Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Pirate Shipping

A Lady Pirate is trying to find a sunken treasure so she can pay the ransom to free her children and crew from a Nother Pirate.

 A Young Man is chasing the Lady Pirate because he thinks she killed his Father. But his Father was really killed by a statue of a Sea Monster which came to life when the Lady Pirate stole the treasure map from it.

The reanimated Sea Monster is chasing the Young Man because he (the Young Man) has a Magic Gem which will enable it (the Sea Monster) to flood the world and kill all the humans. 

The Sea Monster has got a Giant Leviathan which it sends to chase the good guys. 

Doctor Who goes back in time to when the treasure ship sunk, and finds Pirate Captain apparently in league with the Sea Monsters. But then it turns out that he isn't. 

All the Pirate Captain's crew jump overboard. 

It turns out that one of the Crew who jumped overboard had the Magic Gem.

It turns out that the Crew Member with the Magic Gem is one of the Young Man's ancestors. 

It turns out that the Ancestor used the Magic Gem to turn the Sea Monster to stone to begin with. 

It turns out that the Young Man's Dad and now the Young Man have been guarding the Magic Gem ever since. 

Doctor Who uses the Magic Gem to defeat the Sea Monsters. 

The Pirate Captain lays down his life selflessly to save the world from the Sea Monsters. 

The Lady Pirate gets the treasure, frees her family, and the Young Man joins her crew. 

This is not a particularly bad story. The threads hang together quite well and it looks quite pretty. I don't think that it is a coincidence that it is driven by interlocking quests and McGuffins within McGuffins: that is how Pirates of the Caribbean was constructed, so it's probably how Chibnall thinks pirate stories work. I am not sure how much it gains from being set in nineteenth century China: I think it would have been more fun if it had directly used eighteenth century Caribbean piratical imagery. The costumes looked authentic to me; the cast were all Asian and spoke with RP British accents. If you want to know how racist and/or woke it was, please read every other review on the internet. The pace is so frenetic that it is relatively hard to follow on the first viewing. I had to keep pressing freeze frame and rewind to keep track of it, and I probably wouldn't have bothered if I had not been planning to write this review. No character stays on stage long enough for us to have the slightest investment in them. We have seen Ying Ki's father for perhaps 30 seconds before he is killed; and Ji-Hun (the pirate whose treasure everyone is after) has maybe six minutes of screen time before he nobly sacrifices himself to save the Doctor. It's a heap of broken images, tumbling across the screen. Many Doctor Who stories have been driven by weaker plot devices than the Sea Devil Keystone. But the story is so brief that there is no time to do anything but expound the McGuffin. It's an enabling device for a story that never gets told. 

I have a question. 

It is a question I have asked before. 

It is perhaps the only question I still have to ask about genre television. 

Does this not-particularly-bad story suddenly become an intensely interesting story once you know that the Sea Monster is not just any Sea Monster but specifically a SEA DEVIL, and that the Leviathan is not just any Leviathan but specifically a MYRKA (probably)?


(There is a subsidiary question: does this not-particularly-bad story suddenly become an insulting pile of fanwankery once you know that the Sea Devil is a piece of fan service that will be recognised by one or two sad cases who remember an obscure TV show from before they were born? This question is rarely asked abut Doctor Who, but quite frequently asked about Star Wars and the Universal Marvel Cinematic.) 

Legend of the Sea Devils has four points of interest.

1: It has got the Sea Devils in it

2: It has got the Myrka in it (probably)

3: It reveals that the Doctor and Yaz are an item 

4: Two familiar old ladies appear in the Next Episode trailer.

The Sea Devils appeared in a Jon Pertwee story half a century ago. They were said to be related to the Silurians, who had appeared in Jon Pertwee's very first season. The Silurians were lizard creatures who had lived on earth before humans, gone into suspended animation for several million years, and were  understandably miffed to find that monkeys had taken over the planet while they were asleep. They had a pet Tyranosaurus Rex, which is, as Target readers will remember, the most fierce mammal ever to walk the earth. The Doctor tried to broker peace between humans and lizards but the Brigadier cut short negotiations by nuking them. 

The Sea Devils were meant to be underwater Silurians. Their design is often said to be iconic; which isn't quite the same as actually being particularly good. They had their day on screen before I was a regular viewer, but I knew what they looked like from The Doctor Who Monster Book, the very famous Weetabix picture cards, and the cover of The Making of Doctor Who. The Making of Doctor Who was the first piece of merchandise I ever owned. I think that if you psychoanalysed me you would find that I am primarily a fan of The Making of Doctor Who and only secondarily a fan of the actual TV show. There was also one on the cover of the Radio Times Doctor Who Tenth Anniversary Special, come to think of it. You are almost certain to have seen the scene in which the Devils emerge from the Sea and threaten the human race with car headlights, for some reason. The story is more memorable for the silly sword fight between Jon Pertwee and Roger Delgado, and for being the only time Jon actually says "Reverse the Polarity of the Neutron Flow".

Sometimes, when New Who brings back old monsters, it sticks with the original design. A Dalek is a Dalek is a Dalek, give or take a new paradigm. Sometimes, it redesigns them from the ground up. A New Cyberman only looks slightly like an Old Cyberman, and the New Silurians don't look very much like Old Silurians at all. The New Sea Devils look as close to the Old Sea Devils as it is possible for them to look.  The actors are no longer wearing masks on their heads and looking through eye-holes in the neck piece. There is some kind of animatronic jiggery pokery in their faces: their lips move, and they can blink. CGI means we can see whole armies of Sea Devils climbing the sides of ships, but only from a distance. But the 2022 version is clearly the 1972 version with a bit of spit and polish and a respray. 

Lots of us first encountered Old Who in the form of novelisations, or Synopses in Doctor Who Monthly. Some of us heard unofficial, pirate audios of the Very Old Stories when it wasn't possible to see the actual episodes. Nearly all of us have cloudy memories ofd Doctor Who from when we were kids. The Sea Devils of our memory and imagination are more terrifying than a 1970s BBC special effect (watched in black and white) can possibly have been. The New Sea Devils are not the Sea Devils as they were: they are the Sea Devils as we remember them being. 

If you bought old VHS tapes and have the Radio Times Tenth Anniversary special and an incomplete set of Weetabix cards in a plastic bag somewhere, this will give you a certain kind of nostalgic buzz. My childhood memories, remastered. I sometimes think that that is what Doctor Who has become. A nostalgic buzz delivery system for very old people. The TV equivalent of one of those "do you remember what jam was like before the war?" magazines they used to sell on coach stations. 

In 1984, Doctor Who had already become all about Nostalgic Buzzes, or, as the jargon went, Old Monsters and Things From the Doctor's Past. The show had been running for twenty years, so it already had quite a lot of Olden Days. John Nathan-Turner and I** L***** decided it would be a wheeze to do a story with both the Sea Devils and the Silurians in it. It wasn't very good. This time, instead of a not-very-convincing Tyranosaur, the Silurians pet was a not very convincing sea-monster called the Myrka. This was after Star Wars, but the BBC budget still wouldn't stretch to much blue-screen or miniatures work. The Myrka was represented by two men in a monster suit -- literally the very same two men who played the Pantomime Horse on Rentaghost. 

The Myrka arguably destroyed Doctor Who. When the BBC cancelled the show to make way for Wogan a few years later, clips of the Myrka were repeatedly shown as proof that it wasn't worth saving. Bonnie Langford didn't help.

As is often the case with Old Who, the Myrka itself wasn't an altogether terrible piece of design: it could have looked a lot less silly if they had time to set up lighting and camera angles. Peter Davison was a good actor and did his level best to look scared, but that really only mades things seem more ridiculous. He quit the show shortly afterwards. 

There was a quite decent Big Finish story called Blood Tide in which the Doctor and Charles Darwin met the Silurians on the Galapagos islands. Big Finish Doctor Who always feels a little like a game of  Consequences. At one point, the Doctor, on a small boat, is menaced by a terrifying sea monster. This is an audio story, so all we can hear is the monster's roaring. Asked what it is, the Doctor replies "It's a full grown Myrka". This is an in joke, but it's a good one. We can't see the creature; we imagine it is scary; we are suddenly reminded of just about the least scary monster of all time, and then we get an explanation. The silly TV monster was only a baby. 

In several scenes in Legends of the Sea Devil, a large, whale like creature with fins on its back emerges from the sea and threatens the heroes. It's called Hua-Shen, which may possibly mean "reincarnation" or "personification" but we are meant to infer that it is the Myrka. In the twenty first century, CGI can reliably conjure up fairly convincing sea monsters without arguing about who is going to play the back legs; and the scene is fairly impressive if not particularly original: arching back emerging whale-like from the sea; the TARDIS briefly trapped in its jaws.

There is nothing particularly un-fun about a pirate ship being attacked by a leviathan and firing canons at it. There is nothing not to enjoy about Sea Devil leaders addressing Sea Devil minions on the decks of sailing ship, or heroes swinging in on ropes to save the day. 

But. Why Sea Devils? Why the Myrka? 

Star Trek aliens tend to come packaged with philosophical outlooks -- the logical ones, the honourable ones, the warlike ones, the greedy ones, the hippy ones -- and each of them has some back story which tends to stay the same from season to season. If you tell me that Discovery features a human who has been fostered by Vulcans or a power-struggle in the Klingon empire, I know roughly what kind of a story I am going to get. Doctor Who monsters are mostly only Weetabix cards: fondly remembered masks and sound effects, devoid of specific narrative content. Baddies who want to take over the world. In what way would this story necessarily be different if Lady Pirate had inadvertently brought the statue of a Sontaran to life? 

Nothing follows from the baddie being a Sea Devil. And nothing follows from the Gurt Big Beastie possibly being the same species as the Very Silly Beastie from Warriors of the Deep. It's just a monster. The clever thing would have been to have brought back the original Myka and somehow made it work. Maybe the Myrka was actually a cute house pet that Peter Davison somehow mistook for a fierce monster? Or maybe it's the equivalent of a Silurian bunny that can somehow telepathically scare people? Or perhaps a malicious poltergeist has brought a figure from a Sea Devil Christmas entertainment to life and been unable to cancel the spell?

But we are meant to be pleased that Hu-Shuan is the Myrka. And some people are pleased. A not un-sensible person on-line said that the CGI creature redeemed the Myrka. 

Redeemed. Fine word, redeemed. 

We are still hurting because of Warriors of the Deep. We are still hurting because we were laughed at and mocked a great deal for our faith in Doctor Who. We are still hurting because Michael Grade used the Myrka and and the Kandyman as an excuse to cancel a show he was going to cancel in any case. And Legends of the Sea Devils kisses it all better. It inveigles itself into our memories. Next time we think of the Myrka, this is what we will think of. When we remember the Sea Devils, we will remember them blinking and lip syncing. If bad TV somehow vandalises our childhood memories then good TV fixes them. Legends of the Sea Devils is not so much a TV show as neuro-linguistic programming for recovering geeks. 

Which brings us to the Doctor and Yaz.

I think that Russell T Davies' sexualisation of the Doctor was a bad idea; I think that Tom Baker was on the right wavelength when he said that one of the things which made the Doctor interesting is that he doesn't have romantic emotions. There is much to be said for the idea that Doctor Who is a children's show and children's shows are defined, not by being simplistic and naive, but by happening not to reference particular subjects like sex, romance, and income tax.

However, continuing to carp about The Girl in the Fire Place and Doomsday is about as helpful as saying that if I was going to Newport Pagnell I wouldn't start from here. (Which I certainly wouldn't.) I take on board that courtly romance -- unrequited love -- between the Doctor and his companion is now one of the main things which Doctor Who is about.

Russell T Davies said at one point that he didn't want to cast a female Doctor because he didn't want children asking their parents if the Doctor had a willy or not: which I take to mean "Doctor Who is now sufficiently mature that it would have to take gender issues seriously, but still sufficiently immature that it would be hard to do so in an age-appropriate way."

Granted that the Ninth Doctor was romantically involved with Rose; and granted that the Thirteenth Doctor has a female body, the question about "Which way do they swing?" kind of has to come up. The answer is never going to be as interesting as the question, and to tell you the truth, I don't think that it is a very interesting question. Either Doctor Thirteen fancies boys, or else they fancy girls, or else they fancy both, or else they fancy neither. Any permutation could potentially give rise to a good story. 

In the New Year Special, Yaz told Dan that she felt romantically attracted to the Doctor; in this story, we find out that those feelings are reciprocated.

From which, so far, nothing follows.

The Doctor says, as we immediately knew they would, that they are tempted by the welcome in Yaz's smile which tells their restless heart to be still. However they think that Yaz would never understand the life of a natural born wandering person, and that if they don't go now they never will. 

Or words to that effect.

The companion loves the Doctor because the Doctor is the Doctor; the Doctor loves the companion because the companion is amazing, but the Doctor can't do anything about it because the Doctor is the Doctor. This isn't so much a revelation as a restatement of the format. But again. We are supposed to be pleased because it's there. "The Doctor is gay" (or bi- or poly) is meant to be a plot point in itself. And it just isn't.

I agree Representation. I agree that it annoys awful people. If Doctor Who has come to an end and been replaced with a mechanism for annoying awful people then we have probably made a fair exchange. It is better that awful people should be cross than that there should be fun space operas on TV. But I shall persist in reviewing space operas and telling you if they are any fun. 

If the next episode begins with a much older Doctor and a much older Yaz living together in a nice little retreat, maybe with a couple of kids, or even with Yaz coming out to her family and trying to arrange a same-sex Muslim wedding, or in fact anything at all, then I will be happy to eat my scarf and say "Oh, there was a point to it after all."

But I am not holding my breath.

Which brings us to the trailer. 

Jodie Whitaker's final story will have, stop me if you've heard this before, not only the Daleks but also the Cybermen in it and also the Master as well, along, very probably, with Abbot and Costello and the Wolf Man. And not only that, but the trailer shows us a glimpse of Janet Fielding, who is old enough to have first appeared with Tom Baker, and Sophie Aldrad, who was the last companion in the original series, paired with Sly McCoy.

Ooo, oooo, old person's nostalgic buzz delivery system set to maximum. Ooo. Ooo. 

I repeat myself. A story could be written in which a very old Tegan meets a very old Ace. A story could be written in which a very old Tegan meets a very old Ace. The question "What do companions do after the Doctor leaves them?" has been tackled before but that is no reason why it should not be tackled again. RTD's first thought was that Sarah-Jane was a rather sad individual; nothing in her life ever having quite lived up to gallivanting round the universe with Tom and Jon. But then she got her own (very good) series on CBBC and it turned out that everyone who had ever met the Doctor lived amazing lives because they had been touched by his special magic. Tegan was said to be campaigning for the rights of indigenous Australians. Ace was said to be running a charitable foundation called A Charitable Earth. Some people were cross about this because it smacked too much of White Saviourism. Some people were quite cross because it contradicted the New Adventures in which Ace became a Space Marine, or possibly a Time Vigilante, or in one version, an actual Time Lord. Everything makes someone cross. I am sure the forthcoming Canon Wars will be immensely edifying.

I am not excited that the Sea Devils came back.

I am not excited that the Myrka came back.

I am not excited that the Doctor dates girls, or even that she thinks that if ever she were to give her heart again, 'twould be to such a one as Yaz. RTD, in fairness, worked quite hard to convince me that Rose was so remarkable that she'd become the Doctor's Special Friend: nothing on-screen has really made me think that Yaz is anything other than Quite Nice. (If "the Doctor loves Yaz" had been a plot point from the beginning then the Thirteenth Doctor era might have been about something. But it has been plucked out of thin air.) 

I am not excited that Jodie is getting a multi-baddie cross over for her going away present.

I think that a good story could be told on any of these premises, but Doctor Who seems stunningly uninterested in telling it.

And I can list a whole series of current genre TV which appears to take interesting premises and then tell stories about them: Hawkeye, the Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Star Trek: Discovery, Picard, the Bad Bunch, the Book of Boba Fett, Foundation, and even the bloody Masters of the Universe reboot. They have strengths. They have weaknesses. They go on for much too long. But they don't say "Hey Captain America is black now" and "Hey, Prince Adam died" and think that their work is done.

Are there people for whom "Cool, Sea Devils" is the beginning and the end of being a Doctor Who fan? Bully for them. They have their reward. 

Maybe it's my problem. Maybe the overwhelming majority of viewers have just never heard of the Sea Devils; perhaps those viewers were able to perceive the Easter Special as Just A Pirate Story. Perhaps it is just me who sees Old Monsters and can't get past them? 

Or perhaps no-one is watching. Perhaps Doctor Who is just working out its contract until the show is handed hook line and sonic screwdriver to Russell T Davies and the BBC is deported to Rawanda? It's A Sin was very good indeed. 

Dalek, Dalek, Pirate, Master, Old Companion, Lesbian Kiss.

It's a Doctor Who story. You've got to make Doctor Who stories.

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Yesterday Came Suddenly

Last night I had the strangest dream
I've ever had before
I dreamed the world had all agreed
To put an end to war...

The Tomorrow People's main power is that they are nice. A few years later, George Lucas would posit a universe bound together by the mystical forces of intuition and instinct. But for Roger Price, it was quite literally love which made the world go round. When Carol materializes by Steven's hospital bed and exposits the backstory, she explains the Tomorrow People first and foremost in terms of their outlook.

"We are man's only hope of survival. We're peaceful. We can't wage war. We can't kill. Well, not deliberately anyhow."

Violence and War seem to be the main points on which the Tomorrow People differ from the Saps: there is little talk about environmental issues or sharing the world's resources. The Sixth Commandment shall be the whole of the law. The rule is said at one point to be a mental block: not a moral principle, but an existential limitation. Much later, in Season Four or Five, it is said that if a Tomorrow Person ever did use lethal force, they would either lose their powers or simply go mad.

This taboo has no sooner been introduced than it is being fudged. For one thing, the Tomorrow People carry stun-guns, which seems a little like cheating. Big Bad Jedikiah is a robot: sentient, with a personality and personal agency, but still a robot, making it perfectly okay to teleport him onto the molten surface of the planet Mercury. This may have been part of a not unclever Writerly Plan: an on-going villain who can be played by a different actor each week -- he has Tardis like shape shifting powers -- and who the pacifist heroes are permitted to kill. But Jedikiah didn't appear again until the end of Season Three, when he was permanently but non-fatally written out. A human gets vaporised on Mercury along with the robot, but the guy who pushed the button (Peter the apprentice time guardian) is told that this is all right because he didn't really mean it.

It's a bit like Star Trek: in practice the Prime Directive says that you are not allowed to interfered with affairs of lessor civilisations unless you agonize about it first and feel awful afterwards. The code against killing is even referred to, once, as the Prime Barrier. But I suppose "Not killing anyone unless you really can't help it" is a considerable advance over "We come in peace, shoot to kill". Cuddly terrorist Roj Blake used to kill just as many people as the fascist Federation.

"But what if people make war on us?” asks Steven. Carol doesn't have an answer; and the series doesn't seem particularly interested in the question. The Prime Barrier is mostly there to give our heroes permission to be heroes and to draw a line between them and the grown-ups. But it is rarely a source of moral dilemmas. The series would have been a lot more interesting if the heroes had sometimes been pushed into situations which demanded lethal force, found themselves unable to use it, and had to live with the consequences.

In Marvel Comics, mutant is distinctly a status; a thing which you know about yourself and which other people know about you. People hate and shun Cyclops because he is a mutant; they admire the Human Torch because he is a superhero.

Being a Tomorrow Person is little like that. The fact that Telepaths can telepath is almost incidental. It's the status, the label, the race that counts. The Telepaths of the Galactic Federation could talk to the Saps, but they choose not to. The Guardians of Time choose to share their secret only with Telepathic apprentices. There is a Time Control Doohickey on the space ship which only Peter the time-child can operate: but that's because the guardians have chosen to put a telepathic lock on it; presumably because the Saps can't be trusted to use time travel responsibly.

It's this sense of being a member of an exclusive club or class which Carol emphasises when she first meets Steven. Telepathy is not represented as a Vulcan Mind Meld or a sinister way of knowing your mates’ deep desires and dreams. It's just a form of instant long distance communication: Mind-Speaking.

A Tomorrow Person, she says, is never alone

Did Salman Rushdie ever watch the Tomorrow People, I wonder? He was in his middle twenties in 1973, working as an advertising copywriter, so probably not. He was certainly interested in science fiction and references comic books fairly specifically in his novels. The protagonist of the Satanic Verses catches a few minutes of a Doctor Who story called (of all things) The Mutants and considers it racist -- suggesting that either he or Rushdie hadn't understood it.

But Rushdie's break-out novel, Midnight’s Children, is based on the premise that all the babies born in India at the exact moment of Independence are mentally linked, each with their own culturally appropriate superpower. (It's magical realism as opposed to science fiction, so their powers are heavily metaphorical: I seem to recall that one character can literally incorporate emotions into pickles.) The idea that people who have a common outlook should be literally linked; of telepathy as a metaphor for community, seems present in both the kids’ TV show and the Booker novel. In 2015 Rushdie was said to be working on a popular sci-fi themed TV screenplay but nothing seems to have come of it. It would have been called The Next People.

When TIM the computer is briefly switched off, Carol cannot make contact with John, so she jaunts into his bedroom. He sleeps under a duvet with no shirt on; mercifully he wears pyjama pants. But truthfully, girls jaunting into boy’s bedrooms doesn't seem to carry any innuendo. It's more like the Tomorrow People are engaged in an unending long distance sleepover. Carol says that John is nice and kind and clever when she introduces him to Steven, but there is no smidgeon of a hint of a romance between them.

It is the 1970s. Children have their own bedrooms. So far as we can tell, all the Tomorrow People are all  only-children: parents are mentioned, but not siblings. We see Steven's mother; she is notified when he explodes in the street and goes to the hospital. John appraises her of the situation: I think even in '73, keeping big secrets from your parents would have felt a little like grooming. A generation before, kids would have had to contend with bunk beds and younger brothers and sisters. John has a great big print of Neil Armstrong on the moon on his bedroom wall. Kenny has lots of football posters. I think they represent Chelsea players. He is briefly shocked when Ginge (the biker they adopt) mentions that he is Fulham supporter. When Kenny wakes up in his den, the first thing he does is say "good morning John; good morning Carol". When Carol and John don't answer him, he knows that something has gone very wrong.

A Tomorrow Person is never alone. They wake up and greet one another in their minds; they materialise in each other's bedrooms; and the elders of the universe talk exclusively to them.

And there you have it. The Long Chase and Timeslip and the Changes were good TV shows we quite liked. Star Trek and Doctor Who became huge, shared, cultural constructs. But The Tomorrow People was our own fantasy realm, belonging privately to each  of us. It took up residence in our heads and became part of the way we imagined ourselves. It's a cool disco precursor of J.K Rowling's cynical Millennial Enid Blyton throwback. 

I am special. 

Someday soon I will get the magic letter telling me how special I am. 

This will grant me membership of a special club which will allow me to treat anyone who is not special -- my parents, my teachers, my peer-group, anyone without an RP accent -- with a sort of amused disdain.

You could look it as a religious movement: with Breaking Out like being born again.

You could take it as being about consciousness raising; about getting switched on to a higher power. Steen (the grown up space cop) talks that language in the final story of the first season. "Every child is a telepath. All they have to do is find the key within themselves to unlock the special powers we telepaths possess."

You could take Breaking Out as a metaphor for Coming Out. The Tomorrow People has a certain reputation for being A Bit Gay or A Bit Camp. It is certainly true that the guys, at any rate, take their shirts off more than is strictly necessary. Season Two begins with John towelling himself down, presumably after going swimming, for no very good reason.

The X-Men were a club. The Fantastic Four were a family. The Tomorrow People have the best of both worlds. They are a friendship group; a gang, the most inner of all inner rings, four youths against the world. But what they have found at the other end of the psychic Hogwarts Express is clearly a family. John, serious and authoritarian is Dad; Carol, fussy and perpetually panicking, is Mum; Kenny, smiley and spunky is kid-brother and Steven, sensible and confused, on the cusp of adolescence, is big brother.

Peter Vaughan Clark -- Steven -- can't act. To be honest, none of them are very good at it. Steven Salman (Kenny) is the least worst: he is supposed to be the youngest, and he recites his lines by rote as if he doesn't quite understand them. "Saps-thats-you-it's-short-for-homo-sapiens-it-means-man-the-thinker." This gives him an endearingly other-worldly vibe. Sammie Winimill (Carol) had done some TV acting before the Tomorrow People, but her entire performance is two octaves too high, giving an impression of permanent hysteria. She is hamstrung by a script which expects her to say things like "But we've got to do something we've simply got too we can't just do nothing we simply can't." Only Nicholas Young (John) gives any sign of knowing what nuance means: he gets to be the Nice One who is also the Serious Authoritative One, perpetually telling the camera that the world is about to end, everyone is going to die, and that it's a long shot but it just might work. Vaughan Clark accompanies every line with a slightly too careful stage-school gesture, and his voice goes up slightly too much at the end of every question, until you want to throw him onto the molten surface of the planet Mercury. He improved considerably in the second season, and I believe made a decent career for himself on the other side of the camera. We are only five years away from Grange Hill, a school-based soap opera in which the kids looked and sounded like actual kids

But in a sense, Steven is what carries the programme. Reader response is a risky game, and I have claimed slightly too frequently that the limitations of creaky old TV shows are actually part of their strengths. But I do think that there is a blank, gormless absence at the centre of the Tomorrow People, at least to start with; on to which we all project ourselves. We are all Steven. We all have scars on our foreheads. We are all Chosen Ones.

The opening credits are perhaps more interesting than a lot of the actual episodes. The viewer is thrust forward down a kind of tunnel: images of the main character's faces and star-scapes zoom towards us, along with the titles and the credits. It rather resembles the Doctor Who opening sequence; in which the viewer is pulled through a split screen hyperspace time tunnel from which the Doctor and the TARDIS emerge. But that title sequence was only adopted in December '73: at this point the BBC was still using the wibbly-wobbly lines which had served them in various forms since Unearthly Child. 

The central image is of a fist opening up into a hand; and of a bud opening into a flower. And a man clinging to some kind of boxing punch-bag: I've never been quite sure what that means. This imagery is specifically evoked by Carol when she talks to Steven in the hospital: it's a kind of visual analogy to Breaking Out. The fist of violence becomes the open hand of friendship; but more widely and simply, the message is simply "Open Your Mind".

Open your mind.

I can remember, vividly, imagining a future in which a very old man with a long white beard told a large crowd of tomorrow babies that he was the first. And we viewers, who had been there at the beginning, knew that he was John. If Big Finish or someone want to make this story, they should get in touch. I believe that Nicholas Young is still working. That's how the far future looked in those days. The Blue Peter Annual spoke frivolously of a remote futurity when an old lady and two very old gentlemen would return to the BBC garden and dig up the millennium time capsule. Twenty nine years is a long time when you are a kid, but everyone took it for granted that Blue Peter would still be on BBC One in the Far Future, even if there would be different presenters and different pets. The final Planet of the Apes movie ended with a brief glimpse into a future world where the grandchildren of former apes and the grandchildren of former humans sit together at the table of brotherhood. I certainly had intimations of mortality at the age of seven. All Tomorrow People but one grow up. Seven is the beginning of the end.

Open your mind...

Did it come true? John would be pushing seventy now: not quite the grey-beard of my dream, but getting on that way. So far the earth has not joined the Galactic Federation: if we had a referendum the Saps would vote to Leave. War has not come to an end. Steven's generation elected Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. 

It is often said that William Gibson predicted the Internet, coining the word cyberspace in unreadable sci-fi noir novels composed on a manual typewriter. But todays digital natives have far more in common with Douglas Adams’s hitch-hikers than they do with Gibson's cyberjocks. They have an electronic book which contains everything; it has replaced the conventional sources of wisdom and knowledge, even though they know that it is completely unreliable.

But Roger Price saw the future first, in a silly forgotten TV show a few of us fell hopelessly in love with. 

The children who talk to each other from their bedrooms before saying good morning to their parents. The children who instantly know where their friends are and are never out of touch with them. Linked, not through cyberspace but through hyperspace.

A Tomorrow Person is never alone. Ever kid with a mobile is homo superior.

What was the Age of Aquarius?

About seven....

Monday, April 18, 2022

Yesterday's Gone

No people whose word for 'yesterday' is the same as their word for 'tomorrow' can be said to have a firm grip on the time.

Salman Rushdie

So: let's talk about the Tomorrow People.

I look at it with the eye of love: I fear I am going to make it sound a lot more interesting than it ever was. I issue the same warning that I did when writing about Hugh Walters. If you don't already know and love the show, for god's sake don't go away and watch it on my say-so.

It's shockingly badly acted; some of the social attitudes make on feel a little queasy; and the sets and aliens are genuinely made out of tin foil and crepe paper.

So: what was it? 

It was a science fiction serial, shown after school on Monday evenings, on ITV, the less snooty of the two UK TV channels.

It was about four children, three boys and a girl, between the ages of twelve and seventeen. They had special telepathic powers which they kept secret from the rest of the world. They had a secret hide-out, full of scientific equipment, and a friendly voice-of-god computer. They kept the earth safe from space aliens and irresponsible time-travellers.

It was very British: indeed, very London-centric. The fortress of solitude is accessed via a disused Tube station near Tower Bridge. Commercial TV was regionalised in those days, and the Tomorrow People was made by the London franchise. The Thames Television ident, showing the Houses of Parliament and a cockney street cry is enough to set people of a certain age off on a Proustian reverie. It's as much a part of the Tomorrow People as the Twentieth Century Fox Fanfare is part of Star Wars: blessings on BritBox for leaving it intact.

The core premise is that every child is a latent Tomorrow Person. The first episode begins with the viewpoint character, a schoolboy named Steven, manifesting his psi-powers for the first time. It's an unpleasant, traumatic process. The other three characters (Kenny, Carol, and John: introduced in reverse order of seniority) are said to have been through it themselves. John says that it is harder for girls, which Carol takes exception to. They call the process Breaking Out, which is very much the kind of thing you might do after Tuning In and Turning On.

And there is the whole joy of the programme. So far there are only four Tomorrow People. But there will be others. Andrew Rilstone from Miss Bugden's class is not likely to be bitten by a radioactive spider or caught in a gamma bomb explosion. But it is only a matter of time before he Breaks Out.

It feels like we are jumping on board a narrative that is already well under way. There have been Break Out stories in the past, and doubtless there will be more Break Out stories in the future. John talks about what it was like to Break Out alone, with no-one to help him. It is possible that I didn't realise, in 1973, that I was watching the very first episode of a brand new programme: for all I knew I was coming in part way through a show that Magpie Children had been watching for years. I was well aware that there had been Doctors Who before Jon Pertwee and Assistants before Jo.

The format of the Tomorrow People encodes the idea of "emergence", much as the format of Doctor Who incapsulates the idea of "constant change". The first episode of the first season begins with Steven Breaking Out and joining a group which already exists; the final episode ends with a Space Policeman telling them that they need to be on the look out for other telepaths. "It will be good when there are more of us" says Steven.

"More of you lot?" says cockney human confident Ginge "I don't think we could stand it" and they all laugh. Every story ends with everyone laughing at something which is not particularly funny. The Tomorrow People is quite like Scooby Doo in that respect.

Season Two does indeed begin with a new Tomorrow Person emerging. I don't know if it was planned that way from the beginning, or if a new character, Elizabeth, had to be created when Sammie Winmill (Carol) and Stephen Salmon (Kenny) are let go, presumably because they are not very good at acting. Kenny was black and Carol was a girl so the new character, Elizabeth, is a black girl. This is never a plot point: Scotsmen wear kilts and working class people say “gor blimey” but the series is pretty good, for its time, at being inclusive and colour blind.

But whether foreseen or not, it creates a pattern, a kind of regularity. A new school year, a new pair of shoes, a new pencil case, a new season of the Tomorrow People, a new Break Out. We are witnessing a process; a process which will end when the old human race (you) becomes obsolete and the Tomorrow People (us) take over.

It could easily have been sinister: I don't know if any of the remakes or the fan-fic ever made it sinister.

I don't think the series ever really identifies Breaking Out with the onset of puberty. Kenny is said to have powered-up when he was very young; certainly before his twelfth birthday. It would have been quite odd to construct a series in which children are the only hope for the human race, and then make it a plot point that they only get to do cool stuff once they turn into grown ups.

And at a thematic level -- even if it doesn't always make perfect narrative sense -- the conflict between The Young and The Old is what the Tomorrow People is about. "The Generation Gap" had ceased to be a social problem and become a cliche: in the 1970s, everyone took it for granted that kids and adults spoke a different language and didn't understand each other. Carol tells Steven that "we" are going to take over, stop wars, and put the world in order. "Us children?" says Steven.

The X-Men were the children of the atom; hippies were sometimes called the flower children. In 1973 "children" was still a magic word, representing wisdom and innocence and purity and a kind of enlightenment.

It's different from incantatory use of the word "boy" in 1950s American comics, where to be a man-child was to have a special quality of carefree abandon, rough and tumble violence, licensed naughtiness. And its very different from the quintessential English comics in which "kids" are anarchic rule-breakers who have to be literally beaten into submission by the adult world. The Beatles wrote nostalgically about the shopping streets and parks of their childhoods (a whole ten years ago), while evoking Alice in Wonderland and playground rhymes; the ghost of A.A Milne hangs over the Incredible String Band. We are sometimes inclined to look at old children's TV -- Bagpuss and the Clangers and the Magic Roundabout and Crystal Tips and Alistair and say (if we are kind) that they have a hippy vibe, and (if we are less kind) that the makers must have been smoking something. 

But what we now call psychedelia was simply part of the mainstream culture. Everyone was a little childish. Pastel shades and bright colours and giant symbols of flowers and anthropomorphised animals have always been part of the stock in trade of children's illustrations. In the retro future of the early 1970s, they had crossed over into your granny's wallpaper and John Craven's shirts. 

Tony Blair launched his 2005 election campaign from a school, with a choir singing a secular hymn that began "We are the children of tomorrow...". Some wag pointed out that it would have been more accurate to say that they were the children of today, and the grown ups of tomorrow, and, presumably, the babies of yesterday.

People of tomorrow is really just a convoluted way of spelling the world "child". The series is about potential; a thing which has not yet happened. Homo Superior are not called The Tomorrow Children 

Earth is a regarded as a minor backwater by the Galactic Federation. There is something quite exciting about this idea: the smallness of the Earth emphasises the bigness of space. The Galactic Federation treats us as a "closed world": respectable aliens are not allowed to communicate with planets where there aren't any telepaths. But they are permitted to talk to the Tomorrow People. From the Galactic point of view, these four kids are the only humans. When Steven Breaks Out, he joins the Tomorrow People; when the Earth Breaks Out, it joins the Federation. To be a kid is to be a member of an exclusive club with a secret den. You may get yelled at by policemen and scowled at by beefeaters but the adult world is literally irrelevant. Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command.

In The Medusa Strain (story two) we time travel into a future in which practically everyone is a Tomorrow Person. John, Carol, Steven and Kenny are mysterious historical figures; members of the Underground before telepaths declared themselves openly. But the only Tomorrow Person we actually encounter is Peter, a more than usually whiney kid. He's a kind of apprentice Time Lord and we are told that only  -- telepaths -- are taken on as trainees for this important job. Admittedly, in the Vanishing Earth (story three) the Galactic Policemen who sorts everything out a bit too quickly in the final episode is old and serious and played by Kevin Stoney. But that seems to spoil the metaphor: a grown up who is not a Sap.

Had I been writing it, I might have turned the Tomorrow People into Logans Run and said that your powers go away on your Thirtieth Birthday. Or that you cease to be Homo Superior if you show the slightest interest in lipstick, nylons or invitations. Or perhaps I would have allowed the heroes to run away to a never never land where they never grow up. Which, I suppose, is exactly what Carol and Kenny do. 

Gavin Burrows is currently comparing and contrasting the series with Stan Lee's X-Men. There is enough similarity between the two that Mark Miller called the first Ultimate X-Men Graphic novel The Tomorrow People.

The X-Men are also called Homo Superior. But they are MUTANTS. They are young people who developed super-powers because of all the RADIATION in the atmosphere. The Tomorrow People are not MUTANTS: they are simply the next inevitable, stage of evolution. 

 "The development of man hasn't just suddenly stopped" explains Carol "It's going on all the time. But in the last hundred everything has speeded up. The world has changed beyond recognition, and human beings have changed with it". When he talk about the pace of change accelerating between, say, 1870 and 1970 we can only be talking about technology and culture. Steam trains and women’s suffrage automatically give rise to psychic teenagers. Evolution is a metaphor for social change.

The Tomorrow People call everyone else "Saps". It is meant to be short for Homo Sapiens. Homo Sapiens is a perfectly cromulent bit of scientific jargon, distinguishing modern humans from ancestors such as Homo Habilis and Homo Erectus. I knew all about dinosaurs although my school was still relatively reticent about teaching evolution. But "Homo Sapiens" was a sci-fi word, a TV word, a Tomorrow People word. To me it will always have connotations of stupid, obsolete, boring and dull. It means Straight and Mundane and most particularly Muggle. There is an unexplored element of class snobbery here; even of racism. The Tomorrow People are better than the Saps because of what they are. Carol, Steven and John all speak BBC English: Kenny, admittedly, has a rather cute, Artful-Dodger style cockney accent. But the human bad guys are uniformly lower-class. The fairground barker who is in league with the alien conman in the Vanishing Earth sound like Del-Boy. Ginge and Lefty, the bike riding henchmen in the first story who become allies for the rest of the season, talk entirely in stage cockney aphorisms. ("Don't come the old fuzz bit with me mat, all I done was chat up a bird.") Alien bad guys, on the other hand, talk posh.

The Tomorrow People all have the same powers as each other. (The X-Men go in for a kind of genetic lottery which can result in growing wings, turning into a block of ice or shooting death rays from your eyes.) On one occasion their power set is described as the Three Ts, which is presumably meant to recall the old joke about the 3 R being Reading, Riting and Rithmatic. Telepathy, Teleportation and Telekinesis would have been fun powers to have. I wonder how many idle minutes I spent staring out of the windows of maths classrooms wishing I could Jaunt to the swimming pool or use TK to make all the pencils fall out of the cupboard as the teacher walks past? But the Tomorrow People rarely have much fun with their abilities.

Telepathy is a way of keeping in touch: a useful plot device when the characters are split up between, London, Clacton and an alien space ship in the far future; but quite a handicap for a writer trying to produce tension and jeopardy. Before Episode One is over, Jedikiah has strapped something called a Silencer to Steven's forehead to switch off his TP. The Medusa in the second story is a size changing alien psychic watchdog that removes the telepathic powers of anyone near it. 

Teleportation is mainly a way to get our heroes in and out of locations without the need for any tedious transitions. It's always called Jaunting, which the novel acknowledges is lifted from Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination. There are a couple of scenes in Episode Two where the biker henchmen try to run our heroes down, and are left looking very silly and very wet when they teleport out of the way at the right moment. 

The first episode flirts with the idea that Kenny-the-youngest is the only one with Telekinesis. Carol tells him off for moving objects with his mind for fun, and warns him not to do it in school. It is briefly implied that he also has some sort of Psychometry and other “special gifts”. This would have been a good narrative idea, since it would have justified putting the character who is most consistently coded as a "kid" in jeopardy. But Kenny's uniqueness is forgotten by the end of the first story. His special power turns out to be being left in the Lab when the others go on adventures; and to be written out at the end of the first season.

The cast of Rentaghost have a great deal more fun disappearing and reappearing in unlikely and surprising places than the Tomorrow People do. The first episode ends with a stooge being taken to hospital because he's got a birdcage teleported onto his head. Being dead is quite a lot like being a Tomorrow Person, come to think of it: it gets you some new friends and some cool powers, but you have to keep it a secret from the silly still-alive people. The Medusa is not a great deal more convincing than the pantomime horse.


Sunday, April 10, 2022

All Our Yesterdays

--There must be a word for it… the thing that lets you know time is happening. Is there a word?


--I was afraid of that.


I am going to write about the first science fiction TV show I ever truly loved.

No. Not that one.

Monday 28 April 1973. Around 5pm. I don't know how I came to be watching ITV.

We weren't one of those houses where ITV was prohibited. My parents rarely prohibited anything. I watched ITV often enough to have favourite adverts, to own a model Smash Martian, to desire the Klondike Pete free gifts in packets of Golden Nuggets. But we were certainly a BBC One family: ITV programmes were "on the other side".

We rigorously divided TV programmes into the ones we "watched" and the ones we "didn't watch", in the same way that there were magazines and comics that we "took" and ones that we didn't "take". A television programme was a weekly appointment, to be broken only reluctantly. ("The school concert is on Thursday evening" "Oh, that means we will have to miss the Six Million Dollar Man.") Some of the things we "didn't watch" were, if not forbidden, at any rate, strongly discouraged. We "didn't watch" anything with guns in it. We didn't even watch Dad's Army, because war is not funny and some of Daddy's friends were killed in it. But most of the things we "didn't watch" just happened not to have made it on to our list of weekly appointments. Mummy must have been one of the few middle-aged ladies who "didn't watch" Coronation Street, although she did sometimes watch Crossroads.

I am quite certain that the first Doctor Who story I "watched" was Carnival of Monsters. It may not have been the first episode I ever saw; but after Carnival of Monsters, Doctor Who became a weekly appointment, as much a part of the structure of my life as Sunday School or Boys Brigade.

I was about to say "I never missed an episode"'; but for a particular reason that turns out not to be true.

I think I may have been off school for some reason. We were slightly more inclined to watch ITV on non-school day, if only because they had slightly more, and slightly more interesting, day time schedules than the BBC. BBC stopped altogether after lunch, or else flipped to educational programmes or "something for our viewers in Wales". Maybe I was freer than usual to select channels than I would have been on a normal day. Jackonory was doing an uninspiring Helen Cresswell story that week, so maybe I simply "switched over". 

To the other side.

I think I was probably off sick. If I hear the theme music I can taste Lucozade and the series is suffused with a prevailing sense of the colour orange. There was an orange visual effect when the characters teleported; an orange light in their secret base; the main character's body glowed orange at the end of the pre-credit sequence. But of course, I would have been watching in black and white. These were the years when the Clangers and Bagpuss were still grey.

A boy in school uniform -- a teenager, much older than me, although he now comes across as embarrassingly pre-pubescent -- is walking through a market. A weird, sprite-like Artful Dodger is observing him from Tower Bridge. Somewhere, in a space ship or a TARDIS or a secret base, lit with what appears to be a lava lamp, older children are also watching him. They talk about the noise he is making, even though he is some miles away from them. Suddenly, the fashion of his countenance is altered: the picture shifts to negative, and the frame freezes. Colour negative was a popular special effect in those days: the Jackson Five could rarely get to the end of a song without at least one of them flaring into a strange reverse filter view. Strange music kicks in. It owes something to the Doctor Who theme: it has an endless beat rather than a melody; but it sounds more disco than electronic. Bom-bom ba-ba-ba-bom. Bom-Bom ba-ba-ba-Bom. A few years later, Dudley Simpson would compose the mighty heroic Blakes' Seven march. Neon lettering: and a title, more Biblical than science fictional.  

"The Slaves of Jedikiah."

For the next two years, The Tomorrow People was my secret vice. No-one talked about it in the playground. We didn't "take" TV Times or Look-In, so I never saw it mentioned in print. It was on at the same time as Blue Peter, and skipping Blue Peter felt a bit like opting out of Sunday School. I remember a girl in my class, Helen, admitting that she watched it some time during the second series. (I can picture her, on the wooden steps outside Miss Beale's prefab classroom. She had very bad eczema on her face.) I felt pleased that someone else shared the thing I loved, but also ashamed, as if someone else had discovered a slightly embarrassing secret. 

And anyway: John, Carol, Steven and Kenny had been my special friends.

There was a tie-in novelisation. It had pictures of my friends on the cover, so they continued to exist when the show was off-air. It turns out to have been a write-up of a rejected pilot episode, and includes back-story that was omitted (and somewhat contradicted) in the TV show. I only found out about the book because it was plugged on Magpie. Magpie was Blue Peter for kids with lower-class accents: I must have been going through a rebellious phase. 

I got a copy of the book for my -- dear god -- eighth birthday.

And suddenly everything slips into place.

We have talked, possibly more than is healthy, about Spider-Man: specifically about the 1970s British reprints of Spider-Man. My grandfather brought me a copy of Spider-Man Comics Weekly Issue Five out of the blue, one Saturday afternoon. He generally brought a small present, some chocolate or a comic or a little pocket money, when he came to tea. It contained a reprint of the first Ditko/Lee Mysterio story (Amazing Spider-Man #13) along with some early Kirby Thor, and I was smitten. 

But we have not talked as much about The Wombles, a series of children's books, an animated TV show and then a novelty pop group. (What is the British equivalent of bubblegum pop, do you think? Gobstopper Pop? Sherbet Dib Dab Rock and Roll?) But my primary-school bedroom was as much a shrine to Uncle Bulgaria and Orinoco as it was to Spider-Man and Doctor Who. Posters, badges, tiny figurines, and, ironically, the wrappers of Womble chocolate bars... I tried to create a replica of the Wombles burrow out of cardboard and cartridge paper. That went about as well as you'd think. 

I said I was given that copy of the first Tomorrow People paperback for my eight birthday. But I have suddenly remembered that it was specifically given to me by my father. I am sure that my parents colluded on all the other entirely forgotten presents I got that year; but the book was definitely said to have come from Daddy: because Daddy was in hospital at the time and therefore not at home on my big day. He had rheumatoid arthritis which impeded his mobility and often made him very ill indeed. Modern disease modifying drugs didn't exist then, so there were only steroids. He died in 1980 when I was 15.

Now, I know that Daddy went into hospital for the first time in May 1973 because -- and I am deeply ashamed that I recall this fact -- I missed the entirety of The Green Death because we had to visit him on Saturday afternoons. He was in a big teaching hospital in central London: the trek by train to see him became part of the structure of my childhood: part chore, part outing. We were usually allowed some sort of sweet treat in a cafe on the way, and sometimes even got to stop off in a big London shop or one of the museums. When you are seven you do not question this stuff: Daddy is sometimes around and sometimes not around; when he is not around, what you do on Saturday is go and visit him. 

"The one with the Maggots" is one of the ones which people who are not specially Doctor Who fans remember; but it has always been filed in my head as "the one I missed".

But this, unfortunately, generates a very clear chronology:

27 January, 1973: I watch Doctor Who for the first time.

5 Feb, 1973: I watch the Wombles for the first time.

10 March 1973: I read Spider-Man for the first time

30 April 1973: I watch the Tomorrow People for the first time.

19 May 1973: I miss the Green Death

11 July 1973: My eighth birthday.

We make fun of the Baby Boomers because they think that the popular music which was in the charts when they were teenagers is the best popular music; and who expect today's teenagers to agree with them. But in fairness, if you were born in 1950 then you really did turn thirteen during the heyday of the Beatles. so the popular music of your teenaged years really was some of the best there has ever been. The day of my thirteenth birthday You're The One That I Want by John Travolta and Olivia Newton John was number one in the UK charts. (The Smurf Song was number two.) But I genuinely did live through the golden age of children's television.

("Doesn't everyone think that their country's poets are the wisest, their nation's soldiers are the bravest, and their homeland's women are the most beautiful?" 

"Yes: but in England it's true.")

I know I have said before that the crucial year was 1978: Star Wars, Tom Baker, Dungeons and Dragons and not entirely un-coincidentally, the BBC television Shakespeare.  

But here I am: obsessing about TV and comic books that I encountered in a twelve-week period between my seventh and eighth birthdays. February 1973 to April 1973. 

And almost immediately afterwards, everything else started to go to shit.

Last month, when the news started to come through from the Ukraine, and people started to talk, admittedly not very seriously, about the possibility of nuclear war, I experienced a memory of a memory of the 1980s: Threads and the Day After and the War Game and Protect and Survive. The years when all the grown-ups talked as if our annihilation in a nuclear fireball was a foregone conclusion.

I think we underestimate the effect that CND and Greenham Common and the Peace Movement had on my generation. We lived the first maybe twenty years of our lives in a state of low-level nihilism. The world was almost definitely going to end and there was almost definitely nothing we could do about it. Mrs Thatcher was keeping unemployment artificially high as part of an (entirely successful) plot to de-power the Trades Unions and destroy the Labour Party. So even if the human race somehow survived, there were never again going to be any actual jobs for us to do. If we were going to be unemployed anyway, we felt we might as well spend out time playing Dungeons & Dragons and studying English Literature. That nihilism fed into Punk, and 2000AD and the comic-book revival, I suppose. 

I see now that this is why my life has been that of a very happy but very unsuccessful drifter. Something in my head still tells me that I was not really meant to be here. This time line was not meant to happen. I am walking down a road that we were promised would never exist. No wonder we are all a little directionless.

But the slight, the very slight, possibility that Mr Putin might make the whole thing kick off again, brought those feelings back. And the thought that perhaps I and everyone else in the world might die the week after next triggered, at the back of my mind, just below the level of perception, a strange thought.

"What would you do if you knew you only had four minutes to live?"

"Re-read Winnie-the-Pooh. Obviously."

I have tried to articulate this before. I think that certain books function in our lives as pseudo-places: as symbols of or replacements for home. I think that reading takes on an almost religious -- am I allowed to say sacramental? -- aspect. In some non-rational space, The Hundred Acre Wood is where I am from. So if I am going to die, that is the place I want to go back to.

Moorcock was right on the money when he called Lord of the Rings Epic Pooh. I could build a theology, if I wanted to. A.A. Milne's forest is pretty obviously an image of Eden or Innocence or the Earthly Paradise, so in longing for pooh sticks and honey I am really longing for God, which is all any human being ever longs for. (Have you noticed how all my essays link up if you wait long enough?)

But I could just as easily make a psychological explanation. A great man once said that there was a place he could go when he felt low, when he felt blue: and it was his mind. The imaginary happy places are just symbols for that internal place. Strawberry Fields forever. 

This is why I cannot help feeling a certain amount of sympathy for Harry Potter fans. Of course, the books are a load of rubbish: but then, they always were. But that's really not the point. In the cold light of day, Doctor Who is probably a load of rubbish, and the Tomorrow People certainly is. But Hogwarts occupies a special place in the imaginative life of anyone born in or around 1986. If you turned eleven the same year Harry did, then Hogwarts is where you spent you childhood. It is your home, or your image of home, or your symbol of heaven. The happy place. Part of a network of shared meaning that you are enmeshed in.

Maybe imaginary places should not take on that kind of importance in our lives: but they do. I have never really understood why ball games can seem important to adults: how the state of English Cricket can be the subject of a serious leading article in a broadsheet newspaper; how two young men can come to blows over the colour of a shirt. But clearly sport does have that kind of importance in the lives of very many people. Geek culture matters in a way that mainstream culture simply doesn't. 

Oh, we may read proper books. We probably agree that the grown up books are better. God knows I would never defend Stan Lee as a writer. I am at this very moment trying to re-educate myself about poetry. Some of it I enjoy. Some of it, not so much. But there is no danger that I will start to define myself as a Wilfred Owen fan, or display a small collection of A.E Houseman action figurines on my shelves.

Good books are what we read. The Tomorrow People and Harry Potter is who we are.

We can't rewrite our own history. We can't pretend that Star Trek is just a TV show, that Winnie-the-Pooh is just a fairy tale, that Harry Potter is just a book. Maybe we should have grown past them, but we haven't. 

It may be that a particular writer's political views are so objectionable that their books can no longer be read, no longer distributed, no longer even thought about. It may be that some people must be exiled from their imaginary homeland; it may be that an angel with a fiery sword will have to be installed by the entrance of Platform 9 3/4. But before we send out the eviction notice, let's be quite sure that we understand what we are asking them to give up.