Sunday, 30 September 2012

THREE HUNDRED IT IS! (PREPARE FOR GLORY)

Lucid Frenzy has finally reached the same balance against the rest of the internet as those crack Spartan troops who held back the Persian hordes. (Well apart from that holding back bit.) Yes, shortly after clocking up five years, we've hit our three hundredth post!

So let's not stint on the celebrations. Let's wave our hands in the air like we just don't care, open a bottle of fizzy pop and make a few announcements...

The Author Recommends
A new page added to the site which links to twenty posts which I've particularly liked myself. (Mostly added to show how wrong everyone else is over what have come to be the most popular posts!)



The 'Dredd' movie reviewed
”Picture a Seventies cop flick filmed on the set of 'Blade Runner', with extra side-orders of litter and graffiti. Dystopias assume the future will be like the present, only more so. And here Mega City One is New York, just bigger and badder.”

Citizens! My review of the new 'Dredd' movie is now on display the 'FA Comiczine' site. To claim unfamiliarity with it at any future point will not constitute a legal defence.

Also worth reading for comparison... or for that matter purely in it's own right... is the first part of Pat Mills' own account of the creation of Judge Dredd. (Four further parts posted, and counting.)

The Lens of Lucid Frenzy Surprises No-one In Any Way By Posting More Brighton Graffiti Pictures
...but they are nice pictures.





More, as they say, after the link.

Coming soon! More stuff about out-there music, 'Doctor Who' and a fair few out-of-date art exhibitions. (In fact that description will probably end up standing for the next three hundred posts, I would imagine...)

Thursday, 27 September 2012

THE TWO PILLARS OF LUCID FRENZY (aka KEEPING MY FOOL MOUTH OPEN THESE PAST FIVE YEARS)

Today, good reader, is our fifth birthday! Yes it's five years to the day since the first ever 'Lucid Frenzy' entry was posted, a look at the first 'Quatermass Xperiment' film. Of course it's been nine years since things actually began, as an old-school photocopied fanzine handed out to all and sundry. (Well, not to all but there was the odd bit of sundry.) And it's nigh-on thirty years since I first started contributing to comics fanzines.

But that just makes me feel old, so let's focus on the most recent anniversary and celebrate by outlining the two pillars of Lucid Frenzy.

Now Islam, needless to say, has marshalled five pillars to its name. But that’s a global religion steeped in ancient wisdom. Here at Lucid Frenzy we’re more of a budget enterprise, and the most we can muster is two. In a half-hearted attempt to atone for this, each comes with an accompanying illustration. (Actually, one’s a video.)

Of course these may have differed if one of the other mooted names for this blog had come to pass; which included Double Negative, Sympathetic Magic, The Iconoclastic Fury, To Encourage the Others, A Hotbed of Baboonery, Crash Course, Hurly Burly, Dirty Looks and Early Closing Wednesday. (Dirty Looks would have at least upped the Google hits. And I do still intend to one day open a web shop for my comics which closes early on a Wednesday.)


1. A Lucid Frenzy

“Although rationality is a marvelous tool, it has its limits. Sometimes intuition can yield equally powerful and impressive results. But the title suggests having fun.”

Though I borrowed this blog’s name from a surrealist term it’s perhaps best illustrated by a Diego Riviera linocut, ‘The Communicating Vessels’ (1938, above), which doesn’t use the term at all! His aim was to illustrate Breton’s description of the relationship between dream and wakefulness not as opposite states but as an interaction, a perpetual interplay, like the ebb and flow of a fluid between two containers.

I’m attracted to this concept because it does precisely what Surrealism often didn’t do. Observing that the “bourgeois culture” of its era fetishised consciousness and feared the Freudian id, it attempted to turn all that upside down. Yet just to take up a parallel fetishisism, merely of the unconscious, was always heading for a fall. The common observation that surrealist imagery now fills adverts has its moment of truth here. We’re now told our dreams and desires can be fulfilled if we start buying shit.

Not only does Riviera’s image seem to me to be a more desirable state of affairs, it’s also a better description of how the act of creation works. The intuitive and puzzle-solving aspects of the brain have to work in an alliance. If they do then the result, both lucid and frenzied, will always be more than the sum of its parts.

Furthermore, there’s a tendency to assume critical writing merely applies some post-hoc analytical thinking to the original moment of artistic insight. The artist leaps boldly off into pastures new, then the critic follows while delineating the map. This seems to me to make pretty much the same error as above. The vessels communicate in your own head, which then ebb and flow into the original artwork and back. By making you see the artwork in a different light, the critic has effectively rewritten that work. As music writer Simon Reynolds has argued:

“Theory seemed to provide genuine illumination into qualities and powers possessed by the music. But beyond that the combination of the ideas and the music had a potentiation effect, to use the pharmacological term for when two drugs synergize to create a fiercer buzz.”

(Actually, after titling this blog, I realised that the Surrealists hadn’t used the term much at all! If you google it you mostly get references to here. The few other hits sometimes use it to mean what I mean, but more often take it as a general statement of exhilaration. Pretty rarely is it ever quoted from or referred back to the Surrealists!)


2. I’ve Started, I’ll Never Finish

“The further I go the less I know,
One foot goes in front of the other...”

As well as the clip above showing one of my favourite Fugazi songs (given a particularly fine performance), in my more self-aggrandising moments I like to imagine it’s this blog’s school song. (Of course my personal theme song is the Soft Boys' 'I Want To Be an Anglepoise Lamp', but there I digress.) Now I may have been at this sort of thing some while now, but I am as nothing compared to song author Ian MacKaye. He’s the very inverse of the trajectory Jello Biafra acidly described as “harder core than thou for a year or two, then it’s time to get a real job”. He's played his own style of punk his way since 1979 (when he was but seventeen). But I can’t see MacKaye writing a song to brag, so I don’t think that’s the nub of the issue here...

The song’s based around the double vision required of a long distance runner. Picturing the whole length of the course is just going to crush your resolve, so you make your mission something in sight - to get to the next hill. But there’s no use sprinting there, you set your sights on the next horizon but you run as though you’ll be doing it forever.

The key line is “there is not a fixed position.” Don’t ever expect to get to the end of this. There’s no point where everything has been said and the subject can be closed. And that's not just true because new people see the artwork and spin more lines from it, or new artworks are created which shine the old in a different light. It would be equally true if there was no further input, if people stopped making new artworks tomorrow. Art is like one of those magic wells or bottomless glasses of folklore, which can never be emptied, which always somehow renews.

In the above I’ve attempted a kind of brief explanation of a Riviera linocut and a Fugazi song. But of course those are only limited explanations, single perspectives. Someone reading them might even find them valuable, but at most they’re the next hill, never the finish of the race. And the same would be true if we got Riviera in to explain his linocut, or Mackaye his song. All knowledge, all insight, is only ever provisional.

As Paul √Čluard (back to the surrealists) said: “There cannot be total revolution but only permanent revolution. Like love, it is the fundamental joy of life.”

Coming soon! Believe it or not, another anniversary...

Sunday, 16 September 2012

HAMLET

...now finished in London, possibly on tour somewhere


For my third visit to the theatre dedicated to Shakespeare, I figured it might be time to take in something actually by the bloke. Also, having seen the left-field reworking 'The Rest Is Silence' earlier this year I thought to take in a 'straight' version of 'Hamlet', as a kind of control to measure against the experiment.

I can be as partial as the next man to the sexed-up, cinematic Shakespeare we often see on screen. But there is still something appealingly rootsy about seeing a bare-boards production, in which planks of wood can represent the ramparts of a castle or the bow of a boat, all under an open night sky. (Albeit one more beset by police helicopters than 'twould have been in the Bard's day.) Typically, and almost certainly traditionally, the company make most use of their limited numbers by multi-assigning roles. But they also use these editorially. For example, in a nice touch both the Ghost and Claudius (who murders him and usurps his Kingship) are played by Dickon Tyrrell. (Meat and drink to my theory the play is partly about the child's split view of the parent.)

Similarly, when the Players turn up their King and Queen are played by the same actors as Claudius and Gertrude. An on-stage curtain closes and opens, portraying their shocked reaction and underlining the reflection. It's a neat device, but overall this scene epitomises all that's wrong with this production.

After an opening where the company take to the stage, playing instruments and addressing us directly, it's less that the Players are cast within the play and more they're producing the whole thing. The play-within-the-play should not just be reflective but recursive, smaller. It should be like a 2D construct within a 3D world, or a sketch inside a portrait. As it is, there seems very little difference between the two. The stock characters grate against any suggestion of a psychological study.

We talk of “Hamlet without the Prince” as a definition of pointlessness. And it has to be said Michael Benz's Hamlet is lacking. He can give us the mad Hamlet, but less the bad or dangerous-to-know one. He seems more like a boisterous teen, playing pranks, making smart-arse remarks, getting crushes on girls then going off them. (Which interestingly isn't entirely unlike the sulky emo Hamlet of 'Rest Is Silence.') The mad seems to leech through when it shouldn't, and the crowd laughs at inopportune moments. (Including his hesitation over killing Claudius, a dramatic moment if ever there was.) However other actors are stronger, particularly the afore-mentioned Dickon Tyrrell, so that's not the whole of the problem. We must widen our gaze.

For all of this being a dedicated theatre, it's quite possible the setting is wrong. I've enjoyed plays at this very spot on two occasions, the Mystery Plays and Marlowe's 'Doctor Faustus'. But, perhaps significantly, these were both performances as much as they were dramas, works which came out at the audience.

A production of 'Hamlet' needs to do precisely the opposite - draw us all in. The recent version of 'Macbeth' by Platform 4 was in a dark and confined box, which might have worked better than this open-air space. Here, even after darkness falls, you're still aware of the rest of the crowd, that we are all here watching this. Most likely the play was written for an indoor theatre. (One opened in 1599, replacing the Globe. There's no mention of 'Hamlet' until three years later, though of course records of the time are scant.)

But most likely, what we have is a deliberate choice. In the programme Dominic Dromgoole's 'Note on the Text' bases the performance on the First Quarto (often dubbed 'the Bad Quarto'), “which has a robust energy and a winning ability to get on with it.” Later, Michael Dobson's 'More Matter, With Less Art' expands upon the point:

“While some actors and directors have preferred this play to be a lengthy as possible, the most central part of its action occurring within the brooding consciousness of it's protagonist as he thinks slowly and meditatively aloud, many have instead wanted their 'Hamlet' practicably short, the pith of the play lying in the action-packed and political struggle.”

Talk ye of politics, sir? Any politician knows the trick of pushing people towards one bad alternative by contrasting it to another, while steering the flock from all other options. Of course we don't want a 'Hamlet' that's three hours of a luvvie bedecked in tights, orating endless soliloquies to a patient skull until it's not just the Ghost who feels stuck in purgatory. This is a play by a popular writer of the day. It has ghosts, wars, plots and duels - so many of them it's a wonder Elsinore isn't rent asunder. It should be exciting and animated.

But there's a crucial difference between thrilling the audience and being a thriller. There are a thousand revenger tales from the era, all forgotten save by the most dedicated academics. Shakespeare was using these as a base, but had other designs. As said over 'The Rest Is Silence', “the play exists first to precipitate Hamlet's conflicted state of mind.” Any other method leads to madness.

Much of the appeal of cutting down, reducing and simplifying the play comes from pruning back at the ambiguity which suffuses it. But the ambiguity isn't some obstacle, to be chopped away until the true play is revealed – it is the essence of the play. It's true that at least some of this may have been unintentional on Shakespeare's part. It seems unlikely for example he would have plotted to leave us with three text sources which can contradict each other, even if he'd been able to. But he did write a play where Barnardo and Horatio sight the Ghost before Hamlet even shows up, yet Gertrude can't see him at the very moment he lectures Hamlet. The net result is that all the ambiguity becomes beneficial, whatever its source. It's there to be embraced, not thrown away. The obstacles become the signposts.

But to assign the production a motive of 'fixing' the play, of making it serviceable, may be to assume too highly of it. Something is more rotten still upon the South Bank. Things finish, I kid not, on a song and dance number. The aim is crowd-pleasing, to give the punters a good supply of yuks, a smattering of angst and nothing too likely to confuse.

The play's the thing?

The tourists are the thing.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

THE LENS OF LUCID FRENZY IS... UM... STILL BACK....





...with another crop of photos of Brighton graffiti. This time with more of a focus on murals, iconic characters and the like. Check out my Flickr page for more of this sort of thing.

(More regular posting soon to be resumed. Probably.)

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

DISINTERRING MORE GHOSTS (MUSICAL RESPONSES TO 9/11 BY JOHN ADAMS + STEVE REICH)

Given the auspicious date, for once we have a timely post. In which minimalist musical commemorations of 9/11 are considered, before expanding into film and documentary and winding up as a partly political broadcast

”Remember me. Please don’t ever forget me.”

After attending the Kronos Quartet's ‘Awakening: A Musical Meditation on the Anniversary of 9/11’, I started to wonder what similar responses there might have been.

As it turns out, there’s a fair few things which are next along on the shelf, with the ever-busy Kronos folk seemingly at the centre of it all. (Though ‘Awakening’ was not a standalone composition but a programme put together from already-recorded works, I'll call it a ‘piece’ here for convenience. I also use the American term 'progressive' for anyone with a liberal/leftist political perspective, even if in the UK it more suggests indulging in musical meanderings about Topographic Oceans while wearing white flares.)

Now it may seem contrary to link to (let alone post) a YouTube video that’s just a black screen. In fact, for anyone that image-fixated, there are other YouTube clips that add the expected 9/11 disaster footage. But, honestly, listen to the piece and the black screen works better. (A white screen may have been better still. Or a black screen which slowly shaded into white as the piece progressed. But anyway...)

As Adams says in this interview, almost in echo of my comments following the Kronos Quartet Meditation, “9/11 had been so over-exposed... the country had gone into an orgy of repeating these images.” So instead of the sheer spectacle of the event the focus here is on the human cost; in Adams’ words “not the political aspects but the personal aspects.”

True, the inner sleeve does contain recognisable 9/11 images but of post-attack ruins. Looking at them feels contemplative rather than reactive. In fact there's something almost cathedral-like about them, with a workman kneeling as if in prayer. Which feels fitting to the music.


I’d called the earlier evening “the sonic equivalent of a commemorative wall – the place where people pin photos of the disappeared.” In this case the words from the opening section, after the repeatedly intoned “missing” are from actual missing persons boards pinned up after the tragedy. It's their unadorned artlessness, such as the quote above, which make them effective. Recordings of street noise add to this sense of verite. (It later moves into longer personal reminiscences, published in a New York Times series.) Adams has called the piece a “memory space.”

And, again similar to the earlier evening, the piece has a palindromic structure - building to an explosive middle before turning back into reflection. However, it doesn’t attempt to follow the same chronology of events. The line repeated over this build, “I know just where he is”, feels ambiguous. Though taken from a woman talking about her dead husband, it could be taken to mean that we know from where we were attacked. Similarly the music feels ambiguous, it could be illustrating either anguish or a war-cry. (I am fairly sure that I heard this section played on the radio, and it was explained Adams was giving vent to the revenge instinct that was vibing at the time, though he didn’t share it.)

Overall however, the piece seems to share the same humanistic concerns as 'Awakening'. Adams commented: “I hope that the piece will summon human experience that goes beyond this particular event." If the comparisons are there to be made, perhaps the main thing I got wrong was suggesting that the passage of time had led to this response – for Adams wrote this piece almost immediately. (“The request to compose this piece came in late January, which meant I had not much more than six months.”)

Indeed the CD's sleeve notes by David Schiff take quite the opposite tack: “In the months that followed the catastrophe, 9/11 became a source more of civic pride than of nationalism. The heroes were policemen and firemen, not soldiers; a mayor, not a president. The names read... reminded New Yorkers of their diversity and commonality.”



”The world to come...”

Steve Reich's 'WTC 9/11', also written for the Kronos Quartet and first performed in March 2011, uses actual voice recordings rather than transposing the words onto performers, perhaps only a minor difference to Adams'. Yet these surface similarities in fact merely place their differences into sharper relief.

It might at first seem more natural for Reich to create such a work than Adams. Unlike the West Coaster, he's a long-term New York City resident who lived a mere four blocks from the towers. (Though he did not witness the attacks first hand.)

However, though some earlier works could be considered politically progressive, lately his concerns became more mystical through a re-acquaintance with his Jewish heritage. ‘Come Out’ was released in 1966, at the height of the Civil Rights movement and shows it. Yet 1981's 'Tehillim', in which Psalms are sung in Hebrew, marked a slow but steady change in direction. While, at least in operas such as 'Death of Klinghoffer,' Adams has taken a more explicitly political line. (He's stated that things have since been made difficult for him, not just in terms of his career but also in so simple a step as security checks at airports.)

Yet listen to the pieces and it's as if they get it the wrong way round. Adams was more the post-minimalist composer, more willing to introduce symphonic dynamics to his work. As I've said before, I think of Reich’s work as harmonious and serene. Yet 'WTC 9/11' is much the more discordant of the two, composed significantly later but shorter, sounding more urgent and contemporary, homing in on the events of the tragedy.

Even that trivial-sounding decision to use field recordings helps to throw Reich's response into sharper relief. He's commented “these are actual recordings with the intensity and the grit that is embodied in people who were there who didn't know what was going on.”

Based around actual recordings of Aerospace Defence Command and the Fire Department, the strings matching the line crackle as a flurry of communications try to respond to the disaster. The first movement starts and ends with the sound of a phone off the hook. It's another work which could be given a Tower of Babel interpretation, falling towers scuppering communication.

Yet, interestingly, controversy ensued over the original CD cover for this release (above). As said above, the choice to visualise the attacks is more logical than for the other two pieces, for the focus is more specifically upon that day. However, this choice was widely criticised, and not just by the political Right. Reich finally released a statement that the cover would be changed, feeling the furore was distracting people from the music. (it was replaced, I kid not, with fluffy clouds.)


This perhaps underlines a dichotomy. 9/11 was a huge national, if not world, event. Yet minimalist and even post-minimalist music are marginal pursuits, beloved perhaps by the likes of you and me but bypassed by the general populace, their influence well exceeding their reach. Why a number of such works on this subject?



“What hit the coast was a natural disaster, pure and simple. The flooding of New Orleans was a man-made catastrophe, a federal fuck-up of epic proportions.”

With the Neoconservatives' rise in political influence following the attacks, the right soon came to ’own’ 9/11. If it was ever questioned how failing to stop a terrorist atrocity should be seen as a virtue, the answer was simply that we need to get more right-wing. A notorious example of this seeping into popular culture would be Paul Greengrass' 2006 film 'United 93.' The English director had previously seemed something of a leftist, with films such as 'Bloody Sunday' (2002) dramatising the murder of Irish demonstrators by British soldiers. Significantly 'United 93' uses many of the same devices as both the previous film and Reich's piece, even up to utilising the same air traffic control transcripts. It's a very good film.

It's also the most blatant piece of baseless right-wing propaganda this side of Fox News. The faux documentary style merely convinces us that events must have happened when there is no evidence for them whatsoever. Slipped in among the actual is a German passenger acting as a 'surrender monkey' to the terrorists.

The film's climax, when the passengers rush the terrorists, is preceded with intercut scenes of their reciting a Christian prayer and the terrorists intoning the Quran. The poster, in tastefully pushing the burning towers to the back of the image, shows a plane instead advancing on the Statue of Liberty's crown – aligning perfectly with the right-wing insistence that “they're jealous of our freedoms.”

Meanwhile, excluded from Ground Zero, progressive opinion soon shifted to another disaster site - New Orleans, hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Though precipitated by an act of nature the disaster was massively exacerbated by official failures and neglect, with a response that matched astonishing incompetence with appalling malevolence - including virtual ethnic cleansing of poor districts. (Causing the rapper Kanye West’s ripple-inducing comment on live TV “George Bush doesn’t care about black people”, which some took as though it was fresh information.)

If the Twin Towers transmogrified into the War on Terror, Katrina came to represent the destructive excesses of free market capitalism, sucking up and destroying the lives of working people. Government proved both incapable and unwilling to protect people from it’s rampaging.

Perhaps the best example is Spike Lee’s documentary ’When the Levees Broke’, begun only three months after the event and released the following year. It’s sub-head ’A Requiem in Four Acts’ takes on similar language to the musical pieces we’ve looked at. Structurally it also seems similar - built up of a myriad of interviews from many different places, adding together to give a ground-level perspective. However, even though there’s no grand voice-over or editorialising, it’s much more polemical, much more impassioned. It doesn’t just list the dead, it asks how they got there.

(I’d like to say something about the series ’Treme’, about the aftermath of Katrina, from which comes the quote atop this section. It might make for something of an interesting comparison as its maker David Simon, best known for ’The Wire’ previously produced ’Generation Kill’, if not about 9/11 then about the resultant invasion of Iraq. However, as I’m yet to see any of ’Treme’ that might have to wait!)



It feels like separate tram lines have been dug. It's reminiscent of the Red and Blue Americas, described in art speigelman’s post 9/11 comic strip 'In Shadow of No Towers.' “The map of the 2000 election – the one that put the loser into office – made it clear that we’re actually a nation under two flags! The state he lives in is the state of alienation.” Talking of himself as a cartoon character, in the third person, he continues “he’s barely ever been in the Red Zone, where the 44% of Americans who don’t believe in evolution tend to gather... He hardly knows anyone who supports the war and no one who voted for that creature in the white house [Bush].”

If this is the case then I’m not sure how I feel about it. I may have stated out exploring something I hoped to find a rich seam of (humanistic responses to 9/11 within America) and instead run into a barrier. It sounds like the red and blue Americas are happiest when their different reality systems don’t collide. As is probably obvious from the above, I prefer one colour to the other. Yet does that mean I should seal out the other from my life? Yes, of course Katrina was an important event. But that doesn’t mean 9/11 should be abandoned to the Right.

Of course it is absolutely correct when considering 9/11 to start with the human tragedy. And music, always better at evoking feelings than constructing arguments, is a well-placed medium to do that. But should you stop there? A documentary, in the style of 'When the Levee Broke' might go on to do this, but none seems to exist. Even a folk or rock song, with more of an emphasis on lyrics, would more naturally be drawn into wider questions. I'm sure such songs exist. But they're not public works like these musical tributes.

Many places in continental Europe now have statues or other public installations commemorating the victims of the Nazis. Yet of course none of them ask how it cam to be that the Nazis arose - that's simply not what they're designed for, any more than a gravestone would ask why cancer was widespread. Similarly if you want to commemorate an event without commenting on it, these musical memorials have become the go-to.

Restricting progressive responses to such pieces, however moving and however valuable they are in themselves, is almost tantamount to suggesting that going any further takes you into the Right’s territory. Which of course is absurdly incorrect.

Of course we should acknowledge the problem. There are sections... sizeable sections of the Right whose tactic is to repeat baseless lies in the hope that they stick. (The so-called ‘mosque at ground zero’, the concocted ‘birther’ controversy over Obama, the British NHS supposedly running “death panels” and so on.) It is hard to respond meaningfully to such absurd slurs, it’s like trying to start a debate with a fanatic shouting things in the street. Seriously, how do you respond to the screechy fantasies of Fox News? How do you hold a conversation with someone who's not holding one with you?

Perhaps we have domestic parallels, for example the European Union. Even now, with it's insistence on continent-wide austerity measures, when it couldn't be more obvious what a reactionary banks-and-big-business-biased institution it is, it's still difficult to the point of impossible to say any of that. Being anti the EU is the property of far-right little Englanders like the xenophobic UK Independence Party, fulminating over Brussels' plot to wiping the Queen's head from our currency and other such vital issues.

But there's significant differences. A large number of people... perhaps the majority are agnostic or even indifferent to the whole question, assigning it to the incomprehensible and distant world of capital-P politics. (Rightly or wrongly. Well actually wrongly, but never mind that now.) 9/11 was a much more immediate and visceral issue. A large number of people killed in a terrorist attack, targeted simply because of the building they worked in, that's not something which leaves people on the fence.

It amuses me when politicians talk about political engagement like it's an automatic social benefit, rather than something which simply suits them. The last election in America seemed to carve the tram lines deeper, with the “hopey-changey” arguments for Obama seemed to centre around his personality differing from Bush, much more than his policies. In the UK few people would seriously expect Miliband to act significantly differently in office to Cameron, something which quite frankly is to our advantage. In general I try to avoid “America bashing”, which seems at best pointless and most often hypocritical. However, when the evidence speaks you need to go with it...

The last, spoken line in Adams' piece is “I love you.” Not, I fear, a sentiment which looks to be widely shared any time in the near future.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

THE LENS OF LUCID FRENZY IS BACK...






Finally got round to posting more photos to Flickr, mostly on a stencils and street art theme. (My Flickr backlog is just about as big as everything else, so hopefully should get more done in the near future.)

Monday, 3 September 2012

WHY CAN'T WE JUST DO WHAT THE DOCTOR ORDERED?


No, not that Doctor....

In the latest of a series of posts where I basically agree with someone else, I hereby cite Dr. Richard Turner's letter to the Guardian newspaper, on the Tories' market "reforms" to the National Health Service. 

(Which seem to be strangely unpopular with those who work in the medical sector in general. Funny that...)

Saturday, 1 September 2012

DOCTOR WHO: 'ASYLUM OF THE DALEKS'



“The Daleks are mad. That's what makes them unique among the Doctor's enemies... A Dalek is a robot with anger problems, a tank that hates you.”

So wrote Stephen Moffat in this weeks 'Radio Times'. He's right of course. Even when we first met them, they had already been driven insane by ceaseless war, literally unable to live in anything that wasn't battle armour.

But I was skeptical of making this into a theme. Jumping from the general observation that the Daleks are mad to writing an episode about mad Daleks, that seems to exhibit the fixatedness of fan writing. It sounds a little like that 'Spitfires Versus Daleks' stuff we've already sat through - the sort of thing you'd draw in felt pens as a child, a cool-sounding notion. But a cool-sounding notion is an idle fancy, not a story in the making.

Worse, New Who has already hinted heavily that perpetually battling the Doctor has pushed their gooey green noggins over the edge. They have come to epitomise the death wish, planning to take the whole universe down, including themselves, as the only sure way to take the Doctor with them. (Of course this isn't stated openly anywhere, and may well itself be a fannish extrapolation. But their behaviour in a story such as 'Journey's End' makes sense in no other way, so I'm sticking with it.)

But actually it worked strangely well. To see those pitiable, broken creatures slumped in the shadows, activated only by hatred. Baudrillard once said the purpose of Disneyland so there could be a border between Disneyland and the rest of the world, because of course there is no longer any difference between Disneyland and the rest of the world. Similarly, the Daleks need the Asylum so they can tell themselves that is where the broken Daleks go. Yet they will all eventually go there, even if they're not in effect there already. The heavy reliance on old models in the Asylum isn't just a fannish indulgence, it's a sign that the only gap between the Parliament and that planet is time. (They should probably have found some story device to make the Asylum Skaro itself, the parental home, where they had to abandon and wall in their forebears.)

As I must have said many times by now, I'm not a fan of all this bigging up of the Doctor. Every time some of that Great One stuff gets uttered, I expect him to add “so you really should be watching my show” and pull a thumbs-up to the camera. But since both 'Dalek' and 'A Good Man Goes to War' the show has developed a counter-theme, where this new bigger, badder Doctor ran the risk of becoming dangerous. 'Dalek' in particular held that his particular anathema to them could blind him to all else, with less-than-hilarious consequences. Hitler once said that the greatest victory for the Nazis would not be their defeating their enemies, but that in fighting them their enemies would become like them. The show's great Nazi stand-ins have seem to have been having this effect on the Doctor.

But would this counter theme lead to the show self-innoculating, or would these objections be duly noted and genre rules reassert themselves? Though it's a smart Asylum setting which leads to some decent set-pieces, it has to be said that plot-wise it's predictable and repetitious – basically a mash-up of the afore-mentioned 'Dalek' and 'Silence in the Library,' with a dash of 'Source Code'. (Plus Moffat still seems to be turning into the writerly equivalent of those decrepit Daleks, endlessly reiterating a few phrases – the dead reanimate and attack us, people get memory lapses and so on.) It carries absurd plot holes. Why do the Daleks even need the Tardis on board when they've already captured the Doctor by separate means?

But let's cut to the chase - did it lead anywhere? Arguably it takes what was before (the incognito Doctor, something no-one ever imagined would last) and inverts it. Instead of an anonymised hero we now have amnesiac enemies. Which runs the risk of making the Daleks epitomise all the Doctor's enemies. And in making humans into Daleks, they already seem to be stealing the schtick of the Cybermen. As the Daleks are already the Doctor's default foe, this seems a slippery slope to step on.

But amnesia... right now, the prospect seems pretty appealing. The revived show has always been careful about it's references to Old Who, carefully dropping them in for fans who choose to look but in places where new viewers will skip past them. (This very episode referenced 'Genesis of the Daleks' a few times, suggesting the Daleks' fate was inherent in their birth.) But, alas, it seems it could not do the same for it's own history. The last series in particular became hopelessly convoluted and self-referential, to the point where it was fast putting me off – let alone the casual viewer. (Remember that the old show got to a point where it was chiefly being written by fans for fans? Wasn't that shortly before it got cancelled?)

Derivative and repetitive though it was, this episode moved along briskly, managed a few decent moments along the way and... hurrah!.. was reasonably self-contained. We can only hope that's a sign for the future...

Coming soon! Well, probably less of this sort of thing. Though I'll doubtless be sad and fannish enough to watch the Toby Whithouse and Chris Chibnall episodes, I doubt I'll be motivated to write about them. After which we get one more serving of Moffat...