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

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

ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION: Classic Doctors, New Monsters 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 BF’s latest boxset, full of old and new favourites. Also, Five and the Racnoss. Eh, the door was opened, there was light, they just kind of came in and the others didn’t want to make them sad. Anyway. Let’s go.

 

Spoiler-free verdict:

SCRIBBLES: Well, that was a rather nice surprise, wasn’t it? I don’t believe either of us were particularly won over by the first outing of this range, but this hits the spot well. Every story here, really, makes an interesting case for the juxtaposition of their classic Doctors of choice with the modern era and find meaning for their characters, all while expanding in logical ways on new series monsters (whereas in the first set, elements like the ending to Falling Angels made me wonder how much the writing even understood the new series). Every monster here, no matter how different the approach, and they do get quite different, feels like an exciting and worthwhile extrapolation of the modern show in a way that Big Finish really has always provided to other eras at its best. And this fresh exploration of modern narrative space befits the writing of the Doctor, too. Even in the weakest story here, every Doctor really gets a chance to shine in a way they rarely do, using the weight of the modern series to inform explorations of who the Doctors once were, and every lead actor rises to the occasion admirably. It feels coherent and polished and high quality, making a case for the existence of this range that actually has me hoping there will be a volume 3 sometime soon.

TIBERE: It’s weird, BF seems, this year, on a big mission to make their most improbable and kind of unneeded projects succeed. The Ninth Doctor Chronicles, UNIT – Assembled (I mean, I wasn’t too into that one, but it was compelling in its own way), and now this. I’m surprised, but happy about it! But back on topic – this is a good set. Very good, I’d even say. Among the many problems of the first one (writers mostly on the less experienced side of things, a general feeling of rushed production, weird picks for who faces what …), one of the most annoying was they way the stories felt like they had nothing to say, nothing to add to the monsters we knew. That’s not really the case, here – no matter the execution, all of these are cool, compelling premises that do really feel like they expand the universe, and feed into the TV stories organically. Mostly, it’s a sort of laboratory for BF writers to throw some cool ideas and concepts and twist the original premises of these creatures in new ways – and yeah, that’s hardly the deepest kind of stories you’ll encounter, and I wouldn’t cry “masterpiece” at any point, but there’s a real joy in that. Those are good romps, solid action movies – that, importantly, don’t use their nature as romps to get stale and uncreative. It’s a lot of fun, and I’d definitely recommend it.

Continue reading

GUEST POST: Smile, There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow

by A. Enigma

 

EPCOT. Everyone knows Epcot; Disney World’s second gate, a self proclaimed ‘Permanent World’s Fair’ that bores children with its slow educational dark rides while their parents get drunk in World Showcase and is for some reason getting a Guardians of Galaxy ride. But few people know what it was originally intended to be by the man himself, Walt Disney.

The Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow: perhaps Disney’s most frustrating acronym and Walt’s original reason for buying up a patch of Florida swamp twice the size of Manhattan. His idea for the area was to build a Utopian city of the future where people would live and captains of industry would be encouraged to set up shop and use it place as a testing ground for their new inventions and ideas. It would serve as a shining example to other American cities of how technology could be used to better the lives of all.

Walt would work on his plans for his dream city to the day he dies and the company would shelve the project, still early in its development, no longer having Walt’s ambition to to make it work.

But, while the idea would never come to fruition in reality, Disney did tap upon it in film form with their 2015 film Tomorrowland. Only having it be in another dimension instead of on Earth. And naming it after the section of Disneyland and Magic Kingdom parks instead of Epcot (because frankly, Tomorrowland sounds cooler). And not having it be Walt’s dream child and giving only the vaguest implication that he had anything to do with the city at all. ….none of which is the least bit important here. Whatever.

Anyway, the important thing is the movie’s iconic scene, or at least the scene the film’s promotional stuff heavily relied on, that of a young girl standing in a field of wheat looking off in the distant at a gleaming white citadel that contains all the hopes and the dreams of the past and the present. It’s really quite wonderful.

Now I know what you’re think: what in God’s name does this have to with Doctor Who?

Continue reading

Exorcizing “Exile” – a live-post of the worst Who story ever made

As you’ve seen, we got our first female Doctor.

We are very very very happy about it.

Except, of course, there is another story, before that one, featuring a female Doctor. A Big Finish story, set in an alternate universe, as part of the Unbound range. Starring Arabella Weir and David Tennant. Written by Nicholas Briggs.

Exile“.

The worst Who story ever made.

A story so bad it deserves a sort of ritualistic sending-off – now that it is irrelevant, that it has truly been sent into the trashbin of history, it deserves a methological dissection and assassination.

We are obliged to provide. Even if it costs us our sanity. Scribbles, Tibby (who is discovering the story!) and special guest Janine Rivers are on the case.

Pray for their souls.

CONTENT WARNING – transphobia, sexism, discussions of suicide, self-harm and addiction. Continue reading