Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Doctor Who Season 16: Stones of Blood (2)

III: Cliffhangers

Episode Two of the Stones of Blood begins on a cliff-hanger.

A literal cliff-hanger. Romana is hanging from a cliff; at any rate, clinging to the side of a sheer rock. To her credit, she doesn't scream: but she calls out the Doctor's name. 

But the Doctor is also caught in a cliff-hanger. A less literal one, but a venerable Doctor Who situation. He's unconscious, chained to an altar-stone in the middle of a stone circle, and the leader of the local Druid side is about to stab him with a ceremonial knife. 

Rather ingeniously, Romana's peril is what saves the Doctor. He hears her shouting for help; and wakes up. He immediately cracks a joke.

"I hope that knife's been properly sterilised", he says. He's not a brave hero laughing in the face of doom. Either he doesn't understand the situation; all else he simply refuses to take it seriously. "You can catch all sorts of things off a dirty knife."

That is very much who the Doctor is now. It's of a piece with him breaking the fourth wall or celebrating the show's anniversary. However much danger he appears to be in, he refuses to take it seriously.

Emilia Rumford, an elderly archaeologist who's been studying the standing stones, arrives on her bike, and all the druids run away. The Doctor sends for K-9, and between them, they rescue Romana from the cliff. He uses his scarf to pull her up; which would have been even funnier if it really had been his new birthday present. 

But here's the funny thing.

The double cliff-hanger which the the Doctor and Romana escape from at the beginning of Episode Two is not the one they were left in at the end of Episode One. 

When we last saw the Doctor he had gone to The Big House. He met Leonard De Vries, the local squire and captain of the Druids. De Vries bashes the Doctor over the back of the head and announces "His blood is still warm! I know what to do!"

And then the action cuts back to Romana. The Doctor left her with the archaeologists at the stone circle and told her to wait for him. The archaeologists have gone back to their cottage for tea and sandwiches, but she is waiting for him as she promised.  

And here again, the Time Lines diverge. 

In the original script, the Doctor would have (surprisingly) returned to Stone Circle, as if nothing had happened. Romana would have (surprisingly) followed him over the Moor until they come to a sign saying "Warning: Dangerous Cliff". 

And then the Doctor would have pushed Romana into the sea.

It's the best kind of cliffhanger: one which doesn't ask "How will they escape?" so much as "What the heck is going on?" Has the Doctor been mind-controlled by the Druids? Blackmailed in some way? Has Romana been led astray by some kind of doppelgänger? Or is the Doctor playing a long complicated game, like he did with the Sontarans in Invasion of Time?

But of course, it's not the cliffhanger we actually saw.

Tom Baker refused point-blank to play the scene as it was written. He wasn't prepared to portray an evil or menacing Doctor. And Doctor Who was now such a star-vehicle that Graham Williams had to acquiesce. Doctor Who is Tom's show, in a way that it was never Jon or Patrick's show. It is more important that Tom be allowed to "do his benevolent alien thing" than that he follows the script.

And I am not saying he was in the wrong. Doctor Who really was a children's programme, and Tom Baker really had turned himself into an audience identification figure. The programme is the character and the character is the actor. But if Mary Whitehouse had said anything similar, she would undoubtedly have been denounced as a mad old biddy. "The kiddies might think their hero had really turned bad" and "The kiddies might think that their hero had really drowned" are the same kind of objection.

Until we saw the sign saying "Beware: Unexpected Cliffhangers", we didn't know that the action was taking place near the coast. The real Rollright Stones are located near Moreton in Marsh, about as far from the sea as you can get in England. There's no reason a stone circle shouldn't be near the coast; but it's odd for an area called "the moor" to be in such a location.

When we were talking about The Ribos Operation, we suggested that "dungeons" were a kind of concrete manifestation of "the plot": physical spaces which the hero can't get out of, and in which monsters, perils and members of the supporting cast can pop up without much explanation. In much the same way, the cliff is a physical manifestation of the structure of Doctor Who. There has to be a cliff, because there has to be a cliff-hanger. Romana has to fall, because she has to end the episode in Peril. It's not part of the geography of the moor; it's part of the metatextual geography of the TV show. 

So. Romana hears the Doctor's voice and follows it through the woods to the edge of the cliff. Whereupon she falls over the edge of the cliff for no reason whatsoever. And there is never any explanation.

Go back and watch the end of Episode One.

And then do what no-one could possibly have done before 1995: watch Episode Two straight afterwards.

Something is clearly amiss.

Romana topples; she tries to reach out for the edge of the cliff; touches it; but continues to fall. 

It's the same predicament that the Doctor was left in at the end of Pirate Planet Episode 3. We have seen the hero fall, presumably to their death. In Pirate Planet, the solution was far-fetched, but elegant: the person who fell was not the Doctor, but the Doctor's holographic double.

The solution here is much simpler. What we saw at the end of Part One is not what really happened. Romana didn't topple from the top of the cliff. She slipped a short way down it, and is now clinging on for dear life.

Call it cheating if you like. There were no DVDs in the 1970s. No repeats. Doctor Who took shape only in our memory.

The music fades out. The blue space tunnel comes to an end. We reach for our crumpet and are cocoa, or crouch down behind the settee.

"Ah yes" we say "I remember. Romana was clinging to the cliff; and the Doctor had been chained to an altar." (He hadn't, of course. The last we saw of him, he'd been biffed over the back of the head.)

It's the Doctor's birthday. He didn't get his cake; but he did get to go to his favourite planet. And David Fisher is offering up a witty pastiche of the Doctor Who's most prevailing cliches. Cliff hangers. Druids. Human sacrifice. 

Or else writing a genuinely derivative and unimaginative story.

IV: The Bullfighter

All long running TV shows change over time. Many of them are periodically relaunched or rebooted. Some have moments when characters jump over real or metaphorical sharks. But Doctor Who is more than usually split into eras. And you know the exact moment when one era goes away and the next era comes along.

"It's the end. But the moment has been prepared for."

"I think this old body of mine is wearing a bit thin."

"Carrot juice, carrot juice, carrot juice."  

Well then. I believe I have identified the precise moment at which The Alien One, played by Tom Baker, regenerated into The Silly One. Also played by Tom Baker.

The Doctor and Emilia (the archaeologist) are in the secret crypt of the Big House. Emilia has a companion and assistant named, and if there is any sniggering there'll be trouble, Vivien Fay. Down in the secret crypt are oil paintings of the six previous owners of the Big House and SPOILER WARNING they all look exactly like Vivien. Ergo, Vivien must be at least four hundred years old. Ergo, she herself must be the Celtic goddess to whom the Druid team are in the habit of sacrificing Time Lords.

Some eighteen months before Stones of Blood, ITV had shown a kids mystery serial called Children of the Stones. It was fairly obscure at the time, but has since passed into legend as the scariest children's TV show ever made. It certainly stands up pretty well; averagely good child actors are carried by a cast of first-rate grown-ups, including Gareth (Roj Blake) Thomas and Ian (Garron) Cutbertson.

The plot is a wonderful network of clues and hints and narrative ley-points, which never cohere into complete sense. Fifty years on I am still not sure if I fully understand it. Why does the old poacher have a stone amulet just like the one in the local museum? Why was there a painting of the mysterious stone circle in a London junk shop? Why are the kids in the local school all maths geniuses? What happens when villagers are called to tea in the sinister squire's observatory?

It may be that David Fisher is trying to achieve a similar effect here. And there could very well have been a folk-horror story in which "Why do all the owners of the Big House look like the archaeologist's assistant?" was one layer of a gradually unpeeling narrative onion. But Stones of Blood is using Scooby Doo as a model much more than it is Children of the Stones. "Clues" are simply elements in a treasure hunt, arrows that point to the next clue and eventually to the conclusion. Once the Doctor sees the paintings, the whole plot is revealed. Vivien is an alien. The druids think she is a goddess. The stones in the circle are silicon based aliens who subsist on human blood. All sorted out and we haven't even got to the end of Episode Two.

The Doctor and Emilia don't have long to digest the new information. One of the Monoliths from the stone circle appears in the doorway, blocking off their exit. How it got down the stairs, no-one can say. 

I don't propose to take the mickey out of the silliness of the monster. Silly monsters are very much Doctor Who's stock in trade. The idea of sentient standing stones (hiding in plain site among actual standing stones) is not the silliest thing ever to appear on Doctor Who. (It's not even the silliest thing to appear in Stones of Blood.) A planet populated by swamp dwelling vampire boulders even has a certain Adamsian poetry to it. You can imagine them hanging out in a cantina with super-intelligent shades of the colour blue, uniquely biroid forms of life and indeed flolloping mattresses.

I don't find that stones which appear to glow with golden light automatically makes me think of urine. If anything, it makes me think of the cover of Quicksilver Heritage. 

So the Doctor and Emilia run away. They run out of the Big House, and along a country lane, chased, very slowly, by the moving monolith. Baker delivers a few choice Bakerisms. There is some wilful cross-purpose misunderstanding, delivered dead pan:

"That thing is made of stone" says Emilia

"Yes, and it's closing on us fast" says the Doctor.

"But that's impossible"

"No it isn't, we're standing still."

And there is that infuriating, endearing, wide-eyed innocence; where the Doctor pretends to be an idiot so everyone can see how clever he is:

"I meant a silicon based life form is unknown, unheard of, impossible" says Emillia. 

"Maybe it doesn't realise that"  says the Doctor. 

The Doctor's relationship with Emilia is not that far removed from his relationship with Romana: the person who thinks she knows everything coming up against the person who actually does. It's quite funny: Beatrix Lehmann is (no disrespect) a very much better actor than Mary Tamm. You could imagine her staying on the TARDIS and becoming an ongoing companion. In fact, you could imagine her as the first female Doctor.

I recall a heartwarming episode of Little House on the Prairie in which Laura heartwarmingly befriends the mean banker (who heartwarmingly turns out to be not so mean after all) because they both share a heartwarming love of fishing. He tells her that his angling books indicate that she is using the wrong kind of bait: she heartwarmingly replies that the fish may not have read the books.

The Doctor is making the same kind of joke. Maybe the silicon based lifeform doesn't know that silicon based lifeforms are impossible. His experience trumps Emilia's book learning. His wit is the wit of a smart-alec school boy, which is why smart-alec school boys were so devoted to him. At least he doesn't mention bumble-bees. 

We're clearly in a cliffhanger situation; so we go straight back to the cliff that Romana was dangling from at the beginning of the episode. There is no reason for them to run there: when the Doctor needs to be in peril, the cliff just pops up in front of him.

And now, watch.

The quite silly monster advances towards the Doctor and Emilia cries out "we're trapped".

Up to this point, the incidental music has been happily going "tum tum tum" in the background; harmless and so unintrusive you hardly notice it is there. But suddenly it changes to a melody: to, in fact, a fanfare. 

And the Doctor takes off his coat....and holds it in front of him....and the creature advances towards the coat....and falls off the cliff. 

What saves the day is not cleverness, but clowning. The Doctor pretends to be a bullfighter.

It isn't very funny, but it is very, very silly. It isn't just Tom Baker fooling around: the show itself has become foolish. Without the incidental music, it would seem as if the Doctor was simply being an idiot. But the fanfare tells us that we are now in the kind of universe where, if the Doctor decides to play at being a bullfighter, then The Plot will rearrange itself around him.

There could have been an explanation. Maybe the Doctor happens to know that silicon based life forms are attracted to the colour red. (Bulls are, incidentally, colour-blind.) It could have been foreshadowed. Maybe we could have seen Vivien using a red flag to communicate with the Ogri, giving the Doctor the clue that they like the colour red.

But no. That's no longer how the show works. 

The Doctor and Emilia look over the cliff edge, and look up again in perfect unison. It's a purely comedic shot; straight out of a silent comedy or a cartoon show. It's very well carried off: Tom Baker and Beatrix Lehmann are fine actors who are obviously having a great time. 

But we have crossed a rubicon. Doctor Who is no longer even pretending to take itself seriously.

True Fact: The BBC repeated the Star Trek episode, Devil In the Dark on the Tuesday after the final episode of Stones of Blood. Tom Baker doesn't take the opportunity to say "I am the Doctor, not a bricklayer" which is a bit of a shame. 

This is the third part of a series of articles on the Doctor Who story Stones of Blood. 

All ten part have already appeared on my Patreon. 

Patreon followers have also read my definitive guide to the UK election, and are about to read my essay on the Doctor Who story Androids of Tara.

It would be great if the majority of people reading this could join them. 

Sunday, June 09, 2024

Doctor Who Season 16: The Stones of Blood (1)

 I: Introduction

"And so", concluded Andrew, "the Key to Time is a metafictional debate about what Doctor Who is going to be like going forward.  A search for balance between what the Troughton and Pertwee years were, and what the remaining Baker years are going to be."

"I have a question"  said someone in the back row. "Well, it's not really a question, so much as a comment. This is all jolly clever, but there is no way you can spin it out over another four essays. Sure, every Key To Time story is either a traditional Doctor Who story, or not a traditional Doctor Who story. But whichever side of the line a story falls out on, you can say that it proves your point. It's time to move on and talk about something else. Like, Stones of Blood as a metaphor for Marxist economic theory; or how Androids of Tara illuminates the UNIT dating problem."

"Well, I'm glad you asked me that question" said Andrew. "Made that comment, I mean. It's a valid point, and one with which I am not entirely unsympathetic. But let's use Stones of Blood to test the hypothesis one last time, shall we?"

He started to write on the blackboard.

Chalk board.

White board.

One of those projector thingies where you scribble on slides with transparent pens. 

"Consider the following. 

"1:  Stones of Blood is the weakest story in the sixteenth season; and, if you are asking for my opinion -- which, considering I am writing both sides of the argument, you presumably are -- the worst story in the entire Tom Baker era thus far. 

"2: Stones of Blood doesn't even pretend to fit into the Key to Time story arc. Yes, the villain does have a necklace, and yes, she did steal it from the Boney King of Nowhere. It may even give her shape shifting powers. The Doctor takes it off her in Episode Four, and it turns out to be Segment Three. But it makes no difference the to story. The Doctor would have got just as involved, and involved in just the same way, if it had just been a shape shifting emperor's magic pendant and not the Key to Time at all.

"3: There is a very odd prologue in which the Doctor restates the Quest for Romana's benefit, and in which the a magic voice warns them about the Black Guardian. Which would make complete sense if the Black Guardian were in the story: but he isn't. It's as if the scriptwriter puts in a prologue saying 'This is part of the Key to Time Saga' because otherwise it wouldn't be.

"4: The actual story is pretty much a collection of Doctor Who tropes and cliches and nothing else. There's a set of chanting robed mystics (we had one of those last week); there's a cargo cult (we had one of those last season); there's a gothic mansion (we have one of those every season); there's a feisty lady scientist; there's an unconvincing model spaceship and there is, you guessed it, an execution. There is an actual cliff which seems only to exist so people can hang off it. And some of the tropes are treated so ineptly that it is impossible not to think that they are being deliberately subverted -- or at any rate handled by someone who actively hates the show."

"And" concluded Andrew, with the air of someone pulling a rabbit out of hat, or possibly a wig out of a pocket "Members of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society votes Stones of Blood their favourite story of the entire Key to Time saga. They chose a David Fisher script above a Robert Holmes script and a Douglas Adams script. And, come to that, above a much better David Fisher script.

"And the reason is not hard to see. Stones of Blood is a terrible Doctor Who story. But it is, at least, clearly a Doctor Who story.  The DWAS members could see that Pirate Planet and Ribos Operation were taking the programme off into new territory; and they cast their vote clearly in favour of old territory.

"Which is ironic. Because either Stones of Blood is a genuinely terrible Doctor Who story by someone who doesn't much like Doctor Who. Or else it is a deliberate parody of Doctor Who. And that's what Doctor Who is, in fact, going to become: a self-parody. Stones of Blood is the story where the metatextual weirdness fully takes hold.

"I'm not going to attempt to summarise the plot, because basically there isn't one. But I am going to have a look at half a dozen defining moments in the serial."

"I have another questions. And it really is a question, as opposed to a comment. Are you going to keep this device going for the whole essay?"

"Probably not. Could I have the first slide please?"

II: Cake

In the opening scene of Stones of Blood, Romana throws a surprise party for the Doctor. 

It is his 759th birthday. She provides the cake. It isn't clear if she baked it herself; or if the TARDIS food machine can produce candles and sponge and pink sugar icing to order. She also gives him a present. And only then do they resume their mission -- which happens to be on the Doctor's favourite planet. And to revisit many of his favourite cliches. So the Stones of Blood is a kind of birthday treat. 

Looked at diegetically (from a Watsonian perspective) the scene is a bit of a problem. For one thing, it ties the Doctor's age down a bit too specifically. For another, it asks us to swallow the idea that Time Lords have the same traditions as humans -- they give presents and blow out candles on the anniversary of their birth. We could, of course, execute the Moffat Manoeuvre, and say that birthday cakes and candles are a Time Lord tradition that English humans copied. But there's a simpler explanation. Romana knows that the Earth is the Doctor's favourite planet. She must also know that he has adopted some of its customs -- tea, jelly babies, ginger beer, cricket. So she has very thoughtfully given him a traditional human birthday party: in the way you or I might throw a Japanese style party for someone who we know loves manga. It's a kind thought and the Doctor accepts it as a kind thought.

In Ribos Operation, the Doctor and Romana were markedly hostile to each other. In Pirate Planet they achieved a kind of balance or equilibrium. And now here is Romana giving the Doctor thoughtful gifts. Before too long, it will be impossible not to think of them as a married couple. 

All the Doctors have had their own preferred wardrobe style; but the scarf, the Burgundy coat and the floppy hat have become the fourth Doctor's uniform -- defining him in the way that the bowler hats defined Laurel and Hardy and the deerstalker defined Sherlock Holmes. At this point in the cycle, Tom Baker is no longer The Serious One. He is no longer The Alien One. By the end of this story, he will certainly have become The Silly One. But more than anything, he is and will always be The One With The Scarf. And the series itself recognises this. 

What do you give a Time Lord for his birthday if he already owns a scarf? 

Romana gives him a new scarf. Exactly the same as the old scarf.

The Stones of Blood is the one hundredth Doctor Who story. Not the one hundredth episode (that was Dalek Master Plan Episode Ten): the one hundredth story. And by coincidence, the final part of the story was scheduled to go out five days shy of November 23, 1978: the show's Fifteenth Anniversary. Some sort of celebration was clearly in order. The cake scene stops short of saying directly that the Doctor and Romana are celebrating the longevity of their TV show, but the audience knows perfectly well that that is what is happening. 

And why not? The Doctor is clearly aware that he is a character in TV show -- it's only a dozen years since he looked out of the screen and wished the viewers at home a merry Christmas. He opens school fetes, sends fans birthday cards and introduces the first issue of Doctor Who Weekly (as it was then). He has more in common with John Noaks or Johnny Morris than he does with Captain Kirk or Robin Hood. The best analogy is still Father Christmas. A birthday party for a TV character on the birthday of their show makes perfect sense. The Doctor and Doctor Who are basically metaphors for each other. Post-reboot, Moffat and Davies would expand this idea at wearisome length.

Does the Doctor even know his own date of birth? He certainly recalls a childhood -- we have heard him talking about the daisyness of daisies with Time Lord gurus; looking into the Untempered Void with his friend the Master; and experiencing night terrors and being comforted by a future companion. We now know that the Doctor was adopted and doesn't remember his birth-family. But there's no reason why an orphan would not celebrate their birthday, even if they didn't know the exact date. The Division would presumably have dated the Doctor's birth from the day when Tecteun found him: but that was certainly a lot more than seven hundred and fifty nine years ago. The child-Doctors we have heard about must be younger versions of the person we have always thought of as the First Doctor. Indeed, the appearance of the child in Listen was based on childhood photographs of William Hartnell. It must be the seven hundred and fifty ninth anniversary of the current cycle of regenerations that Romana is celebrating.  

But even this would have sat poorly alongside the Cartmell Masterplan -- which, you will recall, states that Time Lords are not born, but knitted. I suppose a race of clones might celebrate the day they came out of the cloning machines. Then again, the Doctor believes himself to have had a human mother; details of whom have never been made public; so his birthday might be a poignant occasion for him. 

So, all told, it is probably just as well that there is no such scene in Stones of Blood. The birthday cake scene was, indeed, written -- by script editor Anthony Read. Tom and Mary reportedly really liked it. But Graham Williams thought it was too silly. That's the Doylist reason for the pointless Black Guardian warning in the prologue: it was a late replacement for the vetoed sequence.

The Key to Time saga is about law versus chaos; and also about nostalgia vs progress and plot vs anti-plot. But it is also, surely, about science fiction versus comedy; earnestness versus foolishness. One can almost imagine Graham Williams walking into the middle of the Doctor's birthday party like Graham Chapman's Colonel at the end of the Parrot Sketch and announcing "I am sorry: this is all getting far too silly." If Douglas Adams had been in charge, that might even have happened. He's the one who pitched an idea about the TARDIS slipping Time Lines and materialising in TV Centre during the filming of an episode of Doctor Who. Douglas won't assume his role as script editor until the beginning of next season, but Anthony Read is doing his very best to channel some post-Hitch-Hiker silliness.

"I knew a Galactic Federation once" says the Doctor in Episode Four "Lots of different lifeforms so they appointed a justice machine to administer the law." 

"What happened?" asks Romana. 

"They found the Federation in contempt of court and blew up the entire galaxy." 

That's a Douglas Adams joke if ever I heard one. 

But for now, the forces of sensibleness remain in control. 

Graham Williams vetoed the birthday party. 

The crew ate the cake.

This is the second part of a series of articles on the Doctor Who story Stones of Blood. 

All ten part have already appeared on my Patreon. 

Patreon followers have also read my definitive guide to the UK election, and are about to read my essay on the Doctor Who story Androids of Tara.

It would be great if the majority of people reading this could join them. 

Thursday, June 06, 2024

Walk The Line (1)

We have been asked to wear covid masks.

Automated pedestrian crossings are largely replacing zebras.
A black actor has appeared on a television programme.
The Democratic Party is harvesting the blood of infants in order to secure eternal youth.
Join the dots.

It is possible to draw a straight line between any two points; and a triangle or a circle between any three. But add a fourth point and there is only a small chance that they will form a straight line, or a pair of concentric circles. It follows that any four points which make a straight line (or any three which make an equilateral triangle) must have been placed there deliberately.

But if you generate a hundred random points, the chances of any four of them forming a line are quite high. And if you continue adding points until a line appears, then the chances increase. And if you are are allowed to draw a line between two or three points and then add points along it, because the line is telling you that is where the points are supposed to be, then you can draw all the lines you like.

It's a version of the Texas Sharpshooter fallacy. Fire off a lot of shots at a barn door. Find a place where there are several bullet holes close together. Draw a target around them; and claim that you a marksman.

In popular media, conspiracy theorists often cover their walls with photographs and press cuttings and physically map imaginary connections using push-pins and coloured thread.

Alan Moore is writer and a magician. Alan Moore says that writing and magic are both about drawing connections between things. Once you've made the connection, it is real, even if it wasn't before.

All stories are true.

Ley lines -- adherents prefer to call them simply "leys" -- are a theory without a conspiracy. It is empirically true that lines can sometimes be drawn between significant points on a map. It is an object of faith that these lines are deeply significant. But what that significance is, adherents can't quite decide.

I am looking at a paperback book. The cover shows a standing stone (in the foreground) and a stone circle (in the distance). It's either been shot at sunrise, or else the stone itself is glowing with an eerie golden light. You can almost hear the theme music from Children of the Stones playing in the background.

The title of the book is Quicksilver Heritage, written by Paul Screeton ("former editor of The Ley-Hunter".)

The titles of these old hippy paperbacks have a poetry all of their own. The View Over Atlantis. The Jesus Scroll. The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Chariots of the Gods? (Oh, the poetic placement of a single question mark!) "Quicksilver" is an alchemical term, magical, obsolete. But "quicksilver" is mercury, the stuff you chemistry teacher has locked away in a jar in the prep-room. And "mercurial" means shapeshifting, slippery, impossible to catch. So "quicksilver heritage" is the whole New Age keygma in a two word haiku. England's past contains something secret and mystical, which will change you if you know about it, but which is entirely impossible to express or pin down.

I believe the book was a gift from my Uncle Ted. He was a level-headed gardener, and come to think of it, a geography teacher. And he was a Cornishman. I recall him saying that Glastonbury was a powerful place because several ley lines crossed there. Ley lines were like the Bermuda Triangle and the Turin Shroud. Not everyone exactly believed in them, but everyone knew that they were mysterious.

I very nearly persuaded my equally level headed physics teacher to arrange a field trip, walking ley lines by day and star gazing by night. I remember him showing us a diagram of the Glastonbury Terrestrial Zodiac and remarking that "things like that don't happen by coincidence". (SPOILER WARNING: They do.)

For a couple of summers I lapped it up. There were pencil lines all over my parents OS maps.

I have in front of me a 1979 book called The Ley Hunters Guide, still bearing a sticker from Helios Books, High Street, Glastonbury. The cover is a birds-eye view of the English countryside, drawn in green: it could almost be a map of the Shire from the frontispiece of a three volume fantasy story. White circles have been drawn around a war memorial, a church, a stone circle and two barrows.

Opening it at random, I learn that there is a "Stratford on Avon Ley"; a line drawn between Warwick castle (built by William the Conquerer) and Childswickam Parish Church, also Norman, some twenty miles away. There are some moats adjacent to the church, which date from the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries. The line passes through two other churches, one of which is Holy Trinity Stratford. Shakespeare (d. 1717) was buried there: the writers regard this as a significant data point. They also tell us, as corroborative detail, that someone saw a UFO in Stratford in 1959. The ley line passes "close to" the theatre (est. 1879) "near" where another UFO was spotted in 1963. Warwick castle itself is home to a ghost, a fairy dun cow, and a black dog "a curious form of supernatural manifestation well attested in other parts of the country."

"There is no shortage of map-points -- churches and the like" on the Stratford OS map, the authors assure us "But somehow most of them do not seem, intuitively, to hang together."

If you follow your intuition, its surprising what does hang together.

The leys certainly transmit some kind of energy; and that energy is certainly of some spiritual significance. Perhaps they were laid down by survivors from Atlantis. Perhaps they were placed by extraterrestrials. Perhaps they are a natural phenomenon. Perhaps they are used by UFOs for power or navigation. Or perhaps the Space People (so called) came to earth specifically in order to draw our attention to the lines. Perhaps the stones channel the energy; perhaps they merely mark where it is. Dragons and giants and quantum physics and dowsing and gnosticism and fairy lore and the Holy Grail and ghost stories all come into the mix. Paul Screeton takes a huge mass of unrelated and reassuringly vague areas of knowledge and draws arbitrary connections between them.

If he sees the irony, he doesn't say so.

A long time ago, an idealised figure called Neolithic Man was deeply attuned to his environment. By walking the ley lines -- or by knowing of their existence, or by pooling their power in churches and barrows and forests -- he was able to expand his consciousness. Probably he travelled to other planets. Astrally or in the Space People's own saucers? Who can say?

We aren't talking about Druids. Druids are too recent, too historical, too probably real. If they were associated with Stonehenge, that was only because they inherited the ley network without knowing what it was. Christians built churches on ley points because they thought that was a way of exorcising pagan powers. Or because they recognised the spiritual potency of the places. The presence of a church is prima facie evidence of an ancient site.

But there was a fall. Maybe when Neolithic Man started to use metal. Or when Christianity came to Albion. Or during the industrial revolution. Or the enclosure movement. Or at some other time. But there is a way back to the pre-lapsarian state. We too can explore Inner and Outer Space. We can travel with the Space People -- some people have. We can attempt the great work of the alchemist, which is about inner transformation, not turning lead into gold.

It's easy. All you have to do is go for a walk in the country.

The old track may be straight, but thinking is circular. The leys are a path to enlightenment: but enlightenment consists of intuiting the existence of the leys. Ley lines aren't a theory so much as a vibe.

You could say the same thing about many religious movements.

There is a kind of a political message as well. Not a particularly nasty one, unless you think that chatter about Albion and druids and Old England necessarily has a white supremacist tinge. Its a more or less benign insurgency against structures and authority and book-learning. Against modernity. A kind of pastoral anarchism. Tolkien, when pressed, said he was, politically speaking, an anarchist. You don't need to believe in ley lines and flying saucers and Atlantis to see the line from pastoralism and anti-structuralism and mysticism. Just go for a walk on Grasmere and look at the daffodils.

The villains of the story are the Archaeologists. There is an obvious truth: that Neolithic Man communed with aliens and astrally projected himself to Venus. Everyone who has bothered to look knows this to be true. There is an obvious falsehood: that Neolithic man was a primitive, naked, superstitious savage. We're setting the popular image of the Cave Man against the romantic figure of the Red Indian. Orcs versus Elves. There is a racist tinge to both conceptions. The false idea, the idea of Naked Savages comes from a pedantic obsession with digging things up and measuring them and putting them into neat little catalogues. The true idea is there to be discovered by anyone prepared to look for it.

Archaeologists are either too dumb to see the truth; too conservative to accept it; or actively engaged in suppressing the truth in order to maintain their own hegemonic power. The remark that you have to be an archeologist before you can put forward ideas about archeology is held up for derision in the first chapter. The last chapter warns us that "archaeologists are fierce".

Knowing about your field makes you suspect. Hidden knowledge is probably true precisely because someone took the trouble to hide it. I think we've heard quite enough from experts.

Ley lines were discovered, or invented, or imagined, by a man named Alfred Watkins in the 1920s. He certainly wasn't an archaeologist. But he was, in a way, an expert. One of those late Victorian amateurs: he travelled round Herefordshire on business and amassed a lot of knowledge of the place names, folk lore, landscape and geography of the area. His initial observation seems to have been perfectly sincere. If you stand on such and such a hill and look in one direction, you can see an old church and an old standing stone appearing to line up. If you look the other way you can see an ancient tree and a mill-pool doing the same thing. He went home and "proved" his observation on an ordinance survey map and found that wherever he looked, there were similar alignments. Since he believed that no alignment of four points could possibly be random, he understood himself to have discovered an undocumented system of pathways or roads.

His first book on the subject was called Ancient British Pathways; but his second one was called The Old Straight Track. Another one of those poetic titles. The book itself is rather dull.

He created a bit of a stir, and for a while, groups of Edwardian gentlemen started to go for rambles and picnics, walking along imaginary lines and making notes of undocumented markers they found along the way. And then Watkins died and there was a big war and everyone forgot all about it. Some 30 years later, an amateur UFO spotter (Tony Wedd) read an account of an alien abduction; the abductee mentioned that the alien spacecraft always travelled in straight lines. He made the obvious connection: the UFOs are following the leys. In 1969, John Michell took up the idea in a big way. He conflated Watkins' tracks with Frederick Blye Blond's theories of sacred geometry, the Nasca lines, something he terms fung shui and much else besides. The result was The View Over Atlantis: a kind of hippy Bible.

This is crucial. The Ley Hunters Guide wasn't veering off course when it put UFO sitings alongside Shakespeare's grave and a Norman castle. UFOs and ley lines are part of a single idea. The combination of the two thoughts gave birth to the New Age movement. It was John Michell who gave Glastonbury its status as a mystical -- as opposed to merely Christian -- mecca. When I went to the Glastonbury Festival in 2015, Donovan made the audience in the Acoustic Tent chant "hail Atlantis!" before his set, and told us we were continuing a tradition that went back to Arthur and Guinevere. The 2015 festival was officially opened by the Druid Mayor of Glastonbury, who explained that decimal currency and metric measurement, had caused modern people to lose touch with sacred geometry and sacred numerology. I believe that this was John Michell's widow Denise. In 1970, Michell himself had used the principles of sacred geometry to calculate the dimensions of the Pyramid stage, and to position it where two of the ley lines cross.

And here is a funny thing. Some people (at least one person) thinks that Michell was the original inspiration for the character of Doctor Who. Doctor Who started in '63 and Michell came to prominence in '69, and it's hard to see where Verity Lambert of Sydney Newman would have come across him. It might be that a dowsing rod is a bit like a sonic screwdriver, but the sonic screwdriver didn't become an important accoutrement of the Doctor until the 1970s. (Arguably not really until the reboot.) But Michell is certainly an English eccentric, with a store of obscure knowledge, and is certainly regarded by some people as a kind of Merlin figure. And in photographs he often wears a scarf.

Now I have told you about the connection, it exists.

Flying saucers, stone circles, Atlantis. John Michell, Doctor Who.

Wolvesacre moat, Chester cathedral.

Join the dots. All stories are true.

This is the first part of a series of articles on the Doctor Who story Stones of Blood. 

All ten part have already appeared on my Patreon. 

Patreon followers have also read my definitive guide to the UK election, and are about to read my essay on the Doctor Who story Androids of Tara.

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