authorship – Antenna Responses to Media and Culture Thu, 30 Mar 2017 23:48:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Making an Exit, Coming Home: Israeli Television Creators in a Global-Aiming Industry Thu, 18 Jun 2015 11:00:53 +0000 The Affair’s Hagai Levi puts it, taking a permanent detour from work that “started out as art.” ]]> Hagai Levi on the cover of  weekly magazine, with the accompanying headline, “Curse of Success” (Leora Hadas' translation).

Hagai Levi on the cover of Haaretz weekly magazine, with the accompanying headline, “Curse of Success” (Leora Hadas’ translation).

Post by Leora Hadas, University of Nottingham

This post continues the ongoing “From Nottingham and Beyond” series, with contributions from faculty and alumni of the University of Nottingham’s Department of Culture, Film and Media. This week’s contributor is Leora Hadas, PhD candidate in Film and Television Studies in our department, a PhD candidate in Film and Television Studies in our department who begins teaching film and television in the Cheung Kong School of Journalism and Communication at Shantou University in China in January 2016. 

The multiple-award-winning The Affair (Showtime, 2014–), now airing in the UK, has once again placed Israeli television on the global stage, although most viewers may never know it. The series was co-created by Israeli writer-director Hagai Levi, previously responsible for Be’Tipul/In Treatment (HBO, 2008-2010). The show’s purchase and adaptation by the major cable channel has since become a model for success to which creators throughout the Israeli television industry aspire. Israeli television shows and formats are enjoying a remarkable reception not only in the United States, but across the globe. Dramas such as In Treatment and Homeland (Showtime, 2011–), as well as successful reality television formats such as Rising Star (HaKokhav HaBa), have led to the New York Times calling Israel “a kind of global entrepôt for creative TV.”

The reach of the Israeli television industry is disproportionate to its tiny size and relative youth, but according to Georgia State University’s Sharon Shahaf, originates in just these qualities. Small budgets force a focus on storytelling and characterization, and an inexperienced industry has more leeway for personal and innovative creativity. Israeli dramas seldom employ a writing team, and are often written entirely by their creators. The convergence of creator and head writer, while fraying in the U.S., adds to the status of Israeli drama as essentially personal form of storytelling. As chief executive of Keshet Broadcasting Avi Nir says, “Israeli dramas are very much driven by auteurs, by people who have their own unique story and own unique voice to tell it.” Yet Levi left the Showtime production of The Affair, citing creative differences, telling Israeli news site Ynet that the show “started out as art, and there was a specific moment when I started to recognize that it was moving away from that.”

Title card from Israeli TV series <em>Fauda</em>. The show’s tagline is “In this war, everything’s personal.”

Title card from Israeli TV series Fauda. The show’s tagline is “In this war, everything’s personal.”

Levi’s experience in the transition between Tel Aviv and Hollywood reveals the contradictory position of scripted-series creators in Israeli television. Like their U.S. counterparts, creators in Israel are cultural legitimators, whose presence validates their shows as works of art and personal vision. Many of them work in multiple media, and enjoy a broad presence in more legitimate cultural spaces such as film, novels (Ron Leshem, Ta Gordin), theatre (Reshef Levi, HaBorer) or even political criticism (Sa’id Kashua, Avoda Arvit). Others are actors who star in semi-autobiographical shows, drawing on nationally specific experience – as IDF soldiers (Lior Raz, Fauda) or as minorities within Israel’s complex social mosaic (Maor Zegori, Zegori Imperia).

At the same time, the possibility of selling a show to Hollywood slots well into the “making an exit” narrative of the Israeli IT industry. The dream scenario pitched by Alon Dolev, founder of the TV Format Fund, is that of a start-up: an idea that is successfully sold on abroad, giving its originators “a regular, sometimes lifelong income” (my translation) while the buyer undertake the task of further management. To sell a show to the U.S. specifically is to “make it” in an industry that is increasingly oriented outwards, aiming for the international market from the get-go.

The reality behind the discourse is, naturally, more complex. Shows might “make an exit,” but creator seldom will. If episodes of HBO’s In Treatment were often taken verbatim from the original Be’Tipul, further Israel-drama adaptations usually borrow little but the initial idea, which loses much of its cultural identity in the process – as when Hatufim, or “Abductees,” was Americanized as Homeland. A growing focus on the selling of formats often means a complete dissociation between creator and show, even for the most reputedly personal of dramas. Distributors such as Keshet, Dori Media and Tedy Productions, though representing Israeli performers, do not deal in behind-the-scenes talent. Normally, their modus operandi is to get complete control over distribution rights and leave production companies out of the loop, a practice that continues to generate fierce public debate.

There results a paradox, in which the ultimate success is a personal Israeli story sold in Hollywood to an entirely new creative team. As Israeli television increasingly thinks in global terms, drama creators are in a curious split position between auteur and, in the uniquely Israeli term, “startupist.” They are expected to represent a locally and culturally grounded authenticity, yet end their role when the local goes global. Perhaps also as a result of its youth, Israeli television is not familiar with the figure of the showrunner: the writer-creator who also function as producer and as the main face of and power behind his or her show.

An Israeli-US co-production, Dig advertises Israeli producer Gideon Raff’s involvement.  In Israel, creator names never feature in poster or trailer content.

An Israeli-US co-production, Dig advertises Israeli producer Gideon Raff’s involvement. In Israel, creator names never feature in poster or trailer content.

For all their cultural presence, the discussion around format sales and resultant power struggles between producers and distributors almost entirely excludes creators. The fact is that the only means for an Israeli creator to receive either royalties on creative control over a show is to be directly hired into the adaptation’s writing team – a practice that remains very rare, going as it does against distributor interests. Essentially, while Israeli television drama is celebrated for its auteurial quality, Hagai Levi is but one among many creators who prefers to be, in the words of the Hebrew theme to Hatufim, “coming home.”


Black Widow and Whedon Exceptionalism: Accounting for Sexism in Age of Ultron and the MCU Fri, 15 May 2015 19:46:56 +0000

Post by Piers Britton, University of Redlands

As I started planning this post, a few days before the general release of the second Avengers movie, issues of authorship and creative control—and attendant problems of narrative cogency in the Marvel Cinematic Universe—already seemed to offer a fruitful basis for comment and reflection. Not for the first time in his career, Ultron’s writer-director Joss Whedon was telling stories of conflict between himself and studio executives. At first remarks were notionally at his own expense: he jokily characterized the development of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as his misunderstanding of the studio’s brief for his three-year contract. Apparently his abrupt withdrawal from day-to-day creative involvement in the ABC series was the result of Marvel’s primarily wanting him to focus on the Avengers sequel. In the wake of Ultron’s release, in a podcast for Empire, Whedon painted a starker picture of creative differences that apparently opened up during production of the movie. He claimed that Marvel executives held to ransom the more surreal and intimately personal passages in Ultron, namely the vignettes of the heroes’ troubled visions brought on by Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), and the sequence at a secluded farmhouse, owned by Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), which allowed for various ruminative two-handers between the principal characters. These are arguably the most “Whedonesque” segments of the blockbuster. According to Whedon, the Marvel team was preoccupied with scenes that tied into, and teased, future MCU movies, viz., those showing the mantic Thor bathing in the Waters of Sight. In short, Whedon offered a narrative of conflict between authorial sensibility and industry logic – Age of Ultron as an internally coherent, emotionally resonant text versus Age of Ultron as an iteration in a cycle – and thus a de facto preview of forthcoming attractions underscoring the fact that the MCU is “all connected.”

Almost at once this narrative of authorial conflict was overshadowed by a more immediately newsworthy one, which again spoke to tensions between individual entries in the MCU super-franchise and the avowed interests of Whedon as a writer and director. On May 4th Whedon terminated his Twitter account, immediately exciting speculation that this was a response to an online “backlash” against Ultron’s portrayal of Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). During the subsequent week a wide array of commentary centered on Whedon’s avowed feminism, and whether or not his treatment of Romanoff in Ultron upholds or (as was more widely opined) undercuts his claims to be a feminist. Objections to Whedon’s treatment of Black Widow focused on a series of plot elements, and one specific line of dialogue. Among other things critics objected to Romanoff’s being romantically paired with Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), to her being cast as the stereotypical caregiver—taming the Hulk with a lullaby, “cleaning up” after the “boys” in the team, etc.—and to her “domestication” in the scenes at Barton’s farm. While at the farm she discusses with Banner the possibility of their settling down, and we learn that she was rendered sterile in a particularly nasty graduation ceremony at her assassins’ academy. According to Todd VanDer Werff’s transcription at Vox, the line runs as follows:

They sterilize you. It’s efficient. One less thing to worry about, the one thing that might matter more than a mission. It makes everything easier — even killing. You still think you’re the only monster on the team?

The line is ambiguous in its import: at best, as VanDer Werff speculates, it is a clumsily constructed attempt to suggest that Romanoff is a monster by virtue of her whole career as a spy and assassin; at worst, as many claim, it atavistically reinscribes notions of a woman’s humanity being defined solely by her capacity to bear children.

Ultron1I don’t want to dwell on the various positions in the Black Widow debate per se, but I do want to reflect on the fact that I did not myself experience the film as sexist in its portrayal of Romanoff. Structurally, scenes that showed her domestic side or stressed her emotional vulnerability did not strike me as out of balance with the scenes that showed her as single-minded, rational, intensely courageous and supremely competent in her professional life. Nor did the manifestations of her self-doubt and uncertainty about life choices seem to me egregious in comparison with the corresponding treatment of her fellow (male) Avengers. However, there’s no doubt that my neutral-to-positive reading of her portrayal at large, and the “monster” line in particular, was determined by my willingness to give Whedon the benefit of the doubt – which in turn is based largely on my prior knowledge of his television work. In other words, in spite of my scholarly interest in the MCU as brand, by default I read Age of Ultron primarily as a Whedon text, not a Marvel text. The same seems to be true of his detractors: in spite of the odd attempt to read the furore in the context of Marvel’s endemic gender asymmetries, excoriation of Ultron’s sexism has for the most part been couched in terms that presuppose Whedon’s primary authorship.

So has Whedon’s self-identification as a feminist, and his reputation as at least a would-be feminist writer, served perversely to obfuscate larger patterns of authorial bias, drawing attention away from Marvel Studios’ problematic representations and exclusions of women? In the short term this may be the case, but probably not over the long haul. While the billion-dollar success of Ultron will likely do little in production terms to encourage reevaluation of storytelling strategy and values in the MCU, from a reception standpoint this latest cause célèbre seems almost certain to be historicized as part of a pattern. If we compare the sluggish, scattered responses to the undermining and cheapening of female characters in the last Bond movie, Skyfall (Mendes, 2012), the groundswell of frustration at Marvel’s institutionalized sexism—articulated most recently by one of Ultron’s male stars—suggests that Marvel’s new breed of tent-pole movie is likely to be a prime locus of critique on issues of balanced and diverse representation for some time to come.


Downloading Serial (part 2) Fri, 24 Oct 2014 12:57:24 +0000 Serial episodes, let's explore the podcast's use of temporality.]]> serial1

Previously on “Downloading Serial

I raised the concern that information was being withheld from us listeners to make for a more engaging narrative, and suggested that such withholding makes for great storytelling, but problematic journalism. After two more episodes, I’ve found that the question of withholding information has receded in my thoughts about Serial, replaced by another more complex (and I think interesting) question: when are we?

Before diving into the “when” of this question and tackling the topic of temporality, let me first ruminate on the “we”—who is being situated in Serial’s complex timeframes? Recent episodes have cemented my sense that Sarah Koenig is our protagonist and first-person narrator, and she is hailing us to join her in this story. Early in episode 4, Koenig makes this address clear: “If you want to figure out this case with me, now is the time to start paying close attention because we have arrived, along with the detectives, at the heart of the thing.” This moment stood out for me, evoking the kind of direct address common to 19th century literature, the first golden age of seriality—it is Koenig saying “Dear Reader” to us, a phrase that Garrett Stewart frames as “the conscripted audience,” taking us into her confidence and accessing her subjectivity.

So Koenig is a surrogate for “we,” and like with most first-person narrators, we have access to her perspectives and experience, and lack access to anything beyond her knowledge. But she is also the text’s author, possessing a broader knowledge of the case than she is sharing with us—Koenig asks for our trust, assuring us that the details she leaves out (like the late night cell phone timeline) are irrelevant, and that loose threads (like the call to Nisha) will be addressed in due time. And still I cannot stop from wondering what she knows and isn’t sharing with us (yet). This tension is productive in fiction, as we wonder about the knowledge and perspective between narrator and author; in documentary, we are to assume there is none, or at least it is irrelevant.

But Serial relies on the tropes and styles of serialized fiction enough that I did start to think actively about that gap at one moment in episode 5: Koenig is driving and monologuing, deep in the weeds about reconstructing the post-murder timeline, and her fellow producer Dana Chivvis says, “There’s a shrimp sale at the Crab Crib”; Koenig deadpans in reply, “Sometimes I think that Dana isn’t listening to me.” If this were fiction, I would seize this moment to explore the possibility of an unreliable narrator, where the investigator’s obsessions start overtaking her rationality and sense of perspective on the case, coloring our own attitudes and perceptions, with Chivvis signaling that we maybe shouldn’t listen to her so intently. Maybe that is what is happening, and the narration is clueing us in to Koenig’s growing immersion and personal involvement, but as of yet, her presentation seems to clearly earn our trust and confidence more than our doubts and reservations.

So if “we” are Koenig’s conscripted audience, riding alongside her as she works the case, when are we as the podcast unfurls? Temporality is central to any medium with a fixed presentational timeframe, as filmmakers, radio and television producers, and game designers all work to manage the temporal experience of audiences more than writers can do with the more variable process of reading. But serial structure is wholly defined by its timeframe, constituted by the gaps between installments that generate anticipation and insist on patience, where that time is used to think about, discuss, and participate in the web of textuality that seriality encourages—see for instance the robust Reddit thread about Serial, complete with fan-generated transcripts and timelines evocative of the “forensic fandom” I have studied concerning television serial fiction. So the consumption of a serial always foregrounds its “when” to some degree.

A listener-created timeline shows forensic fandom at work, but in the realm of actual forensics

A listener-created timeline shows forensic fandom at work, but in the realm of actual forensics

Serial explicitly foregrounded its “when” this last episode, as Koenig works to walk us through the presumed timeline of Hae’s death and the alleged actions of Jay and Adnan. As she does this, the podcast constantly toggles between multiple timeframes: the possible events of January 13, 1999, the testimonies and interviews recorded throughout 1999 and 2000 as part of the investigation and trial, Koenig’s interviews with Adnan and others over the course of the last year, and the current weekly production of the podcast. This question of temporality is clearly on the mind of many listeners—Chivvis responds to listeners wanting to binge listen to the whole season by noting that they are still producing each week’s episode, thus “when you listen each week, the truth is that you’re actually not all that far behind us.” So we are situated at a similar “when” to the producers in terms of final product, but they are clearly far ahead of us in terms of the process of reporting, researching, and knowledge. (Chivvis’s post also highlights a dangling thread that I may pick up in a future installment, as I believe the rise of binge-watching in television via Netflix-style full-season releases actually removes the seriality from serial television, whereas Serial aggressively foregrounds its seriality. But that’s for another when…)

While I raised the question in my last post about the lack of clear structure, I feel like that structure is now becoming clearer. Each episode, aside from the first which has a more sprawling focus, takes a step forward in the basic timetable of the case: the relationship between Hae and Adnan before the murder, the discovery of Hae’s body, the police arresting Adnan, and now the reconstruction of the alleged events per the police’s case—next week is called “The Case Against Adnan Syed,” suggesting that the prosecution will soon rest. But the storytelling is not limited to this 1999 progression, as Koenig interweaves her own contemporary reporting, interviews, and reconstructions into the recordings and documents from the past. So we are always in multiple timelines, even as the core case unwinds with some structuring chronology. But given that we are left to live in the contemporary serial gaps each week, our anticipation becomes restless, knowing that the producers have more of the past spooled up to reveal, even if we are “actually not all that far behind” them in the present. I, for one, grow impatient to know what is already known about the past, even if we are not too far behind the process of audio reconstruction.**

So as I wait out another week to try in vain to catch up to the producers, one thing I will be ruminating on is the role of characters beyond Koenig. We are invested in learning the events of the murder and trial, but perhaps even more so, in trying to get a sense of who these people are and why they did what they did. Obviously we’ve learned a lot about Adnan, even without a definitive sense of what we know is true or not, but what about Jay? We still don’t know much about who he was before the events (not even his last name), and unlike nearly everyone else we’ve encountered, we know absolutely nothing about what has happened to him after the trial. Why haven’t they revealed that part of the story? Are they trying to protect potential twists in the story still to come, or to protect an innocent person who might be wrongly attacked by an angry listenership? Has Koenig talked to him, or has he not consented to this story? And what do we have the right to know as listeners riding alongside Koenig’s journey?

Next time, on “Downloading Serial”…


** And in a clear case of dueling authorial “whens,” after I finished the first draft of this post, I read Hanna Rosin’s excellent post about the latest episode, which raises many points similar to mine concerning Koenig’s role as narrator and journalist, as well as her timeframe in relation to the reporting process. But I assure you, Dear Reader, I wrote the above before reading Rosin, even as I write this addendum after.




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On Kale, Transmedia, and Winning GISHWHES Fri, 23 May 2014 13:00:01 +0000 Saturday_Viking_boat_25_smallerHave you ever had a life experience you never expected? One that makes you step back and ask: how did I get here? That was me, for basically the whole weekend of the winning team’s reward trip for GISHWHES: the Greatest Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen. A few choice moments: rising up into the air in a sea plane with half of my teammates, or sitting around a waterside bonfire with our team plus Misha Collins and the other organizers of GISHWHES — these are now cherished memories that in part I can’t quite believe happened, and yet that I’m having a tough time coming back down from. It was made even better that I was there with a strange mix: my five month old son, my BFF, and a group of teammates who had never before met in person but who together had created innumerable strange things (like team uniforms made from kale) in the name of the scavenger hunt that brought us together.GISHWHES Item 137

GISHWHES is a dada-istic experience of creative mayhem coordinated by actor/genius Misha Collins and his very talented/visionary collaborators, including the mysterious Miss Jean Louis Alexander, who communicates to gishwhesian participants primarily in poetic email missives. You may know Collins as the actor who plays the angel Castiel in the CW series, Supernatural, or you may know him as his satiric Twitter persona, @mishacollins. I discovered Collins through Supernatural, and have followed his various online projects avidly (his twitter, the charity Random Acts, the web series Divine and Cooking Fast and Fresh With West, even Stonehenge Apocalypse), but it was with GISHWHES that I felt most clearly the invitation to participate and create.

I’ve participated in GISHWHES for all three years, for the last two with my now-winning team, Vatican Cameos. The team that wins GISHWHES each year is rewarded with a weekend trip and visit with Misha Collins. For the first year (in 2011), this meant eating pasta with Misha in Rome; the second winning team (2012) spent the night with Misha in a haunted castle; for our year/team (2013), we went to Vancouver, rode on a Viking boat, and flew on a sea plane to an island retreat where we held a séance/bonfire and conjured up some local car salesmen.

Long before I could have fathomed I might be on a GISHWHES winning team, I wrote that GISHWHES models the potential for “transmedia creative authorship” that “finds its engine in the collective coordination and agency of all involved.” I’ve also written about the sense of the intimate collective created by thoughtfully designed transmedia projects — a sense of community facilitated by interaction across coordinated yet open-ended digital fronts. GISHWHES sees the intimate collective and raises it an inappropriate public, in which individuals, families, and team members shed all sense of shame and go out and create silly, provocative, and/or insane public art, later to be shared across online networks. GISHWHES takes the fannish/digital ethos of playful creativity and experimentation and, importantly, awareness of community and our place in it and responsibility to it and enacts it in the world, resulting in images like the ones that pepper this post.

GISHWES Item 20 Although GISHWHES is rooted in embodied as well as digital engagement, I wasn’t prepared for what it felt like to be united with my team and with the GISHWHES creators in person as we were taken on an extravagant and crazy journey through Vancouver. My past work has almost always at least indirectly argued that the relationships we build online can be substantive and nuanced, and every bit as “real” as in person relationships. I almost felt this belief challenged by the experience of meeting my full team and the GISHWHES crew in person. But if we were just a bunch of strangers who hadn’t had this past digital history, meeting together wouldn’t have had the power it did.GISHWHES Item 23

I’ve also always held that as scholars and fans, we congregate around the star “text” rather than the person, and I’ve stayed away from interviewing the figures I study. I’ve written an entire essay on Misha Collins, and at the time it would have felt anathema to me to consider interviewing him; that would have been for a different methodology, a different project. (Since then, I’d already begun to chip away at this assertion in my experience with a press pass at LeakyCon and the access that it gave to producers and actors of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.) I found this assumption of mine, too, challenged fundamentally by my experience in Vancouver. Misha seemed excited to talk to me about the thought processes behind his Twitter persona and his various transmedia endeavors, and I found myself very much wanting to have that conversation, to integrate his perspective on star texts and branding and the power of limits in digital creativity, to see how what he had to say, or better yet, our dialogue, would change the picture I had created.

Our experience of winning GISHWHES was a rare one and one that very few will be lucky enough to have. But it drove home to me something that I think is at the heart of GISHWHES as a whole and a reason for its growing success: GISHWHES unites our virtual and real worlds, our online and in person social networks, and overturns our assumptions about both. Now I feel the loss of seeing my team in person but look forward to the digital and embodied mayhem we will create this August, when we gish again.


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Negotiating Authorship: Showrunners on Twitter VI Thu, 19 Dec 2013 15:00:25 +0000 SleepyHollowTwitterTo this point, my analysis of showrunners on Twitter has focused on exceptional circumstances defined by controversy or conflict. They have also focused on showrunners—Harmon, Sutter, Lawrence, Lindelof—who have translated their professional identities into tens or hundreds of thousands of followers, gaining fame—or infamy—for their social media presence.

However, while these showrunners and others like them have cultivated active and expansive social media profiles, the work of framing professional identity through Twitter is not reserved for the famous or infamous. While we can—and should—think of this in terms of below-the-line laborers, I also want to use this as an opportunity to explore the varied jobs under the “showrunner” umbrella. Although this title has become associated with those who create and subsequently shape the creative vision of a television series, showrunner also applies to the producers hired to “run” a show alongside its initial creator, laborers who are often less commonly associated with the rise of “showrunner” discourse within the industry.

Popular discourses on TV authorship have focused on figures like Matthew Weiner or Vince Gilligan who are decidedly “TV authors” in their control over the visions of their respective series. However, in the instance that the creator of a series lacks the experience, aptitude, or time necessary to fill the role of showrunner, more experienced writer/producers are brought in to shepherd the ship. While their labor is far from invisible, these showrunners are nonetheless unable to access certain authorship positions given that they are executing someone else’s vision, most often brought on after the pilot stage; similarly, those who created a series but are not serving the role of showrunner have limited access to discourses of authorship as the series moves forward. In the former case, although the rise of showrunner discourse has traditionally been associated with questions of authorship, here we see the day-to-day role of a showrunner imagined primarily through management, despite the fact that management involves considerable creative input; in the latter case, although creators maintain access to narratives of vision and creativity, they must also navigate the labor of those running the show day-to-day.

This reality reframes Twitter as a space where the respective roles of creators and “post-pilot showrunners” are negotiated. Fox’s Sleepy Hollow is the first credit for co-creator Phillip Iscove, who remains a supervising producer alongside showrunner Mark Goffman (The West Wing, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip). Both are on Twitter, and both engage and interact with fans from a position of authorship by answering questions or offering teases of future episodes. However, both consistently avoid claiming sole authorship over the series: in these similar tweets sent to fans, they each emphasize the collaborative nature of the series’ development, with neither having full access to the sole-authored television ideal we imagine when evoking terms like creator or showrunner.

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 12.16.12 AM

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 12.16.34 AM

Their careful deference to the other’s labor—and the labor of mega-producers Bob Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Len Weisman—is a necessary trait when working in a situation like this one. John Wirth has become known for playing a part in such situations, recently stepping in as the post-pilot showrunner for Fox’s Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles and NBC’s The Cape. In a recent conversation, Wirth spoke of his experience working alongside creator Josh Friedman on Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles, and said “my job on that show was to help him make [his vision] happen, and fight all the studio battles and network battles on his behalf to promote his vision of the show.” At the same time, of course, Wirth was simultaneously contributing to his own professional identity, which this past year led AMC to hire Wirth to take over as showrunner on western Hell on Wheels for its third season.

Wirth’s experience on Hell on Wheels reinforces the need to consider the production culture surrounding showrunners on a case-by-case basis. While similar to Wirth’s past experience given that he is taking over a series created by someone else, the situation is unique in the complete absence of the original creators: Wirth is replacing the departing showrunner who previously worked alongside creators Joe and Tony Gayton, whose own contract on the series was not renewed after season two. As a result, although Wirth may not have created the series, he is not tied to someone else’s vision, and has access to sole authorship of its narrative direction moving forward in its recently completed third and upcoming fourth seasons.


An image Wirth shared from the set of Hell on Wheels, featuring series script supervisor Sabrina Paradis.

Wirth is not among the more active showrunners on Twitter, but it has nonetheless become a space—along with interviews like the one I conducted—where he can make these claims to authorship. He interacts with fans, tweets photos taken on the set in Calgary, Alberta, offers teases regarding his plans for the upcoming fourth season, and livetweeted Saturday night broadcasts of the series, all practices that are common among showrunners who have always been the sole creative vision behind a series. While these tweets serve a purpose as promotion for the series and as community-building exercises for the show’s fans, they also give Wirth to ability to separate his labor from discourses of management toward discourses of vision and creativity, a task that becomes easier without the need to defer to others’ labor.

As we head further into a period where showrunners engaging in self-disclosures through Twitter has become a common practice within the television industry, those self-disclosures are inevitably intersecting with parallel realities of the television industry. In the case of Iscove, Goffman, and Wirth, we are seeing existing, nuanced discourses of authorship functioning within the industry being reframed through social media practices not necessarily designed to communicate said nuance (unless we count the limited affordances of the biography section on Twitter, highlighted in the above image), requiring specific negotiation and investigation that will remain throughout the runs of their respective series.


Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vices? Fri, 07 Jun 2013 13:00:26 +0000 cn_image.size.paul-thomas-anderson-master

Paul Thomas Anderson (from Vanity Fair)

Paul Thomas Anderson’s forthcoming film, an adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice (2009), is quickly stockpiling quite the all-star cast. Rumors of Sean Penn, who was originally slated for the part of Dean Trumbell (eventually played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) in Punch Drunk Love (2002), add to an already impressive line-up that includes lead Joaquin Phoenix, Benecio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Jena Malone, Martin Short, Owen Wilson and Reese Witherspoon (originally attached to The Master [2012]). The anticipation is quickly building, and it seems as though—perhaps even inexplicably—Anderson’s authorship has finally reclaimed a certain industry viability that was lost in the indulgences of the Magnolia era (1999), as well as through the long pre-production histories of both There Will Be Blood (2007) and The Master. It’s an exciting time for fans of the director, but what final product will emerge out of this is still to be determined—especially as we see Anderson to some degree returning to his own inherent vices.

Having begun to develop a reputation as a more deliberate filmmaker (previously making only three films in thirteen years), the quick turnaround from 2012’s The Master is impressive—though unsurprising. Anderson worked on both scripts largely simultaneously. Committed to a somewhat different version of The Master with Jeremy Renner and Witherspoon, Anderson dropped that during rehearsals and went to Inherent Vice—at one time with Robert Downey, Jr., attached. Yet just as it appeared the latter project might gain traction, Anderson went back to The Master, finally completing the film we know today. It is thus understandable that production on Inherent Vice could move quickly—though its more surprising that he found funding so easily, especially with a major studio (Warner Bros.) backing the project.

Although Anderson is a critical darling, his movies have never made money. Boogie Nights (1997) did better on home video than in theatres. Magnolia and There Will Be Blood barely broke even, despite generally strong critical support. Indeed, partly why There Will Be Blood took five years to get made (Daniel Day-Lewis committed years before it went into production) was because the filmmakers couldn’t convince financiers it had any commercial viability—especially for what was, on paper, a pricey historical epic. Anderson only got the film made once his agent, John Lesher, took over as head of Paramount Vantage in 2006. So Warner Bros.’ support of such a commercially-suspect project—an Anderson adaptation of a Pynchon novel—is impressive, especially on the heels of The Master’s poor box office and mixed critical response.

phoenix on inherent vice

Joaquin Phoenix on the set of Inherent Vice

As with casting Magnolia on the heels of Boogie Nights, Anderson is taking advantage of the hype to grab numerous stars. Yet this itself should be a cautionary tale—part of why Magnolia became such a bloated epic (unlike the smaller, more intimate narrative originally envisioned) was because Anderson focused on writing parts for all his friends. Granted, Inherent Vice is a more straightforward genre project on paper, which shouldn’t lend itself to the scattered nature of an aimless epic. Yet, the first cut of Anderson’s debut, Hard Eight (1996)—also essentially a noir film—was a meandering two-and-a-half hour character epic, very different from the taut 90 minute genre exercise audiences know today.

However, the discipline of adaptation may prove to reign in the worst excesses and self-indulgence that marred the earliest parts of Anderson’s career. In the late 1990s, Anderson unsuccessfully attempted to adapt Russell Banks’ Rules of the Bone (1995) for director Jonathan Demme. By his own admission, Anderson struggled to work within the voice of another artist and finally gave up. Meanwhile, the screenwriter had an easier time a decade later working with Upton Sinclair’s Oil (1927) to produce There Will Be Blood. Yet, partly what made that generally loose adaptation remarkable was not only Day-Lewis’s iconic performance, but also Anderson’s recent tendency to strip his stories down to one or two central characters instead of the massive Altmanesque ensembles that structured his two late `90s films with New Line—Boogie Nights and Magnolia. Anderson’s most recent films wisely centered largely on a single (irrationally angry) protagonist—Barry Egan (Adam Sandler) in Punch-Drunk Love, Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood, and Freddie Quells (Phoenix) in The Master.

So how will Anderson’s turn back to large ensembles ultimately pan out, especially coupled with his noted loyalty to actor-friends? It’s interesting that Anderson was quick to reunite with Phoenix, given that for a while he challenged himself to work with different actors, after largely reusing a lot of the same names in the 1990s (Philip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly, Melora Walters, Hoffman). Inherent Vice’s remarkable casting news could prove to be a double-edged sword. The book itself certainly fits Anderson’s thematic interests—from Magnolia to The Master—his films often deal with existential crises amidst the hollow prosperity of postwar American commodity culture. How it will translate to the screen, though, is anyone’s guess.


In the Beginning Was the Word Tue, 14 May 2013 13:00:43 +0000 beginningI wrote a couple of years ago about Supernatural’s hubris of effectively literalizing the metaphor of Author as God. In that version, Chuck, author of the supposedly fictional yet altogether too real Supernatural book series, is described as a gospel writer, scripting the Gospel of the Winchesters. As if that weren’t enough, in the season finale, we can only deduce that the writer was in fact not just God’s typewriter but God himself.

It seems a familiar narrative: the storyteller as maker of worlds, as God. Narrating has always been a way to create, with naming as a particularly generative power. What I find surprising, then, is not that today’s storytellers engage this trope, but how they have chosen to do so. Rather than merely acknowledging how writers are not only Gods of their own universes as they create fictional worlds, there is a strong sense in some recent instances that argues that writers create reality as well.

In recent weeks there have been two plot lines in completely different shows taking up this narrative, and it makes me wonder about our fascination with the auteur and his authorial “Godlike” control. More, it makes me wonder about the ease in which both writers and academics privilege text over action in ways that make our lives of words as, if not more, important as a life of action. This is not to diminish the importance of critical analysis or the awareness that words matter. It is, however, an attempt to question our eagerness to foreground the mode of engagement we have mastered and with which we are most comfortable.

In the recent Doctor Who episode “The Rings of Akhenaten,” the monstrous antagonist eats people’s experiences and stories of the past. When even the Time Lord’s immense past cannot feed it, his companion Clara instead feeds it the potentiality of future story lines: “It’s full of stories, full of history. And full of a future that never got lived… This leaf isn’t just the past. It’s a whole future that never happened.” What is foregrounded here is the infinite potential of imagination and possibilities. Though, as a fan, I couldn’t quite help wonder if Moffat was celebrating the potentiality of the many worlds spun from the reality of Clara’s mom’s life and, by extension, the show or if we fans were rather the nearly insatiable monster wanting ever more stories. Maybe both?

Likewise, the recent Supernatural episode “The Great Escapist” features the new character Megatron, who is the scribe of God, in charge of the Word. The Archangels, he describes, decided “they take over the universe themselves, but they couldn’t do anything that big without the Word of God.” Megatron went into hiding, instead spending his time reading human stories. And he revels in his description of these stories (both history and literature clearly): “It was something to watch, what you brought to His earth… But really, really it was your storytelling… When you create stories, you become Gods.”

Again, humanity’s largest potential is framed not as our achievements, inventions, and discoveries but as our potential for imagination and storytelling. In fact, even when Dean and Sam berate him for his inaction in the war between demons and angels that has caused so much human suffering, the action yet again is an act of writing: “I am the scribe of God. I erased it,” he responds when asked how he overcame the obstructions the King of Hell had erected.

Words becoming actions – ideas creating reality is a trope nearly as common as the author as God of his fictional universe, but somehow combine these two, and the storyteller, the showrunner, becomes something more than an authorial voice. I am reminded of the Derridean il n’y a pas de hors-texte, which became central evidence in accusations of deconstruction as nihilist. But even in an interpretation where acknowledging that any thing is ultimately a text, can be read and analyzed as text, the political message remains problematic.

For me, personally, it is a matter of necessary versus sufficient propositions: To change the world, it may be necessary to be aware of language and ideology, of the cultural text and those who creates it, but I am very doubtful that it is sufficient. In other words, material alterations always contain textual elements but awareness of and changes in ideology do not guarantee real-life changes. And this is regardless of whether the self-importance comes in the guise of academics or showrunners.


The Doctor Will Be Back: Doctor Who and the Showrunner’s Cliffhangers Mon, 13 Jun 2011 08:00:36 +0000 After all the publicity focused on this “game-changing” episode, what interests me is the following question: is there such a thing as a distinctively Moffat-esque cliffhanger? We might reasonably assume that his vision for the show is one that confers particular importance on a well-crafted cliffhanger, given a recent interview on the subject. So, how has this showrunner tackled the end-of-episode narrative lure?

We can analytically distinguish between three different (sometimes overlapping) types of Doctor Who cliffhanger: standard threat, narrative lack, and mythology supplement. In the first, most traditional guise, protagonists are placed in clear and present danger. And Moffat’s initial effort, ‘The Empty Child’, reads as this kind of trad creation – the Doctor under threat from a newly-revealed inhuman menace. The resolution is elegant and economical, to be sure, but the set-up would have been perfectly at home in the classic series. By the time of his next cliffhanger, ‘Silence in the Library’, Moffat was already shaping self-consciously ‘authored’ and logocentric puzzlers, iterating his reputation for a catchy catchphrase by ending on a collision of two menacing phrases.

But these examples were written when Moffat was a contributor to Russell T. Davies’s NuWho. By contrast, Moffat’s cliffhangers as showrunner fall into my latter analytical categories: episode endings representing ‘narrative lack’ or ‘mythology supplement’. Take ‘The Time of Angels’ – here, we don’t exactly end on the Doctor under threat, but rather on his improvised response to the situation (firing a gun up at a gravity globe). This jolts audiences out of the narrative not at a key, visceral moment, but instead at a more intellectualised instant – is the Doctor’s behaviour out of character? What exactly is he up to? And ‘The Impossible Astronaut’ cliffhangers similarly, this time on Amy shooting the mysterious child – has Pond committed a tragic mistake? Is the child dead?

These are character-led cliffhangers rather than threats per se, and they are particularly marked by narrative lack or epistemological deficit, i.e. we don’t know what just happened. I’d put Moffat’s biggest cliffhanger to date in the same class of storytelling. It comes in ‘The Pandorica Opens’, where we see the universe ending; stars wink out of existence, and silence falls over deep space. And yet there’s an epistemic deficit here too – have Rory and Amy ceased to be? Has River, in the TARDIS white-out? Again, we’re not really sure what’s happened.

As showrunner, Moffat’s cliffhangers move away from the archetypal ‘Doctor under threat’ model, and towards this mode of narrative lack – impressing upon audiences that they don’t (yet) have enough knowledge to understand what’s going on. Not cognitive estrangement so much as cognitive delay – come back next time if you want to really get it. And, of course, the shock cliffhangers to ‘Day of the Moon’ and ‘The Almost People’ this series – the latter dictated by Moffat – have been part of the same strategy. Just what happened to Amy in the latter case was partly explained in Doctor Who Confidential following the ep, and clarified in ‘A Good Man Goes To War.’ And we still don’t know who emerged from the regeneration at the end of 6.02 – that cliffhanger is still hanging…

But if Moffat’s cliffhangers have shifted along with his change in production role, then what of the River Song reveal? This falls into my third category: it’s the provision of new arc knowledge – like the reveal of Amy’s wedding day as the Time Explosion’s date at the end of ‘Flesh and Stone’, or the appearance of her wedding dress in ‘The Eleventh Hour’. Like these moments, it supplements the show’s ongoing mythology. It reconfigures and re-orients our understanding of major characters’ relationships, acting as a sort of cognitive relay and so tempting the fan-viewer, at least, to rewatch River’s previous appearances.

Trad cliffhangers tend to be the province of hired writers. What I’ve termed ‘narrative lack’ and the ‘mythology supplement’ are the showrunner’s prerogatives – building the arc, and altering our overall understanding of series’ narrative. Russell T. Davies did the same, using epistemic deficit particularly in the lead-in to Christmas Specials (“what? what? what?!”), and supplementing mythology in big, ‘event’ cliffhangers near the end of each year’s run. Given this, Moffat’s use of cliffhangers may, ultimately, be readable less in terms of his ‘author-function’, and more in terms of an industrial context – let’s call it the ‘showrunner-function’ – concerning discourses of mythology management and brand currency.

If ‘A Good Man Goes To War’ does give us anything distinctively Moffat-esque in its Big Reveal, I’d hazard that it’s the merging of emotional realism with science fiction tropes. Whereas Davies layered emotional realism into Doctor Who‘s fantastical premise – and it was about time for convincing, ‘down to earth’ characters doing ‘out of this world’ things – Moffat has tended to fuse soap drama with SF more thoroughly. The result is that rather than the ordinary tempering and illuminating the extraordinary, they are intermixed and muddled: Amy is a mother, but the mother of a super-weapon, part-Time Lord character she already knows as a grown woman. We’re twenty thousand light years away from the real-world believability of a Rose Tyler, a Martha Jones, or a Donna Noble.

And River Song is a daughter, but daughter to the time vortex as much as to time-rift-irradiated Amy. Where’s the emotional realism here? It’s disintegrated into Doctor Who‘s SF novum, no longer working to ground the series in any plausible, ‘relatable’ way. I don’t think the issue with Moffat’s Who is simply that it’s too complicated or convoluted. More precisely, the difficulty is that the show’s crucial levels of meaning (soap drama/SF) are no longer qualifying and enhancing one another, but instead have collapsed together in a flesh-like gloop. And a significant moment in that ongoing deconstruction of the Russell T. Davies era – specifically its use of the emotional realism/SF binary – arrives with Steven Moffat’s River Song cliffhanger.


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A Showrunner Goes To War: Doctor Who and the Almost Fans? Mon, 06 Jun 2011 08:00:48 +0000 With episode 6.06 having transmitted in the US, and 6.07 – the ‘game-changing’ midseries finale – already broadcast in the UK, this week seems like a good time to ponder the issue of Doctor Who spoilers. Continuing my focus on authorship, I want to consider how the online fan culture of spoiler-hunting impacts on notions of authorial craft and control.

Showrunner Steven Moffat recently berated Doctor Who fans for posting full details of episodes one and two after the series six launch: “can you imagine how much I hate them? …It’s only fans who do this – or they call themselves fans – I wish they could go and be fans of something else!” Seemingly having a “Bastards” moment (Russell T. Davies’s infamous title for chapter three of The Writer’s Tale discussing Internet fandom), rebellious fans were once again the problem.

I’m not interested in whether Moffat was right or wrong, but rather in the performative nature of his statement – in what it does more than what it says. Back in Triumph of a Time Lord I identified the “info-war” that’s been symbolically fought between the fans and producers of NuWho. Sections of fandom have consistently sought spoilers ahead of broadcast, acting as pre-textual poachers by contesting the interests of brand guardians long before the TV text has unfolded. Already, following Moffat’s critique, Internet fandom has divided into collaborative and rebel camps: Doctor Who Online has declared itself “spoiler-free”, while Gallifrey Base continues to allow spoilers.

Readers may want to offer nuances here, but I’d hazard that US showrunners are rarely known for publicly criticising their shows’ fandoms, and are quick to apologise if “dipshits” hits the fans. Yet Doctor Who has form on this; Moffat is following in the footsteps of Davies. Online fans might regularly criticise production teams, but I’m not aware of Radio Five Live mounting a feature off the back of this, nor BBC Breakfast Time inviting Benjamin Cook in to discuss what (Moffat’s invented forum regular) Killdestroyer208 thought of last week’s ep. The showrunner’s cultural power extends beyond controlling what goes into the text, and into the terrain of the eminently newsworthy, especially when it’s a ‘showrunner hates fans’ riff on ‘man bites dog’.

What interests me is why Doctor Who seems especially prone to this, and from producers who are themselves life-long fans. Is it the perfectionism and the idealism of the fan – transposed into a production mentality – that gives rise to such ‘ranting’? It certainly shares the edge and the sting of habituated fan commentary. Is it the fans’ habitus, the critical voice of fan culture itself, that is on show (albeit professionally recoded) when Moffat and Davies chide sectors of fandom? To my ears, at least, they sound more than a touch like disgruntled fans unhappy at developments, assuming the freedom to say so very loudly as if posting to a forum rather than writing a book or speaking to a BBC reporter. Steven Moffat is Killdestroyer208… but what would have been forum grumblings now have a very different cultural reach.

Commentary has pondered the sense of entitlement felt by sectors of online fandom – but what of the entitled (fan-)showrunner? These privileged creatives seek to control a brand, but they can’t (yet) control how their shows are read, nor how audiences behave. Moffat’s stance implies that, for the show’s benefit, he should be given a degree of spoiler-impeding control over both fans and the press. And the press may well play ball; they are industrially dependent on good will in order to gain access to preview discs, interviews, launches and the like. Fans, however, are less malleable; in the digital age they inhabit an informational economy – seeking spoiler information; scouring agents’ pages for casting news; watching filming in public locations, and tweeting outsider info. And this is what Steven Moffat’s dismay flags up: industry outsiders can’t be silenced so readily.

There’s another important context here, though: the BBC as public service TV. US commercial television operates within a discursive context of ‘serving the consumer audience’. Even today, I’m less sure that BBC TV drama and its production cultures inhabit that same world, for good or ill. Moffat seems to work within a paternalistic value system where audiences don’t know what’s best for them, and where they need to be shown how to behave. This resolutely public service voice wants to set the rules of the narrative game in advance for citizen-fans. Not coincidentally, I think, Moffat’s initial complaint about these detailed spoilers – in his ‘Production Notes’ column for Doctor Who Magazine 434 – also seized upon the “bungling, ham-fisted English” (2011:6) used by fans to write up eps one and two. Moffat isn’t quite calling these ‘almost fans’ stupid, but their literacy is certainly called into question. This schoolteacher-showrunner isn’t just entertaining the audience, he’s educating and informing the naughty kids too. Properly disciplined, tutored and creative screenwriting calls for properly disciplined, tutored and creative audiences.

Well, you can send a love letter to the fans, e.g. ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ recently, but telling them how to express their love? “I order you to love the show in this way (spotting the in-jokes and intertextualities crafted for you) but not in this way (sharing detailed spoilers which have fan-cultural currency and status)”. Series five and six may be exploring the catchphrase “Silence will fall”, but where Doctor Who spoilers are concerned this remains wishful thinking. Perhaps contemporary TV authorship means losing definitive control over the parcelling out of narrative shocks and surprises, and accepting that sections of fandom will frequently pre-view beloved shows. Though these fans may, like gangers, become devalued replicas or simulacra of fandom in the eyes of production personnel, they’re not about to dissolve away. Producer-versus-fan tension rumbles on, when a showrunner goes to war.


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Matthew Graham’s Doctor Who: Fear Him? Mon, 23 May 2011 07:01:19 +0000 Series six seems to be shaping up into a tussle between ‘Rad’ and ‘Trad’ tendencies. If it’s showrunner Moffat or fanservice Gaiman, then we get something a little more radical. Otherwise, it’s back to “good old-fashioned runaround” and “far more traditional” Doctor Who. This week it’s Avatar-meets-The-Thing in castles around South Wales.

And for Who fans steeped in discourses of authorship, it’s a scary episode. Yes, it’s the return of Matthew Graham, the Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes co-creator, but also the writer of 2006’s ‘Fear Her’, frequently voted the least-loved story of modern Doctor Who. The obvious critical question is this: which Matthew Graham do we get here? The LoM and A2A scribe? Or the ‘Fear Her’ and Bonekickers doppelganger? For Graham’s author-function is itself unstable and fractured – far from guaranteeing consistency and classification, as Foucault has it, here is a gothic author-function which has been doubled and self-divided by fan debate. Quite unlike Foucauldian theory, it fails to secure authorial identity and value, instead collapsing into Jekyll-and-Hyde instability. Usually author-functions work discursively to secure audience responses: “trust me”, they say, “I’m the Author.” But trust becomes an issue in relation to any unstable author-function, as audiences wonder whether a writer’s tale will be worth their while.

Trust is also a major theme here, with Graham cliffhangering adroitly on words we feel we’ve heard a thousand times before, but never in quite this way: “trust me, I’m the Doctor”. Doctor Who: The Unfolding Textthe first academic book on Classic Who – argued that the show’s Time Lord villains were doppelgangers for the Doctor; constructions of the alien set against his connotative humanity (Tulloch and Alvarado 1983:138). But ‘The Rebel Flesh’ rebels against programmatic versions of “us” and “them”, suggesting with posthumanist verve that originals and copies are equally worthy.

Despite pilfering a key image from The Exorcist, there are no obvious demons here. It is the less-than-subtly named Cleaves (Raquel Cassidy) who ultimately cleaves workers and their gangers into two warring groups, each threatening that it’s “us and them now”. Running these two scenes side-by-side pushes the audience to read them as mirror images. The real doppelganger here isn’t the gangers at all – it is, rather, the process through which each group fears the other. Somebody’s “us” is always somebody else’s “them” – violence is mimetic even when there’s no hero or villain, no original or copy.

Given Graham’s gothic author-function, ‘The Rebel Flesh’ polarises into pop-cultural poetics and ham-fisted moments. In the former camp: music is beautifully used as a mnemonic object, and as a repository of self (an effect somewhat blunted by cliched recourse to a childhood photo). The TARDIS is going to have to become inaccessible somehow, and Graham has fun with this narrative requirement, just as he played games with the TARDIS in ‘Fear Her’. And there’s a highly knowing attempt to rework Frankensteinian tropes by substituting a solar storm for lightning as life’s spark.

However, in the camp of less-than-successful moments are the following: didn’t anyone consider that, for the pre-credits sequence to work, you needed to see a close-up of Buzzer’s avatar clearly, visor up? Is the bluff blokiness of the TARDIS-as-pub, complete with sound system and dartboard, not a touch out of character for Doctor Who? And much of this episode fails to transcend its Blade Runner-esque source material. ‘What does it mean to be human?’ seems to have become a reductive shorthand for science fiction – an alibi assumed to make SF ‘acceptable’ in the eyes of critics and mainstream audiences just as long as the genre can be pinned to this ‘big’, ‘philosophical’ question. And we know that this is “serious” stuff with philosophical import because Cleaves says she’ll debate philosophy with the Doctor over a pint (bluff blokiness creeping incongruously into this character voice as well as into the TARDIS).

As well as giving the episode a Northern accent, Graham ups the author-function ante by penning the first ever Doctor Who story whose entire setting can be construed as an authorial in-joke, or even as product placement. This monastic production hails from one half of Monastic Productions, the indie owned by Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharoah. Take a look at their themed website: clips from ‘The Rebel Flesh’ will fit right in with Monastic’s sacred branding. World-building as an almost business card; it’s an audacious approach to the commerce of TV authorship.

‘The Rebel Flesh’ is Doctor Who not to be sneezed at; while self-consciously advertising Graham’s production company, it also promotes how “philosophical” it is – here’s a text that keeps wanting to shout “hello subtext!” until its depths are all rendered as surface showiness. It does succeed in posing one terrific question, though: if original and copy have the same memories and experiences, then how will a ‘ganger’ Doctor behave? Will our Time Lord protagonist, alone together, be immune from the logic of “us and them”? A twinned Doctor surely promises to defuse the threat posed by gothic doubles, rather than delivering Manichean groans…

Matthew Graham may have a disrupted, non-unified author-function (hero to some in the TV industry; a villain to some fans) but this episode critiques the logic of ‘hero’ versus ‘villain’, arguing for resolution and reunification. It wants our trust. And yet, like Graham’s gothic author-function, ‘The Rebel Flesh’ remains self-divided, continually rebelling against itself. The narrative says one thing thematically – the only monster is she who sees monsters (Cleaves) – whilst visuals constantly scream the very opposite: look at the scary monsters, see how they are misshapen, blobby, neck-twisting, super-elastic Things. Fear them.


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