Thursday, 29 December 2016

Sarah Jane Smith 2.2: Snow Blind by David Bishop (February 2006)

Antarctica - those huge frozen wastes populated only by penguins and David Attenborough, “the last truly unspoiled place on Earth” - is both the ideal location for a Doctor Who story*, yielding claustrophobic bases and agoraphobic expanses, extreme weather and extreme beauty, and yet a terribly difficult one to achieve, mostly because, um, filming in Antarctica isn’t exactly the easiest thing in the world. No surprise then, really, that it’s only been attempted a couple of times as an in-studio job - once in The Tenth Planet, once in The Seeds of Doom (and briefly in the SJA story The Gift) - but you’d think it’s the ideal place to set an audio story, where one can rely on the visuals of the imagination for the full effect. Of those I’ve heard, I can only think of Frozen Time that is set there (although The Land of the Dead and Winter for the Adept have a similar feel to them, even if they’re set in marginally less inhospitable winter wonderlands) so I’m glad that David Bishop chose to set the second story of this second season in an Antarctic base, once more contributing to the range’s globe-trotting feel.

Sarah Jane Smith 2.1: Buried Secrets by David Bishop (February 2006)

Buried Secrets - the opening story of Sarah Jane Smith’s second season - manages the tricky process of feeling both like the stories that have gone before (certainly, it doesn’t feel like a complete break from the past, and indeed the theme of the past haunting you is arguably the crux of the story) and yet almost like the relaunch of a new programme and a new style. For one thing, there’s a new theme - much more appropriate to the investigative Sarah, but with a jaunty lightness of touch that seems to pre-empt The Sarah Jane Adventures. With the new theme comes new incidental music and sound design in general, here provided by Steve Foxon, and in my view a step-up in quality from David Darlington’s efforts. For another, David Bishop relies once more heavily on news broadcasts, something which previously only his own Season 1 story, Test of Nerve, had bothered to do; here it works even better than last time, in no small measure due to the way Bishop has already started setting up plots for later stories in the season (the world’s first tourist flight into space; animal rights activists; and a mission to Antarctica which I already know is going to pop up in the next story, Snow Blind) - but also as a way to sweep the past under the carpet (the newsreader reporting on the deaths of Hilda Winters and Philip Harris, for instance, or Maude Fletcher from Comeback popping up again on the radio).

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

"Slipback" by Eric Saward (July-August 1985)

Slipback surprised me, in that I actually rather enjoyed it. I have no great love for most of Eric Saward’s individual scripts nor for his particular vision of Doctor Who; the kind of macho posturing that, from 1982, he seemed determined to import into a show where it rarely fits leaves me pretty bored and dissatisfied. But perhaps I was forgetting the high esteem in which I hold Revelation of the Daleks, his 1985 script, and how that maybe signals that he was learning as he went along. Slipback is no literary triumph, and by landing us on a vast spaceship, the Vipod Mor, with a rampaging alien creature in the hold, we are plunging directly back into SF cliché territory - but it’s actually rather good for an Eric Saward effort, and in its pleasing eccentricity of tone feels both like a homage to Douglas Adams and a forerunner of Red Dwarf.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

"Exploration Earth: The Time Machine" by Bernard Venables (October 1976)

Shifting from the Sarah Jane of 2002 to the Sarah Jane of 1976 - just between the start of Season 14’s opening story The Masque of Mandragora and her departure in The Hand of Fear - is a disorientating move in one sense, but entirely apposite in another: this is a time travel show, after all. Exploration Earth: The Time Machine is, nonetheless, a real oddity - firstly, because like Doctor Who and the Pescatons and the subsequent 1980s release Slipback, it is a chance to hear what audio dramas would have been like if they were made alongside the television series, as opposed to several years afterwards. But it is also an oddity because it was made specifically to fit within the BBC Schools radio series Exploration Earth - a study module about geography (and geology in particular). In other words, the characters of the Doctor and Sarah become a vehicle for Bernard Venables to inform the audience about how the Earth was created 4.5 million years ago. Bernard Venables must be one of the most unlikely figures to ever contribute to Doctor Who, but that’s part and parcel of this story’s odd genesis. A conservationist, angler, journalist, cartoonist and author of 18 books about fishing, he was obviously a keen geographer, which must be why he was picked to write this segment; he’s good at the geology but less so the sci-fi (“I’ll just atmosphere-inject it”, the Doctor says of an atmosphere-less capsule).

Sarah Jane Smith 1.5: Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre by Peter Anghelides (November 2002)

If the first thing to note about Ghost Town is how little it used its Romanian setting, the first thing to say about Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre (apart from finally encouraging me to make some effort to spell ‘manoeuvre’ correctly) is that it makes good use of conjuring up strong visuals in the imagination -- whisking its audience off to the Lakshadweep and Chagos Islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean, all palm trees, snorkelling and surly fishermen awaiting bribes, and then on to Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu state. My father grew up in India, as did his siblings and his mother; my uncle regularly shoots documentaries there (particularly in the Western Ghats, visible from Coimbatore), and my brother’s in Rajasthan at the moment, so that part of the world has an extensive set of family connections; I’ve always wanted to see more Doctor Who stories on the Indian subcontinent and Peter Anghelides and Gary Russell do some good work in bringing this exotic location to life, with plenty of local colour and some strong tabla and sitar music. That said, it still suffers a little bit from “Brits swanning around in the tropics” syndrome, however much it’s made with an English-speaking audience in mind; you’d think an undercover investigative journalist arriving on the Chagos Islands would have been the perfect vehicle for Anghelides to explore, say, the massive injustice that the British government kicked out all the native Chagossians purely for US-UK naval military bases, and still denies them access to their homeland to this day. That’s the kind of crusade I could easily picture Sarah Jane taking up. Still, ‘tis bad form to criticise a piece of fiction for what it wasn’t rather than what it was, so I’ll desist -- and, in fairness, Anghelides does at least go halfway there in that it’s a Western megacorporation that plans to exploit the locals and indeed poison swathes of the Tamil Nadu population, which is sort of the Chagossians’ tale writ large, so the story’s heart is in the right place.

Monday, 26 December 2016

Sarah Jane Smith 1.4: Ghost Town by Rupert Laight (October 2002)

This is the first Sarah Jane Smith story to take place abroad - namely a small Romanian village nestled in the Carpathian Mountains. It doesn’t particularly broaden the scope of storytelling, mind, or alter what kind of adventures Sarah can go on. This could easily have been a village on a Scottish island (and, indeed, it reminded me of Night Thoughts at points, which is set on a Scottish island). Nothing about this story needed to be set in Romania. I’ve just seen Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu in the last few weeks, and that boasts terrific use of Romanian landscape and folklore: you can’t really set Dracula anywhere else! But this is much more Scooby-Doo than serious horror drama, and it’s got fewer twists and turns than the average Scooby-Doo plot as well (and no, a character saying "it's like a flaming Scooby-Doo plot" doesn't excuse this)! The villain - Christian Ian Abbotly, played by Elisabeth Sladen’s real-life husband Brian Miller - is just about the most transparent bad guy in the history of ever, and as such there is zero tension in terms of “who’s behind all this?” The contrast between the tense plotting of Test of Nerve couldn’t be greater, leaving Ghost Town feeling very lightweight and insubstantial.

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Sarah Jane Smith 1.3: Test of Nerve by David Bishop (September 2002)

I only know David Bishop’s writing through his Unbound audio Full Fathom Five, which - despite notoriously being rather disliked in some fan quarters for how far it pushes the Doctor - was nonetheless a well-controlled piece of drama, taut and tense and challenging. Coming to his first Sarah Jane Smith story with the knowledge that he takes over stewardship of the range for the entirety of the second season, I had high hopes that he could bring a punchy maturity, tight plotting and memorable threats to this currently languishing range, and to my delight he delivers all three. Test of Nerve is primarily London-centric, but far from the anaemic scenes we get in Comeback or the overdone histrionics of the ill-thought-through political organisations in UNIT, Bishop gives us a taut and mature terrorism thriller which is tense right from the start of its (just under an hour) runtime and never lets up, making strong use of iconic locations like the London Underground which both make the story feel more Whoish than the first two but also fit Sarah Jane’s ‘investigative journalist’ brief. Its very title - a far cry from the “airport potboiler” vibe of The Tao Connection and the simultaneously limp and irrational Comeback- is a step-up, conveying both the story’s focus on the nerve gas sarin but also the degree to which this is a tense listening experience.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Sarah Jane Smith 1.2: The Tao Connection by Barry Letts (August 2002)

Despite his poor form when it comes to audio stories (I’ve heard The Ghosts of N-Space and The Paradise of Death; never again), Barry Letts seems to have a better grasp on things than his erstwhile 70s colleague - the story is faster-paced and more involved, for one thing. Sladen continues to be the best thing about her own series (thankfully) for the second story in a row (with a particularly interesting look at how her time with the Doctor has moulded her; kudos to Letts for that). That said, an unexpected cameo from Maggie Stables as a Yorkshire B&B owner almost steals Sarah’s thunder. Apart from his weird penchant for dropping into strange voices, Jeremy James is perfectly fine as Josh Townsend, though I still find his entire character a bit implausible; I can’t quite get a handle on who he is, what makes him tick. There’s none of the elegance about his introduction and relationship to Sarah Jane that you get with Maria, Clyde and Luke in the first few Sarah Jane Adventures stories. Still, if one of the main duo is worth following that’s not too bad a percentage.

Sarah Jane Smith 1.1: Comeback by Terrance Dicks (July 2002)

I hope I am not doing Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts a disservice when I state that the success and popularity of Sarah Jane Smith, from the 1973-76 era of the programme, lies almost entirely at the door of Elisabeth Sladen. Whether or not she was given naff material to work with (and regardless of the attempt to make her more of a feminist icon than Jo Grant, such material seems today now rather subpar), Sladen always rose above it, and her general gumption, gusto and good cheer shines on screen, as does an excellent rapport with both her “original” Doctors. It is thus no surprise that the one thing about Comeback that works, and works supremely well, is that it has Elisabeth Sladen playing Sarah Jane Smith in it. Years after her appearances on Doctor Who and her own abortive spinoff, and years before her return, she played the part for nine audio dramas for Big Finish, and as far as this first instalment goes she does it with the warmth and brio you would expect (frustrating authority figures is something she remains excellent at; witness the scene where she corrects the squire on his use of the quotation "a little learning is a dangerous thing", for instance). For this reason alone - that we have nine more instances of Elisabeth Sladen playing Sarah Jane Smith - I am glad that these audios exist.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

I, Davros 1.4: Guilt by Scott Alan Woodard (December 2006)

I was, to put it mildly, no fan of Scott Alan Woodard’s Absolution, but fortunately Guilt, which wraps up the I, Davros saga, is free of that story’s worst tendencies. There’s the odd glitch: the Muto stuff isn’t as strong as the rest of it (it doesn’t help that Nicholas Briggs is rather phoning it in as Baran), but by and large this is a strong ending to a terrific miniseries: one of the most inventive and successful productions BF have given us, and certainly the most successful spin-off I’ve come across. Guilt takes place shortly before Genesis of the Daleks, and already the Skaro of Innocence feels like an age ago; the atmosphere in this final instalment feels much closer to the 1975 TV story: a bleak wasteland, mutants, explosions, “rels”, Davros’ familiar voice… and, of course, the presence of the magnificent Peter Miles as Davros’ right-hand man Nyder. It’s really rather hard to overstate - phenomenal though Michael Wisher is as Davros - how much of the success of Genesis of the Daleks revolves around Miles’ terrific performance. He’s pretty good here, too, once you get over the suspension of disbelief at the older actor playing the younger and more junior iteration of his character, of course (I don’t quite agree with Gary Russell that his voice hasn’t aged a day, though he does still recapture much of its former flavour: “I never sleep well, not if I wish to survive the night” is his best line, while his fear as the Dalek first emerges is also terribly effective). Opening by having Davros kidnapped by the Thals, then needing to be rescued by Nyder, is a gutsy move, but it pays off in terms of raising the stakes; his first actual meeting with Davros is a terrific scene, as we hear the inklings of that respect that will grow between them, respect that will eventually become absolute trust. It is only through gaining Nyder’s trust that Davros is able to put his plan into action, after all. The creation of the Daleks is as much something for which we should hold Nyder accountable (or “guilty”, if you like) as it is Davros.

Monday, 19 December 2016

I, Davros 1.3: Corruption by Lance Parkin (November 2006)

“To understand the future, we have to understand the past.”

I, Davros: Corruption is the Big One: war movie, psychological drama, doomed love story, Greek tragedy and Revenge of the Sith all at once. Lance Parkin - who had until now delivered by far the best-written, most insightful work to feature Davros in the form of his own audio, Davros - goes one better than his own previous record, and knocks even that great achievement into a cocked hat. Corruption is marvellous; believe the hype. This I, Davros series is worth it entirely on the strength of this instalment alone.

Unsurprisingly, Parkin takes a number of cues from his previous work, building on it and expanding it. The end result means that Corruption is best appreciated after hearing Davros; although I don’t think the former story is essential to appreciating what’s being done here, the two definitely work best as a double-bill, as it were. As you’d expect, Parkin seizes upon the key role of the Kaled scientist Shan - one of the more memorable and moving glimpses of Davros’ past we had yet seen - and weaves her into the storyline here. Shan’s relationship with Davros is better for its not being too explicit, too obviously romantic; there’s something there, certainly, but it’s a potential that is never realised, and this only makes the storyline more affecting. For all his scintillating intelligence, Davros can be relatively idealist at times, driven merely by the utopias he envisages and the ideas that come to the fore; in a similar manner, his head seems so full of his scientific projects that the net result is he’s a fairly sexless creature, not somebody you can imagine being easily distracted by female Kaleds (“we need women who can give birth to good strong Kaled babies” is again a direct evocation of Aryanism under the Nazis). In her scenes with Davros, Shan tends to represent modern science as we would recognise it; a champion of blind evolution and denier of an overall “genetic destiny” which Davros - more idealistically - believes in. “We were there at the genesis of a species, Shan. How many people can say that?” he asks his colleague, and we can hear the first rumblings of that terrible beginning coming towards us. Terry Molloy is absolutely superb; when his human voice rises in anger you can already detect the familiar cadences of the distorted, raving voice he will later have; and the first time that voice appears at the story’s end is a shiver-down-the-spine moment.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

I, Davros 1.2: Purity by James Parsons & Andrew Stirling-Brown (October 2006)

Purity - the second story in this bleak Davros-centric quadrilogy - picks up around fourteen years after the events of the first, with Davros now almost thirty years of age, longing to escape the military and join the Scientific Corps. This is probably the biggest time-leap that this miniseries will make, and ultimately probably necessary if only to speed things up to get us to the point in proceedings where Terry Molloy can take over and play Davros as an adult, but I did feel a tad frustrated not to hear some more of the fallout of the events in Innocence. Fortunately, authors James Parsons and Andrew Stirling-Brown - previously behind LIVE 34 - fill us in fairly effectively on what we’ve missed, and we soon build up a decent enough picture of the intervening years. Davros here is stuck in a rut. He has a dead-end job that doesn’t interest him. His life isn’t going anywhere. This is the ‘rejected from art school’ step on the long road to tyrannical power.

I, Davros 1.1: Innocence by Gary Hopkins (September 2006)

A term that is pretty apt for discussing Doctor Who stories in general, but even more so for spin-off series like I, Davros, is the Russian literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of the ‘chronotope’ (the Greek for ‘time-space’, and stolen from 1920s Russian scientists, so it’s a pleasingly Doctor Whoish word): the abstract usage of time and space in literature and language. I think the word can be boiled down to the idea of spaces and times within narratives: discussing Dalek Empire, for instance, I made much of the fact that the Daleks inhabit a space of not-Doctor-ness, taking the crown from him as instigator of the story’s events when they fill the void of his absence. In Doctor Who Dalek stories, “Dalek time” and “Dalek space” are very rarely Doctorless chronotopes; even if the story begins with them rather than leaving the Doctor to discover them, they fear he will come along and stop them at any moment (which he reliably does). In Dalek Empire, on the other hand, the Daleks have supreme control over time and space. Not literally, in the melodramatic way they might screech those words through their ring modulators - but the story’s space is theirs to command, theirs to fly their fleet through without fear of being stopped by the Doctor; the years that we leap through of Suz and Alby’s hard labour and suffering are the Daleks’ to rule over. Even when the Doctor shows up (Return of the Daleks) he can only help so much, because he is tacitly within a different chronotope to his own. This is why complaints about the Doctor not showing up to save the day in Torchwood or The Sarah Jane Adventures or Class tend to miss the mark, and why - for all the fun enthusiasm of a cameo - his guest appearances can be a bit distracting: because the rules state that this is not his space. He ain’t in his own chronotope anymore.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Of All The Hugs


Of all the hugs
That ever were
Yours was the one
Which made of me
A Dunkirk soldier coming home
A flag that flickers in the wind
A foetus that aches to be born
A sultan spiced with every spice
A puppy’s tail on Christmas morn
A baby girl that weeps then laughs
A warming whisky on a mountaintop
A single lark not yet too old to sing

So that when we parted
And I was once again
A dancefloor cog
A strobe-lit, sweat-pit mess
Of the worst kind -
I did not mind.
(16 December 2016)


Tuesday, 13 December 2016

On Werner Herzog's "ecstatic truth" in his films "Aguirre, the Wrath of God" (1972), "The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser" (1974), "Stroszek" (1977), "Nosferatu the Vampyre" (1979) and "Fitzcarraldo" (1982)

Werner Herzog’s career spans from the early 1960s to the present day, and consists of nineteen feature films, seven short films and thirty-seven documentaries; he has also published a number of books and staged opera and theatre productions. Arguably his most influential films, however, remain those from earlier in his career, specifically the decade spanning 1972 to 1982; concentrating on no more than five films from this vital creative period allows a tautness of focus which a broader retrospective of his entire body of work would not permit. The five films in question - Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes (1972), Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle (1974), Stroszek (1977), Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979) and Fitzcarraldo (1982) - are in some respects dramatically different (the first and last take place in the Amazon jungle, the third is predominantly set in the USA, and the second and fourth are the only ones that embrace Germanic/European landscapes, while no two are set in the same time period), but in other respects they share common threads running through them. Herzog is a filmmaker who is in the habit of identifying his own themes and dissecting them, whether that is in his prose writings, his commentary tracks, his behind-the-scenes documentaries, any one of the copious interviews he has given, or even in one instance, his commentary track reflecting on a behind-the-scenes documentary about the making of one of his own films; while he would seem to enjoy discussing the inspiration or thematic richness of his films, he is not much given to scholarly analysis of them, or more accurately rarely lets himself be pigeonholed into lending credence to one interpretation over another. Nonetheless, examining what these five films have in common is rewarding in so far as it helps us understand what Herzog means when he talks of his attempts at pursuing “ecstatic truth”[1].

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

On Williram von Ebersberg's "Commentarium in Cantica Canticorum" (c.1060) as polyphonic text


The 11th century abbot Williram von Ebersberg’s renowned bilingual paraphrase and exegesis of the biblical book of the Song of Songs, “Commentarium in Cantica Canticorum” (c.1060) is notable for its use of Old High German and Latin commentary and elucidation alongside the original Latin prose of St Jerome’s Vulgate Bible. What distinguishes it as a text is its multiplicity of voices and perspectives, and the degree to which the five different elements - though usually presented in 3 columns on the page - interrelate. These five are Jerome’s Latin; the OHG prose translation; the Latin verse translation; the OHG commentary intermingled with Latin terms; and the Latin commentary. In order to determine whether the “Commentarium” is polyphonic, however, we must first turn to a Bakhtinian understanding of what polyphony is.
Polyphony was first used as a literary concept by Mikhail Bakhtin (1895-1975)[1]. The word originally stems from the musical term referring to a multiplicity of voices singing two or more independent melodies, particularly prominent in the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance. In the sense that Bakhtin meant it, however, polyphony refers to the diversity of points of view represented within one single text. Bakhtin’s predominant example in this regard was the fiction of Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881), and the extent to which, in his major works at least, Dostoyevsky did not limit himself to a single perspective but rather explored a multitude of different views and beliefs. Nor does Dostoyevsky present different characters’ different takes on a situation simply as a number of different angles; instead, Bakhtin argued, Dostoyevsky crafted ‘novels of ideas’, in which differing accounts of existence or differing justifications for actions, often or indeed usually irreconcilable with one another, were permitted to sit side by side, unevenly, and with no authorial proclamation as to which of many was final. Indeed, Bakhtin uses the word ‘unfinalizability’ to distinguish Dostoyevsky’s art, recognising as he did so that people are not fixed, immutable selves but are capable of fluctuating, disagreeing with themselves, and doubling-back to former ideas, and thus it follows that narratives are not fixed, immutable narratives. A person is never fully and utterly revealed to the world, never fully and utterly understood, and neither is a narrative[2]. It also follows that no one person is fully isolated either, since we are all only understood in relation with one another, and the ways in which we shape each other’s ideas or are shaped by them. In some sense, we are all polyglots -- open to a wide array of different social dialects -- though Williram, of course, takes this further in literally laying different languages down on the page.

Monday, 5 December 2016

"Class" Novel 3: "The Stone House" by A.K. Benedict (2016)

contains SPOILERS

A.K. Benedict has recently broken into the Doctor Who universe with a few Torchwood audio dramas, in many instances alongside Guy Adams and James Goss, her Class co-novelists (their novels are reviewed here and here). It was thus with a sense of relief that I saw the three names lined up to write these three novels, as I knew that the fact that it was Torchwood scribes signalled a certain maturity of content (not needlessly mature, like some of Torchwood's first season, but just appropriately challenging YA themes). Still, the fact that Benedict is a renowned horror writer gave me pause for thought: was the Gothic vibe, the Susan Hill horror of The Woman in Black that her novel The Stone House looked like it was going to emulate, really apposite for Class' general style? Did the two gel - the Gothic and the hyper-modern Shoreditch? Happily, the answer is a resounding yes, as this is, I think, the most successful of the three tie-in novels and a beautiful, elegiac novel in its own right. The old stone house at the heart of this novel turns out to be a perfect new setting for Class to explore, a dark Gothic stronghold amid its urban locale (with this in mind, the "Urban Legend" folklore site is a helpful bridge between the two). A haunted house story is perfect for an exploration of the twisted relationship between inner and outer spaces, of the burgeoning relationship between Self and World which obsesses us all in our teenage years. There is an icy chill to Benedict's prose - something fundamentally haunted and death-soaked about it all - which clings to you long after you've finished reading it, yet which does not by any means stop an essence of warmth and humanity from shining through beneath - in fact, quite the opposite; it only enhances it. It's the equivalent of the sun on your face in a Nordic winter; both sensations are pitched as extreme and heightened.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

On how Otfrid von Weißenburg produces a new form of German poetry in his Evangelienharmonie (c.863-871)

Look how happy he looks.

By any measure Otfrid von Weißenburg’s Evangelienharmonie is a Great Leap Forward in terms of what it achieves in the history of German literature. Otfrid is our first named German author; the Evangelienharmonie is the most copied Old High German text; its sheer length is unmatched; it is the longest Bible epic since the start of the genre in the 4th century; it is our first instance of a German literature autograph (it being rare even in Middle High German to have works in the hand of the author themselves); and it has as its explicit goal the establishment of German as a literary language, establishing the gospel stories as literary matter worthy of being written ‘theodisce’ or in the vulgar tongue. Of this shopping list of records that the Evangelienharmonie sets, it is perhaps the last which is of greatest interest to us. That Otfrid set out at all to create a Biblical epic in the vernacular of his day is itself remarkable; that it is such a vast, complex work full of structural and poetic innovations even more so. From this marker-stone we can glance back to antiquity, to Ambrosius and Saint Jerome, and forward to the blooming medieval period of Parsival and Tristan and indeed on to Luther’s Bible translation of the 1520s and 1530s.

Monday, 28 November 2016

On Lou Andreas-Salomé

Do you know who this woman is?

If not, don't worry about it, since she's relatively unknown and certainly nowhere near as famous as the three men with whom she most prominently mingled. But I find her fascinating, her history and the complications of her life, so I want to speak a little bit about her today.

This woman is called Lou Andreas-Salomé. She was born in St Petersburg, Russia, in 1861, and thus her name was originally Луиза Густавовна Саломе. Her parents were of north Germanic and French extraction. Her father was an army general.

Friday, 25 November 2016

On how the poetry of Ingeborg Bachmann (1926-1973) aims for a new language to reflect a new world

Like any other author writing after World War II, Ingeborg Bachmann would have been no doubt confronted with Theodor W. Adorno’s famous dictum: “Nach Auschwitz ein Gedicht zu schreiben, ist barbarisch”[1], that is to say that after Auschwitz no new world - in an intellectual or aesthetic sense - was possible at all, whatever the goals of the poem that tried to create it. As we can see from Bachmann’s pronouncement in Das dreißigste Jahr that there can be “keine neue Welt ohne neue Sprache”, she disagreed with Adorno - proposing instead that a new world was possible, even if only through a shift to a new poetics. Much of Bachmann’s oeuvre can be seen in the light of grappling with this problem, and of seeking its potential solution and expression (“wir brauchen Musik. Das Gespenst ist die lautlose Welt”[2]).

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Class Novel 2: "Joyride" by Guy Adams (2016)

contains SPOILERS

One of the advantages of fiction - indeed, one of the reasons we read it - is that it allows us inside others' heads. We all know the famous Atticus Finch quote from To Kill a Mockingbird: "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view...until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." Compassion is a fundamentally imaginative act, as Ian McEwan memorably said in a non-fiction piece he wrote in September 2001 that's significantly better than any of his own published fiction: an inability to understand the pain or suffering others would go through as a result of one's actions is a failure of imagination. But fiction helps us to go to those places we would never normally be able to visit or sojourn, as distant as any alien world: if the book is good enough, like Anna Karenina, I can feel as though I'm inside the head of an aristocratic 19th century Russian noblewoman, every aspect of which it's quite impossible for me to ever be myself. I can understand how Anna thinks and why she behaves as she does, because ultimately the book allows me to imagine my way into being Anna. Inability to understand why somebody acts in a particular way comes from an inability to see what's inside their head.

Guy Adams' Class tie-in novel, Joyride, takes the premise of "being in someone else's skin" and runs with it in as literal a manner as only science-fiction can. The story's central concept is just that -- hopping from one's own body into someone else's and subsequently wreaking damage, "joyriding" if you will. There are various ways in which this plays out, sometimes sinister, sometimes shocking, sometimes even darkly funny. By some way, I think, the opening stuff with Poppy's joyride (literally, since she steals a car, mows down several bystanders and then kills herself by driving into a building) and Max Collins killing his family by burning his house down is of a powerful heightened reality - eerie and shocking but unable to unsee, much like witnessing a car crash - which the rest of the novel never quite recaptures. This slightly creates the impression that the book peaks very early on and peters out a little after that, which is both a bit unfair but perhaps also not too wide from the mark.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Guest Post: The Living Prison by Adsum T. Ravenhill


This awe-inspiring piece, reflecting on life with a disability, comes from my friend Adsum who previously wrote about the "Class" premiere which we attended together.

I used to be a pessimist through and through. No positivity was allowed to permeate the solid steel walls I had built up around the perceived logic in my mind. I saw it as a fortress, I now know it was a prison. How do I know this? Because I now know prisons all too well, because I live in one.

My prison isn't made of thick concrete and barred doors and windows, but instead of over sensitive skin, wasting joints and muscles, surrounded by rivers of fire and burning ash where nerves had once been.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Class Novel 1: "What She Does Next Will Astound You" by James Goss (2016)

contains SPOILERS

"Don't judge a book by its cover", they have said since time immemorial (or, at least, since whenever books had cover art). But what about a book's title? After all, judging a book by its title is fair game, isn't it? Covers are trivial things, commissioned by publishing houses and crafted by people who do those disturbingly creative, visual arts like drawing (shock horror), but titles are noble and full of profundity and depth and meaning? Right?

In a sense this question of judging actual content on the basis of a mere pithy summary, of trusting what you're told, is at the heart of James Goss' novel "What She Does Next Will Astound You" - appropriately, too, given the novel boasts such an excellent title (and a rather lovely cover, too, but that's by-the-by). It's the kind of title you'd simply have to retrace your steps in a bookshop to look at again. It hooks you. Draws you in. It's blatantly constructed with that one purpose in mind: to get you to read it. And that, of course, is why it's so terribly effective, because Goss is both trying to get you to buy his book and simultaneously satirizing our insta-news, BuzzFeed, click-bait, oversharing, five-more-minutes-browsing-the-pointlessness-of-the-Internet culture. You know the kind of titles I mean: "What This Girl Did For A Homeless Man Will Blow Your Mind" or "Top 10 Reasons Not To Eat Ginger With Parsley" or whatever.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

On the significance of the Vorau prologue to the "Ezzolied" (c.1064/5; 1115)


The 11th century Old High German poem Cantilena de miraculis Christi (Song of the Miracles of Christ) that has come to be known as the Ezzolied exists in two recensions; the one from Strasbourg which dates from around 1065 (the Straßburger Handschrift) and the other from Vorau (the Vorauer Handschrift). The latter is both about fifty years younger and, at thirty-four strophes to the Straßburger’s seven, considerably longer and more developed (setting aside the introductory preamble, its 33 strophes reflect Christ’s 33 years of life on Earth). Though there are numerous differences between the two which could be, and have been, examined, one of the most intriguing is the prologue stanza or Prologstrophe (also sometimes called an Einleitungsstrophe) which appears in the Vorauer Handschrift but is absent in the earlier manuscript.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Arcadia, or The Land of Milk and Honey

I entered this poem for the Stephen Spender Poetry in Translation Prize 2016 and now that the prize winners have been named and I'm not one of them (sob! - Just kidding), I am at liberty to pop it up on my blog. "Arcadia, or The Land of Milk and Honey" is a translation into English of the poem "Das Märchen vom Schlauraffenland" by Ulrike Almut Sandig (b. 1979) whose poem "Hinemoana" I have already translated on this blog. The version below is very much a loose translation, more of an adaptation to render Sandig's words - which are very explicitly about German culture, history and myth - into an English that would make sense to most English speakers.“Das Märchen vom Schlauraffenland” is a free-verse soundscape of surreal ideas and images, blending modern-day references to the refugee crisis with a childlike, fairy-tale dream of Germany as a land with nothing evil in it, and juxtaposing the two. The first (and boldest) decision I had to take, as do all translators, was whether I wanted my translation to hew closely to the original or to say something striking and dramatic in English – to be fidèle or belle, as Flaubert puts it. I chose the latter, if only because the cultural reference points in German are so uniquely German, so echt Deutsch, that they speak little to us; rendered in English, they do not stir up an understanding of the relationship between modern and mythical in the way the German words do for German-speakers. On the other hand, images of Caliban in Stratford, of Dad’s Army jokes misquoted, of British chat-shows and comedians, help to build up something of the “national mythos” in the case of Britain which Almut Sandig has already done for her homeland. Where she stresses the works of the Brothers Grimm, I have overlaid my version with Alice in Wonderland, The Tempest (how fortuitous, then, that träumte er wieder from the German original translates directly as “he dreamed again”, almost word-for-word one of Caliban’s most memorable phrases) and Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia. Where she relies on the iconic Socialist hymn Meine Heimat sung in the German Democratic Republic, I have substituted I Vow To Thee My Country (necessitating an elongation of the stanza in the process, probably the greatest structural alteration). This could be seen not as a translation, but as a companion piece to the original: sufficiently distinct, yet unable to exist without Sandig’s words. But that is what I believe all good translations ought to be: self-sufficient, and yet not self-sufficient.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Ist es für die Interpretation eines Textes wichtig zu wissen, ob ein Autor männlich oder weiblich ist?


Die Frage, ob man das Geschlecht eines Autors wissen muss, um über sein Buch einen Aufsatz zu schreiben oder nur das Buch auch nur zu rezensieren, geht auf eine andere Frage zurück: schreiben Männer und Frauen unterschiedlich? Natürlich ist diese heikle Frage, deretwegen sich Akademikerinnen und Akademiker, Feministinnen und Feministen seit langem streiten, nicht leicht zu beantworten, vor allem nicht von einem jungen männlichen Studenten, der, ehrlich gesagt, "Gender Studies" niemals richtig studiert hat. Gleichwohl will ich ganz kurz meine Gedanken an diesem Thema ordnen und ausdrücken, wenn auch nur zu meinem eigenen Nutzen.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

In Defence of Stefan Zweig: A Lacanian Reading

To address in detail Michael Hofmann’s famously excoriating piece against Stefan Zweig in the London Review of Books might be to allow it more space and respect than it deserves. In run-on sentences piled on top of one another, Hofmann grows ever more bitterly hysterical about Zweig’s alleged shortcomings, a sizeable proportion of which seem merely to be based on the latter’s popularity. Perhaps most damning is his verdict that Zweig simply ‘tastes fake. He’s the Pepsi of Austrian writing[1]’. Though Hofmann is of course referring to emotional verisimilitude, to whether or not we as readers recognise something of truth and value in Zweig’s works, he unintentionally hits on a fascinating question which can be applied to three of Zweig’s Novellen - to what extent is it a problem if he ‘tastes fake’? Might the flights of fancy not be intentional, to stimulate or to get a reaction rather than to receive sage nods of recognition? ‘We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth,’ Pablo Picasso decreed[2]; these three novellas - Der Amokläufer (1922), Verwirrung der Gefühle (1927), and Schachnovelle (1941) - all to a greater or lesser extent dramatize an agonised conflict over what is true and what is not. The assertion that the resulting conflict ‘tastes fake’ could thus be construed as reflecting an inability on Hofmann’s part to grasp the elusive nature of Zweig’s truth, or as a too, too solid steadfastness in the correctness of his own argument. There is perhaps a faintly comic irony, then, that Hofmann seeks to stake out a firm position, a ‘centre’ from which truth can be discussed, given that Zweig expressly addresses the falsehood of objective selves and offers us the ex-centric, that is to say a destabilised centre or no centre at all.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Guest Post: Adsum Try on the "Class" premiere (CONTAINS SPOILERS)

“I come from a planet far more beautiful than you could ever imagine.”

We've seen that planet now, the civilisation of the planet Rhodia - or, at least, the representation April displayed for us. What would you do if your entire world, your people, those you loved, were all vanquished by an enemy with a power which seemingly cannot be stopped, but only kept at bay? What if then you were taken to a world where the word beautiful cannot possibly even exist, one where a rift causes terrors to crawl out of thin air, one where pain, depression, heartache and death are faced by even those of the youngest ages and where it is impossible to escape from danger? This is just one of so many fantastic interlocking story-lines found in Class, the new series by Patrick Ness, set within the Doctor Who universe. 

Friday, 21 October 2016

My (spoiler-free) thoughts on Class 1.1 "For Tonight We Might Die" by Patrick Ness (2016)

Warning: There are no substantial spoilers here, but if you don't want to know anything about the plot, look away. Additionally, if you're coming here with the confirmation bias of looking forward to finding out how rubbish this TV series is, please just go away, because this isn't the blog post you're looking for.

Yesterday I went to the World Premiere of the first episode of a new TV drama for BBC3, Class, written and created by the multi-award-winning, highly acclaimed Young Adult novelist Patrick Ness. As is I think relatively well signposted by now, I'm quite a big Doctor Who fan (the blog might've given this away). But I'm also - and have been for about 8 years - a huge Patrick Ness fan. To my shame, I haven't actually read everything he's written, though I've read 5 of his novels. My great fondness for Patrick, and why Class is a personal show for me in a way that Torchwood, The Sarah Jane Adventures and - funnily enough - even Doctor Who aren't, stems from an event in 2009 which I'm going to have to briefly talk about before I get to the meat of this post. If you want to skip to me talking about the premiere, go down a few paragraphs, but, well, it's my blog so I'm going to give this context if I want to, and it'll probably flow better as a read if you don't skip it.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

On whether we can really classify the Murbacher Hymnen (810-817 AD) as hymns

Plenty of questions may come to mind when we read the Murbacher Hymnen (c.810-817 AD), a collection of 26 Ambrosian hymns formatted with interlinear Latin-German versions, some of the original Latin hymns having been written by Ambrosius, Bishop of Milan (c.340-397), and others by imitators. Principal among such questions is whether the Hymnen are really hymns. This seems at first glance a self-evident question: the Murbacher Hymnen are - rather obviously - very definitely demarcated as ‘hymns’, in both the name by which they have come to be referred, but also in their Latin ‘Ueberschrift’, which reads ‘INCIPIUNT HYMNI CANENDAE PER CIRCULU ANNI’. The relevant part is ‘hymni canendae’: hymns whose purpose it is to be sung. Whoever gathered this collection could not have been more explicit about its stated purpose: liturgical music.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

On struggle and acceptance in the "Duineser Elegien" (1912-22) and the "Sonette an Orpheus" (1922) by Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)

Rainer Maria Rilke’s two great poetic cycles of his late period, the Duineser Elegien (composed 1912-22, published 1923) and the Sonette an Orpheus (1922, published 1923), are closely intertwined in both content and creation. Individual elegies and sonnets can be, and often are, extracted and reprinted elsewhere, but each holistic poetic cycle is inevitably much more rewarding in its entirety. More rewarding still, however, is to read the two alongside one another as complementary, it being during the same frenzied burst of inspiration in February 1922 that Rilke finished the Elegien and simultaneously began, and then completed, the Sonette. When the cycles are understood in this context of considerable overlap, it becomes much clearer why we can read them as a pair, allowing Rilke to take us from elegies to sonnets, from a predominant mode of struggle to a predominant mode of acceptance. Though that is not to say that anything as complex as these two collections can be split into two modes quite so easily, the thorny ontological questions raised throughout the Elegien for the most part gain a set of answers in the last four elegies (particularly VII, IX and X, but notably not VIII), answers which bear significant resemblance to the ideas expressed in the Sonette - in that they align in terms of purely abstract ideas, though the resemblance extends to little else.
In this respect, though a reading that restricts itself to precise chronological order of composition might be too messy, it proves helpful to closely analyse the Duineser Elegien in the sequence in which Rilke eventually published them, their order as they sit on the page, since this enables us to build from initial questions to potential answers and hint at the way these answers are further explored in the Sonette an Orpheus.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Läßt sich Literatur in Gattungen einklammern, oder nicht?

Laut www.duden.de können wir „Gattung“ als eine „Gesamtheit von [Arten von] Dingen, Einzelwesen, Formen, die in wesentlichen Eigenschaften übereinstimmen“ definieren.  Relevant hier ist das nachfolgende Beispiel: „die schöne Literatur gliedert sich in die drei Gattungen Lyrik, Epik und Dramatik“. Ein solches Gattungssystem kann ich relativ anstandslos akzeptieren, da die Unterschiede zwischen diese drei Formen normalerweise deutlich, unumstritten und unmissverständlich sind. Diese klassische Dreiteilung stammt von Aristoteles und dessen Poetik, war aber auch bei Johann Wolfgang von Goethe und anderen Dichtern und Denkern besonders beliebt, und trotz jahrhundertelanger Auseinandersetzungen bleibt sie immer noch gebräuchlich. Allmählich ist es nur etwas komplizierter geworden (sollten wir vielleicht eine vierte Kategorie einführen, die „Sachliteratur“ genannt wird?), aber trotzdem ist diese Dreiteilung im rein literarischen Bereich nützlich.

Friday, 30 September 2016

Main Range 104. The Bride of Peladon by Barnaby Edwards (January 2008)

Peladon holds a curious fascination in Doctor Who: an alien environment that gets the luxury of being explored in more than a cursory fashion, on more than one occasion, most notably in The Curse of Peladon and The Monster of Peladon, two of Pertwee’s few off-world stories; Gary Russell’s no-doubt-continuity-obsessed New Adventure Legacy; then both Barnaby Edwards’ Main Range audio for 2008, The Bride of Peladon, and a Companion Chronicle, The Prisoner of Peladon*. Putting aside whether or not this has much to do with us enjoying the fannishly nostalgic way “The [Noun] of Peladon” sounds in the mouth, why does Peladon get visited so often? It’s not as though the Doctor has ever gone back to Manussa, despite Snakedance featuring some of the best world-building the series has known. Only Earth, Gallifrey, Skaro and (potentially) Mars and Karn get more visits than Peladon. Why? Perhaps it is the richness of its Gothic history which appeals - allowing Peladon to be a reflection of Britain’s own ancient monarchy makes repeated visits and repeated meetings with different rulers less banal than returning to war-devastated wastelands. Or perhaps it’s the effort made to give it a political reality, albeit one so rooted in 1970s Britain. When we visit Peladon, each time learning a little more about it, one has the feeling of a real place with a real history, a real religion, a real society, rather than something hastily sketched together for that particular story. It functions like Gormenghast: a fully-fledged world of eccentric, mad individuals each with their own agendas and plans. It’s Doctor Who in that “Shakespearean” tone it sometimes does (see also Crusade, The & Traken, The Keeper Of, plus plenty of Shakespeare references in this story). And, like Gormenghast, like Shakespearean fantasies (The Tempest, A Midsummer Night’s Dream), and like many of the best science-fiction planets, it feels like a heightened, exaggerated version of our world, holding the mirror up to reality and then distorting it a little (right down to the name “Peladon”, which sounds so very nearly like a Greek/Latin portmanteau; as it is, it doesn’t actually mean anything, though comes close - it’d be something to do with teeth driving/pushing forward; progress by violence, perhaps? Or progress by sheer hard labour?). Let’s not forget that the first monarch we met, David Troughton’s King Peladon, is, ahem, half-human on his mother’s side and Brian Hayles even has the Doctor state the obvious in the first Peladon story: “Peladon is very like Earth”. We can relate to it just enough for it to have a comfortably familiar tinge to it, yet it is disarmingly weird enough to thrill us.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

The RSC's 2016 production of William Shakespeare's "Cymbeline" (c. 1609): A Review

Cymbeline (first performed in 1611) must take the (hollow?) crown as one of Shakespeare's most obscure plays, with precious few of its characters and almost none of its lyric having entered the national consciousness in the manner of most of his others. Until last night, I had neither seen nor read it, and I'm something of a Shakespeare buff. Falling into the genre-defying "romances" of the late phase of the Bard's writing, it can most aptly be described as "utterly bonkers". I can think of few pieces of performed fiction (whether TV, film or stage) that are quite this odd, and Melly Still's RSC production playing at Stratford-on-Avon often only enhances this bizarreness. To whit: the eponymous character, and King of Britain, from whom you might expect a reasonably impressive showing given Shakespeare's usual treatment of his leads and of monarchs in general, plays almost no role in the plot; geography is completely and utterly thrown out of the window, as everyone seems to implausibly bump into everybody else whilst wandering around the Welsh and English countryside; characters appear to switch motivation; everyone reliably fails to recognise everybody else, even if it's someone they've known for years with a slightly different haircut; and the final act (one of the longest in the canon) more or less consists entirely of explaining the contortions of the previous four. Though I do not think the RSC's Box Office will thank me for saying this, easily-digestable, audience-accessible Shakespeare this is not. The most famous remarks about Cymbeline come from Samuel Johnson: "this play has many just sentiments, some natural dialogues, and some pleasing scenes, but they are obtained at the expense of much incongruity. To remark the folly of the fiction, the absurdity of the conduct, the confusion of the names and manners of different times, and the impossibility of the events in any system of life, were to waste criticism upon unresisting imbecility, upon faults too evident for detection, and too gross for aggravation." Probably quite a few people would agree with him (I suspect most of you can detect a "but" coming).

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

The Royal Opera House's 2016 production of Vincenzo Bellini's "Norma" (1831): A Review

Sonya Yoncheva: one of the most astonishing stage
presences you can possibly imagine.
"Salvation and damnation are the same thing". - Stephen King

First produced on Boxing Day 1831, Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835)'s two-act opera Norma was based on the now-rather-forgotten play Norma, ou l'infanticide by French poet Alexandre Soumet (1786-1845); the opera is regarded as the pinnacle of the Italian bel canto genre, a term which - as far as this non-musicologist can make out - refers to a particular 18th/19th century variety of rather florid, flamboyant, embroidered singing, particularly noted for the vivid expression of emotion it allows female vocalists. Though it wasn't a smash hit on that opening night, Norma has only grown in popularity over the decades (Verdi, Liszt, Chopin, and Wagner were all massive fans), and is still regularly performed. It has more than a whiff of Greek tragedy about it, set though it is far later, during the Roman occupation of Gaul (this did not escape the little part of me that loved Astérix et Obélix as a child), and involving, in Wagner's words, a "wild Gaelic prophetess". In this production, it is relocated to something akin to Franco's Spain - but more on that later.

Friday, 23 September 2016

The National Theatre's 2016 production of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's "The Threepenny Opera" (1928): A Review

Most of us know the character of Macheath, or "Mack the Knife", through the Louis Armstrong song of the same name: one of the best refrains of musical theatre, with a very simple yet memorable melody and terrific lyrics. But Captain Macheath, of course, and the song in question, come from "The Threepenny Opera" (Die Dreigroschenoper) by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, which first debuted in Berlin in August 1928. Brecht wrote the text and Weill the music to this highly unusual "play with music", as it is sometimes described: just slightly too highbrow for a (traditional) musical, just slightly too lowbrow for a (traditional) opera. It emerged in that unique space and time where operas were seguing into musicals, and it beautifully bridges the two. It deploys uniquely creative and innovative operatic techniques specifically to lampoon and ridicule opera's perceived elitism. It is joyfully anarchic, revelling in disobeying all kinds of rules, and not so much breaking the fourth wall as pummelling it to pieces, sweeping up the resulting dust and scattering it to the four winds before blowing the rudest raspberry you have ever heard and setting to work on drilling through the fifth wall. And since I was watching it on a cinema screen, there really was a fifth wall of sorts, and by the end it felt like that had fallen too.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Opera Australia's 2016 production of Giacomo Puccini's "Turandot" (1924): A Review

The "Turandot" legend originally comes from the work of Nizami Ganjavi (c.1141-1209), a 12th century Sunni Muslim poet long considered the greatest romantic epic poet in Persian literature, though he also introduced realistic, down-to-earth characters in amid the epic. A quintessential polymath, Nizami was exceptionally learned and is credited for bridging Persia and the ancient world. Bringing myself grudgingly to the point, his great work The Seven Beauties (Persian: Haft Peykar) is both erotic and moralistic, and featured a character called Turandokht ("daughter of Turan", in which Turan is a region of Central Asia; note how similar the Persian word "dokht" is to Icelandic "dottir", German "Tochter" and English "daughter"). Eventually the figure reaches European legend by way of the 18th century French orientalist, François Pétis de la Croix, in Les mille et un jours (The Thousand And One Days, after the model of "A Thousand and One Nights"), which in turn inspires a commedia dell'arte play of the name Turandot by Carlo Gozzi, first performed in Venice in 1762. Friedrich Schiller translated Gozzi's play and refashioned it for the Weimar audience; it debuted at Weimar in 1802 under the direction of his friend, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Where Gozzi goes for the light and sarcastic, Schiller's is a vast, symbolic epic, turning some of the whimsical capriciousness (and occasional cruelty) of Gozzi's Princess Turandot into a moral stand. 

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Bonus Releases VI. Return to the Web Planet by Daniel O'Mahony (December 2007)

Return to the Web Planet, released in December 2007, happens to be the middle of a triptych of “return” stories - no doubt by accident, but nonetheless of note: the 2006 “Christmas release” was Return of the Daleks, while next year’s is Return of the Krotons. First off, I’m not a fan of this titling tendency; it’s cartoonish and prosaic, the worst kind of stating the obvious. It also hints, perhaps, at a Big Finish phase we are slowly reaching as we brook the divide between the first 100 or so releases and the next 100 or so (give or take): the divide between mostly pushing the new stuff and mostly bringing back the old stuff. Generally speaking, no central premise in Releases 001-100 was remotely as obscure or fannish as … returning to Vortis. There are far more obscure and fannish references, of course, and the appearance of things like the Nimon or the Mechonoids, but neither of those were the central attraction in their audio dramas, whereas Return to the Web Planet is entirely constructed on the premise that we want to return to, well, the Web Planet and encounter the Zarbi and Menoptera again. I can’t speak for definite until I’m bang up to date, but this could well be the start of a trend that will see all manner of - shall we say - lower-tier monsters returning to Big Finish from here onwards: a passing glance at Wikipedia informs me that their ranks include the Kraals, Rutans, Krotons, and Vardans. This does not necessarily spell doom, but does suggest, perhaps, something of a paradigm shift in incremental stages.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Main Range 103. The Girl Who Never Was by Alan Barnes (December 2007)

It is as old as the hills to compare stories to journeys. The relationship between geographical progression and narrative progression makes a fundamental harmonious sense, and allows us to couch the way we describe one in the language and metaphors of the other. Archetypal literary criticism may not be as in vogue as it was in the 1940s and 1950s, in the heyday of Northrop Frye, but it is not yet seen as complete folly to resurrect Carl Gustav Jung’s theories of the collective unconscious, and of archetypes which lie deep within all of us. One of them, of course, is the journey motif. According to archetypal criticism, journeys are always either linear or circular - our hero either progresses from their original home to a new one, or returns to their old home at the end of their adventure (the latter also maps onto Joseph Campbell’s “monomyth”, where the hero returns home transformed by their adventure). Broadly speaking, the ongoing adventures of Doctor Who - both series and character - are linear, ironically enough for a time traveller with such a complex life: he left Gallifrey long ago and travels onwards, however much he may have individual circular adventures along the way. Generally speaking, he does not return “home” and, when he does, he never stays there. Some companions, too, go on “linear” journeys: Nyssa, for instance, who finds a better life on Terminus than “most orphaned person in the universe”, and a better use for her considerable gifts. But other companions may go on circular journeys: that is to say, they return to where they began, but as someone changed by their experiences (see Martha, or Ian & Barbara). By far the most interesting and unique thing about The Girl Who Never Was, and by extension our farewell to the Eighth Doctor/Charlotte Pollard combination, is that scriptwriter and Charley’s creator-in-chief Alan Barnes gives her both kinds of journey: linear and circular.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

"Teutonic Chronicles" 7: Ludwigsburg, Marbach, Stuttgart

Über allen Gipfeln                                                                                                           Over all of the hills
Ist Ruh                                                                                                                          Peace comes anew,
In allen Wipfeln                                                                                                              The woodland stills
Spürest du                                                                                                                                 All through;
Kaum einen Hauch.                                                                         The birds make no sound on the bough.
Die Vögelein schweigen im Walde.                                                                                           Wait a while,
Warte nur, balde                                                                                                                          Soon now
Ruhest du auch.                                                                                                           Peace comes to you.

Wanderers Nachtlied II, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1780

Putting the rolling landscape near Halscheid behind me, my next (and practically final) jaunt took me much further south back into the state/Bundesland of Baden-Württemberg. With a 20-30 minute train journey out of Stuttgart one reaches two smaller, for the most part less significant cities by the names of Ludwigsburg and Marbach. Both towns lie on the river Neckar (which, incidentally, I have encountered and mentioned before on this trip; rivers have almost acted as a boundary-marker wherever I have gone, for most major German cities and even smaller towns lie on a river of some description). About Ludwigsburg - where I stayed overnight in a youth hostel - there is not much remarkable to say. It is a perfectly pleasant town with a large-ish train station and good transport links, and the YH was comfortable (I had a twin room but did not have to share), but I did not stay long enough to properly discover it. The following morning I set off for my true goal in this particular region - Marbach.