Monday, May 16, 2022

Any Colour You Like Provided It's Not Black

"A perhaps more fun question is to imagine, within canon, why the DOCTOR chose to incarnate as a white male, or more broadly, a white male with a British accent."

There is no real sense that the Doctor "incarnates" as a particular race. The implication is that something about their physiology causes them to physically change every few years. They don't seem to get a choice, and are generally surprised, and sometimes disappointed, about who they turns out to be. There has been some equivocation over the years about whether the different Doctors are different beings; or whether they are one person who changes their appearance from time to time. In 325 AD the council of Nicea decided

*****

I would rather frame the question as "How can the Doctor be both a mysterious alien and a British guy who likes cricket and tea?"

And the answer is "They can't be. It's a completely silly and ridiculous idea; as silly as the idea that a box can be bigger on the inside than the the outside; as silly as the fact that the Doctor's life is in mortal danger precisely once every twenty five minutes; as silly, indeed, as the idea that Hamlet speaks his inner most thoughts out loud in Iambic Pentameters." It's a convention of the genre; a thing we accept so stories can happen.

But I can think of other answers, too.

Answer 1:

The Doctor had been living on earth for sixty or seventy years when Ian and Barbara first met the. They naturally acquired some of the appearances and attitudes of his adopted planet and retained a lot of those "Edwardian" mannerisms in subsequent regenerations.

OBJECTION: The First Doctor is both an Edwardian gentleman and an alien. Like Susan, they understand some things about Earth and not others. They celebrates Christmas, but doesn't know what New Years Day is, and has never heard of cricket.

Answer 2:

The TARDIS is programmed to blend in with its surroundings. The Police Box form is sometimes said to be a malfunction, but the Doctor has also admitted that they likes it that way. Perhaps the Doctor has a built in biological chameleon circuit, and blends in with the people around them. Since they generally go among humans and humanoids, they generally takes on their appearances and attitudes. If they spent a long time on Draconia, they would probably become a Draconian, with a liking for Draconian sports and a taste for whatever sweetmeat Draconian kids like to eat.

OBJECTION: We have met many other Time Lords; but never one in an alien form. The first member of the Doctor's race we ever met was a very culturally specific English monk.

Answer 3:

We know that Galactus the Devourer isn't really a tall human with purple shorts: he just appears that way to some humans. Skrulls see him as a super-sized Skrull. And I am distinctly enamoured of the theory that when Hobbits meet up with the oldest creature in Middle Earth, they perceive him as an exceptionally jolly and exceptionally silly Hobbit. So clearly the Doctor looks like an English human because we mainly see them through the eyes of English humans. If they had a Thal companion, they would probably look quite different.

OBJECTION: Doesn't work. The Doctor sees themself as having a human shape; the Daleks and Cybermen perceive them as human. Nice idea, though.

Answer 4:

We know that there are Greek mathematical formulae on Rassilon's Tomb; that the first Time Lord was Omega, and that the Doctor was known as Theta Sigma in college: which begs the question "Why do Time Lords use the Greek alphabet?". In the days of Usenet a fan named Stephen Moffat suggested that the really interesting question was "Why did the Greeks use the Time Lord alphabet?" He used the same idea when he became a Who writer: it is implied that the Doctor's actual name is Doctor, which is why that word is used throughout the universe to mean a healer, a teacher or a learned person. So, pretty obviously, the Doctor is a posh English human because posh English culture is a kind of Gallfreyan cargo cult. We know that Time Lords drink tea; that they have ranks like Cardinal and Castellan; that they have a collegiate system and even that they regard "24 hours" as a significant time period. So obviously a lot of British and human culture must have been copied from the Time Lords. This is consistent with the idea that "Christmas" is celebrated all round the Universe and isn't simply a Christian tradition. Which explains why the first Doc wished viewers a happy one. Which Moffat was probably quite well aware of.

In Deadly Assassin and Invasion of Time, Time Lords are specifically male (and mostly elderly). They are specifically set in opposition to the all-girl Sisterhood of Kahn. I think it is a pity that this idea got lost, but it did. The first Doctor Who fanzine I ever bought explained that Mondasian prosthetic technology only worked on the male of the species: the Cybermen were really Cybermen. It also said that Susan was a human girl who the Doctor adopted when acting as a personal tutor for an Edwardian family. In those days, fans were allowed to invent canon out of their head.

In all seriousness. I do think that up to now, the Doctor has been primarily presented as a British "boffin". If they became, say, a two-fisted American cop or a patois speaking Jamaican rap artist, that would represent a departure from one of the central tenets of Doctor Who. But I also think that "departing from the central tenet of Doctor Who" is something that Doctor Who does all the time. You might say it is one of the central tenets of Doctor Who.

In 1966 it was seriously proposed that Patrick Troughton should play the second Doctor as a Captain Nemo figure in, er, black-face make up. This would have been a terrible idea for several obvious reasons, but you can see where it came from. "William Hartnell was a Mad Professor in a Time Machine; but we don't want to do that again. What other type of character might be wandering the universe getting into scrapes." Troughton implied that the Second Doctor's characterisation came about as a result of an off-hand remark by Sidney Newman ("play him like Charlie Chaplain if you like!") but in fact the idea of the Doctor as a hobo was quite a canny thinking-through of the basic idea behind the character. Sidney Newman wrote the rule-book; and he didn't think that "The Doctor can only be Caucasian" was an unbreakable Rule of Time.

Twenty years later, Newman proposed that Colin Baker's replacement could be, er, Joanna Lumley -- who at that time was still "Jonanna Lumley". She'd famously played Purdy in the justly ignored revival of Newman's Avengers, and a not entirely un Doctorish elemental in Sapphire and Steele, so it was not a completely silly idea. So evidently the series creator didn't think "The Doctor can be anyone they like provided they are a boy" was set in stone, either.

I think that some fans objected to a female Doctor for sincere canonical reasons. Not good reasons, in my opinion, but I think there were people who honestly thought "We could have a female Thor and a female Captain America and even a female Prime Minister but everything we know of the Doctor means they have to be a Man."

I haven't heard a single objection to the idea of a black Doctor that does not amount to an objection to the idea of there being a black anything, ever. "The Doctor is British so it follows they can't be black" would be an intelligible position, but even racists aren't generally prepared to be quite so openly racist. Instead, the haters consistently claim that the casting of Ncuti Gatwa has a quality they describe as "wokeness"; that it is part of a process called "box-ticking" and that it is a sign of weakness, childishness and effeminacy on the part of the BBC ("pathetic".) This is precisely the same language that was applied to the casting of Mandip Gill as Yaz, to the casting of Lenny Henry as A Hobbit, and indeed, to the casting of Pappa Essiedu as Hamlet. 

But, of course they have a point. (Stay with me.) 

The casting of a new Doctor -- indeed the casting of a new anything -- does, whatever R.T.D says, necessarily have a political dimension. It is not, in face, possible to "just" cast "the best actor for the job". If R.T.D. says that he was bowled over by Ncuti's reading of the audition monologue then I am quite sure that that is true. But he also knows that if he had cast a white male, the British Association of Racists would have been very pleased, and that by casting a black person, he has irritated them very much. And irritating racists is clearly a very good idea.

And if Doctor Fourteen had been another white bloke, a lot of the usual suspects would be writing cross ranty articles about why it's always old dead white males. It's where we are in history.

If Doctor Who casting has been Colstonised then R.T.D clearly did the right thing. If everything you do is going to be interpreted as a signal, then you had better make sure that the signals you are sending out are the right ones, not the wrong ones. If the only alternative to virtue-signalling is I'm-a-complete-fascust-bastard signalling, than signal as much virtue as you possibly can.

But I am happy to entertain the thought that some of the people who snarl about box-ticking are struggling to express the thought that they wish the thing was less politically polarised than it has become. I am also happy to entertain the thought that some of the people who snarl about Doctor Woke are trying to put into words an unease about that Chibnall's writing becominh too preachy; that Jodie's Doctor is too inclined to make speeches about things which in the past might have been left to the viewer to infer. 

But it should be possible to express such a critical perspective without resorting to alt-right dog whistles.

This week, Tony Blair suggested that the extreme centrist Keir Starmer ought to be less woke, by which he appears to mean

***

Sunday, May 08, 2022

I GOT IT RIGHT!!!!!!!!

I Grow Tired Of Writing This Article, So It Will Be The Last Time... (2)

So. In Episode Eleven of Season Six of ther Clone Wars ("Voices"), Yoda receives a mysterious spectral message from Liam Neeson, who has spent the previous seventy episodes being dead. (Liam Neeson has form for this. He played Aslan in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, and had a walk on as God in the still astonishing Rev.) It seems that, as a general rule, when a Jedi dies he goes to join an impersonal, Buddhist after-life in which he is one with the Force. Qui-Gon, on the other hand, has continued to exist as an actual personality.

There is some narrative to-ing and fro-ing: the Jedi Council all lay hands on Yoda like charismatics at a healing service, and then suspend him in an isolation tank. With Artoo Deetoo at his side, Yoda absconds from the Jedi hospital and flies to -- you'll like this -- Dagobah. There he encounters the late Qui-Gon Jinn, who manifests as a cloud of Tinker-Bell-like Pixie Dust. Yoda undergoes a Test under the same tree where Luke faced/will face the vision of Darth Vader in Empire Strikes Back. Yoda's vision is a flashback/flash forward to the destruction of the Jedi and the Senate which happened/will happen in Revenge of the Sith. Having passed the test, Qui-Gon sends Yoda on his way to a planet at the exact center of the galaxy "where life first arose". One hates to intrude on fandom's collective grief, but this is also the planet where the Midichlorians originated. It looks and feels like a very trippy computer game, or possibly a Rodney Matthews album cover. Yoda spends most of the next episode ("Destiny") jumping from one floating pink mushroom to another. He encounters a group of floaty masked Force ghosts, who direct him to the next part of the selection process, which involves confronting and mastering his Dark Side.

It turns out that Yoda's Dark Side is pretty indistinguishable from Andy Serkis playing Gollum; but since Yoda confronted and mastered it some time ago, he isn't detained for very long. So in the final episode ("Sacrifice") he is sent off to the planet Moribund, where the Sith originally originated. In the Secondary Canon they came from Korriban and in Rise of Skywalker they came from Exegol, but here they come from Moriband. Yoda meets a giant Balrog which claims to be the ghost of Darth Bane. He was the Lord who first had the idea of allowing the Sith to die out except for a single master who could pass the dark teaching on to a single apprentice. ("Always two there are.") Yoda then has a complex vision in which he fights Darth Sideous, and again avoids falling to the Dark Side. So the Floaty Force Ghosts agree to share the secret of eternal life with him. They also tell him that there is another Skywalker. This is, of course, what Yoda told/will tell Luke in Return of the Jedi. I don't know what Yoda understands by it at this point: he doesn't yet know that Anakin and Amidala are married, so he certainly doesn't know that she is pregnant. 

So: what are we to do with this kind of thing?

It isn't, compared with the best episodes of ther Clone Wars, all that much fun. Not many buckles are swashed and few cracks are wised. The story exists purely in order to paper over some admittedly substantial cracks in the Prequel Trilogy.

In the final seconds of Revenge of the Sith, Lucas pulled out of thin air the idea that Qui-Gon has taught Yoda how to survive being dead; and that Yoda is going to pass the secret on to Obi-Wan. This was itself a fairly contrived attempt to ret-con a small gap in the plot of the Original Trilogy. Obi Wan says that if Darth Vader strikes him, Obi-Wan, down then he, Obi-Wan, will become more powerful than he, Darth Vader, can possibly imagine. Vader is surprised when Alec Guiness's body vanishes. This is emphasised in the comic, the novel, and the LP versions, and was presumably a stage direction in the ur-screen-play. Ben's words to Vader are never followed up. When Yoda dies, his body also evaporates; and we see his Ghost, along with the ghosts of Ben and Luke's Father together in the final seconds of Return of the Jedi. I think Lucas, at that stage, rather intended us to forget the broad hint that Ben's death was unusual and treat dying, vanishing and Force ghostliness as a normal part of the Jedi career path. Yoda's remark at the end of Revenge of the Sith confirms that Ben was indeed a special case, and that dead Jedi don't habitually hang around outside their protege's space ships encouraging them to switch off their targeting computer's. But it's a pretty huge plot point to be resolved in a single line. The cartoon episodes are a valiant attempt to give the ending of the film, and therefore the entire saga, a little more coherence. 

Is this kind of plot-hole filling a worthwhile exercise? Some people might think that if you go to the trouble of setting your cartoon in the big blank space between Episode II and Episode III then you owe it to your viewers to fill the space up with Stuff; and that resolutions to dangling plot threads are very much the kind of stuff you ought to fill it with. Other people might say that if George Lucas decided to leave a big blank space in the middle of his composite artwork then David Feloni ought to refrain from scrawling graffiti on it.

This kind of thing arguably compounds the problems inherent in prequels. We know that Vader / Anakin was a good Jedi who was consumed by the Dark Side of the Force: we didn't particularly need three films showing us that fall in slow motion. We knew that Ben continued to talk to Luke Skywalker after he died: we didn't particularly need a new scene which tells us "That's because he had acquired a secret Talking-To-People-After-You-Die power." But knowing that, we didn't particularly need an hour and half of cartoons saying "Finding out the secret, finding out the secret, here is Yoda, finding out the secret."

What these episodes do, fairly successfully, is add significance to the problematic scenes. I suppose one could say that they apologise for them, or in the jargon, redeem them. Yoda's revelation about finding the secret of immortality comes out of the blue in Revenge of the Sith. It is narratively too easy. Eternal life is the kind of thing that sons of God lay down their lives for; not a knack one learns in the same spirit as a new Yoga position. The cartoons show us that Yoda had to go on a full-on Vision Quest to learn the secret. He refuses the quest, meets a mentor, descends into the underworld, faces a number of tests and temptations and rises again with the Boon that will Save the World. So the secret of the Whills was not a random plot device but -- from a certain point of view -- the pivotal point on which the whole saga turns. 

"Qui Gon Jin has revealed to Yoda that he must manifest his consciousness after death if he is to preserve the Jedi order" yells the melodramatic narrator. The Floaty Force Ghosts say that Yoda needs the secret because "he is to teach one who will save the universe from a great imbalance". Anakin's destiny is to kill the Emperor; Luke's destiny is to bring Anakin back to the light so he can kill the Emperor; Yoda's destiny is to train Luke so he can bring Anakin back to the light; Ben's destiny is to send Luke to Yoda to be trained... No-one can fulfil their respective destinies if Yoda doesn't learn how to do immortalling.

I like the parallelism between Dead Qui Gon sending Yoda and Artoo to Dagobah; and Dead Obi-Wan sending Luke and Artoo there in Empire Strikes Back. Luke thinks there is something familiar about the place, but it turns out that Artoo has been there before.

DIGRESSION: 
We have noted before that Star Wars is presented as a fairy tale; and fairy tale needs a story-teller. There is a long-cherished fan theory that the person telling the story is, in fact, Artoo Deetoo and that he is not always a reliable narrator. Artoo is portrayed as being the barer of the secret plans (with a Secret Mission, no less); and the one who travels alongside Luke to destroy the Death Star, and alongside Anakin in all of his big missions; a close confident of Amidala; an endless source of increasingly unlikely gimmicks and gadgets as the saga progresses. So, naturally, Artoo would spin the story so that he was Yoda's companion on his most important voyage. I don't "believe" this theory, any more than I "believe" that Jar-Jar Binks is a secret Sith Lord. But I am quite sure that Dave Feloni is aware of the theory - just as the Beatles became aware of the Paul-is-Dead hoax - and that he deliberately plants clues for the fans to find. 
END OF DIGRESSION

We get a certain amount of new, er, Lore. Qui-Gon says that there are two different Forces: the Living Force, which resides in each living thing in the universe and the Cosmic Force, which is the sum total of the Living Force of everyone who has ever lived. The Midichlorians mediate between the Living and Cosmic sides of the coin. Lucas's early, inelegant scripts for what was still called Ther Star Wars talked confusingly about the Bogan Force and the Force of Others and various other sub-Forces. Qui-Gon, who didn't learn enough mystical stuff to manifest as a Force Ghost is represented by little shiny sparkly things -- which I think are supposed to represent the particles of the Living Force which were left behind when his body died, but have remained separate from the Cosmic Force. Jedism doesn't seem to be in a strict sense pantheistic: the Force is not mystical or supernatural, but a component of the physical universe. There have to be Midichlorians, otherwise we might start to think that the Force was literally God or the Soul. 

So, then. A great secret Yoda has learned, and passed it onto Obi-Wan he has. When Revenge of the Sith first came out, I said that this felt like the pencilled-in sketch for a different film. Two competing heresies, passed down from master to apprentice, submerged in the monolithic but moribund Knights of the Holy Space Grail. When the time is fulfilled both the Whills and Sith will reveal themselves and one or the other will take over the Order and therefore the Universe. A far from uninteresting idea for a space fantasy epic; but not the space fantasy epic that Lucas in the end made. It does not magically come into being just because Yoda says "An old friend has found the path to immortality". And it doesn't become any solider because we've seen Yoda playing at Joseph Campbell three weeks running.

It seems to me that there are two ways you can do this stuff. You can look at the existing lore, cartoons and computer games and all, and use them as a plot-creation engine. You can, in effect, ask "Granted Ashoka and granted Luke Skywalker and granted Admiral Thrawn, what would happen if....." The cross-over sequences in the Mandalorian and the Book of Boba Fett may have offended the continuity-averse, but they seemed to me to be stories which are worth telling "What if Vader had an apprentice before his fall; what if she were still living; what if Luke met her?" is a valid and interesting question; and it would still be a valid and interesting question even if Ashoka were not, minute for minute, the longest-standing character in the Star Wars saga.

But the Yoda material is not building new stories from the components of existing ones. It's creating new stories in order to patch holes in old stories, and so far as I can see the hole is not patched. (On no possible view could Darth Vader have known Qui-Gon's secret teaching, so how could he possibly retain his consciousness and attend the Ewok bonfire party with Ben and Yoda?)

And we know the answer. Lucas wanted us to see Yoda and Obi-Wan at the end of Return of the Jedi because it was a nice scene to end the movie on. He wanted to show Luke's Father, back when Luke's father looked like Sebastian Shaw because he wanted to make the point that Luke's quest had succeeded and his father had been redeemed. And then he went back and retrospectively added Hayden Christensen to the cameo, because, well, why wouldn't he? Qui-Gon wasn't there because Lucas hadn't dreamt him up yet. It's more like 

So: anyway. There is my model of good Canon versus bad Canon.

Using existing material to create new stories: Good.

Making new stories to patch holes in old stories: Bad.

Ther Clone Wars is mostly good canon. Go watch it.

Monday, May 02, 2022

I Grow Tired Of Writing This Article, So It Will Be The Last Time (1)

I want to talk about the last four episodes of Season 6 of ther Clone Wars.

Ther Clone Wars is a Star Wars cartoon series. It originally ran from 2008 to 2014. A final Seventh Season came out in 2020; which led directly into a new cartoon called The Bad Batch .

Season 1 - 6 took place in between Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Season 7 ran more or less alongside Episode III. The Bad Batch takes up the story where Revenge of the Sith leaves off, in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the Republic.

It must always be referred to as Ther Clone Wars to distinguish it from an earlier, 2003 series of animated shorts which was just called Clone Wars.

Nearly everyone agrees that Star Wars Episodes I, II and III ("the prequels") were not very good. The level of not-very-goodness is disputed. Some people think they were a bit of a disappointment and not nearly as much fun as the original trilogy. Some people think that George Lucas raped their childhoods. But everyone with even a passing interest in Star Wars accepts that they are, and I am awfully sorry to use this word, canon.

You may very well think that Phantom Menace spoiled A New Hope and that Jar-Jar Binks was not particularly funny: but if I tell you that in ther Clone Wars the Jedi Council on Coruscant gives Anakin a Padawan named Ashoka, you know what a padawan is, and where Corsucant is, and what I mean by the Jedi Council.

It may be that when Princess Leia says that years ago Obi-Wan served her father in the Clone Wars, you still imagine an army of Jedi Knights fighting against an army of Clones. It may be that you imagine Jedi as Knights in Shining Armour rather than Samurai. It may be that you think that that version of the Clone Wars would have been more fun. But I don't think that anyone who is still interested in Star Wars remotely doubts that Lucas's backstory, clunkily expounded though it might have been, is what really happened.

I grant that this may be a No-True-Scotsman fallacy: everyone who likes Star Wars 'believes in' the prequels, because everyone who doesn't believe in the prequels long ago stopped liking Star Wars. 

Ther Clone Wars went a very long way to reconciling those two contradictory feelings. We might even say that it redeemed the Prequels. Maybe the kid-friendly animated format allowed Lucas to loosen up and offer us what is essentially "Revenge of the Sith, only fun." Or maybe he just sub-contracted his world to creators who were less jaded about it. At any rate, ther Clone Wars gives us a series of heroic, swashbuckling war stories in which Obi-Wan, Anakin and Ashoka fight endless thrilling battles against Christopher Lee and General Greivous, with light-sabre duels and space dogfights and literal cliffhangers, but with a mounting sense that Anakin's destiny is a bit on the Dark Side. 

The cinematic prequels were not movies so much as exercises in back-story management. The cartoon series is much more in the realm of Lucas's original vision -- Flash Gordon with Politics.

A young Republican officer starts talking about the need for authoritarian rule; Obi-Wan says that this is not the Jedi Way, but Anakin thinks he may have a point. The officer's name, is, of course, Tarkin. The Third On The Left in the Jedi Council ("Plo Koon") goes off on missions and quests. A Young Boy falls in first with a group of clones and then with a group of Bounty Hunters: he turns out to be the son of Jango Fett. (This is why Bobba tells Cadd Bane, the gunfighter/bounty hunter in the live action Book of Bobba Fett "I am not a little boy any more".) Darth Maul recovers from his death and briefly becomes dictator of the planet Mandalor. Obi-Wan has a dalliance with a Mandalorian duchess, who meets a tragic end. It may be she first gave him the nick-name Ben.

Some people like this kind of thing; sone people find it a bit annoying. It is not that surprising that a Star Wars cartoon contains references and quotes from the Star Wars movies; but we may not have been expecting Star Wars live-action shows to quote from and refer to the cartoons. I suppose animation is regarded by many people as a junior art-form. For a long time cartoon spin-offs of movies were disposable fare for Saturday morning kids slots. Who now remembers Bill and Teds Excellent Adventures and the Real Ghostbusters? Gene Roddenbury took the animated Star Trek rather seriously, but that didn't stop the BBC putting it in the Scooby Doo slot.

I saw someone complain on Twitter recently that in order to understand the significance of the Dark Sabre in the Mandalorian you first had to watch several hundred hours of cartoons. (In fairness, they may have meant that some Star Wars fans talk as if that was the case.) This is not literally true; you could watch the whole of Clone Wars and Rebels in sixty or seventy hours. And you certainly don't need to go back to the cartoon to follow the live action show. Everything you need is explained right there on screen: the Dark Sabre is a kind of Mandalorian Excalibur. The person with the sword has the right to rule the planet.

Does knowing that there are several other stories about the Dark Sabre that you have not watched necessarily make this one less fun? 

Does having watched several other stories about the Dark Sabre necessarily make this one more fun? 

Is the Lord of the Rings a better book once you have read the Silmarillion and know who Turin and Turgon and Even Beren Himself were? Is it exactly the same book whether you know who they are or not? Or does the reference to off-stage-lore completely ruin the book for you and make you chuck it aside in disgust?

Will I get the jokes in Guards, Guards if I haven't read all forty one Discworld novels? Is there any point in going to see Dune if I haven't read Frank Herbert's son's nineteen prequels? 

Is this, in fact, exactly the same essay I wrote about Doctor Who last week?


What Kind of a Star Wars fan are you?

1: "I didn't realise that this TV show contains references to other TV shows, cartoons and movies."

I have a colleague who remarked that they have been greatly enjoying the Mandalorian despite never having seen a Star War before. She doesn't see it as part of a saga: she's just enjoying it as cowboys in space. 

I see R2 Units and X-Wings and Jawas. She sees, presumably, Robots and Aliens and Space Ships.

2: "I know that this TV show contains references to other TV shows, cartoons and movies, but I don't think that it matters."

I watched Frasier without ever having seen an instalment of Cheers. From time to time a character from the old series turned up in Seattle. It meant there was the odd in-joke I didn't get. I didn't feel the need to go away and watch the previous series (although I understand it's very good) but neither did I say Kelsey Gramer hates me I have to go away and watch two hundred hours of comedy set in a bar before I understand why Dr Crane has a son by previous marriage.

3: "I know that this TV show contains references to other TV shows, cartoons and movies and I think that is all part of the fun: I positively enjoy collecting all the story elements and spotting the connections."

Ooo, Sir, me, me, me, me, me!

4: "I know that this TV show contains references to other TV shows, cartoons and movies and this ruins it for me."

Some people are completists. Some people feel that they can only watch this series if they watch all the other series as well. But they don't want to watch all the other series. So they are cross with this series for mentioning the old shows, and cross with the old shows for existing. And possibly cross with the new show for existing as well. 

People who take this view often pretend that when people talk about ther Clone Wars they are actually talking about the 1980s Droids and Ewoks TV shows. 

It may be a sort of a narrative Fear of Missing Out: if I can't have it ALL, then I want NONE OF IT. It may be a kind of moral principle, that all stories should be self-contained and if a story is not self-contained it is breaking the rules. Some people were cross with ther Batman because it didn't show the origin of Bruce and Commissioner Gordon's friendship, but kind of assumed you already knew.

We should, not of course forget that there is also

5: Somewhere in between.

This category includes nearly everyone reading this, and indeed, nearly everyone in the world. 

There is no doubt that Star Wars has become quite complicated. Before The Force Awakens, Lucasfilms was rather pragmatic about the Universe. All stories were canon, but some were more canon than others. (There was primary canon and secondary canon and tertiary canon, with the movies at the top and the holiday special at the bottom and most of the novels somewhere in between.) Since the reboot, there are only two kinds of story: "happened", and "didn't happen" with everything that did happen fitting into a fairly coherent timeline. 

This creates a rather sprawling narrative architecture: if you took a step back and tried to take it all in with a single glance, your brain would quite probably turn into to processed peas. Perhaps that is the real difference between the Type 4 Star Wars fan (who hates lore and canon) and the Type 3 Star Wars fan (who revels in them.) One prefers a perfectly formed work of art that you can see and appreciate the shape of; the other prefers a huge baroque maze that you will get lost in. Oedipus Rex versus The Faery Queene; The Go-Between versus Ulysses; G Minor Tocata and Fugue over The Ring Cycle. 

It is no secret which side of the fence I come down on.

Perfectly sensible adults who read proper books and watch proper movies have claimed to be confused by the fact that Episodes I, II and III came out after Episodes IV, V and VI. Oh these whacky space fiction fans who don't even count like we do! I wonder how they would cope with the fact that the cartoon, which fills in the big blank space between the fifth and sixth (by which I mean the second and third) movies started twelve months after the second (by which I mean the first) trilogy was complete.

We are not talking about crossovers. There have always been crossovers. Scooby Doo met Batman: amusing people have pointed out that Batman met Alien and Alien met Predator and Predator met Terminator so Terminator and Scooby Doo share a setting. That's neither very interesting nor very funny. Batman gatecrashed Superman's radio show before World War II; and Stan Lee treated the Fantastic Four as part of Spider-Man's supporting cast before Philip Larkin had discovered sexual intercourse. But we are still talking about separate narrative units which happen to allude to each other. No-one was ever really suggesting that the Fantastic Four and Milly the Model made sense as a single narrative. Someone has tried the experiment of reading every Marvel Comic in order and pretending it was one big story. But that was never how they were meant to be read.

Alastair Grey's novel Lanark is divided into four parts: the first part describes the protagonist in a kind of allegorical purgatory; the second and third parts show his realistic life in 1960s Glasgow; the final part resumes his posthumous odyssey. As a kind of jape, the index lists the books as Part 4, part 1, part 2 and part 3, in that order: but he notes in his epilogue (which comes in the middle) that lots of books are intended to be read in one order but eventually though of in a different order. Godfather Part II, which embeds a prequel inside a sequel, springs obviously to mind. There is also a quite good little movie called Citizen Kane.

This is why there is no sensible answer to the question about the correct order in which to read the Narnia books. You should read the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe first, but eventually think of the Magicians Nephew first. The question "What order should I read or watch them in?" only really applies to the very first reading; and there is really no such thing as a first reading. We all know who Luke Skywalker's dad is and what Aslan is an allegory of and who Rosebud was before we start. 

Many years ago I proposed that Star Wars should be thought of, not as a straight narrative line but as a spiral. My idea was that the Prequels to some extent changed the meaning of the Original Trilogy; and that both "meanings" could exist in your head at the same time. When Obi-Wan tells Luke that Vader killed his father, he is both telling the truth and lying; when Luke kisses Leia, it's both a flirtatious snog between two teenagers and a slightly creepy moment between two siblings. 

I expressed that thought as a swirly flow chart in which Star-Wars-Once-You-Have-Seen-Empire-Strikes-Back is a different movie from Star-Wars-Before-You-Have-Seen-Empire-Strikes-Back; and The-Trilogy-Before-You-Have-Seen-The-Prequels is a different set of films from The-Trilogy-After-You-Have-Seen-The-Prequels. 

The addition of more material -- a third trilogy and two stand alone films; four cartoon series; two live action series and more on the way -- turns my elegant spiral into a knotty web. A big ball of wibbly wobbly lore. Mapping out how the cartoons relate to the TV shows would be quite beyond my capacity; and don't even mention the comics...

It is possible to imagine someone watching the entire Star Wars canon, never having seen any of the movies before, in strict chronological order. It is also possible to imagine visiting them in a padded cell once they were finished. First Phantom Menace, then Attack of the Clones, then the first six Seasons of Clone Wars, then Revenge of the Sith, then the Bad Bunch, then Rebels, and then (if you are quick), the original trilogy itself. (If you are not quick, you'll have to squeeze in Obi-Wan after Rebels but before Rogue One.) I suppose a true chronological reading would require you to watch Season Seven of the Clone Wars and Revenge of the Sith simultaneously, via some sort of split-screen effect. Maybe some film school dude could edit them together as a project: I believe there is a linear edit of Citizen Kane in existence, and there was a TV series re-editing the Godfather in historical sequence. I'd rather like to see it again. Don't get me started chronological Bibles.

If you were watching The Whole of Star Wars In Order for the first time, you would come to -- say -- Episode One of The Bad Batch and notice that some attention is given to a young Jedi Padawan who escapes when the Clone Troopers execute Order 66. (His mentor is the lady of Asian appearance who sits on the Jedi council in Phantom Menace.) "I wonder who that character is" you would say "I bet he is going to turn out to be important later on". And you'd be right: he grows up to be Kanan, who teaches Ezra about the Force in Rebels. But this is arguably not how you are meant to view the scene. It is certainly not how most people first experienced it. Bad Batch came out in 2021 and Rebels ended in 2018. So arguably, the "correct" response is "Oh wow -- Kanan when he was a little boy!"

But perhaps "intention" and "chronological readings" break down in this kind of narrative web. Perhaps all that matters is that there are little cross-temporal links between the different formats. Perhaps the fact nearly everyone gets some connections and hardly anyone get all of them is the core fact about the aesthetic. The object of the exercise is not to catechise us about every previous appearance of the Dark Sabre, or to try and remember when Rex transitioned from being a background grunt to being a major character, and if he is going to appear in Obi-Wan. Perhaps the object is that we don't -- can't possibly -- get every reference. Perhaps that is what creates the compelling illusion that what we are watching is not just a story, but also an historical text. 








I: Phantom Menace

II: Attack of the Clones

Clone Wars Seasons 1-5

III: Revenge of the Sith

Clone Wars Season 7

The Bad Batch

Rebels

?? Obi-Wan

Solo

Rogue One

IV: Star Wars

V: The Empire Strikes Back

VI: Return of the Jedi

The Mandalorian

The Book of Boba Fett

VII: The Force Awakens

Resistance Season 1

VIII: The Last Jedi

Resistance Season 2

IX: The Rise of Skywalker

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)?

SPOILER: No.

(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....