DVDs as temporal distortion

Yesterday the DVDs arrived; this was the second of three shipments in a massive (and horrifically expensive) order that’s been mostly Doctor Who-related stuff (i.e., Sarah Jane Adventures, Torchwood, the most recent Doctor Who season) for a book chapter I’m writing (although the box I’m still waiting on is the Sherlock DVDs which I need for an essay I’m writing on spec and will eventually find a home for somewhere if not where I’m currently intending it to land).

But don’t you own all that stuff already, Rach?

Actually, not so much. I watched the first two seasons of Torchwood on Netflix and own a couple of episodes for my iPod. I watched Children of Earth through the wonder of somewhat sketchy technological choices. And I fully admit to doing that a lot to get around region-based delays; sometimes because I’m impatient and sometimes because I actually need to see the thing because of a looming deadline and can’t leave it out of work I’m doing just because I’m in the US. I do, however, always buy the material once it becomes available to me, because that’s the ethical thing to do — I earn money from residual payments related to DVD purchases and cable airings of films I’ve been in, and it’s important to me to respect that paycheck for other people; that feeling is, of course, magnified when it’s about properties people I know and like work on (as is the case with things Whoniverse).

But sometimes, I’m just not super-efficient about ordering stuff. I’m waiting for a sale, or I don’t need it for a project right that second, or I want to combine it with a larger order, or whatever. Yesterday, however, the big box came (and there is a surfeit of DVDs in my life right now — Kali bought me The Duchess; SAG just sent me The Social Network and The King’s Speech for awards voting) full of stuff I need to get to much sooner rather than later.

What surprised me was my emotional reaction (beyond I have too much work to do!) to the stuff. Look, to cut to the chase, pulling out those Torchwood DVDs made me really sad for a few moments. Ayup, I’m one of those people. Or maybe not. It depends on which people you are (if you care at all), I think.

Look, I liked Children of Earth (CoE) (and the comment thread here is not for discussing why you did or didn’t like it; if I know you, I already know; if I don’t know you, I know the 20 arguments I’m most likely to hear — do feel free to mention how you felt if you’re posting about how you feel about how you feel about CoE, but let’s not rehash its merits or lack there of today, okay?). A lot. There were places I felt it was flawed; there were narratives I had hoped for or anticipated differently; there were choices I wouldn’t have made, but at the end of the day I liked it. It was satisfying for me (and Day 2 had truly exquisite pacing).

It also knocked me over. It was exhausting — the show itself, but also the hype, the fandom, the five-day grind of it all while being a fan and a fantasist and a critic. It was an experience in real-time that was made for the way in which I try to encounter the world, and which, having had the opportunity to so encounter the world, served as this amazing cautionary tale: liminality can be a real pain in the ass.

Seriously, how do you do criticism when you’re crying? How do you interact with your partner when you are grieving for the loss of phantoms? How do you participate in fandom when you know too much about the nature of production processes to feel comfortable with some of its arguments?

I’ll tell you, over a year later, I still have absolutely no damn idea. What I do know is that the whole CoE experience (It was like a fun park ride! Just… not always very fun.) led me down some really interesting research avenues (that’ll actually be available soon, I just need to make some tweaks and then it’ll be up on Friends of the Text), took me to the UK, was partially responsible for my most recent tattoo (which says Be grand and was acquired 4 hours before I boarded a flight at Heathrow back to New York), and has continued to open up some really exciting professional possibilities for me.

On the other hand, it also led to strained friendships, awkward con moments (John Fay, you’re a class act), a weird ambivalence about cosplay (um, for those who love the coat if not me, I’m not actually sure it’ll be coming to Gally this year), and a probably over-developed concern regarding fandom’s supposed displeasure with my existence. Yay. Or, you know, not. But the CoE experience sticks in my mind perhaps most for its weird You Are Not Alone (Doctor Who joke there, for the uninitiated) quality.

My whole childhood I was told I was wrong, and weird, and probably mentally ill for allowing books to mean so much to me. My father, jokingly, but with what felt like real disapproval to me, said something about my needing an exorcism because of my fondness for The Vampire Lestat. So when people kept saying in the first couple of days after CoE, “I had to keep going into the bathroom at work to cry,” I felt so glad for the tangibility of narrative that was being demonstrated through that grief. Stories suddenly weren’t just one of my vices or a secret society of inappropriate desire amongst my other lonely friends; they were real and shaping us as much as we were shaping them.

Mostly, CoE is a thing that happened long ago and far away now. We were all different people then. I’m busy being, well, busy, and I’m also really excited for the next Torchwood series coming from the Starz/BBC collaboration. But I do miss our silly, cracky show that was sometimes brilliant; I do miss us all tuning it at the same time; and I do miss the possibility I felt in Torchwood back when I wrote a silly letter to The New York Times.

It’s just television. Except when it’s not. Putting those boxes on the shelf made the whole messy, sordid, strange, not always okay for anyone, journey seem small and nearly imagined. It wasn’t, of course, and it’ll all unfurl for me again when I have to watch all three seasons over two days really soon (albeit with a totally different focus that’s on how Whoniverse stories portray and use media and marketing in their narrative constructions).

That’s the wacky thing about the DVDs. By existing in DVD format, a story is strongly designated as a part of the past. So is the story about the story (i.e., release and immediate reception). Yet, DVDs are also a preservation not just of an eternal present, but of the moment before. By being a story you already know, DVDs are also an odd innocence and a temporal distortion. They tell me what I keep telling everyone else: all times are now.

8 thoughts on “DVDs as temporal distortion”

  1. I cry over books and TV all the time. Wept like a baby at CoE (and a multitude of times during DW). Read THE HUNGER GAMES trilogy and could not sleep. The last HP book wrenched my heart out in so many places.

    We live and make our living in dreams. It’s just who we are. I always say that in the heart of every fantasy writer (or lover) there is a secret place where they everything they write really exists.

  2. I get angry and upset every time I see CoE in a shop or see someone’s TNW squee post – probably the same way they feel when they see me bitching about Gwen again, actually, but that’s why I don’t hang out in the comms any more.

    It reminds me of that comment that RTD made in the aftermath, about how we were mourning the potential that was lost in Ianto’s young death, and I think he was right on more than one count, because a lot of us were mourning the lost potential in the show, as well as the loss of the character.

    But there is something wonderful in knowing that other people feel the same way about something that is somehow taboo.

  3. I agree with you about the difference between watching a serial story unfold in real time, with the delays between the episodes, and a community watching with you, and the experience of watching it on DVD, whether you spread it out (oh, Netflix delays and library holds) or mainline it (the way my roommate and I have done with certain shows). I’m sure you already know that this is nothing new, with the crowds gathered at the docks waiting for the steamer bringing them the next installment of Dickens, and crying out their questions to the passengers.

    I didn’t weep over Ianto (it seems the only times I weep over stories are at the deaths of horses) but I grieved. Anger, denial, bargaining, the whole nine yards. ❤ Ianto.

    1. It’s always about the Dickens! (and with good reason). Yes, I’m in the know.

      What’s particularly funny in the case of CoE (as you may know) is that word of Ianto’s demise leaked to the Internet during the day US time before it had even aired in the UK that night because someone received their DVDs early which effectively caused this format that place stories in an eternally present past to predict the future. Super weird stuff.

      1. And the “carpet copy” of — was it book 6 or book 7 of Harry Potter? Whichever, there were certainly spoilers flying around before the official midnight release!

        1. Oh yeah, but the book is a different thing in that it’s our first exposure to the story as an audience, as opposed to a fixing in place of a broadcast. On the other hand, there is the whole book as telling of the story as opposed to story itself thing.

          The HP thing got so outrageous, people took such pleasure in spoiling folks. I felt like the Ianto spoilage was more in the form of a spontaneous wail of anguish (as was the spoilage that happened for the end of S2 with Owen and Tosh’s deaths).

          1. People were MEAN in HP fandom in ways that are worse than anything I’ve seen before or after on the interwebs and a lot of the spoilage was just one more way of being nasty to people who had disagreed with you.

  4. are you allowed to read what other people have to say about stuff you vote on? because I criticised The Social Network rather heavily in my DW journal.

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