Monday, June 25, 2012

Pop Between Realities, Home in Time for Tea 32 (Knights of God)

There's a shift between the early and late 1980s that is difficult to articulate, but nevertheless clear. The cultural moment of the late 80s - one that, in practice, extends a few years into the 90s - is clearly a vibrant one. Swaths of really good bands release career high albums in this period, the much-feted British Inavsion of Comics hits high gear, you've got the Second Summer of Love, and, for good measure, Doctor Who has a creative renaissance.

Knights of God, which ran in 1987, airing the day before the episodes of Season 24 of Doctor Who, is clearly a part of this era. Which is interesting, as it was held back by two years and actually belongs to 1985, a very different era of television. And yet the delay is in many ways absolutely perfect - a case of something that would have been a few years ahead of its time instead ending up being an iconic example of its time.

Throughout the Baker era one of the running defenses we could fine was that it's not entirely clear what Doctor Who should have been in the context of television of that period. Starting, well, not quite next story, but definitely the one after, Doctor Who starts to figure this out. And the solution it comes up with is very similar to the one that Knights of God turned out to have come up with two years previously.

Last time we focused on children's television we noted that there was an awkward gulf confronting Doctor Who between its children's television tradition and the considerably darker and edgier tradition that serious-minded science fiction was taking. The question left hanging was how to mix the aggressive and dark weirdness of something like Max Headroom with the traditional structure of children's television.

It's worth reflecting, though, on what the nature of this tension is. It's not, obviously, that children's television can't be dark. Indeed, for the most part good children's television is defined by an aggressive darkness. Rather, it's that in the end children's television tends to be about making the bewildering understandable, which means that while estrangement might be a tool along the way - indeed, a very important tool - it's rarely the endpoint.

The troubling bit is that so much of the energy of this cultural moment comes from estrangement. It's a cultural moment based on new, often more cynical takes on the epics of the past, and on disillusionment and alienation. The ostentatious and gaudy approaches of the earlier 1980s gave way to an angry depression - a situation that only increased come Thatcher's third election in 1987. So children's television's had a real problem at this point, especially children's television that wanted to deal with science fiction at all.

Enter Knights of God. On the one hand, it's a searing, angry dystopia positing a fascist futuristic Britain in which the north and Wales have been brutally subjugated by the eponymous Knights of God. It's not the sort of actively weird  estrangement of, say, Max Headroom, but it's a vividly unsettling milieu. The opening shots of the credits sets the tone well - a burning Union Jack and an ominous fleet of helicopters flying toward the camera - do huge amounts to set the tone for the series. Even within the series there's a real edge to it. The regions of Britain to hold out against the Knights of God - Wales and the north - are the same ones hit hardest by Thatcher's tenure. So on the one hand what we have is a venomous piece of disillusioned dystopia.

On the other hand, the basic plot - a young boy discovers he's the secret king of Britain and goes through some Arthurian symbolism in the course of overthrowing the Knights - is fairly standard "light reskinning of an existing mythology" stuff that one would expect to populate a lot of children's television. In practice the story is a modern day King Arthur type story, albeit one with a surprisingly good cast and a dark tinge to proceedings. Nevertheless, there's something very safe and familiar about the basic arc of the story.

So far this isn't anything new, though it is something about which we've found much to respect in the past. It's a fairly standard "let's mix two sets of narrative codes" approach of the sort that Doctor Who started doing reliably and well in the Tom Baker era. It's an approach that has fueled most of the best Doctor Who stories since that era too, if we're being honest. So even if the basic form isn't a radical invention, it's something with a lot of legs and potential.

But in this case there's a tough spot - the basic fact that disillusioned and dystopic depictions of fascist Britain and a King Arthur adventure aren't just two different sets of narrative codes, they're two different sets of narrative codes that actively jar. Much like panto and dramatic piece about domestic violence and its aftermath turned out to combine with spectacular lack of success at the dawn of the Colin Baker era this combination risks being really unpleasant and uncomfortable.

But let's think for a moment about why The Twin Dilemma was so bad - indeed, why much of the Saward era was problematic. The trouble was that Saward had an unfortunate tendency of flaunting his supposed edginess in a way that badly overestimates just how edgy he's being. I wouldn't go so far as to say that all of the problem with The Twin Dilemma comes down to this, but certainly a part of it is that the show is clearly going "Oh look, we've got a violent and unpredictable Doctor, isn't this dramatic" while the audience is going "you have a man in the worst coat ever made in a story about a giant slug with a deely bopper, and so having him try to strangle somebody isn't dramatic, it's just horrid." That is to say, The Twin Dilemma swings for drama and hits stupid panto, which is bathetic.

Knights of God makes a savvy move to avoid this. For the most part, it's content to act like children's television. It never over-emphasizes its darkness or strains to wring added drama from proceedings. Instead it plugs along as a straightforward sort of Arthurian remix and allows the bits of it that are more serious and unnerving to cut against that. It's a small but significant thing. Instead of aiming for drama and ending up a bit silly, Knights of God purports to be light children's entertainment and then goes further than it should for that.

This is a good general principle to hold to when crossing genres, particularly those of differing levels of seriousness: it's better to have hidden depths than appear oblivious to your own shallowness. And it's a lesson that Cartmel and Nathan-Turner quickly start to apply to Doctor Who. Indeed, this can fairly be described as the basic approach of the Cartmel era. It goes back to making stuff that feels like children's television, but constantly bristles with deeper implications. This isn't just children's television that works for adults too, but something more fundamental. The depths are visible, if not always entirely understandable, to children, and the show is far more compelling for it.

Indeed, this approach is more compelling than the maturity in play even in the Colin Baker stories that worked. As an adult I can see perfectly well that Vengeance on Varos is brilliant and satirical, but as a kid I didn't see any of that. Whereas I knew that stories like Survival or Ghost Light had things going on that I couldn't see, and they were altogether more compelling for it. Knights of God isn't a show I saw as a child, but it has that same approach down where it's clear that there's something bigger and darker lurking about in the subtext.

Ironically, the trick to hinting at these depths is to have actors who don't play towards them. Knights of God does this well, casting actors who are both experienced with children's television and skilled at drama. Gareth Thomas, Patrick Troughton, John Woodvine, and Julian Fellowes are confident enough actors to play their scenes as straightforward drama. Woodvine occasionally stops to gnaw gently upon the scenery, but his overacting remains firmly within the range of what is normal for children's television villains, and as evil fascist overlords go he's profoundly restrained. The result are actors who are neither overly stressing the serious portions of the show nor undermining them, but who are instead acting as though they are making serious children's television. This lets the larger darkness of the series lurk about the edges, given enough room to exist and thrive by the actors' seriousness but never foregrounded.

It's not a foolproof strategy. The problem with hidden depths is that it's easy to have them not quite be deep enough to carry what they're doing. The result can be a troubling level of glibness. For all that it's compelling, for instance, Knights of God trends uncomfortably towards a dictatorial monarchism of its own in its endless focus on how a good king will rise up and rule everybody wisely and justly. There's something off about the ethics of the show - something that stems, ultimately, from the fact that its genre is just a little too facile to really deal seriously with the issues of fascism in British culture.

There is, in other words, still that lurking problem of bathos. Foregrounding the lighter half of the juxtaposition reduces the danger and makes for something compelling, but there's still, at the end of the day, the problem that children's television is limited in its capacity for the avant garde or for serious social commentary is real. There's a constant danger of glibness. Or perhaps even worse, there's a slight inevitability of glibness. No matter what you do with it, the uncanniness that is so compelling within this approach remains a weakness as well.

But equally, this fusion opens doors that other approaches just can't touch. There's something about pitting Arthurian legends against a stand-in for Thatcherism that is compelling. If its virtue isn't that it's a fully functional piece of serious thought about political issues, well, fine, but this doesn't make what it does offer any less potent. So much of pragmatic politicking these days hinges on the realization that people think about the world narratively. And children's television has access to a set of narratives that are deeply powerful. The iconography of children's stories makes up for its lack of seriousness in its ability to be haunting and striking.

And beyond that, what good are our childhood mythologies if they cannot be pitted against our adult demons? We do not need King Arthur to defeat Margaret Thatcher any more than we need him to defeat the schoolyard bully. That's not his purpose or his value. Our imaginary heroes exist to defeat the imaginary dimensions of these things. And children's television is unique in its ability to make use of that. Children's television that thinks to turn that tool towards things not normally confronted by imaginary heroes is a striking idea worth taking seriously. Imperfection is not the opposite of good.

And Knights of God is good. It's very good, in fact. It's gripping, it's well-made, it's well-acted. It's the sort of show that worms its way into your consciousness as a kid. And, for our purposes most importantly, it's a show that demonstrates how Doctor Who could  be that while still making a real, material social engagement. It is, to put it another way, a map of alchemy.

It's fitting, then, that this is the last television appearance of Patrick Troughton. Not the last thing he filmed, but the delay from 1985 to 1987 meant that it was the last thing that he appeared in to air. And this seems a good place to end - with a final nod to the man who did so much to map out the alchemy of Doctor Who. Here, for the last time, he gives a sense of what Doctor Who could be. And twenty-four hours after the first episode of it aired, we'd have a chance to see whether the new regime could make it work.

40 comments:

  1. This sounds great. It's odd that I was eleven in 1987, it's exactly the sort of thing I'd have watched (if not understood), and I have no recollection of it at all. It was ITV, so maybe my region opted out.

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  2. Never heard of this either. Where can I get a hold of it?

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    1. Maddeningly, it doesn't seem to have an English-language release on VHS or DVD.

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    2. It's on YouTube, if you've got the patience for that...

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    3. You'll quite possibly never get any sort of commercial release or repeat of this, as it was made by the short-lived ITV company TVS, who held the Southern franchise between 1982 and 1992. All of the TVS back catalogue is held in a copyright limbo, much to the frustration of people who'd like to see 'Fraggle Rock', 'C.A.T.S. Eyes', the first seven series of 'The Ruth Rendell Mysteries' and a lot of interesting children's drama again.

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    4. Found it on You Tube but the quality is terrible. Hopefully we'll see a DVD release soon.

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    5. Too late to the party on this one, really, but I loved this too - with the exception of one story, even enjoying it more than that year's Doctor Who, which was a first for me - and haven't seen it properly for a long time, having recorded it on a Betamax that I've not been able to play for two decades.

      For me, even with Gareth Thomas and Patrick Troughton, John Woodvine stole it: his 13-episode journey from charismatic dictator to total disintegration is stunning. Even though I'm a republican (note lower case), it's probably the most powerful evocation of the power of the crown I've seen in a drama, as well as offering an intriguing take on one of Britain's four big defining national myths (Arthur, Robin, Holmes, World War II).

      But back to where to find it: for anyone who wants a DVD release, it might be worth writing to Network DVD and asking them to do one, as they specialise in rediscovering such esoteric but well-thought-of shows.

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  3. I only ever saw one episode of this, I think at Sunday teatime. It absolutely dominated my imagination as something half glimpsed. I wrote stories about the basic premise, drew pictures. I was, I suppose, trying to invent for myself the programme I thought I'd seen. I had a similar response to the mythic elements of Robin of Sherwood.

    I'd love to see it now. The idea of the helicopter as evidence of malign authority was such an 80s trope, especially once joy riding arrived in Newcastle where I grew up and nightly the police chopper would roar overhead, spot light combing through gardens.

    The matter of England stuff of course turns up in Who in a bit... Was big in 2000AD with Pat Mills Slaine too.

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    1. Matter of Britain, surely? I don't recall watching Oliver Tobias in Arthur of the Saxons!

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  4. Good article, but shame there's no mention of it's author, the massively underrated Richard Cooper, who also did children dramas Codename Icarus and Eye of the Storm

    It's available if you look for it, but I'm not sure it's ever been released officially, except on VHS in Germany.

    AFAIK it's TV screenings were only in certain ITV areas and it was pretty unpublicized. It deserves to be much much better known

    About half of this gritty sci-fi Arthurian series was directed by Michael Kerrigan, who then later became (for me) by far the weakest thing about the similar sci-fi Arthurian Doctor Who episode Battlefield. I don't know why he changed his style so radically for such a similar project. The other episodes were directed by Andrew Morgan...

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  5. I missed it at the time as well. I presume you decided to look at it because of Troughton? The big children's fantasy / sf thing I remember from the time was Robin of Sherwood.

    Also, I take it you think that the threads between Terminator and Doctor Who don't go much beyond the use of time travel? (Also Doctor Who did that already in Day of the Daleks.)

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    1. My dad walked out on us when I was a nipper in 1987, leaving me with my mother and two sisters - not even any male neighbours. As a result Doctor Who and Robin of Sherwood were my two main sources of male role models which - taken out of context - was a pretty awesome set of role models to have.

      Even that aside, I'd love to see Phil's take on Robin of Sherwood - a series very worthy of alternate analysis!

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  6. It seems the blog is becoming talked about in less than flattering terms on the vitriolic The Hive forum. Apparently we followers of the blog are a bunch of sad acts (more accurately "sad navel gazing Tom Baker lamenting cap doffing Grade apologists"), according to this bunch of petty-minded sad acts (who seem to think using the word 'cunt' with abandon makes them sooo edgy):

    http://www.thehiveforum.co.uk/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=2556&sid=da7908a63f3fa99e4adb6f192a0ab8b6&start=170

    http://www.thehiveforum.co.uk/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=2099

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    1. This is why I don't usually go near most forums. Who are some of these people to spend so much time yammering about nothing and occasional hate for the new series? I honestly can't get into the perspective of someone who hates post-2005 Doctor Who with so much vitriol. Are there ever any solid reasons, well-thought-through reasons given for why someone dislikes the new series that has allowed Doctor Who and its fans to conquer contemporary sci-fi and ensure a thriving legacy lasting generations for what was once a dwindling cult?

      Or do they all just hate Doctor Who now that girls like it?

      Whether or not one agrees with Phil's analyses, they're still fascinating, and take in a pretty wide scope of culture. I think his ideas and profile are only doing a service to Doctor Who studies.

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    2. Huh. Usually it's AnorakZone that hates me.

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    3. Maybe the Hivers spend so much time yammering about nothing and occasional hate for the new series because their favorite Doctors are Hartnell and McGann. I'd be particulary wary of them.

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    4. I thought Colin was their favourite. Surely McGann's too good natured for them.

      I really didn't like the RTD era myself. But at the same time I'm grateful that of all the things New Who could have been, it was never The Hive's version of what they think Doctor Who should be. I would never have wanted the show to be made for fans like them, who seem to think the show should be done like Season 21/22 again- all continuity, violence, sadism and misanthropy with a Doctor that no casual viewer could ever be remotely on the same page as.

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    5. Is that seriously the vision of Doctor Who that comes out from the Hive community? That actually sounds kind of fascinating on its own, when you think about it the right way.

      How I think about it: Ever since the hiatus and cancellation, fan analysis has dissected the Nathan-Turner/Saward years and catalogued the mistakes, miscalculations, and misconceptions of that era as precisely how not to do Doctor Who. Now here are a bunch of fans who dislike the new series. This puts them in the minority of contemporary fandom as a whole, which is now so huge that the majority of them were probably introduced to Doctor Who through the Davies or Moffatt seasons. One of the often-heard takes on Davies' relationship to 1980s Doctor Who is that his era of the show was motivated, in part, by a desire to get the best aspects of the Davison era shining through properly, leaving all the mistakes of the Saward way behind.

      In a classic case of "Your evil is my good," the Hive fans react to the Davies era by taking all the aesthetic principles and ideas that he rejected, and holding it as what the show should be.

      It seems to make sense, though I'm sure the real world is vastly more complicated.

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    6. I think it's more a case that they really hated the Williams era because they didn't like the humour or the way it was made more child-friendly (the argument being that it stopped being Doctor Who, and became more of a parody of Doctor Who- although I do also think there's a class warrior mindset behind it, of them not liking the more middle class lean of the Williams era). But they liked the JNT/Saward era because it such a conscious (not to say neurotic) backlash against that.

      RTD's era is a backlash against the JNT/Saward era, and it consciously takes the show back to the Williams era approach of humour and aiming for the child audience, and all the fan fury and arguments that go with it. So naturally those fans hate it.

      "This puts them in the minority of contemporary fandom as a whole"

      But their actual mentality is based on them seeing themselves as being the cool crowd who sits at the back at the bus and laughs and sneers at everything, and in which being a gushing fan is frowned upon as uncool.

      "In a classic case of "Your evil is my good," the Hive fans react to the Davies era by taking all the aesthetic principles and ideas that he rejected, and holding it as what the show should be."

      I'd say it's more a case of the fact that it's one thing to not like the RTD vision of the show, but when it comes to that question of what a modern version of Doctor Who should be instead of that, the show's been off air so long that there isn't really an answer.

      So falling back on the mid-80's as 'how it should be done' is the fallback position- the period where the show and its continuity was taken as close to as seriously as the fans wanted it to be taken. And in a way the better produced mid-80's stories are closest to the idea of Doctor Who as a modernised show with a more solid, credible sci-fi look and a more visceral tone. Unfortunately it's also as individualist and sociopathic as contemporary pop culture at its worst.

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    7. Speaking as a frequent contributor on the forum (and one who's defended this blog more than once there), I'd like to point out that the vitrolic nature isn't quite the status quo there. In fact, most of the viewpoints outlined above rely in two extremely vitrolic users who for the most part don't reflect the general view of the blog (the admins in particular don't fit that description at all, and have liked elements of the new series to boot).

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    8. Surely there are only two definitive Doctors: Peter Cushing and Richard E. Grant. Everything else is deuterocanonical.

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    9. It's a well-established fact that all other Doctors pale before the greatness of George Gallaccio.

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  7. "Gervase! I want to have your babies!"

    For a more lighthearted look at the fascist-by-copter theme, you might consider "Interceptor" (please don't).

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  8. excellent article, i might have to look into this show some time

    while on the topic of Arthurian dramas, had you thought at all about doing a 'pop between...' on the BBCs Merlin, when the time comes?
    bit of an inverse to this really, just a show demonstrating that even when producing generally very engaging complex Doctor
    Who, the BBC can also produce (as a deliberate stand in for it while it's off air) some really flat, uninspired piece of fantasy drama.

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  9. disillusioned and dystopic depictions of fascist Britain and a King Arthur adventure aren't just two different sets of narrative codes, they're two different sets of narrative codes that actively jar

    Even ignoring Camelot 3000, which combined Arthur and fascist Britain (albeit extraterrestrially imposed fascism) a couple of years before Knights of God, it's not that unusual a juxtaposition. The idea of Arthur returning to help Britain in her hour of need was vigorously promulgated in the Middle Ages, first by Welsh resistors to Saxon occupation, and then by both Welsh and Saxon resistors to Norman occupation; and ever since the Blitz the idea of Arthur protecting Britain from Nazis has been a common trope as well.

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    1. And of course there's the Scouring of the Shire, which is essentially "four of King Arthur's pages come to 20th century fascist-bureaucratic society and knock it on its ear."

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    2. Knights of God trends uncomfortably towards a dictatorial monarchism of its own in its endless focus on how a good king will rise up and rule everybody wisely and justly.

      And likewise the similar problem in LOTR. On the one hand, the central theme of LORS is against political power; the problem of the RIng is not how to find the wisest and most benevolent person to entrust it to, but how to destroy it. On the other hand, there's all the stuff about Aragorn as Returning King. (No surprise, since Tolkien said his two favourite political forms were anarchy and unconstitutional monarchy.)

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    3. In related news, one hypothesis about the discovery of (supposedly) Arthur's tomb in Glastonbury in 1191 was that it was a Plantagenet plant to put the kibosh on popular rumours of Arthur's impending return to lead an anti-Norman revolt.

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    4. Aragorn's job within the plot of LotR is to provide a doomed last stand to distract Sauron from Frodo, Sam, and Gollum. He is quite explicitly a pointless subplot distracting from the main story.
      Also, Aragorn's rise to kingship is explicitly the dawn of the Age of Men (sic) and therefore only made possible by the decline and passing of the elves.

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    5. Well, I think the thing about Tolkien here is that he's genuinely, utterly, sincerely, committed to a premodern view of power. Everyone has their rightful place, and there's an absolute difference between someone exercising his rightful powers and someone who tries to go beyond those limits. And there always are limits. No matter who you are, you're not at the top of the hierarchy. (That's God.) This is a point which Tolkien does not exactly make subtly - it's all over the place.

      So I think part of the answer to BerzerkRL's problem is that there's no such thing in LOTR as a unified entity that can be labelled "political power," any more than there's a single thing to be called "magic." Worth remembering that Tolkien was highly involved with German - the Macht/Herrschaft distinction is clearer in German than in English.

      It's useful to play Tolkien off against T. H. White. Both *hate* modernity (and specifically, modern war) and try to recapture what they idealize about (different parts of) the premodern past in their work. Both start with a book for children and then follow it up with continuations of a more adult sort.

      White, as far as I'm concerned, is a better writer, and in particular he's a better novelist. But by the same token, Tolkien is more impressively committed to pushing against the expectations associated with a modern novel and carrying through with a remarkably singular vision of how (according to Tolkien) we should think, whether or not we actually do.

      White, in contrast, is constantly turning to the reader and (sometimes explicitly!) worrying about whether or not this is credible and relevant in the terms of 20th-century middle-class British society. White is worried about "political power" in a way that suits BerzerkRL's reading of Tolkien better than Tolkien does, I think.

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    6. Tolkien would also have spelled "Berserk" correctly. Apologies.

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  10. 'Tolkien said his two favourite political forms were anarchy and unconstitutional monarchy'

    Did he really? He's gone up in my estimation then.

    There's a lot of mileage in the whole Arthurian schtick isn't there? How similar to Doctor Who it is in regard to its canon/non-canon status and its accreted mythos. It's notable that, following the success of RTD's Doctor Who revamp, the BBC chooses to foreground the character of Merlin in its rediscovered 'saturday evening family viewing' slot; sidelining Arthur to the status of sidekick. Yes the returning saviour/king is a very British trope and in true Brit-Ironic fashion we refuse to take it seriously. It is mostly a construction of the Victorian/Edwardian'heritage' industry anyway as anyone who's visited Tintagel and its 'Guenevere tea rooms' and 'Merlin's cave' gifte shoppes will testify.

    As far as the connection with The Doctor it's strange that, apart from the notorious 'hints' about the seventh Doctor, Doctor Who has never done a straightforward Arthurian historical, not even one transposed onto an alien culture. It would be a fascinating addition to the 'Abdicated Master of the Land of Fiction' theory if the Doctor were allowed to meet the TE White 'Once and Future King' and his assorted Knights etc. I'm sure Doctor Sandifer would have a field day with it. I suppose someone's going to tell me about a Virgin adventures novel where this happens now.

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  11. Philip Sandifer:
    "and, for good measure, Doctor Who has a creative renaissance"

    So was James Bond! (Can't help it, I just LOVE Dalton's films.)


    "it's better to have hidden depths than appear oblivious to your own shallowness"

    What a GREAT line!


    "Maddeningly, it doesn't seem to have an English-language release on VHS or DVD."

    An English show not available in English. Wonderful. This reminds me of when, to get my hands on a 45 by my favorite bar band (2 songs that were recorded 15 minutes' drive from my house!) I had to get it from a store in Amsterdam (on the other side of the Atlantic). Wild!


    Adam Riggio:
    "One of the often-heard takes on Davies' relationship to 1980s Doctor Who is that his era of the show was motivated, in part, by a desire to get the best aspects of the Davison era shining through properly, leaving all the mistakes of the Saward way behind."

    I never heard that until recently... but from the moment David Tennant debuted, he kept making me think of, "Peter Davison-- done right!" So many people kept saying Davison was so wonderful, and I did like Davison the actor (as evidenced by just how damn much I love CAMPION), but Davison's "Doctor" just never seemed like "The Doctor". And Colin, for all his faults (and they were many!) ...did. (Not as much as Sylvester, though. Astonishing how many people keep saying he was "totally wrong for the part!!!" Wanna bet that was what people said back when Troughton was cast?)


    BerserkRL:
    "Surely there are only two definitive Doctors: Peter Cushing and Richard E. Grant. Everything else is deuterocanonical."

    For the 2nd time in 3 years, I concluded a long WHO marathon by watching INVASION EARTH: 2150 A.D. Yep.


    Anton B.:
    "it's strange that, apart from the notorious 'hints' about the seventh Doctor, Doctor Who has never done a straightforward Arthurian historical, not even one transposed onto an alien culture"

    And yet, oddly enough, THE TIME TUNNEL did... (go figure)

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    1. And of course there's 'A Connecticut Yankee at the Court of King Arthur' You Americans have always been more willing to suspend disbelief at our semi-fictitious monarchy than we care to. There was probably never any such person as 'King Arthur' outside of a shared national dream. Which IMO makes him a prime candidate for a visit from our very own meta-fictional Sir Doctor of Tardis.

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    2. following the success of RTD's Doctor Who revamp, the BBC chooses to foreground the character of Merlin in its rediscovered 'saturday evening family viewing' slot

      The success of Harry Potter surely has something to do with that as well.

      Here's the Tolkien quote, by the way:
      http://radgeek.com/gt/2004/10/17/anarchodorkery

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    3. You Americans have always been more willing to suspend disbelief at our semi-fictitious monarchy than we care to.

      FWIW, here's my take on the historicity of Arthur: http://aaeblog.com/2009/05/31/dragonquest-or-a-voyage-to-arcturus

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    4. Interesting, thanks. Yes Harry Potter, (or the Anti-Christ if you're Alan Moore) and probably Buffy, Twilight, Game of Thrones etc. There's definitely a swing toward fantasy in the zeitgeist.

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  12. @Anton B.

    "There was probably never any such person as 'King Arthur' outside of a shared national dream".

    Oh I don't know, Graham Phillips make a persuasive case in "King Arthur - The True Story". If nothing else it's a wonderfully evocative read.

    http://www.grahamphillips.net/Books/Arthur.htm

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