Doctor Who and the Stones of Blood

Dr A and I recently got our hands on an episode of the Stones of Blood – part of the Keys to Time series of Doctor Who featuring Tom Baker (broadcast 1978).

This has a cracking archaeology-themed storyline, which proves beyond doubt the animacy of archaeological remains.

The first two episodes are especially enjoyable. Filmed on location at the Rollright Stones, they feature a Druidic cult, a Celtic goddess, menacing corvids and two female prehistorians. What’s not to like?

I hate to give away a whole plotline, but it doesn’t take long to guess from their tendency to glow in the dark and their thirst for human blood, that there’s more to these standing stones than simple calcium carbonate.

While there’s a good deal of silliness in the episodes, there’s a good dose of atmosphere and horror too. The outfits and rituals are pretty effective and the sequence where two campers encounter the stones would have given me nightmares for days if I’d seen it when I was a child. Archaeologists – think twice before you pitch your tent too close to that stone circle…

The episodes draw on folklore relating to standing stones, name drops several genuine archaeologists and presumably draws inspiration from the pinnacle of archaeological TV drama Children of the Stones, which aired in 1977 and was filmed on location at Avebury.

Animism and animacy are topics archaeologists (including Dr A) have explored in recent years. The stones and rocks in the landscape around you now may not be randomly glowing or craving your blood, but people have recently been bombarded by beach pebbles, flung at their streets and houses by stormy seas. As the storms in SW England have demonstrated, the world around us is far from passive.

Dr H

Read more about archaeology and science fiction on the blog here.

The City and the City

I’ve recently started working my way through the stack of China Miéville books that Dr A has been recommending to me for ages. I started on Railsea and moved on to the The City and the City.

Without intending to, I started with two of Miéville’s books to give a central role to archaeology. In Railsea (which I plan to blog about in the future) the archaeology is generally mostly viewed by people as salvage or treasure – to be dug up and traded or sold.

In The City and the City the archaeology is highly contentious – material evidence that can be used to challenge the delicate political situation between the cities of Besźel and Ul Qoma.

The story centers on a murder case, in which the victim has been murdered in one city and dumped in another. Another author might have written a straight political crime thriller, but Miéville is a science fiction author. In this story the two cities do not sit side by side, but occupy the same physical space. The citizens of each city can see each other, but are taught to “unsee” anything across the boundary. To deliberately look or move across the boundary (unless through the official border) is to bring down punishment from the elusive, powerful and Kafka-esque organisation “Breach”. Check out this imagining of the cities here.

Miéville clearly knows or has encountered archaeologists. One character is said to be “more interested in Foucault and Baudrillard than in Gordon Childe or in trowels.”

He is good too, in both Railsea and The City and the City, at creating alternative past material culture that are a warped version of those that exist in our own world.

“The few Precursor artefacts in alarmed and guarded bell jars that punctuate the passages are… specific but opaque. I glanced at some as I left: a sag-breasted Venus with a ridge where gears or a lever might sit; a crude metal wasp discoloured by centuries; a basalt die. Below each one a caption offered guesses.”

I don’t want to give away too much about the story, as the twists and turns to the plot (in true noir style) are key to your enjoyment of the story. Miéville’s work is well worth exploring. Next on my list, Embassytown.

Finally, check out this wonderful Cover to Cover project by Jenny Volvovski who designs new covers for each book she reads: