Doctor Who and the Terror of the Vorticists : popular fantasy and the cultural inheritance of BLAST
Given the perceived anti-popular temperament of Wyndham Lewis’s work – his satire of ‘the herd’ and antipathy to ‘group rhythms’ – it might seem perverse to trace links between the avant-garde insurgency of the Vorticist moment and the mainstream endurance of the BBC’s Doctor Who franchise. An exploration beginning with the shared metaphor of the vortex, however, is suggestive of some of the ways in which the philosophical and aesthetic legacy of BLAST has permeated the popular myths of the succeeding century. Marshall McLuhan seems to have sensed this as early as 1951 when, in The Mechanical Bride, he made oblique reference to Vorticism by invoking Edgar Allan Poe’s short story ‘A Descent in the Maelstrom’ as an allegory of his own critical methodology. The image of the sailor who survives the violent whirlpool by ‘understanding’ it has parallels with both Lewis declaring ‘Long Live the Vortex!’ and the Doctor ‘staring at the raw power of time and space’. The Vortex of BLAST is used to figure a distinctly polemical approach to questions of time and flux, a conceptual possibility that is intrinsic to the narratives of Doctor Who. Beyond this, the dramatic enactment of Vorticism in The Enemy of the Stars invents a ‘junkyard’ setting that can be found not only in the foundational mise-en-scene of the Doctor Who series, but also as a recurrent and emblematic trope throughout its fifty year history. Indeed, it becomes tempting to glimpse in the quarries, sandpits and gleaming citadels so beloved of classic Who, the celestial desert and Magnetic City of Lewis’s Human Age series.