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Bit of a random one, this - it's an Eighth Doctor audio which I spotted being broadcast on BBC7 a couple of weeks ago, and made the effort to listen to since it clearly involved a hefty element of Classical receptions.

The story is not actually set in the Classical past. Rather, it is an example of what swisstone dubs 'appropriation' - that is, a story about a fictional society which has consciously modelled itself on a real past culture.

In this case, the fictional society is an isolated future human colony, and its leaders have deliberately borrowed ancient Greek myths and religious beliefs as a means of exercising control over their subjects. What's more, they have access to both cloning technology and the ability to transfer their minds into new bodies (via a 'Remote Synaptical Kinesis' device). They have cast themselves in the role of the gods, created several clones each, and whenever their old bodies reach the end of their natural lifespan, they call in one of their own clones and have their minds transferred into the new body. The clones think it's a great honour, but the Doctor and his companion are less than impressed, and in any case, the mind-transfer technology is on the blink. Matters are resolved when the old guard get ousted by a couple of their own clones - but will they resist the temptation to start attempting transfers of their own when faced with the prospect of death?

It's a short and fairly simple story, whose basic plot elements are recognisable from multiple other SF stories (Doctor Who and otherwise). Arguably, the Classical aspect isn't doing anything very much more here than it is in Underworld or The Horns of Nimon - that is, lending a veneer of intrigue and sophistication to what would otherwise be a fairly unremarkable story. But I think it would unfair to go quite that far.

For one thing, the use of a Greek setting serves the useful purpose of helping the audience to grasp the relationship between the original colonists and their clones. The plot requires a) that the difference between the original colonists and their clones (or descendants) is clear and b) that we understand that the original colonists have succeeded in establishing control over everyone else on the planet by means of cynical deception. The Greek mythological setting achieves both of these things - casting the original colonists as gods does make their elevated status clear, and offer a plausible explanation for why nobody is questioning or challenging them.

The specific choice of ancient Greek culture to help convey all this makes sense, since it serves dual purpose as a society which did accord great reverence to a multiplicity of gods, but is also associated with great scientific thinking, so that it doesn't seem too weird to find mind-transfer technology incorporated into it. It also adds a valuable extra layer to the relationship between 'Zeus' and 'Hera', the most powerful of the original colonists. They are amusingly snippy with one another, and Zeus has a keen eye for the pretty girls. But for all that, they have been together for centuries, through a succession of cloned bodies. I felt that the Classical veneer really helped to flesh out that idea out by reference to the similar relationship between their mythological namesakes.

So, as an example of Classical receptions it worked for me. Along the way, it constituted my first introduction to Lucie Miller, whom I hadn't met before. She seemed quite good fun - a modern, no-nonsense woman rather along the lines of Donna Noble, who is very ready to question and challenge what other people are doing. Paul McGann seems as good as ever as the Eighth Doctor - and I've used the opportunity to make a new icon in his honour. I look forward to another opportunity to use it once I get my hands on his upcoming story, An Earthly Child - especially having seen The Dalek Invasion of Earth so recently.

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( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 10th, 2009 05:00 pm (UTC)
For once I am not using my Who icon, because I want to flag up an interim stop on the path of reception: Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light, which also features body-shifting colonists elevating themselves as gods. Zelazny uses the Indian deities rather than the Classical pantheon, but it has the same effect, of making their elevated status clear, and offering a plausible explanation for why nobody is questioning or challenging them. It's clear that Clements has Zelazny in mind - Kalkin is one of the characters in Immortal Beloved and also one of the names of the protagonist of Lord of Light; also of course Zelazny's other great early book was This Immortal which is another root for the play's title (I don't recall much resonance with Beethoven who is the normal reference point for the phrase). This also makes even more sense of Clements' choice of ancient Greek culture which is (still!) more familiar to the average BBC7 listener or Big Finish purchaser than the Hindu mythos.

Of the first season of Lucie stories, I thought this was the best. If you are considering sampling others, I think the two-parters at the beginning (Blood of the Daleks) and end (Human Resources) were also good but you can skip the rest of the first season. My favourites from the rest of Lucie's run so far are The Zygon Who Fell To Earth (with Tarrant from Blake's Seven and Tim Brooke-Taylor) and The Cannibalists with Phil Jupitus; the former depends a bit on having heard the rather less impressive Horror of Glam Rock (with Stephen Gately of Boyzone) but the latter is a standalone.
Oct. 10th, 2009 06:05 pm (UTC)
Ooh, thanks very much for this comment. I had no idea about the link - although I should have done really, because it's pointed out on the Wikipedia page as well. Knowing this certainly adds a whole extra layer to what is going on, and I think you're right about the reason for the change from Hindu to Greek mythology.

I actually heard about half of Human Resources a couple of years ago, again thanks to spotting it randomly on BBC7. So I'm in a position to agree with your recommendation there, and would indeed like to hear the whole thing some time. Technically, of course, this means that I have encountered Lucie before - but since I hadn't even remembered her name, I obviously wasn't paying much attention to her character on that occasion.
Oct. 10th, 2009 07:31 pm (UTC)
that story, as you tell it, reminds me of Plato's (step?)children i think it's called - an episode of original Star Trek.
Oct. 10th, 2009 08:47 pm (UTC)
Cool - this is also very interesting. I've just had a quick Google, and it looks like you have the episode title right. The appropriation of Greek culture is very similar, although the Platonians are doing slightly different things with it. Thanks for the reference!
Oct. 14th, 2009 09:56 pm (UTC)
Discussed, with less sophistication than I would bring to the subject now, I suspect, here. It's not great, and the Classical allusions are a very thin veneer from a writer with only a passing familiarity with anything Plato actually wrote.

Edited at 2009-10-14 09:57 pm (UTC)
Oct. 14th, 2009 10:01 pm (UTC)
For some reason I thought Immortal Beloved was set in prehistoric Greece. Thanks for correcting that impression.

My reference point for this is Dan Simmons' Ilium/Olympus, where you have very powerful beings pretending to be gods. But I'm sure Nicholas is right to make the Zelazny link. Bookmarking this for future reference.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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