Even as I type this, protestors are clambering over the stone lions at the base of Nelson’s Column, waving anti-cuts placards while sat astride the petrified leonine relics of an imperial age that is still decaying… and trying to take us all with it.
‘Warrior’s Gate’ came up for discussion at Gallifrey Base today. It seems almost ridiculously appropriate. Well, it does to me anyway.
Biroc makes me think of Walter Benjamin’s ‘Angel of History’:
The Angel of History must look just so. His face is turned towards the past. Where we see the appearance of a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe, which unceasingly piles rubble on top of rubble and hurls it before his feet. He would like to pause for a moment so fair, to awaken the dead and to piece together what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise, it has caught itself up in his wings and is so strong that the Angel can no longer close them. The storm drives him irresistibly into the future, to which his back is turned, while the rubble-heap before him grows sky-high. That which we call progress, is this storm.
Benjamin’s exegesis was inspired by a figure in a painting by Klee… but, sometimes, when I read that passage, I see Biroc. To me, Biroc is the angel, haunted by the cruelties of the past and propelled forwards by the inexorable progress of brutality, yearning to pull the emergency cord and stop the train of history, to burst apart the continuum of repetitive exploitation. The media of his travel are the mirrors, the shimmering reproaches that reflect his and his people’s ruin back at him, and allow him through into the past where he can see – and even participate in – the horror of the lost empire that has doomed his people to their turn in servitude, the lions now kings no more, the king’s beasts in chains.
The Doctor walks into the cobwebby, ruined Tharil dining hall and sets right a goblet that was left on its side centuries ago. Later in the story he is taken back to the moment when the Tharils began to lose control of their empire, when they were attacked at the height of their power by the revolution they thought they could dodge forever. Disgusted by their treatment of their slaves, the Doctor pours wine into the very same goblet (but centuries before he first saw and righted it) until … well, until the Tharil’s cup runneth over… and then knocks it over in a gesture of splendid, ironic contempt for their decadence; decadence built on the suffering, servitude, abuse and unrequited labour of those the Tharils call “only people”.
The grand feudalism of the Tharils has crumbled, demolished by the revenge of history, by the revolt of the serfs and their faceless machines of violent liberation… and the industrious serfs have built their own civilisation, which has become mercantile and imperialistic, technological and temporal, perhaps with their time engines based on the looted skills of the time sensitives who used to loot their skills long ago.…