What bloody man is that? It’s bloody Jack Graham. Again.
The curtain rises on Shabcast 8. Listen and/or download here.
Another Shabcast so soon? Yes, but don’t get used to this kind of schedule. It’s only happening because time is out of joint.
This time, myself and my actorly buddy Elliot Chapman (returning guest from the Macra shabcast, and Big Finish’s new Ben Jackson) discuss Shakespeare’s great tragedy ‘Macbeth’ (we only shabcast about things that begin with ‘mac’), and Shakespeare generally. We even say the word ‘Macbeth’ occasionally… hopefully without bringing too much theatrical ill-luck down upon ourselves. We chat as we watch the TV film of Trevor Nunn’s legendary production from 1978, starring Ian McKellen and Judi Dench, and produced by Verity Lambert. The second most profound material she ever televised.
Doctor Who frequently did stories which critiqued capitalism to one degree or another. But there’s an interesting dialectical twist to this, which is that it usually cloaked such critiques in the aesthetics of (for want of a better term) ‘totalitarianism’.
It begins, arguably, with ‘The Macra Terror’… though so much of what that story does ‘first’ is actually just being done openly and consciously for the first time. Other examples include (most graphically) ‘The Sun Makers’, ‘Vengeance on Varos’, and ‘The Happiness Patrol’. I’d argue for a few others to go on the list, but these are the most obvious examples. ‘The Beast Below’ carried on the tradition, as did ‘Gridlock’ before it (albeit mutedly). Yet many of these stories have been subject to readings which interpret them as right-wing and/or libertarian attacks on aspects of socialism and/or statism (often assumed to be synonymous). I might even (overall) support such a reading in some cases. ‘The Beast Below’, for example, is a story which critiques aspects of the capitalist world, but which (to my mind) ends up supplying more alibis than indictments – partially through its use of totalitarian/statist tropes. I think the thing that leaves them open to such readings is their ‘totalitarian’ aesthetic. The (myopic, ideologically-distorted) view of socialism which sees it as inherently coercive and statist can grab hold of the aesthetically magnified symbols of statism which litter these stories.
I think this tendency to wrap critiques of capitalism in totalitarian aesthetics comes from the influence of the Nigel Kneale / Rudolph Cartier TV version of Nineteen Eighty-Four, which starred Peter Cushing.
Stylistically, this production appears to have been deeply influential to the rising generation of programme-makers who would write and design Doctor Who in the 60s. The totalitarian affect pioneered visually in that production gets embedded in Doctor Who‘s internal semiotic repertoire as a stock way of expressing worries about social freedom.
This isn’t surprising at all, since the aesthetics of totalitarianism have proven a popular and enduring way of expressing such worries in the wider culture, as the proliferation of SF dystopias has shown. They’re now almost a basic, fallback position for YA books and films.
But we need to do more than just gesture to a particularly influential production. That’s not enough. It’s not an explanation. You can’t just say ‘this production here was influential’. That’s just begging the question. The real question is: why was it influential? What was it about it that made its aesthetics stick so hard?
I think the answer actually lies back in the book. Much of the horror of the book is the everyday horror of squalor – whether it be the squalor of coldness and dirt and forced ‘healthiness’, or the moral squalor of everyday ideological management. Orwell gets the former from his experiences of public school (which he wrote about elsewhere with loathing) and the latter from his experiences of working within the BBC. Even Newspeak is derived from work he did for the BBC World Service in India. …
Fraternal May Day greetings to all workers by hand or by brain, all socialists, and all anarchists. Have a good one, comrades. And implacable hatred, opposition and ill-will to all capitalists and their class allies. Boo, hiss, etc.
This month, both the Pex Lives Podcast and the Shabogan Graffiti Podcast are covering the classic 60s Doctor Who adventure ‘The Macra Terror’ by Ian Stuart Black, sadly junked long ago, and represented nowadays only by a soundtrack and a reconstruction.
Elliot is so smart and erudite that he seems to be on some kind of mission to singlehandedly disprove the old stereotype about actors being thick. And he likes my blog, which proves he’s clever. Our chat was fantastic fun, and I’ve had to edit it down savagely to make the episode anything approaching a reasonable length… but this means I’ve got loads of good offcuts, which may appear in later Shabcasts as something in the manner of ‘deleted scenes’.
This Shabcast is possibly the most shabgraffy Shabcast yet, i.e. lots of Doctor Who and lots of politics… as well as unrestrained ramblings from both of us about stuff as diverse as complicity, conspiracy, CRPGs, The Prisoner (of course), Herbert Marcuse, Universal horror films, Abbott and Costello, Marshall Berman, the Nazi’s Degenerate Art Exhibition and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.
Should keep you nice and distracted as you toil in the pits.
Shabcast 6 (which will be along later this month) will be Phil Sandifer and myself continuing our discussion about the fascists and the Hugo awards.
Also look out for our forthcoming commentary tracks for ‘The Three Doctors’.
Shabcast 7 is already recorded and waiting for its June release. That’s going to be a special one.
‘Mind Robber’ commentaries (I join Phil) ‘The Rescue’ commentaries (I join Phil) These are best listened to while watching the stories, as long as you’ve seen them once before. If you’re very familiar with the stories, you can listen to them on their own.
Pex Lives Frankenstein podcast (I join Kevin and James, and Gene Mayes) Pex Lives TV Movie podcast (Myself and Josh join Kevin and James) …