Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Doctor rankings

In anticipation of Doctor Who's Fiftieth Anniversary (the event, not the New Who special episode, which will inevitably suck) I thought I'd provide my personal rankings, as people often do, for the eleven official, canon Doctors which have so far graced our screens. In the spirit of making this balanced, I have also sorted the Doctors into tiers, to better distinguish groups of Doctors from each other in terms of their quality. As such, tier ranking holds greater significance than individual ranking. There is a larger distinction between tiers. Do you understand? It will make sense. I have ranked the Doctors in ascending order of preference Let's go!

Tier 5
The Tenth Doctor - David Tennant
"I don't get a picture to myself?"
A true bell end in the noble tradition of bell ends throughout history, the Tenth Doctor is in my opinion the least watchable of the Doctors by a significant margin. Alternating between cringe-inducing facetiousness that isn't remotely funny and periods of laboured maudlin sorrow, the Tenth Doctor has absolutely zero subtlety and is utterly painful to behold. He also has some pretty atrocious catchphrases. It's not helped by the fact that most of his episodes are appalling hogwash with rarely anything approaching a plot, containing nothing but constant manipulation of the audience's emotions to no particular purpose beyond pleasing the easily-pleased. David Tennant is a very talented actor, but the teeth-clenchingly unbearable way he was made to portray the Doctor is a complete waste of his skills, probably the biggest waste in the programme's history. I cannot think of a Tenth Doctor episode I would voluntarily watch at my leisure.

"I am outta here in eleven episodes' time..."
Tier 4
The Ninth Doctor - Christopher Eccleston
Much like his successor, the Ninth Doctor can often be very embarrassing to watch with his over-the-top grinning and cries of "Fantastic!" Despite being the Doctor for only one series of New Who, Eccleston already feels like he is seriously phoning it in by the conclusion of the series, appearing increasingly bored in the role in several later episodes. He is more bearable than the Tenth Doctor, but his limited run of episodes also means that there are very, very few decent ones to compensate for the rubbish that has afflicted the majority of New Who's existence. Another instance of wasting the actor, not allowing Christopher Eccleston to play a more serious, subtle character was a spectacular failure of the production, and if the rumours that he left the show due to dissatisfaction with things behind the scenes are true then he really is evidence of how readily opportunities were being wasted.

Tier 3
The Eleventh Doctor - Matt Smith
"You won't write me like a knob, will you?"
Had you asked me at the end of 2010 I would have had the Eleventh Doctor much higher on my list. In his first run of episodes he was a funny, quirky, charming interpretation of the character who was, in his eccentricity, a radical departure from the all-too-human Doctor who preceded him. This all fell apart with Series 6, however, when they forgot how to write good stories and started playing up to the eccentricities with which Matt Smith had endowed his original performance until the Eleventh Doctor had become a ridiculous caricature made up of catchphrases and frantic body language which was originally the purview of the much more theatrical Tenth Doctor. Whether this was playing up to the audience by making the Eleventh more like the popular Tenth I don't know, but it was still a mistake and a waste. The fact that we got one series where the Eleventh Doctor was good to watch and two where he was rather unpalatable seriously shafts him down the list, and the fact that his third series was disrupted, evidently due to production problems, makes him the hat trick for New Who's wasted opportunities with their lead actors.

"Oh god, another convention?"
The Fifth Doctor - Peter Davison
The lowest Classic Doctor on my list, please understand that Tier 3 is still above average despite the fact that Davison is, mathematically, below the median line in these rankings. I don't particularly have anything against the Fifth Doctor, but don't have a great deal for him, either. I don't find him particularly memorable in the role and I think he's let down by some fairly irritating companions, especially Tegan. I can't believe she's in all but two Fifth Doctor stories - it's mind-bogglingly ridiculous that such a fundamentally unpleasant character was kept in the show for so long. I still think that Davison did a good job following on from Tom Baker, and that he possibly left the role earlier than he should have, but I certainly appreciate the sentiment that it would have required more stories like "The Caves of Androzani" to make things worthwhile, and they just weren't coming. Many of his stories aren't great, but at the same time I don't feel like he was wasted in the role.

The Seventh Doctor - Sylvester McCoy
"I think I may have used this anecdote before."
It was hard to choose whether McCoy or Davison should occupy the seventh and eighth slots on my list, but in the end I have decided that this spot shall be allocated to the Seventh Doctor. I don't watch Seventh Doctor stories a great deal, and don't have especially fond memories of many, apart from, perhaps, "Survival", but contrary to some opinions online I find the Seventh Doctor quite engaging to watch even if he is a little silly at times. I enjoy the relatively serious portrayal of his character in his latter two series and I find him very believable in the role, albeit somewhat unusual. Perhaps if his portrayal had been possessed of a little more flair he might have been higher, but some rather weak stories and a relatively standard performance in the role prevent the Seventh Doctor from ascending the loftier heights of my esteem.

"This scene! It's the best bit in the whole film!"
Tier 2
The Eighth Doctor - Paul McGann
Despite appearing in only one televised adventure, I find the Eighth Doctor very appealling. Perhaps it's because of his rarity: he's like the holy grail of Doctors, something of a curiosity with his limited screentime. The TV Movie is very far away from perfect, but he is without a doubt one of the best parts of it. What is perhaps most noteworthy about the Eighth Doctor is that he sells very well the idea that the Doctor could appear relatively young and yet still have the sense of alien eccentricity which is so integral to the character. Having carried on the role in numerous Big Finish audios I think it's only fair to applaud Paul McGann for giving his Doctor a greater presence in performance than would otherwise be possible, although sometimes I find his voice work can be a little staid at times. Nonetheless, you can't go past the shoes bit in the TV Movie, can you?

The Sixth Doctor - Colin Baker
"More Big Finish you say?!?"
Widely derided in some circles for various reasons, the only reason the Sixth Doctor is in Tier 2 and not Tier 1 in my books is because of the lack of quality TV stories from his unfortunately brief tenure. Hampered by weak scripts and an unpopular costume, the Sixth Doctor brings a very engaging blend of blatant arrogance and tender compassion to the role, blending the more extreme traits of the Doctors in an intriguing mix. I can perfectly appreciate why he was voted the best audio Doctor, as well, because Colin Baker's performance in the Big Finish audio dramas is of a very high standard and really gives his Doctor the opportunities he deserved on television. Tier 2 is a Tier of Doctors who managed to rise above the limitations of their original situations, and in this regard the premium spot must go to the Sixth Doctor.

"Just keep out of the eye-line
and we'll all be happy."
Tier 1
The Third Doctor - Jon Pertwee
It must be understood that in Tier 1 there's very little to separate the Doctors at all. Each of these Doctors had a good long run in the role and many noteworthy stories of quality. Undoubtedly the most suave of the Doctor's many incarnations, the Third Doctor's dry sense of humour and short temper for fools make him a rather unique experience as a commanding and dashing figure. While Pertwee is very good at the Doctor, bringing a presence of leadership and a very sharp sense of humour, the seriousness with which he sometimes endows the character occasionally occurs at the expense of some of the Doctor's funnier characteristics. Arguably, and fittingly given his situation, one of the more human-like Doctors, he must also be applauded for his dress sense, which set the standard that the Doctor could wear something other than a frock coat and big trousers. 

The Second Doctor - Patrick Troughton
"How many got wiped?"
Sadly all too little of Troughton's stories as the Doctor have survived, but he is nonetheless in his limited existing experiences a masterful performer as the Doctor. The combination of his curiosity, compassion and indignation make him consistently watchable, and his concluding appearance in "The War Games" is one of sheer mastery. Managing to sell the idea before anyone else that the show could continue despite recasting its lead actor, Troughton is also the definitive follow-up Doctor establishing that some of the superficialities could change but the fundamental sense of justice and wanderlust could remain. His eccentric mannerisms also paved the way for many Doctors who came after.

"I can taste it already!"
The Fourth Doctor - Tom Baker
Despite the fact that I only have him in the number two spot, Tom Baker is the Doctor: one of the actors who has simply 'got it' in the role. No matter how weak the script, shonky the supporting performances or how many pints he had down the pub at lunch Tom is almost consistently believable in the role, bringing the right balance of an alien nature, limitless passion, good humour and a desire to put things right. Never outstaying his welcome in his unsurpassed seven-year tenure in the role, there is never a dull moment with the Fourth Doctor on the screen, and he perfectly captures the Doctor in a way which virtually encompasses any incarnation past, present or future.

The First Doctor - William Hartnell
"They kept it running for how long?"
The original and the best, what Hartnell brings to his original presentation of the character that just elevates him above Tom in my personal preference is sheer class, a level of both charm and power that establishes the character of the Doctor from the very beginning. Wise, cunning, sometimes harsh, endlessly curious and consistently ingenious, the First Doctor brings a particular sense of conviction and spirit of adventure which almost makes him unique among the character's many incarnations. Capable of being both a dignified, unruffled gentleman and a humorous, almost impish figure of fun, there is a certain integrity to Hartnell's definitive performance in the role which furnishes the First Doctor with a particularly satisfying air. At the end of the day he is the one who set the standard, and still holds that crown position at the top where he began.

Friday, September 6, 2013

"Remembrance of the Daleks"

You want a good serial to really grab you.
"What the hell am I watching?" This was my first reaction when "Remembrance of the Daleks" started playing mere hours ago. It's been a while since I've seen this, and a while since I've watched a Seventh Doctor serial in general, and it was a slightly weird experience. I've read a lot of rather negative reactions to the McCoy era lately and it had perhaps coloured my expectations, because at the very beginning "Remembrance of the Daleks" seems rather naff, and my immediate thought was how I had really remembered the serial and the era. I suppose my question is this: is "Remembrance of the Daleks" legit? And I think the answer is that by and large yes, it is legit. It's a pretty darn well-written and well-paced story with a good amount of content and nice effects which doesn't get bogged down in the usual navel-gazing which tends to afflict a Doctor Who anniversary story. It instead establishes its credentials as a tribute to the past through setting and theme, and while this may seem a little laboured at points it doesn't get in the way in the manner that a bunch of past Doctors and companions would have.
The response to a post-Hinchcliffe naysayer.
Put simply the Doctor and Ace show up near Coal Hill School in 1963, back when things all began in "An Unearthly Child." Trouble is afoot as the Daleks have arrived to sequester the Hand of Omega, an ancient Time Lord device used for stellar manipulation. Worse still, both the Imperial and Renegade Daleks are after the Hand and are duking it out on Earth. Both sides are using human agents for their own ends and need to be outplayed by the Doctor so that he and his supporting cast of two-dimensional soldiers and scientific staff can survive to the end of the story. There's plenty of action, lots of Daleks yelling at each other and having shoot outs, some memorable dialogue, a lot of rather frantically-resurrected back-story and what was in my opinion an incredibly impressive shot of a Dalek shuttle landing in the schoolyard that makes any CGI crap churned out for the New Series look like unbelievable garbage by comparison. The music gets a bit funk dog on occasion but I can live with it.
You won't find good reviews down there.
To be perfectly honest with you, dear offended New Who fan, I'm not a massive enthusiast for Sylvester McCoy's Seventh Doctor. Don't get me wrong, he's on the right side of the median line as all the Classic Doctors are, but I don't find him as watchable as the Big Four, Colin or P McG. He's more sort of hovering around the Six out of Ten mark with Davison, who is looking slightly uncomfortable about proceedings. He's entirely watchable in this, but I don't especially love him in the role. It's not like with Tom, who can sell practically anything no matter how bad the script or how many refreshments he's had at lunch, or William Hartnell, who can fluff lines left and right and still be pure class from start to finish. McCoy gives a somewhat more workmanlike performance as the Doctor, pressing the right buttons and certainly feeling like the Doctor but perhaps not quite with the extra flourish that the character has been afforded in some incarnations. He does come across as rather masterful and abrasive despite his diminutive size and eccentric appearance, though, so I have to give him credit for that.
"It was John's idea. Do you like it?"
As for the rest of the cast there's not a great deal to say for them individually. Sophie Aldred's a bit panto as Ace, but then again she always is, isn't she? Something about her makes me think of a giant overgrown baby on occasions, but I can't think why. There are also some incredibly unflattering shots when she's in the leather jacket where she just looks disproportionate, like she has a tiny head and legs and a massive upper torso. There's a weird bit in the Boarding House, too, where she says good morning to Mike in a way that made me think that they'd slept together the night before. Later he asks her out to the pictures. I don't know. Mike himself is fairly horrendous, and a very dull character for whom I felt absolutely no sympathy. In fact I found it darkly thrilling in a very evil way when he got fried by the Sith Lightning of the little girl. Captain Gilmore's incredibly unmemorable as well, and beyond him there's no one really to talk about in terms of the protagonists apart from Rachel and Allison. I have no idea why they're even there, although I assume Rachel is meant to be a sort of analogy for the Doctor in his secondment to UNIT, sort of like how Liz was meant to be back in Spearhead? Who knows. Allison is cute but neither of them have any purpose in the story.
"Yes, more than half the Troughtons are inside for safekeeping."
The problem with the Daleks in this story is that they're rubbish. I prefer the Renegade Daleks to the Imperial Daleks because I think they look more soldierly and professional, but they also look a bit cheap. In the final confrontation where McCoy's harrassing the black Dalek and it's wobbling back and forth like it's going to shit itself you can actually see the trainer-clad foot for a second of the bloke within who's rocking the prop from side to side, which killed my suspension of disbelief stone dead in an instant. I also don't particularly like the idea of them needing to use the little girl in their battle computer for her creativity. The Doctor remarks that the Daleks are otherwise over-reliant on logic and reason and have no creativity or intuition to aid their battle plans, but that makes absolutely no sense to me. It seems to be a misunderstanding dating back to "Destiny of the Daleks." They're not robots, nor purely logical like the Cybermen. Daleks are completely capable of emotion.
A video game advocate's nightmare.
The only caveat is that they only experience negative emotions: hate, anger, disgust, the diabolical thrill of power and triumphing over defeated, degraded enemies. I can only imagine we were meant to expect that Davros was sitting in the chair wearing a virtual reality helmet or something before the girl turned around, but given that he's always been part of the Imperial faction that seems like a pretty serious assumption they want us to make. In the end, of course, Davros isn't playing the two factions against each other. It's just a little girl who somehow shoots lighting from her hands. A decent twist, but a bit of a twist for twist's sake.
I have nothing bad to say about this.
This looked awesome.
Returning to the Imperial Daleks, I'm not a huge fan of the design. The Doctor mentions inside the shuttle that they largely lack an aesthetic sensibility, so it doesn't really explain why they dress up in white and gold. I realise that it's meant to subvert our expectations by turning this traditionally positive colour imagery on its head but in terms of internal consistency it doesn't make a great deal of sense. I don't mind the mothership bridge set but I think Davros looks utterly ridiculous in his giant globe chair thing, covered in those spiralled analogue telephone cords and with a microphone in front of his mouth. He looks a right knob when he runs away at the end too, although I daresay that was intentional. One of the problems with this episode is that a lot of the Dalek-related tension involves the Daleks confronting something, yelling "Exterminate", and spending so much time yelling "Exterminate" over and over again without doing any actual exterminating that by the time they're ready to actually follow through, someone shows up and rescues whoever is in danger. I always thought that this should have been established as part of the Daleks' character - that they waste time prior to the attack thrilling in their victory, that all the yelling is a sort of psychological wind-up to the climactic moment when they discharge their weapons in fury, but that might be too Freudian an interpretation for early evening family viewing. I find the Special Weapons Dalek a slightly bizarre addition, too. Sometimes it seems like the regular Dalek gun can do anything, but apparently not. Why is it so dirty, anyway? Not a huge fan of the rivets, either. Looks like something slapped up in a metalwork shop, not an alien killing machine. I like the exterior design of the shuttle, however, and that the Imperial Daleks have recovered something verging on humanoid form, albeit apparently with lobster claws. Terry Molloy gets the job done as Davros, and when I criticise the costume I shouldn't go too far, because I like the black mouth, teeth and tongue, which in lieu of eyes are kind of mesmerising. The confrontation between Davros and the Doctor is pure ham and cheese, and the bit where Davros utters "You tricked me!" is completely play school but I like the fact that the Doctor is acting and Davros isn't. It's a nice contrast.
Twice the size, twice the relief.
The plot itself I find rather bizarre. I like the idea that the Doctor is trying to trick the Daleks into blowing themselves up, but I don't understand why he goes to all the trouble of burying the Hand of Omega knowing full well that someone is bound to try to dig it up again. The effects aren't too bad to show it hovering along in my opinion, but it's awfully convenient that the priest at the cemetery is blind. Didn't any passers-by notice this huge metal box floating through the air? Also, are we meant to believe that the First Doctor brought the Hand of Omega all the way from Gallifrey and hid it in London for the specific purpose of tricking the Daleks, whom he hadn't met yet and knew absolutely nothing about, but then decided to just leave it there when he pissed off to prehistoric times and so on, and then hundreds of years later for him personally decided that he ought to pop back and deal with it? It writes an awful lot into the character's motivations from days gone by, and is a rather hard sell beyond the means of the story. What's more, we get a bit of Cartmel Masterplan leaking through as the Doctor implies that he was around in the days of Omega and Rassilon. Thank god that never got off the ground. Why does he claim to be President-Elect of Gallifrey, incidentally? Was he just bluffing? At the end he says the Hand is going back to Gallifrey, too. Why did he bother taking it in the first place, then?
"I require the complete Dentistry of the Daleks!"
This probably all sounds very negative about "Remembrance of the Daleks" but none of these awkward bits of plotting or pointless supporting characters really diminish the overall appeal. It clips along at a decent pace, more or less carried, I would argue, by McCoy's engagingly consistent performance as the Doctor, and while there is a fair bit of pointless spectacle it's nothing too offensive. We get the impression that Mr Ratcliffe was a Nazi sympathiser and that Mike is a bloody racist but it's not especially overplayed, used mainly in compliment to the attitude of the Daleks, but overall that notion is possibly not given the attention it deserves, which might have happened had the silly Hand of Omega plot been scrapped. I like Ace's reaction to the racist sign in the Boarding House window, too, but no one really follows through with these points, and for all the Doctor's moralising about the fate of the living beings inside the Dalek cases he doesn't have too much compunction about blowing up the ship, does he? Let alone Skaro and its sun - I assume the planet was abandoned by that time. Why did it have to be Skaro's sun, anyway? And didn't the Daleks check the Hand? Of course they didn't. The Renegades can't even tell when McCoy and Ace are hiding behind a shelf. Also what's with the bit where McCoy goes to the café? What the hell was the point of that?
"What do you mean, 'Not as good as Revelation'?"
The thing about "Remembrance of the Daleks" is that it's the kind of Doctor Who serial that transcends these shortcomings, where something like "The Armageddon Factor" might get bogged down in them. It might not be one of the great serials of all time, but as far as Eighties Who is concerned it manages to keep up largely through the mere fact that it never particularly becomes boring or unnecessarily stupid. Is it legit, though? I think it's about as legit as was possible by that time. In terms of its style it actually made me think of what New Who would be like with the majority of the most cringe-inducing dialogue cut, the story given a bit of complexity and room to breathe and direction and music that wasn't just faux-Hollywood crap. It feels jarringly different to previous material, even Colin serials from mere years before, but I think it still feels more or less like its heart is in the right place. I think it benefits from largely not being a proper Davros story, his inclusion being very limited, and even though the plot is a bit all over the place by the end it still has a certain charm, although the prospect of Earth being caught in the middle of a Dalek civil war is never realised with great effectiveness. As far as Dalek stories go, it's decent. As far as Anniversary stories go it steers clear of a lot of traps. It's nonsensical at times, but works itself out, and is regularly quite corny, but also easy to watch. "Remembrance of the Daleks" is a robust offering which, much like the Dalek civil war, showcases two distinct yet inseparable sides of Eighties Who.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

"The Armageddon Factor"

"Anyone else have a thirst?"
I could go to enormous lengths doing some complete review series of the "Key to Time" season of Doctor Who but frankly I couldn't be arsed. I watched "The Armageddon Factor" for the first time in probably about eight years or so the other day and I suppose my question is this: does it hold up? As the anti-climactic and, I believe, rather unloved finale to one of the Classic Series' few seasons with a major over-arcing plot, I think it's fair to say that "The Armageddon Factor" is going to be in few people's lists of all time classic Fourth Doctor serials (although I could understand it holding a place in the heart of some). There's a fine art to penning the six-part season finale of Classic Who, but during Tom's tenure it's a bit hit and miss, isn't it? We've got the episodes allocated to "Genesis" for Season 12, "Shada" unfinished and "Logopolis" only a four-parter, which places "Armageddon Factor" in competition with "Seeds of Doom", "Weng-Chiang" and "Invasion of Time." I don't think "The Armageddon Factor" is really in competition with the first two, to be honest. I'd have to rewatch "The Invasion of Time" to be sure but I seem to remember that one being rather underwhelming, so maybe in that regard "The Armageddon Factor" takes pride of place as the most mediocre season closer of the Fourth Doctor era.
"You're next! You're next!"
"The Armageddon Factor" seems to take its cues from a few noteworthy sources I would argue, particularly "Nineteen Eighty-Four" and the science-fiction of Isaac Asimov with a hearty dose of pulp good-vs-evil fantasy thrown in as thickener. Opening on the beseiged world of Atrios, where the deliberately bad propaganda film is barely of a higher standard of production or acting than the programme itself, I got a distinct Orwellian vibe, although it might appear to some as being a bit of a cut-price "Genesis of the Daleks" as well. The surface has been bombarded with nuclear warheads and the population is confined to a complex of bunkers all under the control of the sneering Marshal, John Woodvine making me think of a slightly pantomime British Kevin McCarthy for some reason, while his subordinate Shapp looks more like The Inimitable Jeeves than a military adjutant. Simultaneously we have Lalla Ward's introduction to Doctor Who as the rather wet Princess Astra, matched only by Astra's even more sodden boyfriend Merak the chief surgeon. I notice that the hospital set only gets used in the first episode. Could they not afford to pay the extras after that?
"K-9, your nose laser will show them that I can't be banned for life."
I don't know what to say about Tom Baker. What is there left to say about him? He gets the job done no matter whether he's overplaying it or completely steaming. I never find a point where I'm watching Tom and want to knock some sense into him. He's just watchable, albeit relatively unremarkable in this one. I'm not sure how much love there is around for Mary Tamm's Romana but frankly I like her and I think she's a good companion for the Doctor, although I suppose I find her a little superfluous in this one and in some regards I can understand why she was unsatisfied with the role. The main villain of the piece, the Shadow, is like every generic Dark Lord character imaginable rolled into one, and I honestly don't see the point of him. He's boring and completely undeveloped, and has an evil laugh which he seems to utter at every conceivable opportunity just to ram home how evil he is. I don't quite understand why he just sat on his arse this whole time letting the Doctor and Romana assemble the rest of the Key. Was it part of his plan all along? It seems rather fatuous to think that you'd just be able to outwit the people who got all five other segments and not have to do anything yourself but there you go.
Has the show already peaked?
So Atrios is at war with Zeos and the Marshal is getting desperate for victory. There's a lot of stuffing around on Atrios for the first two episodes more or less, we head for Zeos in the third and fourth episodes and finally to the Shadow's planet in the fifth and sixth, which resembles a planet in the same way they do in Bomberman games, which is to say a space station on the outside which is inexplicably a cave on the inside. I guess the Shadow is just a fan of naturalistic interior décor. I like the Atrios costumes and weapons, to be honest, and I quite like the exterior shot we get of the Marshal's ship - I'm surprised they bothered - but too much of it is just plodding around studio set corridors. There's absolutely no location work in this serial so we're relying on the production team to be as convincing as possible. Do they manage it? Enough for my purposes, but not in a way that holds up to much scrutiny. The sets on the Shadow's planet seem positively lazy, every jagged tunnel having a flat studio floor, but I understand that time and budgetary considerations must have been horrendous. Zeos probably gets the worst of the lot, being nothing more than some empty, drab beige corridors and the command room.
"Almost as good as a Prime."
I must say I do like the Mentalis prop, and I really like the idea that Zeos is deserted and that Mentalis is running the whole show on its own. I particularly like the way K-9 interacts with Mentalis, to such a degree that this box with flashing lights on it has a touch of character all to its own, revealed through K-9's pomposity regarding the computer. That being said, I would have preferred had the mystery been as a result of the Zeons having all pissed off early on in the piece and left the computer to do the work, or that they'd installed the computer but then all been killed (little to the knowledge of Atrios) rather than having Drax install it on behalf of the Shadow. The scenario where the war is engineered by the Shadow, as unpleasant as it is, is to my mind far less disturbing than the initial implication that the war is being fought to no purpose whatsoever, at no one's design. Beyond that the journey to Zeos seems to mostly exist to just cause the other characters to be transported to the Shadow's planet in the most staggered manner possible to better drag out the plot over six episodes.
"Birds and bees, Gallifreys..."
While the Doctor actually using the Key to Time to trap the Marshal in the time loop is, I think, a reasonably interesting idea, I find the notion of causing this to happen just by slotting in a piece of squeaky polystyrene which Tom knocks up in about five seconds between scenes utterly implausible and ridiculous, especially given that he walks in wearing an apron and forging gear like he's been working at the smithy or something. As for events on the Shadow's planet, well, it's all a bit pointless really. The Shadow controls Astra, then he controls K-9, then a guy called Drax who is conveniently a Time Lord shows up from behind some green polystyrene and builds a shrink gun for no particularly necessary reason, Romana gets trapped in a box and a guy in a black robe stomps around in front of a miniaturised Tom completely oblivious to the two doll-sized Time Lords squeakily conversing at his feet. What's the deal with Drax, anyway? He just sort of shows up and then pisses off again, and with his non-RP accent and buzz cut he's like Eccleston from before Eccleston was Eccleston, which is no mean feat. Did they really need to hide inside K-9 to enter the Shadow's inner sanctum? When they get there he just stands around like an absolute plum while the Doctor grabs the Key to Time and shines a white light from who knows where in his face.
"Yes, Mr Wooster, sir."
As for the resolution of the season arc, well, it's shit, isn't it? I like the idea that Astra is the sixth segment of the Key to Time, although it seems to give the altogether more reserved Romana pause than it does the Doctor from an ethical standpoint. I almost feel like it would be good if she didn't get restored at the end. Might knock some spine into Merak. Speaking of which, there's a hilarious bit at the beginning of episode six where Shapp and Merak stand around like tape recorders recapping plot points about which they knew absolutely nothing prior in the story purely for the benefit of the audience. I like Shapp. I like the way he's on the one hand a bit of a stuck up bureaucrat but on the other he's kind of curious and helpful. His pratfall into the transmat chamber after being stunned by one of the Shadow's servants is absolute gold as well. He staggers back in shock and topples over like he's just been shown how little he's going to get paid at the end of shooting. Shapp would have been a good companion. Speaking of which, I forgot to say anything more about K-9! Well, he's K-9. He appeals to my inner eight year old boy. He's okay.
"Bring my pile cream at once!"
I like the Doctor's ruminations, exaggerated and otherwise, about the kind of power they get to wield with the Key to Time, but honestly these questions of the corruptive nature of power really get glossed over in a story that really doesn't know what it's about. I suppose we're meant to admire the Doctor's savvy and moral conviction in outwitting the Black Guardian but honestly, he was just some funny-looking old man on the TARDIS view screen. How was he even going to get the Key? Would Tom have to press it up against the glass? That's it, then. The Doctor disperses the Key again, installs the randomiser in the TARDIS and off we go. We never actually see the White Guardian again and balance doesn't get restored to the universe. Why did they bother gathering these things in the first place? Was the guy who Tom spoke to back at the start of "The Ribos Operation" even the White Guardian? Who knows. They don't care, and neither do we. It was just a rather half-arsed McGuffin thread linking the serials together anyway. Their main strength is as Tom adventures.
Thinking of that next crisp beer.
In the end I've got to say that "The Armageddon Factor" is, to my mind, not a very noteworthy piece of Doctor Who. As a resolution to a season-long storyline it really doesn't resolve anything in a satisfying way, it's about two episodes too long, the villain is an idiot, characters show up and vanish for practically no reason and it all looks and feels rather cheap. That being said, I think it opens in a rather confronting way, and that the bare essentials of something worthwhile lie deep beneath. As a four-parter concerned exclusively with the war between Atrios and Zeos it might have been an interesting story, but sadly that was not to be. Perhaps the resolution of the arc needed a whole separate serial to itself independent of finding the pieces, but I dread to think what a six-part finale would have been like under the obvious limitations if they didn't even have the plot-momentum of finding an additional segment. It's not an amazing send off for Mary Tamm's unfortunately short stint in the role of Romana, either. "The Armageddon Factor" is one of those archetypal Doctor Who stories, really, the kind that everyone's forgotten about and where the scope and ambition is to a greater or lesser extent undermined by the execution. Still, much like the sixth segment, it's not without its place.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

"The Crimson Horror"

How I was found after watching this Series.
Despite having a title evocative of any number of hypothetical bodily discharges, this second offering from Gatiss is almost certainly the strongest episode, in my opinion, of this half of Series 7 of New Who, and possibly the strongest episode of the series overall. I've often wondered why Gatiss was not more regularly afforded a two-parter spot in writing and having him write two single-parters seems to be the closest we're going to get for the time being, which is a shame because this is an episode which is desperate for more than one part. For the millionth time we're back in Victorian Britain, this time in Yorkshire in 1893, where "dark and queer business" is afoot. Some woman and her husband get snuffed by a group of creepy women in black played by Diana Rigg's "Mrs Gillyflower." It already feels decidedly like an RTD episode, to be honest, with the villain introduced so early, and then the aforementioned husband surfaces in a mortuary with a red face. His brother is investigating his disappearance, and the body wound up in the canal, the unnecessarily weird mortician suggesting that he's lucky to get a glimpse. If the body was in the canal, how is it lucky? And besides, if this Mrs Gillyflower is turning people red, why is she dumping them in the canal for anyone to find? Brother heads to London and behind a street facade which I'm sure is meant to evoke more than anything the Sherlock version of Baker Street we find ourselves once again with the overused Vastra and Jenny. He reveals that, despite its impossibility, his brother's eye bears an optogram, an image of the last thing he saw before he died, and promptly faints upon seeing Vastra, setting up a not very funny running joke. Jenny develops the photographs of the optogram and, because this is Moffat Who where the answer to everything is "the Doctor", lo and behold the last thing this guy saw before death was none other than the Doctor. Roll titles.
"If I say 'guns' five times, does that fulfil all of my dialogue?"
So Vastra and Jenny head for Yorkshire to investigate the unsubtly-named "Sweetville" and oh god, I'd forgotten about Strax. He's along for the ride as well, and gets to make more of the same old jokes where he doesn't know what women are and talks about weapons a lot, also remarking on the dangers of the North. The episode has barely begun and already there's simply far too much comedy, Gatiss forgetting that less is more in New Who as much as anywhere else. The evil Mrs Gillyflower is having some kind of evil recruitment drive for Sweetville, a sort of millennialist-apocalyptic utopia with her blind daughter a demonstration of the horrors of mankind. We're hanging exclusively with Jenny at the moment, who signs up with Gillyflower in order to infiltrate this planned community, which isn't too unusual for the time period. They also sign a hymn just so that we don't forget that Christianity is bad. Meanwhile, Vastra and Strax have a chat where they identify the Doctor's location as most likely being where all the danger is. This show really can't go for a second without being self-referential. Inside Sweetville, we discover that blind daughter Ada is keeping a monster in the attic, while at Vastra's accomodation the brother shows up and faints again before Strax busts out some more tired gags involving silly weapons. I thought it would have been more appropriate for him to complain about the weakness of humans.
Murray Gold's workshop.
In Sweetville, the surprisingly watchable Jenny is reminded that people are disappearing and spontaneously decides to pick a nearby lock, paying off her interlocutor to faint. No one seems to notice or care even beforehand that Jenny is quite obviously picking the lock, which gives way to a room of gramophones projecting factory noise in front of a very fake-looking CGI backdrop of an empty warehouse. What a mystery. Something about the whole scenario is incredibly unconvincing. At the morgue Vastra is investigating the corpses from whom bottles of red stuff are extracted. The affliction is title-dropped as 'The Crimson Horror' by the mortician and Vastra makes a sly remark about how she hasn't seen the effect for sixty-five million years. We know she's a reptile! Why is she constantly showing off her Silurian-ness to people? Inside Sweetville, Gillyflower and Ada have some chow in the absence of Mr Sweet. Gillyflower then knocks over her fork for some reason and pours salt down the front of her dress. Why did she knock over the fork and send the servant out? I have no idea. It's a pointless scene which only serves to heighten the mystery of Mr Sweet, which is only a mystery because Gillyflower won't stop blabbing about him for some reason.
Something wicked this way comes.
With a Big Finish contract.
Jenny's having a bit of an explore elsewhere and without difficulty and completely at the convenience of the plot immediately finds the red room of death where the guy died at the start and the cell where Ada's 'monster' is kept. I actually jumped when the arm lunged out from the food slot, but I don't really understand why Jenny thinks the monster is communicating in the affirmative with her just by banging on things. Regardless she picks this lock as easily as the last one and discovers that the monster, much like the intended inhabitant of the Pandorica, the victim of River Song and the person whose identity is the greatest secret in the universe, is the Doctor. He's doing a Frankenstein's monster moan and has hard red skin. Jenny herds him off with his discarded duds and Murray Gold kicks into gear with the tense music as Jenny hurries him away from Ada, who is blind. What a risk! Along the way they observe that people are being dipped in a vat of red stuff and the Doctor's mobility is highly variable depending on the demands of the plot and how long the Smith can bear to have his mouth hanging open. Ada has a big cry in the absence of the 'monster' and the Doctor pops into a convenient chamber which, with the assistance of the sonic screwdriver, inexplicably cures him somehow. He bursts out fully clothed, running around like a complete bell end, before kissing Jenny, which it's apparently perfectly okay for him to do to a lesbian. It's definitely funny and not really inappropriate.
"If you think this is hard to understand, just
wait for how the Americans handle Capaldi!"
We then get the Doctor's big re-hash of events so far to confirm to us that this is not the dreaded 'Doctor-lite' episode of days gone by from when Tennant was too knackered from shagging every guest actress that came on set to film a full fourteen episodes a year. Arriving accidentally in Yorkshire rather than London, the Doctor observes his difficulty in the past of trying to return a "gobby Australian" to Heathrow airport. "Brave heart, Clara," he intones, referencing the character who puts me off rewatching virtually all Davison stories. Little does Gatiss know, as well, that here in Australia 'gobby' refers to performing acts of an intimate nature upon someone with your mouth, which makes the connotations of the Doctor and Tegan's relationship even more dodgy. Meeting up with the dead chap from the beginning, they investigate the mystery of Sweetville and how no one ever leaves. The Smith gets to make the Doctor look like a completely insensitive tit, caring nothing about the murder victims and only how 'the Crimson Horror' is a good name for the affliction. At least the optogram is written off as being a case of the body's chemistry being "massively corrupted" and not just due to magic thinking: I was expecting the Doctor to attribute it to the last sight being 'extra scary' or something. The red stuff is identified as being due to an 'organic poison', which is apparently a meaningful description despite many poisons being organic, and it makes its victims as lifeless as Clara, who has virtually no lines and absolutely nothing to do. The Doctor and Clara sign up for Sweetville just so that this montage, otherwise effective, can be a complete rehash of the Jenny and Vastra plot so far, making one or the other feel completely redundant, and Mrs Gillyflower reveals that she and her 'silent partner', the needlessly alluded-to Mr Sweet, are putting people in bell jars for some reason. Bell ends, more like. I quite enjoy the Doctor's deception in this bit, however, even if the Smith's 'funny Yorkshireman' routine is a bit daft. They all get dipped in red. Clara is preserved but the Doctor rejects the process and Gillyflower tells Ada to dump all the rejects in the canal. Why? Isn't it incredibly suspicious? No one would be investigating if they just took the corpses out the back and burned them. The Doctor's still alive, however, so Ada secures him in a cell so that she can have a bit of a perv and encourage him that they'll still have a place in utopia. Seems a bit optimistic. Then to get everything up to speed the dead guy from the beginning somehow bursts into the locked cell and falls dead at the Doctor's feet, hence the optogram.
"Two episodes this series?!?"
Back in the present day the Doctor suggests that the red stuff didn't preserve or kill him because he's not human, which is fair enough, but Jenny argues that Clara is dead. At first I didn't understand this until I remembered the Christmas special and felt a bit of the Crimson Horror coming on myself. Outside, Strax is berating his horse for some reason - I don't even know where he's going or why he's having such a struggle getting there - before a passing urchin gives him directions, his name being "Thomas Thomas." Seriously? What a horrendous joke. So far this episode's biggest failings are the excessive, pointless comedy and the fact that the plot only exists because Mrs Gillyflower is an idiot who dumps red corpses in the canal and keeps blathering about a mysterious benefactor. Diana Rigg also gets to try to sell some awful, cliché-ridden dialogue like "My plans must be accelerated." She sounds like a cartoon villain. Why's she so concerned specifically about Ada letting the Doctor escape? She's been dumping bodies in the canal! She then rejects Ada so that you know she's proper evil and not just evil in her spare time or anything. The Doctor rescues Clara by smashing the bell jar she's trapped inside, presumably showering her in broken glass, and putting her in one of those convenient cabinet things. Gillyflower's servants show up and attack for some reason, and Jenny strips off into her ninja outfit so that the Doctor can have a boner gag with the sonic screwdriver. So he gets to fetishise a lesbian as well as kiss her. Jenny beats up a couple slow-mo Zac Snyder style before Strax runs in guns blazing. Clara emerges and the Doctor announces that there's "trouble at mill." Bet Gatiss couldn't wait to get that one in.
"Don't let Steven hear you or you'll be doing guest spots like this forever!"
Vastra reveals that by some incredibly unlikely coincidence the red skin of death is a symptom identical to that caused by a lethal "red leech" which afflicted her Silurian buddies in days gone by - presumably the ones like her with mammary glands and human faces. Wondering what this leech business is, then, the Doctor gets to have a ridiculous cartoon moment of temporarily ignoring Clara, who reveals that Sweetville's big chimney never issues any kind of smoke. What does this mean? That it's a rocket silo, of course. Gillyflower presumably got the whole setup cheap from Wallace and Gromit after they came back from the moon, as it's a rather naff looking rocket silo that's basically some scaffolding in the corner of an open warehouse. How did they build a flight-worthy rocket in 1893? It looks suitably rickety but they still seem awfully confident about it. The only thing appealing to me visually at the moment is the Doctor's outfit which, divested of the bowler, has a certain twee charm to it. Continuing the whole cartoon or silly spy-spoof element Gillyflower has a bizarre control system for this rocket hidden in a panel behind a revolving organ. I'd hate to think how much of the budget went down the drain just because of that. The Doctor stumbles upon Ada, who still believes that she was blinded by her father and that maybe it was her fault. The Doctor reassures her that this isn't so, but then goes on to dismiss the problems of the abused as "stupid, backwards nonsense." Very sympathetic! Now with no time left for the plot, the middle-third of the episode having been occupied with reviving our two leads and rehashing their adventures, we have to rush straight to the climactic confrontation with the villain, which is also where we get one of the best lines of the episode: "I'm the Doctor, you're nuts..."
This much money!
Decided at last to reveal the identity of Mr Sweet for no particular reason Diana Rigg rips down the front of her bodice to reveal that she is in symbiosis with a corny-looking red leech puppet clinging to her wrinkly old bosom. Conveniently enough he has apparently "grown fat on the filth" that humanity has dumped into its waterways. Gets around a bit, then, does he? And apparently he eats toxins. I don't understand why the Doctor and Clara are just standing around here letting her waffle. Speaking of plums, Strax is also just doing nothing more than hanging around outside with the orienteering kid from earlier in the episode in a shot which is nothing more than a waste of a couple of seconds this episode is leaking furiously at the expense of plot exposition. Gillyflower reveals that she's going to detonate her rather unimpressive rocket in the atmosphere and shower the world in Mr Sweet's venom so that everyone dies except her immunised Sweetville inhabitants. She discovered an anti-toxin by experimenting on Ada, hence her blindness. At this point the Doctor decides to have a big rant at her. What's the point of moralising to this insane, evil old woman? We finally get a character deciding to act when none other than blind Ada bursts in and starts beating up her own mother with a stick. Clara decides at this juncture to smash Gillyflower's control device with a chair. Somewhere a prop guy is crying.
A more merciful fate than rewatching Series 7.
Gillyflower whips out a revolver and drags Ada off, the Doctor acknowledging that she's mad enough to kill her own daughter. Why didn't she shoot the Doctor and Clara then? What was the point of this whole confrontation? Somehow Gillyflower and Ada get to the silo much more quickly than Clara and the Doctor - I assume a secret passage was involved - and she reveals that there is a "secondary firing mechanism" for the rocket. As it launches, everyone on the stairs surrounding it manages to survive the exhaust simply by leaning in closely to the walls and pulling pained expressions rather than, y'know, having to vacate the building or anything. Gillyflower cackles like a Disney witch and we get to see some mediocre CGI of the rocket blasting off. Trouble at Mill indeed. All is not lost, however, as the Doctor reveals that Vastra and Jenny somehow had the poison all along. Strax then appears at the top of the chimney and shoots at Gillyflower, who falls to her death on the launch pad below. All the Doctor can say is "Ouch." He's a real prick in this episode. In a further cartoon moment, Gillyflower utters "That's my girl," after Ada says she'll never forgive her - more evil for evil's sake. Up above, the rocket explodes harmlessly and not in fact very high - how was the venom going to cover the whole world? There isn't even that much of it. Maybe Mrs Gillyflower was stupid as well as insane. Mr Sweet tries to piss off on his stubby little puppet legs but Ada beats the shit out of him with her cane to the accompaniment of much squelching and squirting green goo.
"Gaiman next week? What could go wrong?"
Back at the TARDIS Clara has a little flirt with the Doctor as an attempt to compensate for her complete redundancy in this episode and we're off. We get a nice bit of dialogue between the Doctor and Ada, but when you think about it wasn't she complicit in her mother's scheme the whole time? I guess she mended her ways. As for the rest it was quite a big episode for Jenny for a while but she had nothing really to do in the climax apart from revealing that she and Vastra were holding a big jar full of tomato soup. Mr Thursday shows up for one final unnecessary faint scene and we're off. Back in the present day the little kids at Clara's house have somehow sussed that she's a time traveller due to seeing photos of her on the sub from "Cold War" and the house from "Hide." How did they turn up? Someone just posted these on the internet? Clara's bemused about seeing herself in Victorian London, but wouldn't she just think it was an event from her future? The kids threaten to tell their dad about it if she doesn't take them on a trip. Why would he believe them? That's the altogether anticlimactic next episode hook conclusion. There's not much to say in hindsight about "The Crimson Horror." It's extremely rushed, forcing the plot to take some serious leaps and bounds, and it feels like a cartoon RTD-era episode with camp villains, world-destroying secret plots and a bizarre attempt to hybridise pastiche of both Victorian detective fiction and twentieth century spy fic into one uneasy mush. As I said at the beginning it's probably the best episode of Series 7 but that's hardly saying much. I think it's the best argument for why we need good two parters, because this is a story that can't afford to have a middle in 42 minutes. There may be plenty of crimson, but this episode isn't as horrific as those which have preceded it, and the worst is yet to come.

Monday, September 2, 2013

A Morbid Fascination: Society and the Zombie-Fantasy

So lately I've been playing a bit of Organ Trail, the affectionate zombie-themed parody of classic educational pioneering simulator The Oregon Trail, a staple of classroom computers for generations. It got me thinking, as such things have done in the past, about why the idea of zombies, or particularly the zombie apocalypse, is so appealing to people. Zombies are big business, with a booming market in video games, literature and cinema surging forward in the last decade or so. I personally enjoy zombie-related material, and because as everyone knows I'm legitimate and hardcore, my interest goes back to watching George Romero's seminal Night of the Living Dead and subsequent Hollywood franchise. In my time I have played well over a hundred hours of Left 4 Dead and its sequel - not much by some game enthusiasts' standards, I'm sure, but a lot for me. I have Max Brooks' Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z on my bookshelf. I am interested in, if not instantly sold on, most zombie-related media. So, apparently, are many people whose cash is lining the coffers of zombie-peddlers in our voracious consumer culture. This returns me to the initial question: why? I have a few ideas.

1. Independence
The zombie apocalypse is a world without rules. It has much in common with the the post-nuclear world, at least in the iterations in which it is survivable. This is not in reference to some particular fictional encounter with zombies in a particular place. Rather, it is true of the narrative set in a world in which society has collapsed. Infrastructure is gone and governmental institutions have failed. In this world, notionally, the individual is no longer governed; they are their own boss. In the zombie-fantasy, there are no real issues about resources. Things like food and shelter occur at the convenience of the narrative: there will be unlooted supermarkets full of supplies, abandoned cars of fuel, military caches of weapons at whatever opportunity. The survivor does not have to worry about the necessities of life but rather a more active form of survival. The zombie apocalypse draws its energy from every latent power fantasy and thrill impulse which persists in the human brain. In the world of zombies, an entire neighbourhood, a city, a country, the whole world is your personal playground. The only real issue is avoiding those pesky zombies which, by the laws of narrative, are ultimately non-threatening to the main character due to their vulnerability or stupidity. The zombie-fantasy is utopia. It is the paradise of the introvert, where there may only be a core group of other survivors - trusted friends, perhaps - beyond the blissful solitude of the ego, the individual survivor, and the infinite Other, the undead hordes. In this world the individual no longer has to justify themselves, no longer has to feel oppressed or threatened by anything other than mindless drones it is entirely ethically acceptable to kill on sight in large numbers. The post-apocalyptic world has neither laws, nor competition, except in cases of human rivalry which are a part of the narrative which may be excluded in the focus on the infinite potential of an abandoned world. The zombie-fantasy houses the desire for unlimited personal freedom and the accessibility of the whole world.

2. Individuality
In the zombie-fantasy, the populations of the world have largely been subsumed by endless mobs of shambling, flesh-eating grotesques. Yet where do these masses spring from? The less well-prepared, less genre-aware incompetents, presumably. The zombie-fantasy indulges the individual's desire for uniqueness. They are never one of the victims caught in the early days of infection and absorbed into the ravening ghoulish hosts. They are always the intelligent survivor, alone or part of a small and trusty team, which gets to stake out some fortified location or go on an otherwise-impossible adventure in the wake of social collapse at the bloodied hands of walking corpses. In the zombie-fantasy the individual can truly embrace and express their individuality, because they are now by their nature special by virtue of not being part of a single-minded Other. The zombie-fantasy thrives on our fears of oppression by the forces of conformity and social pressure, personifying these flattening concepts as an anonymous assembly of destructible foes which are factually incapable of reason or discourse. There is no dialogue with the zombie: just as the individual subconsciously wishes that its opinions and beliefs were absolute truth and that all identity-threatening differences of thought would give way, so can the survivor happily annihilate their formerly-human opponents in the name of survival. The zombie-fantasy is an objective world of black and white: humans against zombies, living against dead, reason against instinct, sentience against control, individuality against conformity. It is a fantasy of identity which elevates the meaning of individual existence.

3. Instinct
Paradoxically, despite being a world where intelligence and reason are the greatest assets one can have, the zombie-fantasy is nonetheless a world of instinctive animal aggression. Zombies are dangerous and threatening, but also completely individually defeatable: they are either slow but satisfyingly vulnerable in the cranial regions, or fast but entirely susceptible to human injury. In the zombie-fantasy the survivor is presented with two choices which revolve around hyperarousal. Zombies may be destroyed piecemeal, usually with much gore and splattering vitals to the accompaniment of the firing of a gun, or they may be retreated on and, in defence, lorded over from the security of some invulnerable citadel or fortress, the satisfaction of which derives from outwitting the zombies, either through traps and secure locations of attack or through exploiting their incapacities: usually an inability to swim, ascend stairs or ladders or determine the location of false doors and hidden entrances. Zombies fulfil both desires of hyperarousal: they are an enemy which can be fought and destroyed without compunction, to the satisfaction of a destructive desire and aggressive survival impulse, but they can also easily be escaped from, being some combination of slow and stupid. In the zombie-fantasy both of these reactions, fight and flight, are equally valid and equally satisfying in general terms. Survival becomes a form of pleasure experience. In the zombie-fantasy the failure, often otherwise overlooked, of the luxuries of entertainment is replaced by an environment in which survival, the mere act of living, is a visceral form of entertainment.

4. Inversion
The zombie-fantasy is a Western fantasy. I realise it is not confined to Western culture but in its Western iteration its focus is, unconsciously or otherwise, on the specific failure of the West, of developed nations, of the first world. The zombie-fantasy is Western society turned on its head. Skyscrapers are crumbling edifices of a lost age. Electronics are useless in a world without regular electricity. Fresh food and sustainability are no longer meaningful concerns. Survival is a day-to-day issue, dependent on the exploitation and depletion of, in the absence of a larger population, effectively infinite preserved resources: canned goods, simple machinery, conventional vehicles and weapons. There is no culture or economy in the zombie-fantasy. Cities are dangerous concentrations of the undead, with the countryside and isolated islands transformed into desirable locations of safety, bastions of life. The zombie-fantasy engages with that subconscious desire on the part of the Westerner to see their society, innately removed to such an extent from their instincts and hidden drives, inverted. It is a thanatophilia, a characteristic of the irrational fascination with destruction and death that lurks at the heart of a society so built on comfort, longevity and ease. Western society is enjoying a recent and unprecedented period in which the majority of the population, by and large, is free of the brutality and injustice which humans have inflicted upon each other for the rest of history. The zombie-fantasy, in which the dead are now also the majority, places a mirror before that society, exploring the wish to see the world destroyed.

5. Irresponsibility
In the zombie-fantasy, the human race is divested of responsibility for Earth. As an endangered species, humanity no longer needs to gaze or imagine beyond its immediate future. It is no longer important to worry about things like climate change or nuclear weapons, racial and sexual prejudice, or indeed progress of any kind. The humanity of the zombie apocalypse gets to enjoy being in a final stage in which they are no longer responsible for the future and need not begrudge it to hypothetical later generations whose happiness may be greater than that of the present population, for now there is realistically no such future generation to be. This is another area in which the zombie-fantasy shares much with the nuclear scenario or any other apocalyptic dream. In the zombie-fantasy, mortality has a new meaning which was previously lost among the endless years of history. In this fantasy, humanity is freed from the burdens of guilt and long-term ethics, reduced to a primitive state of survival which supposedly cannot be condemned, certainly not by future generations. The zombie-fantasy is a suicidal one, in which humanity no longer has to trouble itself with solving its own problems and overcoming its own failings.

Examining these notions, which I present as purely speculative on my own part, an interesting image emerges. The zombie-fantasy embodies the paradoxes and irrationalities of the human condition. It is both a world in which human intellect is an invaluable asset, and yet one in which our animal desires may be fulfilled. It is a world where life is given a new meaning, but one in which death is given a new meaning also. It is one which abandons comfort for the sake of pleasure. It eschews the control of governments and leaderships, but also places its characters in a position of complete irresponsibility on any scale beyond individual survival and personal ethics. It is a world which abandons the relevance of anything more than an extremely limited altruism, yet places the individual in considerable danger. It is not a threatening fantasy, yet also one with appeal. The zombie-fantasy, then, is the sublimation, I would argue, of the tension between human nature and the current state of human, particularly Western, society, and the conflict between humanity's commonality with broader life and its unique capacity for reason. Just as our society transforms us from an evolved organism to a peculiar social creature, so is the zombie-fantasy a transformation: the individual into a unique human-animal and society into an Other. It is a desire to exceed society while simultaneously regressing from it. We all wish to be a survivor in a world of zombies. In this way, the zombie-fantasy is, simply put, a human fantasy.