Thursday, December 06, 2018

Doomsday Clock #8

I think I finally understand. 

Geoff Johns wants to write about the DC Superheroes—Superman, Batman, Shazam and all the rest. Those are the characters he cares about; those are the characters he has a feel for. 

Or perhaps those are characters who, whatever their origins, have been folklorized. Characters who have bounced from writer to writer and from medium to medium for nearly a century. Characters who are bigger than any one creator. Batman isn't Bob Kane's Batman, and possibly never was: he is just Batman. Each writer writes the Consensus Batman and passes him on to the next writer, knowing that Consensus Batman has changed, ever so slightly, under his brief custodian-hood. The Watchmen characters haven't been, and shouldn't be, folklorized in that way: they belong too much in a single text. It makes sense for Geoff Johns to be writing about Firestorm in the way that Geoff Johns would write about Firestorm. It makes no sense whatsoever for him to be writing about Doctor Manhattan in the way that he imagines that Alan Moore would have written about Doctor Manhattan, had Alan Moore not comprehensively killed him off and said very publicly that there shouldn't be any more Doctor Manhattan stories. So obviously, the DC Universe scenes work and the Watchmen scenes don't. 

Or perhaps that's just what we've been conditioned to think by the movie/publishing complex. 

Perhaps the comic that Geoff Johns really wanted to write was the seventeenth reboot of the DC Universe, bringing back Kid Flash and the original Justice League and possibly making the whole thing slightly less dark and slightly more Silver Agey. Perhaps someone Upstairs said he could only write his reboot if it included the cast of Alan Moore's graphic novel, and he agreed. Or perhaps he realized that his story needed a super-god to muck around with history and challenge Superman, and found himself thinking "Wouldn't it be a wheeze if my God Like Being was Doctor Manhattan?" 

Or perhaps none of these things are true. What certainly is true is that this episode has very much more fluidity and characterization and, oh god, dare I even use the word, fun than the previous seven issues of Doomsday Clock. 

Or perhaps Superman and Batman and Lois Lane and Firestorm are fun and interesting characters no matter what you do with them. Perhaps the Watchmen characters are, out of the context of that one particular text, actually quite boring. 

Or perhaps that's just what we've been conditioned to think. 

In this issue, the subplot which has been simmering away in the background since issue one pushes its way to the front of the stage. The Watchmen cast are almost entirely absent. Geoff Johns takes the trouble to write in some exposition about the DC characters and the current state of the DC Universe. This enabled me to keep track of which superhero was who and therefore have a fairly good idea about what was supposed to be going on. "Firestorm wasn't created by some secret government programme, Lois" says a bespectacled news reporter in an old-fashioned blue suit "Ronnie Raymond and Prof Martin Stein were in a nuclear accident which fused them together. Ronnie's in control of the body, and the professor advises him telepathically." 

Perhaps it is in the nature of classical comic book characters to explain the plot to each other in short sharp sentences. The Watchmen characters, being realistic, can't be expected to tell each other things they already know, so we can only find out what is going on through the medium of oblique flashbacks and sidelong glances. An interesting Watchmen/DC crossover would have played on that. Imagine Superman having a Doctor Manhattan style reverie, taking us back to Krypton and Kansas in non-sequential flashbacks, while Rorschach says "I'm trying to fill the shoes of a hero who never really was! Gosh, how ironic!" 

Or perhaps Alan Moore did that years ago, under the title of For The Man Who Has Everything. 

The overwhelming majority of DC superheroes are American. Meta-textually, this is because DC Comics are published in America and the overwhelming majority of DC Comics readers are American. However, people inside the comic book universe have started to realize this; and they have developed a theory that all the superheroes (apart from Superman) have been created by the American Government, and should therefore be regarded as military weapons and regulated by treaties. The appearance of a superhero (apart from Superman) anywhere in the world could be regarded as an act of war. This is the Superman theory. It may have been deliberately created by Lex Luther to make life hard for Superman, but on the other hand it may not have been. 

In this issue, the previously exposited Firestorm has been illegally superheroing in Russia, lost control of his powers, and turned an entire innocent crowd to solid glass, which the Russians take to be an act of war. Firestorm takes refuge in Kahndaq, a sanctuary for superheroes ruled by Black Adam. The last time I looked, Black Adam was the evil opposite of Captain Marvel. He now seems to be a kind of edgy good-guy who Superman treats with cautious respect. Superman and Firestorm work out how to use the latter's powers to make the crowd of glass statues human again, and Superman uses his innate nobility and charisma to get the Russians on side; but just when everything is going to be okay the army and Batman arrive, there is shooting, and the statues get smashed. 

The episode begins with Ozymandias, who has possibly somehow got inside the Oval Office, pulling a secret file off a shelf and saying "This will do nicely". Halfway through the episode, Lois Lane gets a memory stick containing footage of the Justice Society, who she has never heard of, and the final page has Ozymandias sitting in front of a bank of TV screens. (I like the fact that the high tech bank of TVs he had in Watchmen have been replaced by several different widescreens and some tablets.) Last issue he said "I have a plan"; this issue he says "It begins". If this is all too subtle, the alternative cover (all comics have lots of different covers nowadays) shows Ozymandias as a puppeteer, controlling marionettes representing Superman and Doctor Manhattan. 

So: the situation has been engineered (somehow) by Ozymandias. I think that what is supposed to have happened in the final panel is that Ozzy has somehow let off a Nuke or at any rate a Very Big Bomb in Moscow, but made it look as if the explosion is Firestorm losing control of his powers. He thinks that engineering a war between the US and Russia will force Superman to stop Doctor Manhattan. Stop him from doing what? I have rather lost track. Superman is certainly the biggest name hero in the DC cosmology; but I don't see why he is thought capable of challenging Doctor Manhattan, who is very nearly literally a god. 

But doubtless this will all be cleared up sometime before the summer of 2019. 

Or perhaps that's what we've been conditioned to think.

Andrew Rilstone is a writer and critic from Bristol, England. 

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Thursday, November 29, 2018

Doomsday Clock # 7



Comes from: The DC Universe, 36th Century
Group affiliation: Legion of Superheroes
Powers: Telepathy
Objective: Keep history running according to the correct time line from her future perspective.


Comes from: The Watchmen Universe, 1992
Group affiliation: Ozymandias
Powers: Being a badass
Objectives: Help Ozymandias locate Doctor Manhattan.


Comes from: The DC Universe, 1945
Group affiliation: The Justice Society
Powers: Used to be able to summons up a magic genie.
Objective: Reestablish contact with his magic genie. Believes the green lantern (see below) is related to his lamp.

Magic Items: Green lantern

The green lantern once belonged to the golden age Green Lantern who was Johnny Thunder's team mate in the Justice Society. (However due to the intervention of Doctor Manhattan, the golden age Green Lantern never existed and was therefore, presumably, never in the Justice Society. The green lantern has been impregnated with McGuffin Particles due to its contact with Doctor Manhattan.)



Comes from: The Watchmen Universe, 1992
Group affiliation: Himself
Powers: Rich genius.
Objective: a: Find Doctor Manhattan;
b: Persuade him to return to the Watchmen Universe
c: Prevent Watchmen Universe being destroyed in a nuclear war for real this time.

Magic Items:

1: Nite Owl's Owlship

Automatically deposits Ozymandias at the exact spot in the multiverse where the plot requires him to be.

2: Bubastis

Bubaastis was killed by Doctor Manhattan but has been cloned by Ozymandias. The Bubastis kitten has been impregnated with McGuffin Particles due to the original's contact with Doctor Manhattan.


Comes from: The DC Universe, present day
Group affiliation: Himself
Powers: He is ther goddamned Batman.
Objectives: a: Prevent Ozymandias destroying the world.
b: Catch crooks.



Comes from: The DC Universe, present day
Group affiliation: Leader of all the criminals in Gotham City
Powers: Mad, evil. Has more or less infinite supply of former Batman bad guys under his command.
Objective: Kill ther Batman


Comes from: The Watchmen Universe, 1992
Group affiliation: Doctor Manhattan
Objective: Last orders were to kill Bubastis

The Comedian was killed in the Watchmen universe, but has been resurrected in the present day DC Universe by Doctor Manhattan

The Comedian has been impregnated with McGuffin Particles due to his contact with Doctor Manhattan.


Come from: The Watchmen Universe, 1992
Powers: Unclear
Group affiliation: Came to the DC Universe with Ozymandias with the intention of helping him solicit Doctor Manhattan's aid. Currently allied with the Joker


When the scenario begins, Mime and Marionette and a severely wounded Comedian and ther Batman are located in the Joker's secret base.

Ozymandias will pick up Saturn Girl, Johnny Thunder and Rorschach in the Owl Ship.

Bubastis is attracted to anything and anyone which has been impregnated with McGuffin Particles (i.e anything which has been touched by Doctor Manhattan.) This should eventually lead the party to the Joker's base.

If all the objects and people impregnated with McGuffin Particles (e.g Bubastis, the Comedian and the green lantern) are brought together then Doctor Manhattan will be forced to manifest.

When Doctor Manhattan manifests he will info dump the following facts:

1: Ozymandias does NOT have cancer after all; this was a ruse to persuade Rorschach to join his scheme.

2: Rorschach's parents' marriage was destroyed by his father's involvement with Kovacs. This information was withheld from him by Mothman.

3: Manhattan refrained from killing the Marionette during the bank robbery not out of simple compassion but because he used his precognizance to see what her child would do in the future.

4: Marionette is pregnant again; Manhattan will not say which child the prophecy refers to.

5: Manhattan knows that he will encounter Superman in one month's time: his precognizance fails at this point and he does not know if this means he will be killed, or that he will somehow destroy the world.

Once it is clear that Manhattan will not intervene to save either Watchmen-earth or DC-earth, Ozymandias will announce that he has a plan of his own.

Because the last one went so well.

Andrew Rilstone is a writer and critic from Bristol, England. 

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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Doomsday Clock #6

I sometimes come to the end of a comic book and say "This handles the first meeting of Winnie-the-Pooh and Paddington Bear in an obvious and predictable way; any fan could have written it themselves." The proper reaction to Doomsday Clock is more like: "This copies the superficial style of Watchmen in an obvious and predictable way; but it is written very much better than any fan would have done."

Which raises the question "Why is Geoff Johns, who can obviously write a bit, wasting his time on this thing?"


This issue establishes a back story for Marionette and Mime, the two Watchmen-universe super-villains introduced in issue #1. This is in itself an obvious and predictable copy of the superficial style of Watchmen; which dedicated several issues to establishing the backstories of individual characters. The flashback to Marionette's childhood copies the style of those flashback episodes in such an obvious and predictable way that it set my teeth on edge.

Doctor Manhattan's dad made watches; and that imagery feeds into the Doc building his weird artifice on Mars; his non-linear perception of time; Einstein's line about becoming a watchmaker; the title of the comic....and so on, to infinity and beyond. Marionette's father made -- I wonder if you can guess -- puppets. (An immigrant-run marionette shop opposite an immigrant-run cut-glass shop seems like something out of the 1930s rather than the 1970s, but possibly all superhero flashbacks take place in that period known as The Olden Days.) When Rorschach was a little boy a group of bigger boys called him whore-son and he stabbed one of them in the eye with a pencil. When Marionette was a little girl some bigger girls called her dad a creepy child molester and the boy from the glass shop over the road smashed one of their heads open with a bottle.

Marionette's father is forced to pass protection money, or possibly drug money, or possibly bribes between the mob and some bent coppers. He does this by, er, hiding wads of cash inside his puppets. He is so ashamed of this that he ends up taking his own life. Marionette finds him hanging in his shop as if he were a puppet himself. And we are all puppets, don't you know, only not all of us can see the strings. I wonder if some day that you'll say that you care?

But once we were told about the origins of Rorschach, Doctor Manhattan or Ozymandias we felt we understood those characters a little more; and the more we understood the characters the more sharply the Watchmen setting came into focus. We saw that Rorschach was not just a vigilante: he believes that good and evil are absolutes but that they were invented by humans and imposed on an amoral universe. This to some extent explains his actions: when he chooses to die rather than compromise his beliefs we understand why. I suppose that this story tells us that Marionette and Mime are very dedicated to each other because of a shared trauma in their childhood; and that they became criminals because Marionette's father was driven to suicide by corrupt cops. But really: we're back in that monochrome universe where "Because a baddy killed his daddy" is a good answer to the question "Why would a brilliant multi-zillionaire dress up as a bat every night?"

Yes, you can blackmail me into empathizing with two characters by telling me that they had horrid childhoods; but the question "Who are these people? Why should I care about them? And how do they fit into the story?" remains entirely unanswered. They are currently hanging out with the Joker's entourage, which merely underlines the fact that they are not very much more than Poundland Harley Quinn knockoffs.

Meanwhile, in the present day, all the villains in the DC Universe or possibly Gotham City are gathered together in a villainous convocation. They get one panel each. Here's the Penguin; here's the Scarecrow; here's one I don't remember.

There are off-hand references to the Green Lantern and all his enemies having left earth and Wonder Woman having been forcibly returned to Paradise Island, which is either a witty allusion to Dark Knight Returns or else isn't.

Then the Comedian turns up and everyone gets shot.

Andrew Rilstone is a writer and critic from Bristol, England. 

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Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Doomsday Clock #5

meets Ozymandias on the Owlship.

Batman says to Ozymandias: "You killed billions of people as part of a crazy, self-aggrandizing scheme." 

Ozymandias says to Batman "You spend all your time arresting individual muggers and supervillains, but have never tried to do anything positive to improve the world."

The consequence was that Batman falls out of the Owlship, is ripped apart by an angry mob, and handed over to the Joker. 

And the world said "We think its all a big conspiracy by the American government."

Andrew Rilstone is a writer and critic from Bristol, England. 

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Monday, November 26, 2018

Doomsday Clock #4

"A Young Guy has been placed in a mental institution. His Dad was killed in a Horrible Disaster, shortly after befriending a Notorious Vigilante. The Young Guy meets a friend of the Notorious Vigilante who is also in the institution. The Vigilante's Friend gives the Young Guy some combat training and a copy of his Father's diary.  The Young Guy eventually takes on the identity of the Notorious Vigilante and goes after the Crazy Genius who caused the Horrible Disaster which killed his family. But when he finds out that the Crazy Genius is terminally ill, he makes an uneasy alliance with him."

Doomsday Clock #4 contains a story. Not a great story: but definitely a narrative; one which would make sense even to someone who didn't know the difference between "Earth-2" and the "New 52". It is therefore the best issue so far. 

Like Watchmen itself, it is very, very dense: too dense to really understand at a single reading. Like Watchmen it keeps jumping between the present day and the character's memories, showing how things in the past continue to influence things in the present. Like Watchmen, it involves a criminal being given a Rorschach test by a psychiatrist. Twice. But unlike Watchmen the flashback structure is spread across two different universes, which makes everything just that little bit more confusing.

Last month, our hero, Fake Rorschach, was trapped in Arkham Asylum as a result of a ruse by ther Batman. This month we learn that Fake Rorschach (who traveled from Watchmen-world to DC-world with Ozymandias) is in fact...


....Reggie Long, the son of Doctor Malcolm Long who psychoanalyzed the original Rorschach in the original graphic novel. His parents were killed in Ozymandias's attack on New York, and he saw the giant alien squid himself. As a result, he was placed in a mental institution where he came to know Byron Lewis, the original Mothman, who had also been institutionalized. (Mothman appears in a couple of panels in the original Watchmen; he was a member of the original Minutemen team. He has a slightly bigger role in Before Watchmen, but I don't care about that.) The relationship between Reggie and Byron is pretty well done. They first meet when Reggie is thinking about jumping from the prison roof; and Byron appears to be planning to do the same thing. But of course, Byron is not really trying to kill himself -- he is testing his moth-glider wings. There is a tolerably Moorish subtext here: both characters are in their own way looking for the Light; and light is what moths, by their nature, are drawn to. But we keep seeing an image of a bug flying into a light and getting zapped by a bug trap. The scenes of the emaciated Reggie Long, on the roof, in the rain, thinking about jumping, recall the concentration camp scenes in V for Vendetta, possibly intentionally.

There is, I fear, a little bit of dot-joining going on. Geoff Johns needs to get Reggie to the point where he can plausibly impersonate Rorschach; but Rorschach was the ultimate bad-ass. So we get Mothman teaching Reggie the fighting techniques of the Minutemen; and Mothman taking trips "over the wall" on his glider wings and bringing Regggie the notes about Rorschach that his late father left conveniently on his desk. He even provides him with boarding passes which will take him most of the way to Ozymandias's base at the South Pole. (Reggie is, understandably, a little cross with Ozymandias once he finds out that the giant blue squid which killed his parents and landed him in a mental hospital was a fake.) It's all a bit contrived, but plenty of superheroes have had less convincing origin stories.

The whole thing is framed, rather confusingly, with scenes in which the present-day fake-Rorschach is interviewed by a psychiatrist in present-day-DC-Universe Arkham; so we get to go through the whole "What do these pictures make you think of?" routine twice.

The Arkham shrink turns out to be ther Batman and the mysterious telepathic lady in the next cell turns out to be Saturn Girl from the Legion of Superheroes. She springs Reggie out of Arkham. 

There is still a subplot about how lots of people think that all the superheroes were deliberately created as part of a conspiracy by the American government. I hope you are keeping up.

Andrew Rilstone is a writer and critic from Bristol, England. 

If you have enjoyed this essay, please consider supporting Andrew on Patreon. 

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Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Going, Going, Gondolin

The Fall of Gondolin
by J.R.R. Tolkien
edited by Christopher Tolkien

Some people are very cross about this book. Some of them don't think that the unpublished notes of dead authors should ever see the light of day. Some of them think that literary estates should make posthumous material available for free (and that editors and printers should chip in their time gratis). Quite a lot of people think that Tolkien's history's of the First and Second Ages are just incoherent doodling without any kind of literary value. Some even believe that The Fall of Gondolin is a Brian Herbert style continuation of Tolkien that Christopher Tolkien is passing off as his own work. (I got sworn at quite loudly on Facebook when I pointed out this wasn't the case.) And the mainstream press have completely ignored it.

Assuming you are not one of those people, what is the book about?

Way, way back many ages ago, not long after the Silmarillion began, an Elf named Turgon discovered a Secret Valley, and decided that this would be an absolutely spiffing place to construct a Hidden City. He named it Gondolin, the hidden rock. 

Many years later, a pair of humans, Huor and Hurin were taken to Gondolin by The Eagles (it's always The Eagles) on condition they swore to keep the location of the Hidden City hidden. Hurin became the father of the spectacularly ill-fated Turin. Huor's son, on the other hand, is called Tuor and he is the subject of the present book. 

Turin son of Hurin, Tuor son of Huor, Andrew son of Mandrew. I don't know if there is any reason behind all these rhyming names. The Dwarves in the Hobbit went in for it in a big way. although Tolkien blames that on the translator. 


Ulmo, the God of the Sea, tells Tuor Son of Huor to go to the Hidden City and warn Turgon Son of Fingolfin that he needs to throw open the gates of the Gondolin and attack Morgoth the Dark Lord. After a very great deal of waffle, Tuor delivers the message, but Turgon has absolutely no intention of de-cloking his city. The trip isn't entirely wasted because Tuor falls in love with Turgon's daughter, Idril, and eventually marries her. If it is 1917 and Beren is still elvish, then this is the first time human and elf have ever intermarried. If it is after 1920 and Beren is a human, then it's the second time. If you don't know who the third interracial pair were then you probably aren't going to enjoy the rest of this essay very much. 

Due to some treachery we probably don't need to go into, Morgoth the Dark Lord finds out where the city is and attacks it with dragons and balrogs and orcs (oh my!). After much derring do, the city is wiped out. However, Tuor and Idril's son Eärendil is smuggled out of the city. Eärendil, you will recall, was a mariner who tarried in Arvernien and built a boat of timber felled in Nimbrethil to journey in. The whole of Tolkien's vast story world--his legendarium, if you absolutely insist -- was dreamt up in order to provide a context for the story of Eärendil. Because of his mixed parentage, he is Elvish down to his waist, but his legs are human. [Check this. Ed.]This makes it his job to sail to Valinor, the Undying Lands and ask the High Elves and the Gods to come back to Middle-earth and defeat Morgoth once and for all. 

Eärendil may be an Anglo-Saxon name for the planet Venus; and some Anglo-Saxon poets may have thought that Venus represented Jesus Christ. The Very Early Tolkien thought that he was at some level recovering lost mythic material that was inferable only from linguistic hints; that he wasn't making up a story about Eärendil, but rediscovering it. Eärendil is quite a major background figure in Lord of the Rings: he was the father of Elrond and the ancestor of Aragorn. The star glass which Galadriel gives Frodo contains some of the light from the Silmaril on Eärendil's forehead; and when Frodo cries out "Aiya Eärendil Elenion Ancalima!" he is indirectly quoting the old English couplet which kicked off Tolkien's whole creative process. 

But here is the thing. Tolkien never wrote the story of Eärendil, or even attempted it. The long poem which Bilbo recites in the Fellowship of the Ring is about as close as we get to it. I suppose Tollers couldn't embark on the final story on which all others depended until the rest of the history and the languages were completed to his satisfaction: and he was never satisfied with anything. 

I think that this fundamental interconnectivity is probably the most important part of Tolkien's literary achievement. If we can hold all these stories in our head they form a single immense pattern. Elrond tells Gandalf that the swords which Bilbo and the dwarves found in the trolls' lair were forged in Gondolin. Gandalf's sword Glamdring may have been wielded by Turgon himself. If you can get right through the Silmarillion there is a wonderful sense of seeing history laid out before you: Gondolin is a great city that will be built at some point in the future; then it is the Hidden City that few people know about; then it is the fallen city that is remembered only in legend. 

Doubtless everything is connected to everything else in real life as well. But real life is too vast and too complex and too arbitrary for us to grasp. Tolkien's made-up mythology and his made up history (and, I very much suspect, his made up grammar) is more shapely and balanced and pleasing than real history, mythology and grammar ever manage to be. In his creation story, the gods first perceive the shape of history, from the outside, as a single artistic whole—specifically a symphony—and then enter into the world and experience it sequentially as a series of events. 

But here's the other thing. The romance of Beren and Luthien, and the tragedy of Turin stand up pretty well as heroic sagas in their own right. The story of Gondolin really doesn't. It's a pivotal moment in Tolkien's symphony, and we Tolkien-heads want to know about it, but it isn't particularly interesting out of context. And, inevitably, Tolkien never finished the story.

Tuor and the Exiles of Gondolin Which Bringeth in The Great Tale of Eaerendel was one of the original Book of Lost Tales, Tolkien's first draft of what became the Silmarillion, written off the top of his head in or about 1917. Parts of it are quite dramatic, but it is bloody hard work, written in that extreme cod-archaic diction that the Very Early Tolkien loved so much:

The ardour of Glorfindel drove that Balrog from point to point, and his mail fended him from its whip and claw. Now had he beaten a heavy swinge upon its iron helm, now hewn off the creature’s whip-arm at the elbow. Then sprang the Balrog in the torment of his pain and fear full at Glorfindel, who stabbed like a dart of a snake; but he found only a shoulder, and was grappled, and they swayed to a fall upon the crag-top. Then Glorfindel’s left hand sought a dirk, and this he thrust up that it pierced the Balrog’s belly nigh his own face (for that demon was double his stature); and it shrieked, and fell backward from the rock, and falling clutched Glorfindel’s yellow locks beneath his cap, and those twain fell into the abyss. 

The version of the story in the "synthetic" Silmarillion—the book compiled from Tolkien's notes by Christopher Tolkien and Guy Gavriel Kay in 1977—reads very much like a summary:

Along that narrow way their march was strung, when they were ambushed by Orcs, for Morgoth had set watchers all about the encircling hills; and a Balrog was with them. Then dreadful was their plight, and hardly would they have been saved by the valour of yellow-haired Glorfindel, chief of the House of the Golden Flower of Gondolin, had not Thorondor come timely to their aid. Many are the songs that have been sung of the duel of Glorfindel with the Balrog upon a pinnacle of rock in that high place; and both fell to ruin in the abyss. 

This text is not strictly written by Tolkien: it is a very lightly edited version of Quenta Noldorinwa, the history of the Noldor. written in 1930: 

Along that narrow way their march was strung when it was ambushed by an outpost of Morgoth’s power; and a Balrog was their leader. Then dreadful was their plight, and hardly would it have been saved by the deathless valour of yellow-haired Glorfindel, chief of the House of the Golden Flower of Gondolin, had not Thorondor come timely to their aid. Songs have been sung of the duel of Glorfindel with the Balrog upon a pinnacle of rock in that high place; and both fell to ruin in the abyss. 

Quenta Noldorinwa was, indeed, intended to be a synopsis of Tolkien's mythology. He did, in fact, write a much more expansive version in 1937, after the Hobbit but before Lord of the Rings. This was called Quenta Silmarillion, the history of the Silmarils, and it's where most of the book-we-now-call-the-Silmarillion comes from. 

The story of the fall of Gondolin in the 1977 Silmarillion runs to barely ten pages, where the story of Beren and Luthien run to over fifty. Why do Christopher and Guy run with this rather cursory version? Simply because Tolkien (of course) never got to the end of Quenta Silmarillion: the Gondolin tale is not in it. The very primitive and very archaic Lost Tales version and the very brief Quenta Noldorinwa summary was all they had to work with. 

Tolkien did embark on a full dress novelistic retelling of the story in the early 1950s (post Lord of the Rings) but he gives up shortly after Tuor arrives in the city. The fragment runs to some 40 pages so the full version would have been vast. When Christopher Tolkien published the fragment as part of the Unfinished Tales, he named it "Of Tuor and His Coming to Gondolin". I loyally ploughed through it when it came out in 1980, but I am afraid my reaction was "Of Whom And His Coming To Where?"

So: what is the point of the present volume? 

The 1917 version of the story has already been published in the Book of Lost Tales and the long 1954 version in the Unfinished Tales. I suppose these books aren't that east to come by—the History of Middle Earth is only gettable at in relatively expensive print on demand editions—and printing the same material twice in thirty years is hardly saturating the market. The justification for the Children of Hurin  (2007) and Beren and Luthien (2017) was that they made worthwhile literary texts available to the general reader, substantially stripped of their critical apparatus. Many people might want to know more of the story which Aragorn told Frodo and Sam on Weathertop without caring a great deal about how Tolkien's various notebooks are related. 

But the sad truth is, there is no version of the fall of Gondolin which is going to be much use to the kind of person who has read the Lord of the Rings twice and the Silmarillion once. The very archaic version of the fall of the city; the first few pages of a novel that was started but not completed; nothing else but notes and synopses. And Christopher's voice chiming in every few pages:

Towards the end of the Quenta my father expanded and retyped portions of the text (while preserving the discarded pages); the text as it stood before this rewriting I will call ‘Q I’. Near the end of the narrative Q I gives out, and only the rewritten version (‘Q II’) continues to the end. It seems clear from this that the rewriting (which concerns Gondolin and its destruction) belongs to the same time, and I have given the Q II text throughout, from the point where the tale of Gondolin begins. The name of the King of Eagles, Thorndor, was changed throughout the text to Thorondor. 

In 2003, in his important Tolkien and the Great War, journalist-historian John Garth made a substantial attempt to rehabilitate the original Lost Tales Fall of Gondolin as a work of literature in its own right: not as a back story to Lord of the Rings, not as a first draft of the Silmarillion, but as a bona fide war poem. Christopher just doesn't think in that way: he is a textual critic. The relationships between the texts is all he is interested in. 

It is a Gordian knot; a riddle which cant be solved. The facts are the facts. Tolkien's mythos exists, frozen at different points in time, in different contradictory manuscripts. What most serious but non-scholarly Tolkien fans want is the story of Middle-earth; the tale of the Fall of Gondolin, fixed and final. Christopher is being honest in telling us that we can never have that.

If you have read Lord of the Rings and want to know the mythos, then read the Silmarillion and worry not about its textual sources. If you have read the Silmarillion and want to know about the tangles of texts Tolkien actually left, then by all means ask Mr Unwin to print you out a p.o.d History of Middle Earth (a snip at five hundred quid for the twelve volume set). But it is not clear to me which middle group this book is intended for.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Stand tall!
Thou hath reached the peak and plucked the proudest prize!
Hang loose! Thou shalt flee from fear no longer, nor suffer pangs of doubt!
Face front! The past doth lie behind thee. The beckoning future now is thine!
‘Tis true! ‘Tis true! How proudly we proclaim: thou hath joined Marveldom assembled!
Thy name hath been inscribed, now and evermore, in the blessed book of FOOM!
Come take thy place, believer, within the hallowed ranks.
The eyes of FOOM are upon thee.
They behold thee with fondness and favor.
The heart of FOOM embraces thee.
The hands of FOOM clasp thine.
For FOOM hath summoned thee, and claimed thee for its own!
Thou hath chosen a creed, a code, a way of life, and by thy choice, and by thy faith, the legends ne’er shall perish!

The Last Doctor Who Review (For The Time Being)

We keep getting exterior long shots of a Cyberman in a cave. (Actually, we keep getting the same long shot of Cyberman in a cave.) In the darkness, lit up by some kind of spotlight, it looks very silver, very shiny, very real

It is eight years since the Cybermen last appeared on TV: an eternity in TV years. They are part of the past of the series; something our elder brothers remember; as irretrievable and canonical as shillings, and food-rationing. Yet here they are: on the screen, looking just as they did on the Weetabix picture cards and the Target book covers, silver suits and eye holes and handlebar ears.

Genesis of the Daleks was about the Daleks. It may have deconstructed their origin but it was interested in what a Dalek was and why. Revenge of the Cybermen is not remotely interested in the Cybermen: they exist only because they are icons. Like the Daleks they are "utterly ruthless", "total machine creatures", who think they are "destined to be rulers of all the cosmos." Sometimes, they remember that they are evil science fiction robots and say things like "maximum urgency imperative." But a lot of the time, they just sneer like any other super-bad-guy. 

"You are about to die in the biggest explosion ever witnessed in this solar system. It will be a magnificent spectacle. Unhappily, you will be unable to appreciate it." 

The sheer creepiness of the creatures who rose from their tombs on Telos, humans who have let themselves become machines, is long forgotten. The eerie, barely audible high pitched mechanical voices ("You will become like us") have been replaced by actors shouting from under masks. Even the Doctor finds them more ridiculous than threatening. The previous story repositioned the Daleks as emotionless creatures of pure evil. A good title for this one might have been Redundancy of the Cybermen.

A large amount of Episode Three is taken up with a battle between the Cybermen and the gold-mining-dwarves who inhabit the caves. It is not choreographed: it is a montage of guns going off and dwarves falling over. But it is very dramatic: a little like the legendary Dalek vs Mechanoid battle at the end of The Chase.

It looks real because it is real. Some actors dressed up as Cybermen and some other actors dressed up as dwarves and they went down Wooky Hole. (This was before Chewbacca). They pretended to have a fight and Elisabeth Sladen fell in the water and for a few seconds she was in serious danger. Old Doctor Who is doubtless very silly and very tacky and very amateurish; but the word that keeps occurring to me in these scenes is documentary.


We are back on the Ark, retrospectively re-purposed as a sort of space-light-house preventing people crashing into Jupiter's new satellite. It is the Very Far Future: but it is the sort of Very Far Future where people still wear patent leather shoes and keep box-files on their book shelves. At first it looks like everyone on the Beacon is being wiped out by a plague; but then it turns out that they are being poisoned by more than usually unconvincing Cybermats. It is quite hard to keep track of which human is which, but one of them is in charge and one of them is a scientist and one of them is a traitor. It feels like the kind of thing Patrick Troughton would have got involved with: boring scientists, gleaming monochrome corridors, a base, as it were, under siege.

But then we shift to the planet Voga, Jupiter's new satellite. A younger, militaristic dwarf wants to emerge from the caves and fire missiles at the Cybermen. An older, more sensible dwarf, wants to stay underground where it is safe. This all feels like the kind of theatrical costume drama we used to get when the Doctor was still known as Grandfather. The older dwarf literally hobbles around the stage with a long white beard and a walking stick. The masks and the make-up put one in mind of Peter Hall's legendary Orestia. (This was before Peter Hall's legendary Orestia.) If you don't have a problem with high artifice and theatricality, its really nicely done:

--You made clandestine contact with aliens, and you beamed radio transmissions out into space. There are no greater crimes in our calendar.

--In your calendar, Tyram! Your cowering, furtive, underworld life. If we survive, I will face trial gladly. I will give the people my reasons. I wanted to free them from this tyranny of dark, living rock.

--Living the way we had for generations, at least we were safe, Vorus. Safe from the genocidal threat of the Cybermen.

--I had a dream.

--A folly, conceived out of arrogance through overweening ambition.

And so on, for weeks at a time.


I will defend Revenge of the Cybermen to anybody.

It has one very big logical flaw. The dwarves -- oh, all right, if you insist, the Vogans -- live on a planet made entirely of gold. This makes them the implacable enemies of the Cybermen: Gold is to Cybermen as Kryptonite is to Vampires.

The Gold thing is presented as if it were a fact which everyone already knows. Indeed the Doctor tells us that the Cybermen were defeated at the end of the Last Great Cyber War as a result of Humans armed with Glitter Guns with such confidence that diligent Who fans go scuttling off to their episode guides to check which story this happened in. It didn't happen in any story. The idea that the Cyberpeople die if you wave a lump of gold in their general direction was made up for this story. (It spoiled the Cybermen for years to come.)

But in Episode Three the Cybermen attack the Vogan's planet; and the Vogans despair that their weapons are useless. But the entire planet is made of the Anti-Cyberman Metal.

This is clearly a plot hole. But it is not the kind of plot hole that obliterates the story, or even really impacts on it. It doesn't make sense, but it doesn't matter.

It has been my argument that Doctor Who while it is sometimes other things as well is primarily and irreducibly a children's tea time adventure serial. Specific details may change -- from space fascists to space robots to space dwarves. But you aren't expected to necessarily keep up with the plot, or even remember which story you are in. No-one can be expected to catch every single episode, but every episode is recognizably an episode of Doctor Who,

This is a story in which gold mining dwarves and silver robots kill each other in location shots in caves. A story which ends with the dwarves aiming a missile at the Ark while the Cybermen plan to crash the Ark, loaded with bombs, onto the planet Voga. (The Doctor is on the Ark; Sarah-Jane and Harry are on the planet.) Sarah-Jane falls sick with a space plague that makes the veins on her face glow red; the Doctor has a planet busting bomb strapped to his shoulders and is forced to go down to the very centre of the planet Voga. In order, apparently, to fragmentize it. The Doctor has to talk the rather dense people on the planet's surface through the process of directing the missile away from the Ark and into the Cybermen's spaceship; and then personally steer the bomb-loaded space station away from the planet, in a scene that is part roller-coaster ride and part computer game. (This was before computer games.)

As a children's tea-time adventure serials go, it doesn't get much better than this. If you are over-worried that the Vogans didn't think to use their gold against the Cybermen you are probably not the target audience.


Imagine Tom Baker without a scarf.

Or, imagine Tom Baker, as originally imagined, with a sensible, normal length, collegiate scarf.

The rest of his costume is smart: stylish, even. The velvet jacket; the elbow pads; the cravat; the watch-chain. The hat is a little over-large, but it matches. Take away the scarf, and you have an English professor, or maybe an espresso guzzling perpetual student.

But the scarf: less an item of clothing, more a trademark. He wears it all the time, regardless of the weather. (Who on earth keeps a scarf on indoors?)

Tom Baker talks about Homo Sapiens. Tom Baker worries about destroying sentient life-forms and murdering infants in their cradles. And yes, there is a childish insolence about him. When Sarah-Jane says "It's good to see you?" he says "Is it?" which is the sort of thing schoolboys get slapped for. His pockets contain jelly babies, an apple core, and a yo-yo: we only need some conkers to complete the set. And there are a couple of daft ad libs. Having knocked a Cyberman out by putting gold dust in its respirator, and with only seven minutes to save the universe, he pauses to quote five words of Macbeth. ("Dusty death, out out, brief...") It isn't clear who in the audience is meant to pick up on this.  But the Scarf marks him off as strange, eccentric, silly; and as the years roll on, the scarf will come to dominate his characterization.

Tom Baker will not be remembered as the Shakespearean One, the Philosophical One, the Melancholic One—even the Annoying One. History will remember him only as the One With The Scarf.

Friends, Romans country men: lend me your ears.
The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones.
So let it be with Caesar.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Fourth Doctor Who Review

"Strange!’ said Oyarsa. ‘You do not love any one of your race — you would have let me kill Ransom. You do not love the mind of your race, nor the body. Any kind of creature will please you if only it is begotten by your kind as they now are. It seems to me, Thick One, that what you really love is no completed creature but the very seed itself: for that is all that is left.’
             Out of the Silent Planet

I: Absence of the Daleks 

Soldiers in gas masks; trenches; barbed wire. And then Doctor Tom emerges from the smoke. 

In 1963, the Daleks had been a product of the Cold War; what would be left after the nuclear holocaust which we all feared and expected. But it is now 1975 and 1914-18 is the trauma we never got over.

Two races: the Kaleds and the Thals; they have been at war for over a thousand years. Some of the Kaleds have been turned into mutants—muttos—due to the use of chemical weapons. They are thrown out of the Kaled city into the wilderness to maintain the purity of the race. (This was before Judge Dredd.) 

Genesis of the Daleks may be the greatest Doctor Who story, but it is still, at heart, a Doctor Who story: a series of chases, captures, and escapes. But the guns are louder, the peril more perilous and the space fascists more fascistic. Ravon rants and shouts and punches the Doctor in the guts; Nyder, channeling Peter Cushing, is terrifyingly patronising. (This was before Star Wars.) 

Once again, we are in what is clearly an English wilderness. We explore it for a bit. The Doctor and Harry are captured; and escape; and are captured again. Sarah-Jane continues to explore the wilderness by herself, menaced from a distance by shambling zombies.

The Sontaran Experiment sometimes felt as if someone had pointed a video camera in the rough direction of the action; here, the direction is tight, even inventive. When the Doctor arrives in the barren quarry, the camera pans over the nothingness—then suddenly sweeps back when the Time Lord appears. Nyder is discovered looking through the Doctor's magnifying glass, a single big eye dominating the screen. (What else has a single big eye?) 

It stands up as well as any piece of vintage television could possibly stand up. Only the habit of shifting from exterior shots (on cine-film) to interior shots (on video) seems dated. It takes an effort of will to believe that the interior stage set of a trench is part of the same exterior world as the quarry where the action begins. 

The Doctor puts his foot on a land mine. If he moves, it will go off. Harry, very carefully, puts stones of the right shape underneath to make it stable, and tells the Doctor to move his foot gently. He does so. Nothing explodes. Harry sighs silently, and the Doctor grins. Up to now, the Doctor has not tried to conceal his contempt for Harry: now he accepts him as part of the crew. For a while, indeed, the Doctor and Harry are lost boys on an awfully big adventure leaving Sarah-Jane trying very hard to be their Wendy. 

This is Episode One. We know that the Daleks must appear in the final scene, because the story is called Genesis of the Daleks. The Doctor knows that the Daleks must appear in the final scene because a Time Lord has told him. But we do not feel the absence of the Daleks. Nyder and Ravon are compelling villains in their own right and someone called "Davros" is given a big build up. 

It feels like a surprise when Sarah-Jane, fleeing from what must be muttos, comes to a place which must be the bunker and sees a being who must be Davros testing a machine that we know is a Dalek. 

"Now, we can begin." 

2: Exposition of the Daleks 

Sarah-Jane is captured by muttos. Sarah-Jane and the muttos are captured by Thals. The Doctor and Harry escape from Davros's bunker along, of course, a ventilation shaft. The ventilation shaft leads into a cave where Davros keeps failed experiments in monster-breeding. Sarah-Jane, in the Thal dome, is set to work loading "distronic explosives" into a Great Big Bomb which the Thals plan to use against the Kaleds. Sarah-Jane tries to escape by climbing the scaffolding around the Great Big Bomb onto the roof of the Thal Dome. Harry gets his foot trapped in a giant clam, and then frees it. It is Sarah-Jane's predicament which terrifies us, because Elisabeth Sladen seems genuinely terrified. 

The cave of mutations belongs to an earlier world; a world of mercury lakes and slythers; a world now known only from maps and diagrams in holiday annuals. It has no place in this world of black uniformed fascists who hang prisoners to preserve ammunition. 

Davros is a scientist. Sometimes he speaks softly and reasonably; sometimes he shouts like a Dalek. His top half is human but he is a Dalek from the waist down. He is more like a Dalek than the Daleks: a shriveled, weakened, brilliant, evil body, being kept alive by an artificial, inefficient, transport machine. 

It falls to someone called Ronson to explain the backstory. 

"Our chemical weapons had already started to produce genetic mutations, and the mutations were banished out into the wastelands. Davros believed that there was no way to reverse this trend and so he started experiments to establish our final mutational form. He took living cells, treated them with chemicals and produced the ultimate creature." 

In a sentence, a decade of Who-lore is over-written. No longer are the Daleks the product of a nuclear nightmare; now they are the result of chemical warfare and genetic tampering. No longer the survivors of a war, kept alive in creepy but immobile transport machines: now they are creations with a definite creator. 

"The all powerful Davros" wrote Terry Nation in a 1976 children's book. "Reincarnated in the form of the terrible Daleks." 

III: Longueurs of the Daleks 

Davros betrays his own people. I had forgotten that. 

If we are not very careful, we can forget that Classic Who was a series of 100 and 150 minute serials, and remember it only as a fragmentary collection of Great Moments. (The Cybermen wake up. Sutekh needs no other servant. The Dalek rises up from the Thames.)

We know Genesis of the Daleks well, too well; to the point of cliche. The Doctor holding the two wires. Davros imagining the doomsday virus. The Dalek ranting into the monitor. Yet which of us remembers the story on which it all hung? Who remembers the Episode Three cliff hanger? 

Genesis of the Daleks is not a collection of set pieces, strung out on a disposable plot thread. Genesis of the Daleks is a miracle of pacing and story telling. There is a grand narrative; Davros vs the good Kaleds; the Kaleds vs the Thals; the Doctor vs the Daleks. Each week there is a revelation or development about that grand theme. Yet always, the drum beat narrative rhythm which makes it a Doctor Who story. Sarah-Jane nearly escapes from the Great Big Bomb, but is recaptured. The Doctor and Harry escape from the Kaled bunker. The Doctor warns the Kaleds that Davros is evil. 

Running around; getting captured; escaping.

It rushes forwards. It is never boring. Each episode seems to take less than it's twenty five minutes. Relatively little happens, but it never feels padded. 

My favourite moment, the moment that we talked about on Monday in school, the moment that appealed to nasty, cheeky boys and made them nastier and cheekier is when the Doctor gets past two Thal guards by walking up to them with a broad grin on his face and saying "I wonder if you could help me? I'm a spy." 

Ironically, the one problem with this story is its handling of time and space. There is a bunker where Davros and his Elite are making Daleks. There is the main Kaled city, under a dome. There is the main Thal city, also under a dome. And despite the preliminary talk about wastelands and muttos and caves of mutations, everyone seems very free to jump between them via access panels and ventilation shafts. The Bunker, the Kaled City, and the Thal City are indistinguishable, and the Thals seem very little different from the Kaleds. (They set slaves to work loading dangerous material onto their Great Big Bomb, which is a very Dalek thing to do.) It becomes hard to keep track of where we are. 

Davros positively wants the Thals to destroy the Kaleds so that his Daleks will be all that is left. So he, Davros, gives the Thals a Secret Formula that will enable their Great Big Bomb to get through the shielding on the Kaled Dome. The Doctor tries to prevent the Thals from launching the Great Big Bomb; he gets caught on an electric fence and shocked with electricity. 

That is the cliffhanger. I am sure you had forgotten it. I certainly had. 

IV:  Apocalypse of the Daleks 

The Thals nuke the Kaled dome. The Doctor thinks Harry and Sarah-Jane were inside, but they weren't. They all head back to Davros's Bunker through the mutations cave but Davros is waiting for them at the other end. Some of Davros's scientists are plotting against him; but he is counter plotting. 

And so we build towards the first Set Piece. Davros and the Doctor come face to face. The Doctor speaks of a future where the Daleks are a force and an empire; sometimes defeated but never utterly wiped out. Davros demands to know what caused all these Dalek defeats. The Doctor refuses to tell him. It is another moment which evokes a much bigger universe: Genesis of the Daleks has six Daleks and some corridors and a quarry, but outside is the TV Century 21 Dalekverse and the Dalek Master Plan; Dalek Empires and Dalek Emperors and Anti Dalek Forces and Space Special Agents and chocolate and mint ice cream lollies. 

None of this ever appears on the screen. And because of this story, arguably, none of it ever will. 

Abolition of the Kaleds 

If I say that something is Evil I might just mean that it is very bad indeed. On the other hand, I might be saying that a person or thing contains an immutable, metaphysical, evil essence. 

If someone is Evil I have permission to hate them; shoot them; gas them; exterminate them. If someone has merely done some very, very, very bad things I am allowed to ask why. 

If I say "I don't think that Hitler was Evil; I think he was a human being; a product of a political ideology and a set of historical and biographical circumstances", someone is bound to say "What? You don't regard the killing of six million Jews as evil?" 

It is more fun if the pirates and space Nazis and outer space robot people in children's TV are Evil, because then we can blow their space ships up and not feel bad about it. But people who blow up space ships and don't feel bad about it are very much the kinds of people we are tempted to call Evil. 

It is profoundly unhelpful to think that the darkest creatures human nature can produce, serial killers and pedophiles and people who shoot old ladies in synagogues are in anyway similar to cartoon bad guys. 

St Paul believed, not in evil, but in hamartia which the English translators of the Bible rendered as synne. It is a flaw or a crack or a fault: there is no self-existent Dark Side, no option to write Lawful Evil on your character sheet. But certainly it is synne which makes us want to hate and kill and exterminate. Francis Spufford glossed synne as UHPTFTU: the universal human propensity to fuck things up. 

If you have children, it is natural to want to protect them. And it is probably natural to want to protect your grandchildren and your great grandchildren as well. If we are strict Dawkinsians then what we mistake for the love of our children is simply our DNA trying to copy and preserve itself. The selfish gene has no conscience or moral sense, but it is not evil. It is programmed simply to survive. 

The human instinct to protect your children is tempered by human empathy. My child is precious to me; therefore your child is precious to you; therefore all children are precious. The idea that my child is to be protected at the expense of yours is at best an ideology of the very far right, and at worst, another way of spelling "evil". You start by saying that not one penny which could have gone into a trust fund for my child should be spent on a state school for yours; you move into the realm of the anti-vaxxers; and you end up affecting to actively take pleasure when the children of refugees are exteminated. 

If you could somehow travel forwards in time and see the Last Men, the descendants of the human race, ten million years in the future, you would not feel any more responsibility for the individuals who carried some of your DNA over the individuals who were not related to you. They would all just be people. 

The strangest perversion of the paternal instinct is the one which looks at two children and feels empathy for one and hatred for the other, because Child A has certain physical characteristics—light coloured skin and straight hair, for example—whereas Child B has dark skin and curly hair. Doubtless the same Darwinian urge that we mistake for parental love can get translated into a natural dislike for the unlike. But only for the terminally evil does that gut feeling ever become a theory or an ideology. 

How stupid would you need to be to be willing to fight and die for something called The White Race over and against something called The Black Race? 

But what of the Human Race?

If what I mistake for the paternal instinct is simply a biological urge to preserve the Human Race, does it follow that I have an instinct to preserve The Human Race at the expense of all other races? If push came to shove, should I wipe out the dolphins and the elephants and the octopuses to preserve the humans?

If you took me to a planet ten thousand light years away and ten thousand years in the future and said look—this child is genetically similar to you, because its remote ancestors came from Earth; but this child is genetically different from you because its remote ancestors came from Skaro would my biological urges tell me to love one and hate the other? 

And if they did, would I listen to them. Or would I say "Shut up, biological urges and Darwinian programming! You're not the boss of me!" 

5: Apology of the Daleks 

Finally, the leader of the good Kaleds confronts Davros. 

"The initial concept of the Dalek was to build a life support system and a travel machine for the creature that we know our race will ultimately evolve into....We believe that concept has been perverted. You have tampered with the genetic structuring of the creature to create a ruthless power for evil. We cannot permit this to continue." 

"The initial concept of the Dalek." 

But this, of course, is Terry Nation's initial concept: it is what the Daleks were in the first and best Dalek story, which I will persist in referring to as The Dead Planet. The Daleks and the Thals were both survivors of a hideous nuclear war. The Thals had evolved into pure, Aryan humanoids; the Daleks so mutated that they were stuck in their machines, powered by static electricity, unable to leave their city. They were horrible and scary and baddies but they weren't in any absolute sense Evil. They were pitiful and to some extent, they were victims. The Thals had hurt them and they wanted to hurt the Thals back. 

Genesis of the Daleks is about an attempt to change history. But it is not the Doctor doing the changing. It is Davros. 

Davros, who has no origin. Davros, who has never been mentioned before. Davros, an entirely new factor is dropped into the Dalek timeline. Davros, the creator of the Daleks, whose existence changes everything. 

In the old comic strips, the Daleks certainly had a creator, one Yarvelling, who made the machines which allowed the mutant Daleks to survive. But Davros is not just the creator of a clever voice controlled tank. He is also the creator of the actual Daleks. 

"It's not the machines" says the Doctor. "It's the minds of the creatures inside them. Minds that you created. They are totally evil." 

If the good Kaleds had persuaded Davros to make the Daleks simply life support machines for whatever the Kaleds eventually became, then history would have continued along its expected pathway; and Genesis of the Daleks would simply be a prequel to the Dead Planet. But if Davros succeeds then that version of history is wiped out and the Daleks become creatures of pure evil, an eternal extension of their creator's ego. 

The Time Lords are not using the Doctor to massively alter history. They are using the Doctor to try to ensure that history stays the same. Which is a much more Time Lordy thing to do. 

Davros threatens to torture Sarah-Jane and Harry if the Doctor will not tell him how and why the Daleks were defeated throughout their history. Sarah-Jame and Harry keep nobly shouting "Don't tell him!" as loved ones being tortured in Saturday evening tea time serials are wont to do. But the Doctor tells Davros everything. 

This is clearly not the rational thing to do: it may not even be the morally right thing to do. But it is the human thing. And Davros is quite clear what that means.  

"You will tell me because you have a weakness that I have totally eliminated from the minds of the Daleks so they will always be superior. A weakness that will make you give me the knowledge to change the future." 

In Episode Three, the Doctor told the Kaled leaders that Davros had created "a machine creature...without conscience, without soul, without pity." In Episode Four, Davros "outlines chromosomal variations to be introduced into the embryo Daleks" turning them into "creatures without conscience, no sense of right or wrong, no pity...without feeling or emotion." In Episode Five, Ghorman says that the scientists will only continue to work on the Daleks if Davros restores "a conscience; a moral sense; a judgement of right and wrong." 

Moral sense; judgement of right and wrong; conscience: this is the weakness which Davros tells the Doctor he suffers from. 

Conscience is a great big word; but there's a general consensus that its something humans have and machines do not. It's not a belief or a theory; it's a gut feeling. It is a cliche of children's literature that if you feel bad after you have been naughty, then your conscience is punishing you—and you can hopefully be excused from whatever penalty your parents or your teacher had in mind. Little wooden boys lack this faculty for self-punishment and need to be provided with anthropomorphic crickets to tell them when they have done something wrong. 

Over and over again, we are asked to believe that the Daleks are evil by virtue of the fact that they have had their consciences surgically removed. But why would a conscienceless automaton be any more evil than, say, a toaster?

This is the point of Davros, and this is the point of Davros's Very Famous Speech. As long as he is talking about programming the Daleks to survive, he can make out some kind of case. His theory that existence is pain and that the universe will only have peace when the Daleks have annihilated everything else might resonate with those of a particularly Nietzschean bent. Even his fascists' plea—"achievement comes through absolute power, and power through strength"— might appeal to a certain kind of puppy. It is only when the Doctor presents Davros with the thought experiment of the ultimately destructive virus that the mask falls away. 

Davros is creating the Daleks because they are destructive. He is creating the Daleks because he likes the sensation of power. He is creating the Daleks in order to make himself the master being, the one who determines what the universe itself will be from now on. And yes; this takes us back to the Christian story about the origin of synne. It's the story of a man who wanted to set himself up above the gods. It is to be found in a book called Genesis. 

Maybe Davros believed his own propaganda. Maybe he honestly believed that he was working for the survival of the Kaleds and for universal peace. But now he knows, and we know, and the Doctor knows. 

Ah. You are completely mad. I just wanted to make sure.

VI: The Doctor's Dilemma 

Why, at this final, pivotal moment, does the Doctor hesitate? 

He escapes from Davros. He finds—providentially—a wardrobe containing explosives and detonators. He puts the explosives in the incubator room, where Davros's genetically engineered Dalek creatures are growing. One of them tries to strangle him; but it's a minor distraction, to see us through the gap between Episode Five and Episode Six. 

And then, as everyone knows, just when he is about to set the explosives off, he hesitates. 

"Just touch these two strands together and the Daleks are finished. Have I that right?" 

The Doctor hates killing, and rarely carries a weapon, but he is no pacifist. He has killed before. Minutes ago, he was prepared to allow Davros to give the order to destroy the Dalek incubators. He told Davros that he would kill him if he refused, and we believed him. So why the sudden qualm? 

You might suppose that the Doctor would have a problem with the altering of history. If the Daleks are really going to be a force for evil on a galactic scale for thousands of years, touching the wires would not so much change history as erase it altogether. But it isn't this that worries him. He is happy to endorse Ronson's bloodless coup which would have overwritten the future on an almost equally dramatic scale. 

The Doctor perceives a difference between wanting the Daleks to be dead, and killing them himself. It is a classic liberal scruple: not wanting blood on my own hands, because that blood would make my own soul more ugly. You might think that the world would be better off if some murderers were dead: but would you be prepared to look them in the eye and strangle them? You might think Nazis are evil; but could you blow out the brains of a teenaged German squaddie, if you knew his name, and the name of his parents, and the name of his sweetheart? If you must strike a child, take care that you strike it in anger, even at the risk of maiming it for life. A blow in cold blood neither can nor should be forgiven. 

What Davros calls conscience amounts, I think, to squeamishness. It is not rational or moral for the Doctor to tell Davros the secret of making the Daleks invincible, because Harry and Sarah-Jane are only two people and his betrayal will result in the death of billions. But the billions are not in the room with him now: Harry and Sarah-Jane are. 

It isn't that a machine necessarily lacks the capacity to make a complex moral judgement. It could be programmed to do so. But it isn't a complex moral judgement that would make us hesitate before killing Baby Hitler in his cradle. It is, quite simply, the "yuck" factor. 

Davros, faced with the concept of destroying all life in the universe was delighted, transfigured, aroused by it; but the Doctor, faced with power on an only slightly smaller scale, is repelled. Davros is asked to imagine that the tiny pressure of his thumb, enough to break the glass, would end everything, and he ecstatically says he would do it. The Doctor, asked to actually touch two tiny wires together, cannot. 

There is the difference. There is the story. 


The Doctor fails. The Dalek incubator is destroyed; but the conscienceless Daleks survive. The Doctor's final hand-wave, that the universe is somehow better with the Daleks than without them, convinces no-one. 

Has history been changed? In fact, in every Dalek story except the very first, the Daleks were already the living embodiment of evil. It was never very easy to believe that the creatures who flew around the universe in a flying saucer, conquering planets and sucking out their magnetic cores, were the same creatures who cowered like dodgem cars in their metal floored city, planning to irradiate the world because they liked it better that way. Genesis of the Daleks is an acknowledgement of what we already knew: that Dead Planet, for all its brilliance, is an anomaly; an unsatisfactory origin for the outer-space robot people who once terrorized the universe. When the Doctor reviews the history of the Daleks with Davros, he starts, not with The Dead Planet, but with The Dalek Invasion of Earth 


The words "computer virus" and "meme" were not quite current in 1975, but that is clearly what Davros is talking about. An idea or a collection of code has no conscience. It never says "yuck". It exists only to make copies of itself.

But without conscience or the yuck factor or the gods isn't that what we all are? 

Douglas Adams famously summed up Darwinism in the four words "That which survives, survives."

Next week: Cybermen.