November 2014

This is an index and summary of the things I've talked about over the last month. Links for multi-post subjects go to the first post (even if it's before this month), you can follow the internal navigation links from there. (TV shows without full posts will not be linked, but will be listed.)

Talks

"New Discoveries at Hierakonpolis" Renee Friedman. Talk given at the November meeting of the EEG.

Total: 1

Television

Fiction

Doctor Who: Dark Water.

Doctor Who: Death in Heaven.

Total: 2

Tags: Admin

The last Doctor Who before Christmas! Which isn't that long a gap, to be honest but I'm trying not to think about that as I've not even begun to consider Xmas shopping yet ;)

SPOILERS AHEAD! Hover mouse over text to read, or read on entry page:

I thought that was a good end to this season of Doctor Who - for a change a Moffat written finale that actually hung together without becoming too clever for its own good.

The scene I talked about last time as having been in the trailer but not in the story yet was the bit with Clara announcing that "Clara Oswald" had never existed. Which was misdirection, so I completely fell for that. It worked well in context - a lot of the arc of this season has been about Clara thinking of then putting into practice the answer to "What would the Doctor do if he was here?". And announcing she was the Doctor was certainly worth a try.

It is presumably no coincidence that this season's story revolved around soldiers and their actions and sacrifices, with the finale airing the day before Remembrance Sunday in the centenary year of the start of WW1. And once I'd thought of it like that, it's made me think of the Kipling poem "Tommy", here's a verse from it:

Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap.
An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.
Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an` Tommy, 'ow's yer soul? "
But it's " Thin red line of 'eroes " when the drums begin to roll
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it's " Thin red line of 'eroes, " when the drums begin to roll.

Which casts the soldierphobia and persistent mockery of Danny Pink by various characters in the show in a bit of a different light - he's Tommy, he's the un-appreciated veteran, and he's the saviour that stands between the people of Earth and destruction when the time comes.

After, of course, he has his heart ripped out of him by Clara's defence of the Doctor "her best friend, the one man she'll never lie to". Poor Danny. And he probably doesn't realise that's another lie - Clara lies to the Doctor just as much as she lies to everyone else. I'm glad they didn't cheapen the story by making Danny decide to live - they've been building up his sense of honour throughout the season so it wouldn't've felt right for him to come back from the dead. Poor Clara, nonetheless.

I was a bit shocked by Osgood's death though, and by the fact that it stuck - just after the Doctor noticed her enough to hint he'd take her on the TARDIS. Which meant that the Brigadier's daughter being saved by the Brigadier was even more startling. The Brig wasn't one of the old Who companions I imprinted on particularly, most of his stories were a bit long ago for me to remember. So those scenes didn't have quite the same impact on me as on other people, but it was still a pretty neat way to say farewell to the Brig after his actor's death.

(I do, however, find the "you can resist cyberconversion by the power of love" thing a bit crap. Barring a few sociopaths most people love somebody so how on earth do cybermen ever convert anyone for heaven's sake??)

The lies between the Doctor and Clara at the end and the appearance of Santa Claus on the TARDIS presumably mean we'll get Clara back for at the very least a proper farewell. My friend Tash pointed out that Clara is presumably pregnant with Danny's kid so that Orson Pink can exist, and I'm inclined to agree. Although it is possible they'll just dodge all of that with a handwave about "time can be re-written", but "Danny didn't come back and I'm pregnant" would make sense for the news Clara wanted to tell the Doctor.

I haven't mentioned Missy yet - I did like her as the next incarnation of the Master. And the scheme whereby she invents an afterlife to harvest minds to in order to create the cybermen was just the sort of ludicrous over-the-top and nutty plan I associate with the Master. And I was amused by the evil-Mary-Poppins costuming & mannerisms, too :)

Looking back at the season as a whole I think I was wrong about most of the links between the individual stories and the season arc. But despite the hit & miss start I really enjoyed the season in the end.

On Sunday Renee Friedman came to the Essex Egyptology Group to talk about the latest discoveries she and her team have been making at the site of Hierakonpolis. First she put the site itself into context. It was an important pre-dynastic Egyptian city, situated just north of modern Edfu, called Nekhen (and later Hierakonpolis by the Greeks). It's perhaps best known as the site where the Narmer Palette (now in the Cairo Museum) was found, as well as the Scorpion Macehead and the ivories of the "Main Deposit" (which are now in the Ashmolean Museum). By the time of the unification of Egypt (which the Narmer Palette is thought to commemorate) it was already a thriving and important city and the cult centre of the god Horus of Nekhen. By thriving city Friedman means that there is evidence of several thousand people living on the site, in a hierarchically organised society. They have excavated several examples of what they believe to be breweries (they are definitely places that made some sort of grain based foodstuff, most probably beer but perhaps some sort of porridge). I think she said each of these breweries was capable of making around 80l of beer in a single batch which is pretty large scale production, and implies a high level of administrative organisation for the city. There are also preparation sites for fish, where the heads and scales of large Nile perch are found. The remains of the edible bits of the fish are found at a large building which seems to be a ceremonial space. So the fish needed to be caught in the Nile, brought to the preparation site and then the food taken to the place where it was to be eaten. This required a high degree of organisation, and Friedman said they have found evidence of what appears to be a system of tallys using shaped pebbles, and delivery receipts using the newly developing writing system.

More recent work at Hierakonpolis has focussed on an elite cemetery dating to around 3,500BC. In previous seasons they've extensively excavated a tomb complex consisting of a tomb of a high status individual in amongst the tombs of several probably retainers plus a menagerie (with animal keepers too). The secondary tombs generally contain young individuals - between their late teens and their 30s - with the exception of a dwarf who is older. This indicates that these people probably did not die of natural causes, instead they were killed to accompany the main tomb owner. The menagerie has a wide range of animals - from domesticated cattle and sheep, to big cats, elephants and crocodiles. There are signs that the non-domesticated animals were kept in captivity for a little while before slaughter. The primary tomb in the cluster also shows evidence for a wooden superstructure, perhaps with coloured plaster walls.

A short distance away from that tomb complex in the cemetery is another complex which Friedman said dates to a generation or so later than the first one, and it shows some changes in relative statuses of the elite and their retainers over that time. Prior to 2014 a group of tombs had been excavated that were the retainers and menagerie for this tomb group. Again the retainers were generally young and in the prime of life. There was also another dwarf - dwarves had special significance to the Ancient Egyptians throughout their history (c.f. the god Bes). Interestingly the dwarves in both burials suffered from one of the more rare causes of genetic dwarfism, so Friedman speculates that they are likely to be related (which makes me uneasily think they might've fallen into the "menagerie" category for the people of the time). There is again a menagerie, which this time shows signs of longer term captivity for the "wild" animals. For instance one burial contain a pregnant female aurochs (I think, I'm not entirely sure I remember correctly what animal it was) - this skeleton also shows signs of skeletal abnormalities that develop with long term captivity. So the animal must've become pregnant in captivity, perhaps indicating a breeding captive population. In this tomb complex there is no sign of a primary tomb, and this is where things stood before the 2014 season.

In early 2014 Friedman and her team began work on excavating near that tomb complex. Separated from the secondary tombs by a 4 metre corridor there was evidence of a fenced enclosure containing a pillared wooden hall much like the one in the primary tomb for the first complex. Most of the season was spent excavating the space inside this enclosure both generally investigating it and also looking for signs of a tomb. In the very last week of excavation they finally uncovered a tomb! This was the start of a rather fraught couple of days - in the first day one of the things they found was a 30cm ivory statue. By the end of the day rumours had spread about a (completely fictitious) 3m gold statue, and so the excavation site was put under guard overnight in case people came to rob it. The next day with several armed guards and officials keeping an eye on the area Friedman and her team finished excavating the tomb, managing (thankfully!) to finish the excavation without any unwelcome visitors.

There were several interesting objects found in the tomb, although not much of the remains of the occupant - just enough bones to establish that there had been a body, and its probable orientation in the grave. Friedman said that this was "stuff but no stiff" and she preferred that to the other way round ;) The finds included that ivory statue I mentioned in the last paragraph. There was also a pot, with a lion motif on it (which is a symbol of kingship in later Egyptian history). There were three containers for yellow ochre, made out of hippopotamus tusks and some palettes with signs of having been used to grind green malachite and red ochre. As well as this there were several fine ivory combs - one of which had a donkey carved at the top, and one a hippopotamus. Friedman thinks the lack of most of the body indicates that the tomb was disturbed in predynastic times - there are also signs that the wooden superstructure was burnt down before being rebuilt. So she hypothesises that the body was removed from the tomb as an attack against the occupant personally, and his tomb burnt down - then later he returns to favour in some sense and the wooden hall is rebuilt.

This was a fascinating talk! In part this was because it was about brand new discoveries, but it was also interesting to see evidence of early steps in what becomes the Egyptian culture we know. This could be the start of the process that led to the ruler becoming not just an important person (buried in the midst of his retainers) but semi-divine (buried set apart from his retainers in a special building).

Writing this up a little late, as we ended up extremely busy this weekend & at the beginning of the week, so I'm sure some of the things I thought of to say at the time we watched it have vanished from my head. Oh well.

SPOILERS AHEAD! Hover mouse over text to read, or read on entry page:

Wasn't expecting that opening sequence at all. Danny goes from being mostly irrelevant (and not well treated by Clara) to fridged. I liked the way Clara reacts - felt very true to character, and a good pay-off for several "don't make threats you won't carry through" moments through the season. And there's more than one pay off to that in this episode - in retrospect it's been a theme of the season but I don't think I'd consciously realised that till just now. Clara is definitely a woman who doesn't make threats, she makes promises ... even when sometimes the result is akin to cutting off her nose to spite her face, as with switching off communication with Danny later in the episode.

Another recurring thing this episode was about "missing the headline" - commenting on/talking about one thing when another thing is more significant. So I'm pretty sure there'll be pay off to that next episode. There's a scene from the trailer for the finale that we haven't had yet and I reckon either what Clara was saying in it was total misdirection or that fits in here with missing the headline in her opening conversation with Danny (despite her insistence she's started with the headline). Being vague because J doesn't watch trailers and doesn't want spoiled for it.

We did find out quite a lot of what's going on here though - Missy == the Master as speculated. And she's taking backups of dead people and convincing them to delete their emotions prior to re-downloading them into cyberman bodies inhabited by corpses. There's a lot of resonance here to the opening episode with Clara (modern-Clara that is) - The Bells of Saint John (post) - can't claim credit for thinking of it myself, I read someone else's hope that the current story wouldn't save Danny whilst writing off all the other dead minds in the same way that first story saved Clara but not all the rest. But definite reminders of that episode now I think about it. I'm presuming that Missy is the woman who gave Clara the phone number that gets her in touch with the Doctor. There are also minds that are uploaded in some fashion, with dead bodies left behind. Tweaking of the emotions once the mind is digitised too - I remember sliders to move emotion/intelligence etc up and down. I'm not suggesting a direct link of any sort here, just that there's a lot of resonance and it feels to me like we're maybe supposed to be reminded.

Definitely looking foward to the next episode and finding out the answer to what's going on! :)