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Dene October. Chapter 1. What's He Talking About? Performativity and the First Doctor

Medievally Speaking Marco

It’s really satisfying when a review of your book ticks all your own boxes. This one from Minjie Su, writing in the open access journal Medievally Speaking, does just this thing. Especially pleasing is the way it focuses on Marco’s travels as teaching us about the xenophobia and rise of white supremacy during our own times.


Since today is all about travel, I thought I would flash an excerpt from Black Archive Marco Polo – the book celebrates popular culture as a mechanism for imaginative travel, from Marco’s oral recollections, through to the medieval itinerarium, stylised merchant manual, literature and television story.

“The travel story is barely developed when Marco and Rustichello come to write The Travels, certainly not as an adventure genre, and much of its sense of danger and intrigue comes from how it interpolates the reader onto the journey. Indeed, the authors give prominence to documenting and describing the diversity of places, histories and customs. Marco’s sincerity, even when describing outlandish and fantastical marvels, alongside the narrative’s stylised deployment of authorial, linguistic and readerly address, adds considerably to the sense of movement in time and space, and it is these factors that produce in The Travels ambiguities of virtual travel comparable to those of the later forms of itinerarium. The Travels thus fits into a tradition of the imaginative journey in a way that helps to explain the embellished aspects to some of Marco’s descriptions as assertions of first-hand testimony. Marco and Rustichello create an immersive and chameleon text, one Lucarotti unconsciously imitates in creating an unusual Doctor Who story, and which others, including the very next serial along, The Keys of Marinus (1964), sought to emulate (albeit less successfully) in providing the changing locations, people and subplots that are inherent in the travelogue’s movement, pace and seriality (where stages are repeated with variations).”

Excerpt From: Dene October. ‘Marco Polo’ Obverse Books 2018

Marco Polo (Black Archive) Reviews

Currently believed wiped, you would be forgiven for thinking that any analytic study focusing on this sprawling adventure would be a bit short of things to talk about. Yet, this volume leaves the reader far more enlightened than they were before. So, what is going on? Do Obverse Books have a secret copy of ‘Marco Polo’? The answer is simple … Dene October, provides an in-depth discussion of the source material, and heavily references the travelogues of Marco Polo himself. Christian Cawley, Hero Collector

In possibly the greatest coup in Black Archive history, we have sourced something potentially unique – and it’s the author! Obverse Books

Obverse Books has pulled off quite a coup with the latest volume of The Black Archive – author, Dene October is in the possibly unique position of having seen Marco Polo not once, but twice, on broadcast! […] a physical copy will set you back just £4.99, and trust is when we say it’s more than worth it! Doctor Who Companion

Marco Polo (Black Archive) by Dene October.

In the first episode  the Doctor’s spaceship is abducted. ‘How does it move?’ its thief demands to know, mistaking the TARDIS for a caravan. ‘Through the air’, answers Ian. This conversation parallels the serial’s real-life transmission through the media of television, the magic doorway through which the audience steps into the future and past. OBVERSE BOOKS AMAZON UK


Black Archive #18 Marco Polo APRIL 2018

20180325_130223.pngIn the first episode  the Doctor’s spaceship is abducted. ‘How does it move?’ its thief demands to know, mistaking the TARDIS for a caravan. ‘Through the air’, answers Ian. This conversation parallels the serial’s real-life transmission through the media of television, the magic doorway through which the audience steps into the future and past. OBVERSE BOOKS AMAZON UK


Meet our authors #5

A few words on the Doctor Who and History book

Doctor Who & History

Doctor Who and the Never Ending Story

BADeneThe writers of Doctor Who and History focus on a different aspect of history as it expressed thematically in the show. Dene October looks at the programme’s depiction of thirteenth century explorer, Marco Polo.

Marco Polo is in the fourth serial of the show, and not only the first historical proper, it is sadly the first ‘lost’ story. Dene explores the decision to present the story of the Doctor and his companions, whose characters we as viewers are still learning about, through the observation and narrative focus of the renowned Venetian explorer.

“That decision has implications not only for how the camera treats its subjects, but also for the how the travelogue situates the audience as fellow travellers and historians,” he says.

The serial’s quirky narrative style also mirrors the Polo’s journey across Asia.

“The stories have always reflected the odd process of…

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Celebrity Studies: Book Review – Enchanting David Bowie: space/time/body/memory

This is a really thorough review of a book I worked on. As Sophia Deboick, the reviewer, says I question ‘authorship’ in my chapter on ‘Low’ …Bowie’s and his biographers’, putting the fan-listener at the forefront of an intersensory ‘reading’ of the music, augmented by the three figures of Bowie who compose, perform and listen. This is all about my own authorship really, of course, in pushing through the biographical and trying to use these words about Bowie that are already borrowed and reassembled, and then reassemble them again in a new way, listening, performing, composing … the way Bowie uses sound on his album to paint a picture that isn’t necessarily real but is performative, an impression that becomes another real chapter on him. Do I mean his sounds or my words? Oh yes, I know the answer to that – the answer is yes.

Sophia Deboick

Enchanting David Bowie: space/time/body/memory, edited by Toija Cinque, Christopher Moore and Sean Redmond, New York and London, Bloomsbury, 2015, 368 pp., £23.99 (paperback), ISBN: 978-1-6289-2303-2

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London Design Festival – Last chance to see

I should have blogged this earlier as today is the last chance to see my entry in the London Design Festival 2016. I’ve been a bit busy writing a chapter that relates to the themes that my art/design piece discusses. More about that when I deliver the conference presentation on it.

The work is a mirror through which fans can reflect on their mortality. Cheery, huh? In particular, it’s for all those fans who, like me, see something of themselves in the sad death earlier this year of David Bowie, my idol, my hero, my mirror growing up. It’s not actually a mirror – and I apologise to the LDF organising committee for the confusion and them having to ask where’s that mirror got to – but I had indeed been inspired by mirrors, the ones I collected as a boy; backed with vague outlines of Ziggy – or the Duke – and BOWIE printed proudly in black, they came in all sizes, stuck with a safety pin through as a make-do-badge or big enough to paint your face by before a Friday night spent trying to get into pubs, clubs and discos. You found the badges at record fairs, an alternative to the button badges I invariably brought home in the fruitless searches for The Prettiest Star (Mercury, 1970). My exhibition piece is not that kind of mirror, but it is about reflections, fan reflections, and reflections on mortality.

I am very proud to have the opportunity to submit anything to anywhere but I did hesitate wp-image-1764935318jpg.jpegabout submitting this. For two reasons. Firstly, as one of the exhibition team mused, it is an incredibly personal piece compared to the other design pieces being hung. It is what I call the fan-sandwich, a collision of ‘found’ designs with the fan in the middle. At 13, the iconic Aladdin Sane album was the first piece of design that talked to me, while the front page of The Sun reporting Bowie’s death continues to be a conversation I try to avoid. Each design subverts the other even while magnifying the other’s power, and I found myself caught in the middle of this affective collision, forever trying to break the relationship and bring the two back together. I mentioned there was a second reason. Ah yes, it really is a very personal piece you know.

As I say, I’m writing a chapter on these themes, so I don’t want to talk it all out here.  A massive shout out though to photographer Brian Duffy from whose original session both Aladdin Sane and The Sun versions are taken. I also want to genuinely thank those folk who have been kind enough to get in contact with me and share their feelings about the piece. Here’s to the good fan memories!

14 September – 14 October
London Design Festival

Revisiting Mexico ’86

freaksWith International Poetry Day just passed, thought I would dig out one of my own and shine the light of publicity on it. Soon as I started, I got to wondering about the narcissism of that – I’m just too self-conscious to be an impulsive person – so it isn’t surprising really that I ended up choosing this one, both because of and in spite of myself. Still, I dawdled so much I missed tweeting it by a day, and have only got around to hanging out my thoughts to dry here after three days of self-questioning. Here’s the thing, Mexico ’86 is all about guilt, about how the hell life can not only go on but be enjoyable (watching the World Cup) even as the world collapses around others (the earthquake). As the poem suggests, these fragments of images are pretty hard to create a cohesive whole out of.

The piece appeared in Freaks, which was a pamphlet put together to support Live Aid, and also in a really big anthology of poetry published by the American Poetry Association. Even it’s published life highlights how conflicted I feel. But damn, isn’t this all a bit pious and self-deceiving?

Jump (they say)


Icarus falling, Lazarus rising:

revisiting reflections on The Man Who Fell to Earth

via Daily Prompt: Jump

The #Icarus #Lazarus serialization continues tonight at 7.00 GMT with part VII, The jumpBowie-Newton. We’re passed the midpoint for this academic-turned-free-access essay on Roeg’s masterpiece but in this section it’s all about the Bowie-ness of Newton (and the Newton affect on Bowie). When it boils down to basics, the essay is all about tense and sense: the use of the past tense in the title, which implies the doomed fate of the lead character.

But the midway also seems an appropriate place to flip not just the tense but the verb. In line with today’s prompt, could the title be re-imagined as The Man Who Jumped to Earth? It’s the sort of question that asks about the ability of the character to take matters into his own hands since jump implies a voluntary act. Or does it? Bowie’s 1993 record Jump They Say continues his theme (and fear) of mental illness, and specifically references his brother’s scientificsuicide. Is suicide about jumping, falling or being pushed? Suicide is too often depicted as a voluntary act and one that conceals all the social pushing and falling that leads up to the final act.

Similarly, there’s a lot of jumping and pushing going on in the film, as the scientific, political and economic angels of death pursue those whose actions threaten their power. Newton isn’t the only one who falls. Farnsworth and his partner are both pushed out of their apartment building. You could argue these acts are dressed up to look like suicides. Farnsworth even apologises to his anonymous helmeted-assailants for not cooperating when his body is thrown against the window and only cracks it. Then again, he knows this is coming, fearing that his own greed and dealings have made him an enemy of the state. So did he jump or was he pushed?

And we could carry on asking this question of Newton, Bowie and – what I refer to in the icarus-image-7-performscheduled post tonight – the Bowie-Newton, where a bit of each rubs off on the other. Who pushes who? Who jumps into the other? Who falls for the other? Those odd-sounding and vague questions point not just to the extraordinary star-affect Bowie has on the film, but how the identity of Newton is, like a Möbius Strip, incrementally part of his own identity. Who pushes them together? Roeg certainly felt they were meant to be one (read why tonight) but possibly Bowie had already jumped into being Newton in the documentary Cracked Actor (Yentob, 1973), which had so influenced Roeg.

Pushing, jumping, falling … they are variants of the same action. But just swapping them around leads to important questions about self-control and social power. Anyway, jump back here later for more on the Bowie-Newton.

Icarus to Lazarus (from academic footnotes to a leap of faith)


For the 40th anniversary of the release of The Man Who Fell to Earth, I am revisiting my 2003 essay on the film and its themes of identity and difference. The work has been bfi-part-1through several iterations primarily because my aim was to find a way of rescuing Thomas Jerome Newton, the stranded and broken alien. Presented at three conferences, read by David Bowie himself and written as a chapter in the book David Bowie: Critical Perspectives (Routledge 2015), I have never considered myself fully finished with the work. This is partly because the stage play Lazarus (2015) by Enda Walsh and Bowie makes explicit those themes of rebirth I highlighted in the film. But also partly because my writing relies on some difficult theorising in order to argue against the film’s language which oppresses Newton. Some readers feel oppressed by academic language and footnotes.

A conversation between Bryce and Newton, set against the barren New Mexico desert sums 4kthis up. Bryce asks if there have been other visitors and Newton replies that he’s “seen their footsteps”.  For Bryce, a jaded academic, this is no kind of answer at all. “We’ve all seen them. That’s for theorists,” he insists. And that is where I realise my academic footsteps are too small, that if I want to leave my mark, I have to find bigger shoes. So this new version of my essay has more than just a new name (a name change that boasts the Lazarus connection): it is serialised and written in a less jargon-filled language, one accessible to all.

‘What’s in your mind?’ asks Bryce. And like Newton, I want to reassure you that I don’t want to hurt you with my theorising … it’s just a bit lonely out here in this academic hut. And now you come along …