TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – The Last Word: Archeology, Politics & Who

Let’s talk about Indiana Jones for a bit.

Now, from a storytelling perspective, it might look like an arbitrary combination of cool bits. “Archeologist” + “whip” + “Nazis” + “traps” + “John Williams theme” = a franchise. But it goes a little bit further than this – there is a train of thought at work here. He’s not just an action hero – Indy is an archeologist, and that is not neutral. He’s a man that literally walks through history – a time-traveler, albeit a rudimentary one. A man that acts as an arbiter in the confrontation between “good” and “evil” sides of history. Because that’s an interesting point with these movies – he never actually defeats the bad guy. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Temple of Doom” both end with the antagonist executed by divine intervention, be that deity the Old Testament God or Shiva. “The Last Crusade” has the two evil guys dying because of their own greed and desire for riches and power, trying to seize the Grail no matter what. The Icons of ancient history are given new power to defeat another historical icon: because those movies are ideologically iffy as fuck, sometimes it is the Bad Native, the primitive sorcerer. But most of the time it’s the Nazis. Pop culture does so love a good Nazi. It’s just fact. HYDRA, the Red Skull, Hans Landa – that stuff sells. They’re a useful tool in terms of storytelling – they are so abject, so over-the-top in their evil that you can basically go anywhere with them and still not break the reader’s suspension of disbelief. Magician Nazis, Mecha-Nazis, whatever. It’s no coincidence that the rise of the classic FPS game, with a healthy dose of blood and guts, was heralded by Doom and Wolfenstein – one where you kill literal demons from hell, the other where you kill Nazis. Both franchises still exist, with (very good) modern reinventions, by the way – when you need to go outrageously violent, be that violence destined to be a recreation or an exploitative spectacle (‘cause we could also talk about Dyanne Thorne and the whole Nazisploitation vague, but that’ll probably get a little off topic), you still can’t do much better than the Nazis. They have become a meme – not just in a comedic way, but rather in that they constitute a shortcut in communication. A swastika or a mustachioed despot are units of meaning just as efficient as the effigy of a god, or a painting on the walls of a cave. They’re icons.

Superposition is a form of storytelling science-fiction revels in – glue together pieces of past and future and present, make them hold together through technobabble. So it’s not surprising a number of narratives in the genre are based on that precise opposition, between two divergent icons. Take Stargate, for instance – the US military, in all its might, with its heroic soldiers, plucky scientists and men in black, versus the Pagan Gods. If we’re searching for an example within the Doctor Who canon, “Victory of the Daleks” is maybe the most blatant to date. Jack Graham’s very good “Victory of the Icon” essay says it all.

Mind you, I’m not accusing the Doctor Who production team of consciously taking on the roles of ideological commissars. That would be to credit them with too much self-awareness. In the minds of the production team, foremost seems to be the issue of Churchill’s status as a “British icon” (this being assumed to be self-evidently good and implicitly appropriate subject matter). The various interviewees on the ‘Victory’ Confidential episode do a lot of blithering on about how Churchill and the Daleks are both “British icons”. Indeed, so steeped in this kind of thinking is Gatiss that, when commenting approvingly on the redesigned Daleks, he describes them as looking “like Minis”. (…)

‘Churchill vs. the Daleks’ was the way Moffat supposedly described his requirements to Gatiss. So Gatiss delivers a story in which the evil Daleks deceive and then fight the good Churchill. The evil “British icon” vs. the good “British icon”.

Still, Indiana Jones, bar the last minutes of “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”, is not really science-fiction, more like a wish-fulfilling uchronic fantasy. Therefore, it’s pretty interesting to see what becomes of the archeologist figure, of this arbiter in the war between icons, once we put it in a science-fiction context. Once we have accepted archeology as a form of time travel, how can it be integrated in a universe where those kind of dimensional-hopping shenanigans are actually possible?

Continue reading

LOOKING FOR TELOS: “An Unearthly Child”

τέλος • (télosn (genitiveτέλεοςorτέλους); third declension

completion, accomplishment, fulfillment, perfection, consummation

The Whoniverse is wide, and rich, and crazy.

And sometimes, bits of it go overlooked. There’s no way around it, we, at DoWntime, are children of the New Series. Our cultural sensibilities and our tastes in Who have been shaped by it. And of course, when we’re embarking in the big task of producing Discourse, we naturally tend to tackle recent events, controversies and stories. But that doesn’t mean the twenty-six seasons of Classic Who are undeserving of some in-depth coverage – and what better way to deliver said coverage than to watch it.

ALL of it. In order. Without skipping anything.

We’re looking for our telos, and it starts now.

Continue reading

LOOKING FOR TELOS – An introduction

τέλος • (télosn (genitiveτέλεοςorτέλους); third declension

completion, accomplishment, fulfillment, perfection, consummation

The Whoniverse is wide, and rich, and crazy.

And sometimes, bits of it go overlooked. There’s no way around it, we, at DoWntime, are children of the New Series. Our cultural sensibilities and our tastes in Who have been shaped by it. And of course, when we’re embarking in the big task of producing Discourse, we naturally tend to tackle recent events, controversies and stories. But that doesn’t mean the twenty-six seasons of Classic Who are undeserving of some in-depth coverage – and what better way to deliver said coverage than to watch it.

ALL of it. In order. Without skipping anything. That includes the movies. And the fan videos of the 90s. Yes, even “When Being You Just Isn’t Enough”.

This epic endeavour starts here. And from now on, each week (or at least, we’ll try to stick to that!) will bring to you a full commentary of a Classic serial, delivered by the experts hands of Scribbles & Tibbles. They’re going to sit down together (or as together as a Californian and a Frenchman can get), watch the episode, comment it, and then try to summarize their opinions in a hopefully insightful and entertaining form.

Of course, they’re not going in quite blind. Scribbles has already seen every single Classic serial, but it’s always a nice opportunity to re-discover things and adopt a different perspective on certain stories. And Tibère, well, he has seen some bits. Most of McCoy and Colin Baker. Bits of Tommy B. ; a sprinkle of Davison. But mostly he’s embarking on his maiden voyage here.

A voyage that’ll surely be full of ridiculously contrarian opinions, awful memes and possibly a bit of alcohol. It’s all about offering a new, hopefully original perspective on those stories, powered that we are by the belief that the real Classic gems often go overlooked while other stories get slightly undeserved praise. Of course, that perspective is the one of pretentious, faux-intellectual nerds, but come on, if you read the site you know that by now, so hopefully that’s a good PR argument.

We did establish one rule, though, to preserve poor Tibère’s sanity – at the end of each Classic season, he’ll get to take the reins for one week and submit Scribbles to a piece of non-Who media of his choosing. In retaliation for being forced into this project at gunpoint and PLEASE PLEASE DON’T HURT ME I WILL DO ANYTHING I SWEAR I’LL EVEN REWATCH GENESIS OF THE DALEKS.

“Ahem”. Outside of that, it’s all Classic Who. We’re looking for our telos, and it’s happening now, on this page. Enjoy.

ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION: Torchwood: Aliens Among Us I

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. Spoilers after the “read more” tag!

And today, Tibère and Scribbles tackle the long-awaited Torchwood sequel, “Aliens Among Us”. Cardiff says no to hate, but we say yes to it. Spoilers after the read more tag. CWs: discussion of sexual harassment,

 

Spoiler-free thoughts

Torchwood and politics never mix.”

“Maybe they should.”

TIBERE: Well, that was rather amazing. It’s a little bit hard to put all the puzzle pieces together and to deliver a final verdict on “Aliens Among Us”, because we’re dealing with a heavily serialized twelve episodes arc we have only seen a third of; but, just from the first four stories, I think it’s safe to say it’s shaping up to be something truly, truly special, and maybe one of Big Finish’ greatest storytelling successes. Of course, it’s an occasionally frustrating – infuriating, even, experience, that loves to tease and build-up and leaving you unsatisfied. But at any rate – even if they end up screwing up massively (which doesn’t seem likely considering the level of talent involved), the ideas, the concepts and the themes on display here more than justify the existence of this range. Maybe we can’t yet say how good it is at storytelling, but there’s no way to attack its ambition. This feels like Torchwood, and Big Finish, at their most creative, courageous and cutting-edge. I’m all for it, and I’d probably say that if you have to buy a single boxset this year, that one is probably the one to go for.

SCRIBBLES: It almost feels too soon to call, doesn’t it? There’s so much up in the air at this point. I feel like the closest point of comparison is Miracle Day, another serialized story across a bunch of episodes with occasional episodic concerns, which didn’t really make a big statement about what it was going to be until the halfway mark with The Categories of Life.All we can judge right now is the setup and character work, and that certainly is promising. While not as high concept as “Children of Earth” or “Miracle Day,at least not yet, “Aliens Among Us” has set up fascinating and tremendously relevant political storytelling that looks to place characters new and old in remarkably interesting places, while not entirely losing the delightful identity of individual episodes along the way building to that. It feels raw, and, yeah, rather incomplete at this point, but it’s really already set to be an absolutely essential piece of Torchwood and the Doctor Who universe at large.
Continue reading

ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION: Torchwood, series 3 – “The Dying Room”

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. Spoilers after the “read more” tag!

And today, Tibère and Scribbles tackle the latest Torchwood audio, “The Dying Room”, by newcomer writer Lizzie Hopley! Seat comfortably, don’t mind the handcuffs, and take some more water, here we go …

 

Spoiler-free thoughts:

TIBERE: It’s a nice one. Not necessarily what I’d call a highlight of the range, but considering the range is about the strongest thing BF does at the moment, that’s not exactly a condemnation. It’s a very effective way to expand the Torchwood universe, a bit like “The Dollhouse” was, except instead of finding new and weird territories to explore, it digs into the show’s past, channeling the aesthetics of something like “To the Last Man” or the Victorian bits of “Fragments”. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it’s a very-well executed story that builds up to some great, incredibly fun twists – with a dash of utterly lovely politics. And dammit, when you examine what the story is about, at the end of the day, it’s about the most Torchwood thing to ever Torchwood – the spirit of the show and of the range is alive and kicking here. And as always, it’s a joy.

SCRIBBLES: It proves “The Dollhouse wasn’t a one-off, that’s the main thing to take from it. In our eyes, I think, it’s safe to say that’s a good thing. Like that story, it takes the unique lens of Torchwood and extrapolates it to a different genre to examine the results. The results are, while not quite on the level of Juno Dawson’s camp masterpiece, very enjoyable, and what’s more, very Torchwood, particularly once all the pieces of the story fall together. It finds a bit of space for Torchwood’s campy queer lens in the midst of a Nazi exploitation torture story, and makes that the triumph to focus on. Not going to blow anyone away or convert them to the range, but it’s nice to come out of the third strong series of these audios with a story I just can’t help but say to, “That was so, so Torchwood,” even in the absence of any characters from the show.
Continue reading

SCARVES AND CELERY – Missed Opportunities: “The Rebel Flesh/ The Almost People”

I don’t tend to write ultra-critical articles on this site, as while negative reviews can be fun to write, and entertaining to read, they’re not often useful for this site’s M.O. of trying to understand what a Doctor Who story is doing, and discussing the wider ideas and concepts raised by the things said story does. Redemptive readings, or positive reviews, are, in my experience, much more useful for saying something of substance about a piece of media. But there is clearly a place, and a value, in negative criticism. We can’t pretend that all media is good, and trying to understand why bad media fails, outside of sensationalism and clickbaity headlines, is often a necessary, if genuinely tricky, process. And I think “The Almost People/ The Rebel Flesh” is an example of a story where the failures are worth trying to understand. It’s a story that, given my preferred type of Doctor Who, I could easily dismiss as being uninteresting and worthless because it’s a traditionalist base under siege. But traditionalist Doctor Who still has a worldview that’s worth exploring and understanding, and can be entertaining and good television when done right (see Tibere’s excellent article on “Into the Dalek”). And for what it’s worth, I think the themes of “The Almost People/ The Rebel Flesh” are genuinely worth unpacking, particularly because the way the story fails to communicate those themes lead to interesting things to say about the worldview it conveys. So this article is not going to be an “Oh my god, this story SUCKS, the characters are one dimensional and the dialogue’s LAME” type of piece, although there will be some of that. Instead, it’s intended to be my fumbling attempt to explain why the last two-part story Doctor Who that aired for three years failed to communicate the ideas I believe the production team were aiming to communicate, and instead ended up expressing some more, and here I’m going to use a word that can stir up some angry feelings in certain people, problematic sentiments in its failure.

Continue reading

THE TRUTH SNAKE – (Belated) San Diego Comic Con 2017 recap, Sunday edition

It’s difficult to scoop a Comic Con panel that is instantly widely reported, particularly when all footage is almost instantaneously available. And that, indeed, is why I have delayed so long in writing up this post. Because, the Doctor Who panel? All online. Twice Upon a Time” trailer? All online. Lovely Capaldi tribute video? Online. But the one thing I can share is the personal experience of being there. You can get far better quality photos and video of everything I was privileged to see in person, and have been able to from the beginning. But I can share a bit of the experience of camping out for Hall H, the holy grail of Comic Con experiences.

Continue reading

TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – The Fall of the House of Ness: notes on “Class” (2/3)

[This is the second part of a collection of short pieces looking at Class through the very subjective point of view of someone both fascinated and left unsatisfied by the show – it goes without saying that reading the first, focusing on the initial three episodes, is advised! This week, I tackle (mostly) the central two-parter.]

[Also, it contains a slightly NSFW GIF of a lesbian sex scene – be warned]

Continue reading

SCARVES AND CELERY / TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – Extra post: DoWntime Responds – A few thoughts on Doctor Who “Role Models”

SCARVES: We’re back for another “DoWntime Responds”, but this time, we’re taking a different approach. Today, myself and Tibere are co-writing a response to “A Few Thoughts on Doctor Who “Role Models””, a guest article written for Doctor Who TV by Casey Riggins. Riggins makes a case against casting a female Doctor on the grounds of the importance of the Doctor being a positive male role model, in the context of Peter Davison making similar comments at a panel recently, and leaving twitter in the ensuing social media storm that followed. Unsurprisingly, none of the writers at DoWntime share the uncertainty Riggins has towards Jodie Whittaker’s casting, but more importantly, we had problems with the way Riggins makes his argument, and as such, felt a direct response was worth writing, especially as, at the time of writing this article, Doctor Who TV has yet to publish a direct response to Riggins, although the site has since hosted an article that is more positive about the casting of a female Doctor. As such, we’re going to be critical of Riggins’s specific arguments, and DWTV’s use of his platform, but we’re going to keep our criticisms to the arguments made only: we don’t want to resort to personal attacks, and don’t want our audience to do so either.

Continue reading