...a blog by Richard Flowers

Friday, October 03, 2014

Day 5022: Conference Season – Now Everyone Wants to Be the Liberal Democrats*


Welcome to Glasgow, Liberal Democrats (though for wedding reasons Daddies can’t be there).

What with Hard Labour out to steal our Mansion Tax and the Conservatories shamelessly trying to claim our raise in the Personal Allowance, it’s beginning to look a lot like the agenda for the next government is already being set by the Liberal Democrats.

Ah, Party Conferences – a Tale of Two Nitwits, as Charles Dickens very nearly had it.

“It was the worst of times; it was the most hilarious of times,” Mr Balloon might have said, or Mr Milipede might have forgotten to say.

So there were the leaders’ speeches: Mr Milipede promised to save the NHS, but omitted to mention the one thing he’d rather not talk about, namely the steaming great black hole of an economy we’re still left with; and then Mr Balloon promised to save the NHS, but managed to misspeak that he resents the poor, before going on to not leave a tip at the posh burger hut.

Somewhere the ghost of Dr Freud is having a chat about satire with Tom Lehrer.

There was the traditional roll-out of “tempting” new policies. For Hard Labour, a pledge to make employers pay minimum wage earners an extra £1.50 by about 2020. And a promise to sweep away the problems of the health service with a massive two-and-a-half billion in extra cash, totally dwarfing the extra, er, three billion pounds injected by the Coalition. Just this year.

Too little too late.

It could be Hard Labour’s next election slogan. The Country is crying out for a genuinely BOLD alternative to business as usual, a change from the Rich and the City doing very nicely while it’s austerity all round for the rest of us, but the best Labour can come up with is more of the same but a little bit less so.

Mr Milipede’s “don’t mention the economy” moment (he didn’t mention it once and didn’t get away with it), is just too perfect a metaphor for the emptiness of Hard Labour’s offering. It’s actually the sort of error that it’s impossible to recover from – because there’s no way the Tories or the Tory press are going to let him – but with six months to go, Hard Labour are saddled with him and he with them. If he loses, it will certainly have the fluffy foot of fate pointed at it as the defining moment of his failure.

But, if it is possible, what was worse than the TIMIDITY of suggesting a rise to a mere £8 an hour after five more years of inflation, was Mr Milipede trying to sell us this on the grounds that it RAISED MONEY FOR THE GOVERNMENT. The poor workers get to pay more in taxes and receive less in tax credits, so Mr Balls is quids in in the Treasury, but whatever happened to helping the low-paid?

Make the Minimum Wage £10 an hour. From 2015. And don’t tax people on it. That would be a GAME CHANGING, not to mention VOTE WINNING promise. Give the people who need it most MORE of their own money to spend and see if it doesn’t boost the economy AND lift people out of poverty.

I want to be EVEN MORE radical! I want to see an economy that genuinely shares its successes – a kind of John Lewis Partnership of Britain, with a British Dividend, a share of the GDP for everyone, so that you’re rewarded for work but not totally dependent on your job. Because success comes from companies that work together, not from bosses and workers trapped in a them-and-us conflict.

Labour just want to tinker with the already broken system that enslaves people in zero-hours jobs and poverty pay.

The Conservatories, on the other fluffy foot, want to abolish your Rights. And if that doesn’t persuade you, how about some money!

Seriously, though, if you ever wanted reasons to vote for the Liberal Democrats, you just have to tot up the Tories shopping-list of TERRIBLE IDEAS that we have STOPPED them thrusting down your necks in the last five years:

I’d say it was all an exercise in willy-waving, but, er

And finally, of course, there were the Party Games. Pin the Tale on the Dimbledonkey. Call My Bluff. Do the In-Out-In-Out Hokey-Cokey. And of course Hunt the West Lothian Question. First Mr Balloon managed to derail Hard Labour’s agenda, by making the talk of their conference all about English Toasts for English Muffins. Sauce for the goose, then, when Mr Froggage the Kipper managed to derail the Conservatories’ agenda, by making the talk of their conference all about which rat would be next to jump ship.

(You can probably understand the kind of crossness that prompted inept Tory Chairperson Shan’t Gaps to bawl from the platform: “he lied and lied and lied”, but it was… let’s just say UNWISE. You didn’t need to be Mystic Meg to foresee UKIP’s reply: “Mr Balloon promised a referendum on Europe, he promised to cut immigration; he promised to balance the books: he lied and lied and lied.”)

It’s not that there ISN’T a good answer to the “English Votes” question. The answer, OBVIOUSLY, is that England does not deserve SECOND-CLASS, SECOND-HAND MPs.

Why should people in England ONLY get one overworked MP when every voter in Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland has BOTH an MSP/AM/MLA to address their devolved policies AND an MP to represent them at the national level? Mr Balloon is trying to SHORT-CHANGE the English YET AGAIN.

You do have to admit, the Pie-Faced – not to mention TWO-faced – Prime Monster… mmmm, two pies… I’m drifting… Mr Balloon is good at pulling a FAST ONE. His turn on the steps of Downing Street the morning after the referendum before was as cunning as fox coming out the henhouse claiming that all those feathers were because he’d been doing the dusting. Mr Milipede OUGHT to have shut that down FAST by WELCOMING the forthcoming SCOTLAND BILL and saying how much he looked forward to the discussions that would lead to an ENGLAND BILL to follow.

After all, the question of “devo max” has been very fully discussed in Scotland; the question of what the English peoples want has barely been touched upon. Certainly it’s not something that can be answered by Mr Balloon pondering it over his cornflakes and deciding, you know what, the answer must be what Tory policy has been all along and nobody wanted.

Instead Milipede Minor gave us his famous “Wallace-caught-in-headlights” look. It was as if he’d forgotten to think about something. Again.

For a so-called Political Wonk, he’s really not good on the issues very much, is he?

So in the Red Corner we’ve got a promise to be REALLY hard on skivers and you’ll get a bit more money, eventually, sometime, paid for by someone else, if they can afford it, maybe. And tears about the NHS. And in the blue corner we’ve got a promise to be REALLY REALLY hard on scroungers and you’ll get no Human Rights but a bit less tax, and more if you’re rich. And tears about the NHS.

It’s almost like they’re all trying not to win the next general election. Is it like getting the Defence Against the Dark Arts job at Hogwarts?

*Except, probably, for Theresa "British values will prevail against extremism and that’s why I’m abolishing them!” May.

Our Hoax Secretary would rather make an outrageous speech that tries to cover up for her own department’s inadequacies with a “won’t somebody think of the children” and a claim that Liberal Democrats protecting your Internet records were somehow responsible for her losing data and failing to act.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Day 5011: DOCTOR WHO: Crime Traveller, no, wait, come back!


Now that’s much more like it.

Superficially, a piece of stylish fluff after “Ocean’s Eleven” or TV’s “Hustle”, even to the slo-mo entrance and how-they-did-it flashback.

But, Saibra, a shape-shifter just dying for someone to see the real her, and Psi, a human computer who casts aside his memories and his past, could almost be wearing signs saying “we’re aspects of the Doctor”. And a descent into the Plutonic underworld, the minotaur-guarded labyrinth, to unlock the heart’s desire might just make this the most heavily symbolic episode yet in this series that seems intent on “unlocking” the Doctor’s psyche.

The much talked about “change of tone” for season eight seems less of a specific new direction and more a real effort to grasp the series defining ethos of change. With a different kind story every week, Victorian mystery to space war, historical romp to urban horror, they’re almost taking us back to the Hartnell era for diversity of story modes (and oh look, there’s a Sensorite between Androvax from “The Sarah Jane Adventures”, Captain John from “Torchwood” and Daffy Abslom Daak from the pages of “Doctor Who Magazine”). And they’re not so much defining Capaldi’s Doctor as any one thing, yet, but throwing a whole lot of things at him to see what he does with them all.

So let’s look at the Doctor’s psyche this week: a mix of seventh Doctor cunning, first Doctor scorn, and a dash of sixth Doctor braggadocio (“What you need right now is ME!”). And I forgot the eighth Doctor amnesia!

Let me toss a theory out there: each episode so far this year is looking at a side of the Doctor’s character, in fact one of his character flaws: “Deep Breath” represents his self-doubt; “Into the Dalek”, obviously, hatred; “Robot of Sherwood” is cynicism; “Listen” clearly fear; (and of course “The Caretaker” will be all about the Doctor’s jealousy); so, this week – well, given how secure the “securest bank in the Universe” turns out to be, it’s tempting to say we’re talking about his insecurities, but it’s pretty flagged up that really this is all about guilt.

The beautifully designed Teller creature feeds on guilt – and I love the twist of satire that I read on the Net that the bank is quite safe from their pet monster because bankers feel no guilt; harsh but fair. The reveal at the end that the escapade has been initiated by the guilt – as regrets – of the bank’s director, Madam Karabraxos. And the thing the Doctor desires most in the Universe, (or at least appears to) is to make the Teller not the last of his kind, the “survivor guilt” that has plagued the Doctor since Gallifrey, even if he now never foomed the homeworld after all.

Admittedly, the “monster actually pining for his mate” is a rerun of the ending of “Hide”, but rather than being a handbrake turn in a scary-movie story, this felt like a natural twist in a story mode where twists are the order of the day. And it’s not like it wasn’t flagged up ahead of time: the Guantanamo jumpsuit and chains, and the Doctor even asks what hold the bankers could have over the Teller.

And what sort of Teller would the richest bank in the galaxy employ anyway? Obviously a fortune teller.

Mind-reading you to death was new and grotesque. I liked that. And made a good counterpoint (and cure) to the reuse of the Memory Worms, previously established in “The Snowmen”. And the monster is still a monster, in the end – it still turned a whole lot of people’s brains to soup. The Doctor just found a way to deal with it that didn’t involve killing it. Interestingly, the Doctor doesn’t pass judgment on that either. Perhaps it’s not his place to mete out more guilt.

Okay, so “Time Heist” is yet another ontological loop: the Doctor becomes involved because Madam Karabraxos calls him on the number she only had because the Doctor became involved. Perhaps I minded it less this week because I didn’t really notice until I thought about it afterwards. It’s fridge logic: you only notice it when you think about it later.

(Unlike the “if he could set it all up, why couldn’t he have just used the TARDIS?” question I’ve seen on the net. They’ve thought of that one: the Doctor even says robbing a bank is easy if you’ve got a TARDIS. But the last lock on the vault can only be opened by the sun exploding(!) which is the one moment that they can’t use the TARDIS. And as for the complaint that the air vents with the “Do Not Enter” signs on are way too big and easy to get into… well of course they are: they lead straight into the Teller’s tank; they are very obviously a trap!)

Unless, of course, the Doctor, as a Time Lord, can just create ontological loops at will – which it certainly looks like he does, just to drag Clara away from her date, an interpretation reinforced by the last moment of the last scene.

Perhaps this one is about his jealous ego after all.

Actually, there are plenty of ways that it does fall apart – surely it’s a bit unlikely that Ms Delphox would leave the big door unlocked after catching the Doctor and Clara in the vault, so how did they get back in after being captured? But if they don’t need to get into the main vault to penetrate the private vault, then why break in there in the first place? And obviously the biggie: why does no one notice that the solar storm is going to destroy the bank?

I’d like to say I forgave it because at least Steve Thompson’s script was showing signs that he’d thought about some of the flaws and set up answers for you to pick up. But perhaps it’s just that I was just having too much fun watching this to notice or mind those as it went along.

And it’s a bit rude of me to just reduce Saibra and Psi to cyphers for the Doctor. In spite of their brief screen time, they both came across as distinct and interesting characters played with a proper sense of the fun that a heist story can be. It was a proper shock when Saibra was got by the Teller and her smart realization of what the “way out” would be. Psi’s decision to sacrifice his empty/forgotten life for Clara was perhaps a bit sketched because of the episode’s runtime, but came across. And for once the “no they’re alive” was less of a sentimental Moffat trope than a genre-appropriate “fooled you!”.

(Does it count as an “everybody lives” if the Teller’s victims are sitting around drooling with their heads caved in? I would say not, actually.)

And they are genuine Lawrence Miles-esque posthumans! The series very underuses the idea that the human race will have a future beyond homo sapiens and – sure, maybe because they borrow all the clichés – these people felt like they were coming from a genuine future culture (or cultures). The bank itself, for that matter, with its mixed clientele and staff in African, Japanese and European couture – not to mention being a big old pyramid – came across as proper transgalactic, too.

Jonathan Bailey as Psi and Pippa Bennett-Warner as Saibra looked good in the roles and looked like they were having a good time doing it. I wouldn’t mind if the Doctor’s “call me” gesture to them at the end led to them returning.

Meanwhile, Keely Hawes is a wonderful and subtle actor playing both Ms Delphox and her boss Director Karabraxos, and managing to make the latter just slightly more human, ingeniously conveying the brittle, hollowness of the clone – again, online complaints that Ms Delphox is just a caricature, a typical Moffat “strong woman villain in black suit and heels” (to be fair, reinforced by Doctor Who Extra making the same point), fall down because that’s exactly what she’s supposed to be – it’s a choice that both confirms Karabraxos’ opinion of Delphox as a “pale imitation” while telling us that it’s possibly the powerlessness and fear of a literal firing that makes her a different person. It’s quite a clever take on the old nature versus nurture debate – Karabraxos puts it down to “nature”: she thinks the clones are by nature inferior to her original; she cannot entertain the possibility that she is not superior, merely lucky to be in the top position. Would she even have felt regrets if the Doctor hadn’t planted the idea in her head? Another paradox, but again, for me, a pleasant tease rather than an annoying flaw.

Anyway, if it is all about psychoanalysing the Doctor it might add some weight to the idea that “Missy” is indeed inside the Doctor’s head, and Clara’s references to the Doctor’s missing conscience resonate too. (Missy, missy, miss…ing? Nah.) This is the second week running without reference to the series arc – baring the briefest reminded about “the woman in the shop” who gave Clara the TARDIS telephone number, and that more as a lead-in to the unlikeliness of the phone ringing… ooh, it’s ringing…. But then this is the “hiding in plain sight” episode, so who knows what might come back to bite us.

If there’s a downside to the “a different story every week” format, it’s that you know from the outset that you’re going to get divided reactions to all of them. And I can see why this wouldn’t be for everyone, just as I can see why “Listen” pushed so many people’s buttons but not mine. It makes for a roller-coaster of a series, but one with Peter Capaldi at its heart and always dragging us back to see how he reacts to the next trick out of the bag. His superpower, clearly, is to be the centre of attention. It’s the eyebrows.

Next Time: We’ve done horror. We’ve done heist. Let’s try… a rom com. The horror! The horror! All that stands between the Doctor and a fateful meeting with Clara’s boyfriend is a guy in a bow tie. Oh, and a sort of clockwork owl on castors. With really big guns. There’s been a spillage! Call “The Caretaker”.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Day 5004: DOCTOR WHO: Nothing at the End of the Plot


"Listen" certainly seems to have pushed the right buttons for most fans of the show, garnering near universal praise from the online communities: an acting tour de force, an intricate character study, and the rest. So I know I'm in a minority on this one.

And there must be some irony there, because "Listen" is a shaggy dog story to which the punchline is "the Emperor has no clothes".

"Why has evolution not come up with perfect hiding?" asks the man who lives in a machine that does – or at least is supposed to do – exactly that.

"Why do we talk to ourselves when we know no one is listening?" he asks when he knows his machine listens to every work he says… and broadcasts them in episodic chunks on the BBC(!)

The story opens with this typical piece of Moffat sleight-of-hand, and he proceeds to run through his usual playbook of directing you to think one thing and then pulling the rug from under you. He does it twice with the identity of the person in the spacesuit, for example.

This is the episode's biggest cheat: the "monster" on the bed. No, the cheat isn't the "did we just save him from a kid in a blanket" line, it's that Clara – who just climbed under the bed to show there was nothing there – does not just whip the sheet off whatever it is. Or at least call out the Doctor for stopping her.

And again we have non-linear intervention in childhood creating someone's future. Clara here is appalled to think that she is now responsible for Danny's past as a soldier which she clearly has trouble relating to as all the misfiring jokes attest.

It ought to be clever, this lifting the veil on how we all change each other by our interactions but rarely see the consequences separated from them as we are by time.

But this is all so familiar now, after Reinette, Amelia, Kasran Sardick, Melody/River Song, and Clara herself. So when Clara ends up doing it again to the Doctor himself, forgive me I stifled a groan.

(With all the repeats of Moffat tropes in this I was tempted to call this "Listen Again"!)

And it very much raises again the issue of consent: how can it be okay for Clara to change people's past this way, which we can explicitly link to her continuing to hug the Doctor even though he has said he doesn't like it. The message here seems to be it's okay for a girl to do that to a man because he has to change, or more bluntly grow up and stop being afraid of that thing that happens in the dark and in beds.

More interesting, potentially, is when we see it flipped when Orson hints to Clara that she is the one caught in a destiny trap now, as it's pretty obvious that if she is Orson's great-grandmother, then she and Danny have to... Does that mean Clara has no free will? Or is that her choices – getting Danny to ask her out for this drink – have set a train of events in motion. After all, if you exercise free will to jump out the window, you can't blame gravity for your lack of further choices in what inevitably follows.

In Marvel's "Days of Future Past" – comic not movie version – or rather the much longer follow up strip "Days of Future Present", knowing that their child from the future means that they have to be together actually drives a couple further part. Is Orson Pink, by telling her and potentially putting her off Danny, creating a Grandfather Paradox? Not every Grandfather Paradox has to involve killing your (great) grand-parent.

But anyway, and speaking of paradox, the answer to the mystery is that the Doctor, by investigating his childhood dream, sort of caused it himself.

All of the rational explanations could just be true. (As long as you ignore the big cheat of the possibly-child on the bed.) The Doctor wrote "listen" on his blackboard himself and forgot, as he later accuses Clara of forgetting her own childhood. When your coffee goes missing, it might just be the Doctor. The knocking sounds on the door of Orson's time capsule might just be the metal cooling and shrinking.

Do we infer that the Doctor being a Time Lord (eventually) the events in that barn on, let's say it, Gallifrey, somehow "imprint" themselves on the Universe so that the dream is repeated throughout time? Or that it's a coincidence that Clara causes the child Doctor to experience what a lot of people have dreamed? Perhaps it's just that I have never had a dream remotely like that, and it bugs me that – once again – Moffat has taken his own experience as universal, rather than subjective. (See also, though more entertainingly, Clara and Danny retreading the autobiographical relationship paths of "Coupling"). And Moffat's life experience comes across as boys need to grow up and have relationships with girls; which is why girls need to force themselves upon him.

Thematically, the Doctor causing his own nightmare feels satisfying, but irritatingly it's another ontological paradox, another Moffat sticking himself in as first cause.

Alex was particularly irritated by Moffat expropriating "fear makes companions of us all", reducing the first Doctor from a wise old man to a parrot quoting parables, which is at least up there with "Timelash" suggesting that HG Wells never had an original idea he didn't copy from a trip with the Doctor. (Does that sound familiar?)
What most infuriated him was Moffat, for the millionth time, being so arrogant as to make a continuity reference and get it wrong because he assumes he must be right in everything and not need to spend a moment checking (starting with the "Time Agents" in his very first story – Greel assumesdoes not work). It's actually "Fear makes companions of all of us," but Moffat just assumes he's right. He's saying he wrote these words and he can't even write the right ones.

But I'm even more bugged by Moffat's own "fear is a superpower" (which he'd already used in "The Time of Angels") ending up a paradoxical "gift from time", as the New Adventures used to have it. Clara hears it first from the Doctor, then tells it to the child who will become the Doctor. So where did it come from?

Well possibly the TARDIS, taking him "where he needs to go", but still.

And we're also doing fan service, tying up three (and more) continuity points: the Doctor's worst day as recounted to Jo in "The Time Monster"; the moment, as he tells Martha in "The Sound of Drums", when as a child of eight he gazed in to the Untempered Schism; and the unasked question of why the War Doctor chose that particular barn in which to do the deed in "The Day of the Doctor". (With a side nod to not all Gallifreyans are Time Lords and just a hint of "Lungbarrow" and a family of cousins in "all the other boys".)

So it's another copying from Russell with more attempted justification for "I never stopped running", which I've never seen as right. He stopped long enough to go to the Academy and take his exams twice, didn't he? He took a TARDIS and went adventuring; that's more than just running away.

And if I'm being picky… the end of the Universe is not going to look like that. There's still a star in the sky! The Stelliferous Era – the Age of Stars – is going to last a hundred trillion years, but that is an eye-blink to a Universe that is going to go on a hundred trillion times a hundred trillion times longer. When the last star burns out, the sky will be full of black holes that eat most of everything that's left, and then slowly evaporate into Hawking Radiation. And once they're all gone, all that remains is dust that escaped the gravity wells infinitesimally gradually, over eons and eons, falling to bits by proton decay until there are only scattered photons barely warmer than absolute zero. The long, cold dark is very long and very cold indeed.

(Enough time even for me to get a few reviews done!)

And I know it's really not the point, but it does bug me that the "things that come out in the dark" don't even get to wait for the real dark.

Unless, unless… could it even be deliberate – that though we're told it's things coming out of the dark, the truth is that things come out of the pink? And the message is don't listen – don't blink – to what you're told and instead use your eyes to make your own observations…

"Listen" is full of the Doctor and Clara making mistakes, but because they don't tell each other what they know, actively deny each other information – the Doctor orders Clara back into the TARDIS; Clara makes the Doctor take off from Gallifrey without knowing where he's been – then they don't learn from this. If Clara had just explained she'd been distracted and piloted them into in Danny's childhood, not her own… If she'd said something about what she suspects is her timeline's connection to Orson… if she'd just told the Doctor "I may have just accidentally caused your dream" then… well, the plot would have collapsed like a bubble of air.

And because the direction cuts away, we don't get the whole picture of either of their points of view either. Did the Doctor see anything when that door opened? Why does he seem to feel the plot is resolved at the end when he underlines the word "listen" on his chalkboard? (Particularly when he missed the key revelation to Clara.) Either he's just been a bit of an idiot or she has. Occam's razor: Moffat has.

These ambiguities are what the series is playing on at the moment, a more metaphorical take on "Who", perhaps, than the season six arc, but it's still all bit "ooh, I'm so ambiguous, I am. Or am I?"

Fear is more complicated than a super-power (and more common: we can't all fly. That's why that's called a super-power): it can paralyse as well as empower; it can make us procrastinate as well as set us running; it can be an incredibly conservative force – as we've seen in the Scottish referendum, only most recently. Clara's fear of embarrassment (perhaps to partially redeem what I said above) drives her failure to explain – and disarm – the plot to the Doctor. But not everything in life can be a farce. Part of the illusion of "Listen" is that it uses the series' history and quotes, and Moffat's usual storytelling gimmicks, to dress up Robert Holmes' riposte to Mary Whitehouse about scaring the little buggers as though it's something profound.

And "sometimes it's good to scared" is fine as far as it goes but it just isn't that profound.

A lot of it is very, very good. Jenna Coleman is outstanding, whether it's being brave for Rupert Pink when something sits on the bed or realising just what she's done when she grabs the child Doctor's ankle. The direction manages to take some shonky stock horror scenarios and make them genuinely tense or tender or even moving as required. Samuel Anderson as Danny Pink is much more interesting than your usual male Doctor Who companion – or male Moffat character for that matter – with a habit of emotional hand-break turns that suggests something broken and an interesting past even (or especially) before Clara starts messing with it. The one outstanding visual of the episode – the Doctor's zen meditation atop the orbiting TARDIS – will stay in the mind for a long time. And Capaldi himself dances a line between terrifying and hilarious, and continues to give his Doctor an alien, not quite getting it vibe, and terrible, aching yearning to know.

But still we end with the Emperor telling us that there was nothing under the bed, it was all just scary misdirection, he has no clothes on. Which is at least a cheeky admission of sorts, I suppose.

Next time: Let's do this properly by crashing the TARDIS into someone else's genre, or in this case Doctor Who does "Hustle". Take the money or open the box? In "Time Heist".

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Day 5007: Goddammit, We're BRITISH!


OK, nobody needs a fluffy elephant wading into the debate that Scotland is having over her future. Where do fluffy elephants even come from, anyway? I'm as British as a Tikka Masala! I don't feel English. English is small. British is about being part of something bigger!

But this referendum looks like ending in a dead heat and that's going to leave a lot of people unhappy. 50% plus 1 vote for staying is not going to settle the question for a generation; but equally it's no mandate for a brave new nation to cast itself upon fortune's ocean.

The campaign that started out so well appears, at least from a safe distance, to have degenerated into a lot of anger and name-calling and egg-throwing.

I suppose I should not be surprised that the arguments about dividing the country have proved divisive.

I want to see a world where there are fewer borders between people, not more. That's why I'm in favour of the European Union as well as the British one. The more we share, the lighter our burdens – only working together will help solve problems like climate change and energy shortages, or protect workers' rights or defend us from the threat of violent extremism.

And I am quite sure that Scotland can be, as "Yes" keep telling us, a perfectly successful small country.

But why be adequately successful as small country when you can be outstandingly successful as a BIG one?

People want the positive case for the United Kingdom, but Better Together did start with a positive case, saying: "look at all the benefits of being in Great Britain: a stable currency; membership of the EU; and NATO; jobs, trade and travel; sport; the BBC; the Queen!"

And Mr Salmon replied: "Oh but we will keep all of those things."

"No you won't."

"Now you're just being negative!"

"But here's why we can't keep all those things."

"Now you're bullying and scaremongering!"

Faced with that sort of thing, it's difficult to see how the "No" campaign could go any other way.

Meanwhile, the "Yes" campaign has been one of "nothing will change and everything will be better!"

If nothing is going to change, why do you want independence?

Obviously, it's the very BEST possible chance for the Scots Nats, when the Tories have ruined their reputation by their government in the Eighties destroying industry and jobs, and Labour have ruined their reputation by their government in the Noughties destroying the economy and Iraq, and we Lib Dems have ruined our reputation by the government in Coalition because… the Tories.

And it's so EASY for an independence movement to play the "let's walk away from all the troubles" card, rather than the harder – but right – thing to do of all mucking in together, sharing the pain to make it less. It's the nasty side of nationalism, that it's all about putting the blame – and the pain – on someone else. It's funny how "we only want our fair share" always means "more for us" and never for the other feller. Telling people that they are being shafted by the wicked rich "other" is an old, old lie. It's been "the Jews". Or "the Chinese". Or "the Poles". Or "the Asylum Seekers". Or "the Europeans". Today it's "the English".

It isn't the fault of the Englanders – or even of our pie-faced loon of a Prime Monster – that people in Scotland are having a hard time. By and large, the English are having a hard time too. As are the Welsh, and the Irish and gee look, everyone everywhere in Europe and beyond.

Only together was Europe able to save Greece. Only together were the British able to save those banks with "of Scotland" in their names. Together we weathered a terrible storm.

Personally, I think if Scotlanders do vote to go their own way, we in the rest of the UK certainly should share the pound, and the BBC, keep open the borders, and lobby the EU to continue Scotland's membership… we should look out for our friends and families, like good neighbours, as we did for Ireland recently when their banks got into trouble too… but I also think that will be a really hard sell to the 90% of UK voters left in the country, and I don't see any political party being able to stand on a "let's play nice with Scotland" platform.

That's the hard political reality that airy promises about a "yes" vote "forcing" Mr Balloon and Mr Oboe to the negotiations will run up against. And just how well-inclined do you think they'll be if you force them to the negotiating table? Might they not decide to play hard-ball with Scotland just to look good in the run up to a tricky general election?

But on the other fluffy foot, the voices of the people of Scotland have at least been heard enough to see the Westminster Parties scrambling to offer a new political settlement in recognition of the justifiable claim of a right to self-determination.

For far too long Westminster governments – Labour as well as Tories – have centralised more and more power to London, not just hoarding power away from the Scots, but also enfeebling the great cities of Northern England, disenfranchising whole regions from the Kingdom of Cornwall to the Empire of Yorkshire, and treating all four nations of our nation – yes, England too – with little or no respect at all. No wonder the peasants are revolting!

But now, both sides are asking the voters to make up their minds based on promises of what will happen, rather than on a concrete plan. Which is why I'm thinking, whatever side wins (unless it's unexpectedly decisive, and the polls don't point that way) both sides need to think very hard about a second referendum (I hear the groans already) in eighteen months' time to agree the outcome.

I say eighteen months because that is the timeframe for exit negotiations set out by the "Yes" campaign, and they should then put the outcome of those negotiations to the vote. If they've fulfilled their promises about the currency, the EU membership and the Queen then they'll have no problems. If they've got the best deal they can, short of that, they should still let the people decide based on what they'll actually be getting, rather than Mr Alec Salmon's slippery promises.

But by the same lights, if Better Together prevail – and I hope they do – we should hold a constitutional convention for Scotland, in which the "devo max" powers that have been promised by all the Unionist parties will be decided with the people and at the end of that process they can have a say on whether they have done enough to keep the United Kingdom's promise and to keep the United Kingdoms united.

And why stop at Scotland, when we should be doing the same for England and Wales and Northern Ireland, Cornwall and Yorkshire, Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Bristol…

Break the stranglehold of Westminster and set out a path to reform Europe, reconnect people to their regions and to the nation and to the EU by handing power back and making the institutions more democratic and accountable.

Let the cry go up: Home Rule for all!

It's catchy and it might just keep us together.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Day 4993: DOCTOR WHO: Carry On – Don’t Lose Your Head


There are two problems with my writing a review of "Robot of Sherwood". Pressure of work is one, and the other is that beyond saying it was laugh-out-loud hilarious but that ending with the golden arrow is a total fail, what is there to say? And everyone else has said those things already.

Capaldi is a great comic actor, and here he's at his most Malcolm Tucker-alike, especially in the exchanges with Robin in the dungeon. Dressed in black, getting robbed by Robin Hood, he's very nearly the villain for the first act, particularly the "thwarted again" face Capaldi pulls when dunked in the stream. Which is great, but might be a danger. He's got such range, it might be better to let him find new ways of being funny, rather than writing for the Doctor as the acerbic spin doctor. Shades of writing for Bonnie Langford as "Bonnie Langford".

The message was a bit blunt force trauma as well: Clara spells it out before they've even left the TARDIS; Robin hammers the point home at the end. Yes, we get it, the Doctor is a hero, one of the iconic figures of British myth, to stand alongside Arthur, Gloriana and Sherlock. And of course, Robin.

Having spent a year deconstructing his own legend because it cast too long a shadow, though, his denial that Robin could be real just didn't ring true. He's not a stupid man; he would see the reflection. If the Doctor had been trying to tell Clara "you'll be disappointed; heroes never live up to the legend" it would have fit more with this newly self-doubting Doctor. His initial friction towards and mockery of Robin would have had a more solid foundation in his own psyche. And the journey towards liking the outlaw, seeing the man under the bluster, would have been more personal, of self-acceptance.

It was a good story for Clara. For once – finally – I could see the "control freak" tendencies. Though what happened to "my only pin up was Marcus Aurelius"? Squeeing over a Robin Hood is a lot closer to "young men performing sport" than "flirting with a mountain range". But the moments where she allows Tom Riley to uncover that Robin is more than just that guy whose laughing face you want to punch bring out the good teacher in her. And the scene between her and Ben Miller's delicious Sheriff of Nottingham, where she turns the tables and convinces him to tell her everything was excellent for the character. Very reminiscent of the Doctor doing something similar in the one really great scene from Gatiss's earlier "The Idiot's Lantern"; clearly Mark writes a good interrogation.

Though it's a shame the full reveal of the Sheriff's cyborg nature was dropped for entirely sensible reasons, as it would have added the twist that he lied to her too. Miller was a great villain as the Sheriff, just the right side of over-the-top ham. And I liked that he would undercut some of the more ludicrous clichés – "You'll live to regret that... actually, no you won't", or "that would be a ridiculous plan". Like Robert de Rainault of "Robin of Sherwood", or Blackadder (to Robin's Lord Flashheart) he brings the sensibilities of the modern viewer to the land of make believe. The (pardon the pun) cut slightly derailed a more interesting twist that he'd been literally rebuilt in the image of the legend. Though, again, the story could have done with a little tightening – if the robot knights had made themselves a Sheriff in response to a real Robin Hood, it could have tied up some of the story's contradictions.

Essentially, the story sets us up to expect this to be a fool. It's too good to be true, too true to the legend to be good.

And the scene where Robin goes into the moat with Clara – and is under for a long time – and then emerges carrying her Frankenstein fashion... That and the flip archery certainly look like they're trying to tell us he's a robot too.

So we keep expecting the other shoe to drop. And it doesn't . I suppose I should be praising that, given how absolutely by the numbers Gatiss ticks off the key Robin Hood plot points. But dramatically it feels off. If Robin were real but everything else faked by the robots reacting to him based on their faulty foreknowledge, that could work. But it's not. The Merrie Men are real, the splitting the arrow archery is for real (at least Robin's is). Yes, we get a bit of hand waving about the radiation leak making Sherwood CinemaScope green, but that's to explain something the Doctor's quibbled about rather than a cohesive story element.

The spaceship that disguises itself as a castle is very proto-TARDIS, a point that nothing is made of. And then there's that bit with the arrow. Was it scripted that the arrow should fly through that hole the robots had blasted earlier and strike the controls? (People who've read the leaked scripts will know.)

Obviously Gatiss has been going through those Robin Hood moments – the log over the river, the archery contest, the big fight with the Sheriff – but all nicely undercut and peppered with references to the Pertwee era, clearly a Gatiss favourite. Mention of miniscopes, and Capaldi's hilarious "Hai!" karate chop. But the biggest influence is season eleven opener "The Time Warrior", to the point I was expecting Dan Starkey to cameo as Field Marshal Swag on video link to the spaceship control room, demanding what they were doing with the Sontaran's robot knights. Which might be why the conclusion – shoot the arrow; castle explodes – deviates from the Hood myth (King Richard arrives to put all to rights. ish).

Or it's just as crushingly banal as the end of "The Shakespeare Code" (must use historical guest star's "superpower" to resolve plot. Somehow).

Only a brief nod to the arc this week. Or maybe two, if the Doctor's chalk and calculations are going somewhere. Obviously we've got more robots looking for "the Promised Land". Where, indeed, do all the calculators go? Which may or may not be Missy's heaven. It seems to be a real place though, which might count against the rather good theory I heard from The Pharos Project podcast: "heaven" is inside the Doctor's head, a place where he's remembering all the people he's killed. Making Missy his conscience. Which would be why she's a bit... broken. (Missy... My self... Nah!)

As for the Gallifreyan math... Obligatory Lawrence Miles reference: in "Interference" (book 2, I think) the eighth Doctor uses Gallifreyan written maths to create a fold in time. It has been argued that the twelfth Doctor might be doing the same, trying to engineer a backpack door into wherever Gallifrey is now, beyond the "crack". Presumably, Heaven.

None of which is to detract from the fact that this made me laugh. A lot. And on second viewing too. The sword v spoon fight is very Doctor Who. As is staging a genuine peasants' revolt and overthrowing the feudal tyrants. Nice nod to Troughton. The Sheriff is a hit. Clara is much more than a pretty dress. Robin is a true hero. Oh yes, and the Doctor is a hero too.

Next Time: the one with the scary poetry, the one with the thing in the corner of your eye, the one with something under the bed, the one with companion in the timey-wimey spacesuit... It's the most terrifying story... "Doctor Who and the Tropes of Moffat"! No, listen...

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Day 4990: Doctor Who: Strictly Come Dalek


How many times can we tell this story?

Terry Nation, infamously, recycled "The Daleks" on let's just say "several" occasions, but now it seems that the "good Dalek" story is giving him a run for his money.

And it turns out that what's inside a Dalek is, basically, "Doctor Who", including corridors for running up and down, bug-eyed monsters (that are literally bug eyes), gunk tank, and an archive with, of course, missing episodes. If only they'd found "The Evil of the Daleks" they could have seen what happens when Daleks "turn good", and saved a lot of bother.

David Whitaker's second Doctor classic is not only pretty much the series' definitive story already – the Doctor has adventures in present, past and future on a distant planet, with Daleks – but already explored what makes the difference between the Human Factor and the Dalek Factor. "Dalek", "Evolution of the Daleks", and "Journey's End" all feature tinpot tyrants who see the error of their ways, or at least see that the Daleks' main operating principle of "exterminate everyone else" is evil. And futile. Life, as is pointed out, prevails.

There was even the graphic novel "The Only Good Dalek" – still more ironic, in this context – and of course David Whitaker’s TV21 original… Oh, and "Children of the Revolution"… The comics like this story, don’t they?

But if we're talking about getting into the "guts" of "Doctor Who", if we're taking the reference Peter Capaldi's twelfth Doctor makes to his first self's first visit to Skaro as taking us back to the series' very beginning, then questioning our basic assumptions about who the Doctor is and who the Daleks are is good, necessary stuff.

No, that doesn't do "Into the Dalek" justice – and I feel bad, having watched "Doctor Who Extra" and seeing Nick Briggs so enthused that this is a "new" thing to do with the Daleks.

Much as we "Doctor Who" fans love to laud our series as capable of doing anything, telling any story, infinite in variety, it is in the nature of the show to go in cycles, as each generation matures and a new audience comes along. People who were eleven when they saw Rose and the Doctor face the Dalek in "Dalek" will now be starting their twenties. Even Millennium is a teenager now! Finding new ways to tell old stories is as necessary as telling new ones.

And: "Can Daleks be good?" is about as important a question as the series can ask. So it should keep asking it.

Actually, everyone seems to proceed from the idea that a Dalek that wants to kill other Daleks is "good". As opposed to "differently psychotic". Fortunately, by the end of the episode, the Doctor has, with some help from Clara (let's skate over that unnecessary slap), reached the realisation that this is not good.

Actually, let's not skate over that slap. The Doctor comes to the self-defeating, self-satisfying conclusion that Daleks just are evil. Clara manages to arrest the Doctor's depression with a look. She has got through to him: he's asking what the look is for. It's totally unnecessary actually to hit him. And as a good teacher – which she is – she would know better. The whole of the rest of the episode is about not using violence against the Dalek but trying to do better. That slap really should not be there.

But aside from that, she is completely right that that is not what we have learned.

The show, never mind the Doctor, often treats monsters, especially the deadly dustbins, as irretrievably evil. And therefore it's okay to kill them.

Except, and "Into the Dalek" makes this abundantly clear, the Daleks are as much victims of their evil as perpetrators. That memory vault in their heads – "evil refined as engineering", brilliant line – doesn't so much keep them "pure" as take away their free will.

And taking away free will is about as close as we get to "Doctor Who's" definition of pure evil.

That memory-controlling vault is a very Moffat meme too, and as a further exploration of the mechanics of the Daleks goes very well with the Dalek pathweb from Moffat's "Asylum of the Daleks", and proto-Clara Oswin Oswald's power to make them all forget about the Doctor.

Also it's really quite hard not to think of it as the evolved remnant of Davros' computer limitation that he installed in the very first generation of Daleks, as seen back in "Genesis of the Daleks", nicely tying new series and old series together. You can see how the Daleks, geniuses but conditioned to obey their orders, would improve that to make them even better at obeying. From a certain point of view – Cornell, Topping, Day – that is the "weakness" that the Doctor retroactively adds to the Daleks, making them vulnerable, in the long run, to defeat, thus enabling "Genesis" to be counted as a "win".

I've said before that I disagree. I think that the Doctor wins philosophically by rejecting genocide – yes, he blows up the incubation chamber later, but only once the "limited" Daleks have been sent out and it's no longer the sole repository of the entirety of Dalek-kind. But, importantly, "do I have that right" is an exercise in free will, defining the Doctor – as ever – in opposition to the Daleks.

(And then we've got the Doctor inside the Dalek's head, holding two cables about to make a huge moral decision in yet another "quote".)

Where "Into the Dalek" is very interesting, is that its conclusion restores free will to "Rusty" – and it chooses to find hatred in the Doctor. So the Dalek does not "turn good".

So, this is a brilliant piece of Doctor Who, from the moment that Capaldi appears sneering down at Journey Blue and ticking her off for not being properly grateful, from the (simultaneous – timey-wimey) moment that new boy Danny Pink sits there headdesking intercut with his epic fail response to Clara's chatting him up. It is everything we want our Doctor Who to be: challenging, brave, darkly funny, with an idea that needs thinking about. And the special effects knock it out of the park.

On Facebook, I remarked that the Daleks boarding the Aristotle, while virtually a shot-for-shot remake of a scene from "Resurrection of the Daleks", is a case of someone showing Eric Saward how it's done. (And I know Matthew Robinson not Eric Saward was the director – he actually makes a lot of the rest of the story very brilliant and watchable, but that attack is pretty much unfilmable in a four-camera studio on the budget they had in the Eighties. And as script editor Saward should have known that.)

But never mind that, the opening effect shot of the Dalek saucer pursuing Journey Blue's space fighter through asteroids is… well, almost everyone has seen the opening of "Star Wars", haven't they. That's the league we're playing in now.

In fact I generally thought much more highly of the direction this week, too, Ben Wheatley bringing a real cinematic scope to the adventures. A lot of very interesting direct looks into the camera – in particular the moment they all look into the Dalek-eyestalk-point-of-view before entering the lens (what a trippy journey into the eye of the Dalek too) and the shift in perspective on the Doctor when he goes from "standing in front of Rusty's eye" to "inside Rusty's mind".

And after last time's very literal use of mirrors, there were many more metaphoric reflections here: not least the Doctor and the Dalek, of course, but also soldiers Danny Pink and Journey Blue (and, via the Verity podcast, the Doctor meeting the Dalek with hatred as Clara meets Danny with… flirting).

And, although I don't really want to tread on the mystery of Missy (Hmmm, Missy, Miss Tery… Nah.), but thought that in among the reflections the arrival of Gretchen in "Heaven" mirrored the arrival of Journey Blue in the TARDIS console, making me wonder if Missy wasn't materialising a time-capsule around the "dead". (Unlucky Ross, of course, is definitely physically dead because the Doctor tracks his remains.)

Capaldi continues to impress as the Doctor. Putting the alienation into the alien. Making Journey Blue ask for a lift properly; suddenly being a bastard about Ross's death – "he's the top layer if you want to say a few words"; jumping from despair to delight when Clara teaches him that Daleks are not predestined to be evil; his horror and self-recognition when he realises that what the Dalek chooses to see in his mind is his own worst side.

I have seen people criticising the line: "You are a good Dalek" as a poor man's knockoff of Rob Shearman's "You would make a good Dalek".

But to me it's another example of reflection: the Dalek's statement is definitive – "You are a good Dalek" – as inversion of the Doctor's question, "Am I a good man?". Again, recalling "The Evil of the Daleks", asking questions is a sign of the Human Factor and the antithesis of the Dalek Factor.

And it's more of Moffat-era playing with ambiguity (see last week). Where the Dalek in "Dalek" means it only one way (and a nasty way, at that), here we ask does Rusty the Dalek mean: "You are good at being a Dalek" (good in the Dalek sense); or "You are what a Dalek would be if it really were good"? (good as the Doctor would understand it). The Doctor's fear and horror is that it's the first.

It's good that the Doctor knows he should be better than that but isn't.

Remember, this Doctor has just come back (literally from the dead) from the siege of Trenzalore, hundreds and hundreds of years of stand-off against the Daleks, and just seen them overrun the planet, very nearly win, and then get wiped out alongside his chance of getting Gallifrey back… a Time War in miniature all over again. So he's had those hatreds stoked all over again. But also the unexpected reprieve from the regenerations limit may have given him cause to look back, reflect on his lives once more.

The prospect of actual death may have led to the eleventh Doctor living without thinking of the consequences. He wrecked lives – Amelia's, River's, Rory got killed more than anyone deserves – and, to borrow from Captain Kirk, patted himself on the back for his cleverness in dodging the consequences. Much like Moffat himself, in fact.

Capaldi, rather like Eccleston, has the gravitas and reputation to bring off this more introverted side to the Doctor's character, and if his arrival has raised Moffat's game to match that first glorious series from Russell, so much the better.

Equally, Clara continues to flourish thanks to seeing her life outside the TARDIS. It is a bit of a shame that she goes straight from "I'm not your boyfriend" to "hello salty goodness", but having her meet Danny, and how she engages with him start to add an actual second dimension to her. And at the same time she has a stronger relationship with the Doctor now that he is her hobby, rather than she being a puzzle for him to solve.

"Doctor Who" is often at its best when it operates on the fringes of great events. That old Bob Holmes technique for painting a bigger canvas by alluding to the larger story off. Think backstory in "Pyramids of Mars" or the galactic politics that drop the Graff Vynda K into "The Ribos Operation". So I like that what we see here is the fringe of a galactic war. We don't go straight to the Emperor and learn about the Master Plan; we take the view from the trenches. Leave the rest of the story to your imagination – it's bigger on the inside, that way.

Next time: Mark Gatiss writes what looks like a comedy historical. There's Ben Miller in the Sheriff of Nottingham's castle, wearing the Sheriff of Nottingham's hose; sporting the Sheriff of Nottingham's sticky-on beard.

Is he the baddy?
(Hat tip: Warped Factor)

But who's that blank-faced automaton… or is Jason Connery not in this one? Twang! It's "Robot of Sherwood".

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Day 4983: Doctor Who: Breathing (Obligatory Kate Bush Reference)


Doctor Who returned, as an irrepressible, outrageous, furious Peter Capaldi.

I loved it. But not everyone did. And I loved every moment of it while it was on-screen, but afterwards have found myself struggling to puzzle why.

So in a most curious way, "Deep Breath" exists in two states simultaneously: one has dazzling effects, moving acting, subtle and clever script; the other has alienating continuity, no concessions to the viewer, and reiteration of the wrong plot points.

You can’t say the Mister Moffster doesn’t learn from his mistakes. Au contraire, Blackadder! He learns whole new ways to remake them.

Not taking enough time over the stories? Fine, we will stretch it to eighty minutes!

Clara doesn't have a personality? Not a problem, let's give her a brand new one!

Worried the audience might not connect to the new Doctor? Let's make it really obvious that the central idea of the story is the paradox of Trigger's Broom.

Change is continuity. So the metatext become the text.

We have a story where in-episode viewers complain about the quality of the special effects; a story about rebuilding things from stolen spare parts is made of stolen bits of other stories, including the main plot – and monster – lifted from "The Fire in the Girly-Place" (hat-tip Lawrence Miles); where the Doctor himself is sure he's seen this episode – or this face – before, he just can't quite place it; a story that answers "is he still the Doctor" with a blizzard of continuity and quotes from "here we go again" to "you've redecorated" to the whole "shall we go for chips" scene from "The End of the World" (retold more awkwardly, because in Moffat men are always more awkward); a story so keen to let you know it's reflecting on who is the Doctor that it hits you with more mirrors than Paul McGann in a room full of mirrors yelling "Who! Am! I?!?!".

If these moments resonate for you, if you feel that all these quotations amount to meaning – and I do – then you'll love "Deep Breath". If they don't, if maybe you don't have that history in your blood, then you better be pleased by a distracting dinosaur of Godzilla-sized, credibility-stretching proportions.

Let start with what was unashamedly good about this.

Capaldi delivered. That's the single most obvious but most important thing.

Sure, he had nothing to prove – unlike Matt Smith turning in a tour de force in "The Eleventh Hour" – and nobody seems to have doubted he had it in him. But boy is he a pro. Terrifying, cowardly, arrogant, compassionate, infuriating… and that's before he gets out of his pyjamas.

There was a lot of Tom Baker in the performance, at his most enigmatic, aloof and alien; his first line out of the TARDIS – "shush" – reminding me instantly of Tom's "not today, thank you". The dialogue – Moffat seems to have gone "school of Dicks" and written generic Doctor, or just "Matt" – was full of the swerves and scattershot that could easily have been delivered by the eleventh Doctor but delivered in very different style – particularly, say, "I don't like being wrong in public; everyone forget I said that" coming across much more Malcom Tucker than Matt Smith.

His defining scene, naturally, the confrontation at the climax taking him from icy calm offering the villain a drink to a face full of teeth as they struggle as we see the possibility of a Doctor fully in control of himself and his powers and responsibilities, no longer hiding behind "tawdry quirks" and a youthful mask. Though my favourite moment may have been the – immensely Tom in "Robot", too – glimpse of childish glee on rejecting the door as "boring; not me" and spying the window: "me!"

Then there's the episode length.

Some people have said that it dragged, or at least that it didn't find its feet until the scene where Clara meets the Doctor in the restaurant. I don't agree. And it would hardly be consistent of me if I did, having last year said that Moffat's problem was too short a running time, and that he was generally better with the longer frame of the specials.

And a double-length episode means we in fact are getting the same bangs-for-your-buck's worth in twelve weeks as a season as the "usual" thirteen normal-length episodes.

You get to have your season-opening two-parter all at once!

Though I'd say that this is, essentially, an entirely laudable effort to reinvent the old four-parter.

There are clear demarcations between what could have been episodes – part "one" has the Doctor in his nightshirt and a "cliffhanger" where he jumps off Westminster Bridge; part "two" has him in the tramp's coat and focusses a lot on his and Clara's "finding" the Doctor, before the second "cliffhanger" when their table at the clockwork restaurant goes all "Live and Let Die" on them; part three has the new Doctor and Clara becoming a team again, and him coming into his own as a person, finishing in the fatal fall of the half-faced man; and the fourth part is the aftermath, and looking forward, where he is entirely his new self and Clara has to accept he is the same person, and we get a nod to what is surely the arc of the season (Missy, Mistress, Master? Nah…).

In a way, then, like the way "Inferno" slips a parallel Earth story into the middle of its run, "Deep Breath" is a two-part adventure with the clockwork droids – reimagined in delicious Gothic style with heavy doses of Justin Richard's novel "System Shock" – in the middle of a two-part regeneration story, with the Doctor's recovery in the first part and Clara's acceptance in the fourth.

And for me, it really worked, giving a lot more time for developing character. The Doctor's "regeneration crisis" – and that dinosaur – are largely confined to the first twenty minutes. Afterwards he's playing on people's confusion and lack of expectations about him… (particularly "that" scene with Clara…).

The second "episode" has a "next morning" feel about it (not the only thing "Deep Breath" has in common with "The Sensational TV Movie", by the way). The Doctor's scenes – with tramp Barney touchingly played by Brian Miller – are all about him discovering who this new face is. Where do the faces come from is a particularly interesting question (suggested by a conversation with Russell Davies, apparently), and this too holds hints that there may be something in it this time, a message, though why Caecilius (or Mr Frobisher) we have yet to understand.

There's also time to expand on the characters of the returning Paternoster heroes, and for the first time I really felt that Vastra and Jenny were in a real relationship (no, not because of – in fact almost in spite of – the heavy-handed "we're married" refrain that kept being hammered home). Strax may be becoming a bit of a one-note joke, but there are the odd interesting thing slipped in among the gags: he notices, for example, that Clara has good lungs – which comes in handy shortly – and you have to wonder (Miranda moment: I don't think we do!) what the "young men doing sport" in her subconscious are about after her strenuous assertions that she could flirt with a mountain range. And the funniest bit in the episode is the slapstick flooring of Clara by the Sontaran "sending up the Times".

But mostly the second act puts the focus squarely on Clara, on how she feels about the Doctor now, and how clever she is. It is after all she who works out the clue in the newspaper. OK, the Doctor does too, but he's supposed to be that smart and it is Clara that we see doing it.

Former teacher Steven Moffat has clearly brought some history to Clara now. The great use of classroom flashback to show where Clara gets both intelligence and sass to use against the clockwork villain.

Now, however, we're getting to the parts that are more brilliant/awkward than purely brilliant.

I loved all that character stuff for the Paternoster Gang, but at the same time I can see that it's really asking a lot of someone tuning in for the first time. They might be Moffat's satirical updating of the old UNIT family but they're still a bit… weird to just take as read (in a way that "straight" archetypes like the Brig and Sergeant Benton are not). Of the prehistoric lizard lady and the Victorian ninja maid, is their marriage the thing that you most need to make clear to the audience? (OK, actual complaints to Ofcom about the kiss suggests that yes maybe it is.) And while I think that the "reverse Emperor's clothes" of Vastra's veil – seen only by those whose prejudice won't see her, another re-echoed theme – is ingenious, is this "introducing" episode really the best place?

(Oh, and one little flaw in the direction, that seems to have been widely praised: Vastra and Jenny drawing their swords is clearly supposed to be a two-shot that demonstrates they are equals in spite of the rôles they cosplay, so why is the camera only on Vastra, cutting Jenny out?)

Clara is the first companion since Rose actually to experience a regeneration, and in the case of Rose the Doctor's change made him more the sort of young, dashing man she expected, more "her boyfriend", perhaps trying to satisfy Rose’s "inner fan" was the start of his making that mid-lives-crisis mistake.

Something we've not seen really since the 'Eighties is the "hang-over" companion, the assistant perfectly suited to a Doctor who then unfortunately dies and leaves them with a very different successor: think Adric, sorcerer's apprentice to Tom Baker's ageing wizard who winds up with the youthful Davison; or Peri whose energy and enthusiasm clearly go with Peter One*'s curiosity and gentlemanly vim, but who gets stuck with the crazy shouty man; or even underrated Mel who is loud and direct and proactive and just perfect for Baker Two, but who is entirely unsuited for the complex manipulations of Sylv's master chessplayer.

[*Alex note: This makes the Lord Cushing: Peter Zero :^]

Clara, on the face of it, seems so much more the companion for the eleventh Doctor who she absolutely did not fancy (Miranda moment: she did fancy him). But twelve could be the making of her.

Clara slightly out of her depth and on the edge of panic, Clara clearly pissed off with the Doctor messing her around, these are good, believably human traits for her, and bring out some strong acting chops from Jenna Coleman.

But where's it come from? How is this the same character, the same Impossible Girl, we've followed for a year or more? And you might say that Clara is a control freak – second-funniest moment in the episode: "Nothing in this room is more important than my egomania!" – but did anyone honestly think that of her before?

Though never mind the switch from last year's Clara (who for no readily apparent reason dived into the Doctor's timeline without batting an eyelid, and then without breaking into a sweat persuaded not one but three Doctors to save Gallifrey because that's the man they all were); what about the one between one side of the new title sequence and the other? From "He's [the Doctor is] right here" to "The Doctor is gone!"

Moffat likes to make his writing ambiguous (or "clever") so that you read it one way only for a later twist to make you re-interpret. An example would be the "translating" of the dinosaur's lament which also refers to the Doctor, as made clear by the reiteration of "just see me" from the end of the bedroom scene to after "that" phone call (and yes, just like when he translates the minotaur at the end of "The God Complex").

I think the Grand Moff is trying to do the same thing with Clara's reaction to the regeneration: it's supposed to have a superficial reading of "whah he's got all old", as a rebuke to the widespread supposition that the Twenty-First Century Doctor needs to be young and pretty to appeal to the audience, and then it turns out she's fine with his age but thinks something else has gone wrong.

Except it falls flat on its face, because Clara expressly says "why's he old?" and says nothing to suggest an alternative interpretation (until she tears Vastra off a strip). So what was she moping about?

I'd suggest that there are two or three possible ways they could have gone to clear this up.

My first thought, and perhaps simplest: just a line to say "I've seen all of his faces; this isn't one of them!" It would take people's strongest objection to Clara's reaction – that she more than anyone else ought to be au fait with regeneration – and turn it on its head; her very familiarity is what makes this new face, this stranger's face so upsetting to her.

Secondly, and possibly connected to that, play more on the "Power of the Daleks" question of: "is he really the Doctor?" Could this be a completely different Time Lord sent to take his place? After all, Clara saw "her" Doctor blow up. And then this guy appears in the TARDIS. By making this more of a mystery through the episode it would also have added extra strength to the phone call ending, where the new man turns out to know what the Doctor said… proving he is the same fellow at last.

Thirdly, and maybe what they were trying to allude to, Clara does say at one point "it's gone wrong", though it is sadly a bit lost between flirting with the "big lady" and "maybe you should wear labels". It's possible that Clara thinks that either the Doctor is supposed to "renew" into a young body and age normally (as, to be fair, she saw Matt's eleventh Doctor do), or possibly she's taken aback by his post-regenerative trauma. But this feels unnecessary to us when even casual viewers know that he goes a bit dippy after regeneration, and to the fans this is one of the least disturbed new Doctors. He doesn't try to strangle anyone!

…well hardly anyone. …well he pushes them out of a balloon… or doesn’t…

The possible "darkness" of the Doctor comes to the fore in the "third" part of the story, playing with the notion that he might have gone a bit "sixth Doctor" (or a bit "first") when he seems to abandon Clara, only for it to turn out that he's really channelling the "seventh": throwing his companion into peril to "fix" her flaws, make her "better".

Does he murder the half-faced man? The blatant ambiguity here – even before mad woman in the coda hangs a lantern on it – is obviously set up to keep fans arguing forever: did he or didn't he.

But, to coin a phrase, that's not the right question.

Does he steal the tramp's coat? He's distinctly cagey about it; his first answer is an outright lie, and then he says he traded his watch for it. Which may be true. But we know the Doctor steals clothes: the third, eighth and eleventh all raided hospital lockers for their first outfits, and the first committed outright burglary on an (all right, somewhat dubious) merchant in Jaffa. We've just not previously seen him steal clothes from someone who is actually wearing at the time. It's awkward, isn't it, it feels more wrong. And it may be in there precisely to challenge our pre-conceptions about what this alien thinks is moral. That's where ambiguity works.

The final part of the story sees us having come through the change and looking to the future. The Doctor is finally dressed in his own clothes – if you think about it, he's got a change of costume for each "part": first the nightgown (or first Matt Smith's costume before the titles, then the nightgown); then the tramp's coat; then the droid's Victorian suit (and face!); and only finally his own understated third Doctor duds. And he's redressed his TARDIS too.

In a way it's a shame that – in the move between Upper Boat and Roath Lock – they regenerated the TARDIS console room back in "The Snowmen". It means the "redecoration" doesn't have the impact here, doesn’t in fact seem that different at all, ironically, just making it pinker and warmer. Imagine instead going from Matt Smith's original bonkers golden fishbowl to Michael Pickwoad's austere steel engine; that would stamp the new Doctor's no-frills frills all over the show.

And because we're looking at taking what's come before and moving on, we perform that neat little restaging of the "chips" scene from the end of "The End of the World", where Rose and the ninth Doctor first properly bonded, but with the Moffat-twist of the Doctor now being awkward and not huggy. (And while we're at it, it's also referencing "The Hand of Fear" by way of "School Reunion" with Sarah revealing that the Doctor took her "home" but missed a bit, only this time he 'fesses up and Clara is fine, because she's not leaving.)

"Deep Breath" is a regeneration story and thus much more like "The Christmas Invasion" (or for that matter "Castrovalva") than a first adventure like "The Eleventh Hour" or "Rose". And regeneration stories are always a bit weird, as though "regeneration" forces its way into the story, forces the story into being about regeneration. And it ends up pulling in two ways – both about newness and about everything being the same.

Thus change is continuity. And so the metatext become the text.

Sometimes it seems like everything is quotes.

Next Time: Oh look, the quotes continue with a scene from Rob Shearman's "(Into The) Dalek". What would the ninth Doctor say about this voyage? Fantastic…

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