I’m cynical enough about the world and the way it works at the best of times, but when I read a news story like this, it just makes me feel I’ve wandered into the wrong universe. How did we end up in a situation when one of the most powerful nations in the world is being run by an illiterate, torture-happy moron? And when the hell is someone going to actually do something about it?
News of an infinitely less important nature- my vague curiosity about how exactly the situation with new Doctor Who companion Martha Jones is going to be different from the rather dull Eastenders-style set-up of Rose’s family in seasons One and Two has been repaid, with the release of who’s playing her family. So, how is the series going to be heading in a dramatically new and different direction with these characters? Well… this time- they’re black! And there’s four of them! And… er… that’s it. The fact that Russell T. Davies has decided to cast an ex-DJ and Top of the Pops presenter should tell you everything you need to know, and how exactly they’re going to do this and not just end up recycling elements is beyond me.
Another factor in this pondering is my purchase last week of two Doctor Who Dvds- classic Jon Pertwee parallel universe actioner INFERNO, and THE BEGINNING box set, which has the first three stories broadcast back in 1963- and they’re still quite wonderful in their own way. They may be creaky and full of errors and daft moments, but there’s such a sense of ambition to them, and a dedication to worldbuilding that’s truly wonderful- and the fact that everybody plays it very straight. INFERNO, particularly, is incredibly edgy stuff- while it has its silly moments, the opening episodes play more like an English version of a George A. Romero zombie movie at various points, and it has a level of conviction to it that- almost- makes you forgive the incredibly silly costumes for the hairy Primord monsters who turn up later on.
Without turning this into yet another rant on why New Who doesn’t work for me… I think one big difference is the very science fiction concept of dislocation. It’s the concept of pulling the rug from under your feet, asking ‘what if?’, and making you look at things in a different way. Old Who is all about dislocation- particularly the stories in THE BEGINNING box set, as a pair of ordinary school teachers find themselves abducted across time, and have to actually try and co-exist with the crotchety bugger responsible if they’re ever going to make it back.
INFERNO does it as well- starting off with the relatively comfortable world of the Doctor working with UNIT and the Brigadier, and then throwing him into a parallel universe where England is a fascist state, and the Brigadier is a scarred, eye-patch wearing Nazi called the Brigade Leader! It’s a glorious upside-down moment- and now, compare it to New Who’s parallel universe story, where instead of dislocation, it’s all about wish-fulfilment. Mickey gets to help his once-dead aunt (or grandmother- only watched the episode once), Rose’s Dad has made his fortune and is now rich- and while the alternate version of Rose’s Mum gets killed off (and is set up as a slightly more unsympathetic version anyway), there’s an overblown tearful reunion at the end of the series between RealJackie and AlternaPete. Even with Mickey, there are hints that he’s a dangerous terrorist- and then you find out he’s really only wanted for parking offences.
As with much of the series, instead of celebrating the strange and the wonderful, it’s often more about making it as normal and mundane as everything else (Girl in the Fireplace is a rare example of the show actually celebrating someone for being unique and special, rather than ordinary and everyday- rather than the overplayed Doctor/Rose gubbins, the Doctor falls for a woman who is sexy, smart, artistic, intelligent- and upper class. (Who was, to be honest, always weighted in favour of Upper or Upper/Middle class in terms of characters and attitudes, but New Who is almost exactly as classist- just in the opposite direction). And yes, I understand that it’s been retooled as a modern-day family show, so they’re not going to go for major levels of dislocation and hard sci-fi storytelling- but the fact that they back away from that every single time, that their only priority is emotions and nothing else other than overwritten technobabble is rather sad. Yes, the old series may not be as ’emotionally satisfying’- but New Who could learn a lot about actual storytelling and worldbuilding from it, as well as the fact that the one thing that kept Who going all those years was change- not just superficial ‘let’s go for a pretty similar character and have a similar set-up’, but real, balls-to-the-wall, ‘let’s shake-up the entire nature of the show’ change. I’ve seen very little proof that New Who is going to be capable of doing something like that- and actually, I think it’s downright terrified of losing its audience. It’s ironic that a sci-fi TV show regards the sci-fi side of its nature with such contempt for the most part- and I can’t help but hope the Imperial phase of New Who’s development will be ending sooner rather than later.
This week has been slower- mainly thanks to the fact that I’ve been feeling genuinely exhausted. I’m taking tomorrow off to try and concentrate on just getting my strength back- and while I’ve got three days of subbing next week, my main priority has to be getting myself up to speed on getting the novel. I’m slowly getting better ideas on what to do and how to progress, and I’m also doing some decent thinking on what I’m going to do next. We invited fjm– over for dinner last night, and a good time was had by all, despite my insistance on trying to talk about my novel when she’d only read the first two chapters so far. It was great to talk to her though, and I’m looking forward to hearing what she thinks. Brutal honesty is exactly what I need right now.
The other thing I picked up last week was the complete first season of Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex, which is a Japanese Anime series that’s semi-spun off from the mid-nineties classic cyberpunk anime Ghost in the Shell. It’s an incredibly well-thought out cyberpunk cop-show that alternates between self-contained adventures and a more long-running storyline involving a J.D. Salinger-obsessed master hacker called ‘The Laughing Man’, and the episodes we watched tonight were nothing short of breathtaking. It’s provocative, absorbing, seriously violent in places, and beautifully animated. Even the dodgy DVD presentation of the subtitles (sometimes timed wrong so that you lose track of who’s speaking) can’t blunt what is an amazing science fiction show. If you’ve got a chance to watch it, take it now! We’ve got five more episodes to go, and things are getting spectacular…