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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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – “Legate? Decate? Hecate?”: Considering the Canon

It’s a curious irony, I think, in a series with a rabble rouser as a hero, and in a narrative about multiverses, alternities and possibilities, that the fans of this very show want to close possibilities down. Sometimes it’s as if fans want reality dictated to them – definitively. Canonically. They want parameters setting and concretising around them. Maybe they want a stable universe after all…” (1)

If you’re hanging around the analytical circles of Doctor Who fans, then, you’ll have heard, as an universal and fundamental axiom, that canon does not exist.

It’s a key point – maybe the single most important one – of modern Who studies (if that’s a term that can be used without sounding horribly pretentious). And yet it’s probably not the one that’s best understood by the rest of the audience, the kind of people that don’t enjoy reading six thousand word dissections of obscure Big Finish audios. Hence, there’s a value in discussing this logical premise, be it only to explain it in a way a bit more substantial than “yeah, it ain’t real”.

Shall we?

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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – “Sherlock is Garbage and Here’s Why” is Garbage, and Here’s Why: Critical Perspectives on a YouTuber’s reception of Sherlock (4/4)

PART FOUR: “THE LYING DETECTIVE” AND THE DEATH OF SHERLOCK

by William Shaw

 

It’s all the more infuriating, because Sherlock has offered a much better self-critique than any of its YouTube detractors. Unsurprisingly, it comes in series four. Series four, of course, is the story of Sherlock tearing itself apart, beginning by killing off its best character, and meticulously unravelling everything that made the show unique, eventually collapsing into a nice and simple series of detective yarns too boring to broadcast, a hellish condemnation to single vision and Newton’s sleep.

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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – “Sherlock is Garbage and Here’s Why” is Garbage, and Here’s Why: Critical Perspectives on a YouTuber’s reception of Sherlock (3/4)

PART THREE: LOOK GOOD AND SAY AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE

by Samuel Maleski

 

Sherlock Holmes after all is mostly an attitude and a few dozen lines of unforgettable dialogue

– Raymond Chandler, “The Simple Art of Murder”

Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes have a surprising number of similarities, when you get down to it. Not just the fact their most recent iterations were both supervised by Steven Moffat. And of course there’s the whole matter of the crossovers between the two, with Big Finish producing some detectives drama of its own, the Virgin New Adventure book “All-Consuming Fire”, later adapted into an audio, or Bernice Summerfield’s “Adventure of the Diogenes Damsel”, where James Cooray Smith has the time-traveler meet Mycroft Holmes and fight an army of Doctor-worshipping clones. No, something simpler – both are far and away from the very simple, chronological life of many cultural franchises, and closer to a vast, out-of-control forest of ideas. I mean, it was the Doyle fandom that first came up with the modern meaning of the term “canon”, until then reserved to Biblical Studies: precisely because, between the Doyle originals, themselves with their share of strange zones of shadows and lapses, and tons of referenced but unseen adventures, and the multiple sequels, prequels, midquels, and rewritings (go rate my Alternate Universe fic where Moriarty is actually a product of Sherlock’s drug-addled mind, it’s called “The Seven Per Cent Solution” and it even has Sigmund Freud!), it became hard to quantify things.

Basically, they’re both clusterfucks.

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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – “Sherlock is Garbage and Here’s Why” is Garbage, and Here’s Why: Critical Perspectives on a YouTuber’s reception of Sherlock (2/4)

PART TWO: THE AESTHETICS OF THE BOMBERMAN

by Samuel Maleski

 

We are in front of someone who believes that it’s important to pay attention to the specificities of a piece of media – that it is the content of a text and its unique nature that should drive your analysis, not the pre-set expectations and narratives you bring to it (1). So let’s give him the luxury he denies Steven Moffat and try to see how these videos, and their many problems, fit into the larger context of his oeuvre – and that’s not a mocking word here: after all, why, in theory at least, shouldn’t a YouTube channel have the same intellectual legitimacy as a book or a TV show?

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