Monday, September 24, 2012

We'll All Die of Sunburn on a Cloudy Day (Blood Heat)

I’ll Explain Later

We skipped Iceberg, but I talked about it Friday, so Blood Heat. The first book of the “Alternate History Cycle,” a five book series in which the Doctor faces a (for the first four books) unknown enemy who is altering history and causing all sorts of troubles. Or, as the Doctor puts it, “meddling.” So that’s subtle about who it is. In this first book, the Doctor ends up in an alternate universe in which he died during The Silurians, leading the eponymous Silurians to win. The book ends with what is almost certainly the New Adventures’ highest death toll as the Doctor is forced to destroy the entire alternate universe. It’s quite well-regarded, although Craig Hinton is relatively restrained, accusing Mortimore of being “a little more heavy-handed than Johnny Byrne, and considerably more so than Hulke,” though still basically liking the book. Lars Pearson is more unequivocal, calling it “magnificent” and saying that “fans still stand up and cheer about it.” Shannon Sullivan’s rankings put it at 24th, with a rating of 72.2%, nestling it snugly between The Highest Science and Birthright. DWRG entry. Whoniverse Discontinuity Guide entry.

——
It’s October of 1993. DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince are at number one with “Boom! Shake The Room.” That lasts a week, and then Take That unseat them with “Relight my Fire.” That lasts two whole weeks, at which point Meat Loaf take over number one with “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That).” Pet Shop Boys, Roxette, Iron Maiden, The Prodigy, and Phil Collins also chart, while top ten albums include Nirvana’s In Utero, Pet Shop Boys’s Very, Pearl Jam’s Vs, and Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell II.

In news, since last entry Israel and the PLO signed a peace accord in Washington DC, with Yasir Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin shaking hands afterwards. Giuseppe Puglisi was killed in Italy due to his strong stance against the Mafia. While during this month the US badly botches Operation Gothic Serpent in Mogadishu, leading to the events depicted in the film Black Hawk Down. China performs a nuclear test, unnerving everybody a bit. Benazir Bhutto becomes the first elected female leader of a Muslim state in Pakistan. John Major attempts to revive the blatantly sagging fortunes of the Conservative Party, launches the Back to Basics campaign, which mostly becomes emblematic of failed attempts to relaunch political parties. And members of the Ulster Defence Association attack a bar in Greysteel, Northern Ireland, killing eight.

While in books, we have Jim Mortimore’s Blood Heat, which provides something of an interesting test case for a broader aesthetic and critical issue that has at times lurked in the background of this blog, and that is, in many ways, in play again now. In any given era of Doctor Who there is a critical gravity towards the idea of figuring out the era’s default mode, if you will. In the Troughton era, for instance, the default was bases under siege. In the Hinchcliffe era it was gothic horror featuring dead things returning and possessions. In the McCoy era it was ancient secrets and the Doctor knowing more than he lets on. And in eras that are less consistent or where there’s an overarching aesthetic problem that the era is working through there’s a real temptation to reach for the lack of a successful default mode to criticize the show.

This isn’t just me either, although I’m certainly guilty of it. Caves of Androzani is a good example of where a lot of people fall into this approach, with one of the standard critical lines being that it’s very good, but that it’s good in ways that are utterly unrepresentative of the Davison era in general. The eras of Doctor Who in which there is a clear and reasonably effective “standard operating procedure,” so to speak, are generally the more successful ones. (Even the Hartnell era, where the standard operating procedure was generally “whatever we did last time, do something aggressively different this time.”) Whereas eras where there’s some tension around the notion of a default approach are, while often still full of fantastic stories, somewhat more uneven as a whole. This should be relatively uncontroversial - or at least it can easily be phrased that way: if you don’t have a clear vision of what the show should be you’re going to have trouble delivering consistent quality.

And over the last few entries we’ve been running into this exact problem with the New Adventures. It’s not that they don’t know what they want to do so much as that they’re visibly lacking confidence in their approach. They don’t have such a thing as a standard issue Virgin book together yet, and they have some real anxiety over how to do it. All of this is a long-winded way of saying that Blood Heat largely works, but that the things that make it work are almost entirely things that can’t be repeated in other books. The question is how much this matters.

On the one hand the basic argument is and should be “who cares?” After all, Blood Heat is just one book. The fact that other books can’t copy it isn’t its problem. And it’s a fair point - repeatability is not an inherent virtue in making a piece of fiction work. Either Blood Heat works or it doesn’t. And for the most part it works. Its central conceit - an alternate universe in which the Doctor died during The Silurians (or perhaps more accurately during Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters) and the world fell to the Silurians - is a stunner. It lets Mortimore pull an impressive trick. we recognize many of the supporting characters: the Brigadier, Benton, Jo, and Liz. We’re already invested in them in ways we cannot possibly be in new characters created for the book. But because it’s not “our” Brigadier the book can push things in ways that simply wouldn’t be possible under normal circumstances.

And so Mortimore can get away with scenes such as the one in which the Brigadier, in an attempt to get information out of a comatose Jo, drugs her with a stimulant to try to wake her up, and ends up killing her, just like her doctor said he would if he did that. This is, as you can imagine, an astonishing scene. And it’s one that would be difficult to do with the normal Brigadier and Jo - the former because it would permanently damage a recurring character to push him to the point where he does things like that, the latter because it would damage a recurring character to kill her.

Much of the drama in Blood Heat comes from this trick. It’s able to make the grim brutality of the 90s work because it finds an approach in which the characteristic darkness of the 90s can have real impact within the confines of a serial narrative. It’s a version of narrative collapse - a way of pushing the storytelling structure of Doctor Who to its breaking point without actually having to break Doctor Who. And there’s no need to swerve away at the last moment. Mortimore can wreck all sorts of hell upon his characters without consequence. And this culminates in one of the most staggeringly antiheroic moments of the Doctor as it turns out that he’s had to destroy the entire parallel universe, dooming the people that he just spent an entire book trying to save to die in a premature collapse of the entire universe. This approach can’t work every time, but it only has to work this time, and it mostly does.

Mostly. I keep saying that Mortimore has found an approach that does this, as though Mortimore invented it and isn’t just stealing the premise from Inferno. And my general distaste for Inferno - one of the more controversial posts I’ve ever made - should make it no surprise where I’m going here. Because the parallel universe trick is just as insubstantial here as it is in Inferno. Admittedly, the biggest problem of Inferno doesn’t apply here. There the parallel universe was a fairly obvious feint to stretch the story out, with nothing that the Doctor learned in Eyepatch World actually impacting the resolution for our world. Here the action is confined to the parallel world and so there are no issues to be had in this direction.

But the more substantive problem is just a general flatness of the concept of parallel worlds. They’re something of a vacant idea in the first place. There’s a sort of disingenuous bait and switch involved in them, where they play off of emotional attachments to characters without actually employing the long-term investments that form those attachments. We care about the Brigadier because he’s been a recurring character on Doctor Who for over a quarter-century at this point in the series’ history. But the character in Blood Heat is actively not the long-running character, and the impact he has depends on that.

This isn’t a huge issue - but it does render the impact of the book a bit superficial. And that is, in many ways, the problem with Blood Heat. Having identified an effective way of turning up the volume on the story’s intensity, that’s ultimately all Mortimore does here. There’s not a lot here beyond an observation that people do terrible things, often in the name of protecting the children.

Put another way, this book is both relitigating the moral controversy of The Silurians and refighting the Mary Whitehouse debacle. For all that this is a case of the New Adventures’ paradigm working, the book is still caught up in old anxieties about Doctor Who. For the New Adventures to be caught up in the idea that terrible things are done in the name of protecting the children is sensible enough. For one thing, their own aggressively “mature readers” approach to Doctor Who raises the issue on its own. With Doctor Who Magazine tittering irritatedly whenever someone says “fuck” (resulting, in later books, in some phenomenally awkward fake swearing), the question of what must be done to protect children is sensible. Sure, upping the ante to people attempting genocide to protect their children is, perhaps, a case of Mortimore overplaying his hand a bit, but equally, the “for the children” defense is a big and chronic one that remains the justification for all manner of horrible things.

More puzzling is why we’re redoing The Silurians at all nearly twenty-five years later. The point of that story, at least, was to let Malcolm Hulke vent his distaste for the earthbound UNIT approach. And, pushed by Barry Letts, he does it in spades, aggressively undermining the entire UNIT era by making the Brigadier commit genocide. This was a reasonable, perhaps even a necessary thing to do in 1970. But what do we gain by doing it again in 1993?

Some of this can be explained by the anti-Pertwee strain of thought that was going on in fandom at the time - this is around the same time as Cornell’s damning review of Terror of the Autons, for instance. And we can simply put Mortimore’s book in this context, reading it as a broadside against the Pertwee era - an opportunity to do The Silurians with a furious intensity denied to the original. And fine, it’s effective enough at that. And I have enough problems with the Pertwee era and UNIT to be sympathetic to it. Even if there is, ultimately, a version of the Pertwee era I’m enormously fond of, there’s also the one that The Silurians is a critique of, and I’m as disinclined towards it as Hulke was, and as Mortimore apparently is.

So, fine, we’ve found a defense against all the critiques we can muster here. But in the end… this just doesn’t seem to amount to very much. And while I’m rarely one to claim that a Doctor Who story has to be anything more than exciting and entertaining it’s clear that this book thinks it has higher ambitions than being a pacey little thriller. The book is defensible, sure, but that’s not praiseworthy.

And I think, here, that there’s a larger critique to be offered against the idea of “sequel” stories like this. The past of Doctor Who is a vast collection of ideas and signifiers ripe for appropriation, adaptation, and screwing with. We’ve seen New Adventures do brilliant things with the past, and we’ve seen the new series do it too. But there’s a difference between Timewyrm: Revelation and Blood Heat, and a big part of that difference is that all Blood Heat has to say is a response to a single story from 1970.

It does that response very well. It’s thrilling, it wrings some real emotion out of it, and it’s a germane and on target reply to Hulke’s story - one that takes what Hulke did, particularly in the novelization, and pushes it further. But it’s still a book with no real ambitions beyond being a sequel to a twenty-three-year-old piece of television. And that, perhaps, more than the fact that what this book does can’t really be repeated, is the big flaw. The problem with these sequel stories is that they’re all too repeatable - that it’s far too easy for Doctor Who to disappear into a thicket of the past. Blood Heat is a fun novel, but it highlights a real risk for the New Adventures whereby the ideas of the nineties become nothing more than a lens to angrily reread the past through, as opposed to a vision of the future.

33 comments:

  1. I wasn't anywhere near being a fan at this point, but seeing this book in a bookshop around this time is probably my earliest clear memory of Doctor Who. It had a dinosaur on the front cover, and I've always had a soft spot for dinosaurs.

    (Incidentally, the hardened Who fan in me is kind of tickled to see that the dinosaur depicted there is clearly a homage to the tyrannosaur in "Invasion of the Dinosaurs", even if it does look several orders better.)

    I've also got a soft-spot for parallel world stories and the like (I'm actually doing my Ph.D thesis on alternative histories), but you do raise an interesting point about how they use familiar characters as easy signifiers-stroke-shock moment generators (although I agree that Blood Heat is at least, if memory serves, a stronger example of them).

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  2. "But it’s still a book with no real ambitions beyond being a sequel to a twenty-three-year-old piece of television."

    Surely the Ace/Manisha subplot is about something other than just revisiting Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters? We get to explore the character of Ace through her interactions with her murdered best friend. And it highlights the theme of exploring what happens when racism is taken to its logical conclusion.

    Basically, I think there's quite a bit of substance to the novel that you've managed to miss.

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    1. I think, thematically, that's what's going on there, but I have trouble finding much substance in the scenes themselves.

      Although I admit, the elision of how the alternate-Earth Ace died was quite clever.

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    2. Ace/Manisha just wasn't built up enough, I felt, but it was at least a subplot that made sense and almost accomplished what it went for.

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    3. Blood Heat definitely uses Ace a lot more effectively than some NAs. Ace is just brilliantly portrayed in this novel.

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  3. "But there’s a difference between Timewyrm: Revelation and Blood Heat, and a big part of that difference is that all Blood Heat has to say is a response to a single story from 1970."

    You mean it's a more focused exercise in continuity sequelitis than something like Attack of the Cybermen was? Well then I fail to see how that's a bad thing.

    As for the book's raison d'etre, I think it's clearly a necessary redemption of the Silurians after the dead-end butchering of them that was Warriors of the Deep- an apology for that story, of sorts (even if the Audio Visuals beat this book to it with Enclave Irrelative). Like Siskel and Ebert said of how the best way to criticise a bad film is to make a better film.

    I almost agree with Craig Hinton's criticism of this book being heavy-handed in its preaching, especially considering this was a year before the Rwanda genocide, and the book here essentially, as in Warriors, has the Doctor telling the human resistance who are fighting for survival against an enemy that wants to wipe them out as a race, that they should lay down their arms and try to negotiate, as though the ripe crop could appeal to the reaper, and in effect making the Doctor come across as no better than the U.N. who's idea of keeping the peace was to take no military action against the Hutu militia and let them do what they want.

    And yet the fact that the Doctor does achieve the impossible here and secures peace, rather than just being a snidey turncoat liability for the sake of it, makes this story feel good for the heart in all the ways that Warriors wasn't. It fulfills the promise that was utterly betrayed by the former story's inability to make the Doctor's stance even cohere with what was happening onscreen.

    More importantly, the book was a life-affirming experience where I could feel and live through the struggle for survival and feel triumphant in the end. Warriors of the Deep was the opposite- it was infact death-affirming in trivialising, pointless and scornful ways that demanded the question 'what is the point?', and seemed to make the audience want to feel ashamed for even having a survival instinct.

    I suppose beyond being a fix and add-on, with bits of envelope pushing, it perhaps didn't have enough of a central core, hence why everything of the surface was laid on so thick, but as a redemptive exorcism on the part of the Saward era disaster that tends to get otherwise ignored by either deflections onto Season 22 or excuses about the budget, I'd sooner have it than not have it.

    Incidentally Jim Mortimer seems to often use yonic symbolism when describing parrallel universes as being like a womb- Natural History of Fear particularly seems to make use of the dome imagery, and ultrasound, and the idea of the womb as a place of 'forgetting'- just like in Jim Henson's Labyrinth.

    A shame that this time the Doctor had to essentially perform an act of abortion on said universe.

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    1. Re: the womb thing: Benny's "rebirth" was easily the most effective sequence of the novel.

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  4. All righty, my main problem with Blood Heat:

    The moral/ethical core of the story MAKES NO GODDAMN SENSE.

    Apparently, despite the Silurians:
    a.) Unleashing a bioweapon that killed the vast majority of humanity
    b.) Terraforming the planet so that it's not just unfriendly to human civilization but to all life that isn't adapted to the Cretaceous
    c.) Actively hunting down the remaining humans for sport

    ...the humans and the Silurians share equal responsibility for not making peace. And every single human other than members of the military agrees with this, including Dark Ace.

    Yeah.

    Imagine this situation with - oh, let's go for the obvious comparison - the Nazis and the French Resistance. Yes, they both count as people with lives that matter, but that doesn't mean they have equal culpability. And yes, the Silurians have a leader who desires peace and has initiated a plan to get it, but the humans sure don't know that - and certainly, few of his kin seem to share his attitude.

    Seriously, I wanted to like this book, but constantly stopping every few pages to go "Peace! Peace is the only way!" or "Oh, Brigadier, you asshole, why aren't you trying to make peace" made it a slog.

    (Also, the whole "only one universe can exist" thing was weird, considering that anyone who remembers The Silurians will remember Inferno. But that's a more minor point.)

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    1. the whole "only one universe can exist" thing was weird

      You're misreading or misremembering it. The Doctor draws a distinction between "natural" and "artificial" universes (those may not be the words used in the text, but it is the sense of his comment). An artificial one can't co-exist with the real universe, and he's worked out that this one is artificial. Which is somewhat important to the five book arc that this story begins.

      The Inferno universe, however, is clearly supposed to be a naturally-occurring one.

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    2. I'll recheck it when I get home, but I remember him saying that only one universe is possible...

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    3. I agree that the morality here is bullshit.

      It's like a version of The Dalek Invasion of Earth where the Doctor tells Dortmum and his chums to try negotiating with the Daleks and tries to sabotage their resistance efforts.....which makes an odd kind of sense, because The Silurians in some ways was like a version of the first Dalek serial in which the Doctor tried arguing that maybe the Daleks who killed the Thal leader were just a few bad apples and that it was wrong to wage war and kill them all just because of the actions of a few. The trouble is, in the context of the first Dalek story that argument can hold water. Not so in the sequel.

      Infact it's almost worse than Warriors of the Deep, in that at least there you could put the Doctor's warped pro-Silurian sympathies there down to him favouring the endangered minority, and that he could maybe understand the Silurian's fear of not only man's nuclear dominance over the planet, but mankind's inability to even co-exist with itself without nearly destroying the planet. In this version mankind is the endangered minority, the Silurians have won and yet he's still condemning mankind.

      And yet I think once the TV show had gone down this morally confused route with the Silurians (rather than letting the final word of the Pertwee stories stand, like they should have done, hence my conviction that they should have ended the classic series either when Tom left, or on the 20th anniversary story), this book kind of had to go all the way with the moral lunacy in order to try and salvage something hopeful and optimistic from it that redeems the Doctor from his fanatical madness.

      And yes you do get the sense that the fact the book achieves that is more down to the author characterising most of the cast as Mary Sues who are all saintly moral hectorers and author mouthpieces and in favour of the author's 'peace' agenda, even turning the young villain Silurian of the original story into a peacemaker.

      Basically, in terms of following up the Silurian saga after Warriors of the Deep, this story really can only be progress, and despite its flaws, I'd sooner this story had been televised in 1984 than the abomination we got.

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    4. I disagree - I don't think you can salvage a warped story by doing another warped story.

      Indeed, this story seems almost like the logical opposite of Warriors of the Deep. There, they reduced the possibility of peace to nothing but the Doctor saying "There must have been another way!" while doing nothing to promote that way; here, they have war as just something people do because they're jerks and can't get over one little genocide, jeez.

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    5. Also, I couldn't find anything about natural vs. artifical universes in Blood Heat. Perhaps that was a later retcon?

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    6. "I disagree - I don't think you can salvage a warped story by doing another warped story."

      I can't disagree. You're very right.

      The thing is though, for reasons that astound me, the bullshit morals of Warriors of the Deep made for not just a warped story, but became a warped part of the fan condition (hence why its one story I'd give anything to erase). As if in its corrosion of the show's mythology, it became a mythology and fan philosophy of its own. Fandom seems unwilling to revile the story beyond the production faults, as if desperate to believe there's something worthwhile about the pretentious 'message'.

      Some fans even claim the Doctor killing the Silurians at all is a character betrayal. This kind of madness makes no sense to me, though I could probably respect the Doctor a bit more for getting everyone killed over his pacifist principles if it wasn't for how these are principles he doesn't even end up standing by in the end, so he honours nothing and everyone dies for the most pointless, fickle reasons. Whilst the story angrily and illiterately tries to make out this is down to mankind's folly rather than the Doctor's.

      I'd like to think Blood Heat was an exorcism of that condition, or a cancelling out of that story, but in truth it was neither. Infact it gave a retroactive dose of undeserved credibility to the prior story by retconning a method in the Fifth Doctor's madness.

      This bias the fan writers had toward the Fifth Doctor era at the expense of the Sixth Doctor era does bother me. I think an actor like Davison brought a veneer of respectability and affability to what was just as much a wino's vision of the Doctor as Colin's was.

      Warriors is excused, despite how it bears all the worst aspects of Levine/Saward's approach. As with Attack of the Cybermen you know the Doctor's voice has been taken and co-opted by Ian Levine when he either recites inaccurate continuity details, or goes into appalling hissy-fits at the humans for not seeing things his way and not respecting this part of the show's past. Whilst that whole Saward routine of forcing drama by characters in a massacre blaming each other for the ongoing deaths being their fault for not trying to surrender to their enemy's mercy, gets a reprise early in Resurrection of the Daleks.

      Perhaps things would be different if the show had ended with the Sixth Doctor as still the current incumbent, either on Revelation of the Daleks or The Ultimate Foe. Maybe then the final word on the Doctor's character would be that he became like this for a good reason. He can't be a peacenick anymore, he had to adapt or die to a darker, more ruthless universe and there's some things he just has to do to survive. Maybe then the NA writers couldn't have thrown the Sixth Doctor under the bus as the regeneration gone wrong (and by extension this idea that the pacifist 5th Doctor was 'right;). Maybe the more deserving impotent 5th Doctor would have been thrown under instead and subjected to the exorcism.

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    7. An interesting discussion, but I think there's more to the underlying ethical ideas of the role the Silurians have in Doctor Who. Frankly, I don't think very many writers in the classic series (really only Malcolm Hulke) had a decent grasp of their complexity. Here we have two practically equal species with equal claim to the same world, neither of which is capable of understanding the claims of the other. Depending on when you intervene in a situation like that, the proper response changes.

      Advocating for peace would have been a very reasonable thing to do in the original Hulke story from 1970, and maybe in The Sea Devils from 1972. These were the early conflicts of Humans and Silurians, and so peace-minded individuals like the Doctor could have had a decent shot at setting the tone of relations between the two species. I think the problem with Warriors of the Deep and Blood Heat was taking the Doctor's approach of the 1970s stories and reading it as the only morally appropriate response universally. In Warriors of the Deep, it seems to be the Silurians' last desperate attempts at survival, as one can reasonably assume that their habitats are mostly all collateral damage of a dangerously heating human Cold War. In Blood Heat, the Silurians have already cleansed and conquered (not Terraformed, but Eoformed?) the Earth, and the dwindling humans are now desperate to survive. At that point, one or both sides have already become too villainous for the diplomacy appropriate to the setting of the 1970s stories to work. The writers don't seem to realize that.

      This is why (despite my near-continual problems with the character of his dialogue writing), I think Chris Chibnall's Silurian story was the best since Hulke's. Granted the setting and social context of the Silurian and Human groups was basically the same as Hulke's sped up to 90 minutes, so the Doctor could still play peacemaker and have it work. But for the first time since Hulke, the Doctor's moral attitude toward the Silurians matched the situation: at first contact, a hopeful tone can be set. Post-massacre, it's too late for that kind of hope.

      As for this "They should have ended the series at point X" talk, it all smacks of retroactive understanding, as if we could have seen the problems of the Saward era before he had even written for the show. I mean we can only barely forecast the problems Gatiss is going to have in his third year as showrunner in 2020 when the only other regular writer who understands Rupert Grint's Doctor goes to develop the Alphas sequel series in America. In the Bidmead season, no one even knew who Eric Saward was.

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    8. I don't think Warriors of the Deep is something that warps fan perceptions; I don't think it's something most fans think about much at all! IMHO, people aren't seeing the bad production values as the only problem and exalting the rest; they're ignoring the entire thing due to the bad production values, so they never get to the ethical problems.

      And I agree; the problem with Blood Heat is taking the morals of The Silurians and assuming they apply in every situation that has Silurians in it.

      Also, yeah - saying "They should have ended it, because shit happened after" is the worst kind of letting the future write the past.

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    9. @Ununnilium
      Checked back myself, and you're right about the natural vs artificial universes thing not being in Blood Heat itself. It must have been later in the arc.

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    10. One thing (among many) I'm looking forward to in the rest of this season is the return of Madame Vastra, the Victorian lesbian Silurian vigilante crimefighter.

      I loved writing that sentence.

      Because she's a chance for Silurians to develop as individual characters beyond the immediate plot functions of the stories. She's not defined by the Human-Silurian conflict, not completely, but just from her role in A Good Man Goes to War is an intriguing and singular individual. I especially hope the rumours that she'll be in three or four episodes beyond Xmas as well turn out true. I'd like to see the Doctor with a proper alien companion or semi-companion. That could be a wild new direction for the series to go. Or she could at least fill a recurring role throughout Moffatt's tenure the way Captain Jack did for Davies.

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    11. I shall be surprised if her character is developed other than in terms of lesbianism's status as "one of the four pillars of the male heterosexual psyche"

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    12. "As for this "They should have ended the series at point X" talk, it all smacks of retroactive understanding, as if we could have seen the problems of the Saward era before he had even written for the show."

      I don't think any hindsight is required to say that remoulding a popular TV hero into someone who's required to fail and get it wrong and be ineffectual, as JNT dictated from the beginning of Davison's casting, was a fundamentally bad idea that threatened everything the character previously stood for. Not least because the show's core suspension of disbelief depends on the audience crucially being able to believe that this is a man who has survived 900 years righting wrongs in a dangerous universe.

      Nor is hindsight really required to say that aiming the show at fan continuity buffs at the exclusion of the casual audience who wouldn't remember seeing stories from 12 years prior was a ratings killer. One could simply look at the evidence of the drop in ratings between Season 19 and 20 and conclude that to carry on with this approach as they did in Season 21 and 22 was going to cost even more of the show's residual good will.

      I think there'd been more than enough past in the show by then to demonstrate what approach works best.

      What hindsight does tell us though is that the cancellation wasn't the death of the franchise, and infact opened avenues to some of the best Doctor Who of any medium (as if taking Doctor Who from a superficial medium actually improved the writing and characterisation by necessity), and it's possible even that an earlier cancellation might have meant an earlier revival if the show was remembered far better and with less embarrassment if the more corrosively ugly stories didn't make it to screen.

      "In the Bidmead season, no one even knew who Eric Saward was."

      Well that's kind of the point though. He was an unknown quantity who was suddenly given reign over all the scripts- the most important component in Doctor Who (and yet apparently he was still somewhat under the kind of petty constraints by his boss that kept him from doing his job properly, as he often couldn't do right for being wrong).

      I mean surely if you're going with such a radical change of the central character, it's crucial you get the kind of script-editor and writing team who are experienced enough to pull it off successfully. If not, then surely the former idea has to go.

      The whole JNT era seemed to be a domino effect of sudden promotions, starting with the man himself, leading to calamity and disaster. Even Ian Levine was someone JNT had been warned away from by his predecessor, Williams.

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    13. On the other hand, an earlier cancellation without the McCoy era as a template might have meant a running out of steam and a revival far less faithful to the spirit of the seires. That's the thing - saying "there was a problem there" is obvious; saying "the answer was to get rid of the series early" was not.

      That said, I definitely agree on the domino effect. Oy.

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    14. I agree that this story's morality was BS. And I just wanted to jump in with the only other major recollection I have of the book, which is how irritating I found it that the Silurians kept denying that humanity had any sort of real sentient intelligence. How'd we build all those technological artifacts, then??

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  5. One of the things I really like about Blood Heat is the way the Brigadier is presented as a brutal bully. True, he is taken to an extreme by circumstances, but he always had this potential as a character.

    I have a real problem with the way fandom has romanticised the Brigadier, particularly after the death of Nicholas Courtney. This book makes a great contrast.

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    1. I don't think he was portrayed as a brutal bully as much as someone for whom duty is the most important thing, even unto that duty possibly not making sense anymore. Which makes perfect sense with the character... and makes no sense with how the other characters reacted to it.

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  6. the US badly botches Operation Gothic Serpent in Mogadishu

    What was Alan Moore even doing in Somalia?

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  7. resulting, in later books, in some phenomenally awkward fake swearing

    I've had it with these monkey fighting dinosaurs on this Monday to Friday spaceship!

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  8. Blood Heat is one of the few books where I'm out of step with fan consensus by *not* liking it. (It's more usual for everyone else to dislike a book and I'm thinking "It wasn't *that* bad".) And, yeah, it's what you were saying about parallel universes. Maybe I've just read too many issues of Marvel Comics What If? but "Look it's a parallel universe version of a character you know! She's like the one you're familiar with but damaged in a way we couldn't do with the real one! And now she's dead! Isn't that shocking?" doesn't strike me as shocking, or even interesting.

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  9. I tend to see all unfolding texts(!) as exercises in alternative universe 'what if / Elseworlds'. As with DC and Marvel, the essential pleasure is finding new conjunctions of old pieces to form exciting novel stories.

    One of the pleasurable things about stumbling in the NAs and 8DAs last year was finding the ways in which various authors had put together recognisable elements in new patterns.

    When I tried to describe the books to other people I fell back upon 'And this version of the Doctor...', in the way that I might describe the difference between different ages of Superman or Batman.

    I think there's a huge pleasure to witnessing the pieces of a fictional story universe being moved around and cast in new lights.

    I think there's a brilliant essay somewhere about the way that Alan Moore treats these breaks between different versions of characters and situations that are, in theory, in continuity. His trick is to make them aware of it somehow, going back to Marvelman where we find out that the continuity is if fact a story in universe that is being fed to Marvelman. It happens in much of his later work. Planetary by Warren Ellis does this too.

    I've been very, very much enjoying the Big Finish Doctor Who Unbound plays, which I've just discovered this year, precisely because they are based on 'what if' and neverwere.

    I think the relationship between the NAs, PDAs, Big Finish, Comics even, give a strange charge of pleasure at exactly the points where continuity cannot be reconciled, where different people have taken archetypal parts of the Doctor Who mythos and spun them into shapes that can't possibly fit into a unified 'BIG STORY of DOCTOR WHO'.

    For me, I think, part of the whole pleasure of stories is that they represent a realm that is beyond the possible, beyond typical ideas of linear progression. That 'Human Nature' happens to both the seventh doctor and the tenth does not pose a problem, it underlines the amazing non-corporeal world of stories which we move through.

    I loved Blood Heat because of the 'wrong' Lethbridge-Stewart and the Silurian Earth.

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  10. I've just looked up "Alternate History Cycle" on wikipedia. I've never seen such a huge amount of fanwank in my life.

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  11. I largely agree with your assessments of the limitations of parallel universe storylines, Phil. (Unless, of course, we're talking about early Sliders, where the core drama of most episodes was built around the main characters discovering the different lives of their parallel universe doubles.) I tend to enjoy them precisely as exercises in "What if?" and the chance to see sometimes cartoonishly over-the-top takes on familiar characters, like Eyepatch Alastair.

    But it only makes me anticipate your take on the 2006 series storyline about Pete's World, and how it may fall to or escape the usual problems of parallel universe narratives.

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  12. So... Wednesday, Dimensions in Time, then? That ought to be fun... :-P

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    1. Hopefully Phil sends all his early drafts to Ian Levine, who can cut-and-paste them into the longest possible version, to be kept in a special folder on his own laptop.

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    2. Dimensions in Time is actually next Wednesday, as I wanted to get tomorrow's post in before Left-Handed Hummingbird.

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