...a blog by Richard Flowers

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Day 5382: DOCTOR WHO: The (Magician's) Apprentice – You're Fired Exterminated


Did everyone else get the same reaction to the recently announced latest spin-off from "Doctor Who": disappointment, regretfully, that it's not the "Missy and Clara Show"?

(Or "Dammit, Missy!" as the Verity podcasters hilariously dubbed this sadly-not-yet-to-be project – and can I also add that their "replace Clara and Michelle Gomez' Missy with Jo and Delgado's Master" game works so perfectly!)

Has there ever been a sci-fi psychodrama sit-com before? What a wasted opportunity if there hasn't. Because judging by this week's episode, it would be genius.

Because this week is all about the Time Lady and the Puppy.

I love Missy's little reminiscence at the start, getting Clara to work out "how I did it!". (Yes, yes, I scored all the points for guessing how the cliffhangers would resolve. Thankfully, Steven Moffat got the answer to the moral question posed last week right too.)

I love that – and I only spotted it on second viewing, but I'm sure most people got it first time out – they actually show three instances of the disintegration/teleport/escape trick, including the end of "Death in Heaven", to confirm that this is what happened then too (meaning last week's cheeky "Not dead. Back." was just a slap to the Saward years' habit of the Anthony Ainley Master to survive without bothering to explain how. Or why.)

I love that it's actually the Doctor's trick – he's done the working out, and on the fly I might add ("what a swot!"), and the Master (he's such a plodder) is merely copying, which seems very much in keeping with the old Jon Pertwee/Roger Delgado relationship (think "Sea Devils") where the Master would have a plan but would have to harness the Doctor's flair and improvisation.

I like to think that the scene with the invisible android assassins might have been written as a cameo for Sean Pertwee to double for his father; he can do the look and would not have had to do the voice. I mean it probably wasn't, but think of the resonance if it had been: "they're all the Doctor to me, so let's give you the frilly shirt" instead of "the eyebrows".

(Of course, that "they're all the Doctor to me" line is pinched from Iris Wildthyme, the erratic possibly-Time Lady created by Paul Magrs and brought to life by the magical Katy Manning.)

This pair of episodes, particularly the second but including moments like the naked horror of her realisation that Skaro is indeed returned in "The Magician's Apprentice", allow Michelle Gomez to transform her Master from merely bananas, however entertaining, pantomime villain Mary Poppins into a fully rounded anti-Doctor. Look at the way she encourages, coaches, even occasionally protects Clara. She's being the Doctor. Of course she might just think of it as house training the puppy, or breaking her in, but…

"If you ever let this creature live, then all this is on you."

That was Clara's accusation to the Doctor in "Death in Heaven". Complicity with the Master if he didn't stoop to the Master's level and murder his oldest frenemy.

Well, how'd'ya like them onions now, Clara Oswald?

Clara's inability to kill Missy the moment she obligingly turns her back is reassuringly human. We would think she was a monster, or a sociopath, if she could actually do it. Even if it wasn't borderline suicidal when wading knee-deep in Dalek sewer.

(The Doctor, incidentally, does to the Daleks what Missy did to the human race in "Death in Heaven": weaponising their dead against them, when he out-Xanatos-Gambits Davros (again), which pays her back for her nicking his teleport trick I suppose. And of course we're playing Time Lord "Hustle" again too ("Time Heist"). My head-canon is going to say that if Davros had taken only the regeneration energy offered rather than trying to take it all, then the Doctor would have let it go at that: that was the "out" he was being offered.)

But it's also a firm rebuke to Clara's words (spoken, to be fair, in anger) at the end of last year's finale. It is a false equivalence to say that one act of compassion is causative of all the harms that follow. This is pretty basic to all our modern morality from "an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind" to Gandalf's gentle admonition of Frodo that "it was pity that stayed Bilbo's hand" (an act of compassion that, ultimately, leads to the destruction of the One Ring and the utter ruin of evil. So you know, hard to top).

(And I do mean modern; I suspect that a Roman or a Spartan or for that matter the knights of King Arthur would all be entirely happy to stab the evil Time Lady in the back.)

Of course compassion (and mercy) are what saves Clara, in the end, from Missy's machinations trapping her inside a Dalek. That's more than merely an inspired bit of twisted sadistic play from the Master; it's virtually the entire point of the episode – what is compassion if not finding the friend inside the enemy.

Mind you, Clara seems to have forgotten the lesson she tried to teach the Clockwork Man back in "Deep Breath": "Never start with your final sanction. You've got nowhere to go but backwards." Just as Clara called the Clockwork Man's bluff, so Missy immediately calls Clara's. And thus psychologically disarms her. Before physically disarming her using what looks like another example of that super-speed she (maybe all Time Lords) sometimes appear to possess (see also Missy's murder of Osgood).

Actually, Missy was never in any danger from a pointy stick: she (though she could have been, indeed probably was, lying) told us that you would need to take out both hearts and brainstem all at once to stop her regenerating. Which more than slightly suggests that Missy deliberately left her pointy stick for Clara to pick up. Another little game. Who hasn't thrown a stick for a puppy, after all?

Moffat has struck on a rich seam of ideas to explore here. There's something Lovecraftian about the episode (even without the "something slimy lurking down below", why hello Freudian scatological horror!). The idea that humans – even ones like Clara – run into primal forces like Missy and mistake them for something… understandable.

Like the "First Ones" in "Babylon 5" – G'Kar (Andrea Katsulas) has a memorable scene where he picks up an ant on the tip of his glove – "if I put it down and another ant asks 'what was that?' how could the ant explain?". Moffat seems to get that the Time Lords, who really are the "first ones" of the Doctor Who universe are… in the old cliché …aliens beyond our comprehension. That's proper sci-fi that is.

This expands on the scene in the first episode, where Missy is genuinely (to whatever value of genuinely you think applies to her) revolted by the idea she might "love" the Doctor.

"Try, nano-brain, to rise above the reproductive frenzy of your noisy little food chain and contemplate friendship. A friendship older than your civilization, and infinitely more complex."

(I pondered last time whether they have really been at this longer than [our or Clara's] Civilization. If Missy meant modern England, which is probably the 400 years from Elizabeth I to Elizabeth II then easily; or even the nearly-thousand years from 1066 and all that, given the Doctor's now more advanced age; but the five thousand plus of human Civilisation from Mesopotamia to present day? That might be pushing it. Unless Missy means that Gallifrey is from, as long suspected, billions of years in the past.)

Andrew Cartmel and Russell Davies toyed with the idea of the Doctor as "god" before, but in Steven Moffat's hands Doctor and Master are rather more Cthulthu and Nyalothatep (horrors from the dawn of time) than magic floaty Jesus.

If this is Lovecraft, then the Daleks, all amoeboid protoplasm and rage, are the Shoggoths, the "machine creatures" of the Elder Things that made war to overthrow the gods.

Again, Moffat is just full of ideas here, gleefully binding together new notions with riffs on old bits of continuity:

The idea that Daleks are functionally immortal was made as a promise from Davros in "Revelation of the Daleks". The full horror of that can only be described as plumbing new depths here.

The third Doctor described the Daleks as moving by psychokinetic power ("Death to the Daleks"), which here translates to emotional energy firing the Dalek gunstick, and saying plainly that Cybermen repress emotion, Daleks channel it into anger. "It's why they keep yelling 'Exterminate!' – it's how they reload." It is absolute genius. As is seeing Missy work this out as she's examining Clara. (Again using her as the canary in the mine, or the test guinea pig in the experiment casing… are you getting that all these are references to Clara as a useful, useable animal, or familiar. Of course both titles refer to Clara – and to the different ways the two Time Lords see her.)

And of course Moffat is not above riffing on himself rewiring the idea of the Dalek's "cortex vault", the prison for their wrong-thinking memories from "Into the Dalek", so that it even translates the words they think/say into Dalek newspeak. Again, entirely consistent with the "computer control" that Davros saddled them with (before they exterminated him for the first time) back in (everything comes back to) "Genesis of the Daleks".

Of course it doesn't quite stack up. We've heard Daleks say things like "Mercy" and "Pity" before, even if it's just to deny they understand the concepts. And if Clara had been thinking calmly – which of course the point is she is not – then she should have been able to come up with a linguistic work-around. But then, given the way that she appears to lose the use of contractions, it's possible there's a kind of feedback occurring between her and the casing by means of the language she is allowed to use. Which is, of course, the point of Newspeak.

We are all a product of our environment, a Dalek even more so.

It's also slightly naughty that the first Dalek to be killed by the let's call them slime Daleks needs to be broached by Missy's brooch, whereas by the end they all seem to be vulnerable to the eldritch horrors of their ancestors' cells. (Oh, I'm so sorry.)

And Alex was quite right when he said how silly it was to have the Special Weapons Dalek right there and not have it be the one to blow up the TARDIS. What do you think it is for?

(I appease him slightly by saucily retconning Moffat's redubbing of the H.A.D.S. from "Displacement" to "Dispersal" by suggesting that it's a call-back to "Frontios" rather than a desperate cheat.)

Anyway, apparently the Doctor and Davros have some special time together in this episode too. But everyone else has talked about that*. And there's some guff about a prophecy and a hybrid and the Doctor's confession dial (which almost certainly contains the message "haha fooled you!"). Tediously that will no doubt turn out to be this year's arc plot. (Rather than the far more interesting hints about the Cloister War or the Master's Daughter.)

Last thought. Every Dalek ever… except for "some of our greatest mistakes". I know it's wrong of me, but in a secret place in my imagination, I see Mr Moffat crying out: "You think my Daleks are sh** Daleks? I'll give you sh** Daleks!!!"

Next time… If the Daleks are aliens from the past then these are ghosts from the future, and Christopher Eccleston needs to be put on danger money. We're going "Under the Lake".

*OK, I can't go entirely without praising the excellent work of Julian Bleach and Peter Capaldi. But I feel I talked a lot last time about the central moral dilemma – which is the thrust of the Doctor/Davros battle of wits here – whereas this week is a really good exploration of what the Master and the Daleks are about.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Day 5372: DOCTOR WHO: This Seems Very (Witch’s) Familiar


This seems familiar because we've seen this story play out before: the Doctor going alone to face his absolutely final death, after one final farewell party; the romp through the back-catalogue of places we’ve seen and monsters we recognise; the time-twisting trap. It’s the start of Series Six, the end of Series Seven, and several times in between. It’s the Wedding of Let’s Kill Hitler Again with the Time of the Impossible Moon.

Yet I love how this show brings me a whole new existential horror: dare I pronounce it "good" until I've seen how it resolves next week?

The return of two-parters – while welcome for the scale and scope and not-to-mention old-style cliffhanger – also spells the return of trying to comment on a story only half seen.

But this cliffhanger is so well-constructed, not merely mechanically in rounding out the episode by completing the circle back to the pre-title jaw-dropper, but in that it leaves us asking the fundamental question of the episode: “will the Doctor kill a child to save billions?”

That was, infamously, the scripted cliffhanger to Part Five of “Genesis…”, but the production team bottled it, moving the cliffhanger back to have the Doctor attacked by a random wandering (baby) monster instead of the philosophical question. So well done Moffat for restoring the question to the cliffhanger here.

And because that cliffhanger is so integral to the moral question on which the episode, indeed much of Doctor Who itself, hinges I really want to review this before the Schrödinger’s Cat gets out of the box and we see how Moffat resolves his moral dilemma.

(Publishing this, I hope, with just hours to go before part 2.)

“The Magician’s Apprentice” is, essentially, five spectacular set-pieces: the battlefield of the thousand-year war (the "hand mines" with their single eyes surrounded by finger-appendages seeming so foreshadowing of the Dalek mutants, and did they mention "clam drones" in the vicinity?); Colony Sarff's oily, slinky glide from vignette to vignette in search for the Doctor (Maldovarium, Shadow Proclamation and Karn tying together Moffat, Russell and Classic eras of the show); Clara’s eye-acting face-off with the Master (and UNIT have so clearly co-opted Roz from "Bugs" to fill the science roll of the lamented Osgood); the Doctor's Party (the two prologues, the one on Karn and the Doctor’s meditation which leads into the party, both feel like “deleted scenes”, being very integral to the action but, I think rightly, excised because they break up the Doctor-less flow); and the return to a gorgeously-realised Skaro (though didn’t he do that already in “Asylum of the Daleks”? Or at least its prequel).

And each is done very well.

Okay, I think that the Dalek control room should have looked bigger. A lot bigger. I get that it’s trying to recreate the look of the first Dalek serial (and of the first Dalek movie) but for all that is was a large set, it still looked like the Dalek Supreme and his chums were playing dressing-up in the attic.

I’d like to see the Dalek throne room looking this big.

It certainly looks like what they were aiming at

And there's something of a logic flaw in the Master's spectacular "Did you Miss(y) Me" stunt. Why do writers always forget that the planet is moving, both spinning on its axis and hurtling through space; a localised "time stop" – stopping the planes in the sky but not the ground underneath them – would see the planes on one side of the Earth smashed into the ground and on the other left behind in space. You're not "freezing" the planes in space when you freeze them in time; you're making them move through spacetime in a very different and physics-defying way. And if you want to make play of the shadows that they cast on the ground then yes you are saying that the other rules of physics (light and gravity, as well as entropy et al) are all still applying to the "fixed" planes.

But, you know, Time Lord science (aka magic). And it's a call back to "The Time Monster" too.

(While: "I'll be talking to you through…" boing "…the square window" reminds us of the Master's penchant for watching children's television – "The Sea Devils" and "The Sound of Drums". And was hilarious.)

And it's a very Moffat way of making the show. Where Bob Holmes would make the worlds seem larger by alluding to events off screen, the Grand Moff has the budget and the CGI to show rather than tell.

All of which is dressing this up to be a big and important story.

But to be fair, because of the central argument, the difference of philosophy between the Doctor and – let’s say it – Davros, actually this is a big and important story.

Who is the Magician’s Apprentice of the title? I thought it was going to be Clara, but it’s got to be Davros, hasn’t it? Who is the one learning the (possibly wrong) lesson from the self-avowed Magician here?

The choice of title itself is interesting: being a mash-up of the old fable (and Micky Mouse bit in Fantasia) “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and C.S. Lewis’s Narnia prequel “The Magician’s Nephew”. In the former, the apprentice seeks to solve his problems by creating an army of servants which he quickly loses control of with disastrous consequences. In the latter, the Magician has the (stolen) power to move between worlds, which the boy misuses to release destruction, in the person of Jadis the White Witch, into the world of Narnia. Either seems strangely apposite.

And playing off Davros against the Master makes for an interesting contrast. There is the fabulous discussion of what the Doctor and Master's – have they really been at this longer than our Civilization? possibly, yes – friendship means: the Master is the dark side of the Doctor, the Doctor gone berserk, the Doctor’s ego run rampant. But Davros is the Doctor’s inverse: the scientist-tyrant to the Doctor’s philosopher-knight-errant; the deposed emperor to the Doctor’s abdicated lord; the fascist to his liberal. Missy is the Doctor’s best friend; Davros is his arch enemy. Just as last year the Master tempted the Doctor with an army of Cybermen to see just how far a good man would go: will you do anything to people for their own good? (i.e. are you a communist?) Here were we see Davros asking the “Let’s Kill Hitler” question that “Let’s Kill Hitler” ducked: is compassion worth the price or do you put the greater number first? (i.e. are you a fascist?)

I’ll give the Mister Moffster this: he’s not shy of tackling the big questions.

The problem with the moral question first posed in "Genesis of the Daleks" is that it's just so easy to present the downsides to letting Davros live.

But the Doctor is clearly not going to "exterminate" Davros.

Apart from anything else it would be a paradox big enough to implode the Universe; wiping out the Time War and most of the Doctor's own history. In the climax to last year (also written by Steven Moffat) the Doctor explained the grandfather of time paradoxes to Clara: if she rewites her own history so that Danny's death doesn't happen, she won't have any reason to rewrite her own history. This is that times a billion. Times a billion billion. Times a google.

And I don't think it's particularly difficult to work out how the cliffhanger resolves.

Just to deal with the side-bluff of killing Missy, Clara and the TARDIS for starters… they ain’t dead. Missy and Clara are, for example, carefully established to be wearing vortex manipulators (Clara's, presumably, still got Jack's one which she acquired in "Day of the Doctor") and they are slaved together so (visible skeletons notwithstanding) the pair of them can be teleported away together to wherever Missy planned to escape to. And it’s not impossible that that’s a fake TARDIS shell, either – and the real one has been chameleon-circuited into that tank. (Which in itself might be a comment on the Daleks.)

And for the biggie: the Doctor isn't aiming the Dalek gun at Davros but at the hand mines, not to pre-execute the genocidal megalomaniac, rather try to teach him a lesson in compassion.

But by placing as the cliffhanger rather than instantly resolving this, Moffat forces us to sit and think about this for a whole week. And because Moffat has timey-wimey form, we cannot just dismiss the possibility that he (Moffat if not the Doctor) might just consider rewriting the whole of Doctor Who history. Again.

Moffat and/or the Doctor as written by Moffat is such a tricksy person to pin down, morally. I maintain that he commits genocide against the Silence in “Day of the Moon” (genocide and attempted genocide are the same crime; guilt does not require you to succeed or there would be no one Jewish left alive; and the Doctor is culpable for the order to “kill them all on sight”). But he also undoes the genocide of the Time Lords (and possibly the Daleks – although I’m pretty sure he’s still intent on getting them all killed, they do kind of become the biggest ever “shot with their own weapon” rather than shot by the Doctor).

As recently as last season, he was trying very hard not to have to treat the Boneless (“Flatline”) as monsters to be defeated until they exhausted their last chances and his excuses; and of course this is the same question that sits at the heart of “Kill the Moon”.

It certainly looks like Moffat is saying that anyone who came down on the side of killing the Moon – one life for billions – is buying Davros’ argument that “compassion is wrong”. That’s a pretty serious slap in the face to a lot of Who-fans.

What we’re hoping is that this time the Doctor will win his moral argument with Davros, rather than hand-waving or timey-wiming his way out of answering, having failed so disastrously with Saward and (incredibly) with Russell having Davros apparently shame the Doctor with his rant in “Journey’s End”.

It’s a lot easier to accept “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one” when it’s Mr Spock spouting the fascist (in the original sense of the nation must all bind together to the will of the leader) dictum rather than the creator of the Daleks.

But it also gives weight to Davros’ point of view, to Davros having a valid point of view, if quite a sizeable percentage of the audience might be thinking: “hang on though, he’s got a point about this one life for many business”.

In a way, though, that question is much better framed here, because – unlike “Kill the Moon” – we know that the outcome is not that the Earth survives unharmed/“gets away with it”, but that Davros alive is a total Universe-fracking disaster for everyone alive everywhere ever.

And of course it’s wonderful to have the ever-melodious tones of Tom frame the question for us so unambiguously. (And isn’t it nice that Davros has the BBC DVD of “Genesis of the Daleks” – available in good shops and online – for reference.)

I’ve seen this referred to in Craig Hinton’s terms as “fanwank”.

(Even aside from the “so it’s come to this, a Doctor Who clips show”, there were a number of moments that were… reminiscent of earlier Doctors, from the “Dead Planet” Daleks and the look of Skaro’s gleaming, futuristic, Dalek city; via a twelfth century Essex castle like the one the third Doctor visited in “The Time Warrior”; to the look of Skaro’s mist-haunted, blasted wasteland of mines and biplanes with lasers versus bows and arrows as visited by the fourth Doctor; via the possible nod of Colony Sarff to the Mara, the fifth Doctor’s demons, at just the moment he’s facing his shame; up to UNIT’s Tower of London base as visited by the tenth and eleventh Doctors. I’m sure there were others.)

It’s certainly very fan-pleasing. But I would have to say “fanwank” is fan-satisfying to no other purpose. It would be – to pick an example from entirely out of the air – having a story set in 1987 to clarify that the Doctor knows for a fact that there are no Thals left on Skaro before he fries the place to a cinder in 1988’s “Remembrance of the Daleks”.

But Moffat is using the history of Doctor Who to remind us over and over of the importance of his central question: “is compassion wrong?”

Hell, that’s pretty much what the Time War was fought over.

The clips that we see (or rather more hear, though they are up on Davros’ DVD wall of shame) from Peter D and Baker C are from “Resurrection of the Daleks” where the Doctor thinks he will execute Davros, but fails, and from “Revelation of the Daleks” where he castigates Davros not for turning the galaxy’s greatest funeral home into a Soylent Green factory but for not telling the deceased’s relatives. Both in their very different ways hinge on “compassion”. Even Sylv’s “unlimited rice pudding” speech (which we also hear) finishes with the Doctor having pity for Davros.

In the Saward and Davies philosophical confrontations, Davros was an enormous hypocrite. With his back against the wall, he rants and jeers, in part, because his own Daleks are on the verge of killing him. And he would rather die at their plungers than concede the Doctor might have won the argument.

But here, although he’s the mad uncle in the attic, it’s like the Daleks in the other attic have forgotten about him – Alex has a terrible thought: maybe Moffat’s going to announce that the few Daleks playing dress-up are in their attic because the whole rest of the city is run by… Their Greatest Mistakes. The Horror. Though they’d have to have those doors widened – But that brings me back to my point. Who has the Dark Lord Moff, brooding for long ages in the darkness, come to believe is the greatest evil and his arch-enemy, bringing him low since the days of his greatness (under Russell, when he only had to write one script a year, as opposed to now where he… struggles to write two scripts a year)?

The critics, that’s who. The fans. The people who watch his stories over and over again and pull them slowly to pieces until there’s nothing left.

Davros has summoned the Doctor to his DVD wall of shame to do just the same to the Doctor. Never mind “We are the Daleks” (actually, while some of it’s brilliant, I minded some of it very much); Tonight, Matthew, the curly-haired Scottish hero turns directly to camera and tells us: “You are Davros!”

“Genesis of the Daleks” concludes with Sarah Jane asking if their mission to Skaro has failed. The Doctor tells her that out of the Evil of the Daleks, will come good. I’ve previously argued – and still believe – that that good is a Universe with compassion. You can either have a Universe, a version of History, that has compassion or you can commit genocide. Your History can either be Time Lords and Daleks. Or you can be Daleks.

What makes the Doctor a moral character is that he makes choices. Davros makes one choice and creates the Daleks. Who promptly take all his choices away from him. The Doctor still has the ability to choose. Let’s see how he chooses.

Next Time… So Davros is dead and now the Quarks are the most deadly threat in the Universe… perhaps not. If Davros is the Magician’s Apprentice then Clara… “you’re the puppy” …must be “The Witch’s Familiar”.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Day 5376: An Idiot With a (Telly) Box


In a change to our schedule, we managed to arrive at Lib Dem Conference twenty minutes early this morning! Almost abandoned, we found the BBC stall in the exhibition manned by… Sir Ming Campbell. That’s the Lib Dem dedication to the BBC.

Here's the speech I didn't get to deliver to the emergency motion “Protecting the BBC”:

Conference, we are like the Time Lords in Doctor Who: almost extinct but still saving the world 

I'd protect the Beeb for Doctor Who alone, but let me give you three other reasons to support them:

1 soft power
2 economic growth
3 ensure quality from commercial rivals

1 the Prime Minister wants us to be a World leader with a place on the international stage. We already have a world leader that opens more doors than any amount of posturing. 

We debated Trident this week, a really expensive weapon we wouldn't ever use, but our best defence isn't the bomb. It's the Beeb. 

Study after study shows the BBC is our most respected diplomatic window to the world. China and India pay attention to us because of the BBC

We're never going to defeat terrorism by dropping bombs of firing drone missiles. We're going to beat terrorism by showing them we have a better way, a better life.

2 Britain’s creative sector is a vital part of growing a strong diverse economy. And as the motion says, the BBC is a crucial part of that. These are great jobs and we're good at it. 

And the BBC encourages the arts and film and music all to flourish, and gives us a core of existing talents and a place to develop new – in production and design as well as acting and writing. 

The chancellor, in what passes for his wisdom, wants to develop the sector. But what is the point of giving tax incentives to Star Wars and slashing the BBC’s budget by a sixth? It makes no sense. It's as crazy as cancelling the green economy in favour of digging up the Home Counties for a carbon fuel that will only run out. The BBC is good for the economy.

3 we pay for the BBC for the same reason we vaccinate other people's kids. Even if we don't benefit personally, we are all better off if the population is healthy. 

The BBC is a vaccine of quality for the commercial television channels. They can't go downmarket to the lowest common denominator so long as the have to compete on quality with the BBC.

If you want a free market to work, you have to have free and equal access to information. Commercial news means insider trading to someone.

If you want social justice, you need to have fearless reporting not beholden to interests, not avoiding stories about banks because they pay for your advertising.

That's why we need the BBC. 

Do delete the last sentence (which would unnecessarily restrict rises in the license fee to inflation in a period after the Tories may have frozen or reduced it).

Support the Beeb. Support the motion.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Day 5371: Where we go from here: What's The Economics For?


Tory: "The Rich will solve all your problems; give tax cuts to the Rich."
Labour: "The State will solve all your problems; take taxes for the State."
Liberal: "People are the only people who can solve our problems; how do we help everyone?"

It is more urgent than ever that the Liberal Democrats put forward an economic platform that will actually liberate people from poverty, as opposed to the Tory position of exacerbating the advantage those with capital have over those without AND Labour's fantasy economic policy of printing and spending money to solve every problem under the sun.

could be UK economy ;)

This platform should build on the Coalition policy of shifting tax from the poor to the rich and from income to wealth.

I've said before that we should be taxing WEALTH (money that is buried in vaults and assets doing nothing) rather than INCOME (money that is doing work generating employment and business).

Nothing makes it more apparent that the Tories have switched direction without the guidance of Nick and Danny and Vince than Gideon's post-election tearing up of the Coalition policies that were effecting greater equality. Shifting tax-cutting to the wealthy (through his long-desired Inheritance Tax cut) and the better off (by raising instead of lowering the 40% threshold and so passing the bulk of the benefit of the rise in personal allowance up to the already earning mores).

So in the short term we can plug away at pointing out how the Coalition reduced inequality, invested in education and created opportunity and that the Tories have turned their back on all of that.

But to answer the question "What are the Liberal Democrats for?" we are going to need a bigger, bolder plan.

There are TWO BIG questions to ask ourselves:

What do we want our economy to do – what should we make, grow, tend and sell – and how should our economy work?

What do we do?

Three quarters of the British economy is in the service sector and a very large part of that is in financial services.

This is both a strength and, as the crash of 2008 taught, a vulnerability. To address that, we need both to reform our financial services and to broaden our economy out to be less reliant upon them.

I don't want to indulge in the "banker bashing" that is common from a Labour Party keen to absolve, or at least deflect, from their own complicity. Simply smashing up the existing banks, or driving them away with ever-higher costs of doing business, would still, even after the crash, be killing a goose that lays quite a few of our golden eggs.

But with Master Gideon flogging off the Royal Bank that we Own of Scotland at knock down prices to his city mates, we are fast losing the golden opportunity we had to make the changes needed: to complete the sensible reforms of the banking sector that Vince Cable set in motion, and encouraging a greater DIVERSITY of banking, growing local banks that will better serve the needs of millions of people who are working in small enterprises.

Our banking sector is completely out of scale with the needs of most of our people. We need banks that are SMALLER and more LOCAL so that they are responsive to the vast majority of people and businesses in Britain which are SMALL businesses. We need to look at recreating the local bank, with the bank manager who knows and cares about their customers. Banks that are small enough that the government CAN afford to step in and save them if they fail.

Outside of finance there are three main areas for growth that we already know of.

The first of these is housing, in fact construction generally. The Chancellor has founded his reputation and the recovery on the shifting sands of a house price bubble. That's not good. Far too few houses are being built, and the ones that ARE being built, for example all over London, are not affordable homes for families, but investment opportunities for the new Chinese millionaires and Russian oligarchs. Instead of boxes in the sky we should be building homes and communities. The lack of decent housing (and the schools, shops, hospitals and other infrastructure that goes with building a proper town) lies at the heart of the unrest and frankly shaming attitude towards immigration. The economy will benefit from immigration, but we need to be directing that benefit to the people impacted by pressure on home and wage.

Secondly, there is energy. The Tory government in the pocket of Big Carbon and Big Nuclear has almost literally burned the flourishing Green Revolution that the Lib Dem energy secretaries Chris Huhne and Ed Davey so carefully and successfully nurtured. It really is cutting off your nose to spite your face. Gideon appears to be staking everything on tearing up the Home Counties in search of fracked gas. Adding more CO2 emissions cannot be the answer, investing further into burning stuff that we soon end up needing to import cannot be the answer, particularly when we have the opportunity to harness wind and wave, tide and thermal to become a net energy exporter.

Thirdly, there is the creative arts sector. Again, the Tories actions appear utterly counter to good husbandry of this important and growing sector, putting a petty vendetta against the BBC ahead of its vital place in nurturing talent in writing, acting, directing, design, music and many other forms of performance and support. Handing out tax breaks to Star Wars with one hand while snatching a sixth of the BBC's budget with the other is beyond muddled and into schizoid.

The so-called culture secretary has recently spoken of the BBC damaging the commercial value of news. This is so FUNDAMENTALLY wrong it is hard to grasp. The entire free market economy DEPENDS on free and equal access to information. If news has a COMMERCIAL value, then people are PAYING to get an INSIDE edge on people who DON'T have that information. In a previous generation TORIES actually legislated to make that ILLEGAL. So this current idiot doesn't even understand his OWN dogma.

Providing news freely and fairly is a PRIMARY PURPOSE of the BBC, and indeed no state can properly define itself as a Liberal Economy WITHOUT a BBC-equivalent making sure that all the people have the same opportunity of information.

I'd add something else. While our military is overstretched and our military adventurism has done nothing but make itself despised across the world, what saving grace does the UK still possess in international influence?

Soft power. Study after study after study says so.

The one area where we still lead the world, the one thing where we can make more of a difference than anyone else, the one real good we ca do in promoting our values, is 'soft power'. Cultural influence. Persuasion by ethos. And our leader in that is the BBC.

This Tory government won by appeals to narrow nationalism and economic competence. The BBC boosts both our national power and our economy.

The Mail is based in Bermuda to avoid British tax; the Telegraph in Sark for the same reason; News International makes its tax affairs even more murky, and Mr Murdoch changes his nationality according to what flag of convenience he needs. Why does Mr Cameron take his lessons in nationalism from this bunch of tax exiles and foreign billionaires? Why does he take his lessons in morality from phone hackers and ex cons?

The Prime Minister boasts of wanting to take the fight to ISIL, meaning he wants to spend more money and lives that he won’t pay but we can't afford on yet more foreign adventures. Because that's what Prime Ministers always do. But he won't spend far less money and waste no lives by supporting the BBC in doing something we're actually effective at.

This is spitefully cutting noses off both his faces.

(The BBC, by the way, treat the Liberal Democrats in a totally shoddy way, consistently underrepresenting us in political discussion. So it's in no way in our political interest to defend them. But it's the right thing to do, so we should do it anyway.)

How do we do?

Our current model of the economy requires most people to work most of their lives.

Our politicians, of Right AND Left, even make it a virtue to be enslaved to labour – "Hardworking families" are worthy of merit; we all know the jibes at the "other" sorts of families, whether from Tory or Labour front benches (though, who knows, Mr Corbyn may deliver a change to this rhetoric – I wait to see).

In the not-too-distant future this will simply not be viable.

While it may be a little early to panic that "the robots are coming" in the medium term – which we need to be thinking about – there will be many areas of the economy where those whose capital controls the means of production will become able to replace human labour with robots and computers.

Self-driving cars are the next major technological innovation on the horizon. Self-driving cars means self-driving taxis and self-driving lorries. And that's jobs just gone. Robots will work longer hours and deliver safer and in more timely fashion, and won't stop for food or a fag or a toilet stop or for dogging. Of course you won't be able to hold them responsible for refugees clinging to the underside of the truck either – maybe there'll be more jobs in security [unhappyface].

[Arrest the programmers! Or arm the robots! Tell them to target all illegal passengers! That couldn't possibly go wrong… ]

An economy of robots may be able to generate a higher level of GDP (though who would buy all their robotic output becomes a problem) but if we stick to the current model with more and more people locked out of employment, then the levels of inequality will make today's divide between rich and poor look like a socialist utopia.

Now, the Conservative might not see anything wrong with that. And based on past performance, Labour would be quite happy to recruit a client state of people trapped on benefits and tax credits beholden to the government on sufferance of good behaviour. But Liberal Democrats believe in ensuring that no one is enslaved by ignorance, poverty or conformity.

So we are going to need an economy that shares out the GDP in a greatly different way to the current one.

To start with, we need to be looking at the way that the limited company works. As a tool, it's had incredible success, but it remains a form of organisation designed in the Nineteenth Century and places power almost entirely in the hands of directors who have little accountability to even their shareholders let alone their workforce.

Our working lives ought to be so much more about who we work with rather than who we work for. So we need to be looking at organising small enterprises (at least initially) in more collective/shared ownership/(yes, John Lewis) ways.

And I've also made no secret that I would like us to look again at a Citizens' Income.

Experiments have shown that simply giving money to people is a stimulus to the economy. Certainly they might just spend it, which in itself generates economic activity, but also it will empower people to start their own business, or take the time to write music or their novel.

The keys to increasing GDP are available resources (time, money, skills, health) and confidence.

The current economy is built on job INSECURITY, driving more and more people to work longer and longer hours. We need to find ways to give people back their TIME. And with it, the CONFIDENCE to do their own thing, or to change jobs, or just to walk away from bad jobs.

The Greens pitched the Citizens' Income as a handout. To people who believe in fairness that seems a self-evident good. But those are the very people you DON'T need to sell the idea to. To a lot of people, it sounded like taking money from the workers and giving to people who, well, weren't.

I'd rather rebrand (sorry) it as a British Dividend – an investment in growing the economy of the whole country and a reward for success when we do. Remind people of the parable of the talents. And ask if we all had some of the advantage of the Rich, how much more might we achieve?

I endorse Andrew Hickey's suggestion that Labour's new leadership does open up British politics to genuine gaps between the three leading Parties, and to be genuinely about debating differences again.

That should inspire us to experiment and come up with some genuinely radical ideas.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Day 5370: John McDonnell had a Farm, Q E… I M F


It was pretty inevitable that Jeremy Corbyn would pick his old tribal mate John McDonnell, draftsman of his economic strategy as well as his victorious campaign, to be Shadow Chancellor.

To be fair, as former finance officer of the GLC he has more experience than the real Chancellor had.

And McDonnell is one of the few Labour MPs, along with Corbyn himself, not to have compromised themselves by abstention on the Government's welfare bill, the point at which with hindsight, the other candidates handed Corbyn the leadership, making the REAL architect of the Corbyn victory… Master Gideon Osborne baronet.

Jeremy's first day didn't go so well.

To an extent there's a certain amount of "well they would say that, wouldn't they" over the right-wing newspapers' negative coverage. And to be fair, he really did need to spend all day on Sunday getting a front bench in place in order to face the Tories long-planned trap of the debate on the Trade Union Bill – "not a declaration of war", claimed Sajid Javid. So, more of an extrajudicial execution by drone strike then.

But he didn't help himself any, what with the anger over his all male picks for the "top jobs" (compounded by his inelegant excuse that people criticising him were living in the Nineteenth Century and 2 a.m. fix of anointing Angela Eagle Shadow First Secretary), and the brewing confusion over his stance or even what his stance will be over Europe.

Spot the Mandelson

It is easy to mock.

There have been plenty of "Tom and Jerry" jokes about Labour's new leadership already, although Alex pointed out that Tom and Jerry are also the neighbours in the Nineteen Seventies self-sufficiency comedy "The Good Life", with Tom choosing to get out of the rat (or possibly cat and mouse) race. Pity there's no room for a Margo or a Barbara at the Corbyn top table. (Not that circumstance has left us in a good position to comment.)

But going back to the Seventies and homespun self-sufficiency is not at all what that Mr Corbyn is about. Not at all! HE'S for going back to the Seventies and Big State corporatism doing everything! Don't do that, Jerry!

Labour's position since the crash of 2008 has been one of denial – cries of "Labour's overspending didn't cause the crash" and endless games of "Pin the Blame on the Bankers" – and far from a new direction, that continues now with their new spin finding new ways for it not to be their fault.

That Corbyn economic strategy:

1. Ending austerity:–

if Master Gideon wipes out the deficit by 2020 as promised, Corbyn's Labour won't run a current account surplus (but will borrow for infrastructure – beware more PFI); but if Osborne fails to keep his promise, as he has before, remember, they will "close the current budget deficit through building a strong growing economy that works for all".

(In either case, that means "leave it to someone else to fix the deficit for them".)

The recent suggestion from the IMF that we "could afford to live "forever" with relatively high debt shares" seems to say we have room for manoeuvre, in the event of further economic shocks, and a gap that would let us live with the current level of debt, not that we can pour on more debt forever.

That means we DO need to fix the deficit – remember the difference between DEBT (how much we owe) and DEFICIT (how much we ADD to how much we owe). We probably don't need Master Gideon's more vicious cuts. In fact, dare I say it, it's more an endorsement of the CLEGG plan of fix the deficit and then start to give people some money back, than of Osbornomics OR Corbynomics.

2. Spending money:–

on investment in "large scale housing, energy, transport and digital projects", funded by QE (printing money) and cutting "£93 billion" in "Corporate Welfare" (the Grauniad has a breakdown of where this number comes from and there are some pretty fundamental errors there in assuming that this is just "bunts" for nasty businesses – including things like £15 billion in subsidies for running the trains, which presumably Mr Corbyn will not be cutting when he nationalises them. But when they say "the largest amount is spent allowing businesses to write off billions spent on plants, machinery and equipment among other items" this shows a frightening lack of understanding. We tax businesses on the profits they make (not just their sales); plant and machinery is a cost of running the business – you could equally say "the largest amount is spent allowing businesses to write off the salaries of their workers".)

It’s just the obvious end point of Milibandism, where only people paid by the State are really worthwhile and private enterprise is greed and profiteering! Which means that every nice (Labour) person paid for by the State is really productive, while all private business is a drain on the State, so obviously it must be cut.

And black is white and white is black and watch out at the next zebra crossing, Mr Corbyn.

3. Raising taxes:–

They promise to make the tax system more progressive (while specifically* saying that the details are not the question), but clearly with a view to raising more by getting "some of the wealthiest individuals and biggest corporations to pay anything like their fair share"; they intend to raise £120 billion based on Richard Murphey's analysis of the tax gap (fact check: I refer you to our good Liberal Bureaucrat to understand that this is almost certainly unrealistic)

*As it’s Jezza, this doesn’t mean what it ought to mean!

Even in that simplified sketch form you can see that it really is just old-fashioned tax and spend, with an added dash of SNP-flavoured "end to austerity" (and hang the consequences). And you can already see the holes punched in it.

But that's not the point.

It LOOKS like he's got an alternative plan.

"it is unarguable that no modern party leader can win an election if behind in the polls on economic competence"

It may be that what matters is not CREDIBILITY but CONFIDENCE. If Corbyn and his team can present this plan with a swagger, their army of neophyte supporters are already willing to buy it (and form a Twitter lynch mob against anyone who says it's bunkum) because they – to quote the "X Files" poster – WANT to BELIEVE.

So what do we do instead?

To be continued…!

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Day 5362: DOCTOR WHO: Are You My Mummy Returns


It's nice that – as never happens in Agatha Christie – the cybernetic butler did it.

The first of two very different but both very excellent episodes from newcomer Jamie Matthieson ("Being Human" and the tragically-short-lived "Dirk Gently" TV series), "Mummy on the Orient Express" is a story that works on multiple levels.

It's a good old-fashioned faux-murder mystery with sci-fi trappings that works so well that you can enjoy it perfectly for that reason alone.

It's also part of the ongoing serial.

But on top of that it's making commentary on its own workings as a television adventure.

That commentary is more than just hanging a lantern on the Bechdel Test – Clara and new best friend Maisie sitting in the baggage car, two named* women characters having a conversation… but it's about a guy. Throws up hands, hilarity, etc.

(Of course the episode has already passed the test in Clara and Maisie's immediately preceding scene together: they discussed opening the locked baggage carriage door; Mrs Pitt being Maisie's gran not her mum; feeling guilty; and wishing bad things on people. Not a man in sight. If Mrs Pitt hadn't presumed the gender of the Mummy – if it even has one – to be male, it could have made a pass in the pre-title sequence!)

[*and I'm reliably informed that "named" is a later addition to the Bechdel conditions, which I've left in as it makes this a super-pass.]

It's more than just remarking that the production designer of the Space Orient Express has taken the odd liberty with the original…

"It's a completely faithful recreation of the Orient Express. Only slightly bigger."

…and with steam-punk passengers jogging the elbow. The Doctor even refers to the set dressing and extras as, in a twist, "the façade drops" and GUS "steps out from behind the curtain" (a theatrical reference as well as a "Wizard of Oz" one).

"Can I talk about planets now?" he asks petulantly at one point, like a Classic Who far determined to not listen to all that New Who "emotional stuff" from Clara.

Lifting other people's horror stories is nothing new in "Doctor Who", particularly from the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era of early Tom Baker. And, for all his Third Doctor posing and dress-up, there's a lot more of the Fourth Doctor's aloof alien in Capaldi than there is Pertwee's (in so many ways) clubbable establishment rebel. Just as Clara, with her own life and day job, resembles Season Twelve Sarah Jane. She'll be changing into a jump suit and training up her own companion soon, just you see.

So where "Kill the Moon" – cold, clinical space horror about human destiny – lauds "The Ark in Space", this time we are in "The Robots of Death" territory with art deco stylings and spaceship in wood-panelled disguise (even if it isn't the TARDIS this week).

But of course, as with those eponymous "Robots of Death" – the other occasion the butlers did it – the butler is ultimately working for someone else, and that person has an agenda.

So, just as "Ark" shall we say prefigures "Alien" in its devouring body-horror stylings, in "Mummy on the Orient Express" our horror-pastiche du jour is, not Hammer-esque faux Egyptian mythos but, with corporate interests seeking to weaponise the monster, "Aliens".

It helps that it's a particularly good monster: gruesome without being gross. The finest horror moment is when the Mummy's outstretched hand phases through the Doctor, clawlike fingers emerging through his eyes.

There's an interesting not-quite-awkward reflection on the way that people react to seeing the titular "mummy" or the Foretold to give it its legendary name. Denial; running away; shooting at it – anger; bargaining; and, in the end, surrender. That's all the stages of grief.

And where does that leave the Doctor and Clara's relationship?

"It's not like we'll never see each other again."

"Isn't it?"

That's both cutting to the heart of their emotional trauma – or the Doctor not buttering things up any more – but also a neat little comment on what happens (usually) when companions leave.

We begin "in media res", in the middle of the action as they say, with Clara already having agreed to this "one last hurrah". And that's commenting on the fact that, whatever she says, Clara is still carrying on with the Doctor.

It's the main theme of that "emotional stuff", or the heart of the episode, referred to in different conversations between Clara and the Doctor, Clara and Maisie, even the Doctor and Perkins, the heart-and-head difference between what Clara says she want, and what she feels she wants.

"On a collision course I am a satellite, I'm out of control…." sings the diagetic cabaret (this week's special guest star Foxes) "…don't stop me now (because I'm having a good time)" It's another intrusion of the episode commenting on itself and Clara's position in a nutshell.

So we see a resolution to Clara and the Doctor's falling out, the fallout as much of events in "The Caretaker" as "Kill the Moon".

Interestingly, we've also been watching some Fifth Doctor stories recently and so we're reminded of that too when we see last week's argument about choices picked up again here, though it's far more subtle than any of the "as you know, Tegan" conversations used in opening scenes to string stories from Season Nineteen together.

The story that we've seen building all season, which Clara comes out and says this week, is "addiction" – is she a TARDIS junkie? Is the Doctor?

What is most odd about this is that after this week it just falls away from the arc. We see that things have been driven to a crisis last week, when the adrenaline-seeking thrills run smack into being asked to take responsibility. In this episode, we get Clara admitting that she may have a problem and seek to address it. She's not quite going cold turkey, but this "one last hurrah" approach is a pretty sharp cut off. And then at the end… she spectacularly throws herself off the wagon again, transparently lying to both the Doctor and Danny – and herself, even – that this is "fine".

But – and it's not a fault of the writing here – the series then goes off in a totally different direction. Rather than concentrating on the it's-not-even-a-metaphor-anymore of addiction, it becomes more about what it is to be the Doctor.

The roots of that arc are here too (and in "Kill the Moon") with the Doctor pushing Clara to see his point of view, showing her that he doesn't necessarily have the luxury of sugar-coating decisions. She responds to that by becoming more and more like him. Which ought to climax in the "I am the Doctor" reveal in "Death in Heaven" absolutely not being a bluff… but wasted opportunities in the Moffat era are a whole other essay.

(Though on that topic these thoughts on a better Series Six / Season Thirty-Two from Jon Blum are worth a read.)

On being the Doctor: it's more than just "Rule One: the Doctor lies". Clara can handle the lying; but would she be able to give up enough control to perform the surrender that the Doctor does here? Again, throwing forward to "Death in Heaven" where Missy wants to give him an army, here his response is to give up to one.

And though this isn't a flaw either, but I'm not entirely convinced that "Mummy" does properly answer "Moon", though.

"Sometimes the only choices you have are bad ones. But you still have to choose."

As I said in the previous review, I don't think that the choice in "Kill the Moon" is that sort of choice. Even without the hindsight that it turned out fine, Clara could see that it was much more a "do what's right/do what's easy" decision. What made it hard was the enormous pressure to do what was easy.

I'm not even sure that the choices this week are that sort of choice. Certainly, the Doctor lies, and makes Clara his accessory in lying. And he is brusque and callous.

"People with guns to their heads, they cannot mourn. We do not have time to mourn."

But also at absolutely the very first opportunity he has to do so, he takes someone else's place in the firing line. Not one person dies who he could have saved.

Essentially he chooses "not quite socially acceptable" over "saving fewer than the maximum number he can save". Deciding which the "bad choice" is is not the most complex moral calculus.

By allowing Clara to believe that he was lying, he also avoided making a promise that he cannot keep. Just count the number of times the eleventh and tenth Doctor promise that they can save everyone only for a massacre to ensue. The Doctor spoke early in this season of having made many mistakes. One of his biggest – he seems to be thinking – is by becoming young and strong and charismatic he was, in a way, lying to everyone, and that is the lie that he's trying to avoid now.

However, the Doctor also says: "Would you like to think that about me? Would that make it easier?"

At this moment, Clara is open to forgiving him on the basis that he picks the lesser of two evils if those are the choices on offer. That is what she would like to think. So he makes it easier for her.

I'll toss in a really minor quibble, just so you don't think it's entirely perfect. Some confusion, possibly in the production, about who on the train, apart from the "experts", is really "real". When GUS's cover is blown and the Orient Express trappings are replaced by the neon laboratory, the extra guests and staff dematerialise, revealed also to be part of the illusion, hard-light-holograms (yes, like Rimmer from "Red Dwarf") as set dressing. Except, not all of them – as some are still alive to be murdered by GUS as "motivation" for the team who have been set to investigate the Foretold.

At least one guest (Janet Henfrey's Mrs Pitt, the first victim, pitiless damnation for the rest of your… oh about 66 seconds) and two of the staff (the chef who is the second victim and the attendant who is the third) have to have been "real", since the mummy singles them out to kill.

It hardly seems that Mrs Pitt was aboard as an expert – unless it's in poisoning ponies and parents… which come to think might have some relevance if the Foretold were to turn out to use poison or hallucinogens in its workings… perhaps GUS is just being thorough.

Or perhaps the clue is that they are the ones killed – that GUS has selected suitable "Mummy-victims" to give the experts something to study, or at least to keep the Foretold busy and stop all those experts being picked off before they can figure out anything useful.

(Though that would suggest that GUS has some idea of the Foretold's pick off the weakest first M.O. – which he then helps nobody, least of all his own agenda, by not sharing.)

Actually, now I think of it, picking off the weakest first is, in this situation, really bad tactics – it blows all the Mummy's advantage of surprise on those least able to defeat it, leaving more dangerous enemies aware of its presence and better informed. You might put that down to long out-of-date operating procedures, but surely for any stealth attack the best bet must be to pick off the strongest first.

Maybe it wants to die and this is the only parameter it can vary that might give someone a chance of letting it stop.

Oh and why does the Doctor miss an opportunity to remind us that he hates soldiers this season?

So for whom is GUS, the suavely chippy computer, working?

Well it's not clear, it's certainly not spelled out, and it could be a seemingly-hanging plot thread to be picked up later – as Moffat so often does, indeed as he's doing this very week, referring back to the conclusion of "The Big Bang" for no readily apparent reason.

For example, it's not impossible that it might have been Perkins after all. Although he's set up as more of a red herring character.

Speaking of Perkins*, could he be a Time Lord?

[*Not to be confused with "The Great British Bake Off's" Sue Perkins; could she be a Time Lord?"]

If he is, then which one? There is an obvious candidate: I recall much speculation at the time that Frank Skinner was playing Drax, the cockney wide boy from "The Armageddon Factor" who is still widely loved (possibly because he's one of the few Time Lords who isn't out-and-out evil, just a bit… naughty. About as naughty as the Doctor is, in fact.)

Sadly, there's nothing on screen to confirm this. Perkins probably is just that bright guy. It's a really good part for Skinner and you can see it's physically painful for him to deliver the line turning down the Doctor's offer to travel in the TARDIS.

Also worth mentioning – given the whole "the Doctor lies" subtext fast becoming the text – Perkin's survival eliminates any lingering doubts over the Doctor's "little joke" that he only saved himself and Clara and let everyone else explode with the train.

But who could be collecting "genius experts" to conduct an amoral experiment? It's clearly… The Rani.

Look, she's even kidnapped Einstein again:

Mummy's Experts

Rani's Geniuses

But seriously, who do we know who would find the sort of death-defeating super soldier technology on view here useful for their build-a-better-Cyberman project?

So far this season we've had Missy or mention of "The Promised Land" in every episode except the shaggy-dog story of "Listen ("Time Heist's" being retrospectively the reminder of the "woman in the shop" who gave Clara the TARDIS telephone number). And whoever's responsible here does have that number for the TARDIS. So it would be a little odd for there to be no connection to the series' main plot arc (as opposed to developing story or character arcs).

And GUS's monocle icon is very reminiscent of the 3W logo that will appear in "Dark Water".

(Image courtesy of radiotimes and Chairman of the Voord on Planet Mondas forum)

And do I need to remind you that the Cybermen are techno-mummies of long standing (from as early as "The Mummy's Tomb" ahem "Tomb of the Cybermen" or even "The Tenth Planet")?

This is classic "Who": as steeped in the period detail as "The Talons of Weng-Chiang" (give or take a Foxes singing some Queen); as brazen and shameless a rip-off as "The Brain of Morbius"; and as much like Agatha Christie as "Black Orchid". So not very much really. But terribly, terribly entertaining anyway.

Show me to the dining car!

Next Time: More from Jamie Matthieson. And another train. And the Doctor cut down to size. Will it all fall flat or will we branch out in a new dimension as this most varied of seasons swings back from trad to rad in "Flatline".

Monday, September 07, 2015

Day 5364: Lines in the Air, Lines in the Sand


I was going to review the Doctor Who story "Mummy on the Orient Express" today. I was going to make a joke about "a shambling creature trapped by its history into perpetuating a war that ought to have been long forgotten and now just murdering by-standers…"

Unfortunately, this ISN'T the plot of "Mummy on the Orient Express" but the Prime Minister's announcement to the Commons of a drone strike in Syria.

I'm very concerned that the British Prime Minister appears to have secretly ordered the de facto invasion of Syrian airspace to carry out extrajudicial execution of British citizens.

Back at the start of the long summer break, the Tories were making noises about getting into more macho posturing, with Mr Cameron claiming he would personally "wipe out the caliphate". Total nonsense.

Keen to take part in more American-led adventurism, the now-Lib Dem free Tory government wanted to extend the air force mission against Islamic State from its current remit of assisting the Iraqi government forces (legally justified by the invitation of the recognised government of Iraq) across the border into Syria (not remotely legally justified, and probably not a hope of getting the UN mandate that might make it so). The reasoning of the Defence Secretary being: "well IS don't recognise the border; it's just a line in the air".

That "line in the air" is of course the difference between International Law and a bunch of terrorists. And the British Government is saying that it wants to cross to the other side.

Just where are those lines anyway?

To be pedantic, it is true that the House of Commons has not said that British forces should not be deployed against Islamic State in Syria. But that's because it hasn't been asked.

The question two years ago was whether to attack the Syrian government (against whom IS were fighting even then – so we'd have been inadvertently intervening on IS side. Which is one of the reasons that we didn't.).

For the moment, the Government is maintaining the position that Islamic State is not a "State". (Also that it's not Islamic, but that's neither here nor there at the moment.) As such, they need to remember that that makes Syria the state that they would be invading, and that the House of Commons has very much said they are not to do.

The history of our non-involvement in the Syrian civil war is a murky one, largely because Ed Miliband tried to exaggerate his own influence by claiming to have stopped it. Actually, both Coalition and Labour put motions to the Commons that would have theoretically authorised military intervention (with caveats, including aforementioned UN mandate), but they unwittingly cancelled each other out. This however suited the mood of the country, tired of spending "blood and treasure" on pointlessly sticking our oar into situations that we only seemed to make worse.

Spectacularly, David Cameron appears to have found a way to make it worse anyway, by lobbing high ordinance into a territory from which millions are already fleeing for their lives.

And in related news, 20,000 refugees over five years is PATHETIC. Germany has already taken four times as many just this year. And George Osborne is robbing the international aid budget to pay for it.

Shameful. Utterly shameful.


Edited to add: it gets worse!