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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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION – The First Doctor Adventures: volume II

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 newest batch of First Doctor/David Bradley audios. Are they sheer poetry (m’boi)? You shall know it if you read our hot takes (and beware spoilers after the read more tag).

 

Spoiler-free thoughts:

SCRIBBLES: For the skeptical, and I myself was among them, this was a good set to show the range’s potential. I had complex feelings on the first one, but had not been convinced of the range as a viable source of new storytelling. I’m very happy to say I’ve been won over. I had a great amount of trepidation coming in, but was rewarded with two very solid stories with a lot of nuanced points to discuss. It’s a set that demands the sort of analysis the two of us enjoy doing, really, with two very strong stories that have plenty of thematic, intellectual, and emotional heft to reward listeners. I’m very pleased, and would happily recommend it.

TIBERE: I actually liked the first set quite a bit – although I’ll admit that was probably largely thanks to my massive Hartnell-era bias. But I agree that it didn’t really make the range look like a sustainable entity – more like, a fun little aside done in parallel of “Twice Upon a Time”. This is different – because it feels a lot less nostalgic, largely. These sets are listed under “New Series” on the Big Finish website, and while that could seem odd with the first of them, it definitely makes sense here: these are stories that feel like an extension of the angle “Twice Upon a Time” took with Bradley’s Doctor  – trying to question the era, its ideas and its morality, but also characterizing the First Doctor very much like this wandering philosopher or scientist asking questions about the universe. You remember that scene he shares with Bill, where he talks about the nature of morality in the galaxy? Well, this set feels like an attempt – not always perfect, but definitely appreciable – to put that premise into stories. And in all honesty, I can dig it.

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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION – Torchwood One: Machines

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 are required. To discuss the new Torchwood One set, starring Tracy-Anne Oberman and Gareth David-Lloyd. Which is the best thing, by the by. 

Warning: spoilers after the read more tag.

 

Spoiler-free thoughts:

SCRIBBLES: Torchwood versus WOTAN. I mean, really, who comes up with that? Of all the obscure classic monsters to dredge up and stick into a random range? Really? Well, that’s what we said before being blown away by a legitimately perfect box set that justifies every creative decision involved and then some. This is probably going to be the box set highlight of 2018, by far. The three stories offered here do have some form of narrative linking, though loose, but more importantly, they have an emotional, aesthetic, and thematic consistency that each story pulls at in a fresh and compelling direction, providing three equally brilliant tales that add to each other through their contrast and juxtaposition. I find it impossible to name a favorite, because really, all three are. They develop the horror and emotion of the terrifying nationalist force that is Yvonne Hartman, show some truly disturbing and touching new angles to Ianto Jones, and have an utterly blistering political examination to make of surveillance, social class, worker exploitation, and everything that exists buried under the white collar office world. If you check out one Big Finish release this year, I really would bat for this one.

TIBERE: Well this is pretty majestic. Torchwood is having a bit of an identity crisis at the moment, I think that’s the main takeaway if you’ve been reading these write-ups regularly: but it doesn’t mean it can’t still deliver the goods. Exhuming the political anger bubbling beneath the original show and channeling it through dark sci-fi has been one of Big Finish’s best decisions of all time, and this is one of its most immaculate representatives yet. The three stories are all absolutely fantastic, for starters, but more than that, they echo with each other, creating something so much more richer. It’s a bit like, I don’t know, the series 9 finale – a triptych of thematically-connected pieces serving a larger point. Which manages to be also one of the most biting and corrosive pieces of political Who, possibly ever. And also add layers and layers to Yvonne and Ianto’s characters. I mean, there’s only so many ways to say “it’s a masterpiece”, right?

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