This is an edited and tweaked version of something I wrote for the old site.
If ‘The Deadly Assassin’ has a central thesis, it might be this: power is no guaranteur of responsibility. Or even sensibleness. This tale shows us beings like us. Godlike in their technology, they are also childlike in their small-mindedness.
In ‘The Deadly Assassin’, the Time Lords are senile gerontocrats living on ossified priviledge. They natter, bumble and scheme. The less shot-away amongst them spend their time snapping at each other with haughty contempt or scheming over appearances and expediency. Robert Holmes deliberately strips Power of its outward signs of dignity and virtue and superiority.
They are locked in a rigid class system. They fail to understand their own technology, their own power, their own myths. They “adjust the truth” to suit their agendas. Their outwardly civilised society begins to crumble into anarchy when two of their renegades return and start fighting out their neuroses. The sit on a massive computer lake of information in which nestles a surreal and nightmarish dreamscape filled with elemental terrors. Their Panopticon (literally: place where all can be seen) hides secrets. The biggest secret is a singularity, a piece of cosmic anarchy that they’ve slaved to their technology and then forgotten about. This is a picture of denial. Like the lies that are “good for public morale” overlaying the sordid truth, their society pretends to be controlled and calm but rests on hidden and deadly knowledge.
As a satire, it isn’t subtle. Robert Holmes chucks in random signifiers from various power elites of Western culture: British public schools, Washington DC, the Vatican, Oxbridge, etc. Gallifrey seems to be his scathing picture of an oligarchial and decadent world, run by liars or killers or the senile, reported by snobbish and fautous twitterers content to reel off the official-view of the upper echelons. Trials are manipulated for convenience. Elections are devoid of real democracy. Behind the specious words about “our traditions of fairness and justice”, the system’s Swiss Guard-style private police use torture and assumption. Hildred is a brutal bungler; Spandrell’s intelligence and independence only highlights how unusual he is in his world.
Most outragously, the story seems to riff on the Kennedy assassination. ‘The Deadly Assassin’ isn’t an allegory of Dealey Plaza, but it does play with our collective (often confabulated) consciousness of that political slaying. The Doctor is a “patsy”, his alleged weapon has misaligned scopes, the real killer is from within the top circle of power, the truth is changed by Borusa’s cover-up.
We even have the cheekily named Celestial Intervention Agency, of which the Doctor is assumed to be a member… and, indeed, the Doctor has been involved in Time Lord-sanctioned interventions. Is he a C.I.A. agent? This one throwaway reference muddies the waters (or rather stirs waters that are already muddy). The Time Lords speak of their policy of neutral observation of the universe (Gallifrey is the place where all can be seen) and of their strict non-interventionism… but, like the Western ‘democracies’ that speak of international law and then organise coups d’etat in places where they feel their interests are threatened, they can always ask their “C.I.A.”…
The great underwater strike ballot & blockade scene from ‘The Underwater Menace’. Seemed timely to me. This is how you fight power-mad maniacs who are determined to destroy your society while pretending to save it.
Well, maybe not exactly like that. You get the general thrust, I’m sure.…
Yep, here’s the best of my Pertwee stuff from Timelash II. Thrill to my confusion as I struggle to get to grips with an era that itself struggled to get to grips with fuel controversies, miners’ strikes, feminism and loads of funny stuff like that. Lots of new material in amongst the stuff I posted at Gallibase.
I remember the first time I saw ‘Inferno’. I was at university. I popped into town and bought the VHS release with pretty much the last scrapings from the bottom of my overdraught. I took it back to my digs and watched it in one sitting, surrounded by half-read Penguin classics, half-written essays and empty beer cans.
I remember, somewhere towards the middle of the story, practically praying to Someone Or Other (the gods of TV probably) that the writer would have the balls to refuse to reveal what the green slime was and/or what the Primords were.
I remember being well pleased when I got to the end without having had some clumsy sci-fi “explanation” foisted on me.
The Primords are just there. They represent the animal in man, unleashed. The are the externalised form of the snarling beast inside the Brigade Leader that makes him enjoy his fascistic work so much, of the apes inside Sutton and Stahlman that make them tear and snap at each other.
Luckily, the story also has some intelligent things to say about the way people are shaped by the societies in which they live. That fine fellow Mr Benton, when raised in a fascist world (or possibly just employed by one), becomes a brutal sadist… so it’s not about our bestial original sin but about our choices within society as we find it and as it shapes us.
UNIT guards make their own lives but not in circumstances of their own choosing.
I know the evil-version-of-regular-character-in-alt-world thing is hardly original… but ‘Inferno’ does it better and smarter than any other take on the same idea that I’ve seen.
Also, as The Discontinuity Guide says, the “so free will is not an illusion after all!” scene elicits a cheer (or should do) from the viewer.
It’s a powerful piece of work because of the ideas, even if they’re not stunningly profound or original, and because of the strength of the direction. The constant background thrumming of machinery, the hazy heat of the outside world, the bleak industrial wasteland in which the project seems to nestle, the use of brilliant ‘stock’ music by Delia Derbyshire, the incrementally jacked-up claustrophobia, the sweating actors, the performances that ratchet up the tension, the nightmarish apocalypse in Episode Six with blistered zombies catatonic as the air fills with hot ash, the well-integrated stock footage of lava explosions, the stunningly tight and tense cliffhanger to Episode Four with the countdown reaching zero as the Doctor and Stahlmann face each other over a gun… it goes on and on.
Also, the open question of whether the alt-world is a fascist or communist tyranny leads to all sorts of interesting (to me anyway) avenues of thought, including the observation that, either way, it’s more similar than it is different to the democratic world of the Brigadier and UNIT.…
With extra material by Charles Daniels (so there’ll be at least one bit of it worth reading).
What is Doctor Who but a “carnival of monsters”? A peepshow for kids that want to look in on lots of other worlds full of funny little creatures doing funny little tricks, like arguing and fighting and being chased and eaten by monsters? In fact, that’s TV generally. Well, actually, it’s fiction generally. But Doctor Who is what’s being examined here. A cheap ‘n’ cheerful carny entertainment, proffered by el cheapo entertainers. The purpose is to amuse, simply to amuse. Nothing serious, nothing political……
Except that entertainment is inherently political, as is fun, as is the imagination, as is the love of monsters. Monsters, as China Miéville has put it, are “good at meaning” things. He says that we’re a teratoculture, that we make monsters as part of our inherent humanness. They’re all over the caves that prehistoric man painted. We’re the animal that is scared of our predators… but also wonders how cool it would be if four of our different predators all donated body parts to some chimera creature that exists only in our heads. And we still love monsters, even in our world of technology and capitalism. We go to them for amusement, to fend off the boredom. And they mean things for us at the same time.
Inter-Minor (a world whose name suggests interiority and petty little concerns) is run by grey-faced, bureaucratic, xenophobic, snobbish, isolationist killjoys. It reminds me of what James Connolly said about the consequences of dividing Ireland, that it would be a “carnival of reaction”. And right he was too. The Inter-Minoran rulers could be the Catholic Church in the South, cracking down on fun (though they’re a bit too disapproving of colourful kitsch and bling to convince as Catholics) or the Protestant ruling minority in the North, holding down the Catholics. Bit of a stretch? Yeah, okay, probably. But either way, they hate the Scope because it might amuse the Functionaries, the exploited underclass who are shot down for stopping work and protesting. And the Functionaries do look interested! The “official species” won’t let them look, however. They fear the contamination brought by the multi-coloured, sequin-plastered fakers who want to bring colour and fun to their world. They don’t want the functionaries getting ideas. Like the British imperialists on the SS Bernice who generalise about “Johnny Chinaman” and the laziness of their “Madrassi” (which is a racist slur, in case you didn’t know), the Inter-Minorans don’t think their beasts of burden can be trusted to pause working without also losing their discipline and becoming dangerous.
Is this a protectionist state tyranny that fears the freedoms brought by the free market – personified by the entrepreneurial Vorg? Maybe, but this story also critiques British imperialist racism… and Vorg is hardly an ethical paragon. His business is the cruel and utterly callous exploitation of the “monsters” that find their way into his little malfunctioning techno-zoo. A machine that separates people into their little boxes and keeps them there, running round in circles, doing the same things over and over, stuck in time, unalive and unaware of it.…
The Captain announced his Spending Review yesterday, a reconsideration of Zanak’s finances in light of the galactic economic recession.
“Citizens,” bellowed the Captain, “prepare yourselves! Watch for the omens! I declare the dawning of a new Golden Age of Austerity!”
Crowds of Zanakians are reported to have stagily chanted “Un-hooray!” in chorus.
“The fact is,” yelled the Captain, “that there are now no more planets worth materializing around, crushing and sucking dry… because they’re all broke too.
“So, citizens, we all have to make sacrifices. You’ll have noticed that there are no more jewels lying around in the street these days… well, we’re also going to have to confiscate all the jewels in your homes. And all the furniture. And all your clothes. And air cars. And your dwelling booths. And your food.
“We’re even going to cut funding to our bondage-gear-clad fascist guards… because we have so little respect for you that we expect you to put up with all this without a whimper of protest.
“The mines will not be magically filling up again any time soon. But me and my lot up here in the Bridge refuse to go without, so it’ll have to come out of your pockets. But we’re actually going to be hit hardest anyway. I’ll be short on staff to kill when I get into a temper because I’m going to sack most of them (they are public sector, after all). But remember, citizens, that we’re all in this together. Yes, by the blue blood of the Bullingdon sky-demon, we are!”
In other news, old Queen Xanxia (who was recently taken ill) is reported to be resting comfortably between her time dams, aware that her legacy marches on, a secret little smile on her evil old face.…
Perhaps the most interesting thing about ‘Inferno’ (interesting to me anyway) is the way that the fascist world of the Brigade Leader is distinguished by only a very few differences – mainly in terms of attitude and levels of state violence – from the ‘democratic’ capitalist world of the Brigadier and 70s Britain. There are more similarities than differences. There’s very little to distinguish a state-funded project in a ‘democratic’ world and one in a fascist world; very little distance between the basic jobs of a Brigade Leader and a Brigadier. The people behave differently but the essential structure of society is the same, albeit with very different levels of official repression. This reflects – probably accidentally, if we’re honest – the fact that fascism is not a fundamentally different form of economic system but a different way of running a capitalist state.
Actually, I’ve been calling them “fascists”… but the casual reference to the execution of the royal family, the fact that the Brigade Leader is a member of something called the “Republican Security Force” (the Nazis planned to reinstall Edward VIII as their puppet monarch when they took over Britain, not set up a ‘republic’), the Orwellian poster and the fact that a government official can happily go by the name of Sir Keith Gold, all tends to suggest that this might be a ‘communist’ tyranny rather than a ‘Nazi’ one. (By the way, I don’t mean to suggest that Jews always had a lovely time of it in Stalinist dictatorships, merely that anti-Semitism wasn’t a central part of ‘communist’ doctrine the way it was with the Nazis.)
There are indications that work for either a fascist or ‘communist’ world… and that was probably the idea: the notion that both are essentially the same, or very similar. Okay, so does that work? Well, the idea that Nazism and ‘communism’ (and other similar systems, like Baathism in Iraq) are all akin to each other and best described as ‘totalitarian’ is still a very common and popular one. The concept of ‘totalitarianism’ is certainly useful to an extent, as it expresses a fundamental difference between a repressive state that attempts to simply force obedience and one that also attempts to impose orthodoxy in all aspects of life. Ultimately, however, it’s probably a bit of a millstone. It allows people like the ‘anti-totalitarian’ left and the French ‘New Philosophers’ to argue for imperialist wars waged by America, the UK and NATO, on the grounds that their opponents are ‘totalitarian’ and are therefore akin to the powerful states that created the Gulag and the death camps. It’s arguable how many societies have really that closely resembled the totalitarian model as represented by Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (which, in popular consciousness, is a bit like the Platonic ‘form’ of totalitarianism). We should never forget that Orwell’s book is a satire, and as such contains a great deal of exaggeration… and that the representative of Oceanian ideology in the book specifically states that the world of Big Brother has gone further than the Nazis or communists did.…
With odd old ends stol’n out of holy writ,
And seem a saint, when most I play the devil.
– William Shakespeare, Richard III
Science-fiction is the reiteration of myth and legend in the age of science and technology, i.e. the capitalist age, which is also the age of industrialised imperialism and fascism, of assembly line genocide and nuclear warheads dropped on civilian population centres. No wonder then that sci-fi often retells the history of the 20th century in terms of apocalypse and revelation; that’s to say in terms of Christianity, the dominant mythological schema of Western culture. ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ fuses various Christian myths (most especially, the myth of the creator who creates in his own image, endows his creation with free will and is then turned upon by them… but also the fiery last judgement) with a stream-of-consciousness semiotic representation of Nazis, holocausts and Hiroshimas.
We are shown a world in which the Daleks become possible. A world reduced to two decaying cities fighting each other to extinction for no reason that either seems to understand (which reiterates the myth of Greece and Troy). The Kaleds and the Thals are practically indistinguishable (except for their hair and colour schemes… who knows, maybe it all started as a war between the blondes and the brunettes?). The Thals are just as brutal, just as racist. Who’s to say they didn’t start it? Does it even matter? There is clearly no right or wrong here, no goodies and baddies. The Thals plot genocide, dirty war and the slaughter of those they consider inferior. As such, the Daleks are almost a just punishment upon them. In fact, since Davros and his creatures kill nearly all the Kaleds too, you can look upon these monsters as a kind of judgement visited upon both races for their thousand year war. Divine justice or the revenge of history; it depends if you look at this as history or myth. Of course, it’s both – just like a Shakespeare history play.
A. P. Rossiter called Shakespeare’s Richard III an “angel with horns”, pointing out that his devilish crimes bring down a kind of divine purification upon an England sullied by usurpation and war. In his evil, he’s almost a force for good. Davros is like this. He’s very like Richard. Twisted and deformed but able to turn his deformity to his advantage; charismatic and commanding despite being lame and crippled; able to charm and trot out professions of duty while inwardly seething with malice; narcissistic and vain; thirsty for power; driven by a fierce and implacable intellect; driven through ambition to self-destruction. There are even echoes of Shakespeare in some of the dialogue. “Conscience is a word that cowards use” says Richard. To Davros, conscience is an affliction amongst other “creeds of cowards”.
I wonder if it’s entirely an accident that at least one bit of Davros’ dialogue sounds like it’s in iambic pentameter:
And through the Daleks I shall have that power.”
Remember how the accuracy-nazis used to insist upon referring to ‘An Unearthly Child’ as ‘100,000 BC’ (and ‘The Daleks’ as ‘The Mutants’ and ‘Galaxy 4’ as ‘Enid Harper Collects Her Son Ian From His Karate Lessons’) and so on? Despite the fact that doing so was really, really embarassing?
Actually, I think DWM still do that. Not sure. Ages since I read it. (Which is a lie because I read the copy with my name in from cover to cover.)
Anyway, remember that whole original titles thing?
Well, the original title of this venture that you’re currently reading, when it was still just a glint in my bloodshot eye and long before I came up with ‘Shabogan Graffiti’, was… *drum roll puh-leeze* ‘Carmine Seepage’.
I mention this because:
a) you didn’t look bored enough, and
b) it is the context behind my new banner/logo thing (see above).
Originally, the banner/logo thing for ‘Carmine Seepage’ was going to be melty red lipstick-writing on 80s-style TARDIS walls. (My demographic don’t need this reference explained.) But then I came up with the graffiti theme. And my old website wouldn’t let me add my own logo anyway.
But I’ve been rejigging the look of this blog lately and reworked the red-on-roundels notion with my lovely graffiti font (which is a free one called ‘The Battle Continuez’, just in case you were dying to know that).
I really don’t know why I’m telling you this.…
In the mid-1980s, Doctor Who (perhaps influenced by a cultural context in which a strict matriarchal figure was punishing the British people for their own submerged desires) developed a habit of delving into surprisingly murky and morbid corners… and no story has corners quite as murky and morbid as ‘Revelation of the Daleks’. The undercurrents in this strange tale include unrequited love, lust, suicide, alcoholism, putrefaction, mutilation, cannibalism and even – obliquely – necrophilia. This is a story that has a perverse, sexless, destructive, sado-masochistic anti-romance at its core, relegating all the stuff about galactic conquest to the sidelines.
Naturally, displaying obtuseness that is almost customary, most commentators have missed this and worried volubly about the least of the story’s delectable sins: the onscreen violence, which is only startling when judged against the largely implicit jeopardy of the Davison era and hardly compares to the extremes of, say, ‘The Brain of Morbius’. But ‘Revelation’ looked tame even then, even by the standards of material made for kids. Have you seen Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom? It’s torture porn for finger-painters.
THE DORIAN MODE
The literary novel that we’re *supposed* to talk about in connection with ‘Revelation’ is, of course, Waugh’s The Loved One… but, while I don’t dispute the Waugh connection, the book that I always find myself thinking of when I watch ‘Revelation’ is Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. This is a novel that seriously worried some people at the time of its publication, not just because of its determinedly ambiguous morality and gay undercurrents, but because of its sheer, unbridled (and supposedly un-British) sensuality; its focus upon physical details, upon heady emotions and upon lavish descriptions of colours, fabrics, flowers and, most especially, aromas. The eponymous Dorian even spends some of his long life dedicated to the study and enjoyment of perfumes.
We encounter smells in many Saward scripts. In ‘The Visitation’, the TARDIS crew encounters the smell of sulpher and then of the alien gas soliton. In ‘Resurrection of the Daleks’, the bacteriological weapon used against the staff of the prison ship causes the infected to stink even as their skin bubbles and drips off. In ‘Attack of the Cybermen’, the defrosting Telosian tombs give off the smell of bad meat. In ‘The Two Doctors’, which Saward script-edited, the Doctor launches into a little soliloquy about the evocativeness of smell as he and Peri stand in the kitchen of the deserted space station, sniffing the rotting food and – it is implied – the corpses that the Sontarans left in their wake. In ‘Revelation’ we have Bostock who stinks “like rotting flesh” because his personal philosophy forbids him to wash. The smell of the butcher’s shop window is heavily implied by Stengos’ appearance.
Also, as in Dorian Gray, there is a noticeable emphasis on flowers. The Doctor and Peri walk through banks of them on their way to Tranquil Repose; Jobel and his staff are first seen amidst floral decorations; Tasambeker is offered a flower in a cruel parody of a compliment.…