You've found Father McKenzie. But are you really looking for Eleanor Rigby?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Daleks "gliding like priests"... Someone has lost it

"Halfway through the second series of new-century Doctor Who, and it’s looking dicey. The problem became clear to me in episode five, 'Rise of the Cybermen', as the relaunched 1970s arch-villains stamped in their silver moon-boots across the stately home’s front lawn. Fundamentally, they just aren't Daleks, are they? The first series, the one that was on last year, had Daleks, hordes of them, and what a delight they were: gliding like priests, talking like Nazis, chimerical yet simple, and with that unpleasantly ambiguous relation to the ground beneath them. I wasn't aware I had missed them until, suddenly, they were back. And back, too, was that sound made when the Doctor is arriving or departing, the scraping, groaning contractions of the Tardis - so wonderful, warm yet terrifying, the sound of childbirth, I always think, as heard by the baby.

When I was young, though - I dimly remember - the Cybermen did seem quite scary, with their blank, square faces and cruel, insatiable appetites for human whatever-it-was. But actually, most of that mystery came not from their appearance, but from their name. Back then, no one really knew what 'cyber' meant, though we sensed a sinister power: it was always clear that it meant something geared at some point to take over. This sense of awful potency lasted pretty much through the 1980s, powering the gorgeous prescience and horror of William Gibson’s Neuromancer novels, only to peter out, pretty much, by the mid-1990s, as the dull commercial reality - the real 'consensual hallucination', to re-purpose Gibson's phrase - of Internet shopping kicked in. There was also, after 1977, the Star Wars problem, and the visual similarity of the Doctor’s second-best adversaries to C-3PO, the trite butler-robot. Which is why Cybermen no longer impress us. The metaphorical connections no longer lead adults, at least, to things we find exciting - unlike priests, Nazis, our shabby 1960s and 1970s childhoods...."

- Jenny Turner, "Across the Tellyverse," 28(12) London Review of Books (22 June 2006)

.... "Priests"?

Even the casual reader can tell that Ms Turner had a Protestant upbringing. To Catholics, "priest" evokes the image of snowy-haired Father Tim, with his red nose, his twinkling eye, and the Irish lilt in his voice, teaching young street urchins that they can be a winning football team if only they Believe In Themselves.

Whereas to Protestants, "priest" evokes a gaunt-faced, burning-eyed bonze, wearing a metal skull-cap with a pair of ram's horns attached, his chest bare but for a couple of richly-bejeweled bandolier straps, and waving a staff with bits of birds' skeletons jangling off it as he slaughters a bull before some ponderous gold idol.

Somehow, the idea of a group of Daleks sitting at the parish hall bingo table, smoking and roaring with laughter at off-colour jokes, with a pile of empty Baileys bottles beside them... just does - not - compute.

PS: And yes, I know that priests, like Daleks, come in different models. But I can no more easily picture a Dalek as a dedicated, somewhat intense late-twenty-something Vietnamese-Australian than as Father Tim, a-tarl, a-tarl. And how would the Jesuit Daleks wear elaborate gold poison-rings on those sink plungers? Would they have a coin slot for the bribes to be discreetly deposited, like a vending machine?

PPS: More similarities and differences between Daleks and priests...

[-] One lot are often depicted as cartoonish super-villains who have some fiendishly clever plan to take over the universe. The other lot are copyright-owned by Terry Nation.

[+] Favourite verb ends in "-ate".

[+] Both are surrounded by thick white smoke.

[-] Daleks have flashing lights on them all the time. Priests only have flashing lights on them when they become corrupted. A giant neon sign magically appears (ex opere operato) on the said cleric's forehead, flashing the words "Warning! Corrupted Priest!" If you know a priest, and he doesn't have such a flashing neon sign, then he can't be a corrupted priest. It's objectively not possible.

[-] Daleks do acknowledge the supremacy of the Emperor.

[-] Better a Rusty Priest than a rusty Dalek.

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