TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – “The Dalek Occupation of Winter”, is, like, really good y’all

Or – “Tibbles & the Daleks #4: Capitalist Dalek”

 

Sometimes, there’s just a story that pushes you to reconsider a lot of stuff you took for granted.

See, one of the very first things I wrote for this humble blog was a contradictions-ridden series about the Daleks, their aesthetics, and their politics. Which arrived at the semi-sincere, semi-provocative conclusion that Daleks, as symbols and embodiments of fascism, had kind of ran their course, prisoners of a rather dated idea of totalitarianism, incapable of properly carrying a story in a post-Trump world. By othering fascism, they shift the blame away from the human race, away from our own potential for horror.

As it turns out, that might have been a really bad take. For starters, giving human fascists the benefit of “complexity” feels a tiny bit too centrist, in this day and age. But mostly – writers have adapted, and overcome, and found ways to connect the Daleks with sheer, raw political horror once again. The first sign came from Janine Rivers’ “Ghosts in the Machine”, a fan audio which came out a few months ago (1), and its very direct engagement with the worst of alt-right ideology, albeit seen through a sci-fi prism. And then, completely unexpected, the Big Finish writing debut of one David K. Barnes, award-winning audio writer and official recipient of the Best BF Barnes award (they have like, four of those now?) – “The Dalek Occupation of Winter”.

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GUEST POST – A Theory on the Origins of the Time Lords

by Enigma

 

Writers tend to be a bit vague on the ancient history of the Time Lords, don’t they? Some vague, mythologized notions and then handwaved away like it’s more trouble than it’s worth. Shame, really, Gallifrey’s got some real world building potential. You could pretty easily build a history from the, frankly still very little, fragments of modern Gallifrey (which I’m counting as Rassilon on) and the connection between the Time Lords and the TARDIS. So I figured, why don’t I take a stab at it? And I think I’ve come up with a perfectly solid prehistory for the species known as the Time Lords.

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GUEST POST – Cosmic Sciences – “Colony in Space”, and beyond

by James Blanchard

 

It is February, 1513, and somewhere in the region of Florence, Niccolò Machiavelli is strapped to a wall, his own weight steadily dislocating his shoulders. In the last few years of his career, the vying and scheming and warring of Popes and Princes has turned his home upside down. To anyone else, a united Italy would be a failed promise of the past, an empty chair in paradise. Instead, a few months later, Machiavelli writes a book.

Meanwhile – a long time ago on Gallifrey – a child is taken from her father’s estate, to become a student of the Cosmic Sciences. She hopes to be a master of them. Before she can, though, she must look into time, into a space in space, and report what she sees. In that schism, she sees both beginning and end, a trillion bricks made of tiny paradoxes, building a city where streets are made of time and homes of memory. She learns a truth, and, we’re told, goes mad.

In her future, there will be a colony in space. Built into the cliffs is the last vestige of a fallen civilisation, called the Primitives. Only its ruler has retained the ability to speak. Two fates are open to it: either it destroys itself or destroys the whole universe.

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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION – Lady Christina

Welcome to DoWntime’s increasingly late column, Assessing Stress. That’s where we assess … stress. Or more accurately, talk and debate about the newest episodes to hit the television screen, the new releases from Big Finish, and all these good things.

And today, Tibère and Scribbles discuss, around some champagne and caviar, the latest extraordinary adventures of one Lady Christina de Souza. Monsieur, or madame, will watch out for the spoilers after the “read more” tag.

 

Spoiler-free thoughts:

TIBERE: Big Finish has gone all out on expanding the Russell T. Davies’ era of the show through various stories and spin-offs since last year. And, as it turns out, this is probably their best attempt yet. Which I wasn’t necessarily expecting, but, well, not going to complain – it’s a great set, that feels incredibly fun and engaging, and just fits naturally into an until then free corner of Who. We have military morality plays with UNIT, we have spy thrillers with Counter-Measures, but the whole glamour James Bond pastiche is something Big Finish hasn’t really tried within the boundaries of Who. And turns out, it works – it made me think a lot of Jago & Litefoot, probably the golden standard as far as feel-good entertainment ranges go. And for my money, I think that’s a better first set than Jago & Litefoot got – the stories are all solid, if varying in quality, but above all, it just feels like a confident start that sets up characters, themes, emotional arcs and key relationships. You do legitimately feel, after these four hours, like the range could, and honestly should, keep going. Christina’s backstory, her relationship with Sam Bishop (the best ever outing for that character, by the way, who really shines when placed in less typically UNIT-esque settings) or with her father … These are incredibly rich bits of drama, and there’s incredible potential in them. I had an absolute blast listening to this, and seeing all the at first improbable gambles it took (Sylvia Noble?! Sontarans?!) pay off; but, above all, it just made me excited to see all these new avenues opening. It feels better than just good – it feels fresh.

SCRIBBLES: This is just so. Much. Fun. I was grinning from start to finish. It oozes a new tone and genre for Who media. It’s not something you’d get in any other range, and that’s a win in of itself. The fact that it’s such an overwhelmingly, deliriously fun one just goes even further to making this a must-listen. But above all, this range has an infectious lead duo. The chemistry between Lady Christina and Sam Bishop is absolutely sparkling and makes me invested in what comes next. Slapping that in a campy, Roger Moore as Bond-inspired lineup of storytelling just makes it even better. I could listen to so much more, which is exactly how a range should kick off.

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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – 2005 Didn’t Kill the Classic Stars: why the Who revival is good, actually

Some words before the article: as you may have noticed, the site hasn’t been update in a while. That’s due to two things: one, the fact that the people managing it, me included, have been insanely busy (I’m moving to another country! it takes time, and brainpower). Two: there are going to be some massive changes in how the site is managed, including columns being drastically altered or disappearing, and some arrivals and departures as far as the team is concerned. Normal service should resume, at worst, in October.

Thank you for the inquiries I have received about the fate of the blog, it is honestly heartwarming to see concern for us! We are, hopefully, not going anywhere, and we hope we’ll be able to provide you with quality content for many years to come.

Now, to the meat of the today’s discussion.


Not everyone can like all of Doctor Who.

I mean, I’m sure there are a select few that are able to embrace every single aspect of that weird, weird show and love them equally; but well, humans being humans, most of us are going to have favourites. It’s life. And there stretches of the show one can have an ideological bone to pick with, obviously – for most people, it’s the Pertwee era and its complicated relationship with the establishment, but really, your mileage may vary, and it’s generally a source for good-spirited and healthy debate.

Less healthy, on the other hand, is an increasingly prevalent trend in certain circles to consider that the 2005 revival is, on some level, fundamentally inferior to the Classics; that it betrays them on some deep, ideological level; or that it is deeply and irredeemably #problematic. That is a very different beast – because it postulates a change in the very way Who is supposed to work for people. You go from a cyclical process of rise and fall, of eras you like and you don’t, of confusing and divisive, but life-giving weirdness; to a linear history that is marked, at some point, by a betrayal of an original text, of an original creed.

Of course, everyone is entitled to an opinion, and no one’s going to be naming names and starting a shit-slinging contest in this corner of the internet. But, well, writing contrarian and altogether overlong analysis about niche point of views is pretty much my raison d’être, so, here we are. Let’s discuss. Continue reading

DoWntime Interviews – Tony Jones and “The Tactics of Defeat”

If you’ve been following DoWntime coverage & stuff this year, you might have heard of a little story called “The Tactics of Defeat“, written by new BF scribe Tony Jones.

We called it one of the best stories of the year – an absolutely incredibly well-structured story that packed tons of rich symbolism and drama in a tense power play between characters.

And, being the huge nerds that we are, we just … kind of sat down with Tony Jones and interviewed him. For science.

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GUEST POST – “Planet of the Ood”: the Terror of Empire

by Ricky Starr

 

It may-  or may not- surprise those outside of the UK that many people in Britain still hold the British Empire in some esteem. Much of this is due not to a cruel imperialist agenda, but simple patriotic ignorance. Indeed, Britain is a country that adores itself; it is successful in sporting endeavours, and can engage in collective enthusiasm for such peculiar things as the birth of a (royal) baby or winning a few games of football, with newspapers who typify headlines such as “BEST OF BRITISH”, so it is probably not a surprise that it seeps into some sort of collective consciousness that quite likes the union jack and thinks that maybe it should be in more places. It is not, apparently, a dangerous mindset. Yet, the average Brit does not ask questions. They do not attempt to reconcile xenophobia with a veneration for Mo Farah, and, similarly, they do not consider the implications of the foggy memory of Empire. They do not, as the Doctor points out, ask where their clothes came from, or who made them. The self-congratulatorily named Great Britain is far too busy thinking about itself, and its direct needs and wants and comforts, to worry about the wider implications even of a tax cut, or, in a more extreme sense, Primark clothes and imperial slavery.

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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION – Torchwood, series 4: “Deadbeat Escape”

Welcome to DoWntime’s not-too-regular column, Assessing Stress. That’s where we assess … stress. Or more accurately, talk and debate about the newest episodes to hit the television screen, the new releases from Big Finish, and all these good things.

And today, Tibère and Scribbles tackle the last Torchwood monthly of the year. Come, sit, and relax, we shall lead you to your room … Watch out for the spoilers after the read more tag … Yes, that way …

 

Spoiler-free thoughts:

TIBERE: Well, this is not quite perfect, but it’s the most … Torchwood-esque the range has been this year. After a rather uneven and frustrating series, it’s nice to end things on an audioplay that’s neither of those. It’s textbook James Goss: strong aesthetic play that puts aspects of the show under pointed thematic scrutiny, lovely low-key existential horror, and an ending where everything goes to shit in the most spectacular way. As far as the flaws go, well, it’s textbook James Goss. It’s not very surprising, and even though it is very good, I’d struggle to call it the best thing he’s ever done (to be fair, lots of competition on that front). But whereas some stories this year played the card of easy fanservice, this rather feels like the continuation of a coherent and interesting thematic approach. Not its crown jewel, but a great reminder of why exactly that range is so loved – to the point where it’s going to become year-long from 2019 onwards. Plus, there is a level of originality at work here, with a new character added to the monthly pool, in the person of Bilis Manger. This is an absolutely perfect showcase both for him and Murray Melvin, which injects constant unpredictability and complexity into a part that could be quite flat in less capable hands. It’s an engrossing, and deeply satisfying, listen.

SCRIBBLES: Above all else, this story oozes atmosphere. The soundscape is one of the most engrossing of recent Big Finish, an oppressive world of rain and confinement. This is a tone piece, and it excels at that, building a world of intriguing horror aesthetics out of the loosely defined quantity of Bilis Manger and going a long way to defining him. That means that, as a showcase for what the character might be and for Murray Melvin as a menacing presence, it’s exceptional. What those excellent aesthetics are used in service of has the potential to be more divisive. There’s an interesting character story at the heart, but one that didn’t tug at my heart as much as I wish it did, and the plot is even more loosely defined, in service of those beats. But at the end of the day, that’s a Torchwood thing to be. This is the first time Torchwood’s audio series has approached the pure weirdness and aesthetic wonder of episodes like “Small Worlds” and “From Out of the Rain”, and just as those episodes elevated the series on television for being so different and oddly engrossing, so too does this. I’m glad this audio exists. There’s moments I could wish for more from, but if you want to lose yourself in weird, wonderful Torchwood atmosphere, this is hard to top. And if you don’t want that, well, you should.

 

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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – “I wouldn’t have voted for the President, he’s … orange!”: In Defense of Series 10

A good year after the facts, what remains of series 10?

Well, the fact it went down pretty alright is noticeable. There was still the fair share of moaning one must expect when Doctor Who and Steven Moffat are concerned, but it was a pleasantly uncontroversial run of television. Which is also why it’s criticized – for being, quite simply put, a bit pedestrian. A bunch of competent, solidly put-together stories that don’t really push any boundaries or make the show more interesting – yes, there is “Extremis”, there’s the finale, and there’s Bill, who is a ray of sunshine (even though her characterization is purposefully a lot less layered than Amy or Clara before her), but as a whole, the series is, if not a failure, at least a dispensable appendix stuck to a Moffat era which was pretty much completed in 2015. Which, let’s not yield to the sirens of historical revisionism, it really rather was. You can’t look at the double whammy of “Hell Bent” and “The Husbands of River Song” without sensing the end. “Hell Bent” completes the deconstruction and analysis of the show Moffat carried through his entire run, and “Husbands” is a final moment of reconstruction and catharsis that literally concludes with a big-ass “and they lived happily ever after”. It’s as direct as you can get.

So, well, when you hear someone tell you that series 10 is their favourite Capaldi series, or their favourite Moffat one, it does sometimes feel a bit like someone saying “well, the concert was shit, but that one unfinished track that played during the encore was pretty sweet I guess”. And the idea that it’s basically entirely disposable has been gaining traction in the Discourse-generating circles – some of my own coreligionists on here share it, and maybe most importantly, it’s been enforced by El Sandifer, which basically, in the world of the Who analyst, corresponds to a giant “THIS IS THE ENLIGHTENED INTELLECTUAL CONSENSUS”.

So. Let’s be a pointless contrarian and examine why I think all of this isn’t true, shall we?

 

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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION – Short Trip: “Flight into Hull!”

Welcome to DoWntime’s not-too-regular column, Assessing Stress. That’s where we assess … stress. Or more accurately, talk and debate about the newest episodes to hit the television screen, the new releases from Big Finish, and all these good things.

And today, Tibère and Scribbles witness the conclusion of Joseph Lidster’s Jackie two-parter. Take a seat, grab the champagne, and relax. Spoilers are located after the the read more tag of the machine. Thanks and have a good flight.

 

Spoiler-free thoughts:

TIBERE: Most of what we said about “The Siege of Big Ben” applies to its sequel – it’s a fantastic homage to the RTD years, continuing its themes organically and addressing unresolved tensions between the character in a singularly brilliant and masterful way. It rocks – especially in how it characterizes Tentoo, which was a distant, unknowable quantity in the first part, but opens a lot here, to fascinating, and surprisingly emotionally affecting, effect.

SCRIBBLES: As with the previous, Joseph Lidster does a magnificent job easing at the tensions of the Tenth Doctor as a character and the new struggles raised by his metacrisis through a frank talking to with Jackie. In many ways, this is her story, but it’s the story of who she is and what she’s struggled through as the means to bring the Tenth Doctor’s Metacrisis incarnation down to earth with pathos and depth. And it does that all in a witty, crazy, and utterly physics-defying adventure with zeppelins and parallel universes. Really, what more could you want? These two short trips are essential listening, you don’t need us to tell you that.

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