...a blog by Richard Flowers

Friday, June 29, 2007

Day 2370: Change the (Criminal) Record


Lord Blairimort hasn't been out of office A DAY and already the police have nicked him again.

Just as last time, though, it turns out that it happened weeks ago and the Labour have been keeping shtumm about it, waiting for a good moment to BURY IT.

So much for "ALL CHANGE".

Possibly MORE shocking is the news that we heard on the The Today Programme the other day – though apparently it has been known for some time – that the police wanted to question Lord Blairimort "under caution", but were talked out of it. "Under caution" means treating him as a suspect rather than a witness, i.e. reminding him that he USED to have the right to remain silent, but that his government had got rid of that along with most of the rest of the civil liberties that would have protected him, so he'd better sing like a tweetie-bird. The police people were asked not to do this. The clinching argument was apparently that if they DID question him under caution, then he would have to resign.

Let us just ANALYSE that for a second. Why would you resign? (a) because your actions have been thought so questionable that the police WANT to treat you as a SUSPECT or (b) because the police ACTUALLY treat you as a suspect so people might FIND OUT about it?

It is a question of SUBSTANCE or STYLE, and we ALL know which one of those wins EVERY TIME with the Labour.

WILL Mr Frown's promise of CHANGE extend to cleaning up the Labour's habits of SECRECY and MISINFORMATION or will he be sticking to his SECRET STALIN ways?

He has an EXCELLENT opportunity this week, with the news that the Americans will be investigating the Al Yamamah arms deal.

This is quite a brave move by the American Justice Department, because it is bound to tee-off their key Saudi Arabian allies, just at a point where their "retreat from Arabia FORWARDS into Iraq" plan seems to have come completely unstuck.

(Although the CYNICAL reader could notice that this investigation also puts the kybosh on BAE's plans to expand into the American Market.)

The Al Yamamah deal first came to the Department of Justice's attention when they noticed super-tanker sized slices of cash flowing through the account of the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Bandar. You may remember him – he is the chum of the Monkey-in-Chief who gets his own private airbus aeroplane paid for by, well, us, the British Public. In return for this ALLEGEDLY he makes sure that his government continues to pay for warplanes from BAE (formerly British Death Smiths of Goth).

But it turns out that the secrets of the deal – known only to a small, elect group known as the "Panorama viewers" – are actually kept by the GOVERNMENT and not by BAE at all. BAE are just SUB-CONTRACTORS. This is a LEGAL TERM meaning "we can pass the buck".

So, it is up to Mr Frown whether he will be "helping the Americans with their inquiries" or keeping Prince Bandar aloft in our his airbus.

Meanwhile, I hope that holding them in Lord Blairimort's PRISON CELL will not inconvenience the Middle Eastern peace talks TOO MUCH!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Day 2369: Après le Deluge


First there was the HEATWAVE.

Then there was DROUGHT.

Then there were GALES.

Then there were FLOODS.

And on the next day THE LORD spake thus: "What do I have to DO to convince you people about Climate Change?!"

What, you thought I was going to write about something ELSE today?

Oh, all right...

It is the END of an EARACHE! Lord Blairimort has quit as Prime Monster and as MP for Sedgefield too, and now Mr Frown has taken over.

The entire House of Commons rose in SPONTANEOUS cheers of joy when Lord Blairimort finally admitted he was finished. Mr Balloon himself crossed the floor… to do that checking-for-breath-with-a-mirror thing so that he could be sure Lord Blairmort's career really was dead. Mr Frown, of course, had got their first, but had settled for just sticking him with a pin to see if he was faking.

But there was no time for FRIVOLITY, and immediately Mr Frown was whisked off to the PALACE where her Ineffable Majesty, Queen Liz, invested him with the key to the Downing Street EXECUTIVE LAVATORY and divvied up the secret spoilers for Saturday's Doctor Who finale. Then it was back to Downing Street for a speech to his adoring public. i.e. the press.

He said:

"Nya ha ha ha haaaaaaa, it's mine, mine at laaaaaaaaaaaast. Er, and we will bring, uhh, change and newness and, uhh, new change to all of you. Bless the little baby Jesus, goodnight."

It must REALLY irritate Mr Balloon no end to see Mr Frown steeling his HIGH ENERGY WALLPAPER and MODERNIST MUSIC and his mantra of "Change, Change, Change!"

Even more so when – for BOTH OF THEM – it all means "The Same, the Same, the Same!"

Mr Frown, carried into Downing Street on the crest of a wave of public ENNUI, is at least managing to keep that BAYING CROWD of the PRESS happy with a series of impressive PARLOUR TRICKS.

Last week's game of "sawing the Liberal Democrats in half" has been followed by a routine of "find the lady" with Mr Quentin Quentin in the leotard of the glamorous assistant, and for his next trick, it will be the classic "Cabinet of Doom".

You might think that this is the one where Mr Frown plunges a dozen knives into the Cabinet and we see who comes out unscathed, but it is actually a CARD TRICK: he's going to shuffle the deck and come out with all the KNAVES!

First out of Mr Frown's new hand was Mr Eyebrow-stare Darling, tipped to take over the Treasury desk from Mr Frown himself. Darling Mr Eyebrow-stare is just the man for the job. Mr Frown will want him there for the same reason that Lord Blairimort wanted Mrs Bucket as Foreign Secretary: this was because Lord Blairimort was his OWN Foreign Secretary, but it was nice to have someone on payroll who knows how to make the TEA when you've only got a camping stove to hand.

In fact, what everyone seems to have missed is Mr Frown's SMALL PRINT. After all, he DID say he would be forming a government "of all the talents… that we've been using for the last ten years."

So, far from being a CHANGED GANG, Mr Frown's new Cabinet is more of a CHAIN GANG, with everyone shuffling to the next chair around the table.

Mr Frown takes Lord Blairimort's chair, Mr Eyebrow-stare takes Mr Frown's chair leaving the Trade and Industry chair free for Mr Hutton who leaves his Work and Pensions chair for Mr Peter Vain. No jokes about Mr Vain being Pensioned Off, please!

Going the other way around the table, Ms Bleary is reward for coming last in the Deputy Lead contest by being promoted to the Community Chest replacing Mr Ruth Kelly who is transported to Transport replacing junior wooden-top Mr Alexander Douglas-Fir who moves to International Development replacing Mr Benny Hill who is released into the Environment replacing Mr Millipede who gets his reward for not standing against Mr Frown by being sent to "abroad".

(He's replacing Mrs Bucket, who has been kicked, er, out.)

Mr Frown, of course, has very little interest in "abroad", and so will want a proper little crawler bright and intelligent new face to head up the Foreign Office. The BIG surprise is that this ISN'T patched-up Conservatory Scarecrow Sir Malcolm Rifkind. He would have been DELIGHTED to do the job because his level of CROSSNESS with Mr Balloon, for passing him over for the Shadow Foreign Secretary role in favour of Mr Vague, is said to know no bounds.

In fact, Sir Malcolm was only one of several names suggested by the Conservatories in response to Mr Dale Winton rumouring that there would be ANOTHER defection from Mr Balloon's ranks.

Well, I say they "suggested names"; it was more cries of "PURGE THEM! PURGE THE UN-PURE TRAITORS!"

I am not QUITE sure how this zest for ETHNIC-CLEANSING will result in a more MODERATE and COMPASSIONATE Conservatory party, but frankly that is Mr Balloon's problem.

To conclude Mr Frown's reshuffle, though, for reasons that passeth understanding he has put Mr Buff Hoon in the role of Chief Whip – which should be FUNNY if they have any tight votes coming up.

And in an EYE-CATCHING move, the reformed Home Office is to be headed up by the SPICE GIRLS!

Meanwhile, The Minister for Magical Accidents is also being abolished. He is apparently hoping for a role in Europe and is looking forward to becoming an Island in the Balearics.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Day 2368: Vote Conservatory – Get Labour


At least that's the case in Grantham and Stamford today.

This is because their MP, who no one will have heard of, has defected from the Conservatories to the Labour.

Mr Quentin Quentin, the man in question, said that, under Mr Balloon, the Conservatory Party "…appears to me to have ceased collectively to believe in anything, or to stand for anything".

Which is why he has decided to join the party that GENUINELY does not believe in anything or stand for anything!

I am SURE that he will find everything VERY FAMILIAR in his NEW Party, same as his OLD Party.

According to They Work For You, Mr Quentin Quentin's only STRONG parliamentary votes have been FOR illegally exploding Iraq, and AGAINST equal rights for gay daddies. I am sure he will FIT RIGHT IN.

Shadow Home Secretary, Mr Davis David (no relation), said darkly: "YOU find OUR lack of faith… disturbing," as he strangled the unfortunate defector with the Force.

Mr Gideon Oboe has vowed that he will even the score, promising that soon there will be a defection to the Conservatories. "…just as soon as I've defected to the Labour myself, then you'll see me defect back again!" he added.

Is this or is this not a bit of a DISASTER for Mr Balloon?

Easy enough to say that it is a "flash in the pan" and that it will all be forgotten by the time it is "tomorrow's chip paper", because it is and it will be – but underlying this is something MORE IMPORTANT: if Mr Balloon is REALLY following the Lord Blairimort SCRIPT, then he should be getting defections going the other way!

This is why the Conservatories have been so desperate to WOO Liberal Democrats, desperate enough to put the job in the hands of Mr Oboe!

You're not going to convince people of your BIG TENT politics if even your own side would rather skip out of your "Faith Zone" and explore the flashy IMAX across the road. (It is showing "Revenge of Gord-zilla", in GIANT 3D, of course.)

Obviously, this is Mr Frown's idea of A BIT OF A COUP, a reminder of the HEADY days of the young Lord Blairimort when Conservatories would REGULARLY trip, LAMB-LIKE across the lobby, into his waiting arms. No doubt it was supposed to go hand in clunking fist with getting hold of some Liberal Democrat peers, too, so that Mr Frown can go: "uhh, look at me, I'm, uhhh, so inclusive."

Well, clearly the Liberal Democrats are the ones with the PRINCIPLES, and the GUTS to say "No, thank you," to Mr Frown.

Liberal Democrats are DIFFERENT to the NuToryLabour – whereas the line between Mr Frown and Mr Balloon is increasingly BLURRED.

This is where those policies that Mr Quentin Quentin voted strongly on are IMPORTANT. Although they LOOK very different, International Law and Equal Rights are both areas about CONTROLLING the power of the government. Liberal Democrats believe that the government SHOULD BE controlled because it is the SERVANT of all of us. The Labour and the Conservatories believe that government is about making US obey THEM!

Last week, all of the Conservatories were saying that Sir Mr the Merciless was WEAK to even CONSIDER Mr Frown's offer – but the Liberal Democrats remain UNITED behind their leader.

What do the Conservatories have to say about a leader who loses an MP ENTIRELY?!

"Well, David," squeaked Mr Oboe, "at least it might make people forget that our peers keep defecting to UKIP!"

Day 2367: Peace Off


Lord Blairimort is to bring PEACE to the Middle East.

Meanwhile, Dr Henry Kissinger is to give up SATIRE.

Day 2366: And the Winner Is…


Well, Mr Frown, obviously.

But much MORE interesting – well, interesting if you are a number anorak like Daddy Richard – are the results for the DEPUTY leader. Or as BBC3's news in 60 Seconds put it: Mr Frown gets to be Top Dog, but who gets to be Deputy Dawg?

Handily, someone has put the full results on the Wikipedia (thank you to Mr James for spotting this) and they make interesting reading (with the same caveat as above).

What is clear is that Mrs Harpic didn't just win in the LAST round – no, in fact she was a CLEAR winner in EVERY round… among the MEMBERS of the Labour. But she LOST in BOTH of the other categories EVERY TIME too!

Equally clear is that Mr Postman Pat, far from having the union vote all tied up as everyone supposed, was actually kept in the competition because he won the MPs and MEPs college EVERY TIME.

In fact, the Unions voted EVERY TIME for Mr Never Heard of Him from the Backbenches, only switching to Mr Pat in the final round when Mr Whoever He Was had been knocked out and taken away for interrogation tea and cakes by Mr Frown's SECRET STALIN secret police.

Now, you MIGHT say that there is a bit of a case for Union members to have a say in the Labour's leadership election. All right, SECRET STALIN fixed that, but you might say that they should have a say in the DEPUTY election, because they pay their money. Of course, under the present system there's no limit to how MANY Unions they can join so if they feel like it they can have SEVERAL says, which is kind of not right. Less one member one-third of a vote; more one member, how many votes would sir like to buy?

But the really OUTRAGEOUS thing is giving the MPs and MEPs SUPER-VOTES: there are three-hundred and fifty-one Labour Members of Parliament and nineteen Labour European Parliament Members, three-hundred and seventy in total; meanwhile, the Labour have around about a hundred-and-eighty-thousand members.

So an MP's vote is worth 487-and-a-half members. (That is a third divided by 370 over a third divided by 180,000… PLUS an extra one because the MP can vote AS a member AS WELL!)

This seems VERY UNFAIR – especially when the MPs can choose to LOCK OUT anyone they do not want to stand anyway… as a certain Secret Stalin managed to organise in the Leadership ballot.

Oh the WHOLE, it would be a lot fairer or at least a whole lot less peculiar if they just gave ONE EQUAL vote to every member and, if they want to, ONE to everyone who was signed up to a union too.

So the good news is – if you are Mrs Harpic – that you LOOK like you GENUINELY deserved to win, rather than having it fixed for you by Union Barons (or "My Husband", as Mrs Harpic calls one of them) or by Secret Stalins in Parliament.

Or so it would SEEM, except that we cannot REALLY know for sure, because in round THREE Mr Benny Hill was eliminated even though he actually came SECOND in the members' vote.

If Mr Don't Know Him Now and Never Will had been eliminated at that stage for coming last among the members, then who knows how his vote might have split up among Mr Benny and Mrs Harpic and Mr Pat? It might have been Mr Postman Pat eliminated at the fourth round and then Mr Benny and Mrs Harpic could have gone head to head!

Would a Blaiocratic stuffed effigy passing themselves off as the true inheritor of the Labour tradition have won in that contest? Who can possibly know?!

Never mind, Mr Benny, you can console yourself with the fact that you will probably keep your job in the Cabinet, maybe even get a promotion, while Mr Frown has acted quickly to say that the elected deputy leader can be Party Chair. Amid the huge applause for this decision, how many – I wonder – realised that what he was actually saying was "the elected Deputy will NOT be Deputy Prime Monster"?

I doubt that Mrs Harpic was expecting her promotion to Party Chair to mean she was being SAT ON!

Of course, if Mr Frown was a REAL Secret Stalin, he would IMMEDIATELY replace Mrs Harpic with a STEPFORD Harpic who would say she never said the government should apologise for Invading Iraq. Oh…

Day 2365: DOCTOR WHO: The Sound of Drums


And to think that I LIKED that NICE Mr Sam Tyler in "Life on Mars". A TIME TRAVELLER, looking for a place to HYDE… the CLUES were all there, but I did not spot them!

So, I am SHOCKED to discover that SAM TYLER was a MASTER-LY disguise after all!

Daddy Richard had better explain it all…

This was an episode of moments, racing crazily from one to the next, linked by zest and fun: Gallifrey, Cloudbase, the Doctor's "somebody else's problem" trick with the TARDIS keys and many more, mainly, I admit, moments of John Simm being deliciously bonkers.

Didn't the Master just deserve to be billed as the lead and John Simm to get his own title sequence?

Perhaps I'm just channelling the baby elephant, but I really enjoyed all the goofy behaviour: "This is funny"/"This is NOT funny"; "[muffled] It's a gas mask." [removes mask] "[clearly] It's a gas mask."; or "Are you asking me on a DATE?!" The soundproofed door and the prolonged screaming really worked for me too – especially Simm hamming it up as the Master hamming it up with his "ooh, how dreadful," pose. And who wouldn't want to take the Michael out of po-faced President Winters.

The late John Nathan-Turner, when he was producer of Doctor Who, was said to watch the performance of Anthony Ainley as the Master and call down to the studio floor: "could you UP it a little, please!" Faced with Simm's "Sunny Delight"-ed Master performance, the spirit of JNT would have been silenced.

Then of course, there was that special appearance by the Teletubbies: yes, obviously it's a perfect and charming nod to the classic moment in "The Sea Devils" when the Master (Roger Delgado) was seen to be whistling along to "The Clangers"; but more importantly it returns to Russell's essential characterisation of the Master, as touched upon last week, as a selfish child. Personally I'd pitch it at five, but it's obvious that the scene showing a flashback to the eight-year-old Master's childhood induction to the society of Time Lords is as much to say "this is all about arrested development" as it is to say "ooh, look: big collars!"

Not that we didn't love it for the collars too, and special mention for the young Master wearing the black and white robes as sported by the Time Lord tribunal in "The War Games" – and even more for seeing the child's pupils turning into the Vortex as if to say he's become "bonded to time".

Oh, and while I'm mentioning costumes, we also loved the sight of the Master standing on the runway with his jacket flying in the wind, flashing its Jon Pertwee scarlet silk lining.

Not that he couldn't turn on the darkness too, particularly for that telephone conversation between the Doctor and the Master. "How can Gallifrey be gone?" is perfectly delivered. And the more intriguing yet probably throwaway "…when I saw that Dalek Emperor take control of the Cruciform". Does it mean anything?

It's a performance that has been compared – favourably – to Batman's Joker, but I tend to think that the Joker is almost compelled to by funny by his psychosis; the Master is having a laugh because he enjoys it. It's not that he's insane, in fact he seems more rational than he has in ages; it's just that he has no moral restraints at all.

If you think that people are bad, why not just kill them? It's a perfectly sensible question, particularly if you're operating on the level of a five or eight year old. And if it's okay to kill some people, why is it not okay to kill anyone you want?

(Of course you can construct a proper answer along the lines of needing a shared system of behaviour predicated upon mutual safety because otherwise civilisation, particularly the highly organised and technological variety that we depend upon, is impossible; the alternatives are the Futurekind or the Daleks. But that's just a little bit too complicated for someone who has only got as far as questioning "because it's wrong".)

It's fair comment to say that the early Downing Street scenes are quite reminiscent of "Aliens of London"; but it's simplistic to criticise on that basis. Politics doesn't stop, so why should satire? Two years ago we killed off Prime Minister (probably) Blair and had his, er, fat deputy take over in a plot that ridiculed massive weapons of destruction. Now we see a new Prime Minister whose speeches make everyone feel warm and good, but who doesn't appear to have any policies at all. Is it at all possible that Russell has done New Labour, but felt that the other side deserved a bit of a slapping too?

Although speaking as someone who didn't enjoy the insulting naivety of "The Amazing Mrs Pritchard" I did particularly love the "traitorous" cabinet, who'd deserted their own parties for the poll-conquering unknown, all getting their just deserts.

The Doctor Who website episode guide for "The Sound of Drums" has the subtitle "Be careful What You Vote For" and I would say that a popular TV show taking time out to remind people that voting is a responsibility, that they have to think about what people stand for, is definitely a worthwhile thing.

Doctor Who has often had a bit of a "message", whether it was environmentalism or Buddhism or just plain be nice to one another. Russell T's version seems to like pushing the "don't be a mindless zombie" angle. That – rather than any lack of ideas – is probably behind the repeated "mistrust of mobile phones" motif. Buying into mass culture, at least buying into it unthinkingly, is bad.

I should also point out Mrs Saxon, though, who does appear to have chosen to be evil. She's a strangely fascinating addition to the mix: I mean for starters what on Earth possessed him to decide he wants a wife? And even more bizarre, unlike the Countess Scarlioni who somehow managed to overlook discovering that her husband is a one-eyed green scaly alien, Mrs Saxon seems fully clued up on Harry's real origins and even his doomsday plan. I hope we learn more about her in the final episode; by this point, I'm almost expecting the Master's moment of triumph to be followed by her reaching for the zip in her forehead…

What all these moments almost but not quite disguise is a plot that is to a certain extent marking time. Utopia finished with the reveal of the Master; Last of the Time Lords begins with his big "and now I destroy the world" plan. In between, we have classic "episode three" territory, somewhere that the new series hasn't been used to going because of the shortened one/two episode structure.

Doctor Who Magazine's excellent articles "The Adventure Game" suggested that the successful Doctor Who story (or indeed any story) should follow a pattern of "Investigation", "Complications", "Crisis", "Climax and Resolution". In the traditional four-part classic Doctor Who story, episode one sees the Doctor investigate his surroundings to find where he is, who's about and what's going on. Episode two then expects us to reassess the situation, either by revealing some unforeseen information or character twist, or just by revealing who is really the Master in disguise this week. Everything has to come to a head in episode four, although the final cliffhanger is also often the choice for the moment of crisis. Which leaves you the question: "what to do in episode three?"

The very shortness of the new series stories means that all of these have become compressed. We've become used to the "moment when we learn who's behind the plot" and the "moment of crisis" coming almost simultaneously.

Now, with a three-parter to contend with, we find that that tricky middle episode has a tendency to become all about moving the pieces around the board to get into the expected places for the climax. Of course we expected the Doctor and friends to get back from the end of the universe (in fact, Alex was a bit peeved with the opening, feeling it a bit of a cheat a "with one bound they were free", but I just felt it was a quick "yes, Richard you correctly spotted Chekov's Time Vortex Manipulator, well done now let's get on with things".) But we also expected the Master to be revealed as Harold Saxon, Martha's family to be rounded up, the Doctor to be captured, the benevolent aliens to turn nasty, the doomsday plan to be revealed and so on…

It's not that there are any bad moments (though your mileage may vary according to Master madness tolerance), and much of it is wonderful – again I refer you to Gallifrey which left us uplifted and sad at the same time. Alex had been sure that they would let us see Gallifrey by the end of this season, ever since the word was used in "The Runaway Bride" but certain since the description in "Gridlock", and of course he was right.

But you would lose very little plot if Jack's time teleport had just taken them directly to the bridge of the Valliant.

Still, some people think that small, beautiful moments are what life is all about.

Let's talk timelines, then. Martha tells us that it's only been four days since she first met the Doctor (at least from Earth's point of view) and they've missed Election Day. So, Monday, Royal Hope Hospital was kidnapped to the Moon, Monday evening is Leo Jones' birthday party, Tuesday evening we all dress up for a bash at Professor Lazarus place, Wednesday morning she's off into time and space, elections are always held on Thursdays in Britain, and this is Friday.

Of course this means that Martha's sister Tish gets a brand new job twice in a week, which does make her seem rather dizzy not to spot how odd this is.

We also finally sort out that Mr Saxon was Defence Minister, not Prime Minister, at Christmas for the Racnoss attack; and thanks to the detective work of the unlucky Mrs Rook, we know that Mr Saxon has been around for eighteen months, since just after the downfall of Harriet Jones. All of which means that (a) the Doctor's adventures on Earth are still happening in chronological order, and (b) we're back to being roughly a year in the future i.e. "Smith and Jones", "The Lazarus Experiment" and "The Sound of Drums"/"Last of the Time Lords" all take place in one week in June 2008 (eighteen months after "The Christmas Invasion").


Well, not quite perfect. Winters actually describes himself as President-elect: American's hold their elections in early November, but the President doesn't take office until January, so this would seem to imply that it ought to be December and not June. It would have been amusing to pitch this as December 2007, or a fortnight before "The Runaway Bride" and imply that in fact the Master will still be Prime Minister at the end of the story… but his use of footage of the "Christmas Star" (not to mention his slight complicity in the slaughter of six-hundred million people) rules that out of contention.

On a similar fanboy note, at the end of "Utopia" the Doctor fuses the TARDIS co-ordinate settings. The Master – with a cry of "oh no you don't" – still manages to dematerialise, but he can only take the ship back to the last place it left. Am I the only one thinking "fast return switch"?

Now, with only one week to go, time for some wild prognostication: no spoilers, only speculation…

How will they get out of this? The cliffhanger sees the Doctor aged to a thousand and three, Captain Jack being killed over and over and Martha on the run, while the Master takes absolute charge and unleashes his Toclafane allies.

Well, the minor thing I suspect is that Martha's brother Leo has got to have something to do, with the significance given to the Master's secret police not having picked him up.

But who are the Toclafane? Are they the enemy that Russell and Rob Shearman came up with in that fortnight when it looked like the Daleks were off the menu? Will they follow the usual pattern for the Master's alien allies and turn on him, thus requiring the Doctor to come to his rescue, or can we expect better than that?

I think we can also expect a big reveal about their true nature. It's implicit from the Doctor's insistence that that is "just a made up name for the Bogey Man" and the Master's promise that "if I told you, your hearts would break", even before we see one opening up in the trailer. But what's inside?

The obvious candidates are the Daleks (as usual, for a season finale); the humans from the year one-hundred trillion (fleeing the endless dark; and the Master did take the map to Utopia); and possibly the children of the Time Lords (the Doctor mentions that faced with the Vortex, some were inspired, i.e. became the Time Lords, some went mad, i.e. became the Master, and some ran away, and he never stopped them. Plus the title, obviously).

In fact, the Master says that the Time Lords resurrected him as a weapon of war, but that's what they told him. Last week I'd misunderstood the sound of drums in Professor Yana's head to be the insistent pressure of the Master trying to get him to notice the watch, the equivalent of John Smith's dreams of the Doctor and his adventures. But the Master has returned and the drumming hasn't stopped.

So then I wondered whether it wasn't something more, whether the Time Lord's hadn't brought him back not because he is a warrior but because he is a survivor. In the BBC's Eighth Doctor Adventures, Lance Parkin's conclusion in "The Gallifrey Chronicles" is that the Doctor lost his memories because he stuck the whole of the Matrix into his head for safe-keeping. Might Russell be borrowing from the books again? Might the Time Lords have used the Master as an escape capsule? Might, no less, that insistent drumming be the Last of the Time Lords?

Actually, probably not, since we later learned that the drumming first chose him when he gazed into the Vortex as a child.

The real question, of course, is whether the Master will escape, or even survive. It looks like he holds all the cards, but I really don't think that the Master knows what he's let himself in for.

It would be a terrible waste of John Simm to have him play the Master for two episodes and then kill him again (even if we are to assume he now has another ten lives left after that).

On the other hand, Martha has seen the Doctor aged to an unsurvivable degree and might be expecting him to have to regenerate (rather than just, say, reverse the Master's reversal of the Lazarus machine – come to think of it, the original is probably still in Lazlabs; it's only been a couple of days!). Suppose a regenerated Master posing as the Doctor says "Quick, Martha, best be off; Where's your TARDIS key?"

"Master, I'm sorry" said the Doctor. Not sorry for anything he had done but, I suspect, sorry for what he knows he's going to have to do.

Next time… He is, he was, he remains far more than just "The Last of the Time Lords".

Friday, June 22, 2007

Day 2364: Mysteries of Doctor Who #10: What is Canon?


The OBVIOUS answer is "whatever you want it to be".

If you have never HEARD the term you, might think that "canon" means some sort of small artillery gun on wheels, like you might find on a PIRATE SHIP. But you would be WRONG. Because that is spelled with TWO letter "n"s.

In fact the "canon" is the bits of story that are considered to be OFFICIAL. As usual, it is the POPE's fault, since it started off by meaning the bits of Catholic Law that met with his approval.

Since then, though, it has been applied to other works of fiction – the "official" plays of Mr Shakespeare; the "official" adventures of Mr Sherlock Holmes… and the "official" Doctor Who stories.

It used to be easy. Well, easier. Easy-ish at least.

Dr Who had a hundred and fifty-five adventures on the television for twenty-six seasons, from November 1963 until December 1989.

If you were a fan, you could also count the famous 1979 MISSING story of Doctor Tom, "Shada", which was about half finished. And if you wanted you could count Doctor Colin's "Trial of a Time Lord" as four stories instead of one, because it was made in separate bits (and NOT because it fell to pieces!).

But even before 1989 and the end of "Survival", it was not QUITE that easy to define the Doctor Who canon.

Since 1964, barely after the series had begun on the telly, Dr Who's adventures were being written down as BOOKS, beginning with Mr David Whittaker's "Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks".

And right from the word "GO" the books were getting the story SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT. Did Dr Who first meet Ian and Barbara in a junkyard before taking them to 100,000 BC or did they meet on a foggy common before travelling to the Planet Skaro in the twenty-third century? Inquiring minds… tend to believe the DVD, nowadays, but you can see the problem.

Sometimes things happened in the books that didn't happen on the telly – especially if Mr Mac Hulke was doing the writing! – but if they didn't CONTRADICT the telly, could you assume that those extra bits "really" happened AS WELL?

Nor does it help when ARRU take the same story and make it for a third time, this time as a great big colourful movie, with bigger Daleks and a smaller Susan. Not to mention Thals who are camper BY FAR!

Does Mr Peter Cushing COUNT as a proper version of Dr Who? Is he, do you see, CANONICAL?

Well, we think that the answer is "NO" because Mr Billy got there first AND did it properly. No, Mr Roy Castle, that is NOT how to play Ian Chesterton!

But here is a SECOND problem – already we are saying that some things ARE "officially proper" Doctor Who and some things are not. If we cannot say EVERY story about Dr Who is PROPER Doctor Who, then how are we to decide?

Now, here's where things start to get sticky.

After the (HOORAY temporary!) end of the television series, Dr Who's adventures continued as BOOKS, from the same people who had been writing up his television escapades. "The New Adventures" were a series of sixty adventures staring the seventh Dr Who (Doctor Sylv) continuing on from "Survival" and seamlessly leading into the sensational TV Movie starring Paul McGann (official title!). Plus one extra called "The Dying Days" that takes place AFTER the movie and so stars Doctor Paul.

But because they were BOOKS and not TELEVISION, some people did not think that they really counted.

This is the "Gordian Knot" method of canon – if it was on the BBC, then it is canon; otherwise cut it away.

Even this has its flaws – when BBC2 shows "Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 AD!" does that change it into canon? No that is silly. But if you only count programs MADE by the BBC, what about that TV Movie? That was made by Universal Television in America – so Paul McGann doesn't count. Oh, but he does because his FACE is in John Smith's journal of impossible things in an episode that IS made by the BBC.

The "New Adventures" were, however, very GOOD adventures, and several of the people who wrote them have gone on to bigger and better things. Among them, a Mr Paul Cornel, a Mr Mark Gatiss and a Mr Sir Russell T Davis, that you may have heard of. In fact, one of them was SO GOOD that Mr Russell decided that it was a shame that only a few thousands of people had read it, rather than all the millions of people who watch Doctor Who on the telly. So he made a new version with Doctor David.

Ah, a snag.

Put simply, Dr Who has to live though the events of "Human Nature" TWICE (apparently without noticing). They don't happen SIMULTANEOUSLY – the television story happened in 1913 but the New Adventure took place in early 1914 – so they COULD be one after the other. Suggesting that Mrs Joan is VERY forgetful. (Or a bit of a SLAPPER where men called "John Smith" are concerned!)

OR one version of "Human Nature" isn't canon.

Which is, of course, what got me thinking about this.

Do not misunderstand. I would be DELIGHTED if all sixty-one New Adventures were remade for television. Well, maybe not "St Anthony's Fire"; that one is a bit of a chore. But this does knock a hole in our version of canon.

The "New Adventures" were such a success, that the publishers decided to launch a SPIN-OFF range – the "Missing Adventures" which could feature new stories for previous Dr Whos. Or is it "Doctors Who"? Anyway, these were pretty good too, especially if they were by Mr Gareth Roberts. And they fitted into "gaps" between television adventures – they said which gap on the back cover – which worked okay because there were not too many of them.

This idea of doing new stories with old Doctors was how the Big Fish audio adventure people got started, too. Using Doctor's Peter, Colin and Sylv, with some of their original companions, they could expand their adventures too! This was particularly good news for Doctor Colin, who had had bad luck with the stories he got to do on telly, and through Big Fish was more than able to make up for this with a whole string of excellent adventures.

But, the Big Fish people also had a problem. Because of the combinations of people that they wanted to use, they had to slightly invent a gap that is not really there. Doctor Colin has lots of spare space for adventures in the time between "Trial of a Time Lord" and "Time and the Rani"; Doctor Sylv can keep adding adventures after the end of "Survival" (sort of… I shall come back to that); and up to a point, Doctor Peter can have a good few adventures with his friend Nyssa between "Time Flight" and "Arc of Infinity". But for Doctor Peter to have adventures with his friend Peri, they had to invent a gap between "Planet of Fire" and "The Caves of Androzani". You CAN sort of squeeze maybe one or two adventures in there. But not loads, because Peri and Dr Who still have a fresh and new relationship in "Caves". And as the Big Fish people make more CDs, that gap seems to feel more and more of a strain on credulity.

Doctor Sylv has a problem too. It's those "New Adventures". It would seem that there are only so many audio stories that you can reasonably put in after "Survival" before you start trampling over the start of the NAs. Particularly, the character development for Ace over the CDs is clearly that of an older young woman, more mature than the Ace of the earliest "New Adventures". But not as battle-hardened and bitter as the Ace of the later "New Adventures" either.

Plus the whole fact that nine "New Adventures" in Dr Who picks up his totally brilliant companion Ms Professor Bernice Surprise Summerfield. Known as Benny.

There IS an almost-a-gap between "Legacy (of Peladon)" and "Theatre of War" where Benny goes off on an archaeological dig and Dr Who and a more mature Ace COULD sort-of-maybe go off and have adventures together. Perhaps.

But it's getting to be a bit of a strain there too.

Mind you, that is not so bad as the BBC's version of the "Missing Adventures" the "Past Doctor Adventures" or Blackberries PDAs.

Here Doctor Sylv gets a series of stories – almost all by Mike "does the special effects on the TV series" Tucker and usually his writing partner of Dave Parry – which fundamentally contradict the "New Adventures", eventually by killing Ace. (Again – see "Ground Zero", below!) Fortunately, you are not missing much if you just pretend they never happened, so that is one of the easiest bits to declare Non-Canon!

(Actually, the PDAs go on a bit of a killing SPREE, slaughtering former companions left, right and centre. But there's also a BBC book for Doctor Paul called "Sometime Never" that does seem to take all the PDAs and erase them from history. So it's sort of a self-cleaning problem.)

After the TV Movie… actually, that really is a dreadful thing to keep calling it, like referring to "City of Death" only as the second season seventeen story. Well known Uber-fan Mr Ian Slitheen insists that it should be called "Enemy Within", but that is a really boring title and does not really refer to the plot at all. We prefer to use the tag line from all the posters and the VHS video release that daddies could get by queuing up at midnight: "Time Waits for No Man" (which actually DOES sound a bit like the plot, temporal orbits and all!).

Anyway, after "Time Waits for No Man" the eighth Dr Who, Doctor Paul, has a series of adventures that are described EITHER in the books from the BBC OR in the audio adventures from the Big Fish people OR EVEN in the comic strip from Doctor Who Magazine.

This is the point where someone sticks a CORK in the front of the canon and causes it to BLOW UP.

Yes, I KNOW that's spelled with two "n"s.

You see, they've all, sort of, got a claim to being the MOST official. The books were now being produced by the ACTUAL BBC so that made THEM official. But the Big Fish audio adventures had the ACTUAL Doctor Paul McGann, so that made THEM official. But DWM had many, many times the circulation figures of either the books or the audios so in terms of how many people were following Dr Who's adventures, that made THEM official.

None of which would have mattered if they could have all played in the same sandpit.

Doctor Who magazine started it. Yes, they did. During the run of the "New Adventures" they had worked quite closely with the books, and tried to continue their comic strip in parallel, referencing one another and developing similar themes. Until a story called "Ground Zero". Then they decided that this was no longer possible, largely because the "New Adventures" in order to keep developing, had introduced new companions and finally left Ace behind. So the comic strip blew Ace up in order to prove that they had a different "continuity".

Well, now you see as far as I'm concerned this is NOT PLAYING NICE. If it is a shared universe, then you have to… well… SHARE. Saying "our story ignores theirs" is a sure-fire way to convince US that your story isn't the "real" one.

For a while, the books and the audios managed to get along. Okay, so the books carried straight on from "Time Waits for No Man" with the (I am sorry, Uncl' Terrance, HORRIBLE) "Eight Doctors". And the audios sort of carry straight on from "Time Waits for No Man" with the (really jolly good) "Storm Warning".

But you can get around that, because "Storm Warning" doesn't HAVE to continue straight on (and indeed much later Big Fish have revealed/retconned that it doesn't after all) so you can have the books and then the audios are a bit in their future. The fourth audio (and I've got to be fair and say that this one is an audio that is HORRIBLE) even goes so far as apparently to drop in a reference to the books companion "Sam" (also subsequently revealed/retconned that it doesn't after all).

But then, with the excuse that they were getting bogged down by all the Time Lord continuity, the books took the decision to BLOW UP Dr Who's home planet of Gallifrey. "FOOM" is the technical term, meaning may or may not have been erased from history depending on who's writing the next book. Ironically, this turned the eighth Doctor books into an almost unreadable continuity fest, understandable only to those readers who had a detailed knowledge of why the Doctor had amnesia and why the universe was apparently completely different to the one seen in the television series.

(For an example of how it SHOULD have been done, see pretty much the entire TV series produced by Mr Russell!)

In the audios, where Gallifrey HADN'T been exploded, this left them essentially trapped in Dr Who's past writing "missing adventures". Well, that wasn't really fair, but their response was a bit over the top too, deciding to infect Dr Who with "anti-time" and exile him from our universe FOREVER.

Ironically this turned the eighth Doctor audios into an almost impenetrable festival of dullness, with not even the most fervent of listeners able to fathom what the operating rules of this new "timeless" cosmos were supposed to be since clearly the producers hadn't got a clue either.

Fortunately the new TV series came along and the Big Fish people decided that "forever" meant "for two years and, phew, we're back in the room – look, Daleks!"

Nowadays, most people are reduced to either (a) tears, or (b) waving their hands and saying: "well, it’s the Time War isn't it".

So what IS canon?

I will ask Daddy Alex.

"AAAAAAAA AAAAAAAA AAAAAAAA AAAAAAAA AAAAAAAA!" he says, running screaming to the hills!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Day 2363: Why I turned down a job in the SHADOW Cabinet!


My word, they are ALL at it!

No sooner had I published yesterday's diary this morning, than who should come on the telephone but MR BALLOON! He said to me:

"What ho, Millennium, old sock! Look, I want to make some changes, new changes, changes for the better, new changes for a better kind of newness, a newness that brings real change…"

And I said "GET TO THE POINT, YOU 'LOON[*]!"

So he went on: "Basically, it's time I changed that idiot Mr Gideon Oboe, and I wondered if you'd be my Shadow Chancellor?"

And I said: "I am SORRY, Mr Balloon, but I will say to you the same as I said to Mr Frown: I AM NOT A CONSERVATORY!"

"And do not call people "old sock", it is RUDE!"

[*] No I'm not – 'LOON is short for BALloon, obviously!

Actually, the interesting question here is for the Conservatories.

Has Mr Frown gone to THEM – as Mr Michael Crick'd Neck implied on the Newsnight Show – and made a similar offer?

Mr Crick'd spoke of government jobs for "someone of the calibre of a Chris Patten or a Seb Coe" (i.e. Conservatories who are mainly wet and better than the rest of them by being only mostly rubbish).

The Conservatories are making a lot of fuss about Sir Mr the Merciless CONSIDERING Mr Frown's idea – i.e. having the courtesy to his colleagues to talk it over with them first before agreeing that we were all against it and saying "No, thank you!" And yet SURELY Mr Balloon has been CONSIDERING a similar offer…

So, what are the options?

Has Mr Balloon actually said YES? Is next week's BIG SURPRISE going to be the announcement of Queen Maggie as Mr Frown's new MINISTER FOR EUROPE?

Or does Mr Balloon not think any of his Conservatories are good enough to go into government?

The Liberal Democrats have made it perfectly clear that we have a PRINCIPLED OBJECTION to working with Mr Frown until he CLEANS UP HIS ACT. And yet the Conservatories have so much more IN COMMON with the Labour. And everyone knows they do not have any PRINCIPLES!

Yet if he has said "No" why have the Conservatories not come out and said so? Do they have something to HIDE?

Or is he REALLY saying that there was NO ONE in the Conservatory ranks who was even worth ASKING.

Are you not supposed to be MODERATE and CENTRIST nowadays, Mr Balloon? Did not Mr Gideon Oboe make an ASS of himself by trying to invite some of those SAME Liberal Democrats to join YOUR team? Aren't you supposed to be a LIBERAL Conservatory?

Why are WE worth asking into Government when YOU are not?

Perhaps Sir Mr the Merciless should ASK Mr Frown at his first Prime Monster's Question Time: "Sorry as we were that we could not work together, Mr Frown, did you not also ask Mr Balloon to join your government of all the talents? And if not, why not?"

Since the Conservatories seem to think that even CONSIDERING sharing power with another party makes you UNFIT for government, I assume that they are automatically ruling themselves out of any future coalition. (Or do they have different standards for themselves to everyone else?)

On the other fluffy foot, it seems only FAIR to give Mr Balloon the same chances as Mr Frown. So…

There are THREE things that we need before we could even CONSIDER teaming up with the Conservatories:

First Mr Balloon, you must stop being VACUOUS!

I know it seems like a big thing, but if you could just bring yourself to pick some key policies and stick with them for more than a few days, give us the detail rather than the airy-fairy vision and tells us what it will cost.

For a start, you could come out with UNEQUIVOCAL opposition to I.D.iot cards… and detention without trial… and the DNA database, and ASBOs and hounding Hoodies (who DO deserve HUGS)… and secret rendition flights, and 3000 new crimes, and exemptions to Freedom of Information, and 81,000 people in prisons and… okay, it IS quite a big thing, but please START!

Second, Mr Balloon, you are just going to have to stand up to the Tombstone Conservatories and tell them that we are in the European Union for good.

The Liberal Democrats believe that people work best when they work TOGETHER. Climate Change, terrorism, population movement – all of these things need us to CO-OPERATE with our friends in Europe (and America and everywhere else) in order to find a solution. Freedom can be a FREEDOM TO JOIN IN as well as a Freedom FROM Control.

If you really want to impress us that you are serious on "giving power back to people" then get onside with us for reforming the institutions of the Union so that the Parliament, the people's representatives, is the body that is in charge instead of the undemocratic cabal that is the Council of Ministers.

The European Union was not and is not the ANSWER to all problems, but it certainly makes it a whole lot easier for people to get along without a WAR if there is a club they can join that makes people richer and freer and happier.

British foreign policy shouldn't be ignoring everything that is FOREIGN. That does not mean surrendering to Europe, quite the reverse. There are so many things that we can bring to the European table. The new members from Eastern Europe have been among the first to realise that. If you would just stop being obstructive about everything, then we might be able to come up with a proper Liberal Free Trade agreement instead of the Common Agricultural Policy, or the Common Fisheries Piracy. But equally, there are things that we can learn from Europe. Their interest rates are CONSISTENTLY half those of the United Kingdom

And finally, you must give us a proper FAIR ELECTORAL SYSTEM. This is so that people's votes really actually count, and then you should hold a general election so that their votes are really actually counted!

We could not support the Conservatories in gaining power under the CURRENT system if they do not gain a majority, because you are not being honest about which Conservatory Party you really are. Caving in to your right wing over Grandma Schools like that makes all of us worry that you do not mean it when you claim to have changed, and we would be nervous of supporting a bloc that was really an old style Nasty Party in disguise.

But a new electoral system might change that, particularly one like STV where voters can choose which FLAVOUR of a party they prefer – NuLabour or Palaeolithic on the one fluffy foot, "Hello Trees Hello Flowers" Balloonists or Tombstone Conservatories on the other.

But even then Mr Balloon, you have to accept that we might choose to join up with Mr Frown. Or with a different party. Or with no one. Whoever we can get the best shared programme with. Because we are standing because we want to bring people LIBERAL DEMOCRAT polices, NOT just to make it look like you have FRIENDS.

Day 2362: Why I turned down a seat in the Cabinet!


Yes, it was ME!

Mr Frown phoned me up and said: "Uhh, Millennium, uhhh, all my uhhh colleagues in the uhhh Labour are useless uhhh beggers. You wouldn't uhhh consider being uhhh Home Secretary uhhh, would you?"

And I said "No, Mr Frown! I will not!"

Then he tried to bribe me with that seat in the House of Lords Club that I have always wanted, but no, not even to be called Lord Fluffyphant will I join the Labour!

Imagine how SHOCKED and DISAPPOINTED I was to discover that he has been CHATTING UP Sir Mr the Merciless, AND Captain Ashplant too!

What a SAUCY Secret Stalin he is!

But how did this story LEAK OUT?

People have pointed the fluffy foot of suspicion at Mr Frown himself, but would he REALLY go to the trouble? After all the Liberal Democrats are apparently THIRD on his big list of people he DESPISES.

(We are third behind Lord Blairimort, obviously, and everyone in the Labour who has ever crossed him. I am sorry, the words "who have ever crossed him" are redundant in that last sentence!)

But too many people already KNOW he is a SECRET STALIN. Everyone automatically suspects him when stories about his CONFIDENTIAL MEETINGS appear in the newspapers. And nobody trusts him when he says that he wants to be INCLUSIVE. Most people would rather be clutched to the BOSOM of a BOA CONSTRICTOR. If Boa Constrictors HAD bosoms, of course.

No, I detect the fluffy foot of a different party behind this… [pause for Poirot-esque dramatic moment]… the GRAUNIAD! It was YOU, Monsieur!

Remember, the Grauniad have their own agenda, which is basically similar to the Labour's agenda EXCEPT that where the Labour think that all wisdom flows from the party, the Grauniad thinks that all wisdom flows from the Grauniad.

As far as they are concerned, the Liberal Democrats are just being NAUGHTY by not uniting with the Labour in some nightmarish mish-mash of a "party of the Left". That is "Left" with a CAPITAL Grauniad. It does not seem to have occurred to them that the Liberal Democrats are NOT a party of the "Left", any more than we are a party of the "Right"!

This is why, even when they agree with ALL of our policies – and DISagree with all of Mr Frown's authoritarian warmongering and Magna-Carta-burning – they still say "oh, but we say you must vote for the Labour"!

Typically, they would rather see the Conservatories benefit than try to cope with the idea of a party that believes in Freedom rather than its place on some Marxist Dialectic wallchart.

This story helps the Conservatories to UNDERMINE us in the South: they get made up propaganda of the "Vote Liberal; Get Labour" flavour – even though Mr Balloon was trying to get us to join up with HIM for the London Mayor only a couple of months ago, sort of "Vote Merciless; Get Useless".

This story helps the Labour shore up their support in the North: they get to pretend that they are all INCLUSIVE again and Mr Frown DOESN'T alienate everyone who meets him, oooh no.

The only people this doesn't help is US!

So there is an important lesson here for Liberal Democrats too.

The important lesson to learn is that the Grauniad are NOT OUR FRIENDS!

Now, obviously it is a GREAT PITY that Mr Frown cannot find enough people left in the Labour to fill his cabinet with – after all, who REALLY wants to be picked as SECOND BEST Home Secretary after a cuddly toy? – but what we ought to say to Mr Frown is that we are VERY SORRY but we cannot consider a COALITION under the present circumstances.

There are THREE things that we need before we could even CONSIDER teaming up with the Labour:

First Mr Frown, you must stop being EVIL!

I know it seems like a big thing, but if you could just bring yourself to give up I.D.iot cards… and detention without trial… and the DNA database, and ASBOs and Hoodies… and secret rendition flights, and 3000 new crimes, and exemptions to Freedom of Information, and 81,000 people in prisons and… okay, it IS quite a big thing, but please STOP!

Second, Mr Frown, you are just going to have to stand up to the Monkey-in-Chief and tell him you are going to BRING OUR TROOPS HOME.

The Liberal Democrats thought that Lord Blairimort's Middle Eastern Adventure was WRONG from the get go, while you appear to have quietly GONE ALONG WITH it, signing the cheques from behind the scenes. Well, if we are going to get along, you are going to have to draw a line and put that behind you.

The invasion of Iraq was not and is not the CAUSE of terrorism, but it certainly makes it a whole lot easier for terrorists to go about their DASTARDLY business if you leave lots of people (who might otherwise not turn a blind eye) with the distinct belief that WE are the BADDIES.

British foreign policy should be decided in BRITAIN. Working WITH our European Partners, yes; acting within International Law, Yes; playing our part in the United Nations, YES! But NOT just taking orders from Washington.

That does not mean turning our backs on America, but there are MORE Americans than just their current and quite probably not for very much longer President. The Monkey-in-Chief has recently achieved a WORLD RECORD LOW in approval ratings – do you REALLY want us to be the LAST people on Earth supporting his administration, when even the American RIGHT has dropped him?

And finally, you must give us a proper FAIR ELECTORAL SYSTEM. This is so that people's votes really actually count, and then you should hold a general election so that their votes are really actually counted!

We could not support the Labour remaining in power under the CURRENT system if they loose their majority, because obviously they would have been rejected by the British public and it would be DAFT of us to put them back in again, even if the alternative is to let Mr Balloon drive the country round and round in circles for a bit while he tries to sort out the contradictions in his own party.

But a new electoral system might change that, particularly one like STV where voters can choose which FLAVOUR of a party they prefer – NuLabour or Palaeolithic on the one fluffy foot, "Hello Trees Hello Flowers" Balloonists or Tombstone Conservatories on the other.

But even then Mr Frown, you have to accept that we might choose to join up with Mr Balloon. Or with a different party. Or with no one. Whoever we can get the best shared programme with. Because we are standing because we want to bring people LIBERAL DEMOCRAT polices, NOT just to make it look like you have FRIENDS.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Day 2361: How not to launch a policy (part deux)


Last week, Mr James told us how we'd made a mess of announcing our new Liberal housing policy.

Well, let us see what we can do with our latest tax proposals

The Liberal Democrat Tax commission has had another think and come up with some MORE interesting ideas for liberating people from the burden of TAX.

We can give LOADS more people the opportunity to create wealth by reducing the burden of Income Tax, and we can fund this by closing some of the LOOPHOLES that so-called "prudent" Mr Frown has set up for gazillionaires to buy houses though offshore trusts so they don't pay UK taxes.

So how does Mr Power Cable try to sell this when he's on the radio this morning?

"It's just not fair that these rich people don't pay tax."

Oh, Mr Power Cable! Way to sound like Mr Whinger!

Of COURSE it's not fair – that is why it is FAIR GAME for us to say that we should take away tax perks from the very rich few in order to reduce the tax burden for the not so well off rest of us. But there is no need to pitch it like squeezing the rich is the AIM of the policy.

We should be selling this as a GREAT OPPORTUNITY for EVERYONE, we can CUT YOUR TAXES – and don't worry: we’re doing it in a way that is fair to everyone, unlike Mr Frown who cuts taxes by raising them for the worst off or Mr Balloon who cuts taxes by… well actually he promises not to, if you can believe him.

Go back to your calculator and work out some figures – how much money does closing these loopholes raise? How much can we raise the basic allowance by with that money? How much does that mean IN THE POCKET of the average family?

If you can raise more than £6 billion from ending these perks, then that's more than a penny off the basic rate of income tax. And we ought to say so!

He should have had a better answer: "Of course we are not against wealth creation; we just want to give the opportunity to a lot MORE people. Think of all the wealth THAT would create!"

Day 2360: Mr Balloon puts a Brave Dave Face on things


"If you want something done properly, kill Gideon Osborne
Baldrick before you start."

- Mr Edmund Blackadder, "Dish and

Right, just so we are ABSOLUTELY clear on this, the Conservatories are NOT the "Heirs to Blair" and anyone who said that would be TOTALLY STUPID.

(Until the next time Mr Balloon changes his mind again.)

In case you did not see it, Mr Balloon performed this week's relaunch on Monday, but do not worry – like "Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps" on BBC3 it will be round again before you've had time to miss it.

He's been having a bit of a time again recently, what with the Labour actually coming back in the opinion polls and the news that the Conservatory Party is SPLIT down the middle between the ones who HATE him and the ones who LOATHE him.

It is TRUE that the Conservatories have gone out on a limb choosing their leader. It just happens to be a FAR RIGHT one.

In this recent poll for Channel 4 News, the public felt that on a scale of very left wing to very right wing, Mr Balloon was the leader FURTHEST from the centre ground on +33 to the right.

Obviously that is very FRUSTRATING for the rest of the Conservatories since at +52 they have fallen off the far right edge!

(Sir Mr the Merciless at -15 was closest to the position that the public felt themselves to be.)

So it was time for another go at the "We're NEW too!" show, or as the Labour's Hazel Bleary puts it "Save the Dave!"

Mr Balloon wanted to make it clear that the next election will be a CLASH of IDEAS between the old, authoritarian party of centralisation and state control under Mr Frown and the vibrant, young party of freedom, hope and the environment under SIR MR THE MERCILESS…

Hang on, why was he giving this speech?

Actually, he was being even more SCHIZOPHRENIC than usual, since he has to keep up the Liberal Conservatory front while keeping the Tombstone Conservatories at bay.

He chose to begin by outlining his achievements so far:

"Nine hundred more councillors this year.

"Breaking through in the north of England.

"A 40% party once again."

SORRY, I have typed that bit down WRONG:

"Nine hundred YEAR-OLD councillors this year.

"Breaking DOWN in the north of England.

"A 40% TAX-RATE party once again."

Then he had a go at Mr Frown's SECRET STALIN control freak tendencies:

"Under Gordon Brown all we'll get is "he knows best" politics", said Mr Balloon. "That's right! Under me, the Conservatories will give you "WE DON'T KNOW AT ALL" politics!"

He followed that up with reminder of his "why we have no policies" excuse, the playschool-level BUILD A HOUSE metaphor: first you clear the ground (i.e. knock down all your EXISTING policies), then you lay the "philosophical" foundations… (or in Mr Balloon's case foundation. Singular.)

You know, I may be being a bit old fashioned here but, to me, ONE jolly wheeze – no matter HOW jolly it is – does not a PHILOSOPHY make.

Mr Balloon's solitary BIG IDEA, which used to be called "The Responsibility Revolution" but is currently referred to as "Social Responsibility" (subject to focus group testing/wind direction), is to pass the buck to invite contributions from Charities and local community action groups.

"There IS such a thing as society," announced Mr B, "it's just NOT MY FAULT!"

Anyway, once you've cleared the ground and laid the foundation, then you leave it to someone else to put up the walls while you nip off back to the country pile you inherited from daddy.

(Er, I'm not sure THAT's right, either!)

Mr Balloon went on to knit himself a flag out of all those NEW and MODERN Conservatory themes: national security, money, crime, the police, money, terrorism, money and the family. And money.

It is a bit STRANGE but if you ignore all the "we're new, we're new" rhetoric, it is almost like there is some HIDDEN MESSAGE for a different audience from the rest of us.

Finally, just to prove what a LISTENING politician he is, he showed that he had been LISTENING to all of the Labour MUPPETS who promised that they would be LISTENING to us too:

"We will soon be launching Stand Up, Speak Up - a chance for everyone in this country to get involved in shaping the next Conservative manifesto."

So NOT "The Big Conversation" at all then.

He finished with a rousing promise that he was NOT copying Lord Blairimort at all:

"I shall be TOUGH on copying NuLabour, tough on the CAUSES of copying NuLabour!" he said.


Fans of Mr Boy George Oboe will find Mr Nick Assinder is very worth reading: from here on Wednesday the 30th of May to here for the Monday the 18th June entry in the Commons Confidential.

Day 2359: Lord Hesselswine's New Night-Mayor


Far be it for me to suggest that there is a touch of the MEGALOMANIAC about him, but the man who once restyled himself "President of the Board of Trade" rather than just being another minister has now come up with a plan to vest all local authority power in the hands of a single individual.

Yes, this is the Lord Hesselswine and his scheme to create super-mayors, presumably by exposing our local government to GAMMA RADIATION… er, no sorry. He wants them to have all sorts of powers, but probably not including FLIGHT!

Some Liberal Democrats, like our own Mayoral Candidate Mr Hugs, think that elected mayors are a good idea. But you always run the risk of some MAVERICK mayor going charging off on whatever crazy crusade strikes them. Like our own Mayoral Candidate… er… bless him.

The BIG problem with an elected mayor is that it is a WINNER-TAKES-ALL competition. That does not allow for a proportional outcome and means that many, and usually most, people will end up feeling that their voice is not being listened to.

There is no incentive to COMPROMISE, to work for cross-party agreements that would see benefits all round, or at least knock the rough edges off some of the more bonkers extreme proposals.

Here in London, our own BELOVED Mayor demonstrates the dangers.

The opportunity for grandstanding and political stunts is HUGE when the Mayor is unfettered by any proper control or need to get along with opposing points of view.

Even the threat of facing re-election holds little power to control him when it is awfully difficult to see how anyone else could manage to win in London. Particularly with the electoral system that the Labour put in.

And if you look at the MATHS there will be other places where it is IMPOSSIBLE to get elected if you are not (a) a Conservatory Squire or (b) a Labour Red Baron. It is this sort of entrenching of ROTTEN BOROUGH type permanent "elected" dictatorship that made people DISILLUSIONED with local politics in the first place and gave governments of either stripe the excuse to shut them down.

Lord Hessleswine is quite RIGHT that Central Government has stolen many of the powers that should be exercised by local government and Regional Development Boards and other QUANGOS control millions of pounds of spending money with little or no proper democratic oversight. But simply handing over all that power and money to a despot with arbitrary authority is not a whole lot better.

Mr Balloon said: "A city, like a nation, needs a single individual at the top…"

You would have thought that after ten years of POP-EYED PRESIDENTIAL government from Lord Blairimort and, before that, eleven years of MONARCHICAL MONOMANIA from "Queen" Margaret he'd have had enough of the FŰHRER PRINCIP by now.

We could all do with something a little bit more collegiate. (And a little bit less overwrought!)

You might even – I know this is a radical idea – think about ASKING people if they want an elected super-mayor. Of course, when they WERE asked, 22 out of 34 areas said NO THANK YOU.

We need to make local government MATTER to people, and that means INVOLVING people not dominating them.

Day 2357: Sir Mr the Merciless Million Mansion Mission


Mr Colin (and the BBC) tell us that Sir Mr the Merciless has a new plan to build a MILLION houses.

Some people, like Mr Dale Winton, have suggested that this is DANGEROUS MADNESS. But I remember that DOCTOR WHO was working on a building site when he got the news that he had been cast as TOM BAKER, and HE is over 700 years old, so this proves Sir Mr the Merciless is certainly not past it, if he want to go out and start building!

We all know that house prices are out of control. They have probably DOUBLED since I started writing this sentence, young families are having to promise the eternal servitude and of their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren in order to get a starter mortgage.

Huge debts make people vulnerable to interest rate movements

when even small rises can be cripplingly expensive, and do not even THINK about getting a new job if it means moving house, particularly if you are a nurse, teacher, fireperson, police person or any other worker BASICALLY VITAL for the community.

Now, if I have this right, this HUGE problem in the housing market is because it is not a proper FREE MARKET! Prices are HIGH because there is a lot of DEMAND but not enough SUPPLY. This ought to have people rushing to build new houses while they can get a good price for them – which would increase the supply and prices would go back to normal. But instead there is a LOGJAM in the form of PLANNING.

Local Councils are responsible for making decisions about who gets planning permission.

Someone in the government TELLS them what houses they need to build – it used to be the Minister for Magical Accidents, but now it is the Minister for Setting Community Against Community, Mr Ruth Kelly – but it is the council who have to decide.

This means that they have to take the FLAK for agreeing to turn meadows into maisonettes and estuaries into council estates. But the BENEFIT – the capital gains tax that the lucky farmers pay when their fields gain that planning permission – that benefit by-passes the council and goes straight to Mr Frown in his treasury lair.

Oddly enough, this makes the council drag its feet over implementing schemes that will only cause it grief.

There are BIG BUCKS involved here. Especially in BUCKS. And HERTS, and other counties in the southeast. Planning permission to turn agricultural land (average value £7 thousand a hectare) into residential (average value £3 MILLION a hectare) is obviously worth squillions.

Well now clever Mr Tim Leunig has come up with a policy proposal that will allow the local councils to SHARE in the profits to be made from turning unused land into much needed housing.

Basically, the idea is to let the council be the middle man – people with land that they WANT to sell for development can offer it to the council at the price of THEIR OWN CHOICE. Mr Leunig suggests that they might ask for something like five times what it is worth as it is without planning permission. Then, the council can pick the bits of land that are in the best place at the best price for them and the people they represent. The council buys the land and sells it on to the developers who want to build houses. The land owner makes a profit, the council makes a profit and the developer makes a profit. Even Mr Frown still gets some tax.

The council can then COMPENSATE local people for the change to their town or village by building new facilities or lowering their taxes.

It is still not perfect – for example the Man from the Ministry STILL decides how much housing the council OUGHT to be building – but it is A GOOD BIT FAIRER.

So obviously Conservatory Mr Dale Winton calls the scheme "Madcap"!

He thinks that it is OUTRAGEOUS that the land owner should NOT GET ALL of the millions of pounds of profits.

Hmm. If you call selling your land at "only" FIVE TIMES its current value a "knockdown" price then clearly YOU have been knocked down by a car and woken up in the GREED IS GOOD part of the Eighties, Mr Winton!

Of course it is not quite a 42,000% profit, but where I come from, a 400% is still considered QUITE DECENT.

Mind you, I suppose we should not be surprised at a Conservatory panicking at the sight of an actual policy.

The planning laws clearly need some looking at. Councils need SOME powers in order to protect local citizens from rich and powerful developers riding roughshod over their rights to enjoy where they live, but too many of those powers have been SNAFFLED by central government as part of the Labour's COMMAND ECONOMY approach, and it is time to give some freedom BACK.

For some other Liberal perspectives on this:

The Norfolk Blogger didn't like it

The Clowns to the left of me had a couple of questions

While Mr James thinks the policy could have been better launched.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Day 2358: DOCTOR WHO: Utopia


I have ORDERED Daddy Richard to write a review of the latest Doctor Who. I said:

“I AM the Millennium Elephant, and you will OBEY me!”

And it worked!

I am thinking of asking for STICKY BUNS next…
One and one and one make three

My bad, bad angel put the devil in me.

Think about the foreshadowing!

To my exceptional delight, no sooner was the episode over than I was phoned up by my niece and nephew with a whole list of questions. They’ve finally been captured by the new series and their whole family had watched last night enraptured. Afterwards, they wanted to know how many Doctors (10), how many companions (33 or 34… ish), and – leaving even me reeling – how many baddies has the Doctor defeated (er, at least a million Daleks and then some…). Being thoroughly wicked uncles, we had already provided them ages ago with much Tom Baker on video, and so we sent them off to watch “The Deadly Assassin” as homework on the Master.

Yes, in the series’ worst-kept secret since, er, last year, the Doctor’s evil arch-rival has returned. This in spite of his last appearance in the series, the 1996 feature-length story with Paul McGann, seeing him disappear down the business end of a black hole. Ah well, it’s not like being thoroughly killed has ever stopped him before. (See also “Castrovalva”, “Planet of Fire” and the rest.)

More testing for the continuity cops, perhaps, is that he seems to have recovered the ability to regenerate. The Master having used up all his lives in various schemes has been a keystone of the character for almost as long as he’s been in the series, with many of his key stories hinging on his desperation to achieve more longevity.

The regeneration itself – as well as obviously being a reference to the Eccleston-to-Tennant regeneration (but done right, if you want to be unkind: the morph is far superior and the visual effects on the Master’s eyes are terrifyingly good) – also reminded me of David A McIntee’s New Adventure “First Frontier”. That story sees the Master, in the version as played by Anthony Ainley, shot in the chest by Ace only to tumble backwards into his own TARDIS and regenerate.

The Master’s regeneration seems to need the TARDIS too, which is getting back to some of the classic series basics of regeneration being “a part of the TARDIS. Without it I couldn’t survive.” Perhaps the explanation for how he can do it at all is that he’s stolen one of the Doctor’s!

Sir Derek Jacobi’s dual role as first Professor Yana and then the resurrected Master is completely compelling. Masterful, even, and you can say that almost without irony. It’s not his first time in Doctor Who, of course, having previously been a sort-of-alternative Doctor for Big Finish’s Unbound series, and having previously realised the Master in “Scream of the Shalka”. In fact, there’s enough about this episode to make you wonder if they want to re-canonise “Shalka”.

However, more than either of these “Utopia” reminded me of Joe Lidster’s Big Finish story “Master” wherein the Doctor does a deal with Death to see the Master turned into a human, and as a human he is a good man until he rediscovers his true self. Sound familiar?

The marvellous thing about Yana is the way that even though he’s a person in his own right, little bits of the Master still bleed though, just as little touches of the Doctor bled though into John Smith. There’s a moment when he says, almost wistfully, that some admiration would have been nice: his finger there on the key flaw in the Master’s personality. And the Master’s propinquity for ludicrous word play comes out in that – I’m sorry – impossibly acronymic name.

Lawrence Miles – yes, I know he’s always cropping up in my reviews – in his novel “The Adventuress of Henrietta Street” had the Master in conversation with the Doctor say “whatever you do, I do the opposite”.

Mind you, Lawrence also cast the Master as “The War King”, Gallifrey’s wartime leader against “the enemy”, which is about as diametrically opposite to Russell’s reading as you can get.

Faced with the Time War, Russell has the Master run away.

Recall this exchange from “Doomsday”:

Dalek Sec: “How did you survive?”

The Doctor: “By fighting on the front line… but what about you lot, you ran away and hid!”

Young Tim Latimer made the same choice in “Human Nature”: if you’re good and the battle really matters, you have to go and fight, because that’s the only way for good to survive. But the evil ones run away and hide.

The irony is that the Master has chosen to disguise himself as the Doctor. Actually, if you have travelled to the end of time to hide from the Time War then setting yourself up like this is a reasonably sensible fall back position, since there’s always the chance that if the Daleks find you they’ll think “oh no! It’s the Doctor! Scarper, Scarper! Scarper!”

Interestingly, when it comes to becoming human, the Doctor and the Master both chose to become what they really want: the Doctor gets an “ordinary life”, living day by day, the one adventure he can never have; the Master becomes the Doctor. (Although, as Alex points out, he can’t resist giving himself a title that is one better.)

On the other hand, the one thing that the Doctor has which the Master hasn’t – and again we turn to the dying words of the Face of Boe from billion of years in the future/trillions of years in the past depending on perspective – the Doctor is not alone, while by his very nature, the Master is. The fact that he’s congenitally incapable of trusting anyone in the way that the Doctor trusted Martha in “Human Nature” meant that he spent almost a lifetime as a human and very nearly died of it.

The Doctor surrounds himself with brilliant vibrant people because he loves life, and humans in particular – Russell is always quoting from “The Ark in Space”, and does so again in “Utopia”, describing humans as “indomitable, indomitable”.

The Professor even has his own companion: last-of-her-kind Chantho. She’s a brilliantly played little character in herself, a little reminiscent of Dr Sato from “Aliens of London” if not from Torchwood, and with a wonderfully alive prosthetic – I thought the movement of the antenna/mandibles was much more credible than, say, Dalek Sec’s twitching tentacles. I wonder if her insect nature is another nod to “The Ark in Space”, but this time inverting the alien-as-monster, with girly giggles and a crush on the Professor.

And the very first thing that the Master does is to commit genocide, by killing her.

His twisted contempt for the character that he was and the companion that he befriended climaxes in that perfectly delivered hoarse whisper of: “I am the Master!”

Of course, brilliant companions can sometimes be a double-edged sword, as when Ace tipped Fenric off to the Doctor’s winning move, or here where it is Martha’s insight that breaks the perception filter and frees the Master from the chameleon arch fob watch.

Ahh, the fob watch – that was one hell of a surprise when dear old sweet Professor Yana pulled that out of his pocket. I’d previously seen “Human Nature” as the backbone of this season, but I’d never guessed that it was actually being used as the cleverest foreshadowing of them all. What really ices the cake is that Martha thinks that this is brilliant news, that she’s found another Time Lord so the Doctor doesn’t have to be alone forever, she thinks she’s solved the Face of Boe’s riddle, but everyone in the entire country is screaming at the screen: “don’t open the watch!!!”

The watch, with its whispering voices (how we thrilled to hear Ainley’s chuckle and Delgado’s voice) and its “keep me secret, keep me safe” still reminds me of the ring of power from (particularly the movie of) “The Lord of the Rings”.

And this allows Russell to subtly rework the injunction against staring into the Time Vortex. It’s not because it would be too dangerous, but it would be too powerful. Like Gandalf refusing to take the One Ring, the Doctor believes that any Time Lord gaining that much power would become a terrible and vengeful god. Rose was protected by her human nature. Like Frodo the Hobbit, it was her smallness that made the enormous power bearable, for a little while.

Perhaps this is one of those things that only the Doctor knows, though, but you would have to ask yourself, why wouldn’t the Master be first to stare into the Vortex then.

Actually, much good use is made of the Master’s stare, with Jacobi getting several straight to camera moments. Particularly fine is the Master’s moment of awakening standing in front of the TARDIS and turning to face us, where the lighting makes it look like his eyes have turned almost entirely black, and, oh, a good few hours before this was the centrepiece of Steven Moffat’s new Jekyll.

But then having hired Derek Jacobi, perhaps the single most traditional choice possible, to play the Master – and play him brilliantly – for all of about a minute, what a startling and different direction to get John Simm. Yes, obviously he’s one of Britain’s best actors today but completely different to the suave and focussed model as exemplified by the original Master, Roger Delgado. And yet his manic, dare I say Tennant-like performance, skipping and dancing around the TARDIS console and, again, very reminiscent of Tennant’s own “New teeth, that’s weird” introduction also seem to be going back to the origin of the character as the Doctor’s equal but opposite. In Barry Letts’ Buddhist era of Doctor Who, the Doctor and the Master were in many ways the same person, and had Roger Delgado not died tragically, their final confrontation would have seen them re-combined.

Fortunately, we were spared that perhaps too-mystic mumbo jumbo of an explanation (at least until the Valeyard turned up).

So instead, we’re promised a clash of titans between two ancient and fey beings, yet wearing the bodies of vibrant, energetic young men.

And yet, to show the playfulness of this series, the connectedness to its core family audience, the Doctor and the Master reduce their conflict to the level of five-year-olds! The Doctor’s final appeal to his foe is: “I’m asking you properly,” and the Master’s reply: “Tough!” both pitched like a playground fight between rival siblings.

Of course, deliciously fourth-wall as it may have been for the Master to taunt the Doctor with “let’s have a cosy chat, and I’ll tell you all my plans so you can work out how to defeat me. I don’t think!” the Doctor should have had the come back: “I don’t need you to tell me – you always have the same plan, team up with an alien menace who then betray you, you moron.”

(And looking at the trailer for Next Time on “Master Who” staring John Simm, it turns out to be the bloody Megara!)

“Utopia” also saw the welcome return of old friends. One of the few directors who can say “oh I’ve handled regenerations before” is Doctor Who veteran Graeme Harper. “Ooh, this will be all slow and sedate,” remarked Alex ironically, as the episode takes off like a rocket. It is Russell T Davies’ genius to make what is essentially quite a talky episode never seem like info-dump, but you’ve also got to credit Harper with keeping everything so up-tempo that none of it ever seems static. Not only does he present his famous fluid camera work, but he’s always discovering new ways to present simple shots: consider the Doctor’s conversation with Jack through the red-filtered window; or the “moment of realisation” as he cuts from Jacobi as doomed Yana opening the watch to Tennant as the Doctor’s dawning horror is realised.

There was also a return for the piece of adventure music that Murray Gold has been using this season, first heard in the season trailer, but Alex and I have come to call it “Dance of the Macra” in honour of its first full use in the episode “Gridlock”. This was a particularly aggressive evolution, all whah-whah guitars and invading Futurekind and the thundering thundering of the drums. It was also lovely to hear just a bit of the Torchwood theme (it’s from “Army of Ghosts” protests one of the young Fear Factorers when challenged on how he recognises it!) to remind us of Captain Jack’s holiday job. But the real musical coup was the sound of drums in Yana’s head, a repetitive ba-da-da-dhum ba-da-da-dhum which later returns in cacophonous strings in the console room. Recognisable to any child in the playground, it’s the “evil” version of the Doctor Who theme – the last time that we heard that done was for “The Evil of the Daleks”.

But of course, it was the well-deserved appearance of John Barrowman’s name in the titles that raised a huge cheer in this household. Surely, that must confirm him in “companion” status. (Our list includes him, along with the traditional-but-questionable ones Katarina and Sara Kingdom, but with a question-mark over the Brigadier and another over Mickey Smith. Interestingly, one of us counted the two K-9’s as separate companions but only one Romana, while the other counted the tin dog only once, but gave Romana 1 and Romana 2 separate status. But I digress…) Not only was it marvellous to see John back on Doctor Who, but how good was it to have Captain Jack back. The real Captain Jack, not that misery-guts with his face who appeared in “Torchwood”. Seeing him running across a quarry with a great big grin on his face yelling “oh I’ve missed this!” we didn’t half agree with him.

The Doctor’s reaction to Jack’s return is interesting and startling. There is certainly a case for saying that it is the Doctor’s own prejudice that is the trigger for these events: his eagerness to be away and the symbiotic TARDIS’s reaction to Jack clinging to the outside between them carry them away to where the real incarnation of the Doctor’s dark side can be found.

It’s possible that someone has had a word with Russell about the unlikeliness of humans remaining in the same form billions of years in the future. Here (now trillions of years in the future!) he throws in some off-hand remarks about evolution always bringing us back to the same basic form, which is at least a little more plausible. Nice to mention in passing that we spend a few million years as downloads and a few more as clouds of gas along the way – and the latter presents an unexpected possible origin of the Family of Blood.

Speaking of human evolution, the origin of the “Futurekind” was left unexplained, but Professor Yana’s description of them as “what we will become”, highlighted in the trailer, might have smacked a little of Terry Nation’s old, old idea of evolution following inevitable paths (I remember Servalan has an almost identical line in the Blake’s Seven episode “Terminal”). Equally, though, it could be a nod to “Frontios” where the human colonists, already under siege from the planet, threaten to splinter into a civil war between those who remain loyal to the colony and those who have gone renegade, feral.

They are really another symptom of the unravelling universe. Just as humans have returned to our traditional humanoid form – de-evolving from clouds and downloads and whatever else – so these creatures show the dissolution of civilisation into tribal and animal behaviours.

It’s an unusually downbeat future from Russell T Davies.

Even by the end of the Universe, we never actually get to Utopia, which would possibly be an interesting metaphor for unattainable Heavens on Earth. However, I suspect that this plot thread was left deliberately dangling for the future… the Master did remember to steal the map to Utopia. Our friend Stephen suggests the alternative reading that this is him pulling the guidance for the humans’ rocket ship out of pure spite, but for me it’s reminiscent of him trying to discover the location of eponymous Logopolis in the last Tom Baker story.

So, “Utopia” turned out to be part one of a three-parter, a well-kept secret until “Totally Doctor Who” blabbed it the day before. It comes in the classic Robert Holmes model of 2+4 parts (allowing for the new series double-length episodes), where the story continues but there is a major shift in location to raise the interest levels. A story like, say, “The Seeds of Doom” spends two episodes in the wilderness of Antarctica before returning to the creepy confines of a very English megalomaniac’s country pile. Similarly, here we are at the end of time for part one but you can bet the battle will be joined in the 21st Century for the final showdown (this year, anyway) between the Doctor and his Master.

Next time… somehow I don’t think it’s the Liberal Democrats sweeping to power in the General Election. Vote Saxon! “The Sound of Drums”

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Day 2356: Muppet Show


As Mr Frown's search for some idiot to be his Apprentice draws to a close, the six remaining candidates appeared on Questionable Time to try and explain why anyone should care which of them wins.

Since Mr Balloon has described them as MUPPETS (and to be fair, Lord Blairimort was RIGHT when he said that's a BIT RICH coming from Mr Balloon!) I thought I would try and identify WHICH Muppet was WHICH!

Mr Benny Hill: people have said that he is like Sam the All-American Eagle – austere, aloof, obsessional. This is nonsense; he is none of those things. I watched him bobble backwards and forwards and from side to side, flapping his head and his hands and doing a poor-man's impression of his DAD. Clearly his main characteristics are (a) he does not realise everyone thinks he's a joke (b) he does not realise that he is an ALIEN. Muppet rating: GONZO THE GREAT.

Ms Hazel Bleary: wide-eyed and as insanely chirpy as you can get without having a CUCKOO actually pop out of your forehead, sitting next to GONZO only reinforced the OBVIOUS stereotype. Quite how anyone can believe that what the public want after ten years of the Labour is the same but MORE SO completely eludes me, but she certainly looks keen to put Mr Benny in a spangley leotard and launch him from a cannon pointed at the audience. Muppet rating: ESMERALDA the CHICKEN.

Mr I'm Sorry I've Forgotten Who You Are [R: John Cruddas] No, it's gone again: probably ought to be one of those two in the Electric Mayhem Orchestra that no one remembers, not Dr Teeth, Sax-man Zoot or Animal, the other two. Having said that, neither lead-guitar Janice nor bassist Floyd really has that air of self-satisfied spiv about them. Seems to be trying to sell under-the-counter Old Labour policies. Muppet rating: RIZO the RAT.

Mr Alan Johnson: indulgent smile, affable nature, gives the impression that he knows that the unions will stitch it up for him and can afford to look generous. Muppet rating: Frank Sinatra looky-likey JOHNNY FIAMA (NOT an anagram of Mafia, hoooo no).

Mr Peter Vain: self-styled prima-donna, making a living off the achievements of others, who no one quite dares to tell just how ridiculous they really are. Too much make-up. Muppet rating: obviously MISS PIGGY.

Ms Harriet Harpic: clean round the bend. She places all her emphasis on being best chums with Mr Frown. But not his patsy. And a woman. But not his patsy. And she comes from the South which will compliment the fact that he comes from the north.[*] Seems too much to concentrate on qualifications based on who she IS, rather than what she can DO. Muppet rating: incompetent gopher but uncle owns the theatre, SCOOTER.

[*] actually, Ms Harpic seems to be saying that Mr Frown's best Apprentice would be EVIL KATIE from "The Apprentice". Which is handy, because she happens to be AVAILABLE.

Having said all that though, actually watching the show I began to realise that for all of their differences they actually all sound the same:

  • No return to Old Labour
  • Time to move on from Iraq
  • We must be a listening government (shut up, WE're talking!)
  • Ooh, I can't think of ANY of our legislation that we should repeal
  • Haven't we done WELL.
By the end of the show, I realised that in fact none of them HAVE as much individual personality as ANY of the Muppets above. So in fact they are all THE AMAZING MUSICAL MUPPAPHONES, identical coloured gonks who squeak when clubbed.

Which kind of makes Mr Frown MARVIN SUGGS, the man with the mallet. And that fits.


Mr Balloon is a bit of a MUPPET himself of course. Let me see – talks with funny accent, flaps hands about, flails around losing control of his kitchen/cabinet, known to holiday in Norway, never produces an actual result… Muppet rating: clearly he's the SWEDISH CHEF!

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