Friday, 10 July 2009

Day Four... Ooh, I'm Getting Into This Now

Yeah, I still like this week's Torchwood. Sorry about that.

To misquote Hugh "Take Me Up the Arse, America" Laurie, who did the voice-over for a US breakfast cereal ad that's since become better-known as a gag about Michael Jackson on Family Guy (God, that's too many references even for me, but please bear with me because it'll get even more obscure by the end of this entry):

The left-wing kid in me hates the fact that the 456 are automatically evil for trying to take children away. I mean, they gave us a Hello-style tour of their charming tank, didn't they? And we don't know that Animatronic Boy is suffering. He may be having a great time in there, acting as a Macra's conscience and swanning around the universe like the navigators in movie-Dune. What the vomiting 456-beast says to Captain Jack is technically correct, after all: we really don't give a toss about the children, unless they're our own.

But the left-wing adult in me likes the fact that politicians are being this awful in something approaching the Doctor Who universe. Indeed, I think we can describe Children of Earth at a stroke with the words '"The Sound of Drums" done properly'. Or possibly '"The Ambassadors of Death" with balls'.

Also, I bet that someone involved in this series (probably Big Russell himself, but you never know) has seen Cosmic Slop. A 1994 TV movie so little-known that it doesn't even have a Wikipedia entry, but which features a similar pseudo-dilemma on behalf of the political class, i.e. the US government has to consider whether to give a sizeable proportion of its black population to aliens in return for massive and immediate wealth. The "we could save billions by giving them Chavs" scene is almost identical.

Beat that, Tat.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

One of Us is Real... Is It Me?

Apparently, they do work.

I've been on prescription anti-depressants for about a year now. I've mentioned this before, but I've never mentioned the most important (and obvious) effect: the dreams.

We dream about things we know. When we dream about things which seem unfamiliar, they're made out of things we've seen and heard, half-seen and half-heard: a strange room is a room we might have known from infancy, sexed-up with images we've picked up from TV in the intervening years. At least, that's what I've always expected, and that's what I've always argued. But over the last twelve months, ever since I started taking the pills, every single night has been an away-match. There's not much percentage in trying to explain the details, because the sheer amount of sensual information in even one of these dreams - experiencing every twist of the landscape, every niche of the architecture, every sound and smell and peculiarity of a completely unknown environment - would need pages and pages and pages. And quite possibly pages. I'm there, in a way that I'd previously assumed you can only be "there" in real, physical, three-dimensional space.

I'm in no way superstitious, in no way New Agey. Quite the reverse: I'm a hardcore rationalist, no spirits or extra-sensory avatars allowed. Yet I can't find any explanation for what I've been witnessing over the last three-hundred-odd nights, and saying "the drugs are giving me delusions" just isn't a good enough answer. Yes, they probably are giving me delusions, but... where are those delusions getting their information from? How can I be so aware of the precise details of hillsides, libraries, streets, museums, oceans, offices, wastelands that I've never visited / seen on television / read about in books / even imagined? Why do I know what the tiling looks like in this house? Why do I know where all the best picnic-sites are, on a patch of ground where I can find myself tripping over every last knoll? Why do I meet complete strangers and know them in so much detail, right down to the jawbone-structures of faces I've never seen...? Psychic phenomena can kiss my arse, yet I simply can't account for this glut of data in any way except - oh, atheist gods forgive me - by assuming that I'm tapping into some peculiar Sheldrakian mass-consciousness. I like to think I'm an imaginitive human being. But my imagination isn't up to this level of creativity, and it's certainly not up to inventing a new territory every single bloody night without ever repeating itself. It is, quite simply, as if the drugs have blown something open in my head. And now I'm assimilating other people's sensory information into my own delusions.

And no, I don't believe in telepathy either.

But stranger than the otherness-of-place is the effect on time. We all know that time in dreams doesn't mirror time in reality, yet the hours spent asleep seem to be stretching in ways I've never experienced before. I've occasionally woken up sobbing, because my dream-self believes that it's been trapped in Bad Place A or Bad Situation B for months, and doesn't believe it'll ever escape. On the plus side, I've also experienced whole chunks of lifetime that simply shouldn't be possible over the course of seven hours. Example:

Last night, I was a member of a (wholly imaginary) film club that met every Thursday night to watch (also imaginary) kitsch films of the 1950s and 1960s. I remember those non-existent films in detail. Also the building in which we met, the grounds outside, the other members of the club, the terrible snacks we used to make in the tiny (pretend) kitchen... oh, and a (similarly imaginary) member of my (make-believe) family used to pick me up in her car at the end of every film-evening, usually with a (spurious, but consistent) passenger in the front seat. I believe the family-member was my cousin, and the passenger was a female friend of hers whom I found rather snidy and annoying. I say "usually", because I went to at least five weekly screenings in the course of the dream. On one occasion - when the film was some dreadful Irwin Allen-type schlock about cities under the sea, much like Stingray with real people instead of puppets - I had to go outside and tell my cousin that the film had a few minutes left to run, and yes, it was shite but I had to stay anyway. Why this sense of completism...? I felt duty-bound, since I worked for a magazine which dealt in all things pop-cultural and quasi-ironic. I remember the exact floorplan of the offices, not comparable to any real building I've ever visited. But I still knew where all the facilities were, not to mention the complete cast of employees, one of whom was an absolute bastard with whom I had a running feud. Fortunately, I also knew who to talk to in order to piss him off, and there was a... no, it's too complex to explain here, but the ramifications lasted for weeks. I particularly remember the time when I had to review a complete DVD boxed set of The New Avengers, and although I recall writing a detailed precis for younger readers which explained the need for Gareth Hunt to do "action" sequences beyond the capabilities of the ageing Steed, it was nonetheless a boxed set of The New Avengers from a parallel universe in which half of the stories were set in space. This may sound random, but my subconscious had thought about it to such a degree that the episode with the giant rats in the sewers (you know, the one that was shamelessly ripped off by "The Talons of Weng-Chiang") took place on a space-station in upper-Earth orbit which for some reason had an archaic sewage system. I still remember the plot, once again in disturbing detail. I could storyboard most of the chase scenes even now.

Eighteen months, I worked at that place. Eighteen months, with occasional film-club nights, of which - I admit - I remember only five. Eighteen bloody months, learning every crook of the building, every idiot twitch of my co-workers, every quirk of that game they played where... actually, that's probably too much detail as well, although I'm thinking of remaking it in the real world. But I had to suffer eighteen months of it. Twatting geeks. Eventually I even had to meet their friends outside of work, and they were hideous.

And then I woke up.

(Wait. Was there an episode of The New Avengers with giant rats in the sewers? I'm convinced that there was, even when awake, but it also sounds like the kind of thing I might have contrived while sleeping. I'll look it up later.)

The point is that I'm honestly not sure what's solid any more, because if one day is separated from the last by eighteen months of make-believe which feel at least as intense as everything else, then you're bound to lose continuity. Most peculiarly, I believe I'm living in a world where I just saw two episodes of Torchwood that were actually good. This is improbable, yet the detail was such that I'm inclined to think they were real. Then again, everything seems that detailed now, and further doubt is cast by the fact that the episodes in question featured Katy Wix. Katy Wix...! The name probably means nothing to you, but it has a full-on resonance for me (and those of you who used to read the Randomness Times may remember a photo in which she appeared as an octopus in a top hat). Ever since I went all stand-up in 2006, I've made a point of seeing her Edinburgh shows in preview, and not for any mentalist stalker-like reasons. She's quite simply quite good. A few months ago, however, I finally came face-to-face with her and tried to say hello. I felt I could reasonably do this, since she'd performed in some of the sketches I wrote for Recorded for Training Purposes on BBC7. So of course, my absolute social ineptness caused me to come across as a mentalist stalker, after which I ran away and resolved never to try talking to talented people ever again. Katy appears in many of my dreams these days, for the fairly obvious Freudian reason that she represents the whacking great gulf between my absolute competence as a writer and my absolute incompetence as a human being. Her appearance in the mythical good Torchwood story is, therefore, both clearly symbolic and just taking the piss. Although I note that whereas she's an alert, intelligent, sparkly-eyed young woman in the real world, here she's playing a fat Welsh chav with the complexion of BBQ-flavour Pringles. And with terrible teeth. I'm sure her teeth aren't that bad in the real world, I would've noticed.

The thing is, though... if we assume that what I think I'm watching is real, then Torchwood is suddenly working because it's abandoning all the '90s-style "Cult TV" trappings that led Chr*s Ch*bn*ll to try to make it as much like Angel as possible, and trying to be a proper BBC drama serial instead. What I think I saw was like Quatermass without the smug intolerance of Nigel Kneale or the drivelly nostalgia of Mark sodding Gatiss. No, wait, it was like a modern version of A for Andromeda (hence the plot device of aliens-send-instructions-for-receiver). And it was clearly better than either of the other modern versions of A for Andromeda, i.e. the God-awful BBC4 remake and the Hollywood one with the sexy-older-woman out of CSI, whatever it was called.

Did I really see that? I actually care what's going to happen in episode three. That's not natural for Torchwood, is it?

It's past nine o'clock in the morning. I've been awake for over 24 hours now. I want to go to sleep, but if I do, then it might be years before I can think about this again.