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Archive for the ‘TV’ Category

Sculpting in TimeSculpting in Time by Andrei Tarkovsky

Andrey Tarkovsky (1989) Sculpting in Time. Reflections on the Cinema. Translated from the Russian by Kitty Hunter-Blair, University of Texas Press.
My rating: *****

Publisher’s page. Includes table of contents and extract.

I want to underline my own belief that art must carry man’s craving for the ideal, must be an expression of his reaching out towards it; that art must give man hope and faith. And the more hopeless the world in the artist’s vision, the more clearly perhaps must we see the ideal that stands in opposition to it – otherwise life becomes impossible!

I have been reading Tarkovsky’s truly wonderful book in which he reflects on and explains the thinking that went into his films. If some of the language in the citation above, with its mention of the ideal, hope and faith appears old-fashioned to hardened veterans of the new millennium, it would appear nonetheless, as Tarkovsky argues, that life is still impossible without these things. Having recently viewed a TV series, Spirited, which after the long and careful establishing of two strong and independent characters with a positive control over their own existences, suddenly in the last three episodes, opts to turn them into the pathetic victims of a cruel and heartless universe, his remarks seem very apposite.

Faced in this case with what essentially appears to be a radical loss of faith and hope by the writers in their own creation, the consumer, who feels betrayed by this loss, is left wondering which way to turn. Perhaps this is the experience of many fan fiction writers. (Just to be specific, this is not an art form that I personally practise). And indeed not just fan fiction writers, but a whole range of other creative practitioners. They are forced into creating their own story to make up for the failure of other texts in providing the ideal they were hoping for. Thus in some instances, they might actively engage, as Tarkovsky would have it, in opposing the hopelessness of particular artistic visions.

One could take this further and argue that in Lyotard’s postmodern world, everybody is looking for the perfect story and when they don’t find one ready-made, they are forced to create their own. This applies as much to the most esoteric flight of theory as to the trashiest piece of fan fiction. It applies to a range of other practices as well – including the political, and right down to the way people tell themselves the story of their own lives. This desire to create one’s own story is, of course, by no means simply limited to the so-called postmodern age or culture. As many have argued, the desire to tell and to consume story is something deeply embedded in human experience. Story is not simply about diversion, bread and circuses, the mindless ‘entertainment’ much touted by Hollywood and its ilk. Story is about imagining better (or worse) worlds, of reflecting on our everyday and the possibilities of human experience, and experimenting with different ways of thinking those possibilities.

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In Praise Of LoveIn Praise Of Love by Alain Badiou

My rating: ***

Badiou, Alain with Truong, Nicolas (2012) In Praise Of Love. Trans. Peter Bush, London: Serpent’s Tail

I approached this short essay interview about the notion of love (as it is enacted between lovers) with caution. I was not expecting a 75 year old male philosopher to have much to say that would resonate from a female point of view. There was however slightly more on the table than I expected and some of the discussion provided potential food for thought which crossed gender lines.

I was particularly interested by Badiou’s comments criticising the portrayal of love as something that exists in a moment outside of time. This is a view that pervades romantic literature. It is a love that cannot be enacted in the real world or survive through time. It is also reductive, fusing the difference of two into one. A philosopher like Levinas (whose religious focus Badiou rejects but adapts for more secular purposes) would argue, of course, that love presumes difference and can only exist where difference exists, it is never reduction to the Same. Badiou remarks:

‘I think many people still cling to a romantic conception of love that in a way absorbs love in the encounter. Love is simultaneously ignited, consummated and consumed in the meeting in a magical moment outside the world as it really is. something happens that is in the nature of a miracle, an existential intensity, an encounter leading to meltdown.’ (p. 23)

He cites Tristan and Isolde as an example, continuing that we need to challenge this romantic conception which although it might be beautiful in art fails to make the transition to real life. He notes:  ‘Real love is one that triumphs lastingly, sometimes painfully, over the hurdles erected by time, space and the world’. (p. 24) The duration of love is seldom dealt with in fiction (p. 50) which usually focuses on the ‘ecstasy of [..] beginnings’ (love at first sight, the ‘encounter’) and ends with ‘they got married and lived happily ever after’. He mentions Samuel Beckett as a somewhat unexpected exception. (I might add paranthetically that Flaubert’s Madame Bovary is of course a demonstration of the pitfalls of trying to apply the myths of romantic fiction to everyday existence.)

One can look at this problem in relation to a variety of TV series and films. The stock standard romantic comedy of course usually falls within the expected boundaries of the magical encounter and then the happy end. Another ploy is to kill off one or both partners in order to preserve the purity of their love and happiness from the ravages of time. Many American TV series try the strategy of indefinitely postponing what the writers seem to regard as the inevitable suburban and domestic doom of all relationships, by failing to get the couples together in an infinitely prolonged process which fans commonly label as UST or unresolved sexual tension. Henry Jenkins, the noted scholar of fandom, complains about this common fan frustration in a post on his blog titled ‘A Rant About Television’s Difficulty in Representing Committed Relationships’. He observes:

I often suspect that Hollywood’s inability to depict relationships that grow over time has everything to do with the divorce rate in the entertainment capital, very little to do with the constraints of the medium (given how well television depicts the unfolding of interpersonal relationships over time) and even less to do with the desire of fans. (One of the things to pay attention to is how many of the “commitment” episodes for television series are written by a small handful of writers who have consistently ruined every couple they touched.)

He also adds interestingly that ‘contemporary writers seem incapable of writing such relationships — could it be because they are twenty-somethings still recovering from their first major breakup?’ The convenient (American) production myth has it that if you get two characters together in a series, viewers will lose interest. Perhaps this is because the writers can’t seem to imagine a relationship other than a white picket fence with both partners doomed to the drudgery of ball and chain domesticity. (Perhaps these writers could read up a bit on alternative models for relationships such as the ‘commuter marriage’, popular in academic circles). A couple of series which readily spring to mind in terms of being unable to come to a sensible resolution on this front are Remington Steele and La Femme Nikita (the 1990s series).  There are many others. Jenkins cites Castle as perhaps an exception, but I beg to differ. Like Bones, I find that if the writing in this series is able to sustain fairly basic (and not terribly adventurous) characterisation, it is less successful in demonstrating how those characters are modified by their relationships with each other.

Attempts to show long(ish) committed relationships in romantic comedies like Brett Ratner’s The Family Man (2000) can also be dreary, unconvincing and unbearably saccharine. One can only wonder what demographic this particular film was addressing.  The story takes place from the point of view of a rich executive male (Nicholas Cage) with a Ferrari and a string of one night stands, who slips into a parallel world of ghastly suburban domesticity of seemingly volontary semi-poverty with a one time girlfriend. The film – or writers – seem irretrievably torn between (what they regard as) the moral example which is life in the suburbs versus the guilty but exhilarating freedom of a high-flying Christmas-neglecting single life.

Returning to Badiou’s terminology, there is good material out there which shows love between couples (of any orientation) as duration rather than the momentary eruption of the eternal into the real, but one has to search for those rare examples amidst the mountains of dross which foreground the love/romance event with all its artificial boundaries and dubious links to the transcendent eternal.

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This is another piece from my defunct film website. Written way back in 1998, before science fiction fandom became ‘mainstream’

I first came across Sapphire and Steel, an obscure British science fiction series made in the early 1980s, while I was browsing through a mail order catalogue in the late 90s. I read the description: ‘a strange and fascinating show – definitely something different’. Always on the lookout for the unusual, I ordered volume one expecting no more than the usual B grade offering that is unfortunately usually the rule when it comes to television science fiction. I was more than pleasantly surprised when I discovered something that actually did match the catalogue description. By the end of Adventure 1, I was hooked and submitting my credit card to a severe workout, I ordered the remaining 5 Adventures on tape. At the same time as I was watching the series I was also reading the works of Antonin Artaud. The combination was quite extraordinary – the television series echoing a number of Artaud’s insights into the radical disjunction between words and things.

The piece below probably won’t make a lot of sense if you have seen the series. An overview and information can be found on the Wikipedia page for the series. You might also like to have a look at an earlier post on Sapphire and Steel on this blog.

Introduction

One of the most striking features of Sapphire and Steel is the fact that it offers so few explanations and so few obvious answers. Not only do the backgrounds of the characters and events remain mysterious, but the most ordinary objects take on completely unexpected meanings. A feather pillow becomes a dangerous vengeful creature, a nursery rhyme the physical manifestation of an evil force, a travel chess set a terrifying weapon and gateway to time and other dimensions. Nothing can be taken for granted in this series.

This indeterminacy of meaning and explanation encourages viewers to actively imagine and speculate, to create their own very personal interpretations, to face particular types of limit experiences and the possibility of other worlds using the structure of their own psyches and imaginations. The whole series is an invitation to think beyond it, to engage in difficult confrontations and experiments in thought and imagination: it is an open challenge to question accepted visions of social and physical reality without this ever being a stated or obvious intention of the series. Thus, even if the series is a relatively short one, it offers far more fodder for creative discussion and invention than do a number of other longer running productions with more elaborately developed and codified world views and with far more visible signposts as to their intentions.

This article will take up the challenge and provide speculative answers to questions raised by Sapphire and Steel. These answers are by no means intended to dispel the original mystery and indeterminacy: their purpose is rather to open further opportunities for debate, speculation and imagination… And what better place to start than with the most obvious question?

Who are Sapphire and Steel?

Ostensibly, Sapphire and Steel are two operatives who are sent to earth to prevent or repair ruptures in the strictly ordered fabric of time, to maintain the integrity of past, present and future. These disruptions to time are initially assessed by ‘investigators’ who are never seen, who then brief and send in ‘operatives’ such as Sapphire and Steel. ‘Specialists’ are sent to the scene at a later stage to undertake any specialised tasks that operatives are unable to perform. This rather summary information emerges in a somewhat fragmentary and incidental manner at various points throughout the series in conversations between the two main characters, with humans and with the two specialists Lead and Silver. This is what Sapphire and Steel do but what sort of beings are they and where do they come from?

Are Sapphire and Steel alien or human?

This question is worth asking for a number of reasons, especially in view of a regrettable tendency in many American science fiction series in particular, to make most of the principal ‘alien’ characters semi-human at least in some way. In the original Star Trek, the alien Spock is only ‘half’ Vulcan, the ‘other half’ is human. The crew of the Enterprise in the next generation of Star Trek features a half human betazoid, a Klingon brought up by human parents and an android engaged in a life long quest to become human. And in conversations between the alien Q and Captain Picard we see the standard rhetoric that for all their faults and weaknesses, humans have ‘special qualities’ unique in the universe. In the other two offshoot series of Star Trek, Deep Space 9 and Voyager, the resident aliens are even more tedious and predictable than the humans. It might be argued that Babylon 5 is slightly better on this score – but the writer Joe Michael Straczynski still cannot resist the temptation of mixing human with one of the more ‘noble’ alien races, the Minbari. The Vorlons have also demonstrated suspicious fraternising tendencies – of a kind at least – in their use of figures such as Jack the Ripper to do their dirty work for them. Neither can Straczynski resist the ‘unique quality of humans’ school of rhetoric. Even in that post gulf war expression of military paranoia Space Above and Beyond, it transpires that the evil and hideous aliens had somewhere back in depths of time originated from the planet earth. British science fiction tends to perform a lot better on this front, but not even the Paul McGann version of Doctor Who, it seems, can survive a trans Atlantic regeneration intact. In a truly horrifying gesture, undermining a fine tradition of long standing – the completely alien doctor suddenly acquires a human parent, thereby ‘explaining’ his long term interest in earth. Is it really necessary to be part of a species or culture to show some interest in it? Why is there such a determined and rigid obsession with rendering the entire universe human in American science fiction? This is indeed a fascinating problem and certainly one worth exploring at more length. As some writers have suggested all of this is perhaps a thinly disguised reflection of the USA’s current imperialist stance with regards to cultures which are not American.

In such a human centred universe, Sapphire and Steel are a welcome arrival. They are clearly alien ‘in the sense of being extraterrestrial’ as Steel confirms in as many words in Adventure 5. Attempts to appropriate anything like a ‘human past’ for Sapphire and Steel have been firmly but politely rejected by the writer of the series P.J. Hammond in an interview with Rob Stanley.

How do Sapphire and Steel differ from humans?

As P.J. Hammond remarks, if Sapphire and Steel are more than ‘mere mortals’ they are still to some extent ‘mortal shaped’. They both speak English (that well known universal tongue!) and appear to have a human form, but for all this, the nature of their relationship to their bodies is uncertain. The opening animation, which shows glittering spheres representing a number of different ‘elements’, might suggest that their human shapes are something they adopt for the sake of convenience. Yet in Adventure 4, Sapphire, addressing a creature which changes its face at will, states that she and Steel have only ‘one face’. Their bodies can also be damaged as various incidents with absolute zero temperatures, barbed wire, knives, imaginary swans and attempts at strangulation indicate, but at the same time they appear to have remarkable powers of regeneration. In Adventure 3, the technician Silver refers in passing to a faculty of ‘instant reduplication’ which might explain these recuperative powers, but even this, it appears, is fallible. It is the failure of this faculty which results in his disappearance into his own past at the hands of the changeling, and he also mentions when threatened by the transient beings, that he would not survive in the Triassic period. One thing is clear, however, the relation Sapphire and Steel and similar beings have to their bodies is quite different to our own.

The fact that they are not human is apparent right from the outset. Almost as soon as they walk in the door in Adventure 1, we see Sapphire’s eyes turn a brilliant shade of blue as she briefly investigates the situation. The two operatives are able to communicate telepathically with each other and have obviously arrived at the house through some means of transport other than the more conventional ones of car and boat, which as the boy explains can be heard coming for miles in that isolated spot. Adventure 2 shows them teleporting and they make more use of this power in subsequent adventures. A marvellous but very brief scene in Adventure 5, a fine example of Shaun O’Riordan’s direction, offers perhaps the closest thing on film to a subjective view of teleportation. The background behind Steel fades to black and we see him in a closeup shot turning to face a new environment. Other series, notably Blake’s 7, Star Trek: The Next Generation and The Tomorrow People have all attempted subjective views of teleportation, but where Sapphire and Steel is radically different is in the fact that the two main characters do not require technology to assist them. Neither does Steel signal in any way his intention to teleport. Like many other scenes in the series it remains mysterious and there are no obvious indications as to how the viewer is meant to interpret it. As a result, this sequence arguably works far better than other more detailed and elaborate efforts to convey what teleportation might actually feel like.

It would also appear that the two agents have a very long lifespan in our dimension. In Adventure 1, they reveal that they dealt with a problem on the Marie-Celeste and indicate in Adventure 4 that the passage of hundreds of years is of little consequence to them. They have other powers as well: the enviable ability to change clothes and hairstyles in the blink of an eye, for instance. Sapphire parades a number of outfits in front of Rob in Adventure 1 and both she and Steel waste no time changing into their thirties costumes in Adventure 5. In addition, they both possess telekinetic abilities – very handy when it comes to locking and unlocking a variety of doors and turning off record players! Sapphire is able to ‘take time back’ for limited periods, to ascertain the age and nature of objects and to access historical data of both a general and individual kind. Steel can reduce his body temperature to just above absolute zero and he is very strong both psychically and physically and often acts as a kind of anchor for the more volatile Sapphire. Both of them appear to have hypnotic powers of persuasion over humans which they can exercise by a touch or a gaze but they only seldom choose to do so.

But these things aside, what most marks them as alien is the way they respond to situations and the kind of remarks they make about humans. They clearly regard humans as very different from themselves and Steel, in particular, frequently expresses a mixture of exasperation and puzzlement over human behaviour and customs. First impressions of both Sapphire and Steel are of a rather chilly and impersonal detachment. Steel is frequently abrupt to the point of downright rudeness and while Sapphire might initially appear more gracious, she is certainly a match for Steel when it comes to coolness. While shaking hands and making polite conversation with Tully, she is in reality communicating a cold scientific analysis of her subject to Steel.

Neither of them react in quite the ways we would expect people to react in similar situations, yet it is not a question of that other well-worn science fiction cliché: the aliens-who-know-no-emotions in the face of a unique, and as such, admirable, human prerogative. It is more a question of a different emotional response – one that does not always match our well trained social expectations. There is, for example, a definite, if very understated, romantic attachment between Sapphire and Steel, but the way this is played out is by no means conventional, leading some viewers to wonder whether their feelings for each other are real or indeed, whether they exist at all. Again, nothing is at it appears to be: the coldly distant demeanour of both characters is continually belied by their actions in taking the most extreme risks to save humans at every possible opportunity. If Tully is sacrificed, it is to save hundreds of human ghosts. Both Sapphire and Steel endanger themselves to help the woman in Adventure 6, Steel explaining to Silver that it is their duty to do so. Indeed, it is perhaps as a direct result of this concern that they are caught in the trap at the end. Both agents, in fact, display strong, if strictly controlled, emotional responses in relation to humans on a number of occasions. For example, when Steel realises that he has almost stabbed a baby and when the creature in Adventure 4 burns two people alive in a photograph, he is clearly upset. There are numerous other examples. But all these observations do no more than raise further interesting questions, further fodder for speculation. They merely begin to scratch the surface of the hundreds of possible questions that one might ask…

Links to other Sapphire and Steel pages

Revisiting Sapphire and Steel
Sapphire and Steel. Sci Fi Freak site
Page on TV Tropes
Stephen O’Brien SFX magazine
Page on British Horror Television

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Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion by Alain de Botton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

[Secular society] expects that we will spontaneously find our way to the ideas that matter to us and give us weekends off for consumption and recreation. Like science, it privileges discovery. It associates repetition with punitive shortage, presenting us with an incessant stream of new information – and therefore it prompts us to forget everything.

For example, we are enticed to go to the cinema to see a newly released film, which ends up moving us to an exquisite pitch of sensitivity, sorrow and excitement. We leave the theatre vowing to reconsider our entire existence in light of the values shown on screen, and to purge ourselves of our decadence and haste. And yet by the following evening, after a day of meetings and aggravations, our cinematic experience is well on its way to oblivion, just like so much else which once impressed us but which we soon enough came to discard.

Alain de Botton, Religion for atheists. A non believer’s guide to the uses of religion, London: Hamish Hamilton p. 133

Random thoughts in response

De Botton argues that religion is aware of our propensity to forget and provides repetitive structures, activities and calendars to continually remind us of the important things. This is something that secular society does not do, except when it comes to work and economic productivity, leaving us free to source inspiration from wherever we can find it. This means we forget and don’t reinforce self transformative practices. From an entirely different angle, John Medina in a popular science discussion of how the brain and memory works posits as ‘brain rule’ number 5 ‘Repeat to remember’ and ‘brain rule’ number 6 ‘remember to repeat’. In short, repetition is essential to the process of learning. [1]

One could consider media fan practices of viewing long form serial television in the context of these two discussions. Fans will draw lasting lessons and engage in transformative practices of the self by exercising quite particular viewing practices in relation to their chosen subject matter. Although films – particularly films which have sequels – are also subject to fan activity, television series are perhaps more strongly susceptible to a certain kind of work on the self. A television series features a story, characters and a universe that can sometimes span years in real time and is delivered in weekly, sometimes daily instalments. Thus, we have a regular calendar occurrence which keeps the material present in the viewer’s mind. Further to this, a typical fan viewing practice is to view episodes multiple times, and to repetitively rewind and review select short scenes within those episodes. The fan may then go on to further reinforce this input by transforming it into creative and social practices such as discussion with other fans, fan fiction writing or other creative output.

This process allows the fan viewer to assimilate those lessons and insights that they have connected to and garnered from the source text. Thus the fragility of the secular experience of art, drawn attention to by de Botton, is counteracted by certain kinds of fan practices. This indicates, perhaps, that there exists considerable resistance to contemporary incitations to engage in a disposable consumerism that has no term. Further, if one goes down the sometimes dubious brain science route, it might indicate that people continue to be aware of the techniques that need to be practised to foster learning and self transformation. In either case, it is clear that living in an unstable void of an endless featureless stream of temporary rhizomic connections is not an attractive proposition to many people.

[1] John Medina, Brain Rules, 12 principles for surviving and thriving at work, home, and school, Brunswick: Scribe Publications, 2008, pp. 119, 147

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In 2002 I created a review website around the actor Christopher Walken, which was also home to some of my writings on science fiction television. I have decided to let this site lapse as it has been languishing for years without updates. I will be reposting some of its content on this blog.

I originally wrote the piece below in 1997 as a favour to a friend, delivering it as a somewhat tongue in cheek talk at a Babylon 5 convention, in the days before the virtual mainstreaming of media fandom. Babylon 5 is an American science fiction TV series set on a space station and featuring political and territorial conflicts between humans and other species. The series ran from 1994 to 1998.

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I will begin by assuming that as avid viewers of the science fiction series Babylon 5 you are all familiar with Commander Sheridan’s dream which is deployed in all its surreal and hitchcockian glory in the third season of the series. In this short article I propose to offer an in depth and definitive interpretation of this symbolic fest.

There are three types of dream interpretation: the traditional psychic and spiritual method, variants of which have been practised by most cultures. In this tradition, dreams are divided into a number of categories, including the prophetic, the predictive, past lives and allegorical. Sheridan’s dream is clearly of the prophetic kind – a foretelling of future destiny and a warning.

The second type of dream interpretation is more modern: this is the Freudian or psychoanalytic method which reduces dream to a pathology, to a revelation of that which has been suppressed and is struggling to emerge as a symptom. In this tradition, a dream does no more than point to a medical and psychological condition. The third type of dream interpretation – also modern – is an uneasy amalgam of the first two methods. This is Jung’s analysis of a collective unconscious, the manifestation of a universal symbolic imaginary. I will ignore these two latecomers in the field of dream interpretation and concentrate solely on the first, which if it lacks the spurious precision of modern science, accumulates the insights of generations lost in the mists of time.

Finally, to get down to the nitty gritty. As I have mentioned Sheridan’s dream is clearly a warning and a prophecy. I will begin by concentrating on the appearance of the birds. There is a crow or raven on Ivanova’s shoulder and an eagle or falcon on Garibaldi’s. The identity of the bird in the latter case has been the subject of some controversy – some viewers perceiving Garibaldi’s bird as a dove. Rather than choosing the wimpy sentimental dove, however, I prefer to see the strong predatory form of an eagle.

Both the crow and the eagle can have multiple meanings in a dream. A crow in Celtic mythology is the messenger who flies between the twilight world of death and this life. To dream of seeing a crow betokens misfortune and grief and in combination with Ivanova’s hushing sound there is a clear warning of betrayal, that enemies will be plotting behind the commander’s back. It is also a warning that he stands in dire need of aid and council. The Irish hero Culchulain died betrayed and strapped to a post in battle with a crow perched on his shoulder. There is a warning that a similar fate awaits Sheridan. The fact that the crow sits on the shoulder of his second in command is significant – someone in his own camp will betray him after he has ignored all the indications that such betrayal was imminent.

The eagle implies that Sheridan will soar far above the ordinary world, struggling fiercely to attain lofty ambitions. It also means that he will make a long voyage to distant and unknown planets in his search for knowledge and wisdom. The eagle is also a sign that he will overcome his enemies and achieve all his dreams. But one must not forget the predatory nature of both the eagle and the crow. The crow feeds off death and the eagle cruelly snatches life at its strongest. The conjunction of the eagle and the crow means that Sheridan will indeed conquer and throw off the trammels of worldly existence but only through death, grief and betrayal and the loss of all that he holds most dear.

The conjunction of the eagle and crow is interesting at another level. The crow represents Celtic Britain and the eagle, America. This is a clear reference to the earlier appearance in the series of King Arthur (in the form of Michael York) or even Jack the Ripper, that English harbinger of death, on what is largely an American space station. And to stray briefly into the arena of Jungian interpretation, it could also be a reference to the American war of independence during which the English and Americans fought – this would clearly be an event deeply rooted in Sheridan’s ancestral memory.

To turn to Kosh’s remarks: their significance is rather obvious. When he intones the phrase ‘you have always been here’ he is talking on a number of levels. First of all, he is referring to a hidden spiritual level of Sheridan’s psyche which has hitherto remained dormant but has nonetheless always been there. And of course it is standard doctrine in writings about the psychic realm that one is more susceptible to prophecy and spiritual insight when the conscious mind is stilled in sleep or unconsciousness. As is written in one of the standard texts: ‘A dream is an event transpiring in that world belonging to the mind when the objective senses have withdrawn into rest or oblivion. Then the spiritual man is living alone in the future or ahead of objective life and consequently lives man’s future first, developing conditions in a way that enable waking man to shape his actions by warnings, so as to make life a perfect existence’. Sheridan’s case is a perfect illustration of this. But Kosh’s statement is perhaps more prophetic than this. When he says ‘you have always been here’ the backdrop is clearly the space station Babylon 5. Sheridan has been destined since the beginning of time to make a messianic stand on Babylon 5 and he has also done some time travelling in the process.

The mystical and faintly Eastern sound of wind chimes or bells that appears in the dream further indicates spiritual attainment and the need to ward off the evils of death and betrayal. The chimes are also a call to spiritual purity. This sound combined with the appearance of the figure standing in judgement means that Sheridan must undertake a journey of spiritual purification where he will be judged according to his merits. He may be found wanting. The figure standing in judgment is also a clear evocation of ‘Q’ the powerful alien being who acts as judge and jury in the first and last episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Babylon 5 would not be complete without a Q figure, no matter how brief his appearance. In fact, this scene could well presage Q’s future appearance in the series. After all, for Q there are no physical boundaries or impossibilities. A transmigration from Star Trek to Babylon 5 is quite within his capability and no doubt he could consort closely with Bester as a kindred spirit in the latter series.

But to move to the next point: the statement ‘you are the hand’ is also clear in its meaning. Ivanova neglects to complete the phrase which in its entirety should read ‘you are the hand of God’ thus completing the link to Islamic and Arabic prophetic traditions. Sheridan is the instrument of Allah, the instrument of a cosmic destiny. As for the man in between , this is both a reference to Lorian and Sheridan himself. Sheridan must encounter both himself and Lorian in between the tick and the tock of eternity, in between life and death, in between the material and spiritual worlds. ‘Between’ has always indicated that twilight zone of possibilities, of openness to mysterious and other worlds. ‘The man in between’ is also the man in between what was and what will be. More tenuously perhaps, ‘the man in between’ is also Q, an entity who, as I have clearly shown, exists in the twilight zone between two series – Star Trek and Babylon 5.

The veiled woman is again a sign that Sheridan will be betrayed and maligned by apparent friends. The mourning veil denotes further grief, distress and trouble, the dark purple lips indicate the vampiric kiss of death. In sum, the whole dream is loaded with dark portents of gloom, betrayal and death but there is also hope that out of this darkness will come victory and spiritual enlightenment.

For another interpretation of this dream sequence see The Lurker’s guide to Babylon 5.

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Cult TV: The Essential Critical GuideCult TV: The Essential Critical Guide by Jon E. Lewis
My rating: ****

Jon E. Lewis, Cult TV: The Essential Critical Guide, Pavilion Books, 1994.

I noticed a few months ago that Google appears to have acquired Goodreads, a social networking and book cataloguing site to which I subscribe. At least that is my explanation for why Goodreads reviews are now listed on the relevant book pages on Google books. Given this higher degree of internet exposure, I decided that my reviews needed tidying up and updating. Most of my Goodreads reviews are already included on this blog, but a few of the more lightweight reviews (not books!) are not. Time to remedy that absence…

Jon E. Lewis’ book on Cult TV is a really useful and nicely put together reference book for TV fans. It is composed of encyclopedia style entries accompanied by black and white photos on a whole host of cult TV series from the birth of television in the 1950s to the time of publication in 1994. It covers a range of genres: science fiction, crime, westerns, children’s programmes, melodrama, adventure and comedy.

I have spent many a happy evening browsing the entries, discovering new series and gathering information on ones already seen. This book was written in the days when fandom really was a specialised subculture before it was quasi mainstreamed by the internet and as such displays the friendly approach that goes along with addressing a relatively small group.

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I have been trying very hard to like the new millennium Doctor Who, but I think the time has come to admit defeat. I have now reached the tipping point where I have given up hope that the series will  turn into something that I actually enjoy watching. Something that I can watch without constant cringing embarrassment at its maudlin emotional excesses or irritation at its poor narrative construction, moral ambiguities and repeated excursions into dubious religious territory. Then there’s the bombastic and intrusive orchestral score which grates like sandpaper on my musical sensibilities. That’s quite a list unfortunately! As  The Outland Institute has it – a once favourite program has turned into Neighbours in Space: a soap with science fiction fantasy trimmings.

If my parents were avid watchers of Doctor Who, right from the early William Hartnell days (Dr. Who first went to air in the UK in 1963), the Doctors I grew up with were Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee. I dropped out mid Tom Baker due to other non-television watching activities, fortunately before that point where his performances and the story lines degenerated into eccentric and twee pantomime and tedious fannish stories about the Doctor’s fellow Time Lords and home planet of Gallifrey.

My first memories of Dr. Who were of Patrick Troughton in a shaggy overcoat accompanied by his companions, Victoria and Jamie, battling with mysterious and rather frightening yeti in Tibet who turn out to be robots animated by impressive glass silver spheres. The air of menace in my memories of this story was further enhanced by the constant howl of a  freezing wind in the background, the interaction of the Tibetan monks and the alien intelligence, and the grainy black and white in which the series was filmed. Unfortunately this adventure titled ‘The Abominable Snowmen’ first broadcast in 1967 has been lost – wiped as was a common practice of the day in relation to television series. This was reflective of the low status of television as an art form at the time and, of course, nobody had any idea that the technology for home recording and viewing would exist in the future and that much money could be made from a combination of nostalgia and fan completism.

I am part of a generation – indeed generations – who grew up with Doctor Who and it has no doubt structured the imagination of those generations in ways they cannot even track – and this is perhaps part of the reason for the huge success of the new millennium version of Doctor Who. People want to like it, as it hooks into a cultural imaginary formed by Doctor Who in the past. Parents also want their children to have that experience. Of course, in the 1960s the mere mention of ‘cultural formation’ in relation to something like Doctor Who, more readily defined as genre trash culture for children, would have been anathema. The series creators tried to attenuate this with some educational pretensions – notably the adventures set in various periods of European history. But Patrick Troughton eventually left Doctor Who on the insistence of his wife who thought that acting in this children’s rubbish (furtively watched by many adults as well) was a poor career move. But of course, apart from a small but notable part in The Omen (1976), his three-year stint as Doctor Who from 1966 to 1969 is what he is remembered for today. This disqualification of certain types of imaginative output – namely the speculative imaginary – as suitable for consumption by adults is by no means dead in current culture.

To be continued

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