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Saturday, 27 June 2020

'THE CHASE' (WILLIAM HARTNELL’S DOCTOR WHO)

First broadcast: May/June 1965
Written by Terry Nation
Ye Olde Plot Spoilers below!



“A madcap chase through time and space with the Daleks.”
- from the BBC episode guide

Hey Hey! It’s the Sixties

Should you ever feel in need of a very, very odd experience try watching ’The Web Planet’ and ’The Chase’ in close succession. (Disclaimer: perhaps thankfully, this was not quite the transmitted order.) Admittedly, this feels much more like ’Web Planet’ than it actually is. Like two patients stuck on the same mental ward, they may have the same relationship to sanity but that doesn’t mean they have much in common with each other.

That story was intended quite seriously while so much here is played for laughs. However, neither is it anything like it’s comic predecessor, ’The Romans’. (For all that poor Ian gets another accidental whack on the head.) And so it stuck to the age-old conventions of farce, while ’The Chase’ couldn’t be any more contemporary.

You could contrast it to any previous adventure, quite possibly, but perhaps its best set against Terry Nation’s previous script – ’The Keys of Marinus’. That's possibly the closest we're going to get to like-with-like. Both took on a highly episodic structure. (On both occasions most likely down to being rush-written). But, as speculated earlier, ’Marinus’ epitomised the first season’s tone of post-war ration-book morality; noble-jawed heroes withstanding earthly things in pursuit of what's right. Though the non-RP-speaking companions are still some way off, ’The Chase’ is another step towards Doctor Who swinging with the Sixties.

At times the soundtrack even gets jazzy, as if someone had slipped something in the Earl Grey down at the Radiophonics Workshop. But the tone is really set by all the crazy op-art going on in the Dalek’s time machine, which looks like they’ve had some funky ’Changing Rooms’ makeover since we last saw their interior decoration. Those endless featureless corridors of Skaro? They were just so yesterday!


Early on, the crew are watching Space TV. (It's called a Time/Space Visualiser. It's Space TV.) The original idea was they’d tune into some Winston Churchill. It ended up being The Beatles. “Get with it” explains Ian. “Styles change.” Well they might, but he doesn't. The real marker of how contemporary things are getting is that this proves to be his and Barbara's last appearance. Once this was a show which could as easily have been called 'Schoolteachers In Space.' Now school's out, and teacher with it. They disappear off into what looks strangely like a French New Wave film.

In this way the story’s nearest neighbour wouldn’t be from the TV show at all, but the two more lightweight matinee movies. (Some have speculated it was produced with an eye on becoming the third.) However, the two films took their storylines fairly straight from Nation’s first two adventures, however much they lightened the tone. ’The Chase’ is the one which ups the pace of change.

’Marinus’ used its episodic structure to chop storylines down into smaller but still recognisable chunks, like worm sections becoming mini-worms. ’The Chase', conversely, foregrounds this structure. It abandons even the pretense of thematic integrity, and makes a point of forcing together pieces from quite different jigsaws.

The Daleks chase the crew across time and space, arrive at some place or other, they all run round for a bit, then its back into their respective ships to do it all again. The jumps and leaps become part of the fun, as if we’re watching some crazy type of collage. At time it feels like they’re crashing through genre walls, like the classic closing scene in ’Blazing Saddles’. Science fiction, comedy, historical, horror… you name it! It would be tempting to just list some of the kooky stuff they run into, and make that your review. (Though this highly episodic structure would cut against the notion this was made with an eye on a movie version. Films are not episodic by definition.)

The Sixties associated collage with modernity for too many reasons to successfully delineate. (Look for example at how many times it shows up in my review of a Pop Art retrospective.) Let’s just remember the Empire State Building sequence rests upon the gag that the hick tourist Morton Dill doesn’t distinguish between the building he’s on, the time ships and even the Daleks! To him they’re all part of that thar newfangledness. However this ‘Sixties-ish’ collage includes not just Ian and Barbara, but their more classical type of story, jammed in with everything else.

Fans tend not to like the flippancy. “If the story doesn’t take itself seriously, how does it expect anyone else to?” asks Andrew Wixon in his review, before ruefully answering his own question – “perhaps it doesn’t.” Admittedly things make little sense even by the standards of the times. Logic doesn’t lapse so much as corrode altogether, with the result you sometimes feel you must not be watching events but somehow dreaming them.

This is at its most extreme example when the Daleks build a robot duplicate of the Doctor, who is not only played by someone who looks nothing like Hartnell but is then used completely inconsistently. Sometimes we swap to Hartnell for close-ups, sometimes not. At one point they don’t even both overdubbing Hartnell’s voice. But it’s not just their eyestalks that the Daleks need to have examined. As the Doctor’s not actually been separated from anyone else at that point, their plot would seem to hinge on no-one suspecting anything when another one of him turns up. (“Mmm, two Doctors. Funny sort of a day, really.”)

Much of this is no doubt due to speed of production, necessitating little short of making it up as you went along. At times it feels as frenetic as a child’s game – “now we’re in a haunted house… now it’s an alien planet… now it’s a ship…” There’s a quite excessive amount of plot threads raised which then don’t go anywhere. (For example, Steven Taylor mentioning the hidden access codes on Mechanus, promptly forgotten from thereon in.) Sometimes too many cooks intervened. (Was that really a haunted house or just a fairground attraction? Don’t worry too much. The makers couldn’t decide either.)

Daleks Do Funny

But I suspect the real basis of the fans’ ire isn’t that these are joke episodes of ’Doctor Who’, but that they dare poke fun at the dreaded Daleks! Andrew Wixon goes on to lament “the fatally misjudged tone of it all. The Daleks are out for revenge on the time travellers, and intend to ruthlessly pursue them throughout infinity! And given this, [they] opt to play it as a jolly romp with lots of slapstick humour.” Indeed, it might seem a leap from the dour claustrophobia of 'The Daleks' to all this frenetic rushing round time and space.

But look a little deeper. 'The Chase' isn't the end of the Daleks as we know them. If anything it marks the start of the Daleks as we know them.

For one thing, look to their motivation. In 'The Daleks', their chief enemy is the Thals. And in 'Invasion Earth', the Earth is just a staging post in their plans for galactic domination. But the Daleks in 'The Chase' - they're out to get the Doctor. They now exist just to oppose him. Catch them on a random night in and they’ll be screechily ranting about how much trouble he’s caused them. A corner has been turned.

Significantly, this is the first time they use their catchphrase chant “ex-ter-mi-nate!”, at least in the way we now think of it. They’d been repeating things, repeating things, repeating things in ’Invasion Earth’. (At one point saying “Exterminate him! Exterminate him! Exterminate him!”) Here, before this story has even started, in the out-tro to ‘The Space Museum’ the waste no time in getting in “they will be exterminated! Exterminated! Exterminated!”

But there's a bigger shift, to the show itself. If 'The Chase' marks a sea change, from doing the right thing in a universe of post-war austerity to road trips and crazy Sixties hijinks against some far-out imagery, its because the Daleks make the perfect bridge. Designed as living nightmares, visualisations of minds maddened by the bunker mentality, they still slip easily into pop icons and examples of Sixties kitsch. ’Dalek Invasion Earth’ existed largely to set up the merchandising spin-offs. Now they’ve fed back into the show. This is the point the toy range rose up to replace the original Skaro-confined psychos.


But that change was always due. Because of course they always had it in them. Let’s face it, the Daleks were never that bloody scary to begin with! They were designed as a kind of visual metaphor, a demonstration of a concept. They worked best in the very first story, inside their own city. Despite the iconic London landmarks scenes of the sequel, they were often looking ludicrously incongruous even then. In 'Inside The Tardis' James Chapman recounts how “many children identified with the Daleks rather than being horrified by them... there were requests from children for pictures of the Daleks and even for them to attend birthday parties.”

Noted 'Who' sage Andrew Rilstone has argued that the premise of the show is already so absurd that it's effectively auto-innocculated against parody. Yet the Daleks are the glaring exception to this rule – they're the screechy-voiced subject of a thousand skits and parodies. And that was first spotted in the show, at the start. There’s the trooper in ’The Daleks’ who tries to take a radiation cure which sends him doolally. There’s the Dalek accosting a tailor’s dummy in ’Invasion Earth’. Morton Dill was right to laugh at them! (Even if they should still have exterminated him for doing it.)

In short this ludicrousness was always an innate part of their appeal, they were always kitsch kidult toys in waiting. There are still Daleks on the TV for the same reason there’s still dodgem cars on Brighton pier – despite the development of bigger and more dynamic rides. Some things you don't want to work well. You'd rather just leave them the way they are. Charm trumps utility.

Their real success was as an iconic object of design. Like Superman’s big S or Mickey Mouse’s ears, you simply don’t forget a Dalek once you’ve seen one. And like design can, it somehow summed up a zeitgeist – the Daleks are as Sixties as op art, mini cars and Mary Quant dresses. It was designer Ray Cusick who created the Daleks as we know them, even if it was Terry Nation who wrote them down. In much the same way as the theme tune was made what it was by Delia Derbyshire, even if Ronald Grainer officially composed it.

The Old Curiosity Show

A development of this fannish opposition is the frequent suggestion that Terry Nation had the comic angle forced upon him by Dennis Spooner. (This despite the fact that fans will otherwise frequently lambast Nation!) However, this argument seems to ignore two inconvenient facts. First, as script editor, Spooner could have turned the whole show into an out-and-out comedy had he chosen, rather than merely the self-scripted ’Romans’. In fact Glyn Jones, writer of the predecessor story ’The Space Museum’, has complained that Spooner took his humour out!

And before 'Who' Nation was chiefly known as a comedy writer, scripting for Hancock and others. It’s bizarre to think the bleak dead planet of ’The Daleks’ turned to this so soon. But that doesn’t make it - still less inappropriate.

Aren’t fans just missing the big broad point again? If its not intended for us to take seriously, then let’s not. Like the haunted house we visit, it’s a fairground ride and we should just enjoy the ride.

Well, yes and no. But mostly no. Fans are not always wrong just because they’re fans. Gerry Hume is onto something when he comments “please don't call it postmodernist which a lot of people, who don’t know what the word means, use as an excuse for rubbish.” We don’t complain that a comedy lacks gravitas. But we do prefer it to be funny. While the overall tone can carry you along, many actual gags fall hopelessly flat, chiefly (and surprisingly given that they seeded so many sketches) the intra-Dalek scenes.

These often feel like someone else’s private joke, a home movie recorded for the staff Christmas party which was then broadcast to the nation through some terrible mix-up. It’s noticeable that almost all the Dalek gags are verbal, as if they were inserted post-hoc, at voice-over stage. (Is, for example, the coughing Dalek coming out of the sand some skit on the Dalek rising from the Thames in ’Invasion Earth’?) Alternately it can feel like a blooper reel dressed up as a programme, the inevitable result of people forced to deliver deadpan lines about time and relative dimensions in space no longer being able to stifle their smiles. Actors call this corpsing. Just saying, is all.

Plus, a problem with a ride through the genres is that those genres can clash, like plasticine losing its individual colours and turning to grey formlessness. And this leads to the truly, weirdly odd-beyond-oddness thing about ’The Chase.’ Andrew Wixon is right in a way, the scenario is actually quite a bleak one, the Daleks have mastered time travel and are relentlessly pursuing the Tardis wherever it runs. (It’s formally quite similar to the battle-fatigue ’33’ episode of ’Battlestar Galactica’, placed early in the show's run specifically to set the post 9/11 feel-bad tone.)

And the first and last landings reflect this bleakness, despite the comic middle sections. First off, the Daleks exterminate some Aridians for not much more of a reason than to remind us they do that sort of thing. Later, they don’t exterminate the grievous tourist Morton Dill when half the viewing public would have paid them good money to do it. Exterminating him may have undermined the comedy. (Though it might have significantly upped the entertainment value.) Of course we’re no longer watching the show as intended, in separate weekly installments. But mixing traditional episodes with out-and-out absurd ones still feels jarring.

Of these two, the opening scenes on Aridius are the most throwaway. The Aridians are another race of noble luvvies, and we even get lost in caves all over again! The one interesting element is to make them into anti-Thals, born appeasers. When ordered by the Daleks to hand our heroes over or die, they decide the best policy is to comply! At this point we are invited to feel their dilemma. However, this is somewhat undermined when no-one gives them a single thought once they’re left behind.



Things end up with the Mechanoids. The brief for whom would seem to have been ‘if only the Daleks could be made more clunky’. (Perhaps the most genuinely funny idea of all is that it was the Zarbi and the Mechanoids who were groomed for spin-off merchandise.) Despite this, and despite the laugh-out-loud killer foliage with which they share their planet, the Mechanus sequence works a little better.

It’s not particularly well explained why, as colonising robots, they choose to keep captive the crashed pilot Steven Taylor. If I’m away from home for a while, will my toaster and DVD player gang up on me as soon as I’m back? Perhaps it would have been better to play up the irony of their servant nature, having them provide to Steven’s every whim apart from escape – like a bird in a gilded cage.

Steven’s character also seems strangely at odds with itself. This is probably because it was ambiguous during filming whether he’d be replacing Ian and Barbara or not. At times we’re intended to believe he’s an intrepid space pilot, as much Ian as Vicki was Susan. At others he’s portrayed as driven barmy by captivity, at one point risking their lives to rescue his ‘mascot’ – a cuddly toy!


The Crazy Paving Shows the Way Forward

All in all, ’The Chase’ is the ultimate curiosity from a very curious era. ’The Web Planet’, however strange, however flawed, was trying to do something at least in keeping with Who tradition. Watching this, you often feel like one of those bystanders in comedy films who does a double take and then throws away the bottle they’re drinking from.

We’ve talked earlier of the ‘sideways’ stories, too askew to fit into any category. ’The Chase’ is the most sideways of them all, cutting sideways into its own sidewaysness and then taking to the straight-and-narrow for a bit just to confound you. Perhaps it seems so mad because it doesn’t really seem to be trying to be mad, at least any way near as mad as it is. It’s like one of those mind-warping drugs shamans would give their initiates to see if they recovered, on the grounds that if you can be exposed to that much primal weirdness and get up again you can probably cope with anything.

To reiterate, fans are not wrong to point out 'The Chase' is neither clever nor funny. But they then try to write it off as a mis-step, an embarrassment best forgotten. In fact the story seen by many as the nadir of Hartnell's second half is in many ways its epitome. 

With its perpetual switching between SF stories and historicals, the Hartnell era might seem to have an institutionally split personality. By policy, these were written by two separate stables of writers. There was never any overlap. Yet more than that it was almost pathologically variable, almost dizzyingly eclectic within those genres. 'The Aztecs' is as different to 'The Romans' as it is to, say, 'Keys of Marinus'.

And as time went on, rather than things settling down they became more volatile. While the first season chiselled away at creating a recognisable formula, the rest merrily throws all that work away in favour of blithely going mad. Endless experiments and perpetual variations are slung across a very overloaded washing line, till something must surely snap or burst. The first season is like finding which of a huge set of keys unlocks the treasure chest, then the subsequent episodes try the rest of them anyway.

In that way you could see 'The Chase' as the whole of 'Who' to date happening at once, as if on fast-forward - 'Keys of Marinus' double-booked with 'The Romans', an 'Odd Couple' scenario induced just to see what happens. And, in this often-inventive but rarely coherent of eras, they don't fit together at all. It's like chalk and cheese. Covered in custard. Quite possibly fish custard.

Yet even that underestimates the scope. If 'The Chase' is like taking a drug, it was probably the brown acid - for the Whoniverse never seemed the same again afterwards. Remember this is the story which sees the departure of Ian and Barbara, not just the Doctor's companions we first met but once the central characters of the show.

However it’s less a fracture point than a collision. The strange leaps in tone, stranger than any of the sudden changes in setting, suggest the shows' various identities are locked in some civil war, struggling for dominance. Seen this way, it’s only putting within storylines what was already happening between them.

If the high-minded drama opens and closes proceedings, it was ultimately unable to contain the corrosive effect of what else was unleashed. The genie was out the bottle, the LSD in the water supply. Some lament the loss of that seriousness to this day. But the paradox remains – this was an 'aberration' which still managed to change the nature of the show forever.

Further reading: For a defence of ’The Chase’ as a case of “engineered narrative collapse”, which genuinely makes sense despite it’s own author insisting that almost nothing she's saying is likely to be intentional, try the Tardis Eruditorium's ’Anybody Remotely Interesting is Mad.’ (And yes, though you might not think it possible, it really is as good as its title.)

Saturday, 20 June 2020

‘THE SPACE MUSEUM' (WILLIAM HARTNELL’S DOCTOR WHO)

First broadcast April/May 1965
Written by Glyn Jones


“Exhibits in a forgotten museum… is this how we’re going to end up?”
- Ian

Not Making Yourself an Exhibition

‘The Space Museum’ has the ignominious role of bottoming out the Hartnell era in polls, ranking below even maligned moments ‘The Sensorites’ and ‘Planet of Giants’. Yet with the curios complication of everyone liking the first episode…

‘The Daleks’ had made much of the planet they land on first seeming empty and desolate, the better to introduce the adversaries. It’s a neat enough trick, also used in the first episode of ‘The Prisoner’. Yet by now they’d already re-used it more than once. However, instead of breaking the pattern this story plays into it…

So the travellers arrive on the new planet, Xeros, but this time they’ve got ahead of themselves. Unable to make contact with anyone their phantom forms wander (and wonder) about the titular Space Museum for a bit, before they run into their own selves, displayed in glass cabinets, effectively stuffed and mounted.

Now, you may be surprised to hear this makes little sense. They can’t touch the exhibits, but neither can they pass through doors. And it seems they can lean against walls. They’ve jumped forward in time, but when Vicki drops and breaks a glass it doesn’t hover mid-air, it (for some reason) reverses.

Nor do intra-story explanations help much. The Doctor tells everyone “the Tardis jumped a time track and ended up here in this fourth dimension.” Vicki adds "time, like space, although a dimension in itself, also has dimensions of its own”. Yeah, thanks, Vicki. And the whole thing is resolved by exactly the same get-out they used in ‘Edge of Destruction’, a faulty instrument on the Tardis. (By this point wouldn’t it be easier just to tell us when it was working?)

But of course all that’s really just beside the point. What it’s supposed to be is spookily atmospheric, which it most definitely is. The whole episode through I was exulting in the spacey soundtrack, only to read later this was just assembled from stock recordings. But it works so well here because it so fits the setting.

The Tardis Index files sees this as “the first story to deal with the dimensions of time as well as space and the first to feature alternate timelines." But of course such science fiction notions have nothing to do with it, this is a weird tale wrapped up in SF clothing.

Barbara is much more on the mark when she comments its “so quiet, it could be a graveyard.” It’s not just tonally similar to the classic 1962 film ‘Carnival Of Souls’, it has several points of comparison - the world you can see around you but can’t connect to, the lack of footprints.

Of course both echo the folk tale of being made aware of your own death. You know the one, the man who saw Death hanging around outside his semi in Milton Keynes, so booked a Virgin train all the way to Hemel Hempstead to skip out on him. Only for old cowl head to show up there, saying “that's funny, I wondered why you were over that way when I’d be meeting you here.” (The precise details can vary across cultures, I hear.)

Except being exhibits is for our friends literally a fate worse than death. They are at root travellers. (The idea Ian and Barbara are desperate to get back to Coal Hill School so they can mark more homework, that long since slipped out of view.) Taking their freedom of movement away would be the cruellest thing of all.

But there’s a bigger difference. You might wriggle, but those folk tales always ended up with Death winning. Now plot spoilers, but they don’t get stuck in those glass cabinets and no more ‘Doctor Who’ was made after 1965. Except here victory doesn’t come from cheating Death but by changing the future. As is quite explicitly stated.


Now the story immediately before this, ‘The Crusades’, was all about time having to run its course. As we’ve grown used to, the science fiction episodes having entirely different ground rules to the historicals they alternate with. But it’s more than just that sharp juxtaposition. Previously, if historicals emphasised their rules the science fiction stories saw no need to. After all, we implicitly knew Napoleon was real and the planet Xeros is just made up. Now suddenly, the future being unwritten is proclaimed and placed dead centre.

Try This at Home Kids (Space Youth in Revolt)

After the first episode, their phantom status ends and the travellers can talk to the locals. Which is described in Wood and Miles’ Discontinuity Guide as “like channel-hopping between a Jean-Paul Sartre play and a Cliff Richard musical.” And tonally this is true.

But conceptually a link is found between the travellers’ mission and the local Xerons’. One needs to break the intractability of time, the other stage a political revolution. As if the will of fate and the hold of custom are linked. It’s the sort of endearingly bonkers notion that only ’Who’ can come up with.

It’s reminiscent of the great Atari Teenage Riot line - “let’s change the future starting here.” In fact it’s almost a cliche to point out that revolutions often devise new clocks and calendars. (The next Herbert who tries to tell you revolution never achieved anything, ask them where they think the metric system came from.)

And, just like changing the future was never brought up before in a science fiction story, this is the first time revolution is mentioned. But how come? Anti-colonial struggles can be called revolutions, as in the American revolution. Yet in, say, ‘Dalek Invasion of Earth’ the word is only used when Barbara’s trying to throw the pepperpots off the scent. So why does it come up now?

The answer may be, to quote Thunderclap Newman, “there’s something in the air”. We’ve already asked what the first Sixties story was in ’Who’, as in the first one to reflect the decade as we now think of it. Now it’s time to move onto what’s the most Sixties. And this would be a strong contender. ‘The Daleks’, ‘The Reign of Terror’, ’The Dalek Invasion of Earth’ and ‘The Web Planet’ all essentially still fought the Second World War. While ‘The Sensorites’ had shown us how old hierarchies had to be maintained against dangerous individualists.

This time we’re clearly dealing with The Kids against The Man. And we’re on the side of The Kids.


The Xerons are young, excitable and dress in black with modish haircuts. It’s not clear whether they spend their evenings playing bongo drums and smoking foreign cigarettes, but it seems likely. While the Moroks wear bulky white uniforms, and live a rather jaded existence within a rigid hierarchy.

And the most noticeable thing about the way the story shows their revolution is that it’s just that - the show of revolution. After this moment of mad insight where political revolution is compared to changing a fixed future, revolution is rendered as a cliche. We’re told explicitly that seizing the guns “is revolution”. And this emphasis on guns seems strangely un-’Who’, even at this early stage.

At one point the Doctor gently chides Ian for picking one up, but that’s it for the anti-gun message. ’The Sensorites’ got round the problem by having weapons which didn’t look like weapons. These are classic ray guns, they look like they were bought from a nearby toy shop. And so revolution is waged like it’s a Boy’s Own Adventure.

But are a bunch of boys running round with pop guns really going to overturn one social relation, and replace it with another?

Bizarrely, the answer we’re given is yes.

To probe into this, let’s ask the Xerons the classic Marlon Brando question - “what you rebelling against?” One of them explains “Only the children were spared, to work. We are a slave race”. But their slaving duties seem light. They spend most of their time hanging about in a state of funk. But then they couldn’t seize control of the means of production if they wanted, as there doesn’t even seem to even be one. All there is… well, there’s just the Museum. Which they decide to smash up.


And the Moroks… In my day, demonstrators were wont to chant at the cops “you’re crap and you know you are”. God knows what they’d have made of the Moroks. The rules of drama would seem to require intimidating antagonists. Or at least mildly capable ones. Here a Morok chief complains “I’m supposed to have at my command trained soldiers, not a feeble bunch of half witted amateurs.” But them’s the breaks. When one’s left on guard duty and the camera stays on him, you half wonder if he’ll sneak off for a crafty fag.

It would be tempting to see their sheer crapness as reverse-written into the story, a way of dealing with the quality of Morok acting they’d been given to work with. But the labyrinthine Museum is clearly there to represent their moribund, stagnant society, the dead weight of their own history upon them. (Of course that would mean the museum should just hold Morok wares, a taunting reminder of past glories, rather than Daleks. But never mind…) In a nice touch Moroks never visit the place unless they’ve been ‘volunteered’ to guard it, just knowing it’s there is burdensome enough.

While their other main weapon, apart from turning people into exhibits, is paralysing gas. It was round about now Bob Dylan famously said “it’s not the bomb that’s got to go, man, it’s the museums.” But then I’ve called this whole series ‘The Museum of Forgotten Futures’, so it’s scarcely a surprise a Space Museum would appeal to me.

In short revolution is seen as a purely cultural war to be fought by purely insurrectional means. A kind of double category error. It would be like realising too many venerate the British Empire, so now we need to set up some roadblocks. But then that’s pretty much the way I saw revolution when I was of Xeron age, a bit of excited running about with your mates, after which everything would suddenly be fine. And that may be telling of more people than me…

Using aliens as a metaphor for racism makes some sort of sense. Arguably you’re just scaling up, from seas to space, from nations to planets,. Age might sound a different matter. But this was the era where generation gap became almost social rift. So it’s turned into a conflict between two cultures, one trapped beneath a stifling past and the other young and breathing. As Rob Young wrote of the times: “The British were faced with the stark choice, innovate or stagnate. Move on from the greyness of post-war Britain, or become irrevocably mired in self-pity and memories of vanished glories.” (’Electric Eden’, Faber & Faber)

My default position on the politics of ’Who’ is that it marks the limits of liberalism. So if it tries to conceive of something revolutionary the best it can muster is cartoon revolution. It’s like if I tried to dance to Grime. It wouldn’t be very convincing to anyone, but least of all to those who can actually dance to Grime.

But what if this works the other way up? What if this is a truthful portrait, depicting something which was a caricature of itself in the first place? Those barricade-building radical youths of the day may have had more Xeron in them than we might like to think.

These days our choices seem between neoliberalism and fascism. (And arguably even that’s a false choice, which we dither over while we’re really getting increased doses of both.) So it becomes tempting to look back longingly to the days when revolution was so in the air it even blew into TV studios. But we need to take a sharper look.

The Youth International Party, more commonly known as the Yippies, made their mission statement to “shout theatre in a crowded fire”. And much from this time turned out to be no more than the theatre of revolution. In his monumental film essay ‘A Grin Without a Cat’ (1977), Chris Marker summed up the era as “a grin without a cat, a spearhead without a spear”. Sound and fury which didn’t necessarily signify much. The first Angry Brigade ‘action’ wasn’t till 1970. But they matched Marker’s description to a tee.

Also, if this still seems to side too easily with The Kids, we should take care not to squash the Sixties together in our minds. The Grosvenor Square riots, semi-insurrection across the water in France… these things are still three years away. In 1965 revolution could still be presented as youthful exuberance, an evening’s entertainment.

Vicki is the Vanguard


El Sandifer says with some excitement “this is where ‘Doctor Who’ picks a side.” Yet if ’Doctor Who’ does the Doctor doesn’t follow suit. Like Ian and Barbara, he’s mostly concerned with not being made an exhibit. The Xerons get to him first, but fail to make any contact with him.

Instead, as Susan did in ‘The Sensorites’, Vicki gets her moment, Last time the poor li’l orphan girl was clinging to the Doctor, worrying he’d leave her behind. Now she’s with her own age group she instantly becomes a revolutionary. And if it seems a strange jump in character, this Vicki is so much more fun to be around you’re tempted to say it’s all the other Vickis who were wrong.

And her high point is when she overcomes the Morok’s “electronic brain” to get the Xerons their guns. This we’re told has a kind of double security lock, both checking password information and working as a lie detector. The Xerons have come to regard it as impregnable. So Vicki simply reprograms it to ask different questions. Asked “for what purpose are the arms needed?” she brightly replies “revolution”, and the guns get served up.

It’s the one workable analogy in the whole story. Revolution doesn’t mean negotiating with the machine or destroying it but reprogramming it, rejecting the perspective you’ve been given and creating your own. There’s the classic quote from Jose Ortega Y Gasset: “Revolution is not the rising up against the pre-existing order, but the setting up of a new order, contradictory to the traditional one.” Jack Graham made this one of his top fifty moments from ‘Who’ history, arguing (rightly) that beating the machine is a more revolutionary act than getting the guns.

Yet the weakness of the Vicki plotline lies there as well. Back in ‘Dalek Invasion of Earth’ we looked at the notion ‘Doctor Who’ was vanguardist. The travellers’ role is to effect change, you and me are just the supporting cast who wait for them to show up. And this, the most explicitly revolutionary story, is also the most overtly vanguardist. The implications is that had she never arrived, the Xerons would still be frustratedly furrowing their double eyebrows.

Inherent to the concept of the vanguard is being positioned outside. While most of us are mired in our social and historical context, amid too many trees to see the wood, their all-seeing eye floats above such obstacles. Their perspective transcends history, a bit like… well, like time travellers. And, in line with the story’s gun fixation, the term originated in the military.

And this at the height of the Cold War, when everyone’s default example of a revolution was Russia. And everyone knew that revolution had fallen under control of a vanguard, and soon become nothing but a dictatorship plus noble platitudes. Reactionaries would insist this proved the foolishness of the whole endeavour. While revolutionaries… yer actual, genuine revolutionaries would insist that revolutions and vanguards were not synonymous but in fact antithetical.

And Sixties youth movements, tending towards libertarianism, were inherently distrustful of being told what to do by anyone. Another famous Dylan line was “Don’t follow leaders and watch the parking meters.” In 'If....' (1968), the young rebel hero decorates his room with photos from the then-contemporary Prague Spring. Youth sided with youth, wherever Iron Curtains fell. The whole Vicki plotline sails past that central debate like it doesn’t even see it.

‘The Space Museum’ often itself feels like something the Moroks might have made. A repository of SF cliches, delivered up with risibly expositional dialogue. Yet alongside those terrible cliches are moments of deranged imagination, in a way that seems almost unique to ’Who’.

Even ‘The Web Planet’ was consciously trying to do something different, and so not entirely succeeding. Whereas ‘The Space Museum’ shifts between ray guns and Space Museums, between insights into revolution and absurd caricatures, not like it needs the furniture of one to tell its tale but like it genuinely can’t tell the difference between the two.

Ask not “is it any good?” Of course it’s not! It was made quickly, on a shoestring, designed to briefly entertain a one-off audience and be done with. Costumes are silly, performances flat and dialogue clunky. But things can be well-made and accomplished, and remain utterly unmemorable. Ask instead “is it mad, and possibly even slightly visionary?” That’s what we want ‘Doctor Who’ for. It’s not enough for it to be about the strange, it has to be strange.

Saturday, 13 June 2020

WHEN WHITES SAY BLACK LIVES MATTER…




(NB This is written on the assumption it may be read by the occasional liberal-minded white middle class person. It seemed a fair bet.)

Racism - why is it still here?

Thirty years ago, many of us were convinced it’d be gone by now. We assumed it would just vanish, just like using tracing paper for toilet roll stopped being a thing. It was, after all, dumb. Nothing but an archaic irrationality. And for the Nineties, perhaps even after, things did seem to be going that way.

If we thought at all of how this was happening, we’d do what people normally do - run to the interpretation that put us in the best light. Our parent’s generation had been so much more racist than us. So surely we were just smarter and nicer. The ‘good people’ gene had concentrated in one generation. So we developed such tropes as your racist uncle discovering Facebook.

As ever, it was nothing to do with anything like that and was actually something material. My parents generation lived in white neighbourhoods, from where they went to work in white offices. They’d have at most service encounters with people from other races. But for us, life slowly changed. For us black and Asian people were not strangely other beings, they were workmates and neighbours. When our experience of them was so different, why would our response to them stay the same?

And while we might find it less flattering, this is actually better. Our response to racism didn’t really come from self-image (“I’m too nice for that”) but something more innate. Our parents’ response to protests such as this would have been “see how they’re stirring up trouble again after we’ve permitted them to live here”. Ours isn’t “time to state the sort of person I am”. Ours is “Black lives matter? Well, duh.”

Better. But not enough…

Think of the that first day at the new job where you shook hands with your new black co-worker. We thought this was all happening because of us, because we were such progressive, forward-thinking, inclusive folks. While they thought they were there because of them. And they were right.

What seemed to us to be a natural part of evolution, like the giraffe gradually getting a long neck, didn’t seem that way from the other side. It had come about by struggle. Sometimes this was co-ordinated, collective acts, challenging and overcoming the ‘whites only’ basis of workplaces and occupations. At other times it was more individualised, having to mount hurdles which to you and me had been open doors.

Which isn’t to say black people are always going to get everything right, or even all think the same in the first place. (I cringe now at all those punk lyrics which once seemed so right-on; “black man’s got his problems and his ways to deal with it”. Phew, that’s a relief!) It’s to say different material conditions will normally lead to different understandings.

It was hard for them to forget something which was hard for us to learn. Racism isn’t banished by spouting feelgood slogans, diversity training or asinine songs. Racism is political. So anti-racism has to be political too.

Even today, I don’t think many understand what institutional racism is. If something like the police force is racist (which it obviously is), the assumption is that the institution contains a threshold amount of racists. It’s like the only argument there can be is about “bad apples,” and how many bad apples there are. One side says it’s so few there’s no real need to worry. The other is concerned it might even be a whole branch or something.

But institutional racism means that the institution is racist, and the private thoughts and intentions of those who make it up are an irrelevance to that. This is why sop tactics such as better training or more black recruitment never go anywhere, because they’re failing to appreciate what the problem really is. And just think about it. How many times have you heard that stuff proposed? Ever heard of a time when it was working?

(And this is why the media fixation on accounting racist statues is so misplaced. The presumption is again about bad apples, outing the bad apples of the past. Yet Colonial Britain didn’t just throw up the odd racist, it was racist. And this is obvious. How could it have not been racist and done what it did?)

To ask why racism is still here, to ask why it’s getting worse, you have to ask what it is for.

The rest of the Western world has tended to see American exceptionalism the other way up to its official spokespeople. Things there were exceptionally bad. How come they didn’t have a proper health service or a social safety net? We could afford it, and they were a richer country. How come their society was so racist, particularly when they were an immigrant nation that styled itself as the land of opportunity? And how come its policing was so blatantly oppressive? Those three perplexing things, put them together and they make perfect sense.

Racism isn’t a twat in a pub trying to tell you a stupid joke, however annoying that twats is. Racism is a mechanism employed by the haves to divide the have nots. And the greater the divide between the have and have nots, the more the have nots need dividing between themselves. Donald Trump tweets his racist tweets so he can carry on sitting on his gold toilet.

Many of the civil rights campaigners later turned into poster boys for corporate anti-racism, such as Martin Luther King, said this time and again. Its not the part yuppies use for motivational quotes beneath their e-mail signatures, but they said it often enough.

And as Britain became more neoliberal, became more and more like America, policing had to become more oppressive and racism had to be stoked up. Complain of the swingeing austerity cuts and they’d counter with the mantra about money “leaving the country” for foreign aid. Foreign aid is a fixed amount of GDP, which had neither gone up nor down. It had nothing to do with why your local library or day centre was closing. It was there as a fall guy. Bad stuff? Blame it on the foreigners.

But then came the twist.

In 1979 Thatcher made some barely coded remarks about indigenous Englanders being “swamped by an alien culture”. This worked, many tempted to the far right flocked back to her and she won her first election. And so her successors imagined they could pull that trick forevermore, that their hand was on the spigot that allowed them to pour out just enough race hate for them to channel and control. Instead they’ve unleashed a tiger.

Since then the forces against us aren’t divided so much as riven, between those who think it’s gone so out of control it’s time to shoot the tiger, and those who still think they can ride it. In both Britain and America, the governing party was taken over by its extremist wing.

And then came the flip.

Black Lives Matter protests had their impetus in grassroots black anger. They sprang up too quickly, too far and wide for any central committee to be behind them. Rather than the clone armies of the Trot sects, signs were all hand-made. When John Boyega spoke to the crowd, star of one of the top-grossing films of modern times, he didn’t even have a rudimentary platform to stand on. And they saw racism the way those who suffer racism will. The idea that this was a political protest was baked in from the start.

But from there the attendees quickly diversified. In America, veteran Civil Rights leaders have expressed surprise how wide-ranging they are. And when you hear a Black Lives Matter protest in Inverness got called off for fear of too high numbers, something’s going on. White folks are, to be clear, joining the protests because they’re anti-racist. But not just because of that. It’s become a lightning rod for a general storm. People have realised, on some level, that if we let them divide us by race we’ll be letting them divide us. Racism, the hornet’s nest stirred up to keep us apart, is the very thing now bringing us together.

What happens next is less clear. But it’s likely to vary between there and here. In America the first and over-riding response was a display of naked force. But responding to anti-racism and policebrutality protests with racism and police brutality didn’t prove smart. Tear gas, truncheons and rubber bullets dispersed crowds in the immediate sense, but stiffened resolve.

Here the Met unsurprisingly responded with aggressive policing, kettling protesters and demanding names and addresses from people. But that’s more exception than rule. In Bristol they stood by as that slaver statue went for a swim, confident they could make some arrests later at a more convenient time for them.

Overall the plan has been to try and corral everyone back into the official, ’common sense’ version of anti-racism. Emphasise the wrongness of events in America to de-emphasise the links to what happens here. Use the old inadequate definition of racism as mere personal prejudice. Insist people go down “proper channels” if they don’t like stop-and-search or statues to slavers, full in the knowledge those channels exist to get us lost in them, not give us what we want. Make a few platitudinous public statements, take a knee for the press and anyone not satisfied with that is clearly outing themselves as a trouble maker.

In America, given that response, the campaign quickly moved on to calls to dissolve, defund or in other ways corral the cops. If they can’t be reformed they need to be removed, if they can’t be removed at least reduced. Here it’s been common to lump the cops in with other ‘services’, as we opposed austerity cuts. (Which some of us warned against at the time!) Are we going to start chanting “defund the police” when so many were calling for more funding just last week?

So will this stealthier approach work for them? Let’s hope not, but it might well do. Permitting protests is just as much a tactic as assaulting them, perhaps a more effective one because it looks less like a tactic. Worryingly, things already seem to be slipping into a well-meaning but vaguely generalised debate over which old ‘Fawlty Towers’ episodes to show, as if racism is just some unfortunate hangover from the past.

Soft power can be smarter, because it doesn’t look like power at all.

Saturday, 6 June 2020

‘THE CRUSADES’ (WILLIAM HARTNELL’S DOCTOR WHO)

Written by David Whitaker
First broadcast March/April 1965
Plot spoilers happen



“Once more King Richard's away to the wars
“For a reason as vague as his aim is obscure
“None of the press gang care what it's for
“So long as he's paying them square”
- Blyth Power

Good Kings and Bad

Those who don’t think David Whitaker played an important role in early ’Doctor Who’ are invited to leave quietly now. The credible range of his influence stretches from “important” to “did everything Terry Nation got credited for” to “did everything”. He was script editor for the first year. And though he hastily scripted two fill-in episodes, each a slender two-parter, this is his first full script.

Yet it's controversial. It’s often said this story was never sold to Middle Eastern markets, so now two episodes are missing. (Others have been found there.) And it’s true, the other side are consistently called ‘Saracens’. Which, though probably historically accurate, is an elision between ‘Arab’ and ‘Muslim’ where ‘Arab’ is itself stretched to mean ‘Middle Easterner.’ At other points they’re “heathen” and “infidel”. While we’re soon told King Richard is known as Malek Ric by the Saracens, Salah ad-Din is called Saladin even in his own court.

Yet for a story called ‘The Crusades’, it takes remarkably little interest in religion. Though “Holy Land” is used early on, to set the scene, and at a couple of points Allah is referred to, “Muslim” and “Christian” appear not at all. When the authority of the Pope gets invoked half-way through, it almost takes you by surprise. Instead Whitaker is more interested in the characters of Richard and Saladin, two Kings who sit at opposite ends of war’s chessboard without ever meeting.

As we’ve seen the historicals tend to retell popular history, less educating people than reassuringly reiterating what they think they know already. And following ‘1066 And All That’ it divides monarchs neatly up into “Good Kings” and “Bad Kings”. Nero, from ‘The Romans’, was the proverbial Bad King, even if he didn’t literally hold the title. Or the ogreous Henry VIII from ’A Man For All Season’ (filmed in 1966).

Handily, you can tell a Good King from a Bad on sight because the Bad ones are all overweight. (Having grown fat off the land, you see.) Richard, commonly depicted as muscular, must therefore be a Good King. He’s normally shown as a valiant war hero, though as this is normally in Robin Hood, that Good King-ness keeps him offstage.


Yet, if Good King Richard might seem standard for this era, the first episode sets us up with the second option. He’s a playboy monarch, embarking on an ill-advised hunting exhibition in the midst of war-time – one which nearly gets him kidnapped. His capricious moods, where whims soon fixate into orders, have to be carefully negotiated by his more savvy subordinates. The episode ends on him having a fit of temper, indignant that he should be asked to “trade” with Saladin, just as he’s furious with John who “trades with my enemy, Phillip of France.” In this world, these are as dangerous as a Dalek screeching ”exterminate”.

Whereas Saladin’s mottos is “strategy is worth a hundred lances”. In a detail carefully explained in the script, he and his brother Saphadin take turns to receive audiences. But one always sits in a hidden chair with his back to the other, ruminating on what’s been said. Saladin offers a metaphor for this at one point: “Always keep one hand tensed while is other is relaxed and friendly”. Power is seen as dualistic, it has to be seductive as well as coercive, listening as well as proclaiming.


But more generally it seems to stand for the psychological depth required for diplomacy. While Richard struts around talking of himself in the Royal “we”, Saladin is literally a we. Richard lives in a world of objects and things. Actions are cause and effect, in which he is the cause and everyone around him the effect. He issues orders and people do things. There’s not much cause for him to self-reflect when no-one else has ever questioned him. He rages “we will not be advised!” as if that’s some kind of strength.

Whereas Saladin sees things on a more strategic level. (Dave Sim fans may want to think of Cerebus and Lord Julius here.) When Barbara is presented to him as a prisoner, Saladin disregards her lowly status to take an interest in her.

All this can confound Richard. “Saladin sends me presents of fruit and snow when I am sick... Yet with our armies do we both lock in deadly combat.” For his part Saladin finds Richard “guileless”.

And it may well have confounded contemporary audiences. Yet, if we’re to see them as synecdoches of state, don’t tell the Brexit voters but it’s probably more or less accurate. Ottoman society probably was more advanced and sophisticated than English at this point.

But then Whitaker, capable of his own guile, throws in a twist. Richard has come to realise his only sensible option is to sue for peace. William Blake wrote “There is a mystery that never shall cease/ The priest loves war and the solider peace.” And Richard’s is very much a solider’s love of peace, a weariness of an unwinnable war.

And he’s also capable of foreseeing the difficulties. He says to Ian: “Though we do not doubt that we are surrounded by loyal men, yet we fear that war is uppermost in their minds. This blood-letting must stop!” (Which also gives Whitaker an excuse to have him involve Ian in his plans rather than one of his own men.)

And this plan is a “match between Joanna and Saphadin.” His own incestuous relationship with her was, as most fans know, more heavily hinted until an outraged Hartnell kiboshed the notion. Which works both ways at once. It shows how Richard’s world of royal blood is as rarified, as incestuous intellectually as much as it is sexually. He thinks inside of a narrow conceptual gene pool. (Inbreeding is virtually a metaphor for the downside of royalty.) Yet at the same time he’s willing to give up not just his sister but his fuckbuddy for the greater good.

This fails because the Earl of Leicester, one of his own advisers, tips her off before he’s had a chance to talk her into it - throwing her into a thundering rage of her own. Like his own worst instincts, she becomes the wrong sort of royal.

Does this too much take Richard’s perspective? When Joanna protests volubly that “I am no sack of flour to be given in exchange” your natural tendency is to sympathise with her. But perhaps, like Serena in ’The Handmaid’s Tale’, she wants the upside of her rank with none of the obligations. Such strategic marriages were then common. The historic Joan had already been married off to, then widowed by, the King of Sicily. And she seems to object more to her betrothed being a “heathen” than the lack of consultation.

But if that’s the immediate scuppering of the plan, the suggestion is that it was never going to work. Richard is shown as wise enough to want peace, but not powerful enough to bring it about. Saladin’s response is essentially “not a hope, but I should encourage the guy for trying.” After ‘The Aztecs’ we’re back to the irrevocability of history, with Richard in the Barbara role. Except, no newcomer to power, his reaction to failure is less despondency and more weary resignation. He figures it’s Leicester who tipped Joanna off. But, realising he’ll be needing experienced military advisors again and pretty soon, he stays schtum.

And this may be a view of royal power whose time was due. Though Richard appears in the 1968 film ‘The Lion in Winter’ the character who most matches him there is his father, Henry II. Now old, Henry has grown accomplished in political shenanigans but through this has come to realise his powers’ limitations. (“There's no sense asking if the air is good if there's nothing else to breathe.”)

Those who like to talk up the historicals often reach for the term ‘Shakespearian’. By which they seem to mean posh people pontificating in a vaguely BBC-ish way. Though you could at most call it sub-Shakespearian, Whitaker does get that Shakespeare wrote evocatively rather than just flamboyantly. (Which should really be obvious, but doesn’t seem to be.)

For example these are the lines he gave to Leicester, the counsel for war. A relatively minor character, who could easily have been the ”stupid butcher” the Doctor claims, responds to him:

“You're a man for talk, I can see that. You like a table and a ring of men. A parley here, arrangements there, but when you men of eloquence have stunned each other with your words, we, we the soldiers, have to face it out. On some half-started morning while you speakers lie abed, armies settle everything, giving sweat, sinewed bodies, aye, and life itself.”

”Chivalry and Barbarism”

Described in the novelisation (of which anon) as “a world of chivalry and barbarism”, it repeats the ‘Marco Polo’ formula - the proper-acting-but-added-fighting combination, a grand drama and a genre adventure story who seem to pass by semi-oblivious to one another. The constraints of history, ostensibly the story’s theme, fills one but is entirely absent from the other.

And however smartly Saladin is depicted the adventure story is stuffed with racist stereotypes, reminding us the working title was the somewhat suspect ‘Saracen Hordes’. If Saladin’s no mere villain this role is instead displaced onto El Akir, a swarthy schemer, a scar with a man attached. He inevitably has the sadistic hots for a white woman like Barbara. Who’s kidnapped almost straight away, long before the pretence starts that she’s Joanna. He plans to add her to his harem, inevitably presented the standard Western way as a privatised brothel. He might not tie her to any railway lines, but only because they’re not invented yet. And this “after our women” trope is then compounded by Saphadin’s desire to marry Joanna.

In my youth “thieving Arab” was a common phrase no-one thought anything of. And it’s personified by the character of Ibrahim. Who is admittedly well played, and is given an almost Brechtian motive for opposing El Akir: “He has made the rich people so poor so there is no one left to steal from.”

Among the Crusaders De Preaux nobly allows himself to be captured, in the place of the King who just scornfully rubbished his sensible escape plan. Even Leicester, the one most opposed to the travellers and who jinxes Richard’s peace plan, seems motivated by sincere belief. While too many Arab characters are motivated by petty greed and self-advancement, grubbing for gold coins and ruby rings like medals for Muttley.

When even Saphadin is depicted as no intellectual match for his brother, it’s hard not to think back to Ian’s line from ‘The Aztecs’, that Saladin is “the unusual man here.” The travellers naturally align with the Crusaders, and do so from the get-go. Like Autloc, it’s good that this character was written in. Possibly even surprisingly good. But ultimately not good enough.

This story not being sold to any Middle Eastern markets isn’t the clincher it’s sometimes thought. The decision could well have been a case of judging a book by its cover. (And missing episodes have come to light elsewhere. The first episode here, which didn’t show up till 1999, was found in New Zealand.) But overall it’s further weight to the theory that ’Dr. Who’ marks the limits of liberalism, like a map that suddenly cuts out.

History Is Here For Us


And the story’s other main weakness is that the book is better.

Which might surprise some. Later novelisations effectively reformatted TV scripts, stitching them together with boilerplate phrases such as “a wheezing, groaning noise”. They were speed-written, with the expectation they’d be read just as quickly. In their day, they were the only way of preserving old episodes. As video tape arrived, the need for them diminished. But the first three of these were published some years before the better-known Target books, between 1964 and 1966.

Bill Strutton’s ‘Doctor Who and the Zarbi’, based on his own ‘The Web Planet’, needn’t concern us much here. (Or at all, truth be told.) But the other two were by David Whitaker…

Whitaker, who had script-edited but not written the original ‘Daleks' story, completely rewrote the beginning in order to create an introduction for the main characters. And from there he changed pretty much anything he felt like. Ian and Barbara, who might seem like staples of the show, are almost entirely different people.

But with his own script for ‘The Crusade’ he changed much less. The story starts with the crew already travelling, and the references to past adventures suggest he had an eye on further novelisations. (Which at that point never came.) Instead he extended and reworked it, taking his TV script (presumably written at speed) as a first draft. It smooths together what in the script are a somewhat disjointed series of events, sometimes reordering them to achieve this. 

Why did Saladin, after having goes to some trouble to ascertain it was El Akiar who kidnapped Barbara from him, then do nothing with the knowledge? How was Haroun so handily placed to find and then hide Barbara when she was on the run? The book explains all this and more.

And it’s more discursive, more philosophical. Ian and Saladin don’t even meet on the screen, here they go into the “all-religions-are-one” thing. (Which might have actually made some sense had the stuck with Christianity and Islam, but they absurdly and pointlessly then drag Buddhism and Hinduism into it too.)

And there’s bookend sections of discussion aboard the ship to enrich the tale. Which suggest the Tardis is deliberately teaching them life lessons. But this then makes a terrible error. A strangely modern error, like Whitaker’s trying to pre-empt future internet nit-pickers with an explain-away. It doesn’t just unwisely foreground the fact that events are malleable in science fiction stories but fixed in historical ones, it then comes up with a still-worse explanation.

“Once we are on Earth,” the Doctor says, “we become part of the history that is being created and we are as subject to its laws as are the people who are living in that period.” (Apart from future Earth of course, where history hasn’t been set yet. Or something.) Laws he later describes as set by “Time, that great regulator.”

The purpose of this seems moral and instructional. “We are learning. Why do people kill each other, steal from each other: rob, slander, hurt and destroy? Why do thousands upon thousand of young men hurt themselves at one another on a field of battle, each side sure in the justness of its cause? Until we know, until we can control greed, destructive ambition, hatred and the dozen and one other flaws that plague us, we are not worthy to breathe.”

The notion that history would be “regulated” only on Earth seems absurdly anthropocentric. But it gets worse. Remember that ’Who’ often adheres to the science fiction model where foreign planets are inflated metaphors for foreign countries, Skaro post-war Germany, Vortis occupied France, the Sense-sphere the Orient and so on. This makes the model not only human but specifically English exceptionalism. Time the great regulator is keeping a watchful eye over us, and us alone. If Arabs are inherently more greedy and duplicitous than us, it’s to provide case studies for us to study. Events, even when they happen abroad, become history through their influence on British history. History is what happens to us. With others it’s mere events.

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