a terrible journey into really really digging ‘nirvana in fire’: episode summaries, part 1

EPISODE 1:

Just watched Nirvana in Fire ep 1&HOLY SHIT, fill up the big pipe, this is the crack for me

EPISODE 4:

Nirvana in Fire has salted the slugs, it has fertilised my crops. I used to have TB but this show cured me.

EPISODES 9 & 10:

Watched 2 eps of Nirvana in Fire. In the first Mei told Jing his army wasn’t well-disciplined and Jing wept with shame on the inside until he drowned.

Also if you’re a person who liked the Gallifrey audios, I’d get in on Nirvana in Fire for the next-level backstabbing&reveals!! action.

EPISODE 12:

This week on Nirvana in Fire, Nihuang finally called Mei on his metric ton of bullshit, then cried a lot. Jing was super keen on exposing tax evasion in shipping. The Ministry of Personel is trying to dodge an audit bc Civil Service is ancient&forever.

EPISODES 13, 14, 15 & 16:

This week on Nirvana in Fire, @MollyRKatz begged me to stop calling the Artist Formerly Known as Tigger “Tigger”. ‘It’s Yujin! You can remember it like Eugene Wrayburn!’ This is absurd as they are nothing alike, so of course I will remember it until the day I die.

So it’s New Years, which is Mandarin for Christmas Special. Knowing this makes some sense of the sequences of all the regulars peacefully eating dumplings&idk seasonal shit. Once again I try to figure out how MANY people Dickens would have killed for this ‘write the novel, manage the TV show&do the Not Christmas Special’ gig as Yujin has touching reconciliation with Daoism Dad&an unexpected character arc.

What’s more Christmassy than a murder mystery involving dead palace eunuchs? Absolutely nothing. Meng gets flogged a LOT bc the Emperor is a crap manager, but flogging seems to be essentially a hangover. Meng spends many days v curious as to location of aspirin. Lady Detective is on the case. Prince Jackass (No the Reasonably Competent One) tries to get on the case, but trips over his own robe in doing so. Jing is still interested in civil service. The Empress decides to tighten security. Her assistant is like ok chief we got some low level skivers some poisoners, shit to look into, various degrees of unco–

‘FLOG THEM ALL TO DEATH’
um
‘Y E P’ (bc of course Yu’s adopted mom is Like This, should have seen it coming).

Mei is using Jingrui’s native goodness to force him to investigate his own family without realising he’s doing it. Meanwhile Yujin, OF ALL PEOPLE, is like heeeeey, what if–what if Mei? is not? actually on team Prince Jackass? What if he KNOWS Yu sucks?? They whisper ‘woah’ at one another in Mandarin for perhaps an hour.

Oh also there was a big Thing about Jingrui’s birthday and would Mei come, &Mei got his ‘I will 💯 ruin your birthday’ face on. Idk what the plan is but it’s not to jump out of a cake. We didn’t see what Jing was doing over New Year’s, but earlier hateful Yu invited him to his party, so i imagine that hilarious awkwardness went down.

EPISODES 17, 18&19:

Today on Nirvana in Fire, we watched like 4 episodes. Mei had a weird house party with a weaksauce game, &Fei Liu literally scared badass Banruo by jumping out at her. Meng&Nihuan didn’t respect my boy Jing enough&Nihuan left the narrative to get her hair done or something. Yu killed 125 people bc Banruo said it was an awesome opportunity, Jing did disaster relief & Consort Jing had to put up with her absolute bullshit husband’s self-indulgent crap.

Prince Start Some Shit from Southern Chu is here trying to get something going&powder his nose, with many holiday and Lady terms. Jingrui’s Mom may have fucked the Southern Chu ambassador back in the day??

The music swells&the last ep ends on the promise that Mei will INDEED fuck up Jingrui’s birthday 🍰 . WHAT THE SHIT IS HE GOING TO DO AT THIS PARTY 🎈 THAT MERITS A 4 EPISODE BUILD UP?!

I’ve learned a lot from Nirvana in Fire for ex if you’re having a conversation you’re not feeling rn you can stop it mid-sentence hell mid-WORD by just going ‘ninwaaaaaaaah’ & showing a picture of a ship.

EPISODE 20:

Well is was finally Jingrui’s birthday and never never ever invite Mei to your birthday party. Gong played an emo song, and [Jingrui’s] 1st mom felt the tunes. Then Jingrui’s 2nd dad nearly got exposed for murder. Then the Princess of Southern Chu said she was Jingrui’s sister bc 1st mom DID INDEED fuck Prince Ambassador.

‘But how does she know when Jing could be either family’s baby in the G&S-ass baby swap plot?’

BINCH U R MISTAKEN. Jingrui’s always BEEN 1st mom’s kid for realz&she may have switched the babies&gotten his–bro? doppleganger? her BFF’s son? KILLED ON PURPOSE? BC HER CRAY DUBCON HUSBAND WAS TRYING TO KILL THE ILLEGITIMATE SON IN HIS MERCILESS QUEST FOR POWER?? BUT HE ‘DID IT ALL FOR HER’??

So anyway Gong’s dad was the assassin, the Marquis has 800 soldiers of pissed, and Prince Fuckface Yu is parked in an alley like ‘sup’ LOVING this opportunity to wear his Wartime Colour Scheme&take down the crown prince’s chief adviser.

I know like only @MollyRKatz has ever seen this show but BY GOD IF I TALK ABOUT IT LONG ENOUGH ONE OF YOU BASTARDS WILL TRY IT!

EPISODE 21:

THIS WEEK ON NIRVANA IN FIRE: arrows fly as Mei firmly cements his status as Jingrui’s Least Favourite Cousin, plummeting the MySpace ranks.

The instant the Marquis sent for backup to sliiide between the troops you could see Mei track-changing onto ‘worst case scenario’ in his brain. Also, Jingrui spent this ep in the sunken place, in full trauma coma, his hair: terrible, for the 1st time in his life. Evil Marquis Not-Dad traps 15 characters in an ornamental pagoda, where they’ve run, or in Mei’s case, where they’ve walked sloooowly. Battle Barbie Prince Yu teams up with Boy Detective and Daoist Dad, but it’s Dowager Princess Auntie Badass who saves the day. Dowager Princess Auntie Badass skewers Battle Barbie Yu on a dagger so her bitch nephew will listen to any other human for 5 min together, then the scene just cuts. Nin-fucking-wan until next time. ⛵️

No one got to eat at this shit party, EXCEPT ACTUALLY I THINK IN THE FIRST SCENE WE SAW MEI CRAMMING DOWN SNACKS BC THAT BITCH PLANNED ALL THIS&KNEW HE’D BE *STARVING*?

SIDE NOTE:

it is NOT well-written /as an English document/, but for a fic someone genre-shifted NiF from a historical romance to a period-analogous Shenmo story https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gods_and_demons_fiction

The intro is a history of Daoist semi-divine magic use and its formalisation as a system that at the end turns out to have been written by a dead historian via planchette consultation? I respect the labour involved.

EPISODES 22, 23 & 24:

THIS WEEK ON NIRVANA IN FIRE: with the worst birthday ever finally over, Mei has to pretend to let Yu figure something out. This excruciating process over, he sits in a cell with Evil Marquis&gets the dish, which the Marquis serves hot.

Mei stations prince Jing and Dong in the next room so they can hear that Dong’s boss&this fuck set up Mei’s family and killed Dong’s husband. Jing wants to give Dong a hug but she’s like ‘no, Jing, I’m too butch for that’ so he just stands near her in a supportive fashion.

The marquis is fucking LUCKY that his wife likes him like honestly it’s an inexplicable gift from god. She offered him the chance to kill himself w honour but this cray motherfucker is clinging to life w his teeth. Even peacing our into exile he’s still a dick to his sons.

Dong shows up to be like

Yu has a new outfit for the new year, and is altogether too pleased with himself about it.

Jing is STILL CRYING ABOUT HIS BOYFRIEND 12 YEARS LATER HE IS THE FUCKING PENELOPE OF THIS NARRATIVE, he’s like Mom I’m *sniffle* so gay&she’s like there there baby, I know.

Jing tells Mei he wants to act on the info they’ve received and clear his dead bf’s name (aka Mei, who is Not As Dead As Rumoured) whatever it takes&Mei doesn’t jump him or cry but it’s a near fucking thing. They also discuss horse provisioning. Anyway.

GREAT GRANDMOTHER DIES!!! her last words are slash dragon from merlin level trolling. Mei hacks up a lung in distress&he&Jing angrily fast. Yu&Crown Douche can’t hack it, bitchily share snacks in about the funniest scene thus far.

Ninjuang shows up to get cried on. Moist.

Jing enjoys his mom’s medicinal soup, which sounds unlikely but it’s her birthday so all respect to him for saying so. Emperor Toxic Masculinity has to show up&make it about him/put everyone on edge. Jing’s handmade soup cools as he presents mum w jade ornaments she didn’t want.

SIDE NOTE:

I thank god every day that there’s not a big English language Nirvana in Fire fandom because it keeps me safe from the ‘I lurve Avon, I HATE BLAKE’ fannish impulse that would cause me to kill again.

‘Prince Jing was annoyingly hot headed, impulsive, and yet towards the end he showed his gentleness and maturity around his best friend.’

jump directly into the sun thx

It’s ASTOUNDING how exactly the same fannish character reception dynamic will play out LITERALLY ANYWHERE, K/S did this A LOT, B7 with Blake and Avon, Buffy fandom could HATE Buffy when Spike was involved, &it SHOULD NOT BE POSSIBLE re NiF but of course: wobble selected.

EPISODE 25:

THIS WEEK ON NIRVANA IN FIRE: Banruo’s spy network gets eroded by Mei. We learn that she inherited it from a Princess of a kingdom this one absorbed, &they have an epic Revenge of the Colonised plot. It’s tough bc the tribe’s being Sinicized. Banruo’s 4th sister ponders the value of revenge, &what could be enough. They’ve gotten the 70k person army that conquered them killed. Banruo won’t stop until the Kingdom breaks up, even though she knows she CAN’T reform their tribe. You could say it’s an uneasy parallel of Mei’s Good, Lateral, Masculine Revenge (powerful to powerful) versus Banruo&her ‘sisters” Bad, Horizontal, Feminine Revenge, but idk if it’s that simple, or if this colonial situation is fully viewable through a contemporary lens. Yes&no?

Yu visits Mei unexpectedly, Meng gets stuck in the Secret Passage for hours&Jing shows up to share it with him awkwardly. They try to read the same book, it’s a tube commute basically.

Katy claims Jing smiles ‘for the first time in the whole program’ when his shitty dad gives him permission to visit his mom whenever he wants. Palace Ladies shade one another about soup while Consort Jing is 1000 yrs too old for their shit. Duke Mu sulks.

SIDE NOTE:

Woah, the SHOW Nirvana in Fire is thus far super oblique about Yu and Banruo’s Thing, but the novel (meh fan translation, nothing else is available) is blatant.

Very Unfulfilled

This is a fucking Fanfic Avon description I am going to need this novel to 🛑

When will this get professionally translated I’m like on a WordPress fansite? And NOT ALL THE CHAPTERS ARE TRANSLATED?

YOU HAVE TO WAIT
UNTIL THEY FIND SOMEONE TO DO THEM
OUT OF ORDER

EPISODES 26, 27 & 28:

THIS WEEK ON NIRVANA IN FIRE: Banruo’s still trying to spy-network-crack Mei’s place. Jing&Meng get stuck in that passage again, this time with added Fei Liu, who lets slip that Mei still calls Jing his childhood nickname. Mei covers badly, Jing’s heart shrinks a size.

Jingrui leaves for Southern Chu to meet his biodad after a fierce cuddle with Yujin. Jingrui’s leave-taking from Mei is amazing, some of the best writing/thinking in the show&strikingly different from anything I’ve seen on tv before.

Mei asks Meng to get his notebook back from Jing&Meng is about as good at delicate social requests as Trump would be at open heart surgery. Jing’s given it to his mom, who will ABSOLUTELY notice Mei’s veiled allusion therein to Mei’s mom, 1 of her 2 dead bffs. She notices. Consort Jing knows there’s SOME REASON Mei hasn’t told Jing so kind of has to go with it?? She’s all JING U MUST RESPECT THIS PRECIOUS TREASURE, LIKE, BOTTOM SOMETIMES– ‘mom, I already–‘ PROMISE!!

Jing’s all ‘mom why do you now send daily desert platters tagged ‘to my beautiful perfect daughter in law’ to my strategist?’ NO REASON!!

The crown prince finally disgraces himself&the Chief Eunuch does General Meng a solid while Meng’s like WHAT IS ‘A SOLID’ IS IT A STATE OF MATTER OR???

Jing gets officially bumped up a rank, Yu SEEEEEEETHES&chews off his own arm, the Empress attempts to shade Concubine Jing but she is as the sun&cannot be shaded. AN EPIC MONTAGE OCCURS. People are starting to realise Jing is a boss bitch.

Jing has a super hot male assistant that presumably he likes to unlustfully look at for reasons of pure aesthetic appreciation&bro-loyalty before retiring every night to cry about the Less-Presumed-Dead bb!Mei.

Jing meets with the Minister for Revenue (remember the fireworks shipping field trip? that dude) who asks him to take over disaster relief from Prince Fuckface Yu, who thinks Disaster Relief rhymes with ‘year-end bonus’. Jing TRIES, but is defeated by Yu’s greater mastery of Not Being The Cordelia.

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Brighton Fringe 2017

The Brighton Fringe is smaller than the Edinburgh Fringe, and judging by what I’ve seen of them, Brighton’s offerings don’t have quite the production values some (though decidedly not all) Edinburgh shows manage. But if Scotland leaves the UK and becomes an EU member in its own right, the English people who flock north to perform and spectate in August like confused and misdirected migrating birds may have to learn to love Brighton. God only knows what the theatrical work visa situation will look like for small companies then.

This may seem small potatoes compared to the prospect of such an upheaval, but the Edinburgh Fringe is a huge economic event (£4 million in ticket sales in 2016, not counting the 600+ Free Fringe shows which rely on donations [source] or the £142 million the Fringe generated for Edinburgh in 2010 [source]). It’s also a major part of the UK’s theatre lifecycle, the whole shape of which may change if the EdFringe becomes even more expensive and inconvenient to participate in than it already is.  While the EdFringe is great for Scotland’s economy, at present it’s often a loss-leading operation for performers: a risky, sometimes disastrous venture that, if they’re lucky, enables them to establish reputations and set up gigs for the rest of the year off the back of it.

Read full review here.

 

Moondial

War Games Proposal

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I submitted a book proposal to the Black Archive’s Doctor Who series for “War Games”, then asked to un-submit it when I realised you only got two goes a year, and that given the upcoming schedule of calls I was already going to have to eliminate Three, Five or “Unquiet Dead”.

I thought you might enjoy the sketched-out book anyway. It’s not my BEST take–I didn’t have time to rewatch “War Games”, as I would have liked (it’s a COMMITMENT), but y’know, it’s some thoughts maybe someone else might like to take up.

***

CHAPTER SUMMARY:

Let me begin by saying that I realise asking for The War Games is jammy beyond jammy, a vast vat of the viscous stuff. It’s the biggie: all ten plump little episodes, and all the plot and canon formation that goes on within those confines. Yet because it’s so important, even as one wonders how to do it justice, one is almost obligated to ask!

I love the whole idea of this range, of finally doing litcrit/textual work on Who in addition to production-focused criticism. Not that a production perspective doesn’t yield something valuable, but for so long we’ve been talking about Who as craft and never as art. Black Archive feels like such an exciting, past-due addition to (re-direction of?) the conversation, that chips away at that craft/art false binary and allows these approaches to productively speak to one another.

***

1. Intro:

Precis of the serial. We might find this phatic–surely if you’ve bought this book you know this episode like the back of your hand? But often the memory does cheat. Beyond that, an attentive reading often draws my attention to things I hadn’t previously seen in a text, or changes my thinking about the relative weight of given elements. It also gets readers and author on the same page re: thematic concerns.

This is also a good place to nod to other critical treatments of the serial, and to do a quick ‘literature review’. There’s a great deal of spilt digital ink, fanzine material, etc., on this serial that I’d need to read and re-read. (There’s also a fun commentary on the War Chief’s project management skills: https://orangeanubis.com/tag/patrick-troughton/ .)

There’s something to be said here about the choice of periods or war-zones (euro-heavy, relatively temporally compressed), the BBC’s broader costume drama tendencies/this serial as historical fiction, and about War Games’ not wholly unprecedented but still ambitious exploitation of the show’s time-jumping formula.

2. “Man is the most vicious species of all.”

Having set up the plot, we can turn to the War Lords’ endeavours. I’d like to pay particular attention to a line of thinking the War Chief articulates:

“Consider their history. For a half a million years they have been systematically killing each other. Now we can turn this savagery to some purpose.”

Who pulls this ‘wicked, naughty humans!’ business almost as constantly as it pulls ‘x species spurred human development/x sits underneath the surface of the Earth like a fae kingdom’. It appears to be quite a mature critical gesture: the emerging British national epic holds up a mirror to the country which, until very recently, had an empire the sun never set on. Actually, however, I think the ‘savage humans’ accusation functions more like a Bakhtin carnival. This faux-criticism defangs anxiety about whether the viewers are at all implicated by the actions of the baddies: whether they’re ever more Dalek than Doctor. The important thing in this exoneration mechanic is not that the Doctor denies the War Chief’s charge in the next line (it is indeed patently ridiculous in the show-universe, often asserted but simply silly when Daleks et al exist). The important thing is that the charge is made, that we the audience roll around in a moment of liberal smugness at our own ability to see our faults, and then excuse ourselves of them. You can’t look at this instance of ‘consider their savage history’ without examining Who’s long fascination with this topic.

Despite having access to time-travel technology that could theoretically enable them to pluck human soldiers from wars yet undreamt of in our own time, the War Lords only collect combatants from the Great War and earlier. A line about the potential danger of ‘technological advancement’ allows the serial to elide World War II (‘too soon’ for contemporary viewers). This technological excuse is somewhat curious given that while atomic science was indeed playing out somewhere, a great deal of trench equipment, like the Fullerphone, remained consistent across the wars.

But where, in the War Lords’ cavalcade of conflict, is empire? Only five of the eleven conflicts might offer significant numbers of non-white European combatants on either side (and of these, WWI is often perceived, and here depicted, as a ‘white’ conflict—though granted we don’t hear much about the Greek and Roman zones). Imperial examples of human viciousness (the quality the War Chief suggests is being cultivated and selected for by these experiments) are erased because they aren’t classed as true ‘battles’ between equal opponents: war is collapsed down into a chivalry narrative, and history into ‘half a million years’ of people (all people, we must suppose) ‘systematically killing each other’, without particular ascriptions of blame or power imbalance implied. History becomes a sort of evo-psych pageant of inevitability. I think it’s actually fairly powerful that Two treats this as simply stupid: it’s a bad plan based on a bad take.

New Who’s post-empire masculinity crisis in part arises from the Classic Who’s refusal to think about empire during Decolonisation. Arguments that Classic Who was a children’s text (always dicey to begin with) can’t wave away the show’s preoccupations and the subjects it chooses to engage with. For this section I’d draw in part on Aishwarya Subramanian’s work on post-war British children’s fantasy and empire.

3. Kriegsspiel:

I think it’d be interesting to talk a little about ‘war gaming’ in the historical training scenario sense. I recently presented on class in Dickens adaptations over the decades at Historical Fiction Research Network’s annual conference (and there should possibly be a note about class in the war-zones, in this treatment). While there, I heard a rich paper on war games as historical fiction, part of (in this paper’s case) the British navy’s curation of its self-image. I think good stuff could come of returning to that scholar’s discussion of war-gaming as training tool and image curation.

Obviously there’s a doubleness to the serial’s title. The War Lords are engaging in literal war games, while the episode sets up a disturbing picture of war as always essentially homogenous, always run by and conducted at the behest of faceless, interchangeable outsiders. The Security Chief and the War Chief’s petty in-fighting adds to the serial’s sense that this is what war is always like. To the people playing with human lives, the war games might as well be Homeward Bounders. The idea of higher beings testing or playing with humans in this way has a pedigree in fiction and SF that could be usefully illustrated in this volume. (For example I would be a little surprised if Homeward Bounders didn’t derive somewhat from War Games–after all, Diana Wynne Jones’ Chrestomanci series is so ‘I watch Who with my children’ I’d swear to it, with citations.)

Further thought about the catch-and-release plot business of the episode ought to go here, under the general rubric of the extent to which this is ‘war as game’ for the Doctor and his companions as adventurers, and thus for the audience at home. It’s a counter-intuitive story, more novelistic than reminiscent of modern television. So few of this serial’s events matter in a plot-arc sense, giving rise to questions about what we get out of television, making us question what we get out of television, how a story attains and sustains attention, and the relationship between narrative space and character construction. War Games is a story built on delay, escape, and characters never being in the right place at the right time for the real plot to occur. The serial’s confrontations are ducked and dodged until the last possible moment. This is a story about surviving a situation, not rushing in to face opponents. I wouldn’t claim this as an intentional artistic move, but the kind of Falstaffian attitude about war that emerges certainly suits the second Doctor. Yet the Doctor’s Hal in this story, too: taking up his portentous heritage and claiming responsibility in summoning and then reckoning with the Time Lords, throwing off his joker persona (which is both authentic and a front) even while contesting with the indifferent paternalistic authority of his people.

This element will probably get fleshed out as I think more about the precis.

4. “his own people, the Time Lords”

A really exciting section! Obviously this serial narratively develops the Time Lords, and there’s incredibly rich stuff to dig into regarding their presentation here. Gaiman finds this their only satisfying outing (http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2007/05/nature-of-infection.html):

“In my head the Time Lords exist, and are unknowable – primal forces who cannot be named, only described: The Master, the Doctor, and so on. All depictions of the home of the Time Lords are, in my head, utterly non-canonical. The place in which they exist cannot be depicted because it is beyond imagining: a cold place that only exists in black and white.”

Ultimately I really disagree with Gaiman on this. I love what the Time Lords do in War Games, but for somewhat different reasons, and I wouldn’t give up the sociological function the Time Lords play in other stories (which allows the Doctor’s characterisation to develop by providing him with a contextualising background). This book wouldn’t be complete without a discussion of the serial’s treatment of the Time Lords, and the things this development of them enables the canon to do. It’s far beyond ‘they stick Three on Earth’—the Time Lords’ existence (and increasingly, their culture) illuminates the Doctor’s particular character from here on out. The Doctor also enters a new stage in his relationship to the Time Lords, here.

It’d be interesting to read this discussion of non-interference against Star Trek’s concurrently-developing prime directive. Both are narrative devices with clear story-world functions, but do also signify politically, in alignment with and against the shows’ broader aims.

I’ve previously mentioned the Doctor’s choice to call in the Time Lords at great risk to himself as a particular moral turn for him. I think the importance and severity of this are underscored by that desperate scene of he and his companions struggling to attain the TARDIS as the Time Lords arrive. The power and threat of the Time Lords in the episode merit extensive discussion. We slip quickly from hitherto unseen telekinetic technology (the summoning box) to the terrifying unhappening of the War Lord, galactic exile for his entire species, invasive memory erasure for all the humans involved (including well-loved companions), and a more serious violation of the Doctor’s autonomy and body (and perhaps of the program format itself) than the show will ever again undergo. It’s an incredibly dramatic, daring choice, and in some ways it’s hard to imagine a contemporary program taking these sorts of risks or establishing these sorts of stakes.

And of course, while we’re here, is the War Chief the master? What does such a reading offer, and in what ways is it unsatisfying? This isn’t a question that needs a singular, definitive answer: in fact such a thing is undesirable. Clearly he’s a production-side harbinger of that character, a sort of test-run of the idea. Within the text, however, the War Chief seems to suspect the presence of someone known to him from almost the first sign of trouble. He and the Doctor’s recognition of one another seems intensely specific. It weakens the Master’s character somewhat if the Doctor has a score of such old frenemies, and despite the War Chief’s plan and treatment of the Doctor fitting so neatly into the Master’s MO in many ways, it’s also difficult to imagine the Master subsuming himself for years in a plot in which he was merely a functionary for other forces, losing even his name in the process. It’s also dramatically unsatisfying, in this regard, that the War Chief expends so much of his energy on his rivalry on the Security Chief. There’s a lot to say here about back-readings, why the show wanted a ‘Master’ shaped character, how it came to develop one (which the War Chief, like the Monk, is and isn’t), influences and experimentation.

And of course, courtesy of our aforementioned hirsute friend, there’s that brilliant bit at the end of ep six/beginning of ep 7 with the shrinking TARDIS/SIDRAT. It’s one of a handful to times a TARDIS becomes an alien, hostile, dangerous environment. The Edge of Destruction, the Master’s booby-trapped TARDIS in Frontier and the beginning of Castrovalva also come to mind immediately, of course, but it’s a relatively rare development. The device de-naturalises the semi-domestic space of the TARDIS, stripping back some of the safety the viewer has come to associate with the ship and laying the groundwork for the serial’s deeply unsafe ending. The serial’s conclusion is itself full of de-naturings. By the end of the story the Doctor and the own TARDIS will be deeply divided, and the Doctor will be unable to fully access his own mind.

5. “Memory’s a funny thing out here. Can’t always remember things myself.”

We can’t help but conclude with a discussion of the forced regeneration and the similarly forced removal of Zoe and Jamie’s memories, which echoes the memory-distortion the War Lords imposed on their victims. Jamie is literally released back into his own war zone. It’d be good to say a word on this in terms of the experience of watching Who in that era, without much ability to ‘summon back’ the show when it was gone. This effect has been course exacerbated, or perhaps simply extended, by the loss of so much Two-era footage. Our current reception of the show is laden down with memory. For the modern viewer, Early Who always carries the weight of the intervening years between production and reception on its back. It’s also laden with the reception-drag of and the totality of Who that will come (like a sort of age-reversed Aeneas and Anchises).

This was also an interesting time for traumatic memory loss in the public discourse. Psychoanalysis was in the air and the then-contemporary thinkpieces, getting heavily re-worked by second wave feminists. These thinkers’ emphasis on female sexuality brought Freudian memory-constructions, which were developmentally associated with assault narratives, under particular scrutiny. Psychoanalysis also gave extensive attention of the Great War, trauma and memory. It’d feel remiss not to spend a few pages dealing with the analytic dimensions of the serial’s treatment of extraordinary forgetting.

Questions of agency abound for the human soldiers, the exiled War Lords, the Time Lords, the Doctor and his companions. Canon and paracanon attempt to address aspects of these, as does media fandom to an extent. What do these fictional readings tell us about the elements of War Games that resonated with or continued to disquiet people over the decades?

6. Closing:

A consideration of the aforementioned themes, in cross-chapter conversation, and a word about War Games’ legacy for the Who canon and in broader culture.

Freshly Remember’d: Kirk Drift

This is the first instalment of my new Strange Horizons column. “Kirk Drift” is a long-read essay on Star Trek‘s Captain Kirk, popular memory, gender politics, radical nostalgia and the unicorn dog.

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Section 1: What a lousy party!

Good parties diverge widely; all bad parties are bad in the same way. I am trapped at a dull dinner following a dull talk: part of a series of dinners and talks that grad students organise, unpaid (though at considerable expense to themselves—experience! exposure!), to provide free content for the dull grad program I will soon leave. The Thai food is good. The man sitting across from me and a little down the way, a bellicose bore of vague continental origin, is execrable. He is somehow attached to a mild woman who is actually supposed to be here: a shy, seemingly blameless new grad student who perpetually smiles apologetically on his behalf, in an attempt to excuse whatever he’s just said. One immediately understands that she spends half her life with that worry in her eyes, that Joker-set to her mouth, and that general air of begging your pardon for offences she hadn’t even had the pleasure of committing. There is always such a woman at bad parties. She has always either found herself entrapped by a clone of this man, or soon will.

We reach the point of no return when the omnijerk (really I suspect there’s just one vast eldritch horror sitting in another dimension that extrudes its thousand tentacles into our own, and that each one of This Guy is merely an insignificant manifestation of the beast: they couldn’t all be so boring in precisely the same way by chance, surely) decides to voice some Dinner Party Opinions on original-series Star Trek. God knows why. It’s not five seconds before he’s on ‘Kirk and the green women’. He’s mocking the retrosexist trope, but smiling a little weirdly while doing it. His own insufficiently private enjoyment is peeking out, like a semi-erection on his face. A sort of Mad Men effect: saying, “isn’t it awful” and going for the low-hanging critical fruit while simultaneously rolling around in that aesthetic and idea of masculinity. Camp, but no homo!

Read the full essay here.

All Adaptations of Dickens’ ‘David Copperfield’

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(poster for 1935 Hollywood version)

This is a list of all filmic David Copperfield adaptations I’m aware of. I’ve omitted stage and radio productions, but am very interested in any information you have on these, and may at some point start to look at them as well. Please comment if you know any more television or film adaptations! I suspect the list may not be very complete outside the Anglosphere.

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(still from 1935 Hollywood version)

Some notes:

  • There are three productions for children, including two animated versions, one of which departs radically from the plot. Two of these cut Uriah Heep.
  • There are five BBC miniseries.
  • There are eight tv miniseries, counting BBC offerings and not counting television films.
  • Not one version double-casts Uriah, though we meet him when he’s about 15 to David’s 11 (and Steerforth’s 17) and “Explosion”/the climax of the novel comes when David’s roughly 23 to Uriah’s 27 (based on Molly Katz’s timeline). At least four double-cast Steerforth (it is sometimes difficult to determine and a child actor is more likely to be ambiguously or uncredited), while the rest that include him rely on a youthful actor. Only two I can think of could be said to have a youthful Uriah: Italian 1965 and the BBC 1974 (this one reads as perhaps mid-20s throughout rather than 15). 1999 DC Uriah’s actor was 38 and 2000 DC actor’s Uriah was 33.  Italian 1965 Uriah’s actor was 30. As happens today, working-class Victorians were subjected to a variety of physical hardships that could indeed appear to age them more rapidly than their better-off contemporaries. David initially thinks Uriah older than 15, but he’s a child looking up at an older boy, and there’s a world of difference between a teenager looking old for his years and one actually being played by a 35 year old.
  • All other adaptations persistently age Uriah up to perhaps his 30s, which visually locates the problem with his desire to marry Agnes in his age rather than his class. If he looks 35 when David and Agnes are about 11, even if he still somehow looks 35 when David and Agnes are in their early 20s, a relative age has been conceptually established that does not permit the modern viewer to treat the prospect of their union as reasonable. Consider for example Austen adaptations, which almost uniformly ‘soften’ the canonical age differences between Brandon and Marianne and between Emma and Elton for a modern audience via casting, rendering Georgian marriage practices and stories concerning them acceptable to contemporary viewers. A union between Uriah and Agnes thus becomes not a problem of class and (to the extent you can separate these elements) personality, as in the novel, but of age and personality (even if age is not explicit mentioned as an issue: we have been visually cued). Class is elided in this formulation, as are the ‘there but for the grace of god’ parallels between David, Uriah and Steerforth.
  • There are six foreign language productions (counting the silent Danish version with cards). Only one (Brazil 1958) adaptation seems to have been made outside of either Europe or the Anglosphere.
  • None of them that I’ve seen seem interested in ‘Easter Egg’ nodding to other Dickens’ productions, one another, the events of the period or those of Dickens’ life. I could be wrong here! This is a casual observation.
  • All of them go with ‘David Copperfield’ as their title (unless they’ve been listed wrong where I grabbed them), choosing to use no other elements of the actual book title (The Personal History, Adventures, Experience and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery (Which He Never Meant to Publish on Any Account)) (or of the 14 variant titles Dickens employed).
  • I’ll probably use this page to link to reviews of all of these as I work (it may be some time before I’m done).

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David and the only even slightly age-correct Uriah (possibly still a little too old-looking for 15?), Italian 1965 version

For comparison: Young Bruce in the very Dickensian Gotham, as played by 15 year old David Masouz.

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Title (year and medium), national origin, adult actor for David if known, any other identifying information

  1. David Copperfield, consisting of ‘The Early Life of David Copperfield’, ‘Little Em’ly and David Copperfield’ and ‘The Loves of David Copperfield’, (1911 film) American, Ed Genung, 3 reels, black and white, first non-British version, probably no Uriah and possibly no Steerforth
  2. (1912 film) British?, Bolton cites in Dickens Dramatised
  3. (1912 film) French, from Pathe, distinct from above (same source)
  4. David Copperfield (1913 film) British, Kenneth Ware, 3 Davids (child, youth, adult), silent, a contender for the title of first British feature film, black and white
  5. David Copperfield (1922 film) Danish, Gorm Schmidt, silent, black and white, first non-Anglosphere version, possibly no Steerforth or Emily
  6. The Love Stories of David Copperfield (1924 film) British, silent, black and white, first
  7. David Copperfield (1935 film) American, Frank Lawton, Hollywood, black and white
  8. David Copperfield (1954 two-part television film? unsure) American, David Cole, black and white, possibly no Steerforth or Emily
  9. David Copperfield (1956 tv miniseries) British, Robert Hardy, BBC: first BBC miniseries, black and white
  10. David Copperfield (1958 tv miniseries), Brazilian?, Márcio Trunkl, first and only  non-continental/Anglosphere version (if indeed Brazilian), black and white
  11. [Excerpt from] David Copperfield (1958 short teleplay) British, BBC, part of the series “Fact in Fiction: Children at Work in the Last Century”
  12. David Copperfield (1965) tv miniseries) Italian, Giancarlo Giannini, black and white, watch here, filmed like “The Leopard”, very interesting, two Steerforths
  13. David Copperfield (1965 tv miniseries) French, Bernard Verley, Uriah written out of plot, ‘Le théâtre de la jeunesse’ suggests possibly for children which would make it the first children’s production, black and white
  14. David Copperfield (1966 tv miniseries) British, Ian McKellen, BBC: second BBC miniseries, black and white
  15. David Copperfield (1969 television film) British-American, Robin Phillips, first colour production (assume colour from here on out unless indicated), two Steerforths
  16. David Copperfield (1969 tv miniseries) Spanish, Paco Valladares, black and white
  17. David Copperfield (1970 tv film) British, Robin Phillips, two Steerforths
  18. David Copperfield (1974 tv miniseries) British, David Yelland, BBC: third BBC miniseries, rebroadcast in 1976
  19. David Copperfield (1983 animated film) Australian, unclear, second production for children
  20. David Copperfield (1986 tv miniseries) British, Colin Hurley, BBC: fourth BBC miniseries, Simon Callow as Micawber (which is interesting because Callow has a good line in playing Dickens, so playing a character based off Dickens’ dad makes sense for him)
  21. David Copperfield (1993 animated musical film) American, Julian Lennon, no Uriah, Emily or Steerforth: in fact the crackiest plot changes you could possibly imagine, third production for children, watch here.                                                                                          Screen Shot 2017-02-25 at 18.28.25.png

    Clara Copperfield looking as confused as I am.

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Murdstone looking like a budget Ratigan (I suspect this film’s entire planning meeting was  someone saying ‘like Great Mouse Detective, but awful’).

18. David Copperfield (1999 tv series) British, Ciarán McMenamin, BBC: fifth and currently final BBC miniseries, child David is Daniel Radcliffe–this is the role that got him cast as Harry Potter, two Steerforths
19. David Copperfield (2000 long tv film) Irish-American, Hugh Dancy, not good
20. David Copperfield
(2009 long tv film) Italian, Giorgio Pasotti
21. David Copperfield (2018 treatment, STILL IN DEVELOPMENT), British

UPDATE:

Per the Dickens Fellowship: “Presumably you have seen Dickens Dramatized by H Philip Bolton. Lists 2 DC films in 1912.”

I hadn’t, as it turns out, but now I have:

Dickens Dramatized David Copperfield Section

This includes a wealth of information on theatrical and radio productions, but it stops in 1987, either to celebrate my birth or on account of the publication of the book. I’d love to see a modernisation that brought Bolton’s work up to the present, double-checked for productions outside the Anglosphere (with an emphasis on the UK and US) and was more accessible. This hefty academic volume, of which I’ve reproduced a very small portion above, is not a reference text most libraries possess, and the printing format is almost reminiscent of contemporary fanzine listings. It’s no doubt a great resource, and the product of an incredible amount of research, but think how much more navigable and searchable it’d be as an online database, and how much more information about productions it could provide via linking?

An updated listing could also give more attention to plays produced outside London and NYC/the American East Coast.Even within the Anglosphere, this feels a little lopsided. Given the density of plays, I really feel there must have been more going on in, say, northern England than we’re seeing. (It’s probable Bolton’s front-matter, which I don’t have access to, talks about his process and lacunae, or that there are reasons I’m unaware of such things wouldn’t have occurred.) I feel as though the accounts Bolton’s drawing from (various Dickens society publications, it looks like?) are metropole-centric. They seem more likely to include something happening in Brighton (i.e. stroll out of Croydon: you are in Brighton now) than in Manchester (stroll out of Euston: keep going forever). It’s not until 1884 that I see Manchester in here, and it’s 1906 for Edinburgh. Can there really have been no Scottish or Lancastrian productions, even minor ones, against all these London outings? There’re very active trade publications for actors in this period which discuss ‘provincial’ productions–I wonder if DD is cross-referenced with these, and with extra-London theatrical archives? I also can’t believe Australia and Canada aren’t staging productions earlier and more prolifically than is here reported.

SOME NOTES ON BOLTON’S LISTING:

  • It omits a lot of productions, as I suspected it would: the internet has made this job so, so much easier.
  • In 1914 a production got ditched for more patriotic fare, which is interesting because it indicates a conception of Dickens as insufficiently nationalistic. I wouldn’t necessarily have thought that. Perhaps DC just isn’t ‘blood and thunder’ enough, but still, when you think literary nationalism you think of Shakespeare beyond and outside of Henry IV and the Richard II speech. You think of a whole idea of Shakespeare-osity.
  • It’s interesting how earlier formulations of DC center ‘Em’ly’. If that happened today I might consider it a feminist gesture, but at the time it seems to have been about finding the melodrama in DC. So many theatrical productions look to be her story. That fallen woman redemption arc did work for these audiences in a way it just doesn’t or can’t for me. Sure they had to scrub some serial numbers, but when they chose to obscure and condense, for them this was a key element. I don’t think it necessarily would be, now.
  • In theatrical terms Steerforth and Uriah used to be considered character parts, and David a male ingenue.
  • Young David was sometimes, initially very often, a trousers role, i.e. played by a woman or child (as in a panto). Some American productions do it too. Grown David was seemingly always played by a man. This might make Betsey’s ‘I wish you’d been a girl!’ almost a visual gag?
  •  ‘1870 at Theatre Royal, Croydon’ ayyyy (I live in Croydon)
  • Three French theatrical versions crossed over DC and Oliver Twist.
  • A 1930 play in Budapest includes Dickens as narrator, a la Muppet Christmas Carol.
  • A 1933 version played to Wandsworth Prison. Dickens would have liked that.
  • There was an Australian opera called David and Dora.
  • WE MEET AGAIN, UNCLE TERRY! Terrance Dicks produced a BBC Copperfield. Who and Dickens always have a kinship.
  • Dora was almost universally cut from early adaptations.

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As a final note, Bolton briefly mentions a 1981 American musical Copperfield. Here is a hilariously mean review of this apparently abysmal production.

“This is the kind of musical that sends you out of the theater humming every score other than the one you’ve just heard.” lol

“often incoherently told melodrama in which all the villains literally wear black.” To be fair at least two of them (the Heeps) canonically do that for plot reasons, but point taken.
“Barrie Ingham’s Uriah, who looks like an attenuated porcupine with red quills, makes the most of his inevitable song (” ‘Umble”) and gets the evening’s two laughs. One could picture him being quite jolly in a Christmas pantomime at the London Palladium.”
— Could one? I’m interested
— 1981 was a halcyon time, when an NYT theatre critic might be expected to know what the flying dutchman a pantomime was.

Boucher, Backbone and Blake – the legacy of Blakes 7

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This essay was occasioned by the death, on April 13th of this year, of the actor Gareth Thomas. Thomas was most famous for playing Roj Blake, the eponymous protagonist of the landmark BBC science fiction series Blakes 7. While the essay contains elegiac elements, it’s grown into a longer piece on Thomas in a broader sense, Blakes 7, Blake as a character, television and fandom history, and the status of protagonists and politics in genre television today. I hope that scope doesn’t make the piece feel inadequate in its partial function as a tribute: personally, I think context makes it more of one. I hope, conversely, that an obituary isn’t all the piece is. An obituary, like a funeral, is for people who already care about the person in question and who want or need such a thing, whereas I hope a good deal of this discussion is relevant even if you don’t have that relationship with this actor and this particular text; I hope that it works if you’re simply interested in the mechanics of telling good and ethical stories on television. And of course I hope that if you don’t already love the things I love, you can be convinced of their merit. What is criticism, when embarked on as praise, but a small and understandable piece of selfishness—a little, affectionate tyranny?

Full article here.