‘beyond all imagination’. holocaust memorial day and writing the incomprehensible

By Charlotte Stevenson

Current student Charlotte Stevenson reflects on the recent screening of Night and Fog for Holocaust Memorial Day and on her reading of Rena’s Promise for the module Conflicting Words, commenting on the tension between the necessity of commemoration and impossibility of writing about the unimaginable.  Continue reading “‘beyond all imagination’. holocaust memorial day and writing the incomprehensible”

REVIEW – The Unsilent Library: Adventures in New Who

An exciting batch of ten essays published by the Science Fiction Foundation explore how a 50-year-old show can be a contemporary hit.

Doctor Who is a hugely popular program that unlike the TARDIS is as big on the outside as it is on the inside. With over 50 years of cultural significance, thirteen canonical iterations of its titular character, along with a great many more iconic companions, gadgets and monsters, the show has barreled along through time and space spurred on by its own evolution. Unfortunately, the show disappeared from the airwaves in 1989, before finally being resurrected on 26 March 2005. This was the day “Rose” would be transmitted on BBC One, the first full episode of Doctor Who in over 15 years and one which would launch the program into unprecedented success with audiences both old and new.

Head writer and executive producer Russell T. Davies brought the program back with renewed contemporary relevance in social, political, linguistic and technological terms. With the show regenerating right alongside the real world, a batch of essays from 2010 titled The Unsilent Library: Essays on the Russell T. Davies Era of the new Doctor Who mindfully explores the updated aspects of the 2005 revival in intricate detail. Edited by Simon Bradshaw, Graham Sleight, and Tony Keen, the collection of essays unpacks how to construct a timeless universe that is never wholly apart from planet Earth.

Image result for The Unsilent Library: Essays on the Russell T. Davies Era of the new Doctor Who

The first chapter to note is Graham Sleight’s ‘The Big Picture Show: Russell T. Davies’s writing for Doctor Who’, which analyses the base point of the programs 2005 resurrection. Sleight breaks down Davies’ writing of the series to four key elements: depth, pace, scale and Davies’ aptitude for science fiction. According to Sleight, all four of these elements function together immediately in 2005’s ‘Rose’ for a defining mislead: a shot of the vastness of space, only for the view to be turned to Earth and then centred on the Tylers’ morose council flat. Using this as a jumping off point, Sleight digs for the real world within the fictional world, delivering nuanced analysis that somehow explains the frequently impossible universe of new Who. Every fiction is pin pointed to something real. There is also a stellar comparison between the writing of Davies and current Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat, a comparison that could cause a whole new Time War between fans of the program.

Skipping ahead, the brilliant third chapter in the collection comes from Una McCormack, titled ‘He’s Not the Messiah: undermining political and religious authority in New Doctor Who‘. McCormack’s central thesis is that, “Russell T. Davies […] demonstrates deep skepticism towards Utopian projects aimed at human perfectibility, whether eternal life […] or citizenship of the (purportedly) rationally governed state”. The pitch is a solid foundation to a thought-provoking essay, exploring the natural limitations of the human race and its constructs. After all, The Doctor is often found fighting administration and bids for immortality, such as in 2007’s ‘Gridlock’ and  ‘The Lazarus Experiment’. The list of episodes goes on and on: the Doctor appears and discovers an ideology or construct that opposes his values, and then swiftly dismantles it. It is a recurring motif of Doctor Who that is applicable to today’s society, what with the orange Who-like monster now leading America. McCormack also applies a Foucauldian reading to Davies’ Doctor Who, charting an analytical course that is fascinating to read and adds a whole new dimension to the program. Consequently, Chapter 3 offers some really vivid ideas to explore that live and breathe on their own and adamantly apply to today’s world.

Catherine Coker’s chapter 6 titled ‘Does The Doctor Dance? Heterosexuality, Omnisexuality, and Spontaneous Generation in the Whoniverse’ is a vital addition to the collection. Coker contends that 2005’s ‘The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances’ are together, the first real doses of omnisexuality within the Whoniverse. Coker contends that from here “Davies presents a true sexual spectrum through its characters both major and minor”, a thesis that puts Doctor Who in a unique position. The essay does well to highlight this significant fact, in that science fiction usually handles sexuality as a brief obstacle instead of an ever-present norm, an “awkward ‘issue of the week'” as opposed to a normality of society. As Coker brilliantly notes in this chapter, Whovians have a lot to be proud of in their show, by the fact that Davies rejects this model and “instead chooses to address the group as part of the regular viewership of the show by allowing the LGBT population in his universe to exist and thrive”. Following this important set up are considerations of John Barrowman’s Captain Jack being an ‘Omnisexual Superhero’ as well as an intricate exploration of The Doctor’s lack of sexuality. The Doctor and Rose shippers have a lot of good material to gauge on here…

 

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Ultimately, the TARDIS is always connected to earth, and you won’t watch Doctor Who the same way again after reading this collection explaining why. The full contents of the riveting collection, as well as how to purchase, are listed below:

The SF Foundation is now offering The Unsilent Library at the discount rate of £1 (plus p&p). Purchasers should contact sjbradshaw@mac.com to order.

Stranger Things: Do We Need The 80s?

Please Ferris, don’t have another day off. 

By Oliver Driver

@OliverDriver20

Check the cinema listings and you’d be forgiven for thinking we’re back in the 80’s. Star Wars, Star Trek and Ghost-Busters are all on the big screen and Flash Gordon isn’t far behind. In this context, Netflix Original series Stranger Things looks right at home. In reality, the Duffer Brother’s mini-series is as alien as E.T. Far from the tepid waters of safe-bet remakes and cash-grab sequels, it’s a retreat into the warm bosom of rose-tinted past.

 

Stranger Things logo

 

Stranger Things doesn’t jump on the table and rub its 80s credentials in your face. We don’t even see the predictable Rubik’s Cube cameo.  It may as well not be the 80s at all, simply ‘a long, long time ago in a galaxy not far away’. What matters is that it’s not now: it’s pre-digital. Like the crackle of a record, there’s comfort to be found in the fuzzy black screen that precedes those synth opening titles. The fiber-optic streaming feels like VHS, and it feels great.

From then on, Stranger Things is laced with nods to its influences. Beginning in the stars, you’re left expecting an Imperial Cruiser to steam through the first shot, leaving a palpable feeling that you’ve seen it all before – and it’s probably because you have. Far from shying away from its predecessors, we spend our time shamelessly cycling away from the “bad men” in radioactive suits, hiding aliens in closets and walks along train tracks (a-la-Stand-By-Me.)

“There are no short cuts and no cheap shots. The roster of characters gradually reveal complexity and depth in dialogue”

Cynically, it seems like the recipe for success: cheap pop-culture shots and familiar plot lines. But that’s in a world where success is measured at the box office and Ice Age 3 comes out on top. And this is exactly the world from which Stranger Things seeks to escape: one where consumerism is omnipresent and mobile phones tether us to our stresses, like landlines to the wall. There are no short cuts and no cheap shots. The roster of characters gradually reveal complexity and depth in dialogue, rather than wandering around explaining the plot and shouting “I love Dr Pepper” (See Real Steel and 90210). Nothing is written with target audiences and marketing in mind.
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Rubik's Cube: a predictable 80s pop cultural reference

 

The Duffer Brothers don’t take us to L.A landmarks, but idyllic Indiana suburbs – where garden gnomes go missing and the worst thing to happen was “an owl attacked Eleanor Gillespie because it thought her hair was a nest”. For the charming, carefree (if a little too familiar) gang, it’s home to Dungeons and Dragons, pillow forts and bike rides.

It’s here where the series flourishes, not in the well-rendered monsters, but the formation and interplay of unlikely, yet tender, relationships. For me, the greatest jump came at the fate of misfit Jonathan’s camera, not the faceless ‘Demigorgon’. It’s a world that feels so much simpler than today, but only because they’ve made it so. A time to which we owe so many of today’s horrors, of conflict and greed, the 80s deserves little fetishism. Much like Abraham’s Super 8, Stranger Things is a love letter to a nerdy childhood that just happened to be in the 80s.

The best art comes from love. If you loved the 80s, write that. But we don’t need nostalgia, just because it sells. If we write what sells, those reboots will keep coming. Roll on Ben Hur.