Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Facebookers who are like daleks.

Please note that the photos in this blog feature daleks made by fans of the series, and not the BBC. If you want to know more about this unusual and apparently global hobby go here. Mine is not featured.

Regular readers will know by now that I have a very soft spot for TV's Doctor Who. My favourite villains are, of course, the daleks. Indeed, when I was an obsessive teenager, I spent several weeks building a dalek which went on permanent display at the old Oldmeadow Booksellers in West Heidelberg, where I used to work. It was a construction of wood, steel and rivets on Shepherd's castors. There was no fibreglass, so it was not a perfect copy of the Raymond Cusick originals, but it brightened up the store. I was in charge of the non-fiction department. But every now and then, if my sales figures were good, I was allowed to climb in the dalek and scare the bajeesus out of any school groups that came to visit for storytime. I even frightened away nuns.

This is not as mean-spirited as it sounds. For some reason, nuns always arrived about two minutes before closing time and spent hours in the non-fiction department, my responsibility. I had a very nice girlfriend back then and was always eager to get home, but if the nuns turned up I knew I would be stuck in the store till 7pm at the earliest. Being the most recent employee I was furthest down the pecking order, so I was usually allocated 'nun duty'. This wasn't really such a great chore. It was my job, after all. But when the nuns came in at 5.25 I knew I wouldn't be able to leave the store till 7pm at the earliest. This was in the days before barcodes. I had to record in longhand every single title and its price, then add them up on a machine only marginally more advanced than an abacus. So you can't blame me if every now and then I hopped into the dalek and pursued the tardy nuns, while loudly yelling, 'You will be ex-ter-mine-ated, you tar-dy nun!'
Far too much has been written about the real or perceived weaknesses of the daleks. I'm glad the new series made much of the fact that they can levitate and are no longer hampered by stairs (and just to pacify all you rampant Whovians, I do know that the first time a dalek floated up a flight of stairs was in an old Sylvester McCoy story, but few people saw it because by that stage the series had become acutely embarrassing and quite unwatchable). People also make jokes about the fact that daleks apparently have a sink-unblocking plunger as an unlikely weapon. Here again, we can thank the new series for showing us just how deadly that plunger can be. In episode six of the first new series we saw a man get his face suckered off by a dalek plunger. Very nasty.


Thus, another weakness of the daleks from Skaro was cleverly banished. But there's a third weakness that people don't talk about so often, because it's a little more lateral. And that particular weakness is the fact that the daleks feel the need to tell you exactly what they are doing, or plan to do, or have just done. My previous example of the dalek yelling, 'You will be ext-er-min-ated!' is a good one, straight from the original series. When daleks stalk their foe they inevitably scream 'You will ext-er-min-a-ted  or 'We will ann-i-hil-ate you!' Now, one of the hallmarks of being a good stalker/hunter is the ability to maintain silence, rather than let your foe know that you aren't far away. It's certainly inadvisable to yell, 'You will be ext-er-min-ated!' as this rather tips off your foe that they should get the hell out of there, and quickly. But daleks can't help themselves. Even when they are performing tasks that should really be blindingly obvious to other daleks, they are liable to announce, 'I have im-pris-oned the enemy!' or 'I have open-ed the door!' or even, somewhat notably, in one of the old black and white stories, 'I have fal-len in-to the sea!' But daleks are very loyal to their own kind. In response to a frankly self-evident remark like this, they would never squawk, 'It's bleed-ing ob-vious that you have fal-len in-to the sea, you id-i-ot. I suppose you want us to res-cue you?' (Another fatuous but typically dalek-like remark.)
In this respect, daleks remind me of a particularly annoying kind of facebooker - you know the type, they feel the need to tell us exactly what they are doing every moment of the day, dalek-fashion. For example, 'I have just made a flour-less or-ange cake.' Big deal! What really surprises me is that there are always dozens of other Facebook daleks who respond to such trivial news with comments like, 'You are very clev-er to make a flour-less or-ange cake. I wish I could make a flour-less or-ange cake too.' or 'I would like to eat your flour-less or-ange cake.' You get the idea. Weirdly, it seems to be fantasy authors who are best at writing these inessential dalek-like comments. Maybe their minds are so full of fantastic incident, that they lose track of what is important and what isn't. And yet, the fantasy writers are the ones who have a go at us other writers for being dull because we write books about everyday people to whom bad things happen. (Which is kind of how stories work, even if there aren't vast armies of sword-wielding Betegeusian Farrkensnoggs to heighten the action.)


michaelgerardbauer said...

Great post Doug. By the way you wouldn't have a copy of that or-ange cake recipe would you?

DougMacLeod said...

Suggest you ask Michael Pryor. This is a bit of a cheap shot.He posted a comment complaining about authors like you and me who write 'non-fantasy' stories about 'ordinary characters who have a lot of bad things happen to them,' (which is fair comment, but I would argue that it's how stories are created) and since Michael is always posting on Facebook about his latest culinary masterpieces which I'm sure are very good, I thought I'd take a pot shot. Do I feel any better for it? No. And I actually like Michael. He was kind snough to tell me that I inspired him to become an author. I once visited a school where he was teaching. After I gave my talks to the kids, I believe that Michael thought, 'God, if he can do it, so can I.'