On Writing: NaNoWriMo 2013 – ‘Winner!’


Yes, boys and girls, I have today been certified a NaNoWriMo 2013 Winner, for having had my novel validated at 50,096 words.

Leaving aside simple issues such as whether I am actually more than half-way through the book as it will eventually turn out to be, it has been a weird experience, validating today.

Overnight, I needed only a further 809 words, which I duly wrote and more this morning. Wordcount on Open Office gave me a total of 50,226 so I went to validate. I copied and pasted the entire book so far, only to be told by NaNoWriMo that I was validated at 49,446 words. That’s a discrepancy of 780 words, and another 554 words still needed.

Fortunately, I was still in my equivalent of “The Zone”, so it was not too difficult a task to move on into the next chapter and write on, until Word Count confirmed I had another 600+ words (the whole document currenty stands at 50,854). When copied and pasted, this time I was validated, at the afore-mentioned 50,096 words. Go figure.

As a winner, I am now entitled to download my Winner’s Certificate, to go with the one from two years ago. Except that, where my name, the novel’s working title and my Final and Win Day tallies are not inserted, nor can I work out how to insert them as the site suggests I should. Is there anyone out there who’s done this bit of the process and can tell me what to do?

What matters most, however, is everything I’ve managed to write this month, whilst fitting in between shifts that are not at all convenient to this kind of thing. I no longer have NaNoWriMo to compel me, but I have sufficiently well-established myself in this story that I’m going to keep this rhythm going until the First Draft is complete (it could be still going on Xmas Day as far asI can tell at this point).

As there are those of you who seem interested, I will keep posting updates. I’ve a big revelation on the very near horizon, which I expect to get to sometime in the middle of next week. But the next one’s certainly going to be something a bit more ‘fantastic’ than this.

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Breaking the Vibrational Barrier – 1969


Justice League of America 73, “Star Light, Star Bright – Death Star I See Tonight!”/Justice League of America 74, “Where Death Fears to Tread!” Written by Denny O’Neil, art by Dick Dillin (pencils) and Sid Greene (inks), edited by Julius Schwarz.

Having concluded their case in Justice League of America 72, the JLA finally make time to listen to the Red Tornado (who turned up on Earth-1 the previous issue).
The Tornado’s story is of an attack on Earth-2 by an evil, living, thinking group of stars calling itself Aquarius. The living star was one of a group of twelve many eons ago, but was expelled due to its evil, and condemned to wander in a diminished state.
Finally, Aquarius came into sight of Earth-2, where Ted Knight observed it as an anomaly, through his personal observatory. Changing to Starman, Knight went into the heavens to challenge the potential menace, but Aquarius managed to seize the Cosmic Rod, and use it to give himself a humanoid body, and amplify his powers.
Starman fell to earth, badly injured, alerting his house guests, Larry and Dinah Lance. Dinah changed into her Black Canary costume to investigate what had done this to Starman, but found herself being ambushed by her hypnotised husband, to whom she gave a judo-toss.
Aquarius revealed himself himself, mockingly, and Black Canary signalled the JSA, bringing Doctor Fate, Green Lantern, Dr Mid-Nite, Superman and the Red Tornado to the scene.
En route, some of the heroes had to stop to deal with menaces responding to the power Aquarius was bringing to bear on the Earth. Green Lantern battles two neon sign ancient warriors, Dr Mid-Nite has to tackle a raging four year old with super-strength, and Doctor Fate faces up to some mystically charged weather. Thankfully, the kid is quickly restored to (bratty) normal.
Superman and Wonder Woman arrive late to the fray, having been held up by similar, unspecified, distractions. Aquarius explains itself in an emotional manner, fluctuates between anger and self-pity, bombast and tears. But when it comes to a fight, he is a match for the JSA. Their resistance infuriates him, and he uses the Cosmic Rod enhanced powers to destroy Earth-2, to sweep it away entirely.
All that remains are the half dozen JSA members, plus Larry Lance. At the last moment, Doctor Fate did two things. One was to encase them in a protective bubble, resistant to Aquarius’s powers. Though he rages outside, they live in the bubble, and whist they live Earth-2 is retained in their memories.
The other was to send Red Tornado to Earth-1 for help from the Justice League. That was thirteen days ago.
Aghast at their selfishness, the Justice League immediately promise their aid.
End of part 1.


With the Red Tornado to guide them, the Justice League head into space, towards the crossing point to Earth-2. As they near it, they pass the entrance to the Anti-Matter Universe, a place of great danger.
Ahead of them, Aquarius is growing frustrated at his inability to penetrate Doctor Fate’s bubble. Inside, Fate is reaching the limits of his powers, which have kept everyone alive without air, food or drink, for nearly a fortnight.
The appearance of the Justice League confuses Aquarius. He retreats to take stock, but leaves a secret command behind. Thus, when Doctor Fate, with a sigh of great relief, dissolves the bubble, everyone is affected by the post-hypnotic command to attack the newcomers as enemies. So, when Superman approaches Superman for the first time, expecting to have so many things in common, he is punched in the face and a battle begins.
The two Superman battle as equals. Green Lantern easily captures his counterpart, whose ring is out of power, and sends beams in search of Aquarius. Flash and Atom defeat Doctor Fate. Fate’s magic accidentally ties up Wonder Woman. Batman knocks out Dr Mid-Nite. All the League find it easy to overcome weakened puppets, except for Green Arrow. He pins Black Canary down with his new ‘stickum-shaft’, showering her with sticky threads, but is knocked out from behind by Larry Lance, who takes his bow and aims a non-gimmick, razor sharp arrow at him.
Meanwhile, Green Lantern’s beams have found Aquarius. He uses the Cosmic Rod to repel them, send them back as a lethal ball of multi-coloured energy. But his control over the Cosmic Rod is not as good as he thinks and the bubble wobbles towards the nearest person, the trapped Black Canary.
At the sight of his wife in danger, Larry Lance wars with the hypnotic commands to kill Green Arrow. He frees himself and throws himself into the path of the ball. It explodes, killing him.
The explosion breaks the Justice Society’s conditioning. With their release, Earth-2 is brought back, its occupants unaware that they had ceased to exist for 13 days. But as one world is restored, another, private world has ended: Black Canary’s husband is dead.
Her Green Lantern tries to comfort her, to promise that they would get Aquarius, but the Canary pushes him away, she doesn’t care. Bitterly, Green Lantern tells his counterpart that, instead of all the glory and prestige, that is what they are there for: to prevent things like that from happening.
A funeral is arranged by the heroes. It is gatecrashed by Aquarius, mocking and laughing. Wonder Woman stays behind to take care of the Canary, and the Red Tornado is warned to stay behind too. Everybody else heads off in hot pursuit towards the cross-over point to Earth-1. Doctor Fate warns that letting Aquarius bring Earth-2 magic into Earth-1’s Universe could destroy everything.
In the corridor between Universes, they are halted by a barrier created by Aquarius. The two Lanterns struggle through, but their team-mates are held in suspension. They turn their attention to Aquarius, hurling abuse at him, calling him names. The unstable star turns to attack them and they slip through the gap into the Anti-Matter Universe. Their rings protect them, but not Aquarius, Whilst they flee to safety, he is destroyed dramatically by the contact.
Larry has been avenged, but that is not enough for Black Canary: Earth-2 holds too many memories for her. She asks Superman to take her to Earth-1, where she can establish a new life for herself.
* * * * *
Suddenly, they were all gone. Sachs retired, Sekowsky elevated to editorship, Fox cut loose after nearly thirty years because his style of writing was no longer in fashion, and because DC had finally, fitfully, clumsily woken up to the fact that Marvel’s approach had somehow to be absorbed, imitated, applied to characters who had never before been imagined in that fashion.
Denny O’Neil had taken over Justice League of America the previous year, immediately after the previous JLA/JSA team-up. Like Dick Dillin, his arrival was a consequence of Carmine Infantino’s elevation to Editorial Director. Infantino promoted artists to editors, not just from within. He had head-hunted Dick Giordano, who’d been responsible for some fresh and vital titles and characters at lowly Charlton Comics, and who’d introduced some new, young writers and artists into the business, people whose only access at DC would have been by guided tour.
O’Neil, who wrote under the preposterous pseudonym Sergius O’Shaughnessy, was at the front of these. He was brought over by Giordano (whose term as editor only lasted a couple of years, conditions for change being not as flexible as he’d been led to believe) but he quickly became Julius Schwarz’s ‘go-to’ guy for change. With Neal Adams, O’Neil helmed the transformation of Batman back into the terrifying creature of the night he’d originally been, and with the same artist, he transformed Green Lantern by pairing him with Green Arrow and leading him through dark-tinged, street level adventures set against the real background of America at the turn of the decade.
And under Schwarz, he was brought in to transform the Justice League, to lead it away from Fox’s hyper-busy plots and functional dialogue that could be mouthed by anyone, interchangeably.
The problem was that O’Neil had never seen himself as a writer of superheroes. He’d grown up intent upon a career as a reporter, working the crime beat, in the tradition of fearless crime-reporters: hard-boiled, hard-living, hard-drinking. Though he would go on to be one of the foremost writers and editors of comic books, at DC and Marvel, over the next four decades, at this end of his career O’Neil was still close to his hard-boiled roots. He found it hard to take the more fantastic elements of superheroes seriously: the urge to satirise lurked close to the surface.
Unfortunately, despite O’Neil’s ability as a writer, his two attempts at Justice Society team-ups are amongst the weakest published. I’m sorry to say that the next one was even worse than this, and this one was dull.
I do, however, have a sentimental attachment for the second half of this story, which I did not find until August 1970, over a year after its original publication. It was one of the last few handfuls of comics I bought in those dying months of growing out of them, and I spent ages wondering about the first half of the story, which I did not read until several years later.
There’s the germ of a decent story in the concept of a living star, and O’Neil deserves credit in being the first to write the annual team-up around a genuine earth-shattering threat, as opposed to super-sized hero vs crooks whose primary purpose is to rob. The story was irretrievably lost, however, from the moment that O’Neil decided to portray Aquarius (we are so in 1969 here) as a manic depressive of galactic proportions.
It’s compounded by the fact that Dillin chooses to paint Aquarius with the same broad brush strokes as O’Neil, at least in the first part of the story. Squat, grotesque, cartoonish, ugly in the sense that he looks like an amateur’s idea of a villain, Aquarius is impossible to take seriously.
And, as a subsequent letter column pointed out, nothing happens. I appreciate that the idea was to abandon Fox’s plot-centric approach, but O’Neil handles the action aspect of his story with great clumsiness. Starman falls through a skylight, Black Canary judo-tosses her husband, Superman and Wonder Woman get rapidly beaten down by Aquarius and the rest of the assembled Society makes a full-page charge into the action, only for Aquarius to dissolve Earth-2 into non-existence.
Actually, to be fair, that’s not the only action. There are the odd battles that five JSAers, rushing to the rescue, are forced into having, including Dr Mid-Nite’s utterly embarrassing face-off (or should that be navel-off?) with a snotty four year old. Which, incidentally, is down to Schwarz’s long-running approach of having covers drawn depicting exciting and vivid scenes for writers then to incorporate into stories hopefully inspired by the concept: sometimes, as here, the only way to shoehorn the cover in was as a complete irrelevancy.
These little battles are filler, pure and simple, and badly organised and sloppily conceived filler too, since there are five JSAers racing to the scene but two of them get to get there without their hold-ups being seen or even defined in any way.
There’s an equally sloppy approach in the second part. O’Neil’s followed the format of the last couple of years in allowing the Justice Society almost a free run in the first half, but this is definitely back to the bad old days as the Justice League come steaming in like the cavalry.
There’s a major incongruity right at the start. It’s been established from the start of the Multiverse that Earths-1 and -2 occupy the same physical position in space, but by vibrating at different rates, are invisible and intangible to each other. The physical crossover from one to another has been by some form of retuning of vibrational rates, usually glossed over by the use of magic by Doctor Fate or Johnny Thunder’s Thunderbolt.
Now it’s apparently shot off somewhere into space, outside the Earth’s atmosphere, to become a physical transition point: a wormhole in space leading between Universes. The term had been around since 1957 but it hadn’t entered public consciousness by 1969.
The ‘action’ in the second half consists of the short battle between the League and the hypnotised Society, which is not only one-sided, but sloppily executed. O’Neil has Batman big up Dr Mid-Nite as his closest equivalent in the Justice Society – apart from, maybe, Robin the Grown-Up Wonder or, like, possibly Batman? – and then proceeds to floor him with one punch, whilst Hawkman’s presence in this story is a complete puzzle: he’s there, you occasionally see him in panels, but he speaks not, nor does he wave an ancient weapon, not even in his section of the battle, against Wonder Woman, since she gets taken out by friendly (magical) fire.
But the true point of this story, and the only place in which it comes alive, with horrible irony, is in Larry Lance’s death. Remember that death, of actual, named, recurring characters, was exceedingly rare in 1969, and even that of such a minor character as Lance packed an emotional charge far beyond any possible today.
Lance died a hero, sacrificing himself against the constraints of his own physical weakness and Aquarius’ hypnotic commands, to save his wife from death. But it’s not in that moment that O’Neil gave his readers pause but in what followed: Black Canary’s slow, fearful, three-panel approach to her husband’s body, in which the urgent wish to believe it hasn’t happened is incarnated in Dillin’s every line, her utter rejection of all thoughts of justice or revenge, her complete lack of care about anything but the enormity of what has happened, the Earth-2 Green Lantern’s internally directed bitterness at the cost of failure in what they do, the ‘job’ stripped down beyond the trappings to the bedrock duty to keep what has happened to Dinah Lance from happening.
It’s a determination that fuels the ending. The Green Lanterns escape the trap that captures everyone else, but Alan Scott refuses to rescue their colleagues. A duty has settled upon him, one that he’ll trust to his counterpart to share, but in an unstated manner this has become personal between him and Aquarius. And the two are oddly dispassionate about what they know is a killing mission: Aquarius is not to be allowed to live.
This thin line of genuine emotion carries and sustains the issue to its end.
Although that end is both risible and disturbing. Already in his term as JLA scripter, O’Neil had presided over the League losing two members for the first time. Wonder Woman had lost her powers under Sekowsky, and resigned, whilst J’Onn J’Onzz had been written out as an old-fashioned, outmoded, no longer relevant character, sent off is moving fashion, but consigned to limbo all the same (all together now: There Is No Such Thing As A Bad Character).
This left the JLA short-handed, especially in the distaff branch. The two most prominent Earth-1 heroines after Wonder Woman were Hawkgirl and Batgirl, and they couldn’t possibly be considered League members, being merely weak, female impersonations of the ‘real’ characters. The only viable option, it seemed, was to dust off Black Canary and move her over to the big Earth.
It’s a decidedly ignoble reason for killing off Larry Lance, just to get Black Canary to announce she wants to go to Earth-1 now, please, to run irretrievably away from the memories of her love, her parents, her friends, everybody she’s ever known. It’s a classic case of trauma, of making decisions when the mind is disturbed and shrinking from an unwelcome situation.
In short, it’s unhealthy as you can think, and what does Suiperman say? Just jump up into my arms, little lady, and let’s be off.
I mean, bloody hell, has she no family at all? Has Larry no family that mourn him? (If he did, not one of them got invited to the superhero funeral. And no religion, it might appear, since one of the Supermen officiated, instead of any minister). Doesn’t she want to take any clothes with her (any civilian clothes, I mean)? Any personal possessions? Cosmetics? Spare fishnets? Clean knickers? (Ladies, I am led to believe, set great store by such things). Absolutely nothing.
One thing we can’t ignore is that, after several years of ignoring the question, Schwarz finally decides to include the Golden Age Superman in the Justice Society’s line-up. How much of this was due to the potential confusion between two characters who were functionally identical (Superman never ceased publication, and there is no ‘official’ demarcation point where his several series stopped featuring the Golden Age version and started featuring the Silver Age one), and how much was down to the baleful influence of Superman’s editor Mort Weisinger, who resented Schwarz featuring the Earth-1 version in the JLA can’t be known.
But Weisinger’s star was entering a decline now, and so Superman of Earth-2 re-emerged from whatever limbo he occupied, especially to fight his Earth-1 counterpart, a fight between two equally matched versions that ends in stalemate and mutual knock-out. Latter-day readers will be surprised to see that the two Superman are identical: no simplified S-shield, no signs of aging, no grey temples, nothing to distinguish between the two at all.
Given that throughout the whole Sixties, the point of the Justice Society was that they were older, that they had come out of retirement, that they had a history, this approach was incongruous, but O’Neil would return to it, at greater length, the following year.
As for post-Crisis validity thankfully there is none.

On Writing: NaNoWriMo update day 27


It’s getting close to the end of November and I’ve written another 2,002 words so far today. That leaves me with just a bit over 3,000 words to go to attain NaNoWriMo target and ‘win’, which I can’t help but feel a little proud of, given that I backed out of last year’s exercise because the demanding shifts I was working didn’t seem to leave enough time for me to write 50,000 words, and I’m still on those shifts today.

It’s going to be bloody easy to pass the target, and ‘win’ for a second time, though I confess I haven’t enjoyed the experience as much this time. In 2011, there was the drama of a first attempt, the voyage of discovery, could I do it? There was the fun of success, of completing a full novel from scratch, actually cramming in 62,000 words approximately, and finishing a day early, on November 29. There was the constant cross-checking and mutual support with an on-line buddy who was also essaying a first NaNoWriMo. And posting each day’s effort, as a commitment to myself, creating a very public forum for success or failure, and getting some encouraging feedback from comments.

But that was 2011, and it’s very different now, and first and foremost has been the fact that this has been entirely a solo effort for me. Alison and I have long since drifted out of touch. I’ve posted nothing this time, due to a concern about something that, in terms of both subject and style, is very much a departure for me, a novel with virtually no plot element that does not lend itself to my favoured ironic style. And whilst another 3,200 words are easy to write to complete NaNoWriMo, they’re nothing like enough to complete the novel itself.

I don’t even know how far I have to go. 50,000 words is about two-thirds the usual length of a story for me, but in terms of the relationships I’ve established, I don’t even know if I’m halfway yet. My recent notes as to the course of things to come have underpinned a whole week’s writing and still they’re not exhausted. I can see only a very short distance beyond the point those notes reach and the ending is as unknown to me yet as are the events of Xmas Day this year. Less known, in fact: I have plans for Xmas Day involving turkey, roast potatoes and apple sauce.

So NaNoWriMo may be about to end, but not my commitment to this novel, and I can see the daily writing sessions going on well into December. Maybe they’ll be an unexpected part of Xmas Day? Stick in a new CD, open up the file and another 800 – 1200 words in Emily’s world (not the Emily who inspired this strand of posts: my lead character predates my knowing MostUncivilised, just like Declan’s name in The Revenge of the Purple Puffin – which needs only a cover to be published – predates knowing Newsy: life is strange.)

So it’s going to be a bit longer before I get back to concentrating mostly on this blog. I hope you can maintain your patience an extra week or few.

R.I.P John Galbraith Graham


I’ve just turned from the Guardian Unlimited web-site, which has flashed up the news that the Reverend John Galbraith Graham has died at the age of 91. Those who will mourn his passing will not need to be told the name by which he was better known: for everyone else, the Cruciverbalist world knew him as Araucaria, the ‘Monkey-Puzzle’. For those still left puzzled, he was one of the most famous, challenging, thought-provoking, entertaining setters of Crossword puzzles.

It does not come as a surprise. John Graham was, earlier this year, diagnosed with terminal cancer of the oesophagus, a fact he chose to announce, with typical wit, in one of the many thousands of puzzles he has set for the Guardian in the 55 years he spent in its pages. His fans, myself included, solved a series of clues that exposed the unwanted answer. Since then, it’s only been a matter of time, time spent hoping that the moment would be indefinitely postponed, knowing that it would not be.

I didn’t know John Graham except in the way that we all knew him, via his puzzles. He possessed an exceptionally erudite mind, knowledgable on a wide range of subjects, and could think his way through a corkscrew to provide clues that, even at their most fiendish and obscure, nevertheless always made you feel that if you thought long enough, and hard enough, you would see where his mind pointed. There are enough compilers who are impenetrable, frequently even after you know the answer, but not Araucaria.

It’s twenty-five years since I started doing the Guardian cryptic crossword, courtesy of the late Kevin Eavers, father of a friend of mine. During that time I have had more fun with Araucaria’s puzzles than with anybody else’s, and I have always felt the same anticipatory thrill each time his name appears.

It was already a bad day, from the news that Bill Foulkes, former Captain of Manchester United, survivor of Munich, had died at the age of 81. To lose Araucaria the same day is a double blow. I hope that I am being understandably selfish in wishing for there still to be puzzles to appear, a stockpile that would, in a perfect world, include one last Alphabetical Jigsaw, and certainly a final Christmas Prize Double Crossword.

To reach the day when there will no longer be the challenge of setting yourself against Araucaria’s mind is in itsown tiny way a kind of death.

#And now we know that there is no stockpile, that Aruacaria’s last challenge to we devoted solvers has already appeared, a Saturday Prize Crossword on November 16, that I didn’t get very far with that day. The answers are already available, ironically published on the day prior to his passing, but I refuse their convenience. I will keep the puzzle as a last benizen, to be worked at until either all it’s clues surrender their hidden meaning, or I accept that, like so many times before, the Rev has beaten me. Perhaps that is the more appropriate end.

The Prisoner: episode 17 – Fall Out – the final discursion


Who is Number One?

Fall Out was the seventeenth and final episode of The Prisoner to be produced and broadcast. It was written and directed by Patrick McGoohan, although the Red Judge’s speeches were written (uncredited) by Kenneth Griffith, at McGoohan’s request.
This is the episode that makes The Prisoner. Without this, with something that made any kind of rational sense, it sinks. It goes into the shadows and is forgotten, all its good work forgotten. Anything, anything at all that is realistic and it can go ignored, filed away into the back cupboard of memory and never allowed out again. Only by breaking all the rules, by destroying everything that resembles any kind of compact with its audience does The Prisoner survive.
It answers by not answering. It ends by not ending. It promises and withholds, it infuriates and angers, it raises feelings. Its writer/producer/director/star takes his wife and children to Ireland, three days later, and then to America. He never works in British television again.
I was twelve years old when I watched Fall Out, at the end of the initial run. We who were served by Granada were the last in the country to learn what answers Patrick McGoohan had chosen, but we still had no idea what we were going to see. I have always wished that I had been older, old enough to understand the impact of that moment when Number Six rips the mask off Number One and finds himself staring back.
It’s a cliché now: our enemy is always ourselves, but it was not so then, not merely for twelve year olds.
Fall Out is a thing in itself that is almost too strange, too weird and wonderful to be criticised, to be analysed. It was an enormous hostage to fortune, a thing too easily open to contempt, to be dismissed as nonsense (and by extension everything that went before and beside it), to be contemptuously derided as not an ending at all, as proof only that McGoohan didn’t know what he was doing, that he was making it up all along and when the time came to make it make sense, he had no ending.
Didn’t we hear all of that about Lost?
Because the truth is that there is not a thing in Fall Out that makes sense. That connects to any part of The Prisoner on the ground upon which the series has stood since its beginning. The questions that had built up are thrown away, discarded as irrelevancies. The organisation that has held the Prisoner in its keeping for weeks prostrates itself and gives in to him for no reason whatsoever. It vanishes, like a puff of nuclear smoke, like the rag ends of a dream. England and home is down the end of a long, dark tunnel. The only thing anyone ever had to do was to shoot their way out. It’s guns, and bullets and All You Need is Love.
An old and once dear friend, with whom I’ve long since lost touch, married an ex-Army Physical Training Instructor turned self-taught Master Builder named Ray. They were an unusual pairing, for he was very solid and rational, and not at all imaginative or creative. Yet it was he who gave me the only explanation of the ending to The Prisoner that made ‘sense’.
It goes back to Once Upon a Time, to that moment in the caged room when Number Six’s demeanour changes, when he says the word six, when he tastes it, and relishes it, slings his jacket over his shoulder and walks out of the room, leaving a baffled Number Two behind. From that moment onwards, he is in control. Everything falls before him. First Number Two, then the Village, it all crumples away.
Because Number Six broke, because when he accepted the term Six, he went mad, and everything that followed is an unhinged fantasy.
Think about it. Because it does make literal sense, where nothing else does. Fall Out is the final escape, out of reality, it is the ultimate victory, irreversible, beyond any further restriction. The Village’s authorities become faceless, indistinguishable figures, in robes and symbolic masks. It’s demand for conformity applies to others – others that the Prisoner will, god-like, release – yet his rebellion is deified for no reason other than that it is by him.
It’s a set-up that can be destroyed by the burst of a machine gun, a hiding place that magically turns out to be virtually on his own doorstep. His only gaoler is, in fact, himself, a self that he can lock up and send away. And home is just the beginning, restarting the cycle, to be played put endlessly, over and again.
In its curious way, Fall Out is not the allegorical victory that everyone assumes it is, but a tragic defeat. The Prisoner’s only escape is into himself, a theme repeated years later in Terry Gilliam’s monumentally brilliant film, Brazil. In that visually astonishing mix of 1984 and Heath Robinson, hero Jonathan Pryce is ultimately captured, his girl killed, his life destroyed, yet in the midst of torture, he is rescued, he escapes, she lives and they drive away to a place of freedom, far beyond the bureaucrats: until two of them appear above the horizon, to agree they’ve lost him. For they have: he has never left the torturer’s chair. Not physically.
There are many people who will baulk at this interpretation, and indeed one aspect of its genius is that it can be read in so many ways, and their opinions are every bit as valid as mine. It is an allegorical gambol, and you may take that for the pun it also is.
According to McGoohan, the episode was written in thirty six mostly unbroken hours. Though he never had the ending worked out in the beginning, he has said that it represented what his ideas were running towards, and that he would not change a moment of it. It is an episode done in incredible haste, using what was at hand and convenient.
Coming hard on the heels of The Girl Who Was Death, Fall Out re-used and reinterpreted its sets and props in every way it could (underneath the globes in Number One’s room is the circular table with its map of London that belonged to Professor Schnipps, and that is, of course, his rocket, and the same clips of Thunderbirds in the countdown sequence). Guest stars Kenneth Griffith and Alexis Kanner were asked to stay on, though not Justine Lord (save for one or two extras dismissed from the Control Room in Once Upon a Time, the whole two-part ending is free from any female presence).
Leo McKern was, fortunately, available to repeat his role as the former Number Two, though in the year that had passed since Once Upon a Time his appearance had drastically changed, shaving off his beard and cutting short his flowing hair. As the actor objected to wearing wigs and false beards, the scene was written in where his appearance is changed.
This on its own symbolises the serendipity that creates Fall Out. It was a circumstance forced by chance, yet it becomes the outward symbol of Number Two’s two-way passage through death – another element of madness, the death and resurrection of the prevailing enemy so that he may congratulate you on your success and then join your cause. Written on the spot, made up out of whatever happened to be there: this was not a planned ending and sometimes we should wonder in amazement that it had any coherence whatsoever.
And we should not forget to congratulate Lew Grade who, when faced with this extraordinary thing, completely unrecognisable as any kind of television programme he had seen before, allowed it to be screened. True, he had a schedule to maintain, and an audience that, if anything, would have been even more confused and angry had he refused to let Fall Out be broadcast than it would prove to be after he did. But he broadcast it where many would have taken one look…
But in everything, in every single conceivable respect, Fall Out was a moment of its time, a prism through which the series would forever be seen, a thing that could not have happened in any other way, at any other time.
As is shown in Kanner’s dress, as the dandy-teenager, the proto-hippy complete with cowbell, as is demonstrated in his dialogue, and that of the Red Judge in trying to speak to him in his own terms, as is even shown in ‘Dem Bones’. This was 1967, and someone’s ear was not tuned in with perfect clarity.
What can we say? That there had been nothing like it before is a mere truism. That there has been nothing like it since is, in some ways, the most savage indictment of forty five years that we can make. That there never will be anything like it again is a despair.
As always, I come back to that moment, inevitable in retrospect, that I was too young, too immature to understand when I saw it. We have seen the face of Number One and it is ourselves. We are always and inescapably our own gaolers. It is still so for me, even now.

Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor – A More Considered Response


I watched the first one, so very long ago. In the living room, at my Gran and Grandad’s, at 53 Chappell Road, Droylsden. I was probably the only one watching, absorbed in a black and white television set showing BBC, and thus tuned to Doctor Who because it followed on from Grandstand and, maybe, The Telegoons.
My parents, my grandparents and uncle were talking as our traditional Saturday afternoon wound down towards that soon-to-come moment when Uncle Arthur would run us back to Openshaw. They may have been talking about what had happened the day before, about the assassination of President Kennedy, or they may have been just talking about what families talk about. I was the only one watching: this was a children’s programme, and the only other child present was my sister, then only sixteen months old and not interested in television.
Fifty years later and everybody’s been waiting for months for the Fiftieth Anniversary special. There’s a funny feeling to watching this, knowing that I am now old enough to, officially, remember something for half a century. To be able to draw a parallel between myself then and myself now.
But that’s my problem, not yours (just wait until you reach that point, that’s all I can say).
Apart from an initial flurry of speculation when John Hurt made that astonishing appearance in the last minute of the last series (and nearly everybody was right in guessing that he was the Doctor who had actually ended the Time War, though there were no other plausible moment in the Who mythology where he could, with any satisfaction, have been accommodated) I’ve deliberately avoided anything that would tip any hands as to what would happen in the special. If there were to be any moments of great dramatic revelation, I wanted them to be dramatically revealed at that moment in the story that Stephen Moffat had conceived, and not in any trailer, forum, newspaper or spoiler.
And I managed to get to the start of The Day of the Doctor as free of pre-conceptions as it was possible to be without having hermetically sealed myself away for the last six months and five days. I knew that David Tennant and Billie Piper (groan) were going to be in it, and Christopher Eccleston wasn’t, but I had avoided everything else with determination.
Except for The Night of the Doctor, which was a game-changer in that opening moment when the Doctor you weren’t expecting appeared, and then the bloody door was blown off and if they’d kept that so hidden, anything was possible.
So I got there with no idea what to expect, unlike the millions of others who knew what they wanted to see, so many of whom, in the watching and the immediate aftermath, seem to have not got their Fiftieth Anniversary. I, on the other hand, can say that it satisfied me. It was, of all improbable things from Moffat, low-key, and personal in its heart. And I think that it was all the better for it.
The mandatory nod to the very beginning was dealt with joyfully: the original (and greatest) theme music, Clara a teacher at the school that grand-daughter Susan attended, Ian Chesterton’s name on the Board of Governors. It was the best kind of Easter Egg, placed in plain sight for all to see and recognise, but without the sense of having missed something for those who saw but did not recognise – like all the others I didn’t notice and which didn’t get in the way.
Moffat built his mystery quickly but carefully. A message from Queen Elizabeth: the First. Paintings that contain a frozen moment of time, the answer shown before the question is asked, just as the two sides of the Smith Doctor’s mobile phone call were shown in reverse order. The time fissures that bring together the Smith Doctor and the Tennant Doctor in Elizabethan times, where we can see the typing up of a loose end from Tennant’s era. The convention that whenever two or more Doctor’s meet, they really don’t approve of each other, but still end up working like a dream.
But this Special is about John Hurt, the unknown Doctor, the interloper who’s inserted into the mythology at precisely the moment where all is obscure: the Time War, Russell T Davies’ great sweeping away of a cluttered past, of Time Lords and Daleks, the addition of the dark element that is so bloody, uniformly, boringly mandatory in everything and everyone, without the slightest thought for individuality. The corruption without which any character in television or film becomes, somehow, unreal and unrealistic.
Sorry to all you Davies fans: I wanted to like Doctor Who when it came back but I lasted three episodes of Eccleston before giving up, and I know an awful lot of you regard this story as just a comprehensive shitting on Davies’ Doctor(s), but what Moffat did was brilliant.
The Hurt Doctor who was introduced in such dark circumstances, the version that could not justify himself with the Name, the Warrior conceived to make War, the man who chose, with deliberation and knowledge, to commit double-genocide, turned out to be a Doctor – a real Doctor. On the day his decision had to be made, on the day when he would activate the Moment – the alien weapon which would do this – the machine’s conscience intervened.
To have her played by Billie Piper, not Rose nor the Bad Wolf, but a simulacrum, a deliberate pre-echo, was a moment of inspiration. I hated Rose, and I loathe Billie Piper, but here she was brilliant, incarnating her role with thought, compassion and gentleness.
If he were to do this, the Hurt Doctor’s punishment is to live. But first, he must see how he will live. So he too is introduced to the Smith and Tennant Doctors, via the Time Fissure, and he is neither raging warrior, destiny-laden nor dark, but a Doctor who can snap and snipe at his successors as much as they do at each other, with the same irreverent humour that has always come with the turf of Doctor Who, and who makes himself real in his successors eyes in a way that they, culpable but removed and wishing to distance themselves, had not before been able to do.
So much so that when the Moment comes, they are prepared to accept, and share the responsibility that they have, in their different ways, sought to avoid. So much done, yet the inevitability of things prevails. Time is Time.
Yet this is to reckon without the Impossible Girl, Clara who has occupied the Doctor’s life, all of it, and who still has the belief in this unusual being to ask if there is not another way?
I’ve screamed at Moffat’s misogyny in the past – it very nearly fucked all over The Naming of the Doctor – but he can here be absolved of much, by putting the resistance to inevitability into the hands of Jenna Coleman and Billie Piper.
And there is another way. A way that preserves the unity of time, the sanctity of these years of New Who, of the Doctors who lived with themselves as ultimate villains. It comes from the Smith Doctor because he’s the current incarnation, but also because he’s the one who’s lived longest and had the most time to think. And through him, Gallifrey is saved, in secret, by removing the planet into a frozen moment of time.
Into a painting.
And in that glorious ending, all the Doctors – ALL of them, each in their TARDISs – come together to have the home they fled at a time that is so long ago that it might as well no longer exist: and because we are so close to another regeneration, there are not just Twelve, there are Thirteen, for a second of time in which we glimpse the Capaldi Doctor’s face.
And it is all reset, and the Hurt Doctor is redeemed, and regenerates into Christopher Eccleston (whose refusal to take part robs us of a moment that should have happened, the preservation of the final unity, his face in the wardrobe of his predecessor, the full regeneration). But there is one final moment for those of us who go back to marvel at.
New Who has often been accused of rejecting Old Who. That can’t be said any longer: this Special alone has built the bridge between the two eras: the unexpected, unimagined Doctor has cemented Old Who in the shape of McGann to New Who in the shape of Eccleston. It has opened a very great door, whilst accelerating the series towards confrontation with a chance bit of lore that seemed meaningless and fay when spoken casually in the past: twelve regenerations, and twelve only: Thirteen Doctors.
And Capaldi makes Thirteen.
But in its final moments, as Smith muses on retiring, and becoming a curator, he is approached by the curator, of this museum of the strange on that silly little planet that the Doctor, in all his faces, has visited so often. The curator is an old man: he is Tom Baker, the oldest survivor of the Thirteen faces. And in his guidance as to what to understand from the painting Gallifrey Falls No More, he is the promise to all of us that Capaldi cannot be the end, that one day the Doctor will retire, and will regenerate into an old, familiar, beloved face and form.
I’m grateful to Moffat for meeting the expectations I never had, for eschewing empty bombast and pomposity, and making this story about redemption, acceptance and the removal of an inhumane burden. As far as I’m concerned, fifty years has been worth it, and in a subtle fashion, the ground has been relaid for fifty more. To those of you who hated this, or were bored with it, or confused, or sneered, or thought that it was conceived in hatred to shit all over Russell T Davies, I’m sorry that you can’t take joy from this.
I, at least, am content.