Sunday 18 December 2022

In Albia

On New Year's Day I gave my heart to a land
where no more lives are ruined by royal command,
where the beast who squats on Jersey twiddling his sausage-fingered hands
is riven with frustration at a world he cannot understand
(and sharing just the one house with a family he can't stand)

I dug a hole on New Year's Day
and in that hole I gave away
my whole heart, my one heart and soul
for Albia.

On New Year's Day I dug a hole in a piece of blasted ground
and eagerly embraced the most amazing grace that I have found,
a body and a country both of which I'm proud to have around,
a nation-state of lovers, to each other each is bound
in so much more than servitude, a service most profound:

I took a vow on New Year's Day
and pledged that all my life I'll strain
my might, my very might and main
for Albia.

And every day since that day when my heart was buried deep
I make like Willie Blake and from this mental fight I will not sleep,
there are butchers bearing down on us who dearly wish that we were sheep
but at long last we are lions and the butchers we'll defeat,
knowing they can never force our revolution to retreat

and the day after we beat them
then as equals we will meet,
and we will meet,
yes we will meet
in Albia.

Thursday 15 December 2022

The Prisoner: the long and crucial final act of David Bowie

 Republic of Albia, 11.01.2016

Most of us, by now, have heard the news: that David Bowie, the musician, painter and, briefly, before his sojourn as a guest of the Republic at Battersea Artists' Prison, actor, has died at the age of 69. In some ways, that makes today a difficult day to be a David Bowie fan. In some ways, it makes it much easier. 

Being a Bowie fan, for me, for anyone who came to him primarily through his work of the 90s and 2000s, has always been complicated. 1. Outside was my first: one of his earliest prison albums, its title considered by many to be ironic given his new living circumstances - the 'bunk with two sheets' mentioned in 'I Have Not Been to Oxford Town'. Bowie himself always denied the accusations of irony, pointing out in a later interview that 'I think it's perfectly natural to call a prison album Outside, because that's where your focus is. Particularly during my first years here, I was consumed by thoughts of the exterior. Like Peter Fonda in that acid scene in Easy Rider. "What's Happening Outside?" And, of course, my own guilt over what I had done on the outside - in a different country and a different time. And besides, calling it Inside would have been too obvious, wouldn't it?' 

What I had done on the outside - in a different country and a different time. It's easy to see that as a self-exculpatory gesture, the same kind of excuse many were giving in the wake of what we gradually agreed to call the Savile Wars: it was a different time and everyone was doing it and that was just the way things were and besides, the wench is dead. We heard those a lot in many of the early court cases, both those attempted under the Windsor regime (leading to the bizarre spectacle of criminals being tried by a Crown which was itself irrecoverably tainted with the crimes under discussion) and, later, by the Republic Judiciary. But what distinguished Bowie's trial was the absence of this kind of pleading. His trial lasted a day: he came to court, plead guilty, and became one of the first artists to be sent to Battersea - and the first to go voluntarily. As so often in his earlier career, he was a pioneer; as earlier, many others followed his example. 

Some chose otherwise, of course - perhaps most notoriously Jimmy Page, whose death while resisting arrest during the Siege of Tower House made him a martyr for holdouts from the Windsor era. But it was Bowie's act that resonated more. He had, after all, been training for the role for most of his life, from the messianic posturing of Ziggy Stardust to his role as Jack Celliers (subtle initials, those) in Nagisa Oshima's Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence. Bowie resisted this reading of his decision to willingly accept imprisonment ('Look, the facts are these. In the 1970s I fucked some thirteen year old girl. That was accepted at the time, but it was an act of moral and artistic dereliction. I am, quite literally and pace Python, not the Messiah, but a dirty old man. I didn't go to prison as some kind of Christ-like sacrifice. I'm not Oscar Wilde. I'm not a prisoner of war. This is where I belong!'), but it was a reading taken to heart by many, not least those in the Glampop movement who saw Bowie's act as a necessary sacrifice to redeem the positive elements of that genre - the sexual and gender fluidity, the playfulness, the utopianism - from their association with the sleaze supremos. 

But it's Bowie's prison records that are the real triumph. Both a fascinating document of a man coming to terms with his guilt and resolving to live better, and as an endorsement of the Artists' Prison system, in which prisoners, though deprived of liberty of movement, are provided with the necessary facilities to keep creating their art, profits from the sale of which are used by the Government of the Republic to fund initiatives to help survivors of sexual violence. Bowie was particularly enthusiastic about this financial aspect - so much so that he refused the option to have a percentage of the profits from what we now know to be his final album, Blackstar, placed in a fund to help with living expenses on his release. 'I'm hardly going to starve on the outside,' he told reporters in his final interview. 'People are going to want the first post-prison interview, so if I want money I can always start a bidding war for that if necessary. Or sell some paintings. Or do some acting! I've missed films. There are lots of options and even if I do fall utterly on my arse, Albia has one of the most comprehensive social welfare systems on the planet. I can live quite comfortably on my Republic Pension if I have to, a lot more comfortably than I remember people living before the war. The Blackstar money should be treated the same as the others. I'll be fine.'

It seems likely that Bowie knew he was dying at that point, whatever brave face he might have put on things. He knew there would be no return to movies, no more paintings, no need to draw on that pension. The last track on Blackstar is called 'I Can't Give Everything Away'. But he came close.

It's impossible to know what kind of records Bowie would have made if he hadn't spent the last two decades of his career in Battersea. Would a Bowie without the enforced reflection time prison provides have written something like 'Bring Me the Disco King' or 'Where Are We Now?' It seems unlikely. It might be flippant to say that one of the horrors the Albian Civil War saved us from was yet more Tin Machine albums, but it did. From the middle of the 90s, Bowie was forced to confront his past - the things he did, the people he hurt, the flaws in the dream he was selling - and he did so the only way he knew how - in a series of remarkable, revelatory records. None of that changes the fact he did the things he chose to go to prison for. Nothing wipes the slate clean, but those records helped people. And that's something. Godspeed, Citizen Bowie. 

Tuesday 6 December 2022

Elon Musk's future is out of date

'Kim Stanley Robinson, whose Mars trilogy helped inspire some of the recent interest in colonizing the red planet, has called Musk’s plan “the 1920s science-fiction cliché of the boy who builds a rocket to the moon in his backyard” and one that’s dangerously distracting us from the real problems we face here on Earth.' - Paris Marx, 'Elon Musk is convinced he's the future: we need to look beyond him'

'Ark of Space' is an illustration by the Japanese artist Shigeru Komatsuzaki. Komatsuzaki, who died in 2001, was a prolific artist who did paintings for model kit boxes and magazine covers. You can see a selection of his work at Pink Tentacle. I can't tell whether this design was for a model or a magazine, though I have managed to find a version of the picture with text on it, in the retrofuturism subreddit, which leads me to suspect it's a magazine cover. 

So far, then, Elon Musk is trying to sell us a future which is 54 years out of date. But there's more! Because it seems Komatsuzaki is inspired by an earlier source in making his illustration. That source? The cover of the November 1939 edition of pulp sci-fi magazine Startling Stories

The rocketship might be a little more Flash Gordon than Thunderbird 1, but the 1939 illustration - credited, by pulp scribe Jack Williamson, to artist Howard V. Brown - is in the right place, as are the procession of paired animals (with giraffes and elephants centre stage) and the uniformed guards forcing back the crowds. It's pretty obvious Komatsuzaki used Brown's cover as a template for his more detailed version. Indeed, it's possible he was illustrating the Japanese republication of Williamson's 'The Fortress of Utopia', the eighteenth chapter of which is indeed called 'The Ark of Space' (you can read the whole issue at the Internet Archive). 

So the Bold New Future Apartheid Clyde is trying to sell us dates back to 1939 - eighty-three years ago. This is one of the things I mean when I talk about the death-grip nostalgia has on contemporary culture: even our ideas of the future are out-of-date. 

Not that Musk has given this any thought. He just nicked the image off TV Tropes. That's how lazy he is. 

Wednesday 30 November 2022

12:43 and still on motorways

I remember the name of the girl
who used to take the red-eye bus to
Slimelight. One night,
I met her in town and she told me her system
of pills and when to drop them and of
grabbing sleep on busses and of 
doing it all the next weekend,

and she never said the name of the guy
but I knew, and months later I had it
confirmed from her ex when we dated
(a little), and again from someone who
assumed I was new to the scene

and required the talk.

Tuesday 29 November 2022

Meanwhile, in Moscow

'Dammit, Billings,' Hartford groused as he sat down and opened the styrofoam, 'I thought you were joking when you said to meet here.'
'Why would I joke?' I replied. 'This is it, Hartford. This is what we've been working towards. Big Macs in Red Square, baby! This is it. Be unpatriotic to eat anywhere else.'
'Heh. You sound like a media asset we're developing. He's crazy about these places too. But he's a complete idiot, only good for propaganda work. You've always been sharp - '
'And I still am. None of the old-school kegebishniki come here, none of the nomenklatura either, and it's too proley for the oligarchs, whether we're developing them or not. It's too noisy to bug effectively and I never use the same table. This, Hartford, is the safest damn place in this country. Relax. Or are you just annoyed at not getting to eat caviar on Langley's dime?'
He bristled, but then a sly smile began forming at the corners of his mouth. 'If that's what you're concerned with you may want to start packing some caviar.' With that, he sat back and took a big bite of his burger.
You would've thought the burger was caviar, the amount of time Hartford spent savoring it before replying. 'I've been sent here to inform you that you're being reassigned.'
'The Hell I am! We are at a very fucking delicate stage of this shit, Hartford, I am developing people who are going to be instrumental in...'
'Tell it to Gates, Billings. Tell it to Poppy. I'm just the messenger.'
'That serious?'
'Orders from on high, Billy. You're to get things squared away and be ready to hand over your assets to Ames in - '
'Ames? Ames? Are you fucking shitting me, Hartford?'
'Ames is a longstanding member of the Soviet team...'
'Ames is a fucking drunk, Hartford, and you and I both know it. He would be an absolute disaster as my replacement...'
'Sounds like someone's grown a little attached to their posting.'
'You're talking about putting everything we've been working towards since the Company was fucking founded in the hands of some goddam theater fag who can't even drink straight, Hartford. You sound like someone who's forgotten - '
'And you sound like someone who vastly overestimates his importance in affairs. Babysitting a drunk and a taxi driver isn't exactly the Bay of Pigs.'
'Oh you think so? You think these people are going to greet Ames' Chicago pals as liberators when they come in here and start privatising everything that isn't nailed down and most of what is? These people killed their fucking Czar, Hartford. These people burned down half their country to fuck up Napoleon and did the same to Hitler a hundred years later. This babysitter has to run a fucking spreadsheet to keep track of which members of the football team she needs to blow to stop this thing exploding in our faces. If you think Ames is...'
'I DON'T THINK, BILLINGS,' Hartford erupted with such force the entire restaurant was momentarily silent. He gestured apologetically to one of the janitors and continued more quietly 'I do my fucking job. And so will you. Ours not to reason fucking why. You have two weeks. Get things squared away for Ames to take over, then you're flying to London.'
I must have looked shocked, because I saw that smile flash across his lips again. That fucking snake.
'You get much news of the UK here?'
'We know Princess Di is turning into a bull dagger and dating some bisexual homo...'
'You're all fucking charm Billings, you know that?'
'Sorry, honey, we didn't all get to go to the Ivies.' I shouldn't have put it like that, really, but I wanted to see something on his face other than that fucking smirk. 'What the fuck is happening in Britain?'
'Well, that's the question, isn't it? Seems some Tory choirboy decided to read a few details about one of Maggie's pederast pals into the Parliamentary record and it's all bloody kicked orf, as they say. Riots in the streets, British troops sent to fight Saddam beating up their brass and going AWOL, big swings to Labour...'
'I thought we had them pretty much stitched up again?'
'Well, we did, but that Welsh prick is tainted by association with some of the same fucking people, turns out. And some guy from Woy's spoiler party has just been exposed as a massive pervert too, so they're tanking. Lot of people are talking up the Scotsman.'
'The guy with the eye?'
'No, not him. Smith.'
I said nothing for a moment. 'So that's why they want me back?'
Hartford nodded. 'The thinking at Langley is that while rapprochement with Ivan would be nice, shoring up the old special relationship takes priority.'
'Plus you want this nipped in the bud before some of our perverts start getting outed, right?'
'Don't even joke about that.'
I sucked on my coke, loudly, for a moment. 'Fine, then. Two weeks, then England, and Ames can come over here and fuck everything up. Which he will, by the way.'
'Yeah, well, ours not to...'
'...reason fucking why, yeah, I know,' I sighed. 'Fuck it. There's a place near here with amazing vodka and a very creative approach to receipts. Let's go get drunk on Langley's dime.'
'Yeah, what the Hell,' Hartford stood up and stretched. 'There's no way we can cost more than Ames.' 

Sunday 27 November 2022

The Tiny Hands of Meryl Streep

The tiny hands of Meryl Streep:
toward your silent form they creep
intent on fucking up your sleep,
and when you wake? 'Get in the jeep!'
is what you'll hear from Meryl Streep.

The tiny hands of Meryl Streep
are on the wheel of Meryl's jeep,
painted with the flag of Mozambique,
but why? You'd ask, except you cannot speak:
the tiny hands of Meryl Streep

have gagged you so you cannot shriek.
Why is she here? What does she seek?
At best, they still remain oblique,
the motives of Ms Meryl Streep

in dropping by your place this week
to show off her attack technique
and surprisingly puissant physique.
Eventually Meryl Streep

tells you the hole you've dug is deep
enough. 'Now as ye sowed, so shall ye reap,'
the sonorous tones of Meryl Streep 

inform you that it's time to sleep.
'Is it possible - ' you meekly squeak,
but the tiny hands of Meryl Streep 

have closed around her father's antique 
Derringer: so ends your streak,
at the tiny hands of Meryl Streep.

Friday 25 November 2022

An Albian Poem

We realised our parks were built on corpses;
we realised sober men had lied
when, knowingly, they amplified
the voices of the monsters 
we were led to reckon saints;
we realised the misers of our bodies
had made those bodies alien to us,
and took them back so we could give
them freely for the first time in far more
than living memory; we realised that
to stay was suffocation: we realised
that getting out would hurt,

and we made the break anyway. Realised
a different way of being in the world.
We saw the Power that we had been
and the nation that we could be
and the sweetness of the wallow
we'd enjoy in waxwork replicas of all our
glory days: and we did not wallow,
and we did not run away. 

Thursday 17 November 2022

Riot Cops in Roundhay Park: remembering the Savile Wars

 There's this memory I have, of my childhood. It's October 1990, and it's cold. Cold enough that I have to put on a jacket when I go outside to play with the other kids in my street after watching that night's episode of Doctor Who. The serial that month was, you'll recall, 'Lungbarrow', the first six-part serial since 'The Armageddon Factor' and a historic milestone in the programme's history. I'm still thinking of the first episode cliffhanger when I notice that our street sign has been damaged, probably by a car, and absentmindedly kick it. 

In my head I am recreating a frame from Frank Miller and David Mazuchelli's Batman: Year One, which I had recently received as a birthday present due to my absolute obsession with Tim Burton's 1989 Batman adaptation. In the eyes of an elderly woman passing by, however, I am clearly engaged in a wanton act of vandalism against a sign which, before I set about it with my Bruce Lee tactics, was completely intact. I am harangued for my alleged crime until I decide I have had enough and go back inside. It's a small, inconsequential memory, but it looms larger in my mind as the last memory I have of things during my teens being normal. 

The memory cheats, of course, to use John Nathan-Turner's favourite expression. It's not as if everything went mad the next day: Geoffrey Howe didn't resign, and read the details of what Thatcher knew about what Jimmy Savile had done into the Parliamentary record, until a week later. But I daresay things probably happened to all those wistful Edwardians between their Sunday afternoons in the park and the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. Like those memories, my image of myself being hectored by a censorious old woman who has no idea what's really going on is what Eliot would call an objective correlative for the years that would follow, and the attitudes that those years would displace. 

Similarly freighted images were already forming in front of the cameras on the night that Howe made his speech. Angry mobs in Scarborough and Leeds rioted, spurred to attack Savile's local associates, or animated by rumours that he himself had been sighted somewhere in town. The sight of riot police beating people back from approaching Savile's Roundhay Park flat stayed with many: an image of the establishment protecting its own. 

I guess they must have stayed in the memories of the soldiers stationed in Saudi Arabia to fight Saddam, who started mutinying. The fragging didn't start until April the following year, but the number of troops going AWOL or being disciplined for insubordination began almost immediately. Of course we now know how much Savile's own attitudes had - well, there is no other word for it - penetrated the military at that point, though it shouldn't have surprised us. He was always keen to be photographed with squaddies. 

And royalty. Prince Dai pointed out the links between Savile and the Windsors in a Christmas interview with the Daily Express, but was careful, then, to stick to what was public knowledge - the close friendship between Charles Windsor, Savile and Louis Mountbatten, for example. More would follow next year after he left Charles, began transitioning, and started dating Freddie Mercury. But I don't think I would have even been very aware of this that Christmas, though I did notice the BBC pulled almost all new light entertainment programming from its festive schedules that year, replacing them with repeats - including, to my delight, a few classic Who serials. 

We learned about Cliff Richard's suicide on the Christmas night news. Well, I suppose I should say overdose. There are those who still genuinely believe it was accidental, that Clean-livin' Cliff had a genuine medical need to have a lethal quantity of barbiturates around the house, and that he simply screwed up and clumsily took all the pills at once instead of the one or two he'd presumably been prescribed. 

The arrests began around New Year. Hall, Travis, Davidson, Harris, Glitter, Greer, and so on through the early months of '91. Along with the Birmingham Six being freed and the Hillsborough inquiry recording an open verdict it all added to a steady erosion of authority. 'What right do these people have to govern us?' was the question more and more people were asking. And that question got a lot louder when Prime Minister Heseltine announced that British troops would be withdrawn from the Gulf at the request of French and US forces who were sick of having to deal with disorder among British units, then promptly resigned. 

We were on our third Prime Minister in less than a year, and the open grumbling about whether or not the Tories could be said to have a mandate turned into full rebellion in the summer of 1991 as riots broke out in cities throughout Britain and the Sun offices were firebombed. Perhaps hoping to ease the pressure by introducing an electoral safety valve, John Major announced an election to be held in April 1992, as well as an official inquiry into the breakdown of order among British troops during the Gulf War. 

A year after I watched the first episode of 'Lungbarrow', the country had changed significantly, but it was still recognisable as the same place I had grown up in, even if I now knew that many of the people I had been told to admire as a child were the vilest kind of criminal, and people in authority had known and done nothing or, worse, colluded in their crimes. That was a lot to deal with, especially on top of First Puberty. But it was nothing compared to what was going to happen. 

Tuesday 15 November 2022

Albia Eruditorum: Time and the Rani

 (Because adding 'with apologies to Elizabeth Sandifer' at the end probably won't cut it: as regular readers of this blog will be aware, I am currently working on a book of poems set in an alternate Britain which developed in a way which makes it less disabled by nostalgia than our own. One key feature of this alternate timeline is that Jeremy Brett, rather than Colin Baker, replaces Peter Davison as the Doctor, and Andrew Cartmel takes over as Script Editor a couple of years early, resulting in Lungbarrow being made for television and the British as a whole becoming less hung up on reproductive futurism. It thus proved irresistible to write at least one entry about this alternate Britain [which I am calling 'Albia' as a working label] as a pastiche of a TARDIS Eruditorum entry [indeed the opening paragraph is a straight lift from Sandifer's essay on The Twin Dilemma, lightly edited to remove the reference to 'Doctor in Distress', as the Hiatus never occurs in the Albian timeline, and to tidy up the rhythm of the paragraph after cutting out a large chunk of it]. Needless to say it would be a pale imitation of the original even if it weren't about a version of a serial which never actually aired in the timeline we inhabit, and you should all go and read the original, and Last War in Albion and Neoreaction: a Basilisk too. All three works have been a massive influence on the current project.)


It is January 5th, 1985. Band Aid are at number one with "Do They Know It's Christmas". They remain at number one throughout this story, with Wham! at number two with another Christmas song. Foreigner, Madonna, Paul McCartney, Tears for Fears, and Ray Parker Jr. are also in the charts, the last, of course, with the theme from Ghostbusters.

In news, since we last looked at a story the Miners' Strike has reached a conclusion, rioting breaks out in Wolverhampton, David Jenkins is appointed Bishop of Durham, to the despair of conservative Christians, and the IRA succeed in bombing the Brighton hotel where many top Conservative politicians are staying for that party's annual conference: though they fail to kill anyone they succeed in injuring Margaret Thatcher so severely she has to spend the rest of her time as PM in a wheelchair. This has two consequences for her: the first is, once the initial wave of sympathy dies down and politics-as-usual reasserts itself, a rash of cartoons and tabloid front covers depicting her as Davros, which would never see print today. The second, much more sinister consequence is that Jimmy Savile starts spending a lot more time at 10 Downing Street, showing the Prime Minister the same 'care and attention' he lavished on disabled children at Stoke Mandeville. 

Incidentally, in the wake of the attack, the IRA taunt Thatcher with the statement 'you have to be lucky every time. We only have to be lucky once', a statement which later becomes popular on the Internet as an inspirational quote misattributed to Thatcher herself. History is weird like that. 

And speaking of history being weird, on television: Time and the Rani. The main line of criticism of this episode is that the Rani doesn't get much of a backstory, and that introducing a new enemy in the same story where the Doctor regenerates is too much to expect that story to do. Which can be easily refuted by pointing at the Pertwee era, specifically of course the fact that the Autons get introduced in Pertwee's first outing, and the fact that we get laughably little backstory on the Master in 'Terror of the Autons' beyond the fact that he's a bad guy and the Timelords need the Doctor's help to stop him. But actually it can be refuted even more easily than that: it can be refuted by the fact that this episode does it. 

And it does it in a way that achieves both goals: the Doctor and the Rani's verbal sparring (once the Doctor recovers enough from his post-regeneration/post-TARDIS attack amnesia and realises the Rani is only pretending to be Peri) is used both to introduce the Rani and to establish the character of Jeremy Brett's Doctor. What's interesting is how sympathetic the Rani is in this exchange, with Brett's Doctor giving his lines a tone of sneering condescension towards his intellectual rival, and never allowing the audience to entirely take comfort in the idea that the Doctor is doing this only to get a reaction. Compared with the Fifth Doctor's almost pathological niceness this is a thrilling change, and one which helps establish the tone throughout Brett's tenure. From his earliest meetings with Cartmel and Nathan-Turner about taking the role, Brett had stressed that he wanted to play up the Doctor's nature as an alien disguising himself as a human, and he felt that, as he put it 'in an exchange with another creature of his kind the Doctor would naturally cast off the affectations he puts on in dealing with Earth people - the sight of the Doctor being so obviously de haut en bas towards his equal ought to leave audiences less sure if the way he treats, for example, Peri is true kindness or mere condescension.' 

And that gets at another strength of the episode, which is how it helps strengthen Peri as a character after two episodes in which she hasn't been much more than eye candy. Much of the credit for this has to go to Nicola Bryant, who finds a way of giving her scenes with Kate O'Mara's Rani a sexual tension which is nowhere in the script, but which makes those scenes one of the highlights of the episode, and makes the episode historically important in the subtext Bryant would bring to the character from then on (gleefully encouraged by Brett). But Peri is also shown as the Doctor's physical peer, as she is able to successfully restrain him when she thinks he is attacking her. This scene has its detractors, who feel that a human getting the better of the Doctor makes him look weak, but what do they expect Brett to do? Strangle Peri? Spin her on his shoulders as if he were the Mountain Mauler of Montana? No, it's absolutely the right decision to have the Doctor escape by persuading Peri to trust him. And Brett's patient, gentle explanation to Peri is just sufficiently too patient, too gentle that, again, he seems a little condescending. He may be the one in the armlock, but it seems as if he's trying to avoid further violence for Peri's benefit, and not his own. The resolution of this scene, with Brett inviting Bryant to feel for his pulses, is shockingly intimate for children's television, an intimacy heightened by the decision to shoot in close-up. You can see why French & Saunders would choose to parody the scene by drawing parallels with Bob Peck and Joanne Whalley in Edge of Darkness (even if this did lead to the bizarre 'Peri is a ghost' theory gaining traction in some sections of fandom). 

These are all great things, and foreshadow even better things to come, but the episode still has some telltale signs that we're going through a rough patch. The Tetraps are a vast improvement on the Nimon as far as monster costumes go, but after an impressive first appearance you start to notice the differences between the one good costume and the ones that are only going to be used in group shots (though at least everyone is believing in their bubble wrap, which helps a great deal). The Lakertyans are one of the wettest alien races we've met for a while, effectively being terrorised by the sci-fi-equivalent of a bully with a beehive and a stick, and their guns which shoot glitter seem more suited to the Movellans' disco armada than to 1985, and things aren't helped by the fact that Donald Pickering has very little chemistry with Brett, such that his Beyus, who should come across as heroic, instead feels pompous and self-important. 

Also, as you can probably tell from the fact so much of what I praise in this episode is based on the decisions made by performers, we are still dealing with a Pip 'n' Jane script. Definitely one of the better ones, but a Pip and Jane Baker joint nonetheless, with the usual attendant strengths and weaknesses in terms of ideas versus dialogue. Indeed, Brett performs a vital piece of alchemy on the latter, choosing to deliver the malformed proverbs with which Pip and Jane saddle the Doctor to indicate his post-regenerative amnesia less as mistakes than as Wildean paradoxes which ironically reveal their true meaning. 

Which is, on the whole, not a bad way to look at this episode: a pedestrian, programmatic affair enlivened by performances from O'Mara, Bryant and Brett which are, respectively, a camp pleasure, a surprising delight and a disturbing revelation. Though some people see this as one of 'the silly stories' before the Cartmel Masterplan kicks in and the Doctor gets serious (a reading which is also unfair on the other two serials usually classed as 'silly', but we'll get to them presently), the fact is that all the things that are going to be developed throughout this era of the show are already present. Peri is only going to get queerer (or at least as queer as children's television will allow her to be), and as the Sixth Doctor Brett is only going to get more intimidatingly alien. The difference will be that, as the seasons progress, Cartmel will bring on more and more new writers interested in writing for this new set-up, and as Brett's performance brings viewers back to the show during an unprecedentedly chaotic time for the BBC, they start getting the budget to match. The story everyone tells about Andrew Cartmel is of him being given the job of Script Editor after telling Nathan-Turner he wanted 'to bring down the government', but the fact is that by the end of his tenure this would seem, if anything, to have been setting his sights rather low. 

Wednesday 9 November 2022

Oh won't you come on back to the War (on Nostalgia)?

 ...but I know what some of you are thinking. 'All this stuff about horror movies with Timelords in is fun but aren't you supposed to be engaged in some kind of War on Nostalgia, AJ? KCACO isn't going to exorcise itself, you know...'

And you're right, but don't forget that arriving at the realisation that undoing this knot of toxic nostalgia should be my current artistic focus was not a straightforward process. The idea of the KCACO poster's re-emergence having trapped us in some kind of weird timebreak was literally something which emerged here in the parentheses of what was simply intended to be a reflection on the final episode of Sapphire & Steel. Fittingly, an exploration of past media pointed to the dangers of cosy nostalgia. 

Well, something rather like that appears to have happened again, in that I seem to have hit on a key approach to how to fight it in the course of - well, writing about horror films with Doctor Who actors in them. One of the things that I notice whenever I log into this site to do another entry is the simple statistical fact that the first Timelords of Terror entry did significantly better than any of the subsequent ones, even taking into account that the first instalment of any series will usually do better than the others. And I think that's because that entry contains a genuine touch of magic, in the form of the long paragraph towards the end in which I imagine an alternate universe in which Andrew Cartmel replaces Eric Saward as Script Editor a couple of years early and is able to implement his fabled Masterplan in full, leading to Lungbarrow being made as television rather than a novel and a British public reassessing its commitment to reproductive futurism in the light of learning about looms. I got a bit carried away writing that bit, and not just because the medication started kicking in. It had that tuning fork ring of something significant, which I think was this: if the toxic nostalgia represented by KCACO has trapped us in a reality based on a false past in which the 'Keep Calm and Carry On' poster becomes part of our cultural memory of the Second World War despite never in fact getting beyond the design stage, one way to resist that toxic nostalgia is to rewrite the past deliberately based on the future that we want to live in. 

And if that feels appropriate, perhaps that's because in itself it represents an obvious development of the work done in Secrecy's Jurisdiction. It is the conceit of that work that it is an account of an alternate, shadow Britain, a twisted mirror of our most Normal of Islands' extremely rational and sensible politics. Admittedly this is largely because if I describe it as a 100% accurate description of what's really been going on I leave myself open to accusations of insanity or, worse, libel, but it's a place to start. And if you've been using this alternate universe approach for divinatory purposes, as a scrying mirror in which to arrive at truths about our current situation - why not adapt that approach to purposes of enchantment, instead? So one aspect of the KCACO project will be along these lines: poems written from the perspective of someone living in that better world where Prince Dai transitioned and dated Freddie Mercury, Britain became a Republic and the best Doctor Who story of all time, 'Jubilee', got the 'Power of the Doctor' treatment in 2003. A world where an old poster discovered in a bulk box of books bought at auction sold a few copies in Alnwick but never caught on. Hell, a world where His Dark Materials became a much bigger deal than those wizard nonce books, because a more sexually mature and open culture would realise you would have to have something deeply wrong with you to make the representatives of transformative power in your universe part of the same system that gave us Bash Camps

Maybe it's also because I went to Glasgow recently, and reread 1982, Janine, and am thinking a lot about Alasdair Gray's injunction to 'work as if you live in the early days of a better nation'. You can feel that way in Glasgow, but you can't in England these days, where every headline serves to remind you that we seem to have run out of road. And so, if there is to be any kind of national renewal, if we are to find some way of backing ourselves out of the nightmarish cul-de-sac we seem to have gotten ourselves into, that has to begin in the imagination, and it has to begin with something other than trollstalgic cliches about wartime grit or taking back control. And so in a way, you see, despite being the author of a book called England is the Enemy, the eventual goal of my project will be a more interesting, exciting country, one that no longer hides from but embraces the future. If Secrecy's Jurisdiction was about wrapping the corpse of Jimmy Savile like an albatross around the neck of the establishment that enabled him, the KCACO project is about kicking that establishment offstage once and for all and letting new dreams emerge from the margins, from the weirdos, from the stuff that isn't taken seriously.  It is, in fact, in a way which surprises me as much as anyone else, a kind of defence of the realm. 

Sunday 6 November 2022

Haunting the Extremophiles

We aren't 'destroying the planet'. The planet will still be around long after we render it uninhabitable for human bodies. And life will survive too. In hydrothermal vents beneath the ocean live the extremophiles Pyrolobus fumarii and Pyrococcus furiosus, some of the oldest forms of life on Earth, organisms which thrive in conditions of impossible heat. Who knows? Perhaps, one day, millennia after we wipe out the world which could support us, an ancestor of these creatures will crawl from the polluted seas onto the scorched shores we have left behind. 

They will be haunted by our ghosts, our remnant omnipresent consciousness, our stone-taped traces. To them, we will seem like the Great Old Ones. And what will disturb them about us will not be chitinous or squid-like features, but our repulsive mammaries, the uterine matrices that formed our now-disembodied minds, our glandular inheritance. 

As they burn our bones, compressed to coal, for light, some among them will shudder at shapes in the fire: a wet red hole pierced with ivory, which screams; a head crowning, smeared with its caul; the sucking nightmare of a human kiss.

And they will be revolted.

Timelords of Terror - the Astonishing Climax!

So in the first part of this series we compared the Doctor to Bernard Quatermass and ended with a remarkable fantasia about the early arrival of the Cartmel Era making Britain a Utopia; in our second instalment we encountered a charming Sylvester McCoy and a naked, hooting Jim Broadbent; then yesterday we got serious for a moment and examined the cultural insensitivity of 1970s horror. But the greatest revelation has been saved for this post, for

8. There's a movie where the Valeyard fucks a tree

For all the flagrant racism of its fourth story, 'Luau', Tales That Witness Madness does have one major advantage in the 'horror movies starring actors who've played Timelords' department, which is that it actually features two: Mary Tamm, as we've already discussed, winds up getting killed and eaten by Michael Petrovich's Kimo, but the anthology's third story, 'Mel', features Michael Jayston, who played the Valeyard, an evil future incarnation of the Doctor, during Colin Baker's infamous second season, the much-maligned 'Trial of a Timelord' arc. 

In 'Mel' we first encounter Jayston's character jogging in the woods near his home. This immediately positions him as a figure of suspicion - in the 1970s the only people who jogged in the UK were Jimmy Savile and people planning to overthrow the government in a military coup. The first sign that Jayston's character might be closer to the former than the latter comes when he notices a particularly sexy dead thing by the side of the road - the similarities end there, however, as this turns out to be the corpse of a tree rather than, say, that of a former Prime Minister. An enamoured Jayston takes the tree home with him and sets it up in pride of place in his living room, much to the dismay of his wife, played by Joan Collins. Now, personally, if I had 1970s, in her prime Joan Collins in the house I wouldn't be picking up strange pieces of foliage and taking them home with me, but then again I'm not one of the protagonists in a 1970s portmanteau horror picture. 

Anyway, the tree - which Jayston and Collins christen 'Mel' after noticing some graffiti carved in its bark - turns out not to be anywhere near as dead as it seems, and begins working on a scheme to be rid of its rival for the future Valeyard's affections. Eventually, the diabolical dryad succeeds in its aim, though not before we're treated to a dream sequence in which the tree's hand-like branches mangle Collins' breasts - honestly Mel, do you think you're in 'The Mark of the Rani' or something? 

Britain: where even the trees are bloody nonces

Angered at the thought of being molested by an animated plant - as all right-thinking people would be - Collins rummages around in her hubby's workshop and digs out his machete (you may think it wild that people in 1970s England could just own machetes, but what you have to remember is the ever-present threat that Alan Bates might emerge from out of nowhere and attack you with his death-shout). As she confronts the eerie elemental, the camera swings over to Jayston, emerging from the bedroom and remonstrating with his beloved. 'What did you have to go and do that for?' he moans, and we then cut to him back in the woodlands, burying something under leaves. Can you guess the twist? That's right - he was burying his wife! As the story ends we see the oaks-orious (I'll get me coat) Jayston entering the bedroom, where Mel is already installed on the divan for a night of human-on-tree which point the film thankfully cuts back to its framing sequence, in which Jayston is a patient in a lunatic asylum, under the care of Donald Pleasence (who, between this, Halloween and the John Badham Dracula adaptation, is frankly in danger of being typecast). But the implication is clear - the Valeyard shagged a plant. Think about that next time you watch 'Terror of the Vervoids'. 

Incredibly, however, Tales That Witness Madness was not the most bizarre film I watched for this challenge. That honour goes to...

9. The Haunting of Villa Diodati (Spanish)

Hugh Grant plays Byron. What could go wrong?

There's a certain kind of horror fan who will scoff at you if you attempt to find common ground with them by mentioning that you enjoyed Tod Browning's 1931 Universal Pictures Dracula. 'Yes,' they say, 'it is quite good. But of course, the Spanish version is much better.' They say this because they are pricks, but it is true that a Spanish version of the tale of the Count was filmed at the same time, and on the same sets, as the Browning version, though helmed by a different director and featuring a different actor, Carlos Villarias, as the titular bloodsucker. Whether this version beats Browning and Lugosi's effort is a matter of taste, but the version exists and is of some significance. 

What I didn't know before beginning this challenge is that there is also a Spanish-made version of one of the more well-received episodes of the Chibnall era, 'The Haunting of Villa Diodati'. Well, sort of. That story, of course, portrays Jodie Whittaker's Doctor and her fam hanging out at the eponymous Villa with the Shelleys and Lord Byron (and also, Polidori is there) before getting interrupted by Ashad, the Lone Cyberman. Of course, the events of the famous ghost story session which led to Mary Shelley writing Frankenstein and thus inventing science fiction have been a source of fascination to many later creators, most notably in Ken Russell's Gothic, but also in the more recent Mary Shelley movie starring Elle Fanning, and 1988's Haunted Summer, which features a sensitive performance from Alex Winter as the put-upon Polidori. 

Spanish director Gonzalo Suarez was also inspired by the Romantics' 1816 meet-up, and set about writing and directing Remando al viento a.k.a. Rowing with the Wind, a story in which Mary Shelley's creation comes to life and starts killing off everyone close to her, for some reason. It's never established exactly what the Creature thinks he's playing at doing all this, but perhaps a clue lies in the fact that when he meets Mary, he talks to her by repeating things she has already heard from the men in her circle, suggesting perhaps that the Creature has come to life as an expression of her proto-feminist rage. That said, he is an equal opportunity killer, as happy to take out Byron's daughter as the Shelleys' son, and saving Byron, who surely ought to be one of his prime targets of feminist ire, for last. Oh, and the Creature in the film looks like this:'s...cinematic...adaptations, rather than the Romantic Hero who condemns his creator in long, rhetorically complicated speeches that Mary Shelley actually wrote about. 

But focusing on the supernatural aspects of this film risks making it seem altogether better than it actually is: the scenes between the writers at Villa Diodati and afterwards are packed full of dialogue of the 'they say this fellow Faraday has invented electricity!' variety, with Valentine Pelka's Percy Shelly being a major offender in this regard. Hugh Grant (one of those Curse of Fatal Death Doctors, of course) as Byron is the only character who really convinces, largely because he has clearly decided to just take the piss, which lends his performance a properly Byronic insouciance, especially in the early scenes where he torments his doctor and hanger-on Polidori. 

Grant's Byron is lucky enough to survive most of the film, though the Creature ominously states that Incidentally none of the deaths are shown directly, ostensibly to create ambiguity about whether Mary is imagining the Creature's role in events, but also saving the production team from having to put in the effects and stunt work that would be necessary in a realistic portrayal of Percy Shelley's dramatic drowning. Unfortunately for Suarez the way he chooses to handle this offscreen death results in one of the most unintentionally funny camera moves in the history of cinema, as the camera lingers on the boat from which Shelley will fall

- then pans violently to a shot of his funeral pyre. It's jarring and sudden and probably meant to say something profound, but I laughed my ass off. And you will too - that is, if you can be arsed to track down a version of the film you can watch. Because despite having won seven Goya Awards (Spain's equivalent of the Oscars), this film is extraordinarily hard to get hold of. A Region One DVD copy of it will set you back twenty-five quid used on Amazon, and while eBay quotes better prices they're still more than you'd pay for most Blu-Rays these days. If you want to stream it, you're going to have to wander away from Prime or YouTube to the dodgier end of the Internet. It's a Miramax release, so its apparent non-existence might, like that of Dogma, be the result of Harvey Weinstein spitting his dummy out, but I think it's just as likely everyone involved with this film would rather it never saw the light of day again. Still, good giraffe scene, though. And if you're ever at a pub quiz and they ask what film Hugh Grant and Liz Hurley met on the set of, you now know it's this one. 

Well, with that, we've pretty much exhausted the notes I wrote summing up this challenge. Everything else either wouldn't stretch to a full entry (like the fact the scariest line I heard all October was Christopher Eccleston saying 'I promised them women' in 28 Days Later) or need their own entry after I've gone and watched a bunch of related stuff (like that piece I'm eventually going to do on the weird similarities between 'Kinda' & 'Snakedance' and Lair of the White Worm). Although actually, there is maybe one more thing...

10. Romana 2 was in a film with Darth Vader

That film is 1972's Vampire Circus, in which Lalla Ward plays a vampire acrobat and Prowse plays an entirely human strongman who's one of the vampires' thralls (as we find out in a scene where a smirking Prowse destroys a cross brandished at him by the hero). It's a fun film, though there isn't really much to say about it - but it does give me an excuse to end this serial with a picture of Ward as a sexy vampire. Really, it's the least I can do after inflicting naked Jim Broadbent on you all earlier. Not to mention Michael Jayston and his tree-shagging ways. 

Saturday 5 November 2022

Timelords of Terror! Part 3 or: Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with Racism!

Note: this is the third instalment of a series which began with this post and continued here. Also, as ought to be obvious from the title, this instalment deals with themes of racism and racist imagery pretty much from jump, so if that's likely to be a trigger for you, feel free to skip this bit.

7. The 1970s were A Very Different Time

We ended the last instalment of this series considering Jim Broadbent's debut as a mentally ill cricket player in Jerzy Skolimowski's The Shout, a strange 1979 horror movie in which Alan Bates cucks John Hurt with magic, and how that portrayal of mental illness might seem a little insensitive by today's standards, but that's not the only part of the film that reads oddly today. Early on in the film, we see a scene in which a character who is - we assume from what we learn later - the Australian Aboriginal magician who taught Alan Bates the titular man-killing shout, advancing menacingly towards the camera with a pointing bone in hand. The shot is disturbing in itself: we are given no context for who this character is or what he is doing. He is simply a black man advancing in the direction of the viewer, silently. Even if we don't know about pointing bone magic, the thing in his hand reads as a weapon, and he points it in our direction. This dude is the only black character in the film - if you can call him a character and not just a symbol - and he is explicitly presented as an exoticised figure of menace and threat. 

I'm not saying The Shout is a racist movie - indeed, as the excellent folk horror blog We Don't Go Back has argued, the film can be read as a critique of colonialism, with Bates' self-satisfied pseudo-shaman standing in for the British Empire. What I am saying is that the handling of race in some of the older films I watched for this challenge is very jarring to our modern, more progressive sensibilities - and if that applies to a subtle and intelligent film like The Shout it gets even more pronounced when we find ourselves at the more cheap and cheerful end of 1970s horror - by which I mean, of course, the anthology pictures synonymous with Amicus studios, which would bundle a bunch of short horror stories into a buffet of bloodshed for value-conscious 70s punters. 

The first such film I watched for the challenge, The House that Dripped Blood, is pretty inoffensive in this regard: its tight focus on events in a single house in suburban England mean that it confines itself to depicting white-on-white violence. The second anthology flick, however - 1973's The Vault of Horror - is a different matter entirely. For a start, one of the stories, 'This Trick'll Kill You', features some pretty rank orientalism (though in the end it sides with its Indian characters against their exploiters), but I want to talk here about the depiction of Haitian Vodou in 'Drawn and Quartered', the story featuring Fourth Doctor Tom Baker as Moore,  an artist who learns he has been ripped off by a clique of gallerists and critics, and sets out to seek revenge. 

Tom was devastated when someone pointed out his self-portrait looked more like Rolf Harris

Moore intends to obtain revenge by 'buying voodoo' from the most bored-looking houngan in Port-au-Prince. I mean I say houngan: absolutely nothing in the guy's hut (oh yeah, you know this dude is in a hut) marks him out as any kind of Vodou practitioner. No veves, no Baron Samedi-esque top hat, none of the vast amount of sacred ornament that makes real Vodou ritual spaces so visually dense. I'm not expecting a 1973 portmanteau horror picture to have presented an anthropologically perfect depiction of such a space but you'd think they would have come up with something to make it look like more than just a generic witch doctor's shack. The Bond-does-blaxploitation caper Live and Let Die, which came out in the same year, has some moments of absolutely jaw-dropping racism but its producers understood the visual power of a big dude in a top hat with a skull painted on his face. The Amicus guys saw 'voodoo priest' in the script and just thought 'right, black dude with a loincloth, dirt floor, big bubbling cauldron' then knocked off for a pint of Watney's Red Barrel and a Ploughman's Lunch. 

Actually that's unfair on the producers because, as stonkingly racist as the juxtaposition of a black man in 'native' get-up and a bubbling cauldron might be, the cauldron is diegetic. To obtain voodoo powers, Moore must - after handing over a substantial sum of money - immerse his painting hand in the boiling mixture therein, which thereafter grants him the voodoo ability to make portraits of his enemies which, when damaged, cause their subjects to be injured in a similar way. Which is, as some of you will be aware, another bit of cultural insensitivity: the idea is obviously a variation on the popular notion of the 'voodoo doll', which is not actually an authentic Vodoun ritual practice but derives instead from European forms of sympathetic magic in which witches would manipulate a doll or 'poppet' of their target to wreak vengeance on or gain control of its human counterpart. 

Still, at least the makers of The Vault of Horror were trying to depict a cultural milieu which actually exists, however lazily and inaccurately. The lurid colonialist fantasia of 'Luau', the fourth story in non-Amicus anthology Tales That Witness Madness, is something else entirely. 

As the story's title suggests, the culture ostensibly being depicted in this frankly rather nasty little story is that of the indigenous people of Hawaii, who, if this film is to be believed, can only go to Heaven if their children consume the flesh of a virgin in an elaborate ritual, which must be a bit of a ball-ache.The tale's protagonist, Hawaiian author Kimo, played by the genuinely creepy Michael Petrovitch, finds himself with a dead mother as our tale begins, and thus the responsibility of carrying out the whole virgin-eating procedure. What is a boy to do?

Fortunately, help is at hand for Kimo in the form of Kim Novak as literary agent Auriol Pageant (yes, really) and her daughter Ginny, played by Mary Tamm, the first actress to play Fourth Doctor companion Romana. As part of Auriol's attempts to woo Kimo as a client, she throws a sumptuous luau for him, at which, unbeknown to her, the pig she, Kimo and her guests feast on is of the long variety - being the flesh of Ginny, murdered by Kimo earlier and prepared for the feast by Kimo's manservant Keoki. 

It shouldn't need saying, but as a depiction of indigenous Hawaiian culture this is bollocks. There is no evidence that cannibalism has ever been practiced in Hawaii, let alone the baroque combination of ritual murder and anthropophagy portrayed here. The luau itself is fairly accurate, but the portrayal of indigenous people as cannibals  - and indeed as a threat to young, virginal white women - is a racist trope which has been used to justify genuine violence on the part of those who would 'civilise' them. 

As a genre which is often rooted in our fear and anxiety about the Other, it is inevitable that horror fiction will be troubled with racist tropes. 'The Dunwich Horror' reflects Lovecraft's own racist fears of miscegenation; Dracula reflects British anxieties about sinister foreigners corrupting 'our' women; the original Candyman, while a more knowing take, still uses the iconography of the urban black male as predator. What distinguishes the racist depictions in the two anthology films we've looked at today is their lazy, dashed-off quality: the way the cultures of Haiti and Hawaii have been used simply as stock exotic frames on which to hang tales of violence and revenge. 

As it happens, though, Mary Tamm's unfortunate demise is not the only connection between Doctor Who and Tales that Witness Madness...

In our serial's exciting conclusion: Hugh Grant plays Lord Byron, and the Valeyard gets wood...

Thursday 3 November 2022

I spent October watching horror movies starring actors who played Timelords, and this is (some more of) what I learned

Note: this entry is part two of a series. You probably have read Part One first, but in case you haven't for any reason, it's here. Now, let's fade down the Tardis noises and pick up from yesterday's cliffhanger...

I don't want to do down Sylvester McCoy by giving alternate universe Doctor Jeremy Brett the Cartmel Masterplan stuff - indeed, given that in the parallel timeline I've concocted Brett is followed by Colin Baker, there's every possibility that the line of succession reverts to something like normal and an older McCoy takes over a couple of years after Baker stars in the live-action version of 'Jubilee', thus saving him from being dragged to New Zealand and forced to walk around with shit on his face by Peter Jackson. And I don't doubt that McCoy could have brought something different to the Doctor in those circumstances, because he is, as I say, probably my favourite actor to have played the Doctor besides Peter Capaldi. Not that that should be a surprise, of course: lots of people like Sylvester McCoy. Indeed,

3. The production team on John Badham's 1979 Dracula film liked Sylvester McCoy so much they invented a part for him

Look! By the horse! It's the Seventh Doctor!

Not every fact I uncovered about these movies was as sweet as this one, but it's true: Sylvester McCoy (then acting under the stage name Sylveste, primarily in things like Ken Campbell's epic theatrical adaptation of Roberts Shea and Anton Wilson's similarly epic Illuminatus! trilogy) tried out for the part of Renfield in Badham's 1979 adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel - a version forever known, due to Frank Langella's smouldering portrayal of the Count as 'the sexy one'. Although a different actor was chosen to play that role, the production team were so charmed by McCoy that they decided to add another character to Doctor Seward's household, a junior servant called Walter. Watching his performance in the film it's easy to see why: it's a small role, but one McCoy makes compelling through his performance, saying very little but using the knowledge of clowning he picked up working with Campbell's troupe to suggest a personality and interior life for Walter. It reminded me of buffon performances I've seen: it's not a comic role, per se, but Walter has an otherworldly, shy personality which is expressed in small and sometimes surprising gestures. The photo above is instructive: McCoy is not part of the main action but works with the horse in the background in ways which suggest that the often nervous Walter is one of those people who finds the company of animals more comforting than that of people - he's the guy at the party who spends most of his time playing with the cat or dog. It's also a good example of the thing which, in my Morbius review, I pointed out Jared Leto doesn't do in that film - McCoy is finding a small way to demonstrate that he is part of the world of the story: he isn't just there to be looked at. 

Doing that has benefits beyond just increasing the verisimilitude of the film: something else you notice about Badham's Dracula is that Donald Pleasence, as Seward, is also often finding little things to do - what actors call 'bits of business' - while he discusses the Dracula situation with the other characters. In Pleasence's case, however, there was an ulterior motive: by doing things like eating during scenes he created a continuity headache for the editors, thus ensuring that fewer of his scenes would be cut. Well, I did say not everything I learned about these films was as nice as McCoy charming the production team - though compared to what we've all learned about Frank Langella recently, a somewhat selfish approach to performance and screen time isn't exactly the worst thing. 

Hang on, though, I can hear you think - why is the only horror film you could find with Sylvester McCoy a 70s vampfest in which he plays a near-mute supporting role? Well...

4. Not all Timelords are that into Terror (at least cinematically)

One of the biggest surprises of doing this was finding out that there were some actors I simply wasn't going to be able to use, because despite (or perhaps because of) appearing in a series which is often at its best when it's being scary, some actors who have played Timelords have simply never been in many - or in some cases any -  horror flicks. Michelle Gomez, for example, was someone I felt sure would have some decent cinematic horror in her back catalogue, but nope - though in her case I think that's more a side-effect of her doing a lot more TV than movies: I haven't seen The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina so can't say if it makes good on its title, but Doom Patrol is a show which definitely leans towards the horrific at times. But there are some actors who simply seem not to have done much horror due to a personal dislike of the genre - William Hartnell, for example, never did anything that would qualify, and Peter Davison appears to have starred in only one horror movie, a 2021 effort called End of Term which seems to have sank without trace. Jon Pertwee, I suspect, considered the genre silly - the only entries in his CV which count are Carry On Screaming and his segment of Amicus anthology The House That Dripped Blood, which is extremely tongue-in-cheek. Neither of the actors who have played Omega have done any horror, nor has Crispy Master Peter Pratt. Ncuti Gatwa hasn't either, but give him time, he's still young, bless him. 

On the other hand, of course, some actors who have played the Doctor seem almost synonymous with horror, and I'm not talking about Peter Cushing here, because 

5. John Hurt is the MVP

'Well, fancy meeting you here!'

I decided fairly on in the month that I was probably going to have to double up on some actors - in the event, the only true example of this involved Patrick Troughton, and that was so I could watch a film suggested by a Facebook friend, but I came close a couple of times. The first film which I consciously watched as a double-up was Jerzy Skolimowksi's The Shout, a very odd and disturbing film based on a Robert Graves story, and I considered this a double-up because I'd already watched Alien. Of the lineal Doctors, Hurt has done more horror than any other, with a suitably sinister thirteen spooky stories to his name. There's also a real range to the types of horror Hurt has done- all the way from Hellboy to Only Lovers Left Alive, via Frankenstein Unbound or the BBC's recent remake of Whistle and I'll Come to You - and indeed the aforementioned Shout, which I retroactively classified under Jim Broadbent rather than John Hurt when it became clear towards the end of the challenge that I was going to have to smash the emergency button and consider the Curse of Fatal Death Doctors fair game. And really I think Broadbent deserves the credit for The Shout more, because...

6. Jim Broadbent stripped and stood in a cowpat in his debut movie role

Never say I give you nothing on this blog. Where else are you going to see naked Jim Broadbent?

The Shout is a very strange movie to say the least. The main dramatic action of the film concerns Alan Bates, who boasts to John Hurt's character (a church organist and electronic composer) that Australian Aborigines have taught him a 'killing shout', then uses his shamanic trickery to inveigle himself into Hurt's household and indeed his wife's bed. But the story is told in flashback, with a framing sequence in which Bates, while scoring a cricket match at a lunatic asylum, tells his tale to a young Tim Curry(!). Broadbent, in his first cinematic part, is one of the players in said cricket fixture, listed in the movie's credits as 'Fielder in Cowpat', and as tensions mount during Bates' retelling of his story Broadbent's fielder flips out, strips, smears himself in - well, I hope it's mud, but there is the small matter of that credit - and runs around as an apocalyptic thunderstorm begins to rain and then we get the real, and very final, climax of Bates' story. If anything, I'm underselling how weird this movie is, and I definitely recommend you see it, even if Broadbent's capering and cavorting isn't the most sensitive portrayal of mental illness in the history of cinema. But then, if we're talking about insensitivity...well, we'll leave that for next time.  

Next time: 1970s racism rears its culturally insensitive head!