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Jack Graham

Jack Graham wrote about Doctor Who and Marxism, often at the same time. These days he co-hosts the I Don't Speak German podcast with Daniel Harper.Support Jack on Patreon.

51 Comments

  1. ScarvesandCelery
    September 23, 2015 @ 6:48 am

    Enjoyed this review very much, although I enjoyed the episode more than you did – I enjoy the character work of Moffat’s era, so I appreciated the interactions between the various pairings of characters: first Clara and UNIT, then Clara and Missy, then Clara, Missy and the Doctor, and finally the Doctor and Davros.
    With that said, I agree that the trolley problem/ ethical dilemma the episode is setting up lacks any real bite, although there is probably something interesting to be said about the textual interactions between Genesis of the Daleks and this story, and I am hoping the second part can take the story in an interesting direction.
    Ultimately, I found this to be a fun start to the season made with confidence and verve, but I suspect the only episodes I’ll enjoy it more than will be the ones written by Toby Whithouse and Mark Gatiss. Certainly, I’m more interested in what “The Girl Who Lived/ The Woman Who died”, The Zygon two parter, Face the Raven, and the finale are going to do.

    Reply

  2. Joseph
    September 23, 2015 @ 6:55 am

    ‘Missy – like Davros, brilliantly played but disappointingly written – brings up the complicity argument (the he-who-fights-monsters-becomes-a-monster) argument again in the Series 8 finale’

    Missy didn’t attack the Doctor with he-who-fights-monsters. Rather, she accused him of failing to use all the means at his disposal to fight his enemies. The Doctor was refusing to do something he rather wouldn’t in the name of a greater good.

    Reply

    • Jack Graham
      September 23, 2015 @ 7:13 am

      To an extent, yes, but the criticism is based upon the idea that he’s morally inconsistent and cowardly, i.e. he’s already become what he fights and is now trying to wriggle out of it.

      Reply

    • Elizabeth Sandifer
      September 23, 2015 @ 8:06 am

      As I note in the podcast, I read Missy’s confrontation with the Doctor in Death in Heaven more as her aspirations than as a critique of the Doctor. Their equivalence is what she wants to be true, not something the narrative even pretends to give credence to.

      Reply

      • Jack Graham
        September 23, 2015 @ 10:41 am

        I don’t agree with that at all. The narrative totally wants us to feel at least unsettled by the supposed critique.

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        • William McCormick
          September 23, 2015 @ 12:47 pm

          I don’t want to flog a dead horse, but I was sure that the narrative wanted us to feel sad there. All the talk of “Where did my friend go” and such. That this person who at one point obviously meant as much to the Doctor as anyone has become this almost desperate, raving loony who can’t see the basic differences between them.

          Reply

          • Elizabeth Sandifer
            September 23, 2015 @ 1:05 pm

            I mean, I think most of the complexity comes from Capaldi and Gomez there. Moffat wrote a very standard Master/Doctor confrontation and handed it to Capaldi and Gomez, who turn it into a complete frothing loony embarking on a massive scheme of repurposing corpses from all of space and time into Cybermen to get the Doctor to play with her again versus a man whose reaction to this is “oh for fuck’s sake no, not this again,” over which Jenna Coleman plays a companion being put through the most astonishingly intense character arc in series history.

            So I agree with Jack that there’s nothing in the writing there. But I think that’s Moffat getting out of the way of some brilliant collaborators, which is something he does a lot and well. There’s a time to show off and it’s the first fifteen minutes of Dark Water; by that point in Death in Heaven, it’s time to step aside and let everyone show their take on a classic.

  3. Aylwin
    September 23, 2015 @ 7:42 am

    This is a moral issue which obsesses, and has always obsessed, liberals. Understandable, since liberalism is built upon the idea that Western civilisation is tremendously good news despite being built upon capitalism, imperialism and colonialism… i.e. systems of exploitation, aggression, slavery and genocide

    Well, no. Liberals are more likely to be concerned with it because the idea that desired ends do not necessarily justify means is fundamental to liberalism, it being defined in large part around around things that you Just Don’t Do. Whereas the attitude of revolutionaries, reactionaries, and to a large extent conservatives tends more towards “Well of course atrocities are justified as long as we’re the ones committing them, and doing so in the name of X, Y or Z. Like, duh. Now remind me, which village are we liquidating this morning?”

    Reply

    • Jack Graham
      September 23, 2015 @ 10:00 am

      Yeah, liberals say that ends don’t justify means, and criticise conservatives and revolutionaries for thinking they do, while themselves supporting the allegedly best traditions of a civilisation based on mass murder.

      Reply

      • John
        September 23, 2015 @ 10:17 am

        Aren’t all civilizations based on mass murder? I certainly have a hard time thinking of any that haven’t been.

        Reply

        • Elizabeth Sandifer
          September 23, 2015 @ 10:24 am

          And what are we to do
          When everything we doctor
          When everything we build
          Is stained by our touch
          When everywhere we go is somewhere visited by someone
          The madness here is circular
          The madness here is us

          Reply

        • Jack Graham
          September 23, 2015 @ 10:40 am

          And your point would be…?

          Reply

          • John
            September 23, 2015 @ 11:35 am

            Well, all cultural products, political traditions, etc. (including Marxism, pretty clearly) come from civilizations based on mass murder. As a result, I don’t see how it’s unique to liberalism that it “supports the allegedly best traditions of a civilisation based on mass murder.” Leftist radicalism pretty much inevitably does that too, because all we have are traditions of civilisations based on mass murder. What choice is there but to pick through them and find the parts we think are valuable?

          • Elizabeth Sandifer
            September 23, 2015 @ 11:44 am

            I think Jack’s point was more that “the ends don’t justify the means” is in no way a core practice of liberalism, whereas accusing your enemies of believing that the ends justify the means blatantly is.

            I mean, I just don’t think the question is terribly interesting. Nobody actually thinks of the ends as distinct from the means in any substantive sense. It’s a phrase that exists only to redress the claim “you put insufficient weight on one aspect of the ends” into an accusation of sociopathy.

          • Jack Graham
            September 23, 2015 @ 11:50 am

            Okay, the very short answer to that is to point to the class interests expressed and furthered by different ideologies.

  4. Neil
    September 23, 2015 @ 7:50 am

    “You can remove them to another planet or epoch in your TARDIS and make them safe, the way you singularly failed to even consider in the case of Margaret Slitheen.”

    A nitpicky point in a larger essay, but is that not exactly what he did with Margaret Slitheen? Shiny light turns her back into an egg, he takes her to another Raxacoricofallapatorian family to have another chance at life?

    Reply

    • Elizabeth Sandifer
      September 23, 2015 @ 8:04 am

      Yes, but it wasn’t as though her transformation to an egg was his plan; Jack is presumably referring to the tedious moral debates that precede her cracking the TARDIS open.

      Reply

      • Matt M
        September 23, 2015 @ 8:12 am

        I’m not sure how that would have ‘solved’ the issue though. The issue was that she was a criminal who (we know) was a mass murderer and the Doctor’s choice was to let her go or deliver her to justice. Taking her to a different planet/time is the same as letting her go and escape justice.

        Reply

  5. Matt M
    September 23, 2015 @ 8:09 am

    I mean, Davros asks the Doctor to say that “Compassion is wrong” because the Doctor let him live and thus allowed evil to thrive. This is such a feeble challenge, it’s almost pitiful.

    Yes, but isn’t that sort of the point? I mean I didn’t get the feeling that the episode itself was weighted on the theme of whether compassion as a concept is a bad thing. It’s something said by Davros, who is a genocidal xenophobic megalomaniac who has a personal stake in the idea of ‘compassion being wrong’ because he built the Daleks without compassion and so wants to justify his actions and worldview. The Doctor isn’t worried becuase Davros might be right, he’s worried because Davros is a crazy man who says crazy things and wants to kill his friends to prove a crazy point.

    It’s not an argument. Davros has lost the argument before he starts because, you know, his ‘compassion is wrong’ directly resulted in the creation of the Daleks.

    Not everything every character says comes from the mouth of the author. Sometimes a crazy villain is just a crazy villain.

    I agree about the ‘moral dilemma’ being unengaging simply because it has no basis in real life or any way that it can relate to it.

    Kaled society is supposed to be racist, totalitarian, fascist.

    Is it though? I mean sure, Genesis gave us fascist overtones equally on both sides. It totally was by the time of Genesis, but that ‘purity of race’ is very much crouched in Kaled vs Thal vs genetic mutants. I’m sure ‘The Daleks’ had the Thals being the original oppressors against the peaceful Dals (unless that’s just in the novel) and the Dals responded by becoming even worse oppressors, which is, you know, pretty much half of the horrible thing we call human history in a nutshell.

    Anyway, Big Finish said that the Kaleds and Thals were different species, the Kaleds having evolved from clams. So there.

    Clams.

    Reply

    • Jack Graham
      September 23, 2015 @ 10:02 am

      Possibly I didn’t make myself sufficiently clear. I wasn’t saying that Steven Moffat agrees with Davros. I’m saying that he has made a mistake if he thinks that giving Davros that particular argument is in any way interesting. 🙂

      Reply

      • Elizabeth Sandifer
        September 23, 2015 @ 10:04 am

        I should think the dramatic weight comes from the fact that Davros has engineered circumstances capable of getting the Doctor to believe it, rather than from any suggestion that Davros is right.

        Reply

        • Matt M
          September 23, 2015 @ 10:31 am

          I guess this is one situation where we need to see part 2 before making judgements. Personally I didn’t get any sense of Davros’s ‘compassion is wrong’ argument having any weight besides ‘this guy is crazy and he’s going to let people die to prove a crazy point’.

          Just like Missy does 😉

          Reply

        • Jack Graham
          September 23, 2015 @ 10:40 am

          Which might be dramatic, but it’s not telling us anything or saying anything… other than that the Doctor needs to grow up.

          Reply

          • Elizabeth Sandifer
            September 23, 2015 @ 11:38 am

            I admit, I largely sympathize with the Doctor in this circumstance. Certainly more than I sympathize with his decision not to shove that mass-murdering fuckhead into a handmine and then piss in the hole.

          • Matt M
            September 23, 2015 @ 11:59 am

            But Phil, killing him due to his inevitable crimes would mean that free will is an illusion! (which again, is an interesting moral dilemma that in no way maps on to real life, but still…)

  6. Yossarianduck
    September 23, 2015 @ 8:51 am

    You know, as much as I love Jack and his seething righteous anger, his utter joy at the handmines has me grinning.

    Reply

    • Ger of All Trades
      September 23, 2015 @ 3:05 pm

      That bit reminded me of my own reaction to the gigantic, decaying TARDIS in The Name of the Doctor. It was just such a totemic and multifarious image that it kind of overshadowed the entire episode for me.

      Reply

  7. Chris
    September 23, 2015 @ 10:52 am

    Love the podcasts and the last thing I want to do is come across as petulant, or ungrateful even … but here’s the inevitable but that always follows such a statement … but have you considered making transcripts available?

    I only ask because with these 2 and 3 hour podcasts, I start them on my phone or on tab in my browser, but never have time to take it all in a sitting. I probably should download them; it’s just things I download are thrown in a folder with dozens other things I’ve downloaded and never get back to, so that’s not a good solution for me. Browser tabs get closed by me doing other things or my kids coming along to use the desktop, and I lose my progress … and this is all my fault and nobody else’s, but it’s just too much to go back later and drag the slider to figure out where I left off. First world problems.

    There may already be a transcript somewhere, or a (free, ideally) service one can use that I’m just not aware of, and, if so, I’d appreciate being pointed in the right direction. A quick google search didn’t turn up anything but what struck me as remarkably expensive
    ~$1/minute services.

    All that said, I’m desperately behind my own self-imposed blogging schedule for my own site, and can’t offer to do it myself, because I’m afraid it’d never get done on account of how lazy you’ve no doubt inferred I am. However, if I did transcribe and sent it to you, would you make it available through here? Or, if I posted a transcription somewhere and let you know where, would that be OK? Genius.com, I observe, allows for annotation of podcast transcripts, I see ‘Serial’ on there at least. That, IMO, would freaking rock for the kinds of discussions you’re having …

    Anyways, I was listening with interest as I made it to about the halfway point of this most recent one and hope to catch the end of it before the next one comes out …

    Reply

    • Elizabeth Sandifer
      September 23, 2015 @ 11:08 am

      I’d have to take that question to the whole team; if you ever think you might have the time, shoot me an e-mail and we’ll see.

      Reply

    • Jane Campbell
      September 23, 2015 @ 1:23 pm

      Another rather simple technical solution would be to also provide podcasts that are broken up into smaller 30-45 minute chapters, if that’s in any way appealing.

      Reply

      • Elizabeth Sandifer
        September 23, 2015 @ 1:24 pm

        My experience with such things is that one quickly discovers how many people preferred the old way and would then ask for omnibus versions. 😉

        Reply

        • Jane Campbell
          September 23, 2015 @ 2:06 pm

          Which is why I said also

          Reply

        • Camestros Felapton
          September 23, 2015 @ 3:41 pm

          Both would be nice but I don’t know how much faffing about is involved in that. So I don’t know if that is useful feedback or akin to demanding that you also make sandwiches for everybody who might get peckish while listening.

          Reply

          • AStrange
            September 28, 2015 @ 2:36 pm

            I’ll take mozzarella and spinach…

        • Jarl
          September 23, 2015 @ 6:00 pm

          You could put chapter breaks into the podcast. m4a files have the ability to break up into chapters (or “tracks”, I suppose, since this is an audio podcast), but that adds an extra layer of production work.

          Reply

    • Matthew Parsons
      September 23, 2015 @ 8:11 pm

      On a similarly demanding note, might you make Pex Lives/Shabcast etc. available on Stitcher? I mean, unless I’m the only person in the universe who would be interested in that, which may be the case.

      Reply

  8. Gavin Burrows
    September 23, 2015 @ 1:22 pm

    ”…I loved the handmines… They are one of the greatest images in Doctor Who”

    I most readily concur with m’learned colleague. But perhaps the really smart thing about them is the war environment is built up so quickly and so effectively, seemingly culminating in the handmines. Then when a child is chucked in you assume he’s just there as the cheese in the mousetrap, something to give the Doctor a reason to go getting involved. So the switch it pulls on you with him smacks you head on. Of course we might be more skeptical about what that switch consists of. Which leads me onto…

    ”the fact that it bothers me is evidence of the itching presence of the fan reptile brain in me, sending me error messages about things that aren’t really worthwhile concerns.”

    I’d be tempted to side with your fan reptile brain against the rest of you. There’s a distinction between adding stuff and over-writing, even if bad adds contaminate the original to the point where it becomes a form of over-writing. And Moffat let’s not forget quite explicitly smeared Clara all over the whole of the show’s history. Which is pretty close to slapping a ‘Property of Steven’ sticker over everything.

    ”He’s directly picking up those two strands of wire that Tom Baker agonised over… Can you build a just world on the sacrifice of a child?”

    True , the scene in ‘Genesis’ may just be a parlour game version of an ethical debate. (What would I do with a time machine? Mate, I don’t even own a bike.) But it isn’t much of a plot driver. You could quite easily remove it and the rest of the mechanism would still chug along. But it adds a shine. It’s thrown into a teatime sci-fi show alongside giant mutant clams, we don’t expect it. (Or at least we didn’t, when we first saw it.) Centering a whole story around it seems a classic case of a fan not truly understanding what they’re dealing with, and coming up with an ostensible copy which doesn’t really work. Unless Moffat is going to come up with a whole new take on that dilemma. Which to be honest I kind of doubt.

    ”This is all the more true of texts in capitalist society which are privately owned and controlled, enclosed, run by people whose job it is to wield that kind of authority over them.”

    True, again. But I think there’s more of a rub with ‘Who’ than with other texts. Perhaps partly because it doesn’t have a single orginating figure (like, say, ‘Star Trek’), perhaps partly because it could be off-air for so long and still live and breathe… whatever the reasons, people instinctively get that ‘Who’ is an honorary folk-art product. The borders between canon and non-canon are so much more porous. You can look at it in a way where more of it is simply more of it, where what is liked gets taken up and what doesn’t get liked is just forgotten. And that itself has a weird twist when so many writers are fans turned pro. All the gamekeepers are ex-poachers.

    Reply

  9. John G Wood
    September 23, 2015 @ 4:30 pm

    “We demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!”

    I admit that, upon discovering the child was Davros, I had two thoughts. One was admiration that they’d made it so obviously Skaro during the Thal-Kaled war, while simultaneously (and paradoxically) hiding it so well; the other was, basically, “Oh noes! I hope they don’t screw up my cherished view of Davros’ origin!”

    Glad to know I’m not alone. At least they can’t do what Rise of the Cybermen did to Spare Parts, and turn it into an inferior clone of Genesis…

    Reply

  10. Dave
    September 23, 2015 @ 4:31 pm

    Somebody suggested that the episode ought to be called “Genesis of the Genesis of the Daleks.” You’ve convinced me that really it ought to be “Let’s Kill Child Hitler.”

    Also, Christ, I still haven’t got through the last two Shabcasts. I might have to actually get work done if I’m going catch up….

    Reply

  11. Jarl
    September 23, 2015 @ 6:12 pm

    They’re basically Nazis. And there weren’t many black Nazis. Kind-of a contradiction in terms.

    There were Black Nazis. There were plenty of black people in Germany, and for much the same reason there’s black people all through Europe.

    In the armed forces
    A number of blacks served in the Wehrmacht. The number of German blacks was low, but there were some instances where blacks were enlisted within Nazi organizations such as the Hitler Youth and later the Wehrmacht.[20] In addition, there was an influx of foreign volunteers during the African campaign, which led to the existence of a number of blacks in the Wehrmacht and SS in such units as the Free Arabian Legion.

    Hans Massaquoi, managing editor of Jet and Ebony, grew up in Nazi Germany and didn’t understand why his teacher warned him he’d have a rough time if he joined the Hitler Youth, which is one of my favorite weird everyday Nazi life stories.

    Obviously, if we’re taking the show’s history as to imply that the Kaleds have racist standards based on skin color, then it seems reasonable to assume that there would be black Kaled soldiers but none in the high command or science divisions we saw back in Genesis.

    … besides, I always thought of the Thals as more the pure aryan ideal sorts, with the Kaleds being the technofascist half, and the two cultures coming together in an act of war that birthed the Daleks. Sure, they don’t like Thals, but I betcha the Kaleds didn’t do much better.

    Reply

  12. dm
    September 23, 2015 @ 9:51 pm

    Mentioning MR James is Jack’s new “we’re surrounded by film”

    Reply

  13. dm
    September 23, 2015 @ 10:51 pm

    I must say, I adored the Axe Battle scene. It was the first scene bar the opening on Skaro that actually worked for me. It was a Rick and Morty scene played for pathos (so, essentially, a second season Rick and Morty scene).

    I like giving Capaldi the chance to do the “I’m about to die so let’s party” thing from the Smith era, because he does it so very well.

    Reply

  14. Avishai Weinberger
    September 24, 2015 @ 12:52 am

    I’m going to make an assumption (and I haven’t read the other comments, so maybe I’m not the first) but… the doctor is aiming the gun at the handmines, he’s going to destroy the handmines, the way to ‘save my friend’ is to save Davros because this is going to have an optimistic “yes you don’t kill the kid” ending and “no you don’t kill baby Hitler” stance.

    Reply

  15. EvilBug
    September 24, 2015 @ 4:07 am

    Conventional morality is made to operate in the dark. You don’t know what consequences of your actions as, and morality condemns rash decisions and pre-emptive strikes.

    However, we already know how Davros will end. So I don’t really see how letting trillions to perish from Daleks just to keep your own hands clean is a moral choice.

    Reply

  16. RayNRal
    September 24, 2015 @ 7:02 pm

    I’ll admit I’m a bit irritated over Davros being a person with no physical disability. It concerns me, because Davros was truly one of the few characters in the series, (certainly one of the only recurring ones), who used a wheelchair.

    Moffat choosing to spoil the backstory of the one character who just happened to need a wheelchair by revealing that that wasn’t always the case is sad.

    Now I fear we’ll have to suffer through some sort of event that will bring the able-bodied good child Davros to transform into the evil Davros in a wheelchair – and that is just so tired and predictable, and frankly, damaging… because apparently you can’t just be a person in a wheelchair – it has to somehow tie into your morality.

    All of time and space to explore, and here we go again contemplating our own navel, and trashing it.

    Next time – venting over the show’s deviation away from celebrating science and instead promoting mysticism and myth. (ie the Moon is NOT a giant egg!)

    Reply

    • encyclops
      September 25, 2015 @ 1:52 am

      I was so obsessed with the FASA role-playing game back when I was 11, which is pretty definitive on the origins of Davros (and has him looking a bit Delgadoish prior to the Event, which is a Thal bomb hitting his lab, if I recall correctly) that it has never occurred to me to even conceive of him as a child in a wheelchair. Does “Genesis” mention that event? What’s the Big Finish take?

      Anyway, I wish you great success with your promised venting. I’m with you on science and the Moon, though since my favorite classic episode might very well be “Kinda” I can’t claim to completely reject mysticism and myth.

      And incidentally, I’m with Jack on the notion that maybe we’re in danger of squandering the show’s premise by running the interpersonal into the ground. It’s been lovely to prove the show is capable of it, but to be perfectly honest I think interrogating the Doctor’s character has diminishing returns. Interrogating times and places, both real and fictional, is what the show is built to do and be capable of, and my fondest wish is to see it get on with doing that.

      Reply

      • Citizen_Alan
        September 26, 2015 @ 2:28 am

        I’m almost positive that not only was Davros injured and crippled as an adult, but that it didn’t even happen more than a few years before Genesis. I could be misremembering, but I’m nearly positive that was mentioned somewhere.

        Reply

    • Loki
      September 27, 2015 @ 6:49 pm

      If it makes you feel better, in the IDavros Big Finish interpretation of Davros’s life, he was already a horrible person before his accident. Unfortunately he did get way worse after his accident because (my interpretation for this bit), when the ableist Kaleds looked on at him in disgust, Davros’s allegiance to his own people died and he began to focus more solidly on the Daleks (and then genocided the Kaleds).

      Reply

  17. Cespinarve
    September 25, 2015 @ 1:44 am

    “Once again, I’m not saying that I don’t like characterisation or characters with interiority, I just think it needs to be de-emphasized and not allowed to crowd out more interesting things.”

    Which is what, exactly? Your desire for a show that seems to be Big Themes all the times sounds like you want a television adaptation of Asimov’s Foundation Series, which has epic, symbolic exploration of sociological collapse and rebirth, and has characters so one note they’d be considered too repetitive for a Philip Glass concert.

    Hyperbole, obviously, but Asimov populates Foundation (the first book especially) with stock characters. This, to be fair, is fine, but I think it would make a boring television series (miniseries, on the other hand…) You seem to desire a Doctor Who where the characters cease to be people, without any of those complexities of sentient behaviour such as neurosis or desire, and yet: “I have my own quite elaborate ideas about who Davros is, where he comes from, what he thinks and feels, what his early life was like, and how he got to where we meet him in ‘Genesis of the Daleks’.”

    Is that not character interiority?

    [As an aside, you are probably the first person I’ve ever seen who complained that a show whose primary audience is children was not nearly polemical enough. Your vision of Doctor Who, I suspect, would be much like a medieval Mystery Play, with characters called Lust and Pride and Envy acting out overt political allegories to keep the kiddies entertained. The Thick Of it with less cussing and the names swapped out for abstract nouns? Given that you’ve already got Peter Capaldi, and a character whose name is purely descriptive, you might as well go for it. Seriously, though, your vision of Doctor Who intrigues me beyond my snark. What does the show look like in your favoured world?]

    Reply

    • Jack Graham
      September 25, 2015 @ 5:18 am

      You raise a valid question, which I’ll probably address in another post.

      Reply

  18. quislibet
    September 26, 2015 @ 4:16 pm

    As someone who occasionally appreciates shallow cleverness for its own sake, I did like the way a lot of things were copied, adapted, or repurposed from “Genesis.” My girlfriend couldn’t recall ever having seen that, so we watched it in a couple of sittings this week, and she kept pointing out, in that kind of delight that consists mainly of recognition, “Oh, hey! This is like that thing in last weekend’s episode.”

    I agree with John Wood above that the opening battle scene was especially effective in its strange combination of hiding what was going on while, in retrospect, clearly being exactly what it was. WWI guys with bows fighting biplanes with lasers? No doubt Moffat relied on viewers in a post-“Wedding of River Song” world to suspect just long enough that he was just being timey-wimey again, but no, that’s straight-up thousand-year-war-on-Skaro stuff, right from the source material.

    Reply

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