Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Doctor Who 15.2 (i): The Invisible Enemy

It is funny how the mind works.

I remember talking about Hand of Fear at lunch time in primary school; but the person in the memory is not me. In my mind's eye I see a little child with his two little friends, sitting around a blue formica table. I see one of the dinner ladies, The Fat Miss, or as it might be The Grumpy Miss, watching closely to see if a flicked baked bean or some spilled water would give her a pretext to send one of them to stand outside the headmaster's office.

It is the olden days: those happy golden years when willies and bums and farts were the highest form of wit.

But I also remember talking about the Invisible Enemy at lunch time in secondary school: and the person I remember is a younger version of me. Eleven years old now, a sophisticated chap talking to another sophisticated chap about that show we happened to have watched on the television at the weekend.

The child regenerates into the man. I sometimes think Eleven is the real me and everything since has been a digression. All children but one grow up. Eleven is the beginning of the end.

Mum and Dad took me to watch the cricket. Mum was secretary of the village team and sometimes kept score for them. I realise that going to the park and watching village cricket and drinking tea and eating cucumber sandwiches and looking for conkers sounds like a parody of an english childhood, but it is very nearly true. (The sandwiches were more likely to be cheese and pickle.) I remember not particularly paying attention to the cricket one Sunday afternoon and idley looking through the Sunday Mirror, or possibly the Observer. My parents were figuratively and literally Guardian readers, but the Guardian doesn't come out on a Sunday. July or August, it must have been, a month or so before Doctor Who and therefore school started up again after the summer break. The BBC must have been promoting the new season.

There, in the paper, innocently sitting on a particular page for anyone to see, was a picture of Doctor Who.

And Leela.

And...a robot.

A robot in the shape of a dog.

A robot in the shape of a dog called K-9.

I think he was photographed by a lamppost. The copy editor couldn't resist spelling out the joke: K-9 Ps 2.

Doctor Who was going to have a pet robot dog.

It was one of those things which you become obsessed with for no reason. It became a mantra, a thing to chant when I was happy or when I wanted to annoy my sister (which was nearly always). Doctor Who's going to have a pet dog. Doctor Who's going to have a pet dog. Doctor Who's going to have a pet dog. And his name's gonna be K-9.

Singing ay ay ippy ippy ay...

This was before Star Wars, just barely. October, November, December, January: four whole months when I knew K-9 but didn't know Artoo Deetoo.

When I saw Invisible Enemy, I had not seen Star Wars.

When I saw Sun Makers I had not seen Star Wars.

When I saw Underworld, I had not seen Star Wars.

Divide time in two. Before John Lennon died; after John Lennon died. Before Mrs Thatcher was Prime Minister; after Mrs Thatcher was Prime Minister. Before Star Wars, after Star Wars.

Ante Bella Sidrum. 

K-9 came first.

The golden era of Doctor Who was over. It used to be the thing the cool kids watched. Then it was the thing which everyone watched. But it was becoming a thing which I watched. A thing which I could see was second rate, but for which I still felt a deep love. A love of Tom Baker. A love of Daleks. A love of silliness for silliness' sake. I had watched every story since Carnival of Monsters, an inconceivable amount of time ago and I was not going to give up.

"Do you really imagine for one second that that is what the inside of your brain would look like?" asked Kevin in morning break on Monday 17 October 1977. (Morning break. We were eleven. We did not talk about play-time any more.)

"Of course not" I said "But I am not a Time Lord."

I thought it was a clever answer.

Insufferable little geek.

What does it mean to be an embodied consciousness?

What is the difference between the brain and the mind?

Am I reducible to the lump of grey matter in my head, or is there some essence-of-me that exists apart from the atoms I am composed of?

Should we think in terms of body and soul or hardware and software -- or is trying to think of the mind as distinct from the brain on a level with trying to think of 23 miles per hour as distinct from the car?

Can things other than brains have minds?

Would an artificial brain have a mind?

What are the limits of artificial intelligence?

Could a machine have a personality -- even a sense of humour?

Could a human befriend a computer?

Or is the idea of "befriending" a robot on the same level as befriending a teapot?

Should I think of my mind as the rational, logical part of me; and my emotions and gut-feelings as by-products of the meat-sack my mind is housed in?

Or should I rather see my reasoning ability as simply an on-board calculator and data-base, and my instincts and feelings as constituting the real me?

If you made an exact physical copy of my brain would you have made a copy of my mind?

Is making an exact physical copy of me more like giving birth to a child who happens to look a lot like his father?

Or is it more like taking a photograph?

How does the mind work?

These are the kinds of philosophical question which The Invisible Enemy shows absolutely no interest in answering.

We all remember the Giant Shrimp.

It isn't the first silly monster to appear in Doctor Who. But in the past, we were mostly able to see what the production team was trying for and explain why it didn't come off. The Giant Rat looks silly because we are cutting between real rats in realistic location shots and an obvious puppet in an obvious model. There is nothing actually very wrong with the puppet per se. The Loch Ness Monster is not irredeemably ridiculous; but the primitive green-screen effects make it look absurdly out of sync with the Scottish Moors and Big Ben.

But the only possible response to the Giant Shrimp is "What on earth were they thinking?"

Yes, Doctor Who didn't have much money to throw around, and they had already blown the budget on K-9. But that's no excuse: these are skilled model makers and costume designers. The sequences of space shuttles flying through asteroid fields and landing in moon bases at the beginning of Episode One may not have troubled Industrial Light and Magic (or even Gerry Anderson) but they are decent models. They might not have won an Oscar but they would comfortably have won second prize in the Hornby Model Train Club Awards. Briefed to take £10 worth of crepe paper and tin foil and make a fancy dress costume that suggests a virus, they could surely have done better than this?

A Prawn for goodness sake.

Perhaps they were doing it deliberately. Perhaps Robert Holmes, still smarting from the way the BBC blue-pencilled Deadly Assassin, started consciously or unconsciously undermining the stories on which he is working out his notice. Perhaps the costume people have noticed that, however much they knock themselves out making a scary costume, Tom is going to undercut it with some ad lib about Jelly Babies, so they might as well meet him halfway and give him something ridiculous out of which to take the piss.

Graham Williams and Derrick Goodwin were new to Doctor Who: it is possible that there are tricks you can do with camera angles and lighting to make shit monsters look less shit, and they simply hadn't learned them yet.

For god's sake, it's on casters, and no-one tries to disguise the fact that it's on casters

But the Giant Prawn On Wheels skews our perception of The Invisible Enemy. It is literally the only thing we remember about the story. And the problem with the Prawn is not that it is a monumentally unconvincing representation of a virus. The problem with the Prawn is that it should never have looked like a Prawn to begin with.

I have been thinking about the Invisible Enemy for nearly half a century. Something very, very obvious just occurred to me.

The monster is officially called The Nucleus of the Swarm. The costume department must have been asked to make a costume representing The Nucleus of the Swarm, and misheard the word.

"The nucleus of the prawn".

Now I've thought it I will never be able to unthink it, and neither will you.

That's how the mind works.



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