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.
It’s official! Obverse Books’ The Black Archive series, which is a collection of book-length in-depth examinations of every Doctor Who story from 1963 to the present, has announced that I’ll be writing their volume on The Robots of Death, which will be coming out in 2020.
More details closer to the time!
With apologies to John Nathan-Turner
06:00: Wake up. Go for a run, lift weights. Why? It will all be explained later.
08:00: On way to studio, with two giant bags of snacks. Make note of location of nearest supermarket. Make note of location of nearest caff serving all-day-breakfasts.
09:00: Arrive at studio to discover that the person with the keys to let you in isn’t there yet. Fine; the sound man won’t be there till nine-thirty and none of the actors are scheduled to arrive before ten.
09:05: Sound man, photographer, the owner of the replica props which are to feature in said photos, the scriptwriter and two actors all turn up early. Send them to abovementioned caff for an all-day breakfast.
09:30: The person with the keys arrives. Carry two bags of snacks, the photographers’ equipment, several boxes of replica props and four takeaway coffees up the stairs. This is why we go for runs and lift weights.
10:00: Actors installed in studio to begin the day’s work. Identify green room (or room which can be commandeered and designated green) and set up a table with a selection of snacks. Acquire the takeaway menus (all studios have a collection of these) for lunch.
10:45: Off to pick up actor at train station. There will inevitably be kerfuffles with the parking or the taxi, depending on which one is using. There is also the issue of recognition, as they may well never have met one before. This can be easily resolved with a hand-printed sign bearing the actors’ name.
11:00: Second shift of actors arrives. Put them in the green room and make sure they’re all happy until they need to be in the studio. Despite what you may have heard about actors, they are; I’ve yet to work with anyone who fit the stereotype of the demanding prima-donna. I’m not sure they exist, or, if they do, that they get any work.
11:30: Dragooned into studio to provide a read-in voice. One of the miracles of audio work is that you don’t actually have to record everyone on the same day, but that does mean the actors need a stunt person in to read the lines.
12:30: Circulate the takeaway menus. Make the order.
13:00: First shift for lunch. Whatever the ethnic origin of the takeaway, there will always be at least one actor who has lived, worked, and/or grown up in, the country in question, and who usually has very interesting stories.
14:00: Second shift for lunch. A well-organised producer has generally got the actors scheduled so as to maximise studio time; often this means that some work while some lunch, and vice versa.
14:30: Emergency snack run to nearest supermarket.
15:00: Conduct formal interviews with the actors who are done for the day, or on a long break. These will be published in magazines to promote the series, and eventually find their way to Magic Bullet Productions’ site as tie-in material.
16:00: Help the photographer and prop-man in the studio. Again, the results of these sessions can be seen in magazines, on audio websites, on Magic Bullet Productions’ website, and, on one occasion, illustrating the official BBC obituary of an actor who had appeared in our productions.
18:00: Help with takedown of photo studio and replica props. Clean up green room.
20:00: Dinner, or rather all-day breakfast, at caff.
22:00: Bed, and time to do it all again tomorrow!