Saturday 30 September 2023


First broadcast Dec ’67/ Jan ’68
Written by David Whitaker
Beware the standard PLOT SPOILERS

DOCTOR: But isn't there another way out of this?
KENT: Only one. Be Salamander.

The Doctor Doubled (Twice)

In the distant year of 2018, Salamander poses as a public benefactor. But his plot is to set off volcanoes (and the like) around the world, blame the Governor of that region for not doing anything about them, depose him and replace him with his own man. Perhaps closely followed by laughing cruelly. And by coincidence he happens to look exactly like you-know-Who…

The initial impetus for this story was the same as for ‘The Massacre’. Feeling confined by always playing the same role, the lead actor asked if he could also do a villainous double. (And unless I miss my guess Troughton’s next words were “and I’d like to try an Italian accent… no wait, Mexican.”)

With ’The Massacre’, this was turned into an existential drama about the meaninglessness of identity and futility of existence. Mostly conveyed by making no sense whatsoever. This time its taken it as an excuse for a rip-roaring adventure story, with action babes in helicopter chases. Things had changed, it seemed, over those last few years…

This has come to be known as the ‘*Who’* does Bond story. But patented Bond motifs don’t appear - the over-elaborate execution attempt, the steady supply of gadgets, the penetrating of the villain’s secret lair and so on. It’s more Spy-Fi in general, which was after all a very Sixties genre.

Take for example rebel agent Astrid. She’s more Avengers woman than Bond girl, to the point you’re not surprised to hear Mary Peach subsequently auditioned for the show. Dressed throughout like a principal boy from a panto, she somehow refrains from slapping her thighs. It’s notable that she has relatively minimal screen time with the Doctor, and least of all when she’s being at her most kickass.

(Though the Guards seem graduates of Incompetent College even more than usual, perhaps even rivalling those of ‘The Space Museum’. No wonder she kicks her way through them with such impunity.)

The Bond comparison may be because that’s the best-known example of the genre. Or perhaps because some explosion footage is filched from ’From Russia With Love’. But it leads to this story’s reputation as the one that broke from the base-under-siege rule.

And indeed, sometimes it seems to exult in doing this. There doesn’t seem any real reason to relocate the action from Australia to Hungary other than to say that they’ve done it. Or more accurately, to say that they did it via rocket ship in under two hours. (Maybe Astrid knows a short-cut around Polynesia.)

And there’s the strangely unusual feature that the cliffhangers aren’t actually cliffhangers, and more like chapter endings. Episode four even picks up elsewhere from episode three’s ending. With all the running and shooting going on, it sometimes feels like everything that happens is a cliffhanger bar the episode endings themselves. (Bizarrely, another point of similarity to ’The Massacre’.) 

Okay, Bond to Spy-Fi, it might not sound so much of a shift. But once made you realise the Troughton era has been here before. With ‘The Faceless Ones’, ’The Evil of The Daleks’ and (perhaps to a lesser degree) ‘The Power Of the Daleks’ were all stuffed with espionage, treachery and surveillance. (‘The Highlanders’ is the notable exception, and that was essentially imposed upon the production team.)

But let’s take the bait and say the brief was ‘Bond on a budget’. The problem here’s the obvious one. It’s a bit like saying “pyramids, but small”. Remember the most recent Bond film when this was broadcast hadn’t been ’From Russia With Love’, but the somewhat more lavish ’You Only Live Twice’. Even ’The Avengers’, though another TV show, was granted a higher budget by commercial rival ITV.

The first episode gets going quickly, and soon turns into a chase involving hovercraft and helicopters. Okay, one hovercraft and one helicopter, still one more than you might expect. But you start to suspect the budget was spent on luring us in. Episodes two and three feature, among other delights, a display of villainy by smashing the good guys’ crockery, not quite on a league with killer lasers.

We’re all now used to the show staple of running round corridors as a way of filling time. Here someone sits down in a corridor and has a bite to eat. When Salamander exultantly tells a rumbled Jamie “ingenuity requires a constant stream of new ideas”, it seems almost an auto-critique.

Plus, it soon becomes obvious that showing two Troughtons is a logistical challenge that has to be saved for the final episode. And the solution’s to keep the Doctor out of the action. He keeps demanding proof of Salamander’s no-good nature. Whether for his own benefit or to show the world who their enemy is, that isn’t made terribly clear. But, seen from our ‘post-truth’ era, it all seems somewhat naive.

(I’d have been tempted to introduce a farce scenario, where the Doctor and Salamander keep narrowly missing one another. So one orders his men to all stand on their heads and leaves the room, only for another to enter and demand to know what they’re up to.)

For Evil to Exist, Good Men Must Be Credulous

And we’ve grown wearily used to this. An episode of set-up, and episode of resolution, and a whole bunch of running round in the middle. But just when we’re sunk into this, in episode four… yes, four… Whitaker throws in a curve ball.

Admittedly this answers a narrative question no-one’s been asking. Salamander’s power comes largely from his ability to manipulate the weather, like a one-man form of climate change. But we’ve been told he’s a diabolic mastermind, a type we’ve grown used to, and besides this is all futuristic stuff with rockets anyway. So no-one, within the tale or without, has wondered just how he achieves this. (Weather control seems a feature of this era. It has already appeared in ‘The Moonbase’, and shows up in the Avengers episode ’A Surfeit of H20’, 1965, and the Spy-Fi film ’Our Man Flynt’, 1966.)

It turns out Salamander has a team of patsies, who he’s hidden in an underground bunker for years, telling them nuclear war rages up above and they need to stoke up the weather against imagined foes. He’s a Devilish figure, more often seen manipulating or disposing of others than doing stuff himself. But the surface Salamander mostly worked by blackmail. While this Salamander, someone who brings out the good in people but then twists it for his own nefarious ends, seems more narratively interesting.

But more, the evil doppelganger trope is widely thought to be about the elements you most repress in yourself coming back in the guise of another person. And this is more the stuff an evil un-Doctor would do. There’s something almost Christ versus Anti-Christ about it. Against the Doctor who was the most quiet and unassuming, Salamander is a charismatic public figure who has the world idolising him.

For much of the time, he exists in a kind of double vision. We’re prompted to see him as a set of villainous signifiers, all scheming, swarthy and foreign. (And Not At All Racist, Just of Its Time.) Whereas the great world public all see him as a kind of saviour. (“A public benefactor. Quite a speaker too.”) So the bunker becomes a correlative to being trapped inside Salamander’s concocted worldview.

In the end there’s precisely one shot of the two Troughtons, the thing we came here for. But Salamander almost immediately then getting thrown out the Tardis, there is something satisfying to that - like they’re two magnetic poles which repel one another.

Moreover it turns out that, when it didn’t look like he was up to much, Whitaker’s been adept with some smart set-up. First a question mark is thrown over Giles Kent, leader of the rebels, who tips off Salamander’s guards to force the Doctor into impersonating him.

We then meet black-clad, stern and abrasive Donald Bruce, who looks to be Salamander’s right-hand man. But this is followed by supercilious Benik, who manages to be unpopular even among his own men. (There’s multiple good performances, but Milton Johns excels in the love-to-hate-him department.). And Bruce turns out to be the ‘good German’, the one good man stuck in a bad system, willing to turn against his boss. (Apologies to any German readers. It’s the term popular use has stuck us with.)

As much as James Bond has a moral, it would be an anti-moral, that it takes a killer to kill a killer. Whitaker instead brings back a classic ’Who’ moral, that power will destroy itself. Benik orders his men to shoot to kill, then is laughingly told by a dying woman he’ll never be able to get the needed information from her now. Salamander is the one who dematerialises the Tardis, hoping for escape, instead extruding himself.

All in all, there is much to enjoy in this story. You just need to get over the hump of the second and third episodes. (Small wonder it’s reputation increased from the time when only the third was available.) But it’s also an odd mixture of protracted with bumpily elliptical, the latter particularly a problem in the last episode. Salamander meets his demise so late its as if he was trying to hang on for the final bell. Which means, after the absence of cliffhangers throughout, the final episode has one. Go figure!

Saturday 23 September 2023


(Top 50 Albums)

“Originally we just wanted to freak people out but now we’re just interested in sound. For instance, if a monotonous sound like a chanting goes on long enough, it can really alter people's minds.… We try to create an environment where people can lose their inhibitions. We also want to keep clear of the music business as much as possible - just play for the people. It's like a ship that has to steer around rocks, we have to steer round the industry.”
- Dave Brock, ’NME’ (Jan ’71)

”Everything exists for itself, yet everything is part of something else.”
- ’Space Ritual’ sleevenote

“You couldn't overstate the importance of Hawkwind if you tried. They're a credible candidate for the most important band in the history of everything, ever.” - Me

”Waiting For Take-off”

’Space Ritual’ (known by pedants as ’The Space Ritual Alive In Liverpool and London', 1973) is the finale and cumulation of Hawkwind’s classic space trilogy - following from and building on ’In Search Of Space’ (1971) and ’Doremi Farso Latido’ (1972). Citation does not seem needed. So what led to such an outpouring of awesomeness as this?

We have something of a clue in an earlier release, their eponymous debut. Which stated in the liner notes “by now we will be past this album”, suggesting they regarded it as something of a staging post. (It was after all released in April 1970, by a band who had only played their first gig in November 1969.) And I’m going to suggest that it lacks four vital elements…

First, though Nik Turner plays on the debut, he sang no lead vocals. Now, Dave Brock was the founder and band leader. (And sole constant member, up til today.) Who sang, frequently. But the founder felt no inclination to be the front man. Turner, whose initial involvement had been as a roadie, fell into that role but once there took to it with some relish.

They were described by frequent collaborator Michael Moorcock as, respectively, the band’s backbone and spirit. Brock was the tent pole, keeping the band up. But Turner was the carney character who called the punters in. (Though he sometimes shared, sometimes alternated that role with Robert Calvert. No-one has ever said Hawkwind’s history is insufficiently confusing.)

Second, though Dik Mik contributed electronics for the first album he didn’t team up with Del Dettmar till the second. (Dettmar was credited for synths, Dik Mik for “audio generator”. I have no idea what that is.) Now this was a time when bands often turned to electronic music. But the new instruments were mostly played in the old way, as if a concert pianist had his Steinway swapped for a synth at the last minute. Whereas with Hawkwind…

The first ever electronic film soundtrack, by Louis and Bebe Barron for ’Forbidden Planet’ (1956), had been credited as “electronic tonalities” rather than music. (Largely to circumvent their non-membership of the Musician’s Union. But it’s still a good description.) And Dik Mik and Dettmar worked in a similar way. They’d surge unpredictably, their sound barely controllable, like even the player isn’t really sure what’s going to happen next. And as both were more tinkering boffins than proper musicians that’s not altogether surprising. They saw their role as to “add atmospherics”. And electronics from this early era often has this quality, as if the preserve of haphazardly gifted amateurs, the Doctor in the Tardis rather than Jean Luc Picard aboard the Enterprise. More the Silver Apples than Rick Wakeman.

But the main giveaway is that it lacks the brilliant ‘cosmic hieroglyph’ cover designs Barney Bubbles would provide for the space trilogy. These were complete and integrated works of design, rather than just a logo slapped atop an image of the band. See for example ’In Search of Space' below. (Just about visible is the way the gatefold had a jagged centre opening.)

”Space is one solution”

Finally, and perhaps the cherry to place on the top of all this, the first album containing no references to space. Though adverts for it still proclaimed “Hawkwind Is Space Rock”.

Now mention Hawkwind and most will say ‘Space Rock’ straight back at you. But then mention Space Rock and most will say ‘Hawkwind’. Pink Floyd’s early years notwithstanding, they pretty much define the genre. (As much as ex-member Lemmy’s next band, Motorhead, would do for Heavy Metal.) Partly because having had one… precisely one… hit single they fell into the strange situation of being the underground band the overground has heard of.

Okay, but Space Rock… was ‘space’ any more than just a euphemism for the verboten subject of drugs? Well partly, yes. ‘Acid rock’ often had the more mainstream-friendly (not to mention law-abiding) monicker substituted for it. And the lyrics to classic Hawkwind tracks such as ’Master of the Universe’ and ’Orgone Accumulator’ are respectively cosmological or Reichean, but those are fairly transparent metaphors for the real subject. (“It’s no social integrator/ It’s a one-man isolator”… hmm.)

Acid rock originally meant whatever soundtrack was added to Acid Trip parties. (Which early on was just regular rock music.) But Hawkwind weren’t just a setting to take drugs to, their music was a slightly different means to the same end. They nailed the notion of music as drug, music whose primary purpose was to alter the perceptions of the audience. Band members liked to tell the anecdote that they hid their drugs in their equipment, then kept prying police dogs away by playing sub lows at them. Which sounds a bit too good to actually be true. But there’s a symbolic kind of truth to it.

As Andrew Means said of them, “the listener is just as much a traveller as the musician”. Dave Brock cheerily conceded “it was basically freak-out music.”

And this is where space comes in, as a handy a metaphor for sonic exploration. It was a way of framing music which defied the confines of convention just like space transcends gravity. John Weinzierl of Amon Duul, more or less Hawkwind’s German cousins, summed up what it was to be radical youth at odds with all around you: “We had to come up with something new… Space is one solution.”

But space also stood for both the beyond and the imagination, the outer and inner realms, inasmuch as they’re different things. Robert Calvert commented “we can hypnotise the audience into exploring their own space. Space is the last unexplored terrain, it’s all that’s left, it’s where man’s future is.”

While Brock said: ”We were all reading science fiction and after the first moon landing, exploring the idea that everything could change. We were taking LSD, and the journey outward was also an inner journey, I suppose.” (Which was exactly what drew me to Science Fiction as a youth. And a huge part of the initial importance of Hawkwind to my young self was that you could get your music and your Science Fiction in one serving.)

Ken Kesey was ever-keen to point out that it was a CIA weapons programme which had given hippies LSD to take, initially literally. So it’s fitting that the other great product of the Cold War, the Space Race, provided the other escape route.

One route to sonic exploration was free jazz. Nik Turner described his aim as to “play free jazz in a rock band.” He’d hung out with free jazz players while travelling through Berlin, who were key in persuading him that expression was more important than technical ability. This was more to do with the approach than the sound. Though some of his sax playing can be very free jazz, particularly on ’You Shouldn’t Do That’.

But overall, their biggest free jazz inheritance was less direct. It was the way the band played in the moment and proved themselves so adept at improvisation. In the BBC documentary ’This Is Hawkwind, Do Not Panic’ Lemmy recalled: “It was a real rapport. We could be facing different ways and change at the same time during a jam… I’ve never had that since. I’ve never had it before that, come to that.”

This was the Sixties era, where collectivism held sway. (The line from ’Sonic Attack' “think only of yourself” is clearly intended as the Devil talking.) As Murray Ewing notes “how much the lyrics are about ‘we’ and ‘us’, ‘Deep in our minds’, ‘we shall be as one’, ‘So that we might learn to see/The foolishness that lives in us’. Consciously tribal, Hawkwind were seeking to create a communal experience.”  Added to which vocals are often chanty and choral-sounding, even with a whiff of folk to them. (This was perhaps only true for Brock. But then Brock contributed so many of the vocals.)

Yet Turner’s squalling sax is on the same track as some of the most intense riffing you’re likely to hear. ’You Shouldn’t Do That’, a sixteen-minute epic, audaciously opened their second album ’X In Search Of Space’ (1971). Repetition and sensory overload should surely be contrary forces, yet here they’re combined into one heady brew. It may well be the band’s finest studio moment.

Joe Banks tried to capture their recipe:“Hawkwind took the heavier end of the 60s underground sound as a starting point and created a monolithic concoction of garage rock, primitive electronics and free jazz, with the power of repetition and the riff always to the fore.” And he’s right about the riffs. Hawkwind’s USP was to combine the earthiness of hard rock with the spaciness of… well, space without losing the benefits of either.

Pink Floyd, then still darlings of the UFO club rather than arena fillers, were an early influence. But, as so often, it’s the differences which are significant. On ’Interstellar Overdrive’, aesthetes and post-graduates, Floyd dispense with the riff almost as soon as they can. They just needed a countdown routine, a hand-hold to hook the listener, before dumping them deep in zero gravity. Whereas Hawkwind, deranged freaks, pile on the riff with the zeal of young lovers.

Banks again: “Hawkwind’s willingness to let the music splurge messily outside the lines - to overwhelm a song’s structure without destroying it - is what sets them apart from the rest of the British rock scene….In a scene dominated by music that values technical flash over visceral noise, Hawkwind are travelling in the opposite direction by unlearning the rules of traditional blues-based rock.”

Well, yes and no. There was a whole period where clueless music journos noted Hawkwind had synths and sang about space, and so labelled them Prog. (Partly because of the bozo assumption that anything early Seventies that didn’t look like Glam must by definition be Prog.) Despite them not having anything like the flamboyant approach to musicianship or the ‘clean’ sound of the genre. Rightly reacting against this, we tended to veer too far the other way and insist on their absolute originality.

Whereas, in truth, their genesis came amid an era of heavy riffing. ‘Hard rock’, a term which now sounds more like a tautology than something that needs inventing, came into common use around this time. Iron Butterfly’s ’In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’, released in 1968, had done much to trailblaze this. Hawkwind’s first album was released a mere two months after the Black Sabbath’s debut. (Who weren’t yet associated with a metalhead scene which was only starting to exist, but thought of as a “people’s band” much in the same way as Hawkwind. They may not have played as many counter-cultural benefits. But then who did?.)

”Perhaps The Dying Has Begun”

And this part-explains an often-asked question. In wider culture, they’re the British Grateful Dead, the symbol of a counter-culture which hadn’t died just because the media had announced it was time to move on. (Assisted by the way both bands has such vivid iconography, and such fanatical fans so given to networking.)

But the Grateful Dead had started in 1965, so it made some sense to see them as the emblem of an enduring Sixties. Hawkwind’s first gig wasn’t until 1969… until November 1969, barely scraping their way into the decade which supposedly defined them. And their first album didn’t appear until 1970, when the dream had been deemed over. Rob Chapman’s magnum opus ’Psychedelia and Other Colours’ (2015) mentions them not once. It seems a conundrum. How can you come so late to the party, and be its soundtrack? The answer to this is to turn the question the other way up.

It’s easy enough to portray hippies as blissed-out innocents, without a single salient idea beneath their headbands. Yet Hawkwind’s conception of space was one sometimes found in Science Fiction, where the Romantic notion of the Sublime was enhanced , extended and projected out onto the vastness of the cosmos. It’s where we must be, but at the same time it may well destroy us without even noticing. Think of the lyrics to ’Space Is Deep’:

“Space is dark, it is so endless
“When you're lost it's so relentless
“It is so big, it is so small
“Why does man try to act so tall?”

Or a couplet from ’Lord of Light’, which captures the perennial dualism: “A day shall come, we shall be as one/ Perhaps the dying has begun.” Or the way ’Brainstorm’ is simultaneously escape route from Earth, space rocket as one step up from teenage wheels (“Can’t get no peace till I get into motion/ Sign my release from this planet’s erosion”) and one-man suicide trip (“I’m breaking up, I’m falling apart/ I’m floating away.”).

True, psychedelic music hadn’t all been twee and pastoral. (However it was later caricatured.) Something like Pink Floyd’s ’Careful With That Axe Eugene’ was exquisitely sinister. But they were never so relentless, never so deranged, never bit into the brown acid as deeply as Hawkwind.

And where better to experience all of this than live? Live albums normally signify a band at an impasse. The label are on at them to put out something but they’re too coked up. Whereas Hawkwind were always primarily a live band. Their studio albums were often recorded in as close to live conditions as possible, sometimes containing live tracks regardless. But it was the all-live ’Space Ritual' where they really reached the stars. (Let’s see how many other entries in this top fifty are live albums. Not expecting a high number.)

And around this time they were gigging ceaselessly. Gigs organised like (in the album title) a ritual or (in the parlance of the time) a trip, rather than a live-action jukebox. And though culled from two separate shows, and requiring editing even to fit on a double LP, the album seeks to document that trip as much as possible. The three new tracks (‘Born To Go’, ‘Upside Down’ and ’Orgone Accumulator’) weren’t released on any subsequent studio album, confirming this was intended as a ‘proper’ release.

Brock… and it seems it mostly was Brock… had a gift for dynamics, both within and between tracks. He’d segue between the rocket-propelled heavy riffing tracks and the more lyrical numbers with finesse. For example from ’Born to Go’ into ’Down Through The Night’. These were often sung respectively by Turner and Brock, a similar dynamic to Waters and Gilmour in Pink Floyd from this era. (Most notably in ’Brain Damage’ where they trade vocals within one track.) And ’Space Ritual’ segues all the way through, not breaking for applause till the finale.

However, while it’s great we get to hear it, it’s shame we can’t see any of it. The band had ploughed the profits from their one hit single into creating an audio-visual experience. But filming, especially under stage lights, was a more expensive and technically challenging prospect in those far-flung days.

”World Turned Upside Down Now”

’Orgone Accumulator’ proved to be the pointer towards the next era of Hawkwind - not spacey but sleazy, low-down and rumbling. Rather than the riff just being the touch-paper to the sonic derangement, the track sticks unrelentingly with the riff like a pair of tight-fitting jeans, all rocket propulsion with no zero gravity. It’s described by Joe Banks (in the Quietus) as “brilliantly moronic”. 

To quote Murray Ewing again: “A community-binding collective of tribal shamans no more, Hawkwind became something like a normal band.” In the clearest sign of a changing of the guard, Dik Mik was replaced by the classically trained Simon House. (Though Del Dettmar stayed for one more album.)

Tracks became more like songs. Lyrics, which had been concerned with evoking the sense of something, more took up scenarios or even mini-narratives. Sleeves went for a more regular fantasy look. See for example the next release, 1974’s ’Hall of the Mountain Grill’ below. (The front cover, if not the back, is still by Barney Bubbles. But it’s an SF image adorned by band logo and album title, unlike the integrated design of earlier.)

But if they were now less space more rock, this was still a pretty good seam of rock. If they were no longer astral travellers, they were finding some pretty good places to visit on the ground. Though naysayers portray Hawkwind as something stuck in the Sixties it would be truer to say the very opposite, that they acted as a barometer of change. Their late Seventies era was full of dystopian grandeur, befitting the sourer times. The classic line was from ’High Rise’ – “He was just like you might have been/ On the ninety-ninth floor of a suicide machine”. It’s all that communal “we” chanting inverted. Now we all succumb to the same fate. Just one at a time.

”We Turned All This Noise On”

The winged shadow of Hawkwind is cast far and wide. Like Black Sabbath they may have stamped their identity on a genre, but their influence went way beyond that. John Lydon (ostensibly the default anti-hippy) has recounted buying their first album, and played no less than ’You Shouldn’t Do That’ when given a BBC radio show, while the reformed Pistols covered ’Silver Machine’. Joe Strummer was a fan, as were Black Flag's Henry Rollins and Dez Cadena. Crass' original mission statement was to be to the Pistols what Hawkwind were to the Beatles.

…and we’re not done yet, that was just the punks! Conrad Schnitzler, founder member of Kluster and Tangerine Dream, called them his favourite band. When Joy Division turned into New Order and took up electronics, they emulated Hawkwind. The Orb recorded a tribute called Orbwind.

Nigel Ayers of Nocturnal Emissions saw Hawkwind as the primary influence on Industrial and Noise music: “This is something that they rarely mention in the press, as Hawkwind have this reputation as a British ‘hippie band’… Whereas if they were a German hippie band… Zoviet France have told me they were very keen on Hawkwind. SPK were well into Hawkwind back in Australia… Hawkwind were the first band I was aware of to popularise the idea of sonic attack - infra and ultra sound as a weapon… Whenever I saw Throbbing Gristle I thought ‘Hawkwind without the lights and without the tunes’.” (‘Sound Projector’ 7, 2000)

In fact Throbbing Gristle, then trading as COUM Transmissions, played their first gig supporting Hawkwind. Even after becoming TG, they traded under the description “post-psychedelic trash”, while Simon Reynolds describes their sound (quite accurately) as “psychedelia inverted”.

Want to experience the vastness of space? Don’t hand over your savings to Branson or Bezos. Just get hold of these three albums, and you’ll be out there in no time.

“The streets were our oyster,
“We smoked urban poison,
“And we turned all this noise on,
“We knew how to fight.
“We dropped out and tuned in,
“Spoke secret jargon,
“And we would not bargain,
“For what we had found,
“In the days of the underground”

- ‘Days Of The Underground’

Otherwise unattributed quotes are from Joe Banks’ ‘Hawkwind: Days Of the Underground’ (Strange Attractor Press), which is a labour of love - with all the advantages and disadvantages that brings.