4 and his rebirth as Doctor 5 (rather than most seasons where the Doctor just has a bunch of adventures and finishes with one episode in which he just happens to regenerate).

    THE LEISURE HIVE has a race of sterile aliens on the verge of extinction being reborn through their scientific accomplishments. MEGLOS has the actions of the last survivor of a destroyed world leading to the Tigellans reclaiming the surface of their own world. FULL CIRCLE has a race that has lost (or thinks it lost) the knowledge of space travel, retreating into fear of a natural process before understanding what it really is and advancing off to the stars. STATE OF DECAY has a similar theme (hey, it's even in the title!), with the science that brought the crew to the planet being lost and all learning being suppressed until the superstitions are defeated, and so on, to LOGOPOLIS where entropy itself becomes the threat to everything.

    Whether it was intentional or not, it always felt to me like everything was echoing the coming end of Tom Baker's reign, including his more toned-down performance, the music, etc.

    Regarding the scientific side of this episode, much like MASQUE OF MANDRAGORA, we have a creature of purported mythology appearing that threatens to (or actually does in this case) hold back a society by suppressing science/learning. And as in that episode, it is knowledge/science that is used to defeat the creature. Even when the monsters are portrayed with powers that would be generally considered magical, they are explained as being subject to scientific principles (even if the show gets the science horribly wrong). Yet again, we have the triumph of science over superstition. This is something that has always endeared the show to me.

    "…armoured, immune to hypnotism and a dead shot with a nose laser."
    I don't see the K-9 cue as "bewilderingly ill-advised"; I see it more as underscoring the contrast (and the resulting moment of levity) between how the Doctor DESCRIBES K-9 (eliciting the rebels' excitement – they even cheer the "nose laser" comment, despite the fact that they have no way of knowing what a laser is) with how unassuming K-9 appears. It's not saying, "Look how lame K-9 looks!", so much as eliciting a humourous response resulting from comparing the mental image of some killer, armour-plated robot that shooting lasers from its head with his actual appearance. Granted, K-9 actually IS rather unimpressive to the viewer, but I don't get the impression that the show is actively commenting on this in this particular case. It certainly isn't SCHOOL REUNION!

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  3. Herms
    January 27, 2012 @ 6:06 am

    I have not exhaustively checked this next claim, and so may turn out to be wrong, but I believe this is the first time that the Von Danniken trick has been applied on a universe-wide level instead of on a planet-wide level.
    Though it's not really part of Doctor Who, the nearest thing I can think of is how in Adams' Life, the Universe and Everything (which of course started out as Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen) Earth cricket is one of several similar games throughout the universe, which are all based on racial memories of the great galactic war with the people of the planet Krikkit. Now that I think of it, the whole Krikkitmen idea seems more like a parody of the Von Danniken gimmick, by having something as mundane as cricket conceal secret extraterrestrial origins, rather than the pyramids or mythology or the human race itself.

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  4. Stephen
    January 27, 2012 @ 6:49 am

    Or, rather, his half-assed work is barely distinguishable from his top notch work. Even if his heights of genius are lower than those of Robert Holmes – or even of Christopher Bidmead – Terrance Dicks’s worst case scenario is still leagues above most people’s best day at the office.

    I take it that you've never read Warmonger, then?

    And this keeps being true of the Nathan-Turner era. With maddening frequency it soars on advanced topics in television production while crashing and burning on the basics.

    A comment which reminds me of Jim Shooter's blog: in which the former editor-in-chief of Marvel comics not only shares his anecdotes, but also analyses how American comics have – for the most part – forgotten the basics of storytelling.

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  5. Dougie
    January 27, 2012 @ 7:27 am

    While we're correcting Moffat(t)s: it's von Daniken, with an umlaut above the "a", no capital "v" and no extra "n".

    Anyone else see plot similarities between The Krotons and State of Decay?

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  6. BerserkRL
    January 27, 2012 @ 7:30 am

    You’re pretty much up a creek when it comes to making vampires stem from science. Fundamentally, they stem from literature and stories.

    Matheson managed to pull it off. But then the whole point of Matheson's take is that it's not the vampires but the lone human protagonist who is the creature of literature and stories.

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  7. BerserkRL
    January 27, 2012 @ 7:36 am

    To add to the confusion, the Doctor's daughter/wife spells her last name Moffett.

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  8. Herms
    January 27, 2012 @ 8:21 am

    Now that I think of it, there's also the idea in Pyramids of Mars that Sutekh is the inspiration for evil mythological figures not just on Earth but elsewhere in the universe.

    Reply

  9. SK
    January 27, 2012 @ 8:30 am

    If you want to get difficult, try not confusing Georgia Moffett and Georgina Moffat.

    Reply

  10. Elizabeth Sandifer
    January 27, 2012 @ 8:37 am

    Both von Danken and Moffatt are now corrected.

    Reply

  11. Alan
    January 27, 2012 @ 9:20 am

    One minor nit: IIRC, I believe the joke was that every civilization had racial memories of the Kricket War, but only humans were so unbelievably crass and tasteless to have turned it into a silly and extremely boring game (Adams' words, not mine:)).

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  12. inkdestroyedmybrush
    January 27, 2012 @ 9:22 am

    Meanwhile, back at our regularly schedule storyline…

    I think that the problem is is that Moffatt didn't come in to direct a Hinchcliffe horror pastiche, he came in to direct a horror stage play, and sits the camera down as the audience and starts to direct the actors to move about as theatre. It goes back to the I, Claudius metaphor in earlier posts. The one thing that he does not do is use what would be considered normal televsion camera work, the throne room scenes for instance, and follow the actors with their lines.

    It certainly is a step back in terms of storytelling in places. It is odd how much of the basics of storytelling have been lost along hte way in our hyper technological ability to put most anything on the screen. Watching "Castle" last night i was struck by some of the most hyper compressed storytelling in a few sequences that I'd ever seen… but it was all so that there was more time to get to the meat of the plot, or to have screen time to linger on the character moments. The compressed storytelling, and the audience's ability to absorb it have given the directors much greater leeway… and made things much harder to pace properly. (and in compressed storytelling I'm putting hte psychic paper; i no longer need 15 minutes of each story with the Doctor trying to convince the people he's trying to help to trust him. It gets clumsy for the most part when you have to watch it week after week)

    This year's Christmas Special was a disaster of pacing, and so was The Next Doctor. Awful, awful pacing. With the ability to smash what would have been three minutes of screen drama that we've seen a hundred times (the cops confront a suspect and bring him or her in, the Doctor arrives in someplace and has to talk the authorities into not locking him up and ending the story prematurely) into 15 or 20 seconds, it does allow for more actual plot and acting… or to sometimes reveal that the the author is severely lacking plot and has no idea who the hell his characters are. Yikes.

    Its a stage play. With vampires. and a more menacing and interesting Tom Baker. Oh yes.

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  13. Alan
    January 27, 2012 @ 9:48 am

    I have refrained from rewatching "State of Decay" since it was one of my favorite classic stories from my childhood and I'm afraid it won't hold up to my memories (they can deceive after all).

    I've never understood the argument about "science fiction vs. fantasy," because as Clarke's Law tells us, any sufficiently advanced tech is indistinguishable from magic. I mean honestly, do any of us know how to reattach barbed wire with sound waves? Does anyone think Star Trek transporter technology could possibly ever work? Or that some type of genetic abnormality explains why Cyclops can shot force beams out of his eyes that defy Newtonian physics? Or that anyone would ever decide, seemingly just for the coolness factor, to forgo laser blasters in favor of a weapon that's apparently a ball of plasma magnetically shaped into a sword (aka light-sabers)? The "science" of nearly all contemporary science fiction is there to handwave away whatever changes the author wants to introduce to explain why his setting is fundamentally different from present day earth.

    With that in mind, the point of "State of Decay," IMO, is that long ago, in a time most Time Lords have forgotten, possibly because it was deliberately erased from their own history records, the Time Lords fought and defeated several existential threats to all universal life. One was the Fendahl (and the parallels between this story and that one are interesting to me). Another was the Vampires, a race of almost Lovecraftian design with the power to leech away the life force of entire planets. And you know what? Once you accept that the Vampires are a Lovecraftian species, you don't need to explain how vampirism works any more than you need to wonder about how regeneration works. It just does, because the aliens in question are "sufficiently advanced."

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  14. Exploding Eye
    January 27, 2012 @ 10:49 am

    Yes – most science fiction is just fantasy but with aliens replacing folklore and spurious technology replacing unabashed magic. The difference between, say, Orcs and your average Doctor Who monster is that one comes from a pretend version of Medieval England and the other comes from a pretend planet… the only real practical difference being that some form of technology is needed to allow humans to meet these creatures.

    But even then, it's often the slenderest of differences – not even the technology of travel, but technobabble vs. folklore-babble. If a creature has lain dormant in the tomb of some ancient kings, it's fantasy; if it has lain dormant in a computer, it's science fiction.

    There's very little un-science fiction about vampires essentially – they live a long time, are be destroyed by sunlight and drink blood to survive… so could any number of alien species. It's only the minor trappings which makes them fantasy – the dislike of crucifixes and garlic, etc.

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  15. Exploding Eye
    January 27, 2012 @ 10:50 am

    *can be

    Reply

  16. BerserkRL
    January 27, 2012 @ 11:20 am

    SK,

    If you want to get difficult, try not confusing Georgia Moffett and Georgina Moffat.

    I did confuse them once. I read Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit aloud to them.

    Alan,

    I've never understood the argument about "science fiction vs. fantasy," because as Clarke's Law tells us, any sufficiently advanced tech is indistinguishable from magic.

    I think there's an aesthetic difference. A lightsabre and a magic flaming sword differ in virtue of the different (albeit overlapping) bodies of tropes and narratives they invoke. One invites us to see it as a fairy tale come to life, the other invites us to see it as an extrapolation of present-day science, albeit with a fairy-tale-come-to-life flavouring.

    Reply

  17. Iain Coleman
    January 27, 2012 @ 11:44 am

    I just googled "Georgina Moffat".

    The first hit was the Wikipedia page for Georgina Moffat.

    The second hit was the Wikipedia page for Georgia Moffett.

    It's not just humans who get confused.

    Reply

  18. SK
    January 27, 2012 @ 1:46 pm

    A light sabre and a magic flaming sword are exactly the same in terms of plot use, plausible uses and limitations, and story function. They differ only in connotative aspects.

    In other words they are absolutely identical in every respect except the only ones that matter.

    Reply

  19. BerserkRL
    January 27, 2012 @ 1:54 pm

    Nicely put.

    Reply

  20. Alan
    January 27, 2012 @ 3:35 pm

    To me, the difference between science and magic is that magic works according to arcane rules that only someone versed in magic can understand whereas futuristic super-science works (or at least should work) as an extrapolation of existing science that we understand today. I can imagine that it will someday be technically feasible to restrain plasma within a carefully shaped magnetic field that functions as a "light-saber." I just don't understand why you would. What do you get out of a light-saber that you can't get out of other, more efficient tools and weapons. Similarly, Star Trek annoys me because I don't understand why they need a ship with rooms and furniture and whatnot. Given how the holodecks are presented, why don't you just make a ship that's one big holodeck with a warp engine attached and then reconfigure the rooms as needed?

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  21. Shane Cubis
    January 27, 2012 @ 4:14 pm

    Wasn't there also a drink called "Gin and Tonic" on every planet?

    Reply

  22. Matthew Kilburn
    January 27, 2012 @ 4:34 pm

    To add to the issue of names, 'Jan Rudzki' is 'Jan Vincent-Rudzki' – it's a double-barrelled surname. As for job titles Graeme MacDonald was Head of Serials rather than Head of Drama – the latter job was still held by Shaun Sutton in 1980.

    I don't think Christopher H. Bidmead and Douglas Adams are as different as you argue, or at least not in the same way. Gary Gillatt once made the valid point that Bidmead was reacting against what he thought were scripts or storylines on his desk commissioned by Adams, but which all seem to have been rejected or sidelined. (From the Pixley DWM Complete Fourth Doctor vol. 2, it seems that Adams's last commission might have been Xeraphin, which was gradually developed into Time-Flight.) Adams is profoundly interested in giving his stories a scientific basis, but he benefits from a more highly-tuned sense of the absurd, and suffers from working with an exhausted and frustrated producer. Bidmead is interested in science, but his horizons are lower than Adams's -he's interested in contemporary technology and interprets the universe of Doctor Who in those terms, while Adams is more interested in basic principles applied to what had become a fantastical Doctor Who universe.

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  23. Elizabeth Sandifer
    January 27, 2012 @ 4:43 pm

    Is it hyphenated? The copy of that piece I use is the one in Paul Cornell's License Denied, which does not hyphenate. If that's an error I'll revise, but I'd like more information.

    MacDonald will be fixed within a few minutes of my posting this comment.

    That said, I think you're badly underselling Bidmead's sense of wonder. But more on that on Wednesday.

    Reply

  24. William Whyte
    January 27, 2012 @ 8:18 pm

    Bidmead is interested in the process of discovery and in information as a concept. Yes, it manifests itself as an obsession with the graphics you could get on a BBC micro, but that's because computers are the concrete manifestation of how you access information.
    More importantly, he's interested in how people interact with the process of discovery, where Adams is more interested in how people react to revelations. I think Bidmead benefits, relative to Adams, through his focus on the concrete grounding of the philosophical ideas that interest him. I wouldn't categorize it at all as having lower horizons: it's a different emphasis, and I think one that allows for great richness of detail.

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  25. William Whyte
    January 27, 2012 @ 8:20 pm

    May I suggest "It hasn't got an automatic!" as a title for the next entry?

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  26. solar penguin
    January 28, 2012 @ 8:38 am

    @Alan

    Probably because holodecks have a habit of malfunctioning and trying to kill people. The real mystery is why people keep going into them at all!

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  27. Matthew Blanchette
    January 28, 2012 @ 4:32 pm

    Yep; that was in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe — always loved that bit. 🙂

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  28. Matthew Blanchette
    January 28, 2012 @ 4:33 pm

    As does her father Peter — well, he did, but potential confusion with the director made him change it.

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  29. Matthew Blanchette
    January 28, 2012 @ 4:35 pm

    I'm confused; what was so disastrous about "The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe", again?

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  30. Alan
    January 29, 2012 @ 8:33 am

    Actually the real mystery is why people deliberately designed the damned thing with safety protocols that could be taken offline with a vocal command and which frequently needed to be taken offline to perform routine repair work on the ship — which is the source of probably 50% of all "holodeck gone wrong" stories. The other 50% either involve the characters making a particularly stupid wish of what is essentially a technomagical genie ("make Professor Moriarty into an antagonist character who is smarter than Data") or deliberate sabotage by the villain of the week.

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  31. BerserkRL
    January 29, 2012 @ 12:14 pm

    I can imagine that it will someday be technically feasible to restrain plasma within a carefully shaped magnetic field that functions as a "light-saber." I just don't understand why you would.

    Because it's cool?

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  32. Henry R. Kujawa
    May 5, 2012 @ 6:16 pm

    Philip Sandifer:
    "this keeps being true of the Nathan-Turner era. With maddening frequency it soars on advanced topics in television production while crashing and burning on the basics."

    True– TRUE!! (Vincent Price said that once.) The first one that came to mind was having the music too damn loud, except, it wasn't in this story. But it sure was in every one of the McCoy's, covering up the fact that 66% of them were better-written than anything Davison or Colin got in the writing dept. what's good's dialogue if you can't hear what they're saying?

    "Even if his heights of genius are lower than those of Robert Holmes – or even of Christopher Bidmead – Terrance Dicks’s worst case scenario is still leagues above most people’s best day at the office."

    Left-handed compliment, but okay. I love Dicks' work on the show. It's difficult to convince some people that "clear storytelling" is extrememly under-rated these days, amid all the writers trying too damn hard to be too damn clever. By the way, the very 1st WHO convention I went to, the 2 guests were John Leeson– and Terrence Dicks! (What an accent on that guy.) If only I could have met him with all I've learned about him in the years since. I barely knew who he was back then.

    Keith:
    "I always felt that this was the most thematically-consistent "regeneration" season, running with a theme of entropy/decay and rebirth that culminates in the death of Doctor 4 and his rebirth as Doctor 5 (rather than most seasons where the Doctor just has a bunch of adventures and finishes with one episode in which he just happens to regenerate)."

    I agree. Which makes it all the more bizarre, considering, as far as I know, Tom Baker had no thought or intention of leaving until he was in the middle of shooting "THE KEEPER OF TRAKEN". And then, suddenly "LOGOPOLIS" became a "regeneration" story, and JNT never even had time for a proper "search". he just hired a guy he was already working with on another show at the same time. Nepotism.

    Stephen:
    "A comment which reminds me of Jim Shooter's blog: in which the former editor-in-chief of Marvel comics not only shares his anecdotes, but also analyses how American comics have – for the most part – forgotten the basics of storytelling."

    A walking paradox. Shooter is so brilliant in certain areas, yet in others, he's totally lost. Simply, the last job in the world he should ever have is one where he has to deal with creative people. If he were just a writer, or, a publisher, no problem. But an editor? Disaster in capital letters.

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  33. Henry R. Kujawa
    May 5, 2012 @ 6:24 pm

    Dougie:
    "Anyone else see plot similarities between The Krotons and State of Decay?"

    Now that you mention it… the best and the brightest are "chosen", only to be destroyed in one fashion or another. And everyone just accepts that it's the way things are.

    Inkdestroyedmybrush:
    "It certainly is a step back in terms of storytelling in places."

    I dunno. Seemed to fir the story. I was remarking the other day how vastly, infinitely superior the storytelling in "MEGLOS" was to "THE LEISURE HIVE". Who'd a thunk it? Not that both scripts ddn't need work, but "MEGLOS" only appears to need work after you've realy, really thought about it, while "HIVE" it's clear as you're watching that's something's dreadfully wrong.

    BerserkRL:
    "A lightsabre and a magic flaming sword differ in virtue of the different (albeit overlapping) bodies of tropes and narratives they invoke. One invites us to see it as a fairy tale come to life, the other invites us to see it as an extrapolation of present-day science, albeit with a fairy-tale-come-to-life flavouring."

    So where does that put THUNDARR's sun-sword?

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  34. Henry R. Kujawa
    May 5, 2012 @ 6:32 pm

    Alan:
    "Star Trek annoys me because I don't understand why they need a ship with rooms and furniture and whatnot. Given how the holodecks are presented, why don't you just make a ship that's one big holodeck with a warp engine attached and then reconfigure the rooms as needed?"

    Hey– that's how the TARDIS works!

    My late best friend once said he thought "STATE OF DECAY" was the single best vampire story he'd ever seen. (Not sure how many he'd seen, but I'll guess he'd at least seen some clunkers.)

    Aukon reminds me of 3 different characters here– Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) during one of his "evil" phases; Oliver Reed in almost anything (including "THE BIG SLEEP"); and (when he's telling the guard to die) Count Federico (from "MANDRAGORA").

    But, why, why did anyone ever think a character like Adric could ever be a good idea?

    I do love how the scene of The Doctor and Romana in the cell, where he mentions Kam-Po (if not by name) mirrors the one with Jo in "THE TIME MONSTER". Then, when he's hit in the face with the door, I was reminded of how the exact same thing happened to Colin in "REVELATION".

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  35. encyclops
    August 20, 2012 @ 8:41 am

    It's probably far too late to comment on this entry, but I just rewatched this last night, and enjoyed it more than I ever have before, even when I was massively into vampires (almost exactly 20 years ago). It's terrifically atmospheric, the vampires' acting doesn't get REALLY over-the-top until the episode 3 cliffhanger and beyond, and Lalla and Tom are fantastic. Even Matthew is mostly watchable, especially since he gets a chance to doff the yellow pajamas briefly. Shame he didn't keep the velvet togs.

    I'm surprised you didn't comment more on the class element here, though it's a little thin on the ground, so maybe that's why. I'm not sure I follow your reasoning on the "universal narrative" piece, though. Maybe I don't know what those words specifically mean to you and your intellectual tradition.

    I'm also not sure that the Great Vampire was defeated by "ancient artifacts." Ancient lore, yes, but the actual instrument of destruction was an Earth-built scoutship. I suppose it's reasonably ancient by this point in the story, but it's not a magic Gallifreyan sword so much as a piece of technology fallen into disuse and forgotten by the vampires (with whose original human selves it was contemporaneous). It seemed a little contrived that K9 didn't have enough of a search engine to find the particular emergency instruction they needed, but I suppose part of it was the dramatic need to have Tom Baker recite the legend rather than John Leeson. However, I also think it's significant that these aren't actual books the Doctor fishes out of some storeroom on the TARDIS — it's not as if it doesn't have printed manuals or records — but punch cards. The knowledge is still bound up with technology (just as the crew manifest from the Hydrax is in episode 1), tying in with the overall notion that knowledge is knowledge, whether scientific or literary. The ancient is valuable here not because it's mystical and not merely because it's old, but because it's a time when knowledge and technology were still permitted — a time before the decay.

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  36. Michael Fuller
    February 11, 2015 @ 9:38 am

    I know, I'm behind. I'm reading as I rewatch the program and I simply don't have the stamina to maintain that on any basis other than semi-regular.

    I watched this once in college (having seen it a few times over the previous decade) in the early 90s. I was "experimenting" as you do and I found the moment with Tom doing essentially a monologue to camera (and clearly reading his lines from the computer paper) an extremely powerful performance. Having just rewatched it, I can honestly say it still holds up for me.

    Reply

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