...a blog by Richard Flowers

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Day 2949: Clogg – The Crisis in the Economy IS a Crisis in our Politics


We enter the Portcullis House of Her Majesty’s newly-renamed Cashpoint Fortress of Westminster, where Daddy Richard’s civil liberties are again slapped in the face and his face is slapped all over the LASER DISPLAY MONITOR of the new security system, so that his digital identity can be recorded in yet another Government DATABASE*, there to be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, referenced, cross-referenced, sold to the highest bidder, sent to the lowest common denominator, and ultimately lost on a government memory-stick on a train somewhere between Paddington and Swansea.

Appropriately, we were there to hear Mr Clogg address Charter 88 (now Unlock Democracy) for their 20th anniversary get-together.

Mr Clogg's Charter
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Introduced by Baroness Helena Kennedy, styling herself a “Liberal Socialist”, and with a reply from Dame Ferdinand Mount, bigging up Mr Balloon’s PR pose as a “Liberal Conservatory”, Mr Clogg spoke for quarter of an hour about the INTERTWINE-ED-NESS of Great Britain’s current economic crisis and the wretched state of Great Britain’s political settlement.

He began with an apology, an apology because of his pessimism about our current situation in spite of all the achievements that Charter 88 has, er, achieved: the Human Rights Act (under pressure as it is); Freedom of Information (much a the Government tries to twist its way out of it); Devolution to Scotland and Wales (well that seems to have worked out). Mr Clogg praised them for their stubbornness, their resilience, their sense of purpose, their sense of mission.

But, he said, for all the steps forward there had been too many steps back.

The mass CRIMINALISATION of our society, with Hard Labour Government making on average another TWO things illegal EVERY SINGLE DAY.

The lopsided, partial, unfair electoral system that gives untrammelled unaccountable power to a Government with the support of less than a quarter of the eligible voters.

And the advance of the surveillance state, the DNA databases and I.D.iot card schemes that no one ever asked for and that even this week the Government is looking to allow further pooling of data in spite of their notorious inability to keep it secure.

The opening sentence of the 1988 Charter, “We have had less freedom than we believed”, is truer now than in 1988, he said.

But what are we doing worry about “the constitution” when there’s an ECONOMIC DISASTER overwhelming us!

Well, says Mr Clogg, the manner in which we have MISMANAGED the economy is DIRECTLY linked to the way that we have conducted our politics.

The “Winner takes All” culture leads directly to “Boom and Bust”. The system that gives the government an unrepresentative majority allows it to BLUNDER ON without accountability or proper oversight or the need to listen to voices like Mr Dr Vince “the Power” Cable so that it is BOUND to make STUPID decisions. And a centralised, over-mighty executive is more susceptible to being captured by VESTED INTERESTS, like the way that the City of London has ruled the British Governments of either colour for the last TWENTY YEARS.

(Do you see how he tied that in to the Charter ’88 anniversary there!)

This is a crisis that rests on the POWERLESSNESS of the British people. The self same complaints, voiced by the people who talked to Baroness Helena on the Power Commission, the same anger, the same fury even about the way they are left out of decision making by politicians could be said about the way that the banking system didn’t hold the people in charge to account and let them spiral right OUT OF CONTROL.


Every crisis is seen as an opportunity by the extremists, the populists, the xenophobes and the bigots, thriving on people’s fear and offering the quick and easy-seeming answers, assigning blame rather than taking action, advocating insularity that (as we saw in the Great Depression) makes matters WORSE not better.

Fortunately, there is a “but”!

Dame Ferdinand, in replying, quoted LENIN (typical Conservatory!) saying Mr Clogg had “pessimism of the intellect, but optimism of the will”.

“But” said Mr Clogg, the very crisis that exists ALLOWS us to think the radical things, to consider the impossible. As we nationalise banks willy-nilly, as we hand out billions to the car industry, as we RE-WRITE the whole way that Capitalism works… let us take the opportunity to re-write the way we do politics as well.

And these things go fluffy-foot in fluffy-foot!

As we bring greater accountability to Government, we can reform the City of London.

As we introduce fair elections so everyone has an equal voice, not just the vested interests, we can design an economy that caters for the needs of everyone, not just the best off.

As we open up Government to supervision by its citizens, and roll back the intrusive, unwanted surveillance state, we can open up companies to greater participation by their employees, and free the innovative spirit of Britain.

And as we make the MUCH-NEEDED reform to the House of Commoners and House of Lords Club, we can reform the short-termism of the “get rich quick” “something for nothing” culture and invest for a sustainable, prosperous, green future.

*Government efficiency being what it is, we expect that the database in question is either NHS Connecting for Health or ContactPoint.
Mr Clogg also said that Unlock Democracy nee Charter ’88 should continue to badger, hector and embarrass politicians into working together. He said he had started his leadership by trying it: he wrote to Mr Frown and Mr Balloon about the possibility of organising a Constitutional Convention.

Mr Frown, he said, brushed him off saying: “all my reforms are perfect already”

Mr Balloon, though, was enthusiastic: “yes, yes, yes, let’s gang up on Gordon”

But then Mr Clogg spotted Conservatory Mr Davis David in the audience...

Politicians working together
(yes that
IS Mr Davis David)
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...and Mr Clogg welcomed his presence as a sign that politicians could work together to fix politics!


Monday, January 26, 2009

Day 2946: DOCTOR WHO: Rose


With no PROPER series of Doctor Who on the telly this year, I had already decided that I would be getting Daddy Richard to go back and write reviews of all the stories that he missed out (because I hadn't started writing my diary yet!) when what should come along but The Doctor Who DVD files*.

Part one takes back to the very first adventure (well since I arrived, anyhoo) where Mr Dr Chris met Ms Billie Piper and everything changed!

The first thing to say about "Rose" is that it was and remains a cracking piece of television.

It's all but impossible to review this "as if it was on the night". We know now what we didn’t then, that the series would be a huge success, reshaping the whole idea of modern television, spawning a slew of imitators ("Robin Hood", "Primeval", "Merlin", "Demons") none of which can quite get the mix right in the way that "Rose" and all the Doctor Who that followed has done.

And yet, even standing on its own, "Rose" is really good. The pace is astronomical: never mind the time-travelling alien, we learn about Rose's whole life, her mother, her boyfriend, the inadequacies of her relationship, her unsatisfying life… and that's all in five minutes without dialogue.

In 1996, Paul McGann starred as the Doctor in what has come to be known as "the TV movie", or "Enemy Within" or "Grace 1999" though we prefer to call it "Time Waits for No Man" (which, at least, was on all of the advertising). As a "back door pilot", and an attempt to relaunch "Doctor Who" for a new audience, it did just about everything possible wrong: we start with the Doctor (the unknowable alien) as our central figure; we start inside the TARDIS (the impossible space-time craft) we start, in other words, just about as far away as possible from anything that might be recognised as the "real world", whatever that might be!

(And that's without mentioning the great galloping mouthfuls of infodump that Paul has to speak over the opening of the show, followed by brief appearances by the (old) Master and the Daleks as though they are supposed to mean something to the viewer. Though if you think that's bad, just wait for the bit where the Doctor gives Grace the entire potted history of himself, his ship and his enemy the Master in two sentences. Which is even more of a shame coming as it does right after the best line in the thing! (The one about shoes, obviously). Look, I'll be more positive about it if I ever review it!)

"Rose" gets it right by doing the complete opposite.

Actually, "Rose" gets it right because it's written by someone who has a grasp of how real people behave, how they talk and the sort of things they talk about. The recurring motif of "chips" as a metaphor for "ordinary human life" begins here. Where the McGann movie tries to thrust all of the answers at us, "Rose" reduces the key facts to one succinct exchange:

Rose: are you alien?

The Doctor: Yes. Is that okay?

Having begun with the assumption that we – like Rose Tyler, everyday shopgirl – know nothing about the Doctor, we follow her discoveries as he appears out of nowhere, rescues her from freaky walking dummies and then blows up her job. Is he a good guy or a bad guy? There's this blue box thing that we see a couple of times, and the camera seems to dwell on it like it's important, but what's that all about?

There are four moments where the plot – and the pounding incidental music – pause to highlight each crucial development.

After escaping from Henrick's basement the mysterious stranger shoos Rose away almost contemptuously, go back to your little life while I deal with the monsters. And he shuts the door on her.

And then, in the pause, he opens the door again to say:

"I'm the Doctor, by the way. Pleased to meet you, Rose Tyler. Run for your life!"

And then the music restarts and Rose scampers away, half turning to look back at the shop and then – and I like this – looking away so she actually misses the moment where Henricks (i.e. Harrods) explodes. (Blowing up a major London landmark on your first day out? Start as you mean to go on, I suppose.)

The next moment, the next point of transition or revelation if you like, is outside the TARDIS. Having just, literally, walked Rose though the plot, disguising the exposition as a walk in the park, and tossed in a couple of references to the war that's going on around us (it seems like an incidental detail at the time; oh how unprepared we were for the hugeness of things), but then the Doctor pauses and sets out what is probably the manifesto for the series emotional content.

He tells Rose that he feels the turning of the world.

It's the flip-side of what Paul Cornel will later describe as "burning at the centre of time"; it's the thing that sets him totally apart form everybody else. In fact we will learn (as soon as next week) that there aren't even any more of his own kind any more. The message of this scene isn't "I'm different" or "I'm scary", it is "I'm, lonely; utterly, utterly lonely".

We'll come back to this central emotion over and over again as the series goes on, and it's a brilliant conceit, actually, giving us a new dimension to a heroic character, like the way that Star Trek II turns about Kirk's emotions on getting older. And it's a continuing character thread because we know that change is in the DNA of this series: that companions, even Doctors, come and go. And so it seems completely natural and honest that the Doctor would miss them more and more. In fact, the surprise is that it hasn't been played more in the series' past, what with it going back all the way to the first Doctor losing his granddaughter Susan, and we see his loneliness several times, when Ian and Barbara leave and again when he thinks Steven has deserted him.

So it's only now, after introducing the Doctor and then giving us his emotional core, that we move to the biggie: the ventral point of the series that is "Doctor Who".

The reveal of the inside of the TARDIS, including that quote, is one of the perfect moments of television.

We know – we know because we were fans, or we know now because there's no one left in Britain who doesn't know – that it is bigger on the inside than the outside. But not really since "And Unearthly Child" in foggy November 1963 has the full stunning impact of the Doctor's just impossible machine been so hammered home. To Rose it is no more than a "blue hut", so when she runs in, convinced that the plastic monster that's after them will get them, she cannot believe it. And we don't see what she sees, only her against the interior doors and a sense that it doesn’t match the outside. And then she staggers back out and, in spite of the danger, has to gawp round the outside again to convince herself of – and tease us with – the fact that it is small. And then we see the inside. The full glorious slow crane shot. And the haunting Time Lord theme. It's a small still point to say: "look, this is something wonderful".

And then the pace cranks back up again, and Rose says something very human about Mickey, asks whether he's dead, and we're off again on the madcap chase across London to the Nestene Consciousness.

Almost without noticing, that still point has bridged us from Rose's world into the Doctor's.

The final moment comes at the end, obviously.

"Oh, did I mention it also travels in time."

Having teased us with an almost TV-movie-like "no I'll stay behind" moment, the Doctor returns to play his trump card. And Rose's slow-motion run towards the waiting doors speaks for all of us who by now, after the last forty-five minutes want to run away into this world of wild adventure.

"Rose" isn't completely perfect, of course, just very nearly. Ironically, it seems to be Eccleston who has the most wonky moments as he tries to do light and frothy and seems to be pushing it just a bit too hard. But then he'll do something completely brilliant, like the way just after he leaves Rose after the "turning of the world" and his face goes totally dead, like he knows he's just turned his back on life. So with hindsight it's difficult to say that it's Chris acting badly when it appears more likely that it is the Doctor who is acting, acting "normal", and doing it badly.

And Noel Clarke hasn't yet found his feet as Mickey, though in fact he is hilarious as the Auton Mickey (and doesn't it speak volumes about Rose's relationship that her boyfriend is replaced with plastic and she doesn't even notice! "I'm sorry, were we talking about me for minute there," she asks with total unselfconsciousness.) And actually, there's something slightly more endearing about the "wet" Mickey, something that isn’t as damaged as the one who he becomes later, defeated in love by a man with a time machine.

Not all the humour works. If your upset by a burping wheelie bin, then you've got no soul, but Auton Mickey's p-p-p-ppizza is a bit forced, and perhaps surprisingly "he's gay and she's an alien" seems a bit flat on re-hearing it. Having said that, the show would be nowhere without humour, and where it works, it's often priceless. ("It'll look like a transmitter: round and massive. It must be totally invisible." Rose just stares… etc!)

And you have to admit. the Auton Invasion at the climax does appear to consist of an attack on one shopping centre. Later, "Love & Monsters" will try to retcon this; and future episodes will get better at achieving a sense of true scale to planetary invasions. (Let's be fair and say that the series' success will let the producers demand the resources to achieve this properly.)

In spite of all that, though, this is really one of the best "invasion of modern day Earth" stories, because the invasion itself is almost incidental; it's about the ordinary people caught up in the Invasion. Some later stories will lose that, focusing instead on the bizarre and extraordinary people at the expense of the real. (Hands up the students of the Rattigan academy for not being audience identification figures!)

From here, Doctor Who is going to be utterly transformed into a huge, huge monster of a television show, its key episodes becoming must-see event telly, even its behind the scenes events becoming headline news. With that will come an urge to make the episodes bigger, glossier, louder, starrier. That hasn't happened yet, and in a sense that makes "Rose" a more naïve version of the series to come, and perhaps a better episode because of it.

"Rose" remains a terrifically good piece of television because everyone involved has put all that they could into making it not bigger and better than anything we've seen before, but just right.

*Now you might call this yet another part-work that mugginses sign up for, but I say think of it as an exciting new way to keep the money circulating and the credit crunch at bay while getting even more Doctor Who DVDs!


Friday, January 23, 2009

Day 2945: Peter Vain fights for social justice and the vulnerable (i.e. him)

Oh, Mr Peter Vain, how we have missed you… like a heliotrope-hued hole in the head!

Has losing his cushy ministerial job… and his OTHER cushy ministerial job… cured him of his magenta-manicured megalomania and made him a better person? Let us see…

No sooner has he been found GUILTY of "serious and substantial failures" to report the thousands of pounds donated to his brilliant total success doomed campaign to deputy-lead Hard Labour, than up he pops in the Grauniad to document his STRUGGLE to clear his name.

A clue for you, you old firebrick-brushed fraud: it's a struggle BECAUSE you are GUILTY!

"Not a penny went to me, not a penny came from taxpayers…"
…he begins. Oh dear, that is two errors in two clauses, this does not bode well.

"Not a penny went to me": it was spent on YOUR campaign, Mr Vain. It was spent with the intention of YOU being the beneficiary… even if your humiliating second-to-bottom place may suggest that it was a complete waste of money.

"…not a penny came from taxpayers": well it DID, because EVERY person who donated money to your campaign has to have been a payer of UK tax (or you are in ANOTHER whole heap of trouble… just ask Mr Wendy/Ms Douglas Alexander). What you MEAN is that your little vanity project was not funded from general taxation, the taxes that we pay to the Government for, well, all the OTHER vainglorious schemes that they inflict on us.

Vanity project, Mr, er, Vain? Yes! Given that, of the six candidates, five of them – you included, Mr Vain – were standing on virtually identical manifestoes… given that the PRIZE for winning (for anyone other than Mr Frown's heavily tipped preferred candidate of Postman Pat) in this little exercise in throwing a "FAUX-democratic" bone to the recently-deprived-of-a-proper-leadership-election-by-Mr-Frown's-ascension members of Hard Labour's proletariat was a TOKEN job and a LOLLIPOP… given that it wasn't about EITHER power OR policy… it is a BIT difficult to characterize this INTERNAL Hard Labour JOB INTERVIEW as an exercise in the VITAL POWERS of democracy.

It really was more about buffing up your brown-basted ego, wasn't it, Mr Vain.

And of course it was a much, much bigger waste of money than any of the other candidates because Mr Vain raised far, far MORE money than any of the other candidates: in fact his £180,000-£200,000 in donations is more than half as much as the about £370,000 raised by ALL the other candidates PUT TOGETHER.

Mr Vain's self-justifying non-apology continues, between bouts of maundering self-pity, with efforts to throw mud at other Parliamentarians, muddy the waters of political accountability, excuse Hard Labour for making bad laws and finally abandoning the Rule of Law altogether!

First the muck-raking:
"This year alone between February 20 and June 30 there were 172 donations, totalling £783,574, which were reported up to seven years late by MPs, including the Tory leader, David Cameron, the Liberal Democrats leader, Nick Clegg, and the now the London mayor, Boris Johnson."
This is an INFURIATINGLY UNSOURCED accusation, both in the Grauniad and on Mr Vain's own web page – have these people never HEARD of HYPERLINKS?!? – because I should really like to know how MANY of the six-hundred-and-fifty-plus MPs are included in this report.

Because you see, it is a bit DISHONEST to mention a REALLY BIG number and then a REALLY LONG time to be late and then CHERRY-PICK just three names to blame. He makes it LOOK like Mr Balloon, Mr Clogg and Bojo the Clown have had it away with quarter-of a million a head. Or even THREE-quarters of a million EACH.

Taken as an average, those 172 late declarations out at £4,556 each – which is a tidy sum, but not in remotely the same league as Mr Vain's £100,000 blooper. Whereas the way Mr Vain makes it come out, it looks like he's only doing what others have done.

There might be some case for complaint that the treatment of different people under this law does not seem to be proportionate, and certainly it's fair to wonder why the Baronet Oboe seems to have avoided even so much as a trip to the naughty-step.

But even if smearing your political opponents with "THEY DID IT TOO, N'YER" wasn't deeply UNATTRACTIVE, the idea that a new law is a BAD law because it has caught lots of people seems… BIZARRE rather underdescribes this conclusion.

Anyway, next on to buck-passing:
"We need to be able to share the responsibility of complying with the current complex rules. Busy MPs (in my case also holding two cabinet jobs at the time) should be able to appoint compliance officers – especially for internal party campaigns – with similar legal obligations to agents in public elections."
This is INTERESTING – to say the least – because according to the Electoral Commission, the MAIN reason that Mr Vain got away with not going to PRISON was because
"…regulated donations were not reported to the Commission on time. However, they have said that Mr Hain was not the person responsible for reporting the donations, and that it is not possible to prove that anyone else involved with his campaign was responsible."
If anything, surely this means that reform ought to be the EXACT OPPOSITE of what Mr Vain suggests, pinning the responsibility MORE FIRMLY to the individual MP, not less. Yes, of COURSE she or he should be allowed to employ a compliance officer (or bookkeeper) to keep track of the paperwork. Goodness, the House of Commons could even afford to PAY (yes, shock, horror, etc). But the RESPONSIBILITY should never be palmed off on a civil servant or functionary.

Then we have the covering of Mr Frown's bottom:
"this experience has underlined to me just how vulnerable all those in public life are, thanks to the unintended consequences of what was well-meaning legislation by Labour to clean up political funding under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000."
There's almost TOO MUCH here to cover. I mean why limit the victims of "unintended consequences" to those in public life. There are plenty of examples of private citizens (or indeed NATIONS, if you happen to be Iceland) being victimised by Hard Labour's unstoppable torrent of "well-meaning" legislation.

And what exactly is the meaning of "well-meaning"? Because under the circumstances, and given Mr Vain's "examples" above, "well-meaning" seems to be meaning "meant to get the Conservatories".

How DEEPLY EMBARRASSING for Hard Labour to discover that their own members were as venal and untrustworthy as the Conservatories. Only, it turns out, the Hard Labour CANNOT be embarrassed. How else can you explain Mr Vain's unspeakable GALL?!

And so finally, away to La-La Land:
"But my fundamental conclusion is also that the police should never have been brought into politics as this flawed legislation (repeated in the new bill) has done."
As one of the commentators remarks, someone really OUGHT to pass that memo on to the Hopeless Secretary, Ms Jacquie Spliff.

But HONESTLY, if that's your fundamental conclusion then your fundamental conclusion is that politicians should be ABOVE the LAW! (How can I claim to be surprised that a Hard Labour apparatchik thinks this way!)

As a CONCLUSION, that certainly has FUNDAMENT in it.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Day 2942: Doctor Who 45th Anniversary – Why Was 2003 Brilliant?

It's the beginning of the end for the BBC books, as Sabbath blows the universe to smithereens and the Doctor, Fitz and Anji go galumphing through the alternatives, while the Past Doctor range takes to crossing over Doctors and slaughtering companions, though none of it will count after "Someplot Never" timewipes the lot.

Fortunately the DVD range gets into its stride, with ace releases for "Fenric", "Talons" and, best of all, the stunning CGI Dalek saucers in "The Dalek Invasion of Earth".

But the one Daddy's NEVER going to pick is…

Doctor Who – Zagreus

"Ugh! It looks like Wales!"
Bloated, self-indulgent, canon obsessed, stuffed with in-jokes (yes, like that one about Wales) and, yes, yet another attempt to "explain" the self-destruction of 1990's Doctor Who's continuity (without admitting it's because they couldn't bring themselves to play together nicely)… all these things can be fairly said of the show's Fortieth Anniversary story.

And yet, it's also rather magnificent.

Made to wait eighteen months after the apocalyptic cliff-hanger ending to the awesome "Neverland", and at the end of Big Finish's widely praised "villains" quadrille ("Omega", "Davros", "Master"…), fans' expectations could not have been higher. So OBVIOUSLY it's the JAR JAR BINKS.

But there's still much to love here: no fewer than five (yes FIVE) former Dr Whos, with they and their companions all in tumbled jumbled-up roles: Mr Dr Colin as a vampire, Mr Dr Peter as a vicar, Mr Dr Sylv as Walt Disney(!) Winkle, Ms Nicola Bryant as a mad professor, Ms Bonnie Langford as Goldilocks (with Ms Sophie Aldred and Ms Lisa "Benny" Bowerman as the animatronic animals) and an almighty villainous turn from Mr Nick "the Brigadier" Courtney.

And it may be a total fanboy moment… but the cliff-hanger ending to Part Two is just brilliant, the discordant horns of the Dark Tower telling we are returned to the realm of "The Five Doctors"…

We're on Gallifrey for one last time (well, barring the eighteen-part spin off series with Ms Lalla and Ms Louise, of course) so OBVIOUSLY there's a traitor in the Time Lords' ranks who's behind it all, but never mind that. In fact, never mind that the plot makes little or no sense whatsoever. This isn't, for once, about the story, it's about getting all these people who we know together because we love their company. And funnily enough, after Mr Dr Paul spends ages shouting away all on his own, it's only when he meets up with all the others that he realises that being Dr Who can be FUN!

Zagreus is available to buy on CD or to download as a podcast direct from Big Finish.

If you've never listened to a Big Finish adventure before… for goddess' sake don't start here; get "Jubilee" instead!

And then, in September, there is THAT news from BBC Death Zone Wales…


Monday, January 19, 2009

Day 2941: Fatman Returns


Starring Mr Balloon as "The Penguin"

And Mr Lord Mandy Mandelbrot (and his nine lives) as "The Catwoman"

Conservatory Central Office, in association with Saatchi and Saatchi present a Grant Schaps Film: Mr Kenny "Fatty" Clarke is FATMAN in…

"Fatman Returns"

Also starring Master Gideon Oboe as "The Ice Princess"

And, in especially large letters at the end, Mr Christopher Walken as "Lady Thatcher"

The press release says they've "agreed to disagree" on Europe… so actually everyone is playing TWO-FACE!

Master Oboe has just been on the RADIO to explain that it's all HIS idea!

Oboe: Please, mister, will you do my homework?

Fatman: Certainly, little boy. Now… would you like some cigarettes?


Friday, January 16, 2009

Day 2938: New Runways


New York: and HEROIC Captain Chesley Sullenberger proves that you don't need a third runway.

Meanwhile, London: and Mayor Boris the Clown swears to fight the third runway all the way

…am I the only one who sees Runway Three rearing up, Mothra-like, and roaring at the City only for Godzilla-sized Bojo to come blundering into battle:

"I… I… I… blimey! Gosh, that's bit fierce! I… oops, crikey! I've squished Camden…"

Maybe not.

Anyway, Secretary of State for CATTLE CLASS, Mr "Buff" Hoon, announced that we will be having a third runway no matter what anyone else thinks because in spite of the economy grinding to a halt and in spite of London already having five airports there is still an urgent need for even more capacity so that bankers can flee the capital for the length of the financial downturn. Er…

Anyway, this, he told the House of Commoners, is vitally important to every single one of us in the country. Which is why Mr Frown has decided that he should make the decision entirely on his own and not let anyone else have a vote on it.

There will, however, be STRICT monitoring and controls so that we know that the environment is being completely stuffed protected and that the Government are breaking their own rules again keeping their promises.

And everyone will be asked to HOLD THEIR BREATH while going through the airport so that the CO2 emissions don't go stratospheric!

You know, there's something DISTINCTLY ODD about these runway plans: you know, the way that Runway Three is only HALF the length of numbers One and Two… and yet the proposed extension to the Heathrow boundary has these STICKY-OUTY mysteriously runway-shaped bits at either end… almost like there's room to EXTEND runway three even further.

Goodness but no one who wants to extend an airport could ever tell fibs about their long term plans!

Mind you, have you noticed how they appear to be building over not just three inhabited villages but also two motorways? I wonder how the A380 Double Dumbo Jet is going to cope with the variable speed limit on the M25?!


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Day 2937: BCNU


Nevermore an Orange Alert; Mr Patrick McGoohan has finally left the Village.

Mr McGoohan was one of those legendary iconic figures, like Sir Christopher Lee or Dame Patrick Macnee, someone you just expect to go on forever, and the World is a profoundly poorer place for no longer having him in it.

We celebrated his life by watching the Prisoner episode: "Dance of the Dead". It just seemed appropriate.

The Prisoner isn't really about the story. It's not for understanding; it's for THINKING ABOUT. And it asks some pretty difficult questions about the important things like DEMOCRACY and FREEDOM and RULES.

There are seventeen episodes of The Prisoner, ranging from fairly perplexing to downright dribbling, and from spy-a-rama to Western to Fairy Story, but there are FOUR of them that are the heart of it:

"Arrival", the series prospectus or possibly just the longest possible version of the famous title sequence; "Dance of the Dead"; "Free for All"; and "Once Upon a Time".

There IS a mundane explanation, an "answer" if you like to the question of The Prisoner: why did Agent John Drake resign? If you don't already know, it's… at the bottom of the page*

Or there's the semi-crass "psychological" view that it's all inside Mr McG's head. Not for nothing are the number "1" and the perpendicular pronoun "I" almost identical.

But that's not what is IMPORTANT.

So while this episode's story, as far as it goes, sees Carnival Time in The Village, with the Prisoner allowed to dress in his old suit to go to the ball, only to wind up on trial for breaking the rules and pursued by the mob, it's not ABOUT that. It's about the images along the way, and these are only a few of them:

The Prisoner thinks he can make friends with a cat, the cat who walks by herself, only to learn that she is Number Two's cat.

Slipping out of the Carnival that he has rejected, he borrows a scientific coat as disguise so he can explore the (previously off limits) Town Hall. He thinks he's being very clever but, ooh, he's "putting on a costume" after all.

Asked about the promised cabaret, Number Two replies bluntly: "you're it" (and later the Prisoner is "it" again in a LETHAL game of chase).

And in the trial, the three judges (French revolution style) are Good Queen Bess, Emperor Nero and Napoleon. Cleopatra is a witness. Wondering why only the sympathetic prosecutor, Bo Peep, is not dressed as a monarch, we realise that is fact she is: she's Marie Antoinette, and she's "dressing up".

And escaping from the murderous Villagers (who then merely lose interest in their "justice") the Prisoner thinks he's found the telex machine from Number One. He smashes the machinery to stop it… and then it starts working again. Because you can't smash the machinery of The Village.

"The Prisoner" was very much the signature piece of Mr Patrick McGoohan. It is almost unique, and sometimes very difficult. But, like the grit in the oyster, it makes for a more marvellous World.

Who was Number One?

You were, Number Six. You were.

*But then I would have to shoot you!


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Day 2936: Is it just me or are the banks taking over the government?


Call me old fashioned, but I thought that the banks were now owned by US (i.e. the Great British taxpayer).

But it seems that the directors of OUR banks think that they're going to carry on treating us with the same amount of CONTEMPT with which they usually regard their shareholders.

Far from accepting that they've trollied the economy and now ought to JOLLY WELL DO WHAT THEY ARE TOLD! and help put things right again, it appears that they have to be BRIBED to lend money.

And the Hard Labour Government are so CRAVEN that they'll cough up!

As Mr Dr Vince "the Power" Cable says:

"…the Government seems to lack the bottle to break the banks' lending strike."

The nub of Lord Mandy's wheeze is that he will put up the cash to cover any debts that go bad. So the bank can go ahead and loan out the money, and if the debt goes bad then WE will pay up.

Some people might think that this means that we take all the risk and the bank takes all the reward… and they'd be right!

Of course, the POINT of the plan is to get the banks to do EXTRA lending. But do you think that the crafty bankers are going to go along with that? Or do you suspect (as I do!) that with the right fluffy foot they will extend shiny new loans to get the benefits of the Governments free cash offer, while with the left fluffy foot they are foreclosing on as many loans NOT covered by the guarantee as they can get away with. Net effect: little or no new lending (so no boost to the economy); bankers get mink-lined one way bet.

(Did I say "mink-lined"? "Oooh, that's real cat, Mr Lord Mandy!")

That's the BAD news; the WORSE news is that this is exactly the same as the Conservatories plan. So we know it's not going to work!

Actually, the Conservatories have a fancy claim that THEIR scheme wouldn't cost the taxpayer any money, because they would allow the bank to charge a FEE for the guaranteed loan. Or "charging a higher interest rate" as we used to call it before suggesting that putting up interest rates during a credit crunch became an obvious sign of being a MORON.

Which reminds me… Mr Lord Mandy's new announcement has left young Master Gideon Oboe reduced to whinging that "Hard Labour stole my loan scheme". Welcome to OUR world, Lib-Dem-Policy-stealing Tory-boy!

And now, to add further evidence of a banking takeover, Mr Frown's appointed replacement at the Cabinet table for Lord Pigby Jones is to be… yet another merchant banker.

Never mind poacher turned gamekeeper, surely this is letting the lunatics take over the asylum!


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Day 2935: Dates for Your Diary



According to the BBC, Monday the 23rd of March will see the release of a long-awaited new album from the Pet Shop Boys, to be called "Yes".

(Presumably to be accompanied by an even-longer-awaited* new album from "Yes" called "Pet Shop Transcendental Unicorns and shstuff").

The album will feature Mr Jonny Marrmite. Which isn't as funny as if it featured Mr ANDY Marrmite. But then HE's in Mr Kevin Space-age's new play, so go figure!


Ms Lynne Featherweight posts to tell us the excellent news that Tuesday 24th of March will be Ada Lovelace day.

In case you don't know, Ms Lovelace, aka Ms Ada Byron, was the daughter of Lord Bonkers… no, sorry, that's daughter of bonkers Lord Byron. And also she helped Mr Charles Babbage develop the first computer.

According to Mr Lawrence Miles, not only did she actually do most of the workings out, but she was in fact helping the British Secret Service mount an attack on that loveable time-travelling voodoo-cult Faction Paradox! But according to "In Our Time", her life was actually MUCH WEIRDER!

*, technically, the Yes album "Live at Montreaux 2003", released in 2007, may be more recent than Pet Shop Boys Fundamental, released in 2006, but that's cheating… the clue is in the title.


Saturday, January 10, 2009

Day 2932: Dr Pax… on Ice!


We get a TWEET that Mr Dr Pax is off to the 1st London Ice Sculpting Festival… so we set off to see him putting the Icing on the Cake!

Start Frosting
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Early Ices
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But WHERE was he???

We looked ALL DAY… but no sign!

Is he over here?
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Is he over there?
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Has anyone seen him?

Let's ask Security!
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You don't think he's been… frozen in ice!

Not N…ice!
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Oh no! How will Ms Featherweight update her blog now!


Sunday, January 04, 2009

Day 2925: DOCTOR WHO: The Next Doctor… is Mr Dr Matt


Oooh, what a DISASTER! A whole half hour of this year's Doctor Who Christmas special accidentally deleted, meaning they had to broadcast the REAL Next Doctor as "Doctor Who Confidential"!

Here is a publicity still of the new Dr Who…

the Doctor in Twilight
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…and here is another one.

the Doctor in Sulk
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Anyway, Daddy Richard hasn't told you all about the Christmas Special yet, so this seems like an OPPORTUNE MOMENT to prod him into a seasonal review. Happy New Year…

Doctor Who has never had a moment quite like it. Of course, the series was never this big before, not even during the Dalekmania era or the height of Tom. The changeover from Chris to David, the only previous passing of the flame in the "new age", came in such a rush that it was done almost before we knew it was happening. So while the announcement of a new Doctor has, in the past, been newsworthy, it's never quite got to the level of receiving its own half-hour results show on BBC1. It's possible that whoever was named as the next Time Lord would have been a disappointment in the context of hype and adrenaline built up.

Am I disappointed? I confess that I am, a bit. I was rooting for Paterson Joseph, an actor who I feel has the charisma, the gravitas and the skin colour that the series needed at this point. Yes, skin colour – I don't think it would be tokenism to cast a highly respected not to mention abundantly talented actor who just happens to be black, but the number of Doctor Who fans on the forums wailing that you can't have a black Doctor strongly suggests that the series needed a good kick in the prejudices. (The same, incidentally, to all those saying you can't have a female Doctor.)

That's not to say there's anything wrong with Matt's work: having seen him in "The Ruby in the Smoke"/"The Shadow in the North" and "Party Animals" and on stage in "The History Boys" he's perfectly capable, even if – to my tastes – he didn't set screen or stage alight in the manner of a Marquis de Caribas or an Emperor Jones. But in a television era when Robin Hood (retired Crusader) has been recast as a twenty-something and Merlin (ancient sorcerer) has been recast as a twenty-something, the decision to have the Doctor (thousand-year-old Time Lord) recast as a twenty-something looks just a little bit… corporate.

Nor am I entirely sure where this leaves the future relationship between the Doctor and River Song: if she thinks that the tenth Doctor looked "so young", what's she going to make of this one? I suppose the obvious solution (if you're not in the "just drop the whole business" camp) is just recasting a young River Song for the other end of their relationship, so that she thinks of him as about her age and gets used to him getting older than her.

It's worth remembering though that Steven Moffat's Doctor was Peter Davison in the way that Russell Davies' was Jon Pertwee. We can hope that the Grand Moff's intention is to try to do the "old man in a young body" story that was intended by Christopher Bidmeed but to do it right.

On the other hand, as the idea begins to settle on me, I can start to imagine the scene where the tenth Doctor finally meets the eleventh and is mightily put out:

"Oi! I'm supposed to be the young and sexy one!"

You could almost see it in the Christmas Special, the naughtily-titled "The Next Doctor", when he meets David Morrissey's self-proclaimed Doctor. Morrissey looks like what we expect of a Doctor: energetic, intelligent and mature. The tenth Doctor clearly thinks the same way. He's thrilled (and that's a bit un-Doctor-like in itself, given the past representation of inter-incarnation meetings) to meet his future self, but can you also read it as l little bit of thinking "ha! I'm still the best!"

Along with, I suspect, many people, the Christmas setting and David Morrissey's slightly over-the-top performance and costume (as seen during Children in Need) led me into the trap of expecting this to be a television remake of Big Finish's "The One Doctor".

Obviously, it was actually Big Finish's "Minuet in Hell"…

{sound of tumbleweeds}

…well, thankfully it's not actually that either, since the real Doctor doesn't have amnesia (the eighth Doctor's congenital condition) and we don’t have to cope with ludicrous faux-Americans and Becky the Vampire Slayer plot.

But the central conceit – that a machine transfers the Doctor's personality to a mentally unbalanced individual – is pretty much the same, though thankfully handled far more sensitively and poignantly.

It seemed to me that the mystery of who is this "other Doctor" was resolved far too early, but on re-watching it turns out to be resolved almost exactly on the half hour. So in fact, "The Next Doctor" is really an old-fashioned two-part adventure, with the first half mainly concentrating on the "mystery" story, while the second becomes a more traditional clash with the Cybermen.

Admittedly, we spotted instantly that the "other Doctor" would in fact be Jackson Lake the moment that he was named as the first victim… "but no body was ever found", but then it was hardly supposed to be a Jonathan Creek puzzler. It's much more about the (real) Doctor's reaction to meeting what he thinks is his future self.

And of course it does actually make sense that he reacts differently to the bickering of his early self-meetings, because in a Universe with no other Time Lords he's delighted to realise that here is a way for him to not be alone; he can literally be his own best friend. And so he decides to play the companion and follow his future self around.

It is then so sad to watch his gradual disillusionment. The "other Doctor" is gradually shaded from over-the-top through trying too hard to ultimately a tragic figure in denial. So "our" Doctor has to prompt the "other Doctor" here and there; he has to ask about the "sonicness" of the "sonic screwdriver"; and then, when the Cybermen attack, he realises that he's got to do the saving, which leads to the stethoscope coming out.

He is very sad for the fate of Jackson Lake, as he explains to him that he's not the Doctor; but he's also sad for himself, alone yet again.

The dynamic between the two Doctors is terrific; with Morrissey and Tennant on screen together it could hardly be otherwise. The opening set piece, where they bond as the pair of them are dragged up a building and across a warehouse by a Cybershade (Cyber-doggie?) is hilarious and exhilarating. The moments where the Doctor explains the reality to Jackson Lake are quiet and intense, and you can see how both of them are damaged by the breaking of the magic. The sequence rescuing the children from the Cyber-headquarters, where the roles of Doctor and companion are reversed, allows them to re-bond as friends.

But the pair of them dominating the screen time like this does make this a rather male story. Velile Tshabalala's clumsily-named Rosita (another false clue that this was "the One Doctor" with faked companion) is relegated to a very tiny role, and rewarded for her bravery with the role of… nanny. Hmmm.

The counter-balance, perhaps, is in another of Russell Davies' strong female villains, Dervla Kirwan as the very damaged Miss Mercy Hartigan. Miss Hartigan's unspoken but strongly alluded-to back story is really rather dark for a Christmas Day family romp. Her background certainly appears to indicate she has been used as a prostitute or, worse, an unpaid prostitute, possibly by the Victorian gentlemen on whom she eventually takes revenge.

"Another man come to impose his will on me in the night," she spits at the Doctor. Very dark, that.

(And Rosita, too, was caught by the Cybermen out on the streets at night… no doubt she was on her way home from a late-night tea-drinking club… ©Terrance Dicks.)

It's also been suggested that there's a bit of a phallocentric agenda behind Lake's fugue-state being driven by the kidnap of his son more than the murder of his wife, though Alex points out that in traditional drama any female character would be expected to care more for her children than her partner, so why not the same for a dad?

And is Mr Lake the first person in Doctor Who to be actually driven mad by the shock of blundering into the Doctor's world? Perhaps the mystery ought to be why don't more people suffer nervous collapse when monsters come stomping out of the night?

So, after a half-hour of psycho-drama, the second half turns back into modern Doctor Who, with a very Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom cyber-headquarters, and then a very big CG monster.

To be honest, I think that this was a really good Cyber-story, certainly the best of the 21st Century. Kidnapping children for child labour captures both the dark spirit of the Victorian age and at the same time is a very Cyberman thing to do: their lack of empathy means they see the practicality of using a cheap, disposable, otherwise-unwanted workforce without sentiment. And it adds a "the Cybermen will come and get you" horror frisson for the younger viewer that the slice-and-dice emphasis on conversion has somehow managed to fail to put across.

(And yes, sticking the Cyber-leader's brain on view a la Lumic Cyber-controller, was clearly supposed to remind you of that. Though when and why the Cybermen decided to remodel their Cyberleader escapes me; it's not like they could feel really bored while stuck in the Void.)

And then there's the Cyberking. (Playset available in toyshops by Easter, do you think?) Ooh, that's divided the fans: some of them hate it; others loathe it. Personally… I loved it.

In part, I think, it was a great relief that it wasn't a new rank of Cyberman. Cybermen have Cyber-leaders and a Cyber-Controller, but not a "king" with all the emotional overtones of fealty and chivalry that would go with. Magnificently silly, and terrifically realised, a giant walking Cyber-factory – a Cyber-wor-king if you see – was just the right sort of bonkers machine that the Cybermen would come up with.

This week's "thing to drive Lawrence Miles nuts": a mechanical leviathan rising from the Thames. Although in many ways the Cyberking, with honour guard of emotionless Cybermen, is the opposite of Larry's Sabbath-built, Babwyn-powered Jonah.

And Cybermen in giant robots was Big Finish's "Human Resources", of course.

It was also rather nice that Miss Hartigan's rage was just too much for the emotionless Cybermen to cope with (remembering "The Invasion" where they reacted badly to emotion too). Her plan to rule the world doesn't seem to have been very thought through, and surely asking for London's surrender before shooting great chunks out of it might have been an idea, but then that ties in with her being entirely fury and no logic at all.

Listening to the commentary, Russell suddenly came up with the idea that after her freed mind destroys the Cybermen and the Cyberking starts to topple towards the London crowds, the Doctor should appeal to Miss Hartigan to "save them". Julie Gardner was distraught that they hadn't thought to do that, but Russell then persuaded himself that it would have been too sentimental. I think that he's right; Miss Hartigan was too good at being bad to deserve a saccharine "redemption".

Surely, surely, though, this is the end of the Cybus Cybermen. The Doctor explicitly says that these are the last of them escaped from the Void during Davros's mad reality bomb attack. (Though how would the Doctor know? He looks like he's guessing.) Hopefully this is clearing the decks for the future production team.

(Equally, though, it's opening a loophole for some of those Daleks from the Genesis Arc to have escaped from the Void too…)

Overall, I thought that this was a terrific Doctor Who story, and the best Christmas present since "The Christmas Invasion". The pacing of the set pieces is spot on, unlike "The Runnaway Bride" where the best bit is the TARDIS/taxi chase early on, or "Voyage of the Damned" where they seem to spend forever on that metal bridge across the engine chasm. There are some truly gorgeous moments: the stand out being the cyber-attack in the graveyard, with the reveal of "other Doctor's" "TARDIS" running it a close second. The polar opposites of icy Cybermen and flame-coloured-dress-wearing Miss Hartigan provide just the right balance of enemies. And the plot benefits from the double-barrelled story keeping the momentum going after answering the question posed by the episode's title.

Of course, with my fanboy hat on (yes, we get hats, and badges and a special holographic membership card) with my fanboy hat on, I'd fantasized that we would get a cameo from Doctor eleven, the real next Doctor, at the end, perhaps seeing him watching as Tennant and Morrissey go off to dinner. Yes, I realise that they finished filming "The Next Doctor" in Spring, and Matt Smith wasn't cast until Autumn, but they could have filmed a tiny, tiny insert, couldn't they? And given that they could only hold off the actual announcement another ten days…

Next Time: With David Tennant filming his last stories in early 2009, by the time this is shown the tenth Doctor will officially be addressing us From Beyond the Grave™. So where else would he be but on "The Planet of the Dead".

It turns out that SIX MILLION people tuned in to watch the Doctor Who Do You Do You Are results show, making it SECOND most watched show of the day. ITV must be CRUSHED.

The MOST watched show was "Total Wetwipe", the Top-Gear-totty hosted gameshow version of It's A Knockout, clearly achieving this because of all those Doctor Who fans who rushed off to the Internet leaving the telly on.


Thursday, January 01, 2009

Day 2923: iPhant

New Year's Day My Ninth Birthday:

Hooray, I am NINE!

[R: He is eight; we have this every year...]

Today we will be mainly playing JAMES BOND using my NEW Hi-Tech device…

Maybe THIS will help me keep up with my Diary!
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Happy New Year Everyone!