Monday, June 18, 2012

Time Can Be Rewritten 26 (Business Unusual)

Last time we dealt with Gary Russell we found ourselves reflecting heavily on the notion of fanwank. Broadly speaking, at least, I’m hard-pressed to complain too heavily about fanwank in the novel lines, particularly the Missing Adventures and Past Doctor Adventures, both of which by their nature appeal virtually entirely to dedicated Doctor Who fans. When you’re dealing with an audience of dedicated fans the extent to which you can rely on existing work increases dramatically. There is a fundamental difference between writing novels for a fan audience and writing television for BBC1.

But having navigated the Saward era and its continuity fetishism there become some new issues around this. Or, put another way, the mere fact that there’s nothing wrong with fanwank is not equivalent to fanwank being inherently worthwhile. There are things that you can do when working in the margins of existing work that you can’t do any other way - a fact that is responsible for no small part of my interest in things like Doctor Who and superhero comics. But the margins aren’t interesting in and of themselves - a problem that plagues Gary Russell’s work, and that, in a few paragraphs, is going to prove the undoing of Business Unusual.

But let’s back up and look at the larger situation, since this is our outro to the Colin Baker era. At the heart of the problem is still the Seasonish and the way in which both Season 23s - the transmitted one and the erased one - create a tangible gap in the history of Doctor Who. Colin Baker is the first Doctor to lack a regeneration story, a fact that coincides with Mel being the first companion since Susan to lack an origin story, combined with the deeply unsatisfying nature of the Valeyard, an idea with far more and deeper implications than the series was willing to actually explore, with all of this slotting into the already confused gap introduced by the hiatus.

The result is a period that is the subject of a massive amount of fan theories. And so, having at least determined that the flaw is not inherently Colin Baker, let’s tie off the last issue - was there ever anything interesting to do here? Are the gaps of this era - gaps that we cannot, given the absurd turmoil behind the scenes, chalk up to any deliberate ambiguity - ones that can be interestingly filled? In other words, is the era we’ve just been witness to fatally and irrevocably flawed, or is there actual quality to be had here?

So that’s what this final triptych of entries is going to focus on - three books that fill the holes in and around the gap between Trial of a Time Lord and Time and the Rani. And first up we have Gary Russell with Business Unusual, a novel that proposes to introduce Mel. And give Colin Baker his “missing” Brigadier story. And serve as a sequel to The Scales of Injustice. And bring back the Autons.

I almost wrote “so no shortage of ambition” after that list, but no, that’s wrong. The problem here is that there is a profound shortage of ambition. The goals of this book are to check off some supposedly needed boxes in Doctor Who and to advance a couple of pet projects from the writer. In many ways it’s the inclusion of the Brigadier that’s the dead giveaway. Like the obsession with the idea that Pertwee should have a Cybermen story, it sets the defining characteristics of an era as being nothing more than attaining a pre-existing set of goals. And what’s key about these obsessions is that they comprise a list that can never be added to. Only things old enough to have been in the Hartnell era can be one of these era bucket list items. Their nature is to constrain the show, limiting what it can be to what it already has been. It’s the Whoniverse logic at play once again. (It’s perhaps thankful that the list has dwindled in size, with Eccleston, Tennant, and Smith all not getting Brigadier stories and Eccleston not getting a Cybermen story, leaving the Daleks as the only plausible necessary element for an era, which is just about right.)

But this checklist approach shows particularly in terms of Mel. We’ve already discussed how Mel is oddly torn between her description in John Nathan-Turner’s The Companions volume and what appears on screen. The Companions makes much of the fact that Mel is a computer programmer. This information plays into what we see on screen exactly three times, though - twice in Time and the Rani it’s mentioned that Mel is good with computers, and then once in The Ultimate Foe she identifies something as a “megabyte modem.” But there’s a larger problem, which is that Bonnie Langford comes nowhere close to playing a tech-savvy career woman of the mid-1980s. 


I don’t mean this as a criticism of Bonnie Langford at all. It’s just that if “1980s crack computer programmer” was what the show was actually going for then having Bonnie Langford written by Pip and Jane Baker was an absurd idea. Bonnie Langford played the role she was obviously hired for - Bonnie Langford as a Doctor Who companion - quite well. But there’s a massive disjunct between that and the character described in The Companions.

But Gary Russell has clearly decided that he’s going to try to write a Mel story that builds off of The Companions. And so despite the fact that the Mel that appeared on screen could easily have had any origin she’s, dutifully, a computer programmer. Even the detail of her being involved in an attempt to stop the Master from taking over the world’s banks is preserved, with Russell going out of his way to make sure that can be reconciled with the fact that Mel doesn’t recognize the Master in The Ultimate Foe. The trouble is that we’re left instead trying to imagine Bonnie Langford delivering the line “Be thankful I don’t play loud Gothic music, try to sell Socialist Worker to your WI friends or have a drawerful of thirty-five different-flavoured condoms in my bedroom.”

In other words, Mel’s origin story is, to a fault, exactly what the readership would expect. But when the answer to “what goes in this gap” is “exactly what you’d expect to go in that gap” then, narratively speaking, there’s not much of a reason to fill it. Mel’s origin story is, it seems, a completely generic piece of Doctor Who that tells us nothing new about Mel and makes little effort to reconcile or resolve any of the existing mysteries surrounding her.

Indeed, the story is bizarrely dislocated from any actual impact. I’m not one to nitpick bad writing about computers, in no small part because I have a not-terribly-secret love for it, but on the other hand, if you’re writing in 1997 and setting your book about computer technology in 1989 then there’s not really a lot of excuses for glaring anachronism. And yet the book has the idea that Sony and Sega are preparing “a 32-bit CD-based system for release early next decade” that the fictional Maxx 64-bit CD system is going to be miles ahead of, a claim that both flubs the release date for the Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation (both were, by any reasonable definition, mid-decade) and dramatically overestimates the impact that the 64-bit Atari Jaguar, which actually did come out in the early 1990s, would have. Yes, this is a nitpick, but equally, if you’re going to write a story about computers and corporate culture in the late 1980s there’s something to be said for not screwing up the details on the setting. It’s not like 1989 is a particularly difficult time period to research in 1997, after all.

But really, I harp on this issue because it’s so indicative of what this book is about, or, more accurately, what it isn’t about, which is telling its own story. Heck, even the underlying premise - corporate machinations and the Autons - is just a ripoff of an Alan Moore comic that Russell could barely be bothered to change the name of. There are interesting Doctor Who stories to be done about computer technology - something we’ll see when we get to the New Adventures. There are interesting Doctor Who stories to be done about corporate culture - something we saw in the Baker era itself. But this isn’t trying to be either. It’s just interested in being The One That Introduces Mel, The One Where Colin Baker Meets The Brigadier, and The One Alan Moore Already Wrote.

What’s interesting is that this effort to just fill in blanks and correct Doctor Who leads to some bewildering tonal lapses. Ostensibly Russell’s goal is to, as he says in his introduction, “write a sixth Doctor story that I thought Colin Baker would have liked to be in,” a vision that, based on the book, he sees as a character full of bombastic charm. Certainly this is plausible based on Baker’s acting. But this more charming, fun version of the Doctor who gives plastic toys to children in restaurants jars grotesquely with later scenes in the book such as the alarmingly gruesome description of a twelve-year-old boy being murdered by his toys.

Like the murderous policemen of Resurrection of the Daleks or the lifting of the deleted “Kill me Vera” sequence from The Ark in Space for Revelation of the Daleks, this seems largely to be a case of doing something that the show couldn’t have gotten away with, in this case riffing on the alarm at the killer toys in Terror of the Autons. It is, in other words, the exact sort of thing that the Saward era so regularly got wrong. It’s almost as though the empty recitations of continuity points and the sort of blithe nastiness go hand in hand.

In a way, this even makes sense - when drama abandons being about people in favor of being about obscure points of sci-fi continuity it becomes ugly like this. Certainly it’s an argument that works well with the overall themes of this blog - when Doctor Who becomes nothing more than a commodity and a brand it loses all of its power. Because this is market-tested Doctor Who - a case of writing a story not because there’s anything dramatically interesting about the story but because it’s something fans are known to want and will thus buy. (Ironically, of course, this is exactly what the Autons were designed by Holmes to critique. They’re the ultimate capitalist Doctor Who monster.)

But all of this paints me into an interesting corner as a blogger. I’ll confess that in picking books to cover in the Time Can Be Rewritten entries I have tended towards ones that have continuity ramifications. Part of that is simply the premise of the entries - the point of these little side jaunts is to look at later conceptions of the era, so the ones that have metafictional implications are naturally more interesting to me. But the implications are somewhat questionable. It’s fair to ask whether, instead of spending three Colin Baker books on the mess surrounding Trial of a Time Lord I shouldn’t have done the oft-recommended Killing Ground and Synthespians™, a story that would actually give me an 80s Auton story that attempts what this story should have (and has what is surely the most logical extension of the Auton concept, killer breast implants).

Because this is a bad book pointlessly filling a continuity gap in a bad era of Doctor Who. It’s a book that comes perilously close to indicting the entire concept of the Time Can Be Rewritten entries and that suggests, unnervingly, that perhaps it shouldn’t be and that the gaps and margins left in the past of Doctor Who are best left alone on the grounds that they are, by definition, not going to be functional pieces of drama.

Finally, as we enter this last jag of Time Can Be Rewrittens for the Colin Baker era, the standard information packet for the McCoy era. I'll be doing four Big Finish adventures: The Fires of Vulcan on July 4th, Thin Ice on August 1st, The Shadow of the Scourge on October 10th, and A Death in the Family on December 19th. (So that's future planning for you.) I'll also be doing Death Comes to Time on August 13th. All of those are in print and available, for those who want to play along at home. There will be two Past Doctor Adventures.

60 comments:

  1. In the 1980s, "The Gulf War" was standard British shorthand for the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988.

    (I haven't read the book, so don't know if this helps Gary Russell's cause).

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    1. We even called the invasion of Kuwait the "second Gulf War" for a while there.

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    2. It removes one of the two glaring anachronisms, at least. I've amended the entry.

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  2. I don't remember much of this one, except that even as a continuity-loving 13-year-old I didn't think much of it. And that even then it bugged me that the Brigadier knew who Sonic the Hedgehog was years before the first game was released. But then, maybe he just had extensive contacts within the Japanese games industry?

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    1. You know, I almost find the Brigadier knowing about Sonic before the game was released more comforting than the idea that he'd know about it after...

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  3. "Like the obsession with the idea that Pertwee should have a Cybermen story, it sets the defining characteristics of an era as being nothing more than attaining a pre-existing set of goals. And what’s key about these obsessions is that they comprise a list that can never be added to. Only things old enough to have been in the Hartnell era can be one of these era bucket list items."

    Actually I agree, but it set me to thinking: so long as you've got a list, for good or ill, why not introduce something new? Perhaps Steve Lyons might decide that every Doctor should have a Selachian story, for example; or some folks might think it a good idea for each of them to meet the Celestial Toymaker - just to spite you.

    I find myself curiously attracted to these lists, despite knowing in my head that they make no sense. I was really glad the Brig got to meet 6 and 8 in the BF audios, for example, even though it's pointless completism.

    Anyway, I'm hoping that in your next Time Can Be Rewritten (or over the next few) you find a justification for them...

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    1. Every Doctor should have a Mel story.

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  5. Philip Sandifer:
    "Colin Baker is the first Doctor to lack a regeneration story"

    It was a strange feeling when I learned that "TIME AND THE RANI" was supposed to be a full Colin story, and that he was supposed to die in the explosion at the end that killed Donald Pickering's character. Sheesh. I guess "PARADISE TOWERS" might have been a bit different if it had.


    "a novel that proposes to introduce Mel. And give Colin Baker his “missing” Brigadier story. And serve as a sequel to The Scales of Injustice. And bring back the Autons."

    My art school teacher Carol Schwartz would have told me, "You're too intelligent for your audience. You have to simplify-- ONE major idea per design." And she'd be RIGHT.


    "Eccleston not getting a Cybermen story, leaving the Daleks as the only plausible necessary element for an era, which is just about right."

    The first 2-- maybe 3-- new Dalek stories, okay. After that.. enough already!!!!!

    I sometimes fantasize what I might do if in some parallel universe I found myself taking over the show as Producer. The first things that always cross my minds are, I'd bring back the original theme music recording, and, the original TARDIS control room from "AN UNEARTHLY CHILD". (Maybe something very similar but on a bigger budget.) Now I've got a 3rd idea. NO DALEKS. Unless one turns up as a trash can on some other race's battleship. (heh heh heh)


    "when drama abandons being about people in favor of being about obscure points of sci-fi continuity it becomes ugly like this"

    Thank you. It's comforting to hear that.


    Jesse:
    "Every Doctor should have a Mel story."

    Even Dr. Killdare?

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    1. Even Dr. Killdare?

      And of course Dr. Doom.

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  6. One interesting piece of weirdness in Business Unusual that I wish you had analyzed in more detail was the discontinuity between the on-screen Mel and the Mel that fit more closely to the description in the Companions volume. Even more than Mel's timeline tomfoolery, that's probably the most jarring aspect of her character when you take in all the data about her.

    In a way, it's another sign of the sloppiness of the production team in the Trial season. You touched on it in your discussion of Bonnie Langford's being able to scream at a pitch that matched the closing music sting in Vervoids episode one. Because they only conceived of Bonnie Langford as an extension of her public image onto the set of Doctor Who, she was rarely given any worthwhile character development on television. Yet when Nathan-Turner writes the section on Mel in the Companions book, he gives her this backstory as a programmer that's far more complex than the functionary role she got on screen. That dissonance, to me, cries out for the mad mind of Phil Sandifer to make something of it.

    Maybe Mel had such a miserable social life being a bubbly girl going through a software engineering program surrounded by degenerated clones of Steve Wozniak that the opportunity to explore the universe with a pompous, ebullient man in a clown suit seemed like a solid proposition. After all, having Bonnie Langford play a career woman of the 1980s is so much of a stretch, the dissonance could have been conceived as part of the character itself.

    Maybe it's precisely because she didn't fit in anywhere she displayed her talents that dropping out and travelling in the TARDIS made sense. The television's Mel would have felt out of place saying those lines about goths, socialism, and condoms. But she was in a world surrounded by cool plastic professionals and hyper-nerds. She had to speak language that didn't fit her if she wanted to fit in. And here's a marvellous opportunity — the TARDIS — where you fit in precisely by never fitting in.

    Did I just invent a better character profile for Melanie Bush than anyone else in the last 25 years?

    (Bear in mind, I haven't heard any of the Langford audios.)

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  7. I find it interesting that when Gareth Roberts was working for Virgin, he said one of the things they were constantly rejecting were "Mel's first adventure" stories, along with Valeyard tales and Babylon 5/Deep Space 9 rip offs.
    Shows some of the differences between Virgin and the BBC

    Nev Fountain wrote a Tenth Doctor/Brigadier comic strip for DWM if that 'counts'.
    With your love for computer/technology stories, will you be giving "Blue Box" a go for the ebook? It's one of the better ones I've encountered . And despite fan pleading Orman deliberately wrote it for Peri

    If you took away the fan-references and continuity hole filling from Gary Russell's work what would you have left?

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  8. "when Gareth Roberts was working for Virgin, he said one of the things they were constantly rejecting were ... Babylon 5/Deep Space 9 rip offs. "

    The cover of "The Well-Mannered War" depicts a human in a Babylon 5-alike uniform. Was the artist in on the joke?

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  9. I seem to recall that the DWM review for this novel speculated that Russell was attempting to maintain the tone of "a megabyte modem" by misusing every peice of computer terminology in the book...

    I was going to comment that in fact, the bucket list *can* include things that weren't in the Hartnell era, since the example given is the Brigadier. But I suppose Billy met Bret Vyon, which is close enough.

    Actually, I wonder if this is all Ben Aaronovitch's fault. UNIT started out as a basically Pertwee era concept which happened to be introduced in the Troughton era, and slowly phased out at the start of the Tom Baker era. Davison only met him because Ian Chesterton wasn't available. But *once a Sylvester McCoy UNIT story exists* this becomes a pattern, and the fact it never occured to anyone at the time that Colin Baker "needed" to meet the Brig becomes a glaring omission.

    I'm not sure if "Battlefield" is itself continuity fetishism (my personal feeling is that Aaronovitch is *using* continuity rather than doing it for its own sake), but it's certainly a continuity fetish enabler.

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    1. But Davison's Doctor refers to the Brig in Time Flight (the first time he's been mentioned in 7 years) and Colin's Doctor was due to meet him in Yellow Fever.
      So I think once continuity became more important in Who in the mid 80s these things started to become expectations.

      I think it really became ingrained during the "Wilderness years". DWM reported McGann telling Nick Courtney "Now you've got the whole set". I've read rumors that in some production documents the untitled Paul Abbott/Pompeii/Boomtown episode was teasing called "The B******** to put fans of the scent/detect leaks.

      But it did become some kind of fan wisdom. I can remember people getting angry online at Eccleston's 'selfishness' at leaving simply because now there wouldn't be a Ninth/Brigadier story

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    2. "Colin's Doctor was due to meet him in Yellow Fever."

      What, really? I've never heard that, before! :-O

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    3. Surely the "Every Doctor Should Meet The Brig Rule" is less about continuity fetishism, and just because we all really, really loved Nick Courtney? I honestly think it might be just that simple. Nick Courtney is maybe the only thing that *all* Doctor Who fans agree on, as much as we hilariously disagree about every other aspect of the programme.

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    4. That's definitely the sentiment behind the idea, I'd say. Even in stories where the Brigadier was being a complete comic relief idiot for the sake of the plot, Courtney played him as just such a loveable person that you still liked him despite the stupid things he sometimes did.

      One of my favourite of these moments was when I first started digging back through the Pertwee years and hit the first episode of The Green Death. How should I handle this minor episode of corporate malfeasance that UNIT's been called into? I don't know how to make decisions, despite being an highly experienced military officer, so I guess I'll wait awkwardly in Mr Stevens' office for hours for the Doctor to show up. Oh that Brig! He's so silly!

      That being said, I think Phil's right to indicate a problematic way Doctor Who fans and writers treat the Brigadier. If one writes a Doctor-Brigadier story to see how this loveable character interacts with some version of the Doctor because we enjoy watching their shifting dynamic, that's great. When one writes it because it's something to check off the list, there's no energy to it, no passion.

      I think Steven Moffatt understood that love for the character as a presence in the world of Doctor Who (and not as a checklist item) in how we saw Courtney eulogized in-story in The Wedding of River Song. When he calls the Brigadier and finds out that he's died, that's the moment when the Eleventh Doctor really accepts that there are limits to his powers, and that death is something that has to be accepted. It isn't necessarily the particular death of that episode, of course. But I think it was a fitting way for the show itself to pay tribute to the role the Brigadier and Nicolas Courtney played for Doctor Who and the communities that have grown up around it.

      I consider the best Brigadier-Sixth Doctor story The Shadow in the Glass. Justin Richards and Stephen Cole wrote an emotionally involving, time-twisting story that at points put the philosophies of the Doctor and the Brigadier in collision. You saw how much the two cared for each other, but the story also displayed a fundamental difference between them. The story demonstrated why we loved the Brigadier as a character so much, but also examined his relationship with the Doctor in what I thought was an interesting way.

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    5. I was thinking exactly what Zapruder 313 said when I read this. I mean I find I like continuity porn every once in awhile anyway, so perhaps I'm not the best person to comment, but really I don't so much feel the need to have the Brig meet every Doctor, as I love the Brig enough that I found myself wondering how he might interact with the other characters. Now as an adult I still just can't get enough of the Brig. He's one of those that infallibly ends up on my personal list of top fictional characters.

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    6. but Adam has a point, if his character isn't written well (especially if it's a medium that can't be saved by an expectedly great performance by Nicholas Courtney) than there isn't a point in the inclusion, in fact it might just serve to frustrate if it's done badly enough.

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  10. Got to say, I'm a bit disappointed that Fires of Vulcan is the 7th/Mel audio you're looking at. It's good, I guess, but it basically tries to erase the aesthetic of Season 24 rather than showing how that aesthetic might work. Unregenerate!, Bang Bang a Boom!, and Flip Flop all do a much better job as reconstructing Season 24 and trying to make it work, and they're all far more interesting stories on top of it. Maybe for the book version?

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    1. Maybe. I mean, not to spoil too far ahead, but I quite like Season 24 as it is, so part of my interest in Fires of Vulcan is that I think it's a bit crap, actually. I picked it because it was highly praised and recommended, but much like The Witch Hunters, listening to it this week I thought it had huge, huge problems. (And I'd not realized until an episode in that it was the same writer. When I went "wait a moment, this is the same exact story as The Witch Hunters...")

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    2. Flip Flop may be the most horribly racist thing I've heard in decades. I certainly want Philip to cover that just to see how he deals with something that makes The Celestial Toymaker seem like an 80s Guardian leader.

      I *am* interested to see what Philip makes of A Death In The Family though -- it's a wonderful piece of work, but it requires having listened to by my count at least nine other Big Finish audios to properly get the point...

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    3. Agreed re:Flip flop. It's bizarre reading the story's contemporary reviews as so few people seem to have noticed its rather racist elements. Everyone was praising it's novel structure and the way Langford and Mccoy work better on audio.

      The earliest criticsm I can find is 2008.
      Maybe Who critics had different priorities back then.

      It's only in an interview 10 years later Morris finally admitted that maybe the Slitergee idea got a little out of hand. Anyway glad to hear one of the less amazing Big Finish stories will be featured

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    4. Philip, while I'm in wholehearted agreement with you on (the almost universally praised) The Witch Hunters, I rate The Fires of Vulcan much more highly. I'll be interested to see what you think is crap about it - most of the aspects I had trouble with were nevertheless not so annoying as their counterparts in The Fires of Pompeii (the characterisation of gladiator Murranus vs. the "lovely jubbly" market trader, for instance).

      Andrew, I'm not convinced that Flip-Flop is racist (though I'm open to persuasion). It uses the trappings of racism, certainly, but inverts it by having the dominant group spouting the cliched rhetoric that some racists think minority groups are always saying. To me it feels more like that cartoon where a character comments that we should "ship all the bigots back where they came from".

      But then, I'm a White Middle-Class Gentile Heterosexual Englishman, so I'm always willing to be corrected by someone on the sharp end of an ism.

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    5. I'm in the same boat as elvwood. I could be persuaded that Flip Flop is racist, and certainly I can see part of the argument from how the Slithergees act, but I'm not sure I see it. Unless the Slithergees fit a particular racial stereotype I'm not aware of, I thought they were clever even though the play seemed to be spouting some right wing politics I disagree with. But racist? I'm not sure I see it.

      Of course, like elvwood, I'd love to be proven wrong.

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    6. drfgsdgsdf -- that "first criticism" would be from me, then. I was horrified, when I wrote my blog post on the topic a few years back, to find *nothing* criticising the attitude of the story (and a couple of people approving of it for 'satirising political correctness'). I think it says some very worrying things about Who fandom generally...

      "It uses the trappings of racism, certainly, but inverts it by having the dominant group spouting the cliched rhetoric that some racists think minority groups are always saying. To me it feels more like that cartoon where a character comments that we should "ship all the bigots back where they came from"."

      It has a race of immigrants who swamp the local culture, ban the local religious festivals, and keep trying to claim a special minority status even though they're in the majority. The *story* is spouting that clichéd rhetoric -- the 'dominant group' are acting exactly as racists think people of minority groups act, yes, but one of the characteristic things about racism in Britain at the moment is that it claims that minority groups are becoming the majority -- see all those Daily Express headlines like "Mohammed Now The Most Popular Boys' Name In Britain" or "Four In Five Babies Is From Non-English Mother" and so on.

      The whole ideological basis of racism at the moment -- the rhetoric used by the BNP, Racist UKIP and the rest -- is that immigrants are swamping 'our' culture, and that they want special privileges even though there are more of 'them' than there are of 'us', and that 'they' have even banned Christmas now. And Flip Flop just has exactly that happen. It's not a witty parody of racist sentiments, it's just a direct expression of them.

      If I remember right, Alex Wilcock (who often comments here, and so can correct me if I'm mistaken) once challenged Jonathan Morris (who is normally one of the better writers Big Finish have, so it's all the more surprising that that utter vile excrescence was his work) about it, and Morris basically said he was going through a bad time and reading too much of the Daily Mail, and he regretted writing it.

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    7. OK, thanks for the explanation - that makes sense. Darn.

      The thing that confused me is that the slithergees are immigrants in exactly the same way as Europeans moving into North America and the Southern hemisphere over the previous few centuries - coming along and demanding land at gunpoint, enslaving the preexisting population, pushing their own religion/culture and generally setting everything up for their own benefit. So naturally I saw them as colonial masters, and their claims of being the target of racism just as invalid as if someone like Lord Mountbatten (or, indeed, Nick Griffin) had made them. I just didn't connect them to the current hordes of über-influential asylum seekers and economic migrants who are apparently on course to subjugate England any day now.

      But then, the BNP stance is based on a fear of exactly this happening, of True Brits becoming the colonised rather than the colonisers; and no matter how ludicrous this idea might be, you're right that the slithergee-run version of the world in Flip-Flop is an instantiation of that idea.

      Rats.

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    8. You know, that's the very first time, *ever*, I think, where I've asserted the problematic nature of some piece of art, someone has initially disagreed, I've given my reasons *and they've changed their mind*.

      I'm seriously impressed. Normally I get "that's absurd! You're just being overly-sensitive! It's political correctness gone mad!"

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    9. Put the other disk in: you'll find the alternate version of me doing exactly that! It's parallel universalism gone mad, I tell you! (Still, maybe the alternate version of you won all those other arguments.)

      Seriously, though, I still think my interpretation was perfectly valid - as far as it went. However, it was lacking a crucial piece of context which you pointed out, and which changes everything. It's like the swastika outside the Carlsberg brewery's HQ in Denmark - unless you know the historical context that can give completely the wrong impression.

      Unlike Aaron, I'm not happy to be proven wrong, because I liked Flip-Flop and I won't be able to listen to it in the same way again.

      Oh, and some people thought it was satirising political correctness? Really? It's not "PC" to bend over backwards to satisfy the people holding a gun to your head!

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    10. I mean, I love Flip Flop too, so it's a shame to hear that it could be interpreted as pretty racist. I don't know, I can't help but still like it, it's a very clever play, but I can also admit that it might be in bad taste.

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    11. I liked the cleverness of it too, but I was uncomfortable with the political aspect. It's good to see that finally out in the open. There are also ablist undertones, if that wasn't enough...

      It gets seen as satirising political correctness, because, well, that's what the big "political correctness" myth is about - putting up a strawman and then convincing people that the strawman is actually alive and threatens their freedom.

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    12. Yeah -- the ablism is definitely there, too, but given that it's anti-blind ablism and my wife is legally blind, I thought that maybe I was be overreacting to that bit and so never mention it.

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    13. Unfortunately, I agree with Andrew’s case too; I remember listening to Flip-Flop first time round with a growing feeling of revulsion, but really wanting to like it. I liked Jonny’s previous work, I liked the idea, the It’s A Wonderful Life theme and the cleverness (though the endings falls down on that, as to preserve the circularity both should be identical) and at the time I was still following everything from Big Finish faithfully. I’d been aghast at the attitudes in the previous year’s Sarah Jane Smith: The TAO Connection, but I thought that was a pretty poor story to begin with. So Flip-Flop was more jarring, because it was well-crafted but horrible. It mixes an attempt at a race relations satire with monsters who are entirely evil. I say “satire”, but to have a set of immigrants with only one character – ‘evil’ – and all, without exception, part of the same massive evil plot, isn’t satirical more a Powellite paranoid fantasy. So it was just difficult to believe from that writer (or from Doctor Who at all).

      As for me challenging Jonathan Morris, I wouldn’t put it quite so confrontationally, and I don’t think he said he regretted it, but here’s what happened. We were both at the same party in 2006 (I think I can place it at almost six years to the day, as it was the evening Fear Her was on), and ended up in a long conversation about politics: him defending the then Labour Government and me very much not. And at one point something seemed to lead into mentioning Flip-Flop. So I think they were my words, trying to broach the subject in a way other than ‘What were you thinking?’ And Andrew’s right, as I said to him something like, “It sounded like you wrote it while consoling yourself with too much Daily Mail after a bad break-up”, and he said something like, “Pretty much, yeah.” But that was just an aside at a party and we didn’t go into it in detail, so I wouldn’t give it the status of a considered interview statement!

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    14. I chatted to him about it briefly at Big Finish Day back in the spring - I'd seen a vague statement of his that he'd regretted aspects of it, and I asked him what he meant exactly.

      The only specific thing he mentioned was the ending being a downer. I suppose inviting an author to comment on a work of his that you are presenting him to sign is unlikely to result in a repudiation, regardless of his feelings in the matter!

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    15. Poor guy! So right-wing he found himself defending the Labour Party! This will sound trollish, but I really don't mean it to: why do so many Doctor Who fans seem to treat and critique the show as if it's the Conscience of England? Surely fiction, and in particular popular fiction, doesn't need to work like that? If we were discussing what you might loosely call Exploitation Cinema each week, if we were making our way from Emanuelle in America to Django Unchained, I think about the least interesting discussion we could have would be over whether our day's text was "racist" or not. But each and every film would contain racism. They'd be understood as collision points, or as texts which fracture out along various lines. It's as if in the conversation above, every lesson that's ever been learnt about the autonomy of the text and the multiple nature of the author has been cast aside because it's Racism, or Ablism, or some other urgent Cause that we're talking about. And, really, if there's anything lazier than believing that "Enoch was right", it's the resurrecting of his dear old corpse as a bogey man. Which is not to say that nothing even slightly new can be written about him – http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/brendanoneill2/100166262/enoch-powells-real-prejudices-are-alive-and-thriving-in-the-rhetoric-of-the-left/ Is this a text aimed at poisoning the minds of vulnerable young Doctor Who fans? It's a text, isn't it? Maybe what it's about is in part the very discussion that's been had above.

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    16. If you think one can't be a supporter of the Labour Party and be right-wing, you've not been paying attention for the last twenty or so years.

      And while there are many texts where any racism, if it exists, is not the most interesting thing about it, when something is *primarily* racist propaganda, and for the first five years of its existence *none of the discussion around it even mentions that fact*, that's something worth discussing.

      And no-one but you brought up Powell at all.

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    17. The Powellite paranoid fantasy irked me slightly, but it could just as well have been the references to the Daily Mail.

      I think the idea that you can be right wing and a supporter of the Labour Party is absurd, but it suits the far Left, who can narrow the confines of permitted thought within Labour by smearing people who don't adhere to the Old Religion as closet Tories.

      This "primary" racist propaganda is an artifact of denunciation. The racism will exist, and will be a part of it, but it will one among a number of things contributing to its meaning and its relation to neighbouring texts. When people invariably fail to mention something, that's interesting, but this wasn't really an open discussion on the nature of the omission.

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  11. Gods, I *love* Bang-Bang-A-Boom...

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  12. leaving the Daleks as the only plausible necessary element for an era

    Unless the Weeping Angels have been added to that list now -- as far as future Doctors go, at least. Though since we're never definitely told that "Blink" was the first meeting with them, I imagine there'll eventually be Weeping Angel stories for past Doctors too -- if not in Big Finish then in fanfic.

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    1. Big Finish can't legally do anything involving any characters from the post-2005 series, so the only way they'll ever get to do the Weeping Angels is if the series gets canceled and the rights to the post-2005 series become as unimportant to the BBC as the original series was to them in the late 90s...

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    2. ...which is a damn shame, as Big Finish could probably do a corker with 'em.

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    3. I'm not sure there's a monster less suited to audio than the Weeping Angels.

      Except perhaps the Silence.

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    4. They could have audio-oriented cousins.

      "Don't put earplugs in your ears Not for even a second!"

      See, just as effective.

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  13. Phillip, I've finally bought the TE book and, now I've got some spare time, am looking forward to re-reading your Hartnell pieces. What strikes me on a cursory glance is how much more the recent posts have become concerned and tangled in the various comings and goings of production teams etc. I guess this is inevitable and unavoidable but personally I prefered it when the entries were more psychchronographicaly exploratory and free to wander and less tied to the 'map' of series politics and the fan- industrial complex. Anyway that's more a critique than a criticism, yours is always the first blog I turn to when surfing and I am always excited by a new entry. Please keep up the good work.

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    1. For what it's worth, I see there as a kind of distinct turning point on that - one I flagged back in The Leisure Hive. There's a transition point in which the production of the series - what I, when being jargonny, call the paratext - become an active part of what the series is. Part of what's interesting about the decline over the Davison/Baker eras, in fact, is that the series seems almost to invite the audience to follow along on the matter of production travails.

      Equally, I am almost completely uninterested in the matter of production through the McCoy era. Indeed, the Time and the Rani entry - already written - remarks on this exact point. :)

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    2. You won't even comment on the idiotic juggling of episodes in Seasons 25 and 26 that caused Ace's storyline to become jumbled (not to mention how it affected the coat reveal)?

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    3. I've never really found a major dramatic problem in the ordering of Season 25 or Season 26, to be honest. I can see the point about the Season 26 reshuffle, but I think the order that's there works fine. I've never even understood what people are on about with regards to Season 25.

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    4. Okay I can buy the 'paratext' and I'm heartened by your intentions moving forward. I've always found Ace's character problematic, a classic example of a potentially interesting character that grown-up writers with a tin ear for teen speak/fashions saddled with a bewildering back story and accoutrements (Nitro-9...really?)if the question was 'The Problem of Susan' - Ace definitely wasn't the answer. However if the Question was 'Doctor Who?' Sylvester McCoy just might have been.

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    5. Admittedly there are problems with Ace's character, but she's still one of my favourite companions. And she has in common with Leela and River (three characters otherwise utterly unlike each other) a penchant for violence which gives them a more interesting relationship/contrast with the Doctor than the usual helpless rescue object. There, that's my defense of the Nitro.

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  14. When you get to the Great Interregnum, do you plan to cover either or both of Scream of the Shalka and Curse of Fatal Death?

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    1. They're both nice examples of the clearly non-canonical influencing and/or prefiguring the clearly canonical.

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  15. This may be a daft question, but given we've gone from Doctors 4 to 6 in the first 6 months of this year, why will it take another 6 months to hit McGann? Have you scheduled in some well-deserved holiday time--an interregnum of your own?

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    1. Because I'm doing just over 30 of the New Adventures in that time, along with a healthy number of Pop Between Realities posts and other things to fill the gaps because I can't read three books a week and keep up a functional schedule.

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  16. Matthew Blanchette:
    "You won't even comment on the idiotic juggling of episodes in Seasons 25 and 26 that caused Ace's storyline to become jumbled (not to mention how it affected the coat reveal)?"

    The "coat reveal" is so mind-numbingly trivia as to be virtually a non-event; dramatically, the stories in Season 26 work best exactly as they were broadcast.

    Season 25 is also not a problem-- at least not to me-- simply because, from the time I had all 4 of them on tape, I've always-- ALWAYS-- watched them in the intended order (which, incidentally, Shannon Sullivan somehow has completely wrong-- I know-- I read the DWM when before they were ever aired). It's... REMEMBRANCE / GREATEST SHOW / HAPPINESS / NEMESIS. There, all fixed.

    Sometimes common sense must prevail over "official" B.S. I noted recently that 2 absolutely key episodes of ROBOTECH were not only run in reverse order (and blatently, obviously, painfully so), but are listed in that wrong order at both the IMDB and at the "Official" ROBOTECH website! What else are home videotape for if not to allow one to program shows BETTER than the idiots running the TV stations?

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    1. Which two episodes of Robotech do you refer to?

      Also, I'd say that He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and its spin-off She-Ra is a fine example of what you speak of-the numbered production order of that series is blatantly not the order the series was aired in (He-Man's pilot has a production code of MU04, for instance, and a guest character's "return" episode has a lower production number than the episode that introduces the character, to say nothing of variances the the end credits of episodes). Of course, in this example, fandom has pushed forward the incorrect ideas about the show's chronology to the point that it has become official.

      And, best of all, a so-called superfan from the UK leads the way in taking the two shows out of context of their intended US airings.

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  17. Considering how you regard "fanwank", Phil, I shudder to think of how you'll react to the late Mr. Craig Hinton's work that's coming up, especially as (as far as I know) you've never reviewed his books before... :-S

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  18. I'd argue that Hinton's obsessive continuity porn is at least not the sole reason for his books existing. Unlike Business Unusual. The bits that don't feature Mel and the Doctor, or the Brigadier, are the prose equivalent of dead air.

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