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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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

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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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – The Big Void at the End of the Universe: The Morality of “Last of the Time Lords”

If there’s one thing that I hate, it’s people saying that all fiction opinions are subjective.

Of course, subjectivity is important – but there are still, whatever importance you end up placing on them, criteria to measure the success of a story. They’re vague, because you can’t judge a narrative like you judge a poodle in a dog show, but they’re still there – how the arcs and plots come together, the thematic work, the direction, the acting. Complete relativism is always an annoying direction.

All of which makes it quite annoying for me to talk about “Last of the Time Lords”. See, I hate this episode with a passion. Always have, from the first moment I saw it from now. And, well, by all metrics, it’s quite a good episode, and I can’t just be an asshole and ignore that. It’s in many ways the best finale of the Tennant era (although being the only that doesn’t shoot itself in the foot by completely ignoring its own themes might have something to do with that …). The ending to Martha’s arc is a superb piece of writing, and easily the most deftly handled character exit in Who entire history up to that point. John Simm’s Master, in the same way, is by far the most compelling the character ever was until, of course, Michelle Gomez, mixing threatening theatrics with a real sense of emotion and character depth. Murray Gold is on fire.

And yet …

[CW – mentions of depression]

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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – “All Your Base Are Belong To Us”: how Who murdered one of its own subgenres

Who is an extraordinary show in that it basically has spawned its own little galaxy of varied subgenres. You can narrow down what a typical episode of a given show look like; and, across the televisual landscape, there are plenty of recurring patterns – but Who is unique, since it possesses a kaleidoscope of variants that are uniquely its. The Hartnell Historical; the Davies Space Romp; the Hinchcliffe gothic rewriting.

And of course, the Base under Siege. It even has its own acronym – the BuS. It’s generally considered to have been spawned and codified by the Troughton era, its use alongside iconic monsters like the Great Intelligence, the Ice Warriors and the Cybermen solidifying the formula.

It’s also not all that good. Or rather, it’s incredibly limiting – there’s only so much variety you can introduce in a set-up that basically boils down to “humans inside, monsters outside, monsters kill human”. At the same time, it’s deeply tied to the memory of some of the show’s most glorious hours, and it’s a tried and tested formula – think, I don’t know, slasher movies. At one point, it becomes straight up impossible to make a workable product out of them if you take the premise straight – because the codes have been so integrated by the audience (to the point where the parody or metatextual reinterpretation of the codes themselves, as seen in the 1990s with Wes Craven’s Scream, or Freddy’s New Nightmare, were clichés in and on themselves – the link with Freddy isn’t all that far-fetched when you consider one of the main figures of genre subversion in contemporary Who is Rachel Talalay, who got her start working on the franchise, and this aside is getting way, way too long), but, eh, be it only by the force of habit, you’re pretty sure that it’s going to draw in a certain kind of audience.

So it’s not surprising that the creative powers that be ended up having a sort of love-hate relationship with bases under siege. Well, not until the old guard of writers pretty definitely left the show, which puts us around the McCoy years – which carry to the Virgin Publishing era, which itself, as Scribs outlined with considerable talent, was the soil in which the New Series itself grew. But when, finally, you’ve reached the point where political self-aware writing is, if not the norm, at least a major part of the Who ethos, you end up with a tricky relationship to the genre. I mean, just look at the Davies era – the purest example of a base under siege story you’ll find there is probably “The Waters of Mars”. It’s a textbook case – beyond textbook, even. And it ends up with the morality of the Doctor being shattered, and the viewer being forced to reconsider the philosophical dynamics anchoring the show as you ponder the implications of a woman shooting herself in the head in fear of the Doctor. That … That is not neutral.

So, how did we get to that point? Let’s have a look.

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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – Moffarchitecture: Time and Space defined by a Grumpy Scot (#2)

Elevator Trouble

Once we have set up the idea of an imaginary selfscape that one needs to access and modify to reach some sort of transcendence, central in the imagery of the Moffat era, there’s yet another interesting motif that comes up – elevators. There are a lot of elevators in sci-fi, generally speaking, and there are some nice ones in the Davies era, but Moffat’s tend to have a special sort of meaning. I mean, look at the second episode of his era, “The Beast Below”, which, despite some obvious rough edges, very much is an impressively forwards-looking program for his tenure – the pre-credits scene’s tension pretty much entirely rests on a child trapped in an elevator that threatens to plunge him into the depths of a mysterious underworld.

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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – Moffarchitecture: Time and Space defined by a Grumpy Scot (#1)

What’s interesting about adventures in space and time is that they always will create, eventually, a certain definition of space. Every fictional universe ends up having its own peculiar geography – and I’m not just talking about a political landscape with factions and planets and systems. In the very ways the action and plot proceed, the edges of a system of thought, of a unique architecture, are revealed. Take, I don’t know, Star Trek. The patterns that eventually emerge – down from the ship to a planet, up from a planet to a ship, from a ship to a starbase, up and down the familiar corridors of the vessel – are part of the identity of the show, of its rhythm, just as much as the plot elements, the Borgs or Klingon or whatever.

Who is no exception. Of course, it’s always more complicated with Who – because it’s not so much one show as several equally important visions both following each other and existing concurrently, in a sort of sloppy narrative gangbang. So it’s pretty much necessary, if you want to write a superficial overview of the architectural tropes of the series, to limit yourself to only one of these … areas, I guess, sectors of the Land of Fiction. Let’s do Moffat’s. Because obviously – I’m a fanboy, in case you didn’t get it earlier.

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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – Poems in Hexameters: The Recontextualization of the Sixth Doctor

(Be warned, innocent reader: this article contains a lot of spoilers about Big Finish audios. I tried to keep them to a minimum, but tread carefully!)

Watching the Classics nowadays is an interesting experience. It’s not just that we impose onto them our contemporary politics (as you have had ample cause to notice if you’ve ever looked at the DoWntime’s team own marathon); it’s that the very thematic and conceptual categories we employ to discuss them have been heavily influenced, if not completely redefined, by the New Series.

Regeneration, for instance. El Sandifer has shown with considerable eloquence how the events of “The Tenth Planet” have nothing to do with our modern idea of regeneration, being much closer to the hero of the show dying and another, strange weird guy taking his place (1). And you could do a whole study of how that precise event has subsequently been recontextualized by the show, be it through “Twice Upon a Time”’s retconning it, or through stories like “The Plague of Dreams” or “Falling” adding extra weight to it (2) – in fact, I will probably end up writing just that. But really, regeneration pre- and post-2005 are two entirely different beasts. In the classics, bar of course the outlier that is “The Tenth Planet”, the regeneration is a moment of symbolical and portentous importance, a key moment for the show, marking a transition. But it’s not really the culmination of a character arc, as we understand it now. The discarding of a previous incarnation is a result of the facts of the story – which, yes, might sometimes inform you about the character that we’re saying goodbye to (“The Caves of Androzani” is a prime example of that). So, of course, when there’s such a considerable output of expanded universe stories, well, you can bet writers are going to create a lot of arcs in which they will retrofit existing continuity.

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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – “Knock Knock”: Visual Storytelling and Politics of the Haunted House

I don’t like “Knock Knock” much.

I think it’s obvious if you’ve followed the coverage of last series on this blog – it was my least favourite episode of 2018, and I might go as far as calling it the nadir of the Capaldi era (it’s that or the Whithouse Lake two-parter, really). The general reasons for that dislike are pretty simple: it’s a boring piece of work that conceptually does nothing that hasn’t been done much better before, and sells itself on scares while utterly forgetting to be scary. But, the more I think back on it, the more I’m convinced there is actually more to it – or rather, something lacking at a deeper level. So, let’s investigate.

A good place to start this search, as often with Who, is with El Sandifer, and her review of the episode.

“ …because the culprit in Knock Knock’s abject blandness is pretty obvious: this is 100% down to the malign influence of Blink. And not just in the sense that it’s literally the same house, but in the fact that it’s a house in the first place. Once upon a time, when Doctor Who wanted to be scary it would, you know, do some scary stuff. Monsters stalking the Blitz. Weird Satanic horror on an alien world. Evil tourist busses. Or, frankly, any number of scary ideas from the classic series, only a handful of which were ever “haunted house.” (1)

She is right in identifying Knock Knock as a part of this recent trend in Who history – which then asks the question of why exactly it fails. Why does “Blink”, with what is essentially the same base ingredients, or “Hide”, succeed, while this fails? It all comes down, in the end, to how exactly you define a haunted house, as a storytelling construct and a sub-genre of fiction.

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