This month, I’m guest blogging for the Oxford Doctor Who Society about one of my very favourite series: “Gangsters”, the Birmingham-made surrealist postcolonial crime drama you might not have heard of, but which runs through the DNA of every series you love, including Doctor Who! Read it here— you can buy a print copy of the society magazine at the link too!
As well as being an anthropologist, a writer and a teacher, I also like to make miniatures. In that capacity, I’m a guest blogger on the Glasgow In 2024 Worldcon Bid page today, teaching you how to make a tiny armadilo! Click the link to create your own.
Also, Alan Stevens and I have a new fun listicle up on the Kaldor City Doctor Who reviews page, taking apart the 1970s story “The Mind of Evil”… if you like the snarky TV reviews on here, you might want to check them out.
While at Worldcon this year, I had the pleasure of meeting fellow time travellers Galactic Journey, who report on current events in the year 1965. This has inspired me to create a day trip to Swinging London in 1965, through the magic of the Internet and archive film.
Arriving in the city, via time machine of course:
Or possibly by more conventional means:
We’ll start at the Palace of Westminster:
Then follow the Thames past South Bank:
Taking in Docklands as we move East….
Passing Tower Bridge:
Join some American friends at the Tower of London:
Going West again, let’s visit Buckingham Palace:
St Paul’s Cathedral is getting a facelift, but still open to visitors:
If you come in on the right day, you can enjoy local traditions like the Lord Mayor’s Show:
Or the Festival of London Stores:
Afterwards, maybe a little shopping in Soho and Carnaby Street:
Feed the pigeons in Trafalgar Square:
Take in London’s newest attraction, the Post Office Tower:
Wander round Piccadilly Circus at dusk as the illuminations come on:
And, finally, why not put your hair up, don a frock, and attend a premiere in the West End?
That’s all from London. More time-travelling tourism later! Or maybe, sooner?
I’m interviewed for Southside Radio about the Robots of Death, Expressionist movies, and the joys of Zooming with cats! Download or listen to it here.
People who’ve read my book The Black Archive #43: The Robots of Death (and if you haven’t, you can buy it at the link), may remember that I talk about a stage adaptation of the classic Doctor Who story which was produced in 2012. Well, as a bonus, someone’s only gone and found some footage of Paul Darrow in the inaugural performance!
If you haven’t already bought your copy of The Black Archive #43: The Robots of Death, here’s something else to tempt you: a free excerpt from Chapter Four, on D84, artificial intelligence and artificial stupidity.
What the title says. Order it here.
It’s not quite out yet, but my monograph on Doctor Who: The Robots of Death for The Black Archive is now available for pre-order (and will be out on 4 May). It features chapters on Expressionist design; the literary roots of the story in Asimov, Herbert, Simak and others; themes of class and power in the SF writing of Chris Boucher; the history of colour-blind casting in British television; and the Voc robots’ afterlives in comics, audio plays and theatre. In short, if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll love it! Click the link to get your copy.
So, by way of ending The Colour Out Of Space Opera, I’d like to offer a few general thoughts and takeaways from this, and a few directions you can pursue yourself if you’re interested in learning, or researching, more on this subject.
- Everything uses symbolism to make its point, and, because we’re in “Western” society (in this case, blatant ethnocentric shorthand for the UK and USA), we tend to get a lot of symbols in our popular culture that fit our own particular set of nature/culture oppositions. There’s a reason why I’ve steered clear of talking about Japanese space opera; it might be an interesting thing for someone with more knowledge of their particular culture to explore colour symbolism in that context.
- The way space opera uses symbols, particularly colour symbols, is linked to the job space opera has to do: to introduce casual viewers quickly to casts and scenarios in a way that doesn’t alienate regulars, to provide new and interesting alien planets on a weekly basis in a way that keeps costs down but doesn’t get the viewer saying “Vasquez Rocks again?” (by the way, shout out to Star Trek: Picard for using the actual Vasquez Rocks as a location).
- Nature/culture: is a big trope that designers and directors exploit big-time, for its emotional significance in “Western” (op cit) culture, but it changes over time. In the sixty years that we’ve been covering here, we’ve gone from culture-good, to nature-good, and now we seem to be going back into culture-good (albeit with some interesting fusion symbolism in The Mandalorian, but it seems to be the only one so far). Arguably in 1990s space operas like Farscape and LEXX you had a period of we-can’t-tell-what’s-nature-and-what’s-culture, which is probably not too surprising, given that it was a decade when people were having to rethink a lot of pre-existing social categories (and, come to think of it, that might make a good bonus episode/coda to this series; comment if you’d like me to write one).
- Finally, historical-futurism goes back longer than most people realise, and the reason it works is for the same reason that the colour symbolism works: because we have sets of associations piled up in our cultural knowledge that mean we go to certain places when we see certain things. But they work best when you’re evoking a time period sideways, as it were: making us think of Westerns not through Western-style visuals, but through other symbols that evoke the same sort of ideas.
So, I’m going to leave you here with those four takeaways. Obviously one could go on much further, and I might do more pieces later on exploring in depth what particular series do with particular sets of symbols. I should also probably mention here that I have a book coming out in Obverse Book’s Black Archive series of Doctor Who monographs: it’s #43: The Robots of Death, and the reason I mention it here is because there’s a whole chapter on Expressionist design, historical-futurism, and how Doctor Who producer Philip Hinchcliffe made use of it throughout his tenure on the show. So if you like what you read, there’s more!
In the meantime: go out on your own, play with these tools, look at what the designers of your own favourite space operas are doing with colour and visual trope, and have fun with it.
As well as presenting a paper at Worldcon last month, I also got to present one at the Royal Geographic Society’s annual conference, on Doctor Who’s serial “The Mutants” and its take on postcolonialism– a rare instance of a 1970s serial being post- rather than anti- colonial.
I’ve uploaded the draft paper to Academia.edu as usual; I couldn’t really record it this time, so there’s no accompanying video, sorry.