Yearly Archives: 2008

Torchwood season 2 episode 4

What is it about Meat that seems particularly urban?

There have been many science fiction stories about alien meat before. I would characterise these as being of two kinds. The first is where the alien erupts from the meat; food reveals itself as something more. In the second, the meat is silent, and its silence conceals a secret; these stories are usually initiated by the elimination of someone who knows the secret. Our episode is neither of these kinds. The alien meat is not a mutagen or a seed, yet this inertness hides no source that society cares about, nor any action that shapes society. The truck crashes not when the meat goes on a rampage or sabotaged brakes fail. The truck simply crashes. It’s a traffic accident.

Thinking about old alien meat stories further, I would say that their teleology is different to that of our episode. In those old stories, alien meat is often deliberately created or sourced. Regardless of whether original agency is involved, the alien meat is most often distributed with a purpose beyond nutrition: the distributors are in thrall to meat invaders, or they wish for personal power. In our episode the meat simply washes up the shore one day, and some small time crooks see a business opportunity. At the end of the day they want nothing more than to make some money.

Though most stories have alien meat distributed with a higher purpose, there are still a great number where it is distributed with nothing but profit motive in mind. These are closer to our episode but differ still. In those stories there is always something strikingly wrong that the distributors are doing. On the one hand this takes us back to my earlier characterisation of deliberate origin; it is never just a one-off thing in the older stories. On the other hand this shows a moral tone that our episode lacks. It is not clear that the crooks are being especially cruel to the alien, and its meat violates no taboo and causes no adverse affects. Torchwood’s interest is vague as always, its in their jurisdiction because it came through the rift.

An important figure in alien meat stories is the scientist. He’s sometimes the one who is killed in a cover up when the meat is silent. Other times he’s brought in to either explain and either justify or abhor what he’s done. Here, Vic doesn’t seem up to role, not even believing the alien is extraterrestrial. Ianto zaps him unconscious before he really gets to say anything to Owen. Again, Torchwood have a job to do, and they know how to do it.

The theme here is disinterestedness. It’s an accident that the alien turns up. It’s opportunistic of the crooks to take meat from it. It’s just a job for Torchwood.

Following the money, we have another form of disinterestedness, that of scale. Old stories of alien meat invariably work on a world scale, which is paradoxically a consequence of taking their story-telling model from the village. Toshiko’s leading line to Ianto notwithstanding, it seems unlikely the crooks could ever go global. Currently they have one small warehouse and one small truck. Even if the alien kept growing, kept under control, for years, could it ever compete with, say, the nine million cows slaughtered annually, producing two million tonnes of meat, in Australia alone? The crooks are just one meat supplier of many in a city like Cardiff.

This last point sounds like misplaced realism. Stories like this aren’t told to investigate the economic theory and logistics of alien meat production, it’s true. Traditionally these stories are told with some eye to the unpleasant realities underlying modern life, especially industrial hygiene, social conditioning, or animal rights. Our episode, I think, defuses these readings with the points of disinterest I noted earlier. It is a movement towards reifying genre elements, however what we end up with isn’t realism, but a dramatisation of the urban condition.

(The above are just elements specific to an episode that reinforces the fundamental urbanism of the show which is located in the Torchwood team itself. This urbanism is one of the key differences between Torchwood and village-as-city-as-world shows like Angel.)

The Empire of Chairs

“There is another world. There is a better world. Well, there must be.” Those are the last lines from the final issue of Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol. What story is being told?

This is the story, as unadorned as I can make it. Jane has been sent to a drab world. Without Cliff she falls into manic depression. This, combined with her stories of her superhero world of origin, gets her committed to a mental health institution. She is cured, but ends up flat. One day she goes for a walk and is found by Cliff.

This is the story, as hysterical as I can make it. Jane gets sent to our world. Mental illness is a creative lifestyle choice. In our world we stamp out all imagination and difference. Psychiatry is torture. Jane commits suicide.

There is no death on the page in this story. It is not about suicide on the face of it. There may be death under the page, between the panels, in the allusions. It may be an allegory about suicide. Or perhaps… it might be an allegory about being suicidal…

Because say you are suicidal. Say you do walk out on that bridge. Say that all you can hope for is a better world, another world, beyond death. Say there is nothing in this world for you. You walk out on that bridge… and find a friend waiting. Someone who has been there, someone who has been through it all, someone who has been there for you before, and is there now. It makes me cry just thinking about it. Stories of suicidal ideation need not end in suicide.

When its blackest you can’t see beyond your feet. If the light comes on, you might look back and see you were cared for all along. The light of Danny the Street comes on for Jane. The light came on for me on Sunday, and I looked back at the preceding 44 issues of Doom Patrol and saw a rescue mission.

“There is another world. There is a better world. Well, there must be.” The last lines are those of Jane’s sympathetic doctor. She suspects Jane committed suicide, but she hopes that perhaps Jane’s friends came for her. There is another world. It is this world. Friends make it better. They must, because without them there is nothing.

Asleep

Asleep is a song by The Smiths. Asleep is about suicide. I don’t have any problem with songs about suicide.

I’ve been meditating on this song all year.

There is another world
There is a better world
Well, there must be

I have a problem with songs that deny death. I have a problem with songs that advertise a great escape. I have a problem with songs that promote suicide.

What is this other world? Is it this world? In the memories and imagination of those still here? In items left behind, a look, a common name?

I am fighting, but I am not listening. THERE IS ANOTHER WORLD! THERE MUST BE! Suddenly on Sunday I have an epiphany. What is THIS WORLD, to which there must be ANOTHER, BETTER world? The lyric is asleep.

I don’t want to wake up
On my own anymore

The lyric is alone. Suicides are alone. Their world is empty. Their world offers nothing.

What does the lyric offer? Recognition. Identification. Another voice out there like yours: you are not alone. The existence of the lyric denies its content.

Ulysses

Like most people who read serious novels, I want to read Ulysses by James Joyce. Over the last few weeks, while, in the main, reading other things, I have read Part 1, a manageable chunk, less than a hundred pages. Oh it started off well:

Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.

It started off well. Lots of enjoyable student banter, some fine turns of phrase in both dialogue and description, and some intriguing suggestions. The focus, roving amongst sub- and ob- jectivites, is interesting and intelligible. My favourite passage came with the milkmaid:

He watched her pour into the measure and thence into the jug rich white milk, not hers. Old shrunken paps. She poured again a measureful and a tilly. Old and secret she had entered from a morning world, maybe a messenger. She praised the goodness of the milk, pouring it out. Crouching by a patient cow at daybreak in the lush field, a witch on her toadstool, her wrinkled fingers quick at the squirting dugs. They lowed about her whom they knew, dewsilky cattle. Silk of the kine and poor old woman, names given her in old times. A wandering crone, lowly form of an immortal serving her conqueror and her gay betrayer, their common cuckquean, a messenger from the secret morning. To serve or to upbraid, whether he could not tell: but scorned to beg her favour.

There follows a section with Stephen at the school where he teaches. This is also good. I would like to read this novel. Then Joyce turns means:

Ineluctable modality of the visible: at least that if no more, thought through my eyes.

Now begins the stream-of-consciousness. Stephen dreams, Stephen meets with his family, Stephen goes for a wank down on the foreshore. From this I get nothing. It is unpleasant. It is gibberish. Thus ends Part 1.

I do not want to read this novel. I flick to the end anyway. Molly Bloom’s famous stream-of-consciousness. It reads not like gibberish but poetry. Flick back. A question and answer session. Interesting. Flick back. More conventional writing, recalling the start of Part 1. Flick back. A script. Flick back to the start of Part 2. It doesn’t seem so bad.

I will try reading this next year.

Beer Country

There are, by my count, 36 craft breweries in Victoria. There’s 687 wineries, so there’s lots of potential for growth! I don’t know how many breweries there are in Australia. There’s always new lovelies opening, with many only available locally.

The biggest threat to all this craft beer that I see is the rise of the “premium beer” market. All those bland brews pushed by Fosters and Lion Nathan, or, increasingly, imported. There are big banners for Peroni and Budweiser in the city at the moment. And then there are the craft collaborators.

I was in the Little Creatures Dining Hall on Saturday and got myself a pint of Decomissionator. It reminded me of nothing more than VB Original Ale, which itself is little more than a smoother VB. And what is the taste of VB, of all these bland beers? In terms of hops and malt? I think maybe that it’s the taste of tortured (bottom-fermented?) hops. Hops with the bitterness de-bittered. Like flat cola or steamed vegetables.

Think of the hops! And think of the malt too, don’t leave it out! Put fermentation firmly where it should be, on top!

If you don’t fancy a VB, or a Crown, or anything from Little Creatures, there’s a chance for you stand up and be counted. The Local Taphouse is running a Hottest 100 Aussie Brews. The online poll will close at midnight (AEDT?) Sunday 18 January. Winners will be announced at the Local during their Summer SpecTapular.

They say “simply list your top TEN hottest Australian beers of 2008″ but is it really so simple? This requires thought. How do you compare small batch beers produced this year only to beers available every year? How do you compare a beer you’ve drunk from a bottle to a beer poured from the tap? How do you compare a beer at the end of a long, hot bike ride to a beer sunk at a barbecue? And then there’s the field!

This year I visited the high country, where I particularly liked the Blowhard Pale Ale and Staircase Porter from Bright Brewery, and the Robust Dark Porter and Chevalier Biere de Garde from Bridge Road Brewers. I dropped into the Lord Nelson in Sydney. At the inaugural SpecTapular I loved the Jamieson Son of a Beast, Moo Brew Stout, Hunter Smoked American Pale Ale, Parkyn’s Shark Oil, and Grand Ridge Moonshine. I recently dropped into the Normandy for a Clifton Hill Pale Ale. From various bottleshops I’ve picked up Bright Fainters Dubbel, Red Hill Hop Harvest Ale and Weizenbock, Emerald Hill Pale Ale, Buckley’s Dark Bock, Bellarine Heads Ale, Sweet Water IPA, Mountain Goat Old Surefoot, Murray’s Icon 2IPA, and Cascade First Harvest Ale. And then there’s perennial favourites like Mountain Goat, and Coopers Sparkling and Best Extra Stout. And what else aren’t I remembering just right now? God there’s some good beer out there.

A little more reflection and a little more research is required before I put my votes in. My libraries: Swords Select, Essendon Cellars, King & Godfree, Purvis Cellars, Cloudwine, Acland Cellars… And: Normandy Ale House, Transport, The Local Taphouse… Any other suggestions, either for beer or places to get it?

How does this fit in with the Future History Cycle?

How does this fit in with the Future History Cycle?

The Future History Cycle isn’t a series, Peter Darvill-Evans just called it that once and fandom adopted it.

I guess you could say something similar of the Cat’s Cradle series…

In fact, The Pit fits well into the sequence Darvill-Evans orchestrated—once he’d established the novels—from Time’s Crucible to No Future. He establishes the link between Doctor and TARDIS in Time’s Crucible, and has the TARDIS wounded. In Witch Mark, the Doctor fixes the TARDIS, but accidentally infects it, and thus himself. This leads to a downward spiral for the Doctor: he kidnaps Ace, sacrifices her boyfriend, almost loses Benny, fails to save the eight twelves, and then, at his lowest point, gives in to his shadow and kills the Victorian followers of the Yssgaroth.

Time’s Crucible also links the initial catastrophe with the Doctor’s desire for knowledge of ancient Gallifrey, and The Pit throws some of that knowledge right in his face.

And apart from the scientists and priests, who else makes up the Academy? Who are forgotten in the “conflict” between science and religion? The military, who are then personified by Ace in the subsequent novel. When the Doctor rids himself of Goibhnie’s protoplasm, he picks up spacefleet trooper Ace. The problem doesn’t go away, it just shifts in focus. When the conflict between Ace and the Doctor boils over, the Doctor loses his TARDIS, Ace is linked to the new TARDIS, and the Doctor is forced to destroy the alternate Earth to save the universe…

…partaking of his shadow, Kopyion…

Yes.

How does this fit in with State of Decay?

How does this fit in with State of Decay? More to the point, despite the namechecking of the Pythia, how does this fit in with Time’s Crucible? Our Defender of the Faith claims a virus reduced the Gallifreyan population rather than the Pythia’s curse, and his role altogether seems at odds with a religio-matriarchal society.

I like the bit where the Doctor doesn’t “seem able to agree with this version of his people’s history” after being told his “version of history is a lie” [p255]. His confusion directly follows Kopyion’s specific claim that Omega was sacrificed by Rassilon to cover up the threat of the Yssgaroth—but the Doctor has met Omega, as have we, and in those televised stories, neither Rassilon nor the Yssgaroth exist.

You’re saying that the discontinuity is deliberate?

Continuity is argument, not agreement. I’m saying that on the one hand this is misprision and revision, working the material of the past to the novel’s own ends, while giving us a different possible perspective on the past. On the other hand, this adds complexity to any attempt at a unified vision: we’ve seen very little of Pythian Gallifrey, and much of what we have seen is privileged; and of course there are the possibilities of Kopyion, and/or other reporters, being mistaken/lying/deluded, or combinations thereof.

I’ve grown to love the novel, so I guess that justifies its choices, though they distract me yet.

Use your confusion: think about what it means to the Doctor, who experiences it too.

I think the TARDIS crew always materialises on Day Three

The chapters are headed with a time period, starting with Day Three. I think the TARDIS crew always materialises on Day Three, never on Day One or Day Minus One. In this instance it adds to the fatalism that the Doctor cannot save the Seven Planets. The wave of history is also a commonplace going back to The Aztecs, but here it takes on a religious dimension. Not just fatalism, but fate. Not just a plan, but divine. Right from the prologue we see religion versus science. The main scene is set with Priesthood versus Academy…

Though I should point out that the Priesthood are also members of the Academy.

Granted. But in the television series, there would be no question that the scientists within the Academy would triumph, the Priesthood exposed as a sham. The New Adventures had already shown themselves to be friendly towards religion, but in a story with some explicit science/religion conflict, it’s nice to have positive portrayals of faith in Chopra, Spike, and Kopyion. But I see a lot of good Christians suffering in this novel because of science, our heroes doing nothing, and Kopyion, Lord Defender of the Faith prevailing. What does it mean?

Let me tease out some details that I think you’ve glossed over. First of all, Kopyion is Defender of a Faith very different to that of the future Christians of the Seven Planets. Within that Christian faith, we see very different expressions in the Priesthood, in Spike, in Thomas, in Carlson. We know that there is tolerance of religious minorities like the Sikhs, and tolerance of atheism. Yet we also know that the kthons, of a non-human faith, have been enslaved by the humans. And the Priesthood are a major driver of the human conflict that is swept away by the cosmic one. So there is a lot of religious variety there, it isn’t one true path. Meanwhile Rassilon, the Lucifer of the opening quote, is, as Kopyion himself says, more about power than science.

Despair is the theme of this novel. Despair driven by the darkness. The followers of the Yssgaroth are all nihilists. They want nothing but death. They want death and nothing. Rassilon may have wanted power, but it was his science that raised the possibility of meaninglessness. The Doctor and Blake seem lost, without a rudder. The Doctor falls down at the feet of Kopyion, then lets him destroy the Seven Planets just to make a point.

The Doctor is only alive, and Kopyion’s reason is only a gesture, because Kopyion saved the Doctor, and Benny kept Spike alive to seal the doorway to the otherwold, which was Kopyion’s original plan for his bomb. The Doctor lets him destroy the Seven Planets because it is history, which is injustice.

The Doctor falls down at his feet…

I think that is because of the Doctor’s own history, which I want to talk about separately. But it also happens because the Doctor is a seeker of meaning, and he is despairing. He wants Kopyion to give him hope. Significantly, Kopyion cannot offer hope, or love, only faith. Even though the Doctor’s despair is worse in this novel than any other, he is still a hero. He speaks out against Kopyion’s desecration of his fallen enemy. He counsels existential struggle to the Albino. Moments after despairing of any good coming from involvement, the Doctor can’t help stopping a boy from tripping over. And in the epilog, he is not lost to despair. Blake sees something bigger than hope in him. Blake, the Doctor, Benny, they are seekers, doubters, survivors, and I see a lot of beauty in them against a stark backdrop.

Science unleashes nihilism, faith is the only answer. Kopyion has the last word.

Kopyion is the Doctor’s dark side, which requires acknowledgement, as the Doctor does, but he does not give in. He moves on, which Kopyion could never do. He says, well, if the Yssgaroth come again, maybe we’ll find a way, which Kopyion could never do. He is Kopyion’s other side, which requires acknowledgement too.

This reads like a Fourth Doctor New Adventure

This reads like a Fourth Doctor New Adventure.

Not a Missing Adventure?

Not an MA, not a media tie-in novel, not fanwank, not a romp.

It’s about something.

Yes. It just happens to star the Fourth Doctor.

I don’t share your fan construction. It’s only the Fourth Doctor if the cover says so.

Even without all that “walk in eternity” business, the behavioural tics and dialogue angles just scream it to me.

Allow me to say that only the Seventh Doctor could have given the words/names speech. [p95]

Sure, but let me now agree with you on character via presence. There is no Sarah Jane Smith, just Elizabeth Sladen.

No small characterisation, just story requirements.

The Benny of this novel—called Bernice—is the same. This is the necessary work begun by Gareth Roberts in the previous novel.

I have sympathy with what you’re saying, but Benny’s memory of her family [p81] touches me, and the Dalek discussion [p104] is a clear line through her character.

No need to shout.

The horror

“The horror, the horror.” [p67]

I’ve never seen Apocalypse Now.

It’s sourced from a hundred year old short story.

It’s pretentious and silly.

Bible quotations, hymns, poetry, and this is what you don’t like?

The others are obscure or typical. This one I know via parody.

Yet, as with Conrad, it is ambiguous what Penswick refers to.

I can only read it bathetically.

But if you read carefully, you’ll see how he deadens the grammar, working it to his own ends.

Let’s just read on.