Guns and Frocks

Loving Delta and the Bannermen since 1987

Dear Neato Robotics people,

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Dear Neato Robotics people,

My partner and I are the proud owners of one of your robot vacuum cleaners. It’s one of five vacuum cleaners he has bought for the house, and he really loves it. He has named it Alice. It’s something that remains undiagnosed, I’m afraid. Anyway. We soldier on.

He is particularly impressed by the design and performance of the robot vacuum cleaner, and proudly informs me that it cost him only just a little more than 1000 AUD. I’m a bit less impressed with it, I have to admit. It finds it almost impossible to cope with rugs: it snags itself on fringes and loose threads and finds itself unable to move any further. I would have thought that rugs were just the thing you might design a vacuum cleaner to be able to deal with, but what do I know? I’m a Latin teacher, not a fucking engineer.

Another sore point is this. We programme the robot vacuum cleaner to work at night, so that it doesn’t annoy the dogs, and so that we don’t kill ourselves by tripping over it on our way to the fridge. However, when the robot vacuum cleaner inevitably snags itself on a rug or a piece of thread, it is designed to inform its owner of the fact by emitting a persistent, plaintive beeping noise, which continues until the battery runs out.

Now there are reasons I might want to be woken up in the middle of the night and warned repeatedly about something. Perhaps the house is on fire, or the zombie apocalypse is underway, and everyone I have ever loved is dead. But, and don’t take this the wrong way, I just don’t need to be woken and warned because the robot vacuum cleaner is shitting itself about encountering a rug on the floor again.

Still, it’s not all bad news. My partner only needs to bring out one of the other four vacuum cleaners nine or ten times a day, and I still get to trip over it when I wander downstairs at night in order to turn the fucking beeping noise off.

Warmest regards,
Nathan Bottomley.

Guns and Frocks

Friday, 28 August 2015

This adventure was going to require a serious frock.

Paul Cornell, Human Nature, Chapter 1

It’s 18 February 1995. My friends and I are attending Tri©on, a Doctor Who convention which is being held at the Parramatta Travelodge in a suburb of Sydney called Rosehill. Mark Strickson is the special guest: he has made the 500-kilometre journey from Armidale, where he is currently studying at the University of New England. He has hilarious things to say about how stunts were performed in the studios at the BBC Television Centre.

One of the items on the programme has already been cancelled. It was called Companion Makeover, presumably in honour of Strickson, but no one is really sure who is running it or what it is supposed to be about. So the organisers have decided to replace it with an interactive panel called DonaWho, in honour of The Phil Donahue Show, which will end its 26-year run some time later in the year. Like its near namesake, this panel will feature a compere with a radio mic who will wander around the room, soliciting bracing contributions from the audience and creating entertaining conflicts among its members.

Twenty years later, I can’t remember why I was the one given that microphone.

I have already planned what I want to do. I may have worked it out on the train on the way up, if I caught the train, or perhaps the night before if I was driving there in my sprightly yellow roadster known as Carol. In any case, I have a plan. “Ladies and gentlemen”, I probably say, “today I intend to create to set fan against fan, to create a rift in Doctor Who fandom that will echo throughout the ages.”

And I mean it. Today, I will split the audience into two irreconcilable warring factions — not Rills and Drahvins, not Savants and Deons, not Daleks and Thals. This time the factions will be called Guns and Frocks.


The ‘Guns and Frocks’ thing dates back a few years now. I think it’s [Doctor Who novelist] Gareth Roberts who said that Doctor Who needs less guns and more frocks. And it became a very quick shorthand for two rough schools of writing in the Doctor Who novels: one of which was militaristic space opera books that were very serious, and took themselves very seriously; and then at completely the other end of the spectrum, very camp ones that did not take themselves seriously….

Interview with Kate Orman, 2005.

By the begining of February 1995, Virgin Publishing had released 22 original novels in its New Adventures range. The range had started in June 1991, two years after the soft cancellation of the TV series, and one month before the publication of the long-delayed novelisation of the last available Doctor Who story, Battlefield.

The New Adventures were explicitly intended to be the official continuation of the Doctor Who story. They starred Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor, reconceived as the dark and mysterious arch-manipulator we barely glimpsed in Remembrance of the Daleks, along with his companion Ace, whose soft-left politics and fascination with chemistry was inexplicably transformed into a hard-right obsession with military hardware and a fascination with killing things.

I remember being disappointed by the New Adventures at the time. Reading a New Adventure took many times longer than watching a Doctor Who story. And it wasn’t something you could enjoy drunkenly with friends. More than that, though: the New Adventures were grim and dark. They introduced uninteresting plot elements early on that demanded the reader’s memory and attention until they were unimpressively slotted into place towards the end of the novel. And they were heavy with continuity. Not fun Hand-of-Sutekh continuity: dull, leaden continuity involving Arc of Infinity or the history of the Earth Empire as established in the Pertwee Era.

There were a few exceptions. My friend Kate Orman had written a book called The Left-Handed Hummingbird, an immensely clever and well-written piece of science fiction. Paul Cornell had written two novels: Timewyrm: Revelation, which had featured a sentient church and a weird mindscape redolent of nostalgia and love for the television programme we had lost, and Love and War, which had introduced the incomparably clever, knowing and hilarious Professor Bernice Summerfield. And Gareth Roberts — who had loved Tom Baker’s Doctor and Lalla Ward’s Romana nearly as much as I had — whose novel The Highest Science had featured hilarious turtle-shaped aliens, and which would, a million years later, form the basis of the brilliantly entertaining 2009 Easter Special, Planet of the Dead.


Benny grinned at her. ‘My dear Roslyn, frocks are the purpose of life.’ She twirled, her skirt flying out around her, grabbing at her hat. ‘Frocks are what it is all about. Do try to remember that.’

Kate Orman, SLEEPY, Chapter 22

“I’m going to ask you five yes/no questions, and I want you keep count of how many questions where your answer is yes. Ready?”

They are ready, and so I ask them these questions:

  1. Has your enjoyment of a Doctor Who story ever been spoiled by what one of the major characters was wearing?
  2. Have you ever as an adult had to stop yourself from crying while watching a companion’s departure scene?
  3. Do you prefer a companion wearing high heels to one wearing combat boots?
  4. Do you think Delta and the Bannermen is seriously underrated?
  5. Have you ever, in public, in a mixed gathering, impersonated one of the following: Lady Adrasta, Helen A, Count Scarlioni, Harrison Chase, Lady Peinforte or President and Supreme Commander of the Terran Federation Servalan?

“Now I want you to get up and change seats. If you answered yes to zero, one or two of these questions, I want you to sit on this side of the room. You guys are the Guns. But you answered yes to three or more questions, I want you to sit over here. You are the Frocks.”

Fortunately, the audience splits into roughly two equal groups. Here they are, sitting in rows, staring uncomprehendingly at each other across the aisle.


[Nathan] then asked a whole bunch of Who-related questions, trying to determine if there were any real dividing factors. Most factors had people on both sides both agreeing and disagreeing, but some were dividing (opinion on Mel was amazing — the Frocks loved her and the Guns hated her).

The debate was really, really fun and there was no animosity on either side, due to the fun approach.

Stacey Smith?, The Frock Homepage, with Gun

Doctor Who is over fifty years old now. And I love it to death. As my friend and fellow-podcaster Richard once said, it can be anything, any story. An elegiac history lesson about sectarian murder. A ludicrous space opera featuring robot monsters and a megalomaniacal Bond villain. A love story across dimensions. An allegory about racism, a rollicking adventure story featuring racism, a story — many stories — in which the Doctor fights against exploitation, oppression, and villains without any sense of humour.

But there are things about Doctor Who that leave me cold. The history of the Time Lords. Harmonising the ridiculously inconsistent stories of the various Dalek factions. Explaining why the Cybermen in Attack look so much like the centuries-later Cybermen of Earthshock. And believing that watching people with guns attacking other people with guns is adult, serious and entertaining.

Here’s what I love. Billy’s sadness when he remembers how little his friends loved and understood him. Tobias Vaughn’s laughter as Zoë destroys his receptionist computer by talking to it in ALGOL. Pertwee’s time flow analogue, made of forks and corks and tea leaves. The Hand of Sutekh. Tom and Lalla effortlessly outshining the dull, unimaginative forces of evil. Beryl Reid’s tango hairdo. Melanie Bush trapped under a crocheted throw-rug, screaming at an advancing toasting fork. Sylv dancing awkwardly with Ray in Wales in 1959. And a Doctor who would “make the villains fall into their own traps, and trick the monsters, and outwit the men with guns. He’d save everybody’s life and find a way to win.”

Those are things, I hope, that both Guns and Frocks can agree on.

Thanks

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

And that’s that. Thank you to everyone who commented, and to everyone who told me that they were reading along, and to everyone else who’s been reading. I had a great time on the trip, much better than I could have imagined, and it was nice to think that I was somehow sharing my experiences with my friends.I’ll see you soon.

Home safe

Monday, 31 March 2008

Our last day in Tokyo was largely uneventful. We took a quick trip back to Harajuku to check out a 100-yen shop. (These are great. Full of things shaped like cartoon animals that are good for opening jars.) Then a turn around a supermarket near our hotel in Shinagawa to make sure there were no foodstuffs unavailable in Australia that we hadn’t already bought. Then back to the hotel to pack up. Calvin filled two extra boxes with food, as well as the complementary contents of the daily-replenished minibar.

And then, the airport. Duty-free shopping, hanging round in the the airport lounge, killing time. The first leg was from Tokyo to Cairns: my first ever business class flight. I was a little underwhelmed, to be honest. I could survive seven hours sitting on broken glass with a gun to my head, provided I had video on demand, but on this flight there were only eight channels, and the highlight appeared to be Andrew Denton interviewing Rod Stewart. We did this flight on points; had it been with money, I don’t think I could justify spending thousands of dollars on a slightly bigger seat and much jollier flight attendants.

Anyway. We arrived in Cairns, and decided not to prolong the agony. Instead of waiting six hours for the next business class leg, we got straight back on the same plane in economy class. And two and a half hours later, we were in Sydney.

No fugu for you

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Saturday night we went for dinner to Shibuya, which, According to Calvin, has the busiest intersection in the world. It’s massive, with neon signs and animated billboards. And everyone in Tokyo was there. It made Piccadilly Circus look like Johnston Street, Annandale.

We were having dinner with a couple Calvin knew; we had run into them a couple of days earlier in the lobby of our last hotel. With the help of Nick, who knows Japanese, we found a good restaurant, full of locals, and had nice meal. We drank plum wine and cherry-blossom sake. Apparently there was whale bacon on the menu, but since I heard this as “quail bacon”, I wasn’t particularly shocked until later. Calvin didn’t have any, which was a surprise.

Sunday morning, on Nick’s advice, we went to Harajuku, which is apparently full of wacky young people dressed in cartoon-character-Victoriana-S & M-wear. It was so cold, though, that we were disinclined to explore, and only caught sight of one or two of the less extreme examples.

Then to the giant department stores of Shinjuku. This was fun, but I was already starting to feel unwell. I think parasites from the sushi I’ve been eating had invaded my cerebro-spinal fluid and were making my joints ache. Or something.

We met Ben Tupman and his girlfriend Satoko fo lunch in Shinjuku. We ate in a Korean barbecue restaurant, where we selected our own food and cooked it on a hotplate embedded in the table. Calvin tricked me into eating heart (again), and we may have overeaten in order to avoid the 500 yen fine for taking food and not finishing it.

During lunch, we discussed Calvin’s plans for eating fugu, the poisonous blowfish that nearly killed Homer Simpson in 1991. Fugu restaurants only serve fugu normally, but Ben looked at the menu that the concierge had given us, and helpfully informed me that if I didn’t feel up to fugu, the restaurant also offered shirako, which is the fugu’s sperm.

Unsurprisingly, by the time I got home, I was horribly nauseous, and I split the evening between groaning weakly and being sick. Sadly, neither of us got to taste any delicious fugu.