A Look at Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock and Dead Poets Society

As my last blog post covered, I recently watched The Good Wife, which starred Josh Charles, whose other main credit was Knox Overstreet in Dead Poets Society. I hadn’t watched that film in years and had a sudden yearning to revisit it.

I was an undergraduate student when it first came out back in 1989. My friends and I saw it multiple times (films were cheap back then where I went to university). For all its familiarity, the two trigger points still triggered me. I rarely cry at films or TV, but Dead Poets gets me in two scenes because the film spoke to me on a profound level. It still speaks to me, but it’s different now.

Back then my wounds still bled, and I’m not writing entirely figuratively.

I went to a single-sex high school. State-run, but it had pretensions of being private and exclusive. My years spanned the 1980s when there was a bit of a backlash against the social progress of the 1960s and 1970s. None of this is clear-cut, of course, with different bits moving at different speeds. My school was ruled by a woman who insisted on being called Head Mistress – none of that gender-neutral Principal rot for her. She was enthralled by Ronald Reagan, and went to the USA to witness his second inauguration. On return she expressed her wish that Australians would emulate the US form of overt patriotism. I remember teachers had issue with her approach, and as I grew older and experienced the beginnings of friendship with some of them I learned their concern was about how she nurtured a school that excelled in all the classes that would turn unruly girls into good wife material.

Only the real world intervened, and the state curriculum ensured that we got a late 20th century education. However, I didn’t quite fit in and I ended up repeating my final year of senior high school at an independent school that I thrived in. That’s life, and decades on the pain of living it has receded.

Parts of my experiences were what made me identify with Neil Perry and his struggle to be free to explore his talent. His tragedy is and always has been that he merely stretched the confines of his life, not break it, and yet he saw death as his only way out. His talent was acting, mine writing and the intellectual pursuits of history and politics.

As a school kid, and throughout my university years, I detested public speaking of any kind. I liked to write the words for others to speak. I was called shy, but really it was introversion. If I ever do write a letter to my teenaged self, a large paragraph would be all about how I needn’t worry about that. Confidence will deal with most of it, but also I have never felt the need to just talk unless I have something to say. I am still that way.

So. Yes. I identified strongly with Todd Anderson.

Watching Dead Poets back now from the advantage of someone who has done pretty well in realising my dreams, and has learned a lot about how the world works, that shyness and introversion still resonate. Stronger, if anything. Todd’s confused, panicked bravery at the end when he confronts the Head Master to tell his teacher, Mr Keating, that he was forced to lie is an emotional punch because he is fighting so much to just speak. That and his reaction to the news of Neil’s death are the two scenes that get me every time. His normal desire to hide destroyed because of his all-consuming grief.

But, this watch I also saw the raw pain expressed by Neil’s parents.

That’s Weir’s genius as a director. The small, powerful scenes. Mostly unspoken. I think I had unconsciously picked up on it when I consciously identified so strongly with the kids. Now, as an adult, it’s undeniably there. So much depth in a short film by today’s standards.

I decided to then watch Weir’s earlier film, Picnic at Hanging Rock (the 1998 director’s cut). It’s another favourite of mine that I have watched many times, but I’ve never watched these two sequentially.

What struck me were the similarities between the two films. There are the obvious points: the strict school principals, the sensitive child who doesn’t fit in, the inspiring teacher who doesn’t fit the school’s restrictive ethos, the rebellion by the kids, the forbidden infatuation of the other by an outsider, and the death by suicide of a kid who sees no way out even though escape is arguably nearby. Both schools are steeped in British tradition in their new lands. Both films are of their landscapes, too, and hint at the past, restive human occupants that the white people blunder into. Both films are fascinating character studies, beautifully shot and underplayed, but with moments of explosive emotion.

There are obvious differences. Gender the main one, at least on the surface. Miss Appleyard’s college is run by women for girls; Welton Academy is run by men for boys. Having said that, the male world of Dead Poets Society is not particularly masculine. In fact, it questions it and pokes at it from a few different angles. Neither at the time I first watched them, nor now, did I feel any attraction to any of the characters. I identified with some, their problems and struggle to be themselves yes, but I never fantasised about any desires for them. I never saw them as sexual beings.

Both films are really more about class and colonialism, with a culture uprooted from Britain and transplanted to two different post-colonial white nations. Both films examine class through the lens of the past; 1900 and the 1959. Both show the clash of the lower classes played out by kids who cannot control how that clash affects their lives. Neither Sarah (the orphan from Picnic) nor Neil can cope when that clash threatens their lives and dreams – for Sarah the knowledge that Miranda will never reappear and that she is destined for poverty, for Neil the knowledge that acting is forbidden him and that he is destined to a military academy to entrench him in the upper middle class.

Both films are set on the cusp of times of great liberating change, too, for each country.

Picnic is based rather closely on the 1967 novel by Joan Lindsay, but Dead Poets had an original screenplay by Tom Schulman. Weir had a lot of creative control over both films, and I wonder how many of these thematic echoes were simply just what happens or were at any time deliberate.

If you’ve not seen either film, I highly recommend both.

Review: The Good Wife

A few nights ago I finished watching all seven seasons of the Good Wife, the series that follows the path of Alicia Florrick standing by her husband Peter while scandal after scandal hits. Only it’s an image. She separates from him, and later initiates divorce proceedings. His first scandal involved him having sex with prostitutes, the second scandal was straight out corruption. All throughout other whispers of scandal dog him.

Corruption and sexual infidelity are the two strands that weave through the series. Them and hypocrisy.

There is also a lot about Alicia being a mother of two older children, and her relationships with friends, family and colleagues. Those relationships wax and wane, and part of Alicia’s growth as a character is when she realises those who are true friends or not. And oddly, both her and Peter’s mothers are shown but their fathers are absent. The series is all about the making of Alicia, both her own journey of discovery and her development as a potential politician. Eli Gold, the wonderful political strategist, gives her the image of Saint Alicia, when she’s actually not. It’s he who works out that she would be the better politician than her husband. Now that is a show I would love to see, which does bring me to the weirdness of watching this against the backdrop of real US politics. Season seven forays into a Presidential campaign. Any other year with any other campaign and this would have been safe. There’s an awkward line in one of the episodes about the unlikeliness of Trump’s success in the GOP primaries. Also, some good West Wing jokes, but it’s awkward when you know what happens. Is happening. Instead, it seemed to stick a bit with the obvious allusion to the Clintons.

I enjoyed the Good Wife, but it’s no The West Wing, or The Wire, or even ER. It’s cast – regular, recurring guests, and one-offs – lifted it from the mediocre, and there is some very smart writing to satisfy. But, binge-watching the seven seasons reveals the rhythm in which it gets stuck, and I grew very tired of the way that the same characters misunderstand the same actions by the same characters, season after season. I am sceptical that would actually be the case given how smart they are meant to be, and shown to be.

To be honest, the sex and relationships meant it dragged for me. Good to see women empowered with regard to sex, though, and I loved Kalinda Sharma for her confident bisexuality as much as her research skillz. But, I think it wandered into being a utopia of sexuality; witness how it failed to really grapple with the sexual predators that appear throughout the series. The obvious one is Peter Florrick where the show could have dug deep into this, but it went personal (Alicia’s feeling of betrayal by Kalinda, not Peter’s abuse of power over Kalinda – alluded to, but not really explored). Recurring client Colin Sweeney is creepy, actually dangerous, but Alicia is oddly impervious to the threat and the storylines were strangely humorous.

I thought the Good Wife’s strengths were the legal battles. The dealing with the different judges, and the different other lawyers, and grappling with various conundrums of the day. My disappointments were to do with when they’d raise an issue, and then skirt away from it. I was amazed it looked like they were going to really deal with corruption and abuse by the Chicago police, and it mentioned it, but then swerved away like it would be too risky. A shame. Properly engaging with these issues would have made it a truly great series.

Review: Dexter, the TV series

Ever since I first saw Silence of the Lambs, the 1991 film starring Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins, I have been fascinated by serial killers, both fictional and real. My interest in the real murderers did turn quickly from fascination to disgust. Learning about them was one reason why I ended up pursuing a career in law enforcement, although my personal involvement has remained tangential.

There is a difference between the real and fictional. Even those real serial killers who thwarted law enforcement and criminal justice for years if not decades did so through random chance rather than cunning masterplans. The reality is they are all too human with messy psychological and physical lives – that’s not to suggest that all those with psychological problems are serial killers. Should go without saying, but I did just want to be clear.

Dexter is based on a novel I have not read that plays the game of what if a serial killer was a hero, someone who in their tarnished way actually works for good, but all the while sating their urge to kill.

The premise is as comic book fantasy as the Walking Dead.

The TV series of Dexter is a compelling on in large part because of the cast. Michael C. Hall as Dexter Morgan, geeky blood splatter expert for Miami Metro Homicide and the heroic serial killer, carries the part beautifully. He’s believable as someone troubled, who battles with his lack of emotion to do the right thing and act morally. His monologues, and dialogues with the image of his dead foster father and moral weathervane are a hallmark of the series. As are Dexter’s near break-downs, the spiralling into chaos. His desire to trust and love other human beings always thwarted.

The Miami Metro Homicide family are also what makes this series. They are not the most professional, do dally with corruption, but most of them want to do a good job. They are a family, complete with squabbles and changing allegiances. It’s just a shame that some of the interesting stuff happens between seasons, and for plot reasons. I’m thinking particularly of the relationships between María LaGuerta and Angel Batista.

Each series attracted some top-notch actors, including Jimmy Smits, John Lithgow, Edward James Olmos, and Charlotte Rampling in key roles in the seasonal story arcs that pits Dexter, the serial killer targeting killers who evade justice against other monsters in human form… often with monumental personal cost to Dexter, his (foster) sister Debra Morgan, and/or other members of his family, work colleagues, and close circle of friends.

And therein lies the problem I have with the series. The first year went with the big one – his unknown big brother being a rival serial killer terrorising Miami, who becomes romantically entangled with Debra, and sets Dexter up for an almighty fall as Miami’s most prolific serial killer. It’s hard, dramatically, to match that. Generally, the series does, but I do wonder about casual viewers, or those who came to it later and didn’t catch up with the box set. I suspect a lot of WTF moments, also known as a high reliance on the ‘previously on Dexter’ summaries.

It is a beautifully shot series, though not as arty as Hannibal. I haven’t looked, but if there isn’t there should be fanfic mixing up the Dexter world with CSI Miami.

There are a lot of people who are fascinated in serial killers, and in a small percentage that fascination is unhealthy. On a quick search of the internet, I wasn’t too surprised to see some individuals who committed crimes who had those crimes and their motivations linked to Dexter. A couple of real-life cases attempted to use methods depicted on the series to disguise their crimes – mostly unsuccessfully, as it turned out. The fact that there will be those viewing who will want to emulate what they see is a thing that creators of what are essentially police procedural dramas do need to take into consideration. More of a risk with documentaries, I would suggest, and while this might seem dismissive, it’s not as though people didn’t do these things before popular culture showed them. Fact is that Dexter Morgan, like Hannibal Lector, is a totally fictional character who obeys the demands of storytelling, which is not the same as reality.

All-in-all, I’d recommend the series as a well-crafted and acted drama, with moments of dark comedy and visceral – often psychological – horror.

Foyle’s War

 

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The Old Town of Hastings

Foyle’s War hits three things I enjoy: detective stories set in the English countryside, World War II, and spies. The series is a guilty pleasure, though. Guilty because while generally good, it’s no Endeavour. Foyle’s War is slow-paced, fairly predictable, and the cast not known for their dynamism.

 

I watched all of it not too long ago. I’d seen all the WWII stories before – some of the stories more than once – but had not seen the Cold War ones before. In fact, they’d somehow passed me by. I only watched them because they were part of a box set I’d picked up on special, and I’m really pleased I did because I hugely enjoyed them. They had a spark missing from the WWII ones. Actually, thinking about it, it shouldn’t be that surprising given Foyle’s desire from the outset to work for the spooks rather than the plod. It’s a tension always there, but underplayed.

Michael Kitchen underplays Foyle, which is a style that doesn’t engage immediately. It’s tempting to think of the show as sleepy. As full of the English stereotypes of reservation. But, clearly Foyle is an introvert. Clear in an unshowy way. Difficult to pull off, and in unskilled hands would be terrible. Kitchen nails it, and when you know what to watch for it makes the show better than first expected.

I have always liked Honeysuckle Weeks as awkward Sam, the driver. The character is a fascinating one. She’s a young woman born into the cosy inter-war years and village vicarage. I imagine a girl who would have been stifled by that, but yet make do. Because you just did. Instead, the war came with opportunities she takes with a chaotic enthusiasm. Duty is her by-word, but there’s something else there. Bubbling under the surface of conformity is an unstructured intelligence. I wonder what she would have been with a mentor able to challenge the chaos. To channel it. Her role as a London Labour politician’s wife and MI5 employee in the last few stories capture all that. The problem is forgetting her husband was in the Special Operations Executive (SOE)…

That is the thing that irks about the series. Big things like the relationships that vanish without trace when they should be mentioned. Sam’s relationship with Foyle’s pilot son Andrew is beautifully done, and then ditched unconvincingly. A shame.

The other character who I didn’t think quite worked was DS Milner, and he started off as a promising idea. An injured soldier from the start of the conflict forced into a job he doesn’t enjoy and back into a marriage with a wife who rejected him. I think the actor couldn’t quite carry it off, but also it’s a difficult storyline to maintain as a secondary tale.

I took great pleasure in the little chats between Anthony Horowitz, the show’s main writer and creator, and historian Terry Charman from the Imperial War Museum after many of the later stories and included in the DVD box set. I really enjoy learning more about SOE, Bletchley Park, and the general flow of WWII in Europe.

The series didn’t baulk from difficult moral quandaries of class, race, gender, even queerness. Also the politics of the time. In the Cold War stories Communism features – both foreign fights and local socialist fights. As does extreme right wing politics. That latter even more pronounced during the WWII years with a stand out episode featuring Charles Dance as a thinly disguised Mosely.

Of course there are a few thinly disguised historical figures brought to the series. My favourite is Hilda Pierce, heavily modelled on the amazing Vera Atkins. She is in the WWII stories as a wonderful foil to Foyle, who comes into her own in the post-war years. It’s a lovely treatment of some interesting questions, paramount of which is the debate about women in distinctly grubby and dangerous war work. Yes, the real failures of SOE are explored, very much with an eye on the human impact. Those co-opted volunteers had families who mostly had no idea what their family members were up to.

One of the delights of the series was how it was able to incorporate newly discovered facts in its fictional world. Its attention to detail lovely, with only a very few errors. The most glaring of which was the cinema in a coastal town lit up at night while the blackout was still very much in force.

Foyle’s War is a cosy crime drama when all is said and done, but the added WWII and Cold War skulduggery and moral ambiguities lift it.

WorldCon75 – All bound for Helsinki

 

My first World SF Convention (WorldCon) was LonCon3, and my second was the one in Helsinki this August. Some of those involved with pre-con planning were the same for both WorldCons, and during the build-up to Helsinki hosting WorldCon 75 I had learned enough about Finnish conventions to know they had organised relatively big events before. And Helsinki was a draw for me; I’d never been to Scandinavia before and so leapt at the chance.

Twitter followers will know that I did Nine Worlds London Geekfest the weekend before, which is what I did for LonCon3 as well. That meant needing to fly to Helsinki from London, but because one of the Helsinki pre-con volunteers had said that the ferries between Helsinki and Sweden and Germany are a great way to travel I investigated that for the return trip. So, yes, I signed up for WorldCon 75 to get a bit of a holiday as well.

Anyway, I arrived in Helsinki on Tuesday afternoon after a good flight from Heathrow. I got to my hotel easily and after checking in headed out for a wander to get my bearings. It’s a lovely city, especially when bathed in sunshine. I found one of the harbours, and an outdoor market, and then a place for dinner – Nepalese. I love how different countries affect restaurants like this. It was pleasant, and nicely threw in rice and salad with the main meat dish I ordered.

I had an early night, recovering still from Nine Worlds and an early morning for the flight.

The venue for WorldCon was, so the advance information said, an easy train ride from central Helsinki. That was indeed true, but as Wednesday dawned with blue skies I decided to check it out on my phone’s map and saw it would be less than an hour to walk it. As it ended up, the walk goes through two parks and then alongside the railway. Straightforward, and I ended up walking in every day. I walked back twice, the other times going by train.

On arrival, I saw quite a few Nine Worlders and we joked about our wisdom in doing two conventions back-to-back. I also met a lovely woman Doctor Who fan I know from Twitter. Check-in to the convention was efficient, and I ended up spending time familiarising myself with the venue and saying hello to lots more friends. I went to the large room for the opening ceremony and started to hear about the over-crowding – not everyone was able to get in. Not so great for people with access needs, but as I understood it the convention responded very quickly. The opening was quite good, and I appreciated the introduction to Finnish culture. Those long, cold winter nights… and then the long summer days. I was born and bred in Sydney, Australia, where there isn’t really that much difference. I’ve adjusted to living in London where there is a difference, but it’s not as extreme.

I stayed for Tea and Jeopardy – about the only thing I really, really wanted to see. Emma and Peter Newman are so talented, and George RR Martin a most excellent foil for the live version of their podcast. I was so delighted when Emma and Peter won their Hugo for Tea and Jeopardy. Well-deserved, and while I didn’t get to see much of the Hugo ceremony I did see their win. Also, I really enjoyed what I did see of the Hugo ceremony and related gala. I am delighted that Emma and Peter are going to release a video of their show as soon as they are able to. A few words for the spoiler-shy: there is only one direct Game of Thrones reference, and there are no spoilers in it.

The things I love about SF conventions are the chance to meet people and share views about things, learn from others about science, history (not just English-speaking or western), mythologies, pedagogy, linguistics, and whatever else takes people’s fancy. The vast array of people’s interests and experiences are mind-blowing. Honestly, the thing that I find most exciting about SF/F/H at the moment is its breadth and depth. I already have a lot of books on my to-be-read pile, and I have now added to that pile – both physical books, and electronic. And there are a few that I hope will be translated into English at some point. I think I saw all those who I knew were going to be there, plus a few. I had a few chats with people I met just at the convention, and others I had met briefly at other conventions. All fascinating. All lovely. Plus, of course, I spent quite a bit of time with old friends who I only really ever see at conventions.

Panels are the big thing at these conventions. Loads of people go to them to learn stuff – whether it be facts about all the subjects that you could possibly want (it’s really not just about space and rockets, even though space itself is endlessly amazing and surprising and the rockets humanity has built have taken us to reaches of space that were SF when I started reading Asimov as a teenager), or hearing favourite (or new) authors talk about their creative processes.

The panels at WorldCon were listed as going for an hour, but in order for people to move about they really only went for 45 minutes, or 30 minutes if the panel opened up to the audience for questions or comments. The number of people on panels varied quite considerably over the convention, and the smaller ones were able to better get into the topics while the larger ones barely touched on them. As ever with these things, the skills of the moderator to keep on topic and deal with any issues that might arise. Their job is to keep the conversation flowing, and then to wrangle questions from the audience. I’ve seen a few people take to social media pointing these things out, and if ever you do end up moderating a convention panel it really is a good idea to take note of this advice. As an audience member of poorly moderated panels, it is a relief to see a good moderator at work. As a panellist who has worked with both poor and good moderators, it really does matter when you have a good moderator to work with. I have moderated a few panels now, and I’m not going to claim perfection, but I have learned what works and what doesn’t.

Anyway, I didn’t end up seeing too many panels. I heard about some excellent ones, which will no doubt be highlighted in other reviews and reminiscences. The one that I did see that stood out was the one supposed to be on pre-Harry Potter magical schools. While I quite enjoyed it and found some of the panellists interesting – and I would have like to hear more about Italian versions, rather than just the Anglophone ones – it was a victim of too many panellists for 45 minutes, and the moderator was less than optimally effective, especially when a latecomer arrived on the panel and took over.

The Resistance panel was also good, but very heavily US-centric, saved by Kameron Hurley talking about her experiences in South Africa and drawing on her academic work in the field.

I enjoyed the one on Cyberpunk with Pat Cadigan (but, honestly, I could listen to her all day), and I found Quifan Chen’s contributions to be fascinating about real-life now cyberpunk cities in his native China. I’m reading Pat’s Synners, at long last, and greatly enjoying it.

I had a lovely set of panels that stretched one a day over four days, all but one at 3pm. Two of them were on military SF, and I moderated both. Jean Johnson was on both, too, which was good – she’s entertaining and interesting and I have made a note to read some of her work… once I get my reading pile down a bit. The first panel we were on was on women writing military SF and joining Jean was Walter Jon Williams. While Walter was lovely, and a guest of the convention, it seemed odd having him on a panel about women writers. I didn’t want to pitch “men against women”, or to ignore trans and non-binary people, and I also believe that people want to see their favourite authors talk about their craft at these things. Anyway, they were both brilliant and we discussed quite a few women who write military SF. A Japanese woman approached me afterwards and gave me a copy of the first instalment of the manga Wombs by Shirai Yumiko. It would be fab if her work could be connected up to the project about space marine midwives, if it isn’t already.

The second military SF panel I moderated had Jean again, two US veterans (Jack Campbell and Jonathan Brazee), and an Irish writer (Edmond Barrett). It was about characters in the sub-field, and this one was easy to moderate. All four were interesting, none were retiring and none dominated. We talked about individuals and groups, and the drawing on what’s authentic, and ditching what might be accurate but slows stories down because you would just have to explain it too much. We also talked about characters who end up becoming main characters even though they were only ever supposed to remain background. Jack very kindly gave me a copy of his book, The Dragons of Dorcastle, which I am very much looking forward to reading.

The last panel I moderated was called On the Side of the Law and featured writers Max Gladstone, T.G. Shepherd (also an Emergency Services Dispatcher from Canada), and public prosecutor Britt-Louise Viklund from Sweden. The panel was quite late on the last day, but ended up being a rather energetic and interesting one – despite too many people wandering in throughout from a door up the front. We discussed the tensions between making characters and situations recognisable in real life also drive narratives in fiction. We explored the use of easy tropes that we see day-to-day in TV and film and other books – many from the USA – and how they emerge as ‘truth’ in fantasy and SF. The obvious example was the reading of ‘Miranda rights’ in non-US set fiction.

I was a speaker on a related panel on Friday, moderated by the lovely Melissa F. Olson. My co-panellist was Icelandic author Emil Hjörvar Petersen who has written a series described as Nordic noir (a favourite genre of mine) meets fantasy. We explored the works of Paul Cornell (his Shadow Police series) and Ben Aaronovitch’s PC Peter Grant series. We had a good little romp through their books and others that are similar.

Five days with a packed series of different strands means that It’s impossible to go to everything. I’ve enjoyed both WorldCons I’ve been to immensely, and mostly it’s the meeting people who you can just chat with, listen to and learn amazing new things from, and just enjoy being with others who don’t find thinking about extreme possibilities as remotely odd. Kiitos again to our Finnish hosts for their hard work in bringing this WorldCon to us.

Finally, I am really pleased that Dublin won their bid and I am fully signed up for it in 2019.

NineWorlds London Geekfest, 4 – 6 August 2017

This was my fifth 9Worlds London Geekfest, and it is a convention firmly in my calendar. It was in its second year at the Hammersmith Novotel, and once again the hotel staff were pretty good. Check in was certainly a much better experience for me this year. I do love the fact that the hotel fielded a team in the Shark game.

This year I had actually submitted two panel ideas, and I was delighted that both were accepted. The convention programme planners assigned me to two other panels: both squee (a word going in the Oxford English Dictionary). One on queer Dax (Star Trek), and one on the transgressive nature (alleged) of Miss Phryne Fisher. That last one proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that 9Worlds is not all about the SF/F/H.

This year is also the second year that I have done the 9Worlds one weekend, then the World SF Convention (WorldCon) the next. This time the second convention is in another country – Finland. More on that later. So, I intended on pacing myself, including in the hotel department. That meant I arrived on Friday morning rather than Thursday. Sad to miss the Cheese and Cheese – from all the reports I saw, people enjoyed it immensely.

Anyway, on arrival I met with several friends, but I sought out a space to get my head into panel space. Especially since I’d been told that based on the pre-con selections on the Grenadine app the first panel I was going on was among the most popular. In Cremant, the huge room, no less. That panel was one I had put forward and proposed to explore the police in the supernatural novel series of Ben Aaronovitch (PC Peter Grant) and Paul Cornell (Shadow Police) from the points of view of three women who work in policing. First thing a disclaimer – none of us were talking from the points of view of our agencies, but from our generic experiences. I’m really pleased that the audience enjoyed it – and the questions were thought-provoking and intelligent. Far from easy, but respectful, particularly about our views on inclusion and diversity in the modern UK police forces. I said it at the panel, I love the fact that both Aaronovitch and Cornell ensured their books are fairly representative of London, which the police do try to bring – following Sir Robert Peel’s ethos the police being of the people to police the people. The police lead in some areas, and do lag behind in others. We spoke about many other things, but that’s an important point for me. To bring home the point, quite a few colleagues of mine took part in Brighton’s LGBT+ Pride march on the Saturday of the convention, led by our Director General flying the rainbow flag that also has our emblem.

I’m a participant at a similar panel at WorldCon, and I’m fascinated to see how it will be different.

The rest of my Friday and all of Saturday I could attend what panels I wanted to, catch up with friends, and spend a bit of time in my hotel room to decompress. Plus admire the imagination of cosplayers – highlights were the 13th Doctor, the TARDIS full of bras, and the lemmings for their choreography. Loads of others, but they stand out.

I attended Marina Berlin’s talk on women writing about war, which skated over a complex topic. As she said, there is a long history of women writing war in SF/F, but she limited herself to three authors writing war in the 21st century – Naomi Novik, Karin Lowacher, and Kameron Hurley. I’ve not read Novik or Lowacher, but devoured Hurley’s Belle Dame Apocrypha. Berlin compared them with tropes identified in men writing war in SF/F, which irked even though I could see where she was coming from. Still, it gave me some pointers for the WorldCon panel I’m moderating on women writing Military SF at WorldCon.

On Saturday I attended the panel on race in SF/F with a wonderfully diverse panel in terms of gender and ethnic backgrounds. The panel’s strength lay in discussing the rich variety of experience through which they both write and read/consume. Pretty much all of them had grown up in one culture, some as part of a diaspora, others not, then all moved elsewhere. I agree with them that SF/F’s gift is the ability to grab tropes and tear them apart, and the issue of SF/F being metaphorical. They discussed the damage caused by people being scared of accusations of cultural appropriation – but that there is of course a responsibility to check and avoid stereotyping and making the alien other exotic. White-washing is damaging, and a panellist noted that other cultures (Han Chinese was singled out) do the same and it doesn’t make it any less damaging. They also discussed complex issues to do with translating from one (mostly English, but not exclusively) flooding out other voices. All in all, a thought-provoking panel.

I attended John J Johnston’s talk about archaeology in Doctor Who, which was great fun.

Sunday was my day of panels. I was on three, and I am so glad for the generous gap between them. My panels also bounced from squee to serious to squee.

The queer Dax panel was a lot of fun, but made some really good points. Neth is a great moderator who took pains to ensure that everyone on the panel had a different queer perspective. I had been a bit nervous that I wouldn’t be able to contribute much and I had to confess that I’m not a Trek fan. I do love the love of the Trek fans, though, especially those on this panel. But, my fears were unfounded, and once my brain busted through the laying Stargate memories over DS9 ones, all was good.

I had also been a bit nervous about the Robots, AI, and the Labour Market panel I had put forward, was moderating, and was in the second biggest room. Back in February 2017 I listened to a BBC World Service programme about robots and AI, and the fear of them taking over work as we know it. It was an excellent panel (available here – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04rq0px?ocid=socialflow_twitter)  that I thought ripe for discussion at 9Worlds. Turned out I was correct with an incredibly knowledgeable panel from both a diverse set of writing and other work experience. To open up to the audience meant we could only really talk for about 45 minutes, and we could have spoken for a lot longer. I fear we only scratched the surface of some difficult questions, but I am pleased that the point of ‘AI’ coding being value neutral was totally trashed. It’s actually a really dangerous idea thinking that coding is value neutral. We also brought in a fair bit of real world stuff, and the role that SF can play – again the let’s explore and bust open the tropes point. I think the panel also strongly made the point that definitions matter – most of the robots and AIs cited as doing certain things are neither robots or AI. The audience again didn’t disappoint with some excellent questions, and also some good Twitter conversations.

Final panel for me of the convention and a fabulous one about just how transgressive the Honourable Phryne Fisher is. Wonderfully, one of the panellists cosplayed as Dr Mack and there are some fab pics out there of her with some Miss Fisher cosplayers. While the show does have its problems, the love we all have for it shone through (I adore the fact that Pat Cadigan is now going to give it a go on the strength of our enthusiasm!!). Personally, I am grateful for the audience member who knows far more about Melbourne’s socio-economic history than I do who chose to share that knowledge fully in the spirit of 9Worlds.

Then, all too fast, the inevitable end of another wonderful 9Worlds. My only regret – not being able to go to all the panels I wanted to, and not catching up with all the people I wanted to. Some of them I hope to see in Helsinki, but otherwise, next time.

I tweeted at some point that if there was a motto for 9Worlds it would be to: keep on learning!

Finally…

I could just link to a bunch of articles written by friends and acquaintances about the casting of Jodie Whittaker as Doctor Who because pretty much all of them have written what I’ve been thinking since the reveal on Sunday afternoon.

I hadn’t planned to watch it. Watching tennis bores me (sorry), but not as much as the post match guff. I also refused to allow myself to think that I would be that interested. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve liked every single actor and performer who has played Doctor Who over the nearly 55 years the series has been running. Genuinely, whenever people ask me who my favourite Doctor is I say all of them because it’s true. I learned a long time ago when I was researching and writing my Masters thesis on the show and its fans that my appreciation of each actor and era depends mostly on my mood at the time.

My interest in the show has ebbed and flowed, too, and not necessarily because of the quality of the stories. I loved the 2017 series, even though my interest had been ebbing a bit. As I have said often at convention panels when I’m talking about the show and my relationship with it, I am far less of a fan of the post 2005 series than I was from the years 1979 (or so) to 1984, and then 1987 to 1989. My fandom then was intense, by the way – publishing fanzines, rocking up to day events in costume, winning trivia quizzes, and writing to the writers and actors. One reason why my viewing has changed is because I know too many people working on the show – either directly, or on the industry around it. I’ve kept away from secrets – that’s never really appealed anyway – but it’s different.

I still love to show. Have missed very few episodes. Rewatch a fair number. Enjoy writing about it still, and writing in it (if you consider the widest possible definition of what the family of Doctor Who is… like I do).

So, it was with low expectations that I kept an eye on the Wimbledon men’s singles final and on Twitter. I had heard no serious rumours, but japed along with mates, and started to feel a little bit nervous. The people I know who normally know these things (or fairly close to guess correctly) didn’t know.

And then finally the tennis stopped, and the post match guff, and the 60 second clip of a person in a coat and hoodie stepping through a lush green forest… I blinked at the feet shot… then the hand with the key… thought no. A tease… and then the pan around as she pulled down her hood and that little quirky smile as she sees the TARDIS…

I feel little chills still as I re-watch it. As I think about it. I smile.

Jodie Whittaker is the Doctor in those few seconds.

My friends and others have written eloquently and passionately about the hatred of some. I’m not going to add to it. Nick Barlow very cleverly lances the fan sense of ownership and outrage when their thing does something they think it shouldn’t (On the new Doctor, fandom’s reaction and how it all reaches back to a Who story from 1980), and Una McCormack published two excellent pieces about the misogyny of some fans, one written after hearing some people being angry on the radio and the other earlier the same day channelling Ursula LeGuin. All three are brilliant. As is this by Chris Mead, and this excellent piece by Sarah Gailey is sheer perfection.

My piece in the book Queers Dig Time Lords traces how my coming out as gay was inextricably intwined with my love of Doctor Who and its fans. No, it’s not as simple as me having crushes on the companions (though that didn’t not happen in some cases). The theoretical basis of my Masters thesis was queer theory – about otherness. About how those who are ‘othered’ seek out those who are like them… and I found a very few others like me in the amazing world of Doctor Who fans I grew up in as a teenager and young adult. Deep breath here, but I am not exaggerating when I say they saved my life.

Now, as I reach my half century, the wonderful people I have met through this barmy show of many guises (not just the actor who plays the lead role, but the show itself – why it’s possible for so many to love, hate, be indifferent to each offering) are opening up what gender means. I have never felt comfortable being a girl, or even a woman; no. More uncomfortable about the Western cultural pressures of femininity. It’s still not a wholly comfortable fit for me, but I am trying out the label ‘non-binary’, and then trying to grapple what that means in the sense of my homosexuality.

Along comes Missy. Brilliant in her own right, but clearly also an experimental push from Steven Moffat and the rest of the Doctor Who crew.

The production crews over the years have toyed about casting a woman to play the Doctor. Most people think it was a tease – and maybe at times it was – but I think it was just that TV just couldn’t. Unless as a joke (as in the Curse of Fatal Death). Without really thinking about it (I have never played the game of casting anyone in the role, but just having faith in the decisions made and never actually being disappointed) I guess I must have thought that an older woman would play the part as an spinstery geek. Think Amelia Rumford…

For all of how Doctor Who has pushed boundaries, it is also a remarkably small c conservative show. Radical as well as reactionary. The old series as well as the new, and also the books and comics in between and running parallel. Television production has changed over the last fifty years, and Doctor Who has both led the charge with new techniques and resisted others. None of this in an easy progression. It’s always been a few steps forward, a few back or sideways, and a reset here and there. It’s made mistakes, and been absolutely brilliant – in the eyes of different beholders those mistakes and moments of genius have occurred at the same time.

I am gay, a woman interested sexually in women, but more comfortable with the idea of gender being fluid and me being more male than female. I am aromantic (and so, so pleased to know that term now!). I’ve had some fabulous relationships, and one bad one, and now am happily single.

… and one of the things that struck me on Sunday, which surprised me,  was just how cute that little quirky smile is on the Doctor’s face as she sees the TARDIS and the key materialises in her hand.

So, it’s not just about representation and feminism – both powerfully positive things, by the way – but for the first time ever in the 50 years I’ve been watching this show and reading the books I think I have fallen a little bit in love with the Doctor. Like the guys and gals who fell in love with Davison, Tennant, McGann, Smith, Capaldi, McCoy, the Bakers, Troughton… actually, all of them.

It’s a feeling I never thought I would ever feel, and it’s a feeling I’m finding I like.