Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Gallifrey 3.5: Panacea by Alan Barnes (August 2006)

And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
-Percy Bysshe Shelley, "Ozymandias" (1818)

Alan Barnes doesn't half get lumped with the task of tying up behemoths of story-lines (Neverland, Zagreus, The Girl Who Never Was, and now Panacea). Though I suppose he has to take some credit for usually being the one who starts them, and so in that light there's a certain pleasingly circularity that he comes back to the range he launched to pen Panacea, Chapter Fourteen and the end of Gallifrey (for now). What I like most about Panacea is that it wallows in a tangible sense of decay that Series 3 could perhaps have focussed on a little more. Gallifrey is suffering "the privations of a ruinous war", all power cuts and overfull hospitals; Romana is an outcast in the Outlands, even lower than the prisoner and usurped President she has been in earlier releases; and her ancestral house, Heartshaven, is now dilapidated and desolate, overrun with vermin, soon abandoned to the flame (I'm a sucker for all this lyrical, wistful nostalgia: "When I was a Time Tot the lamps of Heartshaven lit up when the heirs to the house crossed the hall, and the paintings would whisper their welcome").

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Gallifrey 3.4: Mindbomb by Justin Richards (July 2006)

"So everything is back to normal," a character observes early on in Justin Richards' Mindbomb, the thirteenth chapter in the Gallifrey series and penultimate of Gallifrey III. And, in a way, they're right: we have moved past civil war and are now in the more familiar milieu of political machinations, hotly contested elections, and pomp and ceremony. Not to mention plenty of Legalese, though I have to say I actually find the way the writers have dealt with Gallifreyan Legalese to be surprisingly engaging - all the ins and outs of who is or isn't eligible to stand for election, or who does or doesn't have power over whom. It helps that the characters are all so terribly manipulative and back-stabbing, of course, while the series has its tongue firmly in its cheek at the same time - much like the original House of Cards in that respect (and "think about that" isn't that far away from "you may very well think that; I couldn't possibly comment"). Matthias' sudden and unexpected betrayal of Romana, resulting in her impeachment and imprisonment, is an immediate way of raising the stakes in exactly this vein, whilst simultaneously proving almost funny given the tortuous twists and turns we've taken to reach this point, and Matthias' own narcissistic insistence (try saying that when you're drunk) on shooting down Darkel's attempts to oust Romana only to do it himself anyway.

Friday, 18 August 2017

"The Antipodean Excursion" 5: Nelson, Franz Josef, Wanaka, Queenstown, Milford Sound, Dunedin, Christchurch

We left Wellington on the InterIslander ferry in the soft pale glow of an early morning. The weather clouded over and the waves got choppier as we went further out to sea, but whatever the gusts there's no feeling quite like feeling the wind whip through your hair and snatch your breath away as you stand up on deck, so I was sure to pop up top every so often. It's a long journey between North and South Island - through Cook Strait and the Marlborough Sound, the ferry weaving its way down different waterways and between steep, forested hills. Upon arrival at the small town of Picton we disembarked (with a strange sense of déjà vu, in my case at least, of arriving at Tarbert on the Isle of Harris off the west coast of Scotland), and were just in time to catch our InterCity bus to Nelson.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Gallifrey 3.3: Appropriation by Paul Sutton (July 2006)

Gallifrey III has gone for a pretty unusual structure: all-out civil war for its first two stories, then three stories dealing with the aftermath. It doesn't strike me as a completely cohesive arc in the way Gallifrey II got more or less spot on, but the sudden swerve that Warfare took in its climactic moments - it felt much more like a finale than an Episode 2 of 5 - means that I'm properly in the dark as I head into these last three stories (Appropriation, Mindbomb, and Panacea). Where could the writers possibly take things from here? Well, as Matthias observes early on, "the war may be over, but the real fighting is about to begin". Appropriation sees a return to the first two series' focus on political infighting over Gallifrey's future - but this time taking place in the wake of a devastating conflict which saw much of the Time Lords' history and culture destroyed in a single stroke. 

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Gallifrey 3.2: Warfare by Stewart Sheargold (June 2006)

Warfare focuses further on, and more or less resolves, the ongoing Gallifreyan Civil War which we saw begin in Imperiatrix and really kick off in Fractures. As already identified, this is a war of individual psychological identities as much as - if not more than - it is a war of laser guns and barricades. Two sides of Gallifrey clash, with Romana in the centre of it (twice) and the pressure cooker is tearing both planet and president apart. That's an undeniably epic premise woven from appropriate bits of Doctor Who mythology, and as such the story has both a forward momentum and a sense of import to it. Warfare also dwells on the fragments of different voices heard in the minds of both Romana II and Pandora, still using the body of Romana I. In the latter's case, this allows Mary Tamm the opportunity to play the actual Romana I (or at least her voice... no, really, I mean her voice in-story), which distinguishes her from Pandora, makes Romana I more active in the story-line, and generally keeps things clearer than they were last time round. There's a fun moment where President Romana realises that her past self is actively working on her side against Pandora. Mind you, I still don't think this series has made very good use of Tamm, and I'm itching to actually hear her do a full Big Finish story as her proper character in the future. Time for the allegedly "weaker" incarnation (and I still don't know what I think of that) to get a crack of the whip!

Meta-Metamorphosis (2010)

The first drama script I ever wrote, when I was about 15. I've just discovered it on my hard drive, much to my surprise, so here it is, ready to be unleashed on an unsuspecting and mostly indifferent world... (How weird a thing it is to read one's juvenilia back! I have, at least, retained my affection for all things Kafka, theatrical, and metafictional, so I am consistent if nothing else...) The script version of Kafa's "Metamorphosis" used here is that of Steven Berkoff and I cast myself in the part of the rather inhuman director, described here as "the git": something of an ego-trip with a sprinkling of self-deprecating humour. 

Also, when I was 15 apparently I didn't know how to spell "Gary", so at least I've learned something.

“Meta-Metamorphosis” 

SCENE ONE. 

A black stage; a curtain, chairs, etc. The rehearsal space/studio of a Theatre Company, although when the lights come up they are reddy-green, with shadowy edges...surreal, unnerving. It is as if the play is real, and the studio is a dream. 
There are three characters on stage: JAN, EFFY and GARRY, the three members of the acting company. The director, MARK, referred to by the others as MR MILLIGAN, is sitting with the audience.
 Jan is playing the part of GREGOR SAMSA, the main character in the play they are rehearsing, ‘Metamorphosis’. Effy is playing the part of GRETA SAMSA, Gregor’s sister, and Garry is playing the FATHER of the family. When playing the ‘Metamorphosis’ parts, it would be good if the actors do it with as much conviction as possible, almost as if this were the play, but the parts should be clearly distinct from their own roles.  
Cue creepy music. 

Thursday, 3 August 2017

"The Antipodean Excursion" 4: Himatangi Beach, Otaki, Whanganui, Tongariro, Wellington

This update covers the rest of our activities on the North Island right up until our departure from Wellington on the morning of August the 2nd, bringing our time in the North, our time with Steve, and the first four weeks of our holiday to a close, so it seems as good a point to break off as any. Most of this time we spent at Himatangi Beach (or in the near vicinity, e.g. Palmerston North) but we certainly had the occasional opportunity for excursions away, some of which were among the most memorable on the entire trip so far. It's reached the point where I think the two of us could just sit around doing nothing for our two weeks on the South Island and we'd still be pretty content with one of the most active holidays we've been on!

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

The Memory of Grass

The surface of the Earth is just 1% postcard:
Everywhere else has been pillaged and spoiled.
Nowhere looks like it did in the 'zines.

But it perseveres,
That 1%, oases in a post-oasis world
For all who remember things as they were
When 'desert' mostly meant 'Sahara',
When oceans were small and unambitious,
When not all green was artificial.
The most untouched of all is Urupukapuka,
Or, as some folk called it, Little Eden.
I don't get it.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

International Date Line

On days
Of silliness
I idly think
What if
It really were
A line
Of international dates
Where Kazakhs
Meet Fijians
And Chileans
Meet Swedes
And every face
Finds another
But you -
You settle for me.

30 July 2017

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Gallifrey 3.1: Fractures by Stephen Cole (May 2006)

The third season of Gallifrey brings to an end the opening phase of the spinoff's existence (and, for a good few years, it was thought that after Gallifrey III, that was it - no more). Stephen Cole's season opener, Fractures, is thus in some ways 'the beginning of the end' - we'll forget about anything from Gallifrey IV onwards for now. Fractures sees Gallifrey plunged into the civil war which the Season 2 finale promised, both a large-scale conflict of different factions and a more interpersonal war between Romana II and 'Romana I', or at least the latter's body as worn by Pandora, the embodiment of all future Time Lord evil. K9 serving on Pandora's side is another indication of how split and, well, fractious everything is. This is a war over what kind of society Gallifrey would like to be, perhaps even over what kind of series Gallifrey would like to be. Unsurprisingly, then, there's a bit of a struggle in Fractures with regard to what kind of season opener it would like to be. Following up the series' most self-consciously "epic" tale so far, Imperiatrix, is a tough ask. Trying to one-up its grandeur is tricky, but so is going too small and introspective (which turned out to be Cole's strength in his contribution to the previous season).

Saturday, 22 July 2017

"The Antipodean Excursion" 3: There and Back Again

Bit of a mega-post, this, mostly because I haven't got round to updating anything at all over the last couple of weeks, so there's lots to catch up on.

Instalment 3 begins on the 7 July, with possibly the most exciting day on our entire trip so far (disclaimer: anyone whose interest in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and other associated Tolkien works is that of a normal person rather than an obsessive fan might want to skip this next part). It was on that day, of course, that Simon and I visited Hobbiton of the Shire, the fabled location used in Peter Jackson's film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. The place itself is accessed via buses from Matamata: it's part of a huge rolling green landscape belonging to a farming family called the Alexanders. Peter Jackson discovered it in the late 90s and decided that the area was perfect for Hobbiton; their 3 main requirements in terms of the place's "look" (besides the obvious green hills and undulating scenery) were a huge tree that could represent Party Tree, a lake (with a bridge), and a big lawn in front of the tree where Bilbo's party could take place. The Alexander farm location had two of these three features - there was a swamp where the lawn should have been, but that was easily fixed. So Jackson makes The Lord of the Rings, both he and Mr Alexander make lots of money, Hobbiton gets pulled down, and everyone goes home happy. When Jackson returned to the site to film the trilogy that makes up The Hobbit, he and the Alexanders agreed to leave the set standing so fans could visit it and enjoy the experience of seeing such an iconic film location. God, I'm glad they did.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Gallifrey 2.5: Imperiatrix by Stewart Sheargold (August 2005)

The finale of Gallifrey II, the 100-minute-long epic Imperiatrix, is assigned to Stewart Sheargold, so far responsible for the delightfully trippy Seventh Doctor story Red. The result is clearly the range's most ambitious story to date, as the major strands running throughout this second series - and even further back to Gallifrey I and Neverland, the first instances in which Romana was referred to as 'Imperiatrix' - are all woven into a heady cocktail. There is no messing around in Imperiatrix, which kicks off energetically right from the off with an explosion in the heart of the Time Lord Academy, follows up with all manner of consequences and ramifications, and pits Romana against Darkel in a gripping battle of wits - all before we've reached 15 minutes in. The stakes remain high throughout, with another almighty explosion at the story's midpoint, one which kills off K9-I, no less - and we get a few more such moments before the end. This structure strongly recalls The Deadly Assassin in my view: starting early on with a climactic event, then letting the investigation spool out whilst building up other threats alongside it. Unsurprisingly, given his good work on Red, Sheargold acquits himself well with a story full of twists and turns; Imperiatrix sees this second season back on solid form after last time's weaker effort.

Monday, 10 July 2017

"The Antipodean Excursion" 2: Paihia & the Bay of Islands, Waitangi, Cape Rienga, Tauranga

One thing which has struck me several times whilst travelling around New Zealand so far is that its Tourist Marketing Board really ought to make more use of the slogan 'A Greener, Pleasanter Land'. It's not particularly original to observe that, in its undulating green countryside, pastures full of grazing sheep and cows, New Zealand resembles the United Kingdom - but a UK that is somehow cleaner and more unspoiled. Less prone to traffic jams. Less industrialised and exploited and full. Like all unoriginal observations, though, it's not the whole story: for in its longitudinal and latitudinal position New Zealand doesn't map onto the UK, in point of fact, but rather Spain. So it would be more accurate to describe it as a Spain unwarmed by the Atlantic Gulf Stream, a more temperate Spain, but still with a climate that's plenty warm enough to support forests of subtropical plants. Combine this with rolling English landscapes, quasi-Saharan sand dunes, snowy mountain ranges, and volcanic formations, and you're onto a pretty unique combination.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

"Laughter is the Best Medicine (3)": On absurdist portrayals of Scandinavian kings in "Heimskringla" by Snorri Sturluson (c.1230)


‘…let us sit upon the ground 
And tell sad stories of the death of kings.’1  
– William Shakespeare, Richard IIIII.ii. 


Ynglinga saga, the first saga in Snorri Sturluson’s thirteenth-century chronicle of the kings of Norway (and the one whose first words ‘kringla heimsins give the larger work its name, Heimskringla (HK)), is concerned with the early Scandinavian monarchs that make up the Yngling dynasty.2 In outlining each individual king within this genealogy, Snorri draws on the Norwegian skald Þjóðólfr ór Hvini’s late ninth-century poem Ynglingatal as a historical source. Like the majority of skalds, Þjóðólfr seems to have composed the poem in praise of a contemporaneous king – in this case gnvaldr heiðumhár’, most likely gnvaldr Óláfsson of Vestfold; rather than eulogizing the living monarch, however, Þjóðólfr’s focus is on the preceding twenty-seven generations, thereby ascribing to gnvaldr an extensive and noble heritage. However, as modern readers accustomed to jingoism, propaganda, and the familiar historiographical notion of poets portraying kings in as positive a light as possible, we are struck by Ynglingatal’s subversive undercurrent of absurdismÞjóðólfr mostly limits himself to discussing the circumstances of each king’s death, and yet, especially in the first half of the saga, these are often deaths which are not exactly steeped in nobility, as would be expectedGro Steinsland writes most of the kings die in a rather strange way, without glory, a feature which scholars have found difficult to explain.3 As we read the frequently grotesque or ridiculous events that unfold in Ynglingatal – elaborated upon and retold in Snorri’s Ynglinga saga – we might be surprised by the dearth of stately, solemn reverence of the kind Richard II ascribes to ‘sad stories of the death of kings’ in the epigraph from Shakespeare above. A closer examination of the bleakly humorous fates of these early Scandinavian monarchs as Þjóðólfr and Snorri tell them will lean on an understanding of the power of incongruity in humour, and in particular how this incongruity can produce an effect of pathos in the audience, however absurd the event in question.4 In studying individual instances, we must also discuss what separates these distinct portrayals and why Þjóðólfr and Snorri have treated them the way they have. 

On the presentation of mythological time as linear/cyclical in the Völuspá (10th century)

The mythological poem Vǫluspá recounts in some sixty-three stanzas of succinct, elusive Old Norse fornyrðislag verse a holistic mythological cosmology which involves both looking back to the creation of the world and looking forward to the world’s destruction and subsequent rebirth.1 This ambitious subject matter is related by a prophetess or vǫlva who permits our entry into both past and future, describing both in our present moment (in which ‘our’ applies both to the instant of the poem’s performance and the instant of reading the extant manuscript today). Vǫluspá is thus ripe for an exploration of what John Lindow calls ‘mythic time, particularly in terms of whether its presentation of time could be described as a linear or cyclical arrangement – whether the poem indicates an unbroken chronological progression or gestures towards an infinite set of endings and new beginnings.2 This will involve (chronologically speaking) a detailed close reading of various aspects of Vǫluspá whilst comparing how they support either the linear or the cyclical models, a consideration of what relevance this question has on how we read the poem, and concluding remarks on the nature of this perceived linear/cyclical dichotomy and whether Vǫluspá in some way eludes attempts to place it within such a binary division. 

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Gallifrey 2.4: Insurgency by Steve Lyons (July 2005)

In the BF stable at least, Steve Lyons is ahead of the pack when it comes to non-linear narratives and experimenting with how time, well, works. He's thus a logical fit for the frequently time-twisting Gallifrey II - it's no great surprise that they got him in eventually, and here he is contributing its fourth chapter, Insurgency. I was imagining something full of temporal twists, non-linearity, and high concepts (i.e. Pandora); what Lyons does instead is not what I anticipated at all - he's the first writer for this series of audio dramas to direct the spotlight away from the political heavyweights and onto a different group of people, namely, students at the Time Lord Academy. Yes, students at a prestigious institution have a cushy number compared to some, and they're hardly the oppressed Shabogans (I do long for their story to be told, almost more than anything), but what instantly comes to mind here - to my mind, certainly - is that there's some really interesting class-based stuff you can tap into about not feeling at home in an august, much-revered academic elite; about feeling out of place because of one's ethnic background or what kind of household you grew up in (I'm only being half-autobiographical here; for a whole raft of reasons, I was not as out of place at Oxford as many people in different situations, both known and unknown to me, but such an alienation is not a completely alien feeling either, let's put it that way - and pardon the pun).

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

"The Antipodean Excursion" 1: Bangkok, Auckland, Devonport

My brother Simon and I have been planning to go to New Zealand for quite some time, possibly ever since The Lord of the Rings first seized our imagination some time around 2003/4. Peter Jackson's 6 Middle Earth films are notorious for boasting the spectacular New Zealand scenery as the backdrop to mythical creations and battles, and a whole industry has sprung up around Middle Earth 'tours', especially now Hobbiton, where Bilbo and Frodo Baggins live, is a permanent feature of the landscape near Matamata.

But in recent years we have had another motive: our uncle Steven lives near Palmerston North, towards the south of North Island, and while he's been over to Britain a few times in recent years neither Simon nor I had yet done the reverse trip, despite planning it or daydreaming of it on several occasions. And so it was that we decided to visit for definite in summer 2017: I've just finished my degree, and Simon is on his gap year between finishing school and starting at uni, so it's pretty perfect timing. The fact that it's winter over there rather than summer doesn't really perturb me (I'm a Nordic-Slavic soul at heart anyway, so I like winter; their winters have better weather than ours; it means things are cheaper because it's the tourism off-season). Anyway, here we are, it's July the 3rd, and what I'm calling our 'Antipodean Excursion' (because it sounds like a crap pulp thriller you'd find in an airport, and this amuses me. Most of my jokes amuse me and no one else, so this shouldn't be any different) has just begun. To all family, friends, and random strangers: you're very welcome to follow blog updates over the coming weeks - I'm envisaging about six such posts - if you want to know what we're getting up to (photos will be Google Image-y ones, not our own, because our own will be up on Facebook for those who want to see them).