Friday, 31 October 2014

Nightline (Choose Your Own Adventure variant)

The tunnel is cramped, damp and far too hot.  It smells of animal and straw.  You can hear a gentle shuffling in the darkness ahead of you.  Gripping the handle of your sword tighter, you move forward.  The tunnel opens out into a larger space, but you can't judge the size of it.  The sunlight barely reaches this far in and your eyes have yet to adjust.


You freeze.  Something spoke in the darkness.  Something big.


The bass notes set your ribs shimmering.  The dark is a thick furry musk overlaying a background bronze taste.  A high, stinging sweetness jabs deep in your nose.  Your eyes start watering and you blink faster.  You're breathing faster too.  Nodding grimly, you recognise the smell.


Honey.  It's honey. 

There's a sudden blinding light.  The Monster's been in front of you all the time.  Its slack maw gapes impossibly wide and it unleashes a foetid bellow.


There's never any cake.

Do you:

   Attempt to engage it in conversation?
   Hit it on the nose?
   Hit it in the stomach?
   Stamp on its foot?

   Run away?

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Doctor Who and the Song of Goats

I didn’t understand a word of it; but facts, or what a man believes to be facts, are always delightful…   
Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.

Tragedy starts in the woods.  Shadows flash between the trees, illuminated by flickering flames.  A dancing, drunken carnage builds itself to a writhing frenzy before an unfortunate goat finds its throat opening wide and spilling out a savage crimson song.   

The roots of the word ‘Tragedy’ are so disputed that this is as good an origin story as anyone else’s.  The truth’s long been lost in the vineyards and everyone’s eyes are full of blood, so don’t look in them.  Certainly don’t trust them or anything they seem to say.  Listen to the silence between the words; the rhythm in the lines; the wind in the trees, whatever.  Just don’t look them in the eyes.  Words are stolen godfire and language is a glorious virus.  Mimetic and pulsing, it grows, gorging as it spreads from one individual to another, transparent and ghostly concepts wrapped around words like seaweed.  The individual laws of whatever language is local are reinforced by whoever or whatever’s rearing you.  If you’re lucky enough not to be part of a deprivation experiment, then hopefully that isn’t a sheep.

Greek history started in pottery and poetry.  All the official documents had been lost in the various moves so it became easier, and basically compulsive, to just keep repeating the anecdotal family history until it was true.  Lose the dull bits, keep the juicy stuff.  Everyone had a god in the family if they went far enough back.  Schliemann would start turning up the blood-soaked evidence to back up these ancient family sagas thousands of years later, extracting them from a landscape of hard-baked sand, trickling white scree and lumps that became optimistic walls when the sun turned the sky as clear as bone.

Homer was a popular beat combo.  He ran through more line-ups than Sugababes and Swans put together.  He sang long, long songs; treble concept Epics thundering on and on and on into the night.  One album, a classic really, is based around the embarrassingly scenic route back to Ithaca that Odysseus took after his Trojan encounter with Zeus' magic blue cabinet.  Some time after this delayed return, the product of Odysseus’ one-year stand with the fragrant Circe turned up and shoved the wrong bit of a stingray into his Dad’s chest.  Now, centuries later, Clara’s going to have to suffer as a result.

In the years following this phenomenally unsuccessful example of father-son bonding, the story stopped being fictional and became something much weirder: a new form of performance art.  As the Greeks grew up, they didn’t feel the need to sneak off into the woods for a pissed up barbecue anymore, but still missed being young and wild.  So, like an over-refreshed melancholic flicking through a weirdly-stained-cardboard-box's-worth of photographs and wondering who those beautiful strangers are and where the hell they went, the Greeks built posh outdoor rooms in which they could indulge in a cathartic nostalgia for the good old days when men were men, goats were good luck and intoxicated women offered dodgy travel advice.

Aristotle - who to this day still holds the coveted title of History’s Greatest Over-Achiever - was slightly less than a decade on from tutoring a young god-king who’d one day be immortalised by Iron Maiden, when he wrote Poetics.  Part Bluffer’s Guide, part instruction manual, Poetics breaks Tragedy down into component parts.  Aristotle's handwriting must’ve been appalling, because two thousand, six hundred and sixty four years later, leather-bound academics still can't agree about whose interpretation would win in a fight.

Obviously, you’re familiar with the role of the Chorus, but just in case anyone’s snuck in through the fire exit doors that don’t close properly, here's a quick and inadequate explanation.  The Chorus is something that’s part of the Drama but also removed from it.  It comments on the action as it takes place, offering insights and opinions that the audience can then misinterpret depending on their personal nutritional needs.  In Doctor Who’s fifty-plus years there haven’t been that many examples of the Chorus, but they’re there if you flap your brush over the dust carefully enough. 

In Philip Martin’s Vengeance on Varos, Arak and Etta stare at the audience and chat sideways at each other about that week’s episode of Doctor Who.  Martin’s got a theatre background, so that’s the sort of thing you’d expect from something that started outside, and didn’t require a load-bearing fourth wall to hold up the sky.  Less obvious is The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon, sung by Cap’n Gladys Emmanuel Wrack in Donald Cotton’s The Gunfighters.  The Ballad lacks fans due to a careless misunderstanding in the Eighties that’s somehow knocked-on into the future.  It’s all Chorus, no verse.  You can’t say that the man who wrote The Myth Makers didn’t know exactly what he was doing.  Both of Cotton’s stories fit the Aristotelian tick sheet nicely, and his woefully under-appreciated 1965 masterpiece serves as a tasty prequel to the Odyssey, and therefore Tragedy itself.  Or at least, it did until In the Forest of the Night turned it into something far more important.

Telegonus kills Odysseus with the poisonous bit of a fish.  It’s not instant though.  Dad falls to the ground, kicks up grit-filled clouds of dust and claws at whatever life a myth has.  It doesn’t work.  Within no time at all - if you’re a fossil - father and son harden into concepts.  Hundreds of beards watch the ghosts repeat the story.  Now though, they're caged in masks, tethered in the bodies of long-forgotten, roaring orators.  Names have been changed to protect the ignorant.  Now Aristotle’s got Oedipus to examine, he nails an entire art form to the display board out back, slices through the shimmer and pulls out what makes it tick.

Turns out it’s the words.  The words build the worlds.

Tragedy presents a heightened reality that isn’t real at all, it’s all in the language.  The structure of Tragedy is important because it holds the words together.  The words are also important because they hide truth in the spaces between them.  The actors are important because they’re a new, partly shamanic, life-form.  The rest is glitzy glamorous showbiz sense-bashing.  The audience have bought the ticket and with it comes a full trip.  No-one here gets out the same as they arrived.  Aristotle describes a roadmap that’s as much magic potion as disaster recipe.  Boil it for long enough and it’s just the same old story: a good man goes to war with himself.  The flavours change every time it's cooked, but Aristotle only really rates four methods, and one of those is a definite favourite.

Certainly, the hero must be good, although he is not morally perfect.
– Ho Kim, Aristotle's Harmartia Reconsidered (p.40)

The hero has to be someone the audience look up to: a king, a general, an officer, a teacher – something like that.  They have to be worth looking up to, no anti-heroes.  And here’s where the academic bloodsport begins: hamartia.  The hero has a flaw – or not, depends who you ask – and that’s what ensures that the enactment will end and the audience'll get to go home at some point.  The flaw is an inherent part of the character of the hero, as inescapable as consciousness.  And, like life, it’s usually terminal.

The doom’s already panting hot as soon as a Tragedy kicks off.  It shambles toward the hero like an increasingly less-invisible Imhotep, draped in mouldy bandages, looking for some sort of foretold closure.  Start the clock.  Here it comes.  

The plot clicks forward, its different sections all precisely positioned to reveal the complex whole one inexorable piece at a time, like one of Arcimboldo's fruit portraits, or an inspirational poster of Yoda made up of tiny screen-grabs.  Tragedy works best as a three course meal.

Starter: the hero's ignorance of an identity at an event.

Main Course: anagnorisis and peripeteia.  The order's negotiable, but you should pass from left to right to be polite.

Dessert: Death by Chocolate's perfectly acceptable, as long as the hero ends the feast stuffed, the method doesn't matter.  Sweet or salty pathos can be added, at the chef's discretion.

Aristotle loved the reversal, called 'peripeteia' if you're a professional, a ‘plot twist’ if you're an out-of-depth amateur going down for the first time.  Dollop in a generous portion of 'anagnorisis', or a 'naked lunch moment' if you can't find any.  This is the moment the hero moves from ignorance to awareness, causing the fictional world they've been living in - built with words - to fall apart.  Without all that pesky distortion the situation suddenly achieves a terrifying clarity: they're standing alone and naked, staring down the tooth-filled barrel of a conclusion.  This would be a good time to start running.  Aristotle personally favoured liberal doses of pathos.  The hero has to suffer a disproportionate amount of punishment compared to what their hamartia warrants.  And we’re not talking ‘with hilarious consequences’ here.  This isn’t the story of Job.  This is much more important.  This is 'true'.

Nothing that exists is good or evil until it’s examined.  "Stuff happens," may be as true as it gets, but that doesn’t mean that gods can’t be real.  All stories are true, just don’t look them in the eye.  We create the gods and then the gods become real.  We create characters and then they become real.  We imagine things in the worlds that hide behind our eyes and then we use the disease of language to transmit them into a shared illusion, a consensual reality.  The abstract becomes real and, as a result, things happen: goats die, stages appear, impossible cities suddenly exist, people love, people die and before you know it, there’s ink and blood everywhere.  Fictional characters can't be good or evil, they can only be written that way.  And this is where we hit the snag.  You see, Clara Oswald is a fictional character, but the Doctor?  The Doctor's a god.

Greek audiences were as critical of their poets, in ritual matters, as Christian congregations are critical of their ministers.
- L. H. G. Greenwood, The Shape of Greek Tragedy (p.35)

Every time the Doctor changes the actor he’s wearing, his story starts again.  Whether 2014 is showing us the thirty-fourth series or the eighth season doesn’t really matter because it’s a different programme to the one that aired in the Whoniversary year, and this is part of the reason it’s become a Tragedy: Clara’s in the wrong show now.  Despite what anyone’s told you recently, Jenna Coleman’s performance has always been this good.  It’s the character she’s driving that’s changing.  Doctor Who is a very strange thing.  It’s not really a science-fiction show and it never has been.  It’s actually a cultural phenomenon that’s led to the birth of a folk hero who’s slowly taken on all the attributes of a god.  While the show’s true audience are getting ready for bed, Doctor Who fans comment and babble and blog and podcast in a quietly deafening modern Chorus.

Doctor Who’s a mass-market, mass-appeal production.  Like Tragedy.  It’s an enactment of a reality that doesn’t exist in order to tell stories about true things that have never, and could never, happen.  Like Tragedy.  It’s a multi-sensory, immersive experience crammed with colour and noise and spectacle and a heightened sense of imaginary reality.  Like Tragedy.  And, currently, it’s got a hero.  Like Tragedy.  But that hero isn’t the Doctor.

The story that began in 1963 ended when the Doctor wearing Matt Smith died of old age.  Whatever’s wearing Peter Capaldi - and it’s almost certainly the Doctor - is part of an entirely different story.  Clara’s as out of her depth as Vicki would’ve been when the TARDIS stopped translating for her.  Who knows, maybe Vicki envied poor, mad Katarina in the months that followed.  Whatever the Apocrypha say, we’ll never really know, because although all stories are true, that doesn’t cover fan fiction.

To ask about a character in fiction 'Was he a good man?' is to ask a strictly meaningless question: since Oedipus never lived we can answer neither 'Yes' nor 'No'.
– E. R. Dodds, On Misunderstanding the ‘Oedipus Rex’ (p.39)

Clara is a teacher, which makes her a role model.  She’s an appalling teacher, which isn’t her hamartia, but does help highlight it.  Clara is a good person because she occupies the space in the story where the ‘good’ people fit, there’s no other reason to believe it other than she’s standing in a good light.  What once was sassy comes across as confused rudeness in the world she’s now trapped in.  She lives two lives at once, unable to commit fully to either, cutting corners in both, lying to everyone because she knows what’s best for them – even though, really, it’s what’s best for her.  Clara’s suffered throughout 2014, pushing herself into a tighter space each week.  She’s broken the laws of time in both of her lives, Rupert and the Doctor have been altered forever as a result of her mistakes.  The last time something like that happened, the Doctor died.  Not a dream, not a robot double, no smoke or mirrors: he died.  And then Pete Tyler did something ‘good’ and the god who died was reborn in a more subtle way than those flashy 'regenerations' that don’t fool anyone.

With two weeks to go it’s not yet possible to say for sure when we saw the peripeteia and anagnorisis.  Steven Moffat’s saved that course for himself, so maybe Listen was one, or maybe we haven't seen either yet.  Today, this is all trapped in a super-position.  This is both false and correct.  In ten years time who’ll care?  Who’ll even remember?  Certainly not Clara, because she’ll be gone.  Digital dust buried under relentlessly doubling information.

Clara’s doom reaches out, talons stretching to an impossible length.  She keeps giggling and trying to squeeze further into the shrinking hole her actions have dug for her.  She can’t run any more and she certainly can’t hide.  Her laughter’s got a note within it pitched slightly too high to be Comedy.  And that’s because she knows.  She’s known since the Thames.  The hope that Aristotle offers Clara, is divine intervention.

If only she had a god looking out for her. 

Moreover, every contemporary performance of a Greek tragedy must be an adaptation of sorts, since it involves translation of the language of the original and confronts a profound ignorance of the music, dance, and theatrical context that conditioned its first presentation.
– Helene P. Foley, Modern Performance and Adaptation of Greek Tragedy (p.4) 


ARISTOTLE, Poetics, The Internet Classics Archive.

BBC, In Our Time: Greek Myths,,
13 March 2008

KIM, Ho, 'Aristotle's Hamartia Reconsidered', Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, Vol. 105, Department of the Classics, Harvard University, 2010

TV Tropes: Greek Chorus 

TV Tropes: Tragedy

Very special thanks to Betsy Chevron for sneaking me into Restricted Materials.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

In the Forest of the Night (time shift)

Nelson?  Lying down on the job?  Good grief!
- Danger Mouse, The Day of the Suds

 Or (if you want to be all obvious about it) 

Now I may say to you what perhaps I should not dare to
say to any one else. That I can alone carry on my visionary
studies in London unannoyd & that I may converse with my
friends in Eternity. See Visions, Dream Dreams, & prophecy &
speak Parables unobserv'd & at liberty from the Doubts of other
Mortals. perhaps Doubts proceeding from Kindness. but doubts
are always pernicious Especially when we Doubt our Friends
- William Blake, 25 April 1803

Me:  Do you love surprises?  What did you think of the next time trailer? 

The Him shrugs verbally.

Me:  Okay. 

Him:  It’s certainly very… erm… 

Me:  Expensive? 

Him:  An action movie trailer.  In that they’ve got to show you all of the action.  And none of the talking.  It was very…

The Him then spends the best part of a minute doing a human-drum impression of the honks from the Prometheus teaser, each portentous noise representing an individual flashcut in a generic action movie trailer.  Imagine flicking at increasing speed through a mix of close-up photos of alarmed people surrounded by were-rhinos and trapped on a wobbly ladder, with lots of things going boom, competent-for-that-year CGI, clickbait dialogue snippets1 and mercifully brief text that someone’s banged up using Impact or something because there wasn’t any time to find a decent font.4 

Me:  I’m not putting any of that in.  Right, In the Forest of the Night.  I’ve seen mentioned somewhere… by someone…5 that this looks like a gentle intro to a three-parter.  Like Utopia was.  Maebh’s sister, Annabel, at the end there – well, that’s going somewhere. 

Him:  What was she doing there? 

Me:  Well, I think she’s the first one who’s returned-  One of these people who’ve been dying throughout the series.  Anyway, it starts with Little Red Riding Hood.  Or, rather, an advert featuring Little Red Riding Hood, especially with the music – which we will be coming back to, Murray Gold.

Him:  Ha!  I like the way you drew a sad face on the notes.

Me:  There’s a weird thing about soundtracks…  When you listen to a soundtrack album without a film – and this is really apparent when you haven’t seen the film either – you can only get an idea of how the scene would play out based on the music.  But you don’t know how it’s supposed to fit to the actual visuals themselves – or how it would compliment the scene – so you come up with your own vision.  Somehow, Murray Gold invokes the same feeling in me, only it's when I’m watching the scene the music was apparently written for.  Not all the time, some of it’s quite nice.  The bit at the end with the hard-panned multi-tracked vocals reminded me of Coil for- 

Him:  You should write an entire post about Murray Gold. 

Me:  I probably should.  Somehow, he’s managed to create music that doesn’t fit the scene it’s written for.  The problem I’ve got is that I’m keyed in to it now, so when it works it’s great, because when it works you can’t hear it. Whether that’s because there isn’t any – silence is more important than an orchestra – or because it actually matches the beats of the scene rather than just being a hopeful generic piece splashed over the top- 

Him:  I can hear it as well.  Actually, I can’t hear it.

Me:  Why? 

Him:  Because, you know, you’re always- 

Me:  Yeah, alright. 

Him:  -shouting, “SHUT UP!  SHUT UP, MURRAY!  SHUT UP!”

Me:  Fair point.  I do.  There’s a bit near the end where the music’s back to comedy parp-parp, plinky-plonky-why-I-want-to-write-for-Sherlock.  And I can’t not hear it.  Which is my problem, not theirs.  I’m just doing my bit as part of the Chorus.3  The other negative thing that I’ve got to say is that there was some shonky CGI, but not very much. 

Him:  Oh, where was that? 

Me:  Towards the end.  The Earth and the trees disappearing.  But what can they do?  And with the money as well, it’s amazing what they get up there.  It’ll date terribly, because CGI’s like stop-motion, but as long as it’s telling the story and not showing off, you’ve got to let it go.  I thought the kids were bearable.  On the whole.  Some of the acting could’ve been better but- 

Him:  And apart from that you liked the CGI?

Me:  Yeah, I though it was good.  The visuals were very nice. 


Him:  Okay. 

Me:  I liked the idea, I liked the story and I thought there was a lot going on that was really interesting.  Maebh was meddling with time, I thought that was quite cool.6 

Him:  And not even one train.

Me:  Different writer.

Him:  But still.  It’s breaking with tradition here. 

Me:  There was a bus.  Which is interesting, because according to the bus, Doctor Who’s now canon within the universe of Doctor Who. 

Him:  I think it’s an in-joke.

Me:  If it’s an in-joke we weren’t supposed to notice, they’ve messed up.  Because it’s there, that means that The Chase really is the most important piece of television in the history of television.  So, yeah, I think it’s phenomenal, and a lot of my theories were proved to be correct.3  Frank Cottrell Boyce, who wrote that, has worked a lot with Danny Boyle, of course, who was executive producer on 28 Weeks Later-

Him:  Of course. 

Me:  He also wrote Millions- 

Him:  Yes. 

Me:  And, you know the opening Olympic ceremony? 

The Him yawns questioningly.

Me:  Frank Cottrell Boyce wrote that. 

Him:  Which one?  The original one?

Me:  What?  Or the remake? 

Him:  The original Athens one. 

Me:  No!  The one in- 

Him:  603?

Me:  The one in London!  Anyway, the Greatest Theme in the History of Ever was heavier.  Again.  It’s changing from week to week.  I thought the bit at the start when the Doctor told Maebh to come into the TARDIS was beautiful.

Him:  Really? 

Me:  Yeah, I thought the way Peter Capaldi played it was magnificent.  Directed by Sheree Folkson.  Apart from some of the acting, I though she was good. 

Him:  You never really know what a director’s actually done, of course. 


Me:  Yeah, you do. 

Him:  No, you don’t. 

Me:  We’ll talk about it another time. 

Him:  They could technically-  The actors could do a lot of that stuff themselves.

Me:  Yeah, but they’ve…  Sometimes in television production, the casting director, or the producer or someone, only gives the director sensorite7 to work with.  It’s up to the director to roll it in glitter when that happens.  When the Doctor says he’s the last of the Time Lords so there’s no-one to call when he needs to get things fixed - I was wondering if that was a reference to Perkins.  But that’s because I’m still throwing that theory desperately in the general direction of anything that’ll salute it.

Him:  You’ve mentioned the iPads before though, yeah?

Me:  I have.  You noticed the iPads.  Missy wasn’t using the same iPad this time round, but…  There we go.  That doesn’t matter.  The bike in the tree is something that does happen.

Him:  She wasn’t really in that one…

Me:  No.  But she does like surprises.8 

Him:  The thing about In the Forest of the Night is…  No-one died.

Me:  “No-one died.” 

Him:  No.  No-one…

Us:  “No-one died.” 

Him:  But, no-one did.  No-one died.

Me:  Yeah.  We’ll jump the bike in the tree thing – but we did mention the phenomenon on Twitter some time last year, so that continues our theory that- 

Him:  Our theory’?! 

Me:  Alright.  My theory that – and it’s not really a theory, I’m just saying it to prove that you can prove anything if you want to.3 

Him:  That’s a nice cape you’ve got there.

Me:  It’s just an opinion.  Which’re like blogs.  Everyone’s got one. 

Him:  Explain the bike theory.  About why it’s a theory.  Or are you just going to say- 

Me:  “Well, Chris.  The theory of the bike theory, which is my theory, which is mine, is that-“ 

Him:  “Bikes are very, very thin at one end-”

Me:  Ha! 

Him:  “-very thick in the middle, and then very thin at the other end.” 

Me:  And Frank Cottrell Boyce has obviously read Swamp Thing 53.9 

Him:  Are you going to explain the bike theory?

Me:  Well, people park their bikes above a sapling or something, forget it’s there – somehow – and then, years later, you’ve got an avant-garde rust sculpture fifteen-feet off the ground, encased in tree.

Him:  I meant more, ‘how does that link in with your theory that you’ve come up with all the ideas for this season of Doctor Who?’  Rather than, ‘how do bikes get up there?’ 

Me:  Oh, right.  I’ll tell you – let’s just do something freaky for a moment: Hello, lady and gentleman!  For more on that pretend theory, why don’t you go and re-read Three-Fold Musing?  Thanks.  You’re lovely. 


Cardiff Museum!  I used to love Cardiff Museum.  I spent ages and ages in there.  And, remember the mammoth that you can see just behind the sleepover gang?  There’re two.  Or there were.  It’s an animatronic mammoth with a baby mammoth standing next to it.  I used to stand for hours – I didn’t really stand there for hours, I’m saying that to exaggerate and make myself sound cooler – and I’d watch the mammoths roar and turn and you could see bits where… where the fur had worn away.  It was really sad and sweet, quite melancholic.  And the baby mammoth wasn’t very huge at all.

Him:  I’d hope not. 

Me:  I’ve got a memory – and I hope someone who reads this can tell me if it's true or not – I’ve got a memory of seeing a dodo, obviously a stuffed one, and no relation to- 

Him:  Chaplet. 

Me:  Yeah.  Now, I remember seeing this dodo, but there’s only something like three surviving stuffed dodo specimens in the world.  Maybe it was a reconstruction.  This was a long time ago now.  Well into last century.  I’m sure it was in there, because I can still see it now.  Maybe it was on loan from another museum.  You know the hall with the big tree slice?  The one with the red ring that Ruby was talking about?  That’s not usually in the front there – or it didn’t used to be.  Remember, Lady Christina da Souza zipwiring down from the ceiling to nab the mug of Aethelstan or something?

Him:  Yeah.

Me:  That’s the same bit of floor.  Now, I wasn’t convinced by the children’s acting, but you- 

Him:  No, it was more a case of that’s what children would be like.  Because that’s… largely what they’re like. 

Me:  In that sort of a situation? 

Him:  That’s just what they’re like.  

Me:  Yeah? 

Him:  Yeah.  And you know what, it’s the specially gifted class, so who knows?  Maybe she’s… boring.  Or something.

Me:  Eh?  I’m confused.  I think it’s more the acting. 

Him:  No, because people…

Me:  They did alright.

Him:  People do talk like that and stuff. 

Me:  Anyway, they got Tunguska wrong.10 

Him:  What?

Me:  There was a callback to- 

Him:  Isn’t that a type of apple? 

Me:  No, no, no.  Place in Russia.  Nearer the top than the bottom.  There was a callback to Kill the Moon with the "You cam over ‘ere, breavin' our air"speech.  I think we’ve seen the Doctor’s arc over the series.  And it’s been a lot shallower than Clara’s.3  What was it you were saying about…? 

Him:  Oh, yeah!  You would think there would be too much oxygen in the air and it would be impossible to breathe.

Me:  Yeah. 

Him:  I’m sure someone said something about controlled oxygen. 

Me:  Well, that reminded me of…  I think it would’ve been Swamp Thing… 23?

Him:  Sure it wasn’t 53?

Me:  No, issue 53’s a different one.  53’s where exactly what happened in the episode, happened in Gotham.  Swamp Thing takes over the whole of Gotham City in a double-sized issue.  It was very good.  Beautiful artwork by John Totleben.  I think it was issue 23.  The final part of the Floronic Man trilogy, where Woodrue helps the trees and the vegetation - the Green - begin to take over.  They start mass-producing oxygen-11

The Him sneezes.

And fires bring us back to Flatline.

Him:  When there’s a forest fire, you’ve got to try and save the biggest trees.


It works better with ants.  I can’t imagine where I’m getting this idea from.  Say you have black ants with a yellow ant leading them, and they’re going to go and attack the red ant colony.  If a couple of black ants die then it doesn’t matter, because it’s the good of the colony that matters.

Me:  “The Greater Good.” 

Him:  And, even if the yellow ant dies – let’s call it the ‘terminator ant’ – if it were to die, then the black ants would probably disperse but they’d still have the main goal in mind because they’d be around the red ants’ nest so they’d think, “Oh well, better kill some red ants while I’m here.”  And then they’d go for the red ants…  Um…  That’s not really a good…  Another good point would be ants attacking a spider-

Me:  Ha!  Where’s this going? 

Him:  While they’re attacking the spider…  So they can eat the spider when it’s dead and so it’ll stop nomming on them… ummm… a few ants’re going to die attacking the spider but they’re still going to get enough food, and they’ve still got enough larvae in stock that the queen’s laying that those few ants being dead won’t really matter that much. 

Me:  Okay.  Why’s Clara got their phone numbers? 

Him:  Yeah, yeah that brings me back to my point.  Why has Clara got Maebh’s number?

Me:  Danny Pink’s really good.  He’s a much – in many ways – he’s a much more realistic character than Clara. 

Him:  He’s a much better teacher. 

Me:  Yes, he is.  He’s-

Him:  He’s a much better person. 

Me:  Yes.  Even though Clara’s a good person – or is she?  Who knows? – the way this is going…  Clara ends up…  Everything I’ve been talking about…  Clara’s hamartia is tied up with her lying.  It’s her…  It’s difficult to describe, because it's her actual character that’s bringing her to the end of whatever this journey is.  And it is happening.  Stuff’s falling apart here for her.  The centre can’t hold now.  And we can see that in the trailer at the end.  Stuff’s really going wrong.  The fact that she’s more concerned about whether Danny realises she’s been lying to him and, basically, cheating on him – which is what she’s been doing, and it’s so obvious I’m surprised anyone’s missing it – she sees that as more important than the solar flare.3 

Him:  Mmmm...

Me:  Something I wanted to say as well…  When Clara and the Doctor are walking through the forest, there’s a definite… It’s back to Little Red Riding Hood.  Maebh’s leaving the things behind her and the path’s vanishing as she’s moving on.  It’s as though it’s being written as she’s moving forward, which is a big reminder of the World of Fiction from The Mind Robber.  It’s not, but there we go.  Now, what I think has to be mentioned is how Maebh is a reference to both the visionary nature of William Blake and his poem ‘The Tyger’.


Okay.  Brace yourself.  ‘The Tyger’ is a beautifully constructed poem.  It’s structured-

Him:  Isn’t that- 

Me:  It’s structured like a perfect level of Tetris.  It’s so well put-together, there’s not a syllable out of place.

Him:  So is this the poem about the family who buy a tiger as a pet- 

Me:  No!

Him:  -and they keep it in a wooden box and-

Me:  That’s Burning Bright.  It’s a film.

Him:  -and the house gets hit by a cyclone and then the tiger breaks free and starts eating the family? 

Me:  No, no, no.  When the Tigers Broke Free is a song that appeared in The Pink Floyd’s film of The Wall although it wasn’t on the original album…  I think it was a single later and then it turned up on remastered editions of The Final Cut, all of which links us back to the Flatline illo which had The Wall on it, and that takes us back to The Caretaker in which the Doctor sings a slight section of Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2).  Everything’s connected.


The thing with Blake’s ‘The Tyger’, which is – apart from being one of the most anthologised poems in English, and perfectly constructed - is that it’s about the consideration of creation.  When you start considering things, there’s a danger that comes as part of that process.  And the danger of considering perfection is heightened accordingly.  It’s almost about the danger of your own imagination, the visions that spill from within and create the reality that we see around us.  It’s creativity and creation and perception and world-building and art and magick and untempered visions all at the same time.  The story’s called In the Forest of the Night, but we aren’t in the forest at night, so that should be a pretty big clue to anyone who thinks I’m growling up the wrong tree.  The forest is within your head.  It’s symbolic.  Blake saw a different London to those around him, and he fixed it with illustrations and tried to frame the fearsome perfection of symmetry with acid-etched prints and poetry.  Maebh’s vision of London is a personal one that changes everything.  It’s symbolic.  We’re dealing with archetypes throughout – this is anything but a social drama – and it’s all background to the actual twelve part story12 about Clara’s fall.3  It’s not even a fairy tale.  It’s very interesting and it’s very clever.  And it’s different.  It’s different.  And that’s intriguing. 

Him:  They’re getting more and more out there though, aren’t they? 

Me:  Do you like that?  Or would you prefer more Classic style stories? 

Him:  It’s just really random.  “Forest.  All over Earth.”

Me:  That’s a great idea though.

Him:  And last week you got, “Supposing, supposing, supposing there’s stuff in the second dimension that we’ve just never noticed before and it takes us out of the third dimension and pulls us into the second dimension and it analyses us and when it’s done enough of that it comes into the third dimension and chases us.  Like zombies!”  Where do they even get that from? 

Me:  It’s a little bit of Flatland mixed with other sorts of things.  It’s very good.

Him:  It’s such a mental combination of so many random things.

Me:  There was something else you noticed.  What was that? 

Him:  Eh?13 

Me:  Make a noise like a tiger. 


Me:  And on that bombshell! 

1.  If you all clap your hands at the same time and shout, “I believe in Satyrs!” then maybe that long-promised ‘theory’ about Clara and Greek Tragedy will finally appear.2  But you’ve got to really, really want it to.3

2.  It’s called Doctor Who and the Song of Goats.3  Because it had to be. 

3.  Remember, clap and shout,“I believe in Satyrs!” 

4.  That’s a bit harsh.  If anything, it sounded like Phil Puelo’s drum frenzy at the end of Swans’ The Apostate.

5.  Stand up Andrew (no relation to Steve – unless you are) Moore. 

6.  blah blah it’s the Master blah 

7.  We don’t do that joke anymore. 

8.  Speaking of which, half of us wanted to say thanks to, amongst others, @VentSpleen, @TrashFilmGuru, @WhoWars, @binrowasright and the glorious @diskgrinder for being so supportive.  Oh, and also @RECTORYFILM - say "Hi" to Harry, would you?  Thanks.

9.  In which a forest grows in Gotham City overnight.  With less-than-hilarious consequences.  It’s a Tragedy.

10.  And as a result of that schoolboy error, we can’t necessarily add either The X-Files or the Fortean Times to the influences for the episode.  Which is a shame.

In almost all of these houses, there were one or more potted plants.
These began to accelerate their photosynthetic processes, pumping out oxygen at an alarming volume.
As they became hyperoxyginated, the people within the houses grew excited and nervous without knowing why.
At 2:15, someone lit a cigarette. 
- Alan Moore, Another Green World, Swamp Thing 23 

12.  I don’t read reviews before we do ours, so quite often we don’t come out with interpretations that match what the rest of the Chorus3 think.  Having said that, I’m on Facebook, so I’ve got a fair idea that a lot of people have totally missed the point, not only about In the Forest of the Night, but the current series as a whole.  But then, I think the Doctor’s real and the show’s not science fiction, so I would say that, wouldn’t I?  Opinions are like Facebook Fan Pages, everyone’s got one and it’s a mask. 

13.  I’ve not seen anyone else apart from the Him14 point out that this season of Doctor Who is based entirely on old episodes of Danger Mouse.  Not only that, there’s one all about Murray Gold.

14.  Him:  Since he noticed it and he is great.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Flatline (time shift)

 They’re starting to open up the sky/They’re starting to reach down through
- Trent Reznor, Zero Sum (2007)

Or (if you want to be all obvious about it)

A two-dimensional being inside a square would be exactly in the same predicament that a man would be, if he were in a room with no opening on any side. Now it would be possible to us to take up such a being from the inside of the square, and to set him down outside it. A being to whom this had happened would find himself outside the place he had been confined in, and he would not have passed through any of the boundaries by which he was shut in. The astonishment of such a being can only be imagined by comparing it to that which a man would feel, if he were suddenly to find himself outside a room in which he had been, without having passed through the window, doors, chimney or any opening in the walls, ceiling or floor. 
- Charles Howard Hinton, What is the Fourth Dimension? (1884) 
Me:  Well, that was Flatline.

(Long pause.)1


Him:  Errr…

(Another, even longer pause.)

Me:  I dunno…  I’m a bit…  I’m a bit blown away and a bit…  A little bit…

Him:  What’re you ‘a little bit’?

Me:  It’s weird.  Did you think it was good?

Him:  I think it was one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen.

Me:  Ha!  It was very imaginative.

Him:  It is isn’t it?  It’s really creative and it’s really out there.

Me:  Yeah, the ideas are great.  Y’know, the whole thing about 2D and 3D and different dimensions ties in with the idea of four dimensions and higher dimensional beings.  There was a chap called Charles Hinton who wrote about time being the fourth dimension.2  Creatures that could live in four, or more dimensions, the way that they’d see a three-dimensional world would be similar to the way we see a two-dimensional one.  So, if they were looking down on something like a house, it would appear to be totally flat and they’d be able to-

Him:  I have seen Flatland.3

Me:  Yeah.  In a two-dimensional world – within a square – a two-dimensional creature wouldn’t be able to leave it, in much the same way that, in a three-dimensional world we can’t leave a room without a door or a window or some sort of gap.  When you go into things like magick, apparently – the idea is something along the lines of being able to see, or experience these separate dimensions…  There was a demon that was supposed to be able to grant people the power of flight and to be able to allow his passengers to see into houses from above – I think it was Asmodeus.4

Him:  I have seen Flatland.3

Me:  'Flatline'?

Him:  Flatland.

Me:  'Flatland'?

Him:  Yes.

Me:  What’s that? 

Him:  I thought it was weird that you were agreeing with the fact that I’d seen it, seeing as I didn’t think you’d have ever heard of it.

Me:  Go on.

Him:  It’s a film about a square that works for a circle and he’s got a hexagon as a granddaughter.  Everyone thinks he’s crazy because he believes in this third dimension and then a giant sphere transports him to the land inbetween dimensions where he sees the zeroth dimension and the first dimension.  Then he gets taken to see the third dimension.

Me:  That’s really interesting. 

Him:  You should look it up.

Me:  I will look it up.

Him:  It’s only about forty minutes long.

Me:  Well, if I can find it then there’ll be a clue to where it is at the end of this sentence.3 


The idea – getting back to Asmodeus – was almost a form of astral projection.  This demon or creature or Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come or whatever, could be argued to be something that lives in higher planes-

Him:  Demons would be able to see in seven planes.

Me:  Well, this is just it.

Him:  If you’ve got different planes of vision that aren’t just 2D and 3D you’d have separate ones for 3D that demons’d be able to hide in.  Ghosts are supposed to be able to hide in a different plane of the third dimension and that’s why cats can see them, ‘cause cats can see in five different planes as opposed to just the three planes.

Me:  Oh, right.  What’s that from? 

Him:  I fail to recall. 

Me:  Ha!  Once again, there were a couple of moments when Murray Gold clonked it around, but he was- 

Him:  Only really the start.  That was the only time you were shouting at him to shut up.

Me:  I really don’t think he can hear me.  That was the second one written by Jamie Mathieson who wrote last week’s as well. 

Him:  He does like his trains. 

Me:  He does.  There were a lot of…  Listening seems to be important.  And, we still don’t totally know what was going on with the TARDIS.  It’s not impossible that Perkins sabotaged it, so I might still be right.5 

Him:  We don’t know how long Perkins was in there for. 

Me:  Well, no.  But he was left there on his own and he was messing around with it.  Said, “Good luck,” rather than “Goodbye,” and then the next thing you know-  And that's very much like The Mind Robber6 as well as The Time Meddler.  It’s almost an echo of the predicament the Doctor left the Monk in.  The exception being that the Monk was stuck outside of his TARDIS. 

Him:  Yes. 

Me:  I don’t think it’s that.  Interesting seeing Missy at the end.  And she’s chosen Clara.  I’ll have to rewatch that though, because I thought it could still be read that Missy’s using Danny to get to Clara.  Don’t forget Danny had a ‘thing’, in The Caretaker.  The bit at the very start, where the Bristle chap – ‘cause it was all set in Bristle-

Him:  Is that why you’ve written ‘Bristle’?

Me:  That’s the correct spelling of ‘Bristle’. 

Him:  It’s really all sorts of not.

Me:  At the start, when his face is in the wall?  There’s a lot of paintings that use that perspective effect within them.  And there’s a famous one that-

Him:  Not as good as my painting.

Me:  And what’s your painting?

Him:  No, I can’t reveal that because the authorities’ll come looking for it.

Me:  Well, we probably shouldn’t written a post about you acquiring it, then.   So, the way the face was stretched, and could only be seen at a certain angle.  There’s a Holbein painting called ‘Two Gentlemen’ or something…7  I put a link up to it fairly recently…  I should say, we do these ‘reviews’ immediately after watching the time shifted episodes, so we haven’t been on the internet and haven’t got a clue what people are saying.  Holbein hid a skull in this picture, but it’s so stretched that it looks like a weird smear of paint across the bottom of the canvas unless you’re standing in the right position.8  Clara’s protestations to the Doctor – and that whole situation’s going the way I expected it to – she sounded just like Nedry in Jurassic Park when he’s heading off to steal the embryos and putting on this totally unconvincing…  It was almost the same type of, “Ha!  Yes!  Everything’s… fine!  Nothing to worry about!”  A sort of nervous rambling.  Douglas Mackinnon directing again, doing a lovely job.  The Boneless themselves, I thought they were really good.9  You know the bit in the train tunnel?

Him:  Yeah.

Me:  You said it was like a zombie flick.

Him:  I said ‘film’.  I certainly did not say ‘zombie flick’.

Me:  Something I’m going to have to say, because this was a little bit weird, just a couple of days ago I was chatting to someone about Charles Addams – oddly enough, Banksy cropped up too, everything’s connected.  Charles Addams created The Addams Family, of course, including Thing, the disembodied hand which crawls around everywhere.  It also crops up in- 

Him:  The Walking Dead?

Me:  No, it’s Evil Dead 2.  “Who’s laughing now?”  But, you won’t know about that.

Him:  No, no I won’t.  Which is why I got the reference wrong to begin with.

Me:  The bit where the Doctor’s got his hand outside of the TARDIS, dragging it – that was so good.  Some of the shots were marvelously imaginative, the ideas were really clever and the visual sense was exquisite.  When the door handles became two dimensions so you couldn’t open them?  I thought that was great.  Bit Black Orchid at the end?  I’m sure that train station’s in Barry.  I think it might be where they filmed The Doctor Dances – the final, “Just this once, everybody lives.”  Remember that?  I think it was filmed in the same place.  I haven’t looked it up, but the Mystery Voice would know.10

Him:  You’ve drawn a cube.

Me:  That’s the TARDIS in-

Him:  Siege mode?

Me:  Yeah.  I should probably say that half of us have a column in the current issue of Starburst.  Well, I’ve got to, haven’t I?  It’s taken four hundred and three issues to get there-

Lady and gentleman, I give you, time travel!

Him:  You need to stop advertising my article.

Me:  Ha!  Now, last week looked like the diet-companion episode because Clara spent a lot of it locked away.  This week, because the Doctor’s locked away, it’s-

Him:  Probably why he wrote them both that way.

Me:  Yeah.  This series feels to me like a continuous story-

Him:  What, with all the trains?

Me:  No not with all the trains.

Him:  Maybe it’s linking up and there’ll be a big train at the end.  The Doctor’s child wanders onto the railway line and he jumps down to save him and then he gets hit by a train and then he’s transported to heaven and then he sees his dead wife and then he’s finally able to have the child meet his mother.

Me:  And that’s a really happy ending.  And nobody screams.  I thought the grabbing hand in the tunnel was great.  It looks like the cover of Year Zero by Nine Inch Nails, and the idea’s very similar as well.

Him:  It reminded me of the Wallmasters from The Ocarina of Time.  You see the shadow.  The shadow grows.  Then the shadow flats down.  Very similar to that.

Me:  Was it the chap who was number twenty-two?

Him:  Number twenty-two, yeah.

Me:  When he became 2D…  You know in-

Him:  The thing is, he checks his jacket.

Me:  It’s after that they get him.  In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the bridge is the same kind of idea.  Old films used matte and glass paintings to create a similar effect. 

Him:  Glass paintings are rubbish.  As people discovered, if you dip a paintbrush into glass nothing actually happens.  That’s why glass painting tend to just be white sheets of paper.

Me:  Anything else you want to say about anything?  I should say it was nice to see Christopher Fairbank again.

Him:  It was interesting collection of characters.

Me:  It was.  Fenton was very unsympathetic.  Foreshadowing maybe?  Sometimes the ‘wrong’ ones make it.

Him:  Goodness knows, maybe he’s the Meddling Monk again?6

Me:  Would you like to expand on that theory?

Him:  No.  But I’m surprised you didn’t come up with it.  As I was watching it, I thought, “That’s the first theory he’s going to come up with.”

Me:  Because he got through the psychic paper?  With Fenton it’s a lack of imagination.  With the rock and roll Billy Shakespeare it’s too much imagination and a big old beard.

Him:  And what about the scientist guy?

Me:  Which one?

Him:  Are you not remembering this?  Right at the end of Army of Ghosts.  I think.  Or at the start of Doomsday.

Me:  That’s because he’s been trained.  Yeah, yeah, yeah – part of Torchwood.

Him:  I don’t know.

Me:  I think you’re right.  Do you want to make two dimensional noises now?

Him:  cqlrqkql cqlrqkql

Me:  And on that bombshell!


How am I going to spell that?

Him:  Ha!

1.  Still like a sea-badger.

2.  Both of you probably remember that I once wrote a four-dimensional history of Doctor Who for the Celestial Toyroom, the Doctor Who Appreciation Society magazine.  I’ll see if I can dig it out for you.

3.  Flatland, eh?  Edwin A. Abbot’s original was written in 1884, the same year that Hinton's essay came out.  Must've been something in the air.  There've been several adaptations of Flatland, but the Him's talking about the movie rather than the film.  Glad to clear that up.

4.  It was/wasn’t/is/will be.   Apparently, Asmodeus is keen on the Fibonacci sequence, which us brings back to the golden ratio, where we didn’t start.

5.  As the Doctor says, “I’m from the race that built the TARDIS.  Dimensions are kind of our thing.”  So, if Perkins is the Monk…  He also seemed to be carrying around the same iPad as Missy – you both spotted that, yeah?  The Him certainly did.  Personally, I’m drifting back to my World of Fiction ‘theory’.  But, if you want to say ‘miniscope’ based on the big hand that dragged the fellow into the light, don’t let me stop you.  After all, we’re all imaginary zeros and ones in here.6

6.  blah blah it’s the Master blah

7.  It’s not ‘Two Gentlemen’.  I first read about it in the Fortean Times issue 202, and here’s a piece on it in The Guardian.8

9.  Yeah, I had to look up ‘Boneless’ – didn’t catch it first time round.