...a blog by Richard Flowers

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Day 3222: THE PRISONER 42nd ANNIVERSARY: Free for All


For obvious reasons we actually watched this on WEDNESDAY, just before Mr Andrew Britain's History of Marrmite. It's a jumbled up, reactionary, aren't-they-all-just-the-same view of politics… and so is "Free for All".

Here's Daddy:


Written by "Paddy Fitz" aka Patrick "Paddy" McGoohan, and make of the Fitz what you will, "Free for All" sees the Prisoner enter its "barking mad" phase. It is election time in the Village, and Number 2 persuades the Prisoner to run against him for the job of chairman with a promise that if he wins "Number 1 will no longer be a mystery" to him.

This turns out, like all too many "campaign promises", to be rather more nuanced in outcome than the Prisoner might have hoped.

(He ends up essentially alone in control – see if you can work out where this is headed.)

"Do you intend to run?"

"Like blazes, first chance I get."

He should have stuck to his first answer; agreeing to this election may have been a bad mistake. First he is shocked to see that the Villagers already have anticipated his decision and his campaign posters are ready instantly, even if they react to his manifesto for freedom with hilarity. Then he is invited to the formal final meeting of the outgoing committee who blank-facedly refuse to answer his questions before a maniacal Number Two 2 orders the Prisoner sent for testing as punishment for this "breach of etiquette".

"Testing" involves a nice cup of – laced – tea with a kindly Civil Servant who more than a little resembles Michael Palin's character in "Brazil". After which, a blissed out Prisoner finds himself mouthing the nostrums of the Village and winning the approval of the crowd.

With everything going his way, the Prisoner seems to become more and more distressed: trying his crudest escape attempt yet – by boat, see my remarks about the sea last time – getting dragged back by Rover; turning to drink, finding an apparently garrulous Number 2 in the hidden drinking den, only to get another dose of the Village's brain juice instead of a slug of the good stuff. Each of these humiliations sees him returning to Village double-talk even stronger than the last.

Victory, when it comes, is a landslide, with even Number 2 throwing in the towel, pinning on the rosette, and handing over the control room in the Green Dome. But being able to push the buttons doesn't really mean he's in control. Step forward the real new Number Two to, literally, slap him down.

"Will you never learn?"

Even without mentioning the surreal discovery of four be-sun-glassed Villagers sat around watching Rover like a television or a guru, you have to ask yourself: "what the Hell does all that mean?"

what's your number, please

This isn't, obviously, the first time that the Village messes with the Prisoner's head, but here they stop pussy-footing around with psychology and start using chemicals, drugging and brainwashing him at least twice. This is a marked step up from their previous practice, even if they insist that they don't want to "damage the tissue".

For his own part, the Prisoner also escalates things, trying to seize control so that he can free all the Villagers, not seeing that there's an obvious contradiction in that:

"Obey me and be free!"

And clearly "Free for All" is a major turning point. It was certainly an important episode to McGoohan.

For these reasons we put "Free for All" as the climax of the "early" or "trying to escape" phase of the series.

Elections have been referred to before but clearly there haven't been any, so we can guess this is a later story than "Arrival" which doesn't really help us, but also "Dance of the Dead" where Number 2 says "we're democratic, in our way".

There's a bit of a puzzle: in "Dance of the Dead" the Prisoner doesn't recognise the Town Hall; yet in "Free for All" he doesn't seem to know where to find it – going to the "Free Information" board in order to look it up. These seem contradictory; I'm going to say that it seems slightly more likely that he learns of the Town Hall in "Dance of the Dead" but, since it won't let him in except under special circumstances, he doesn't bother to work out the direct way there from his residence (he follows Number 42 there from the bandstand and later Number 2 takes him there from the beach). Or maybe it moves about.

We're also told the elections are annual so, big assumption that that's not a lie, we say that he's been in the Village less than a year.

In his address to the crowd, the Prisoner promises (among other things) to discover who are the watched and who are the warders. To me, that seems like an acknowledgement of his defeat in "Checkmate", an admission that he needs to find out from control because he can't work it out for himself. Couple that with the Count in that story chiding him for not realising that some of the "prisoners" are actually guards and we infer that "Free for All" must follow "Checkmate".

Then there's the Prisoner's reaction to women, clearly well documented by now as Number 2 refers to knowing his prejudices when assigning Number 58 as his election staff. Previously we've seen him faced off with a woman who is in charge ("Dance of the Dead"), a woman who follows him around ("Checkmate"), and a woman who deceives him ("The Chimes of Big Ben"). And now we complete the picture with one who does all three.

the new number two

Ah, now this is a tricky one. There are in fact two possible candidates for who is this week's Number 2: Eric Portman who's in the titles, wears the badge and is the Prisoner's rival candidate in the election; and Rachel Herbert, the crazed-seeming maid-cum-lady-driver whose badge reads 58 until she discards it at the end leaving herself with Number 2's rosette and indeed Number.

Was she really Number 2 all along?

She is obviously right at the centre of the plot, watching the Prisoner from up close and subtly driving him (and sometimes not-so-subtly: how did someone "new" know about Number 2's secret drinking den, then?). He knows, because by now he's totally paranoid, that "Number 58" is a spy, although it doesn't seem to occur to him that she might in fact be the boss. Her made-up-sounding foreign language is a clever blind: it's so grotesquely over the top that it throws off his critical thinking. It's a stunning performance, all wide-eyed and childlike enthusiasm, making her sudden turnaround all the more impressive, stunning even when you know it's coming.

And at the end, she is a strong and powerful figure, dominating and patronising the Prisoner, positively regal in the reveal of her stood in control with the Number 2 rosette proclaiming her true identity, almost up there with Mary Morris.

Contrast that with Eric Portman's more world-weary figure. Now a lot of that will be part of the "act" – most obviously made clear in the magnificent "drinking den" scene.

But there are other scenes where he is not putting on a show for the Prisoner, where he seems nervous and under pressure, notably when taking instructions over the phone. We infer that it is Number 1 on the line, though it's not the big red "Number 1-phone" we see later, so it's not impossible that it's Number 58 aka the real Number 2 giving him his orders.

When in the Council Room he condemns the Prisoner for "testing", he becomes frenzied, almost unhinged, repeatedly banging his gavel as he sends the Prisoner down, down, down. It can't all be an act as he's later, over the phone, chastised for it and apologises.

follow the signs

I have to admit, I find "Free for All" a very difficult episode: it looks very much like it ought to mean something more, but that meaning persists in slipping through my fingers.

On a superficial level, what, exactly, does the Village get out of this exercise? Is it simply trying to put him under so much stress that he cracks? Do they think that proving some abstract point about the nature of democracy versus government will tip him over the edge?

And yet surely he cannot be so naïve as to believe that a prison, no matter how psychedelic the conditions, would actually have a system in place for one of the lunatics to take over the asylum? He must realise that this is all a ploy. Is he genuinely just playing along while waiting to think of a better plan? It's hard enough trying to spot where he's under the Village's brain control and where he's coming out of it again.

This lack of proper plot logic tends to sharpen the crudity of the allegory, make me less willing to forgive something that is trying so hard to be clever that it may just end up being very dumb indeed.

Alex, too, finds it a really weird mix, primitive and advanced at the same time. Bits, like lady Number 2's somewhat crass "my regards to the homeland" (reminiscent of the "my new masters" remark in "Arrival"), seem to be unpolished, first ideas about how this works; but there are other bits, like gentleman Number 2's sly encouragements as the Prisoner harangues an unmoved crowd, that are far more sophisticated.

"Free for All" has the word "allegory" loitering like an enormous neon elephant in the room. The need to make a point heavily outweighing any request that the plot make coherent sense.

Our "everyman" hero goes into politics to try and make things better for everyone, but ends up looking and sounding just like the regime he seeks to replace; once he is in power he discovers he is a powerless as he was before. Is this profound or profoundly naïve?

Remember, when McGoohan says this is how things work in the Village, he's not saying this is how they work in the World; he's saying this is how they work in a World that is wrong.

You can't just dismiss this as unsophisticated political analysis: it remains true today that this view of politics is held by a great many people and leads to alienation and extremism.

The Prisoner's democratic victory is overturned by apathy – the Villagers worshipping Rover – and by violence – the mechanics who beat him up. That's not just a crude reference to the way German democracy fell to Hitler, but also a warning.

Along the way, there's a sly pop at the press: every question is answered "no comment"; every answer turned into rhetoric for the status quo, except when the Prisoner says "mind your own business" which is rendered as "no comment". Identical twins 116a and 116b appear as the press-photographer and newspaper boy, while the journalist himself is 116, perhaps suggesting they are all just drones or perhaps prefiguring the Village council, alternating men in stripy tops and women in single colours, all numbered 2a, 2b, 2c and so on. (And the council chamber is a sight: like a rocket silo, with the Prisoner on a dais in the middle surrounded by the silent, unresponsive council, while Number 2 in person sits, gavel in hand, at the big desk in front, though behind him raised up is a throne on which sits a tall pyramid surmounted with a glowing eye like an Illuminati symbol standing in for Number 1.)

The Prisoner retains our sympathy throughout, driven to run away, driven to lash out, driven to drink it's clear that it's "the system" (here represented by spy-thriller tropes of drugs and brainwashing) that is warping his character. If anything, that is a plea for greater understanding of our elected representatives, not condemnation of them.

Nevertheless, it would be true to the series to say that democracy cannot represent the individual. No matter how we vote – Labour, Liberal, Conservative, None-of-the-above – we cannot all win simultaneously; there has to be compromise and sharing or someone loses.

There's an argument, a big argument, to be had about how much we share power: that is, how much power we allow, say, the government to have. When government takes more power, does that mean more or fewer people are winning? But that isn't the argument here. The Village and the Prisoner both have extreme positions: the Prisoner doesn't believe in compromise; the Village doesn't believe in sharing

who is number one?

It has to be Eric Portman for the character arc he plays, starting off the undisputed master of the Village, keen to have an opponent in this election because, as the Prisoner puts it, everyone votes for a dictator (in the end, everyone does) through the funny cruelty of him egging on his opponent's speech, down through the madness of the Council to the final helicopter departure, knowing that he is playing the role of someone playing a role.

We return to that scene in the cave where he pretends to be a broken old man, sharing little secrets and indiscretions, telling the Prisoner there's no surveillance. And the fool believes him. And then, with Prisoner mickey-finned on the floor, he sloughs off his avuncular, drunken persona as easily as he shrugs off his blanket. As Alex says: both actions leave him "cold".

Oh, and he's developed the ability to teleport. He speaks to the Prisoner on the telephone and appears on the television clearly at home in the control room in the Green Dome. But the instant the Prisoner hangs up on him, he's at the door, the Mountain coming to Mohammed.

next time…

That would be telling.

Be seeing you.


Friday, October 30, 2009

Day 3221: Conservatories – if they had a PLAN they might be DANGEROUS


The Conservatories were made by Maggie
They revolted…
They evolved…
Now, they look human
There are many copies…
…but only one brain cell
And they have a plan.

Fortunately, any plan that involves putting Master Gideon in charge of the economy really ISN'T a very GOOD one, as he demonstrated again this week by successfully outraging the City AND everyone else at the same time with his silly ban-the-bonuses scheme. For starters, why target the HIGH STREET banks, when the really OBSCENE bonuses are paid out to the City wheeler-dealers in MERCHANT BANKS? Does Gideon even know the difference?

Nor do Master Gideon's figures appear to add up. When the Centre for Economics and Business research are suggesting that the total bonus pot will amount to (a still pretty whopping) six billion quid how does restricting the cash payment produce a much MORE whopping TWENTY billion extra for business?

Anyway, paying out SHARES – instantly convertible into cash for anyone who, oh I don't know, WORKS on the STOCK EXCHANGE – does NOT promote a LONG TERM interest in the bank's wellbeing. What you actually need to do is to reward people with share OPTIONS, that is to say a plan where they will get some shares in the FUTURE, maybe three or five or ten years time, so it is in their own interest to stick around and make sure that the bank makes a lot of PROFIT in those years and doesn't take any ludicrous RISKS or they won't get their money.

And, slightly more esoterically, paying out bonuses in shares rather than cash does NOT amount to "free money" – the value of those shares has to come from SOMEWHERE, they aren't just magicked out of the air, and in this case it comes from depleting the value of all the OTHER shareholders' shares. Or more specifically, since WE own those banks, OUR shares; Master Gideon wants bonuses to come – once again – out of the taxpayers' pockets.

But REALLY bonuses are only a SYMPTOM of the problem. People get very CROSS about them because they look so huge and unjustified – mainly because they ARE huge and unjustified – but the real problem is the culture in the City that is all about making a FAST BUCK, profiteering at the expense of investors and taxpayers off of the implicit Government guarantee that if their risks go belly up, the Treasury will foot the bill.

Or, as Mr Vince "the Power" Cable put it:
"These bonus proposals are short term, stop gap solutions designed to stem
public anger but which fail to get to the heart of the problem.
So, as long as Master Gideon, the Conservatory Shadow Minister for Adding Up, is – like the CYLONS – unable to count past twelve, you wouldn't want to put any LONG TERM investments on the Conservatories, would you?

But, look out! Here comes Mr Tim Montgomery, of Conservatory RestHome, hoping to paint the town blue for a generation.

How is this Thousand Year Reich to be achieved?

He has a three stage scheme:

First, to recruit a broader coalition of support, which he compares to the "Reagan Democrats", by appealing to the aspirational working classes and to the people he calls "values voters", i.e. the socially concerned middle classes or "Liberal Democrats" as they are often called. The key to this is "tax relief for the lower paid" which means poaching Lib Dem tax policy – as well as Lib Dem voters – because clearly Gideon isn't going to think up a winner on his own. He's not even ashamed to say it's to try and turn votes, rather than out of any sense of fairness or rebalancing the tax system.

The second stage is "creating conservatory institutions" by which he means Mr Michael Gove, the Curious Cove's, wheeze to create independent schools for indoctrinating I'm sorry educating hundreds of thousands of voters in the right way. Nice.

And stage three is "disabling hostile media institutions" which means breaking up the BBC and bankrupting the Grauniad.

The fundamental DOUBLE-THINK of two-faced Conservatoryism shines through. He almost admits as much himself:
"We made the point (sometimes too often) that there was nothing incompatible between a tough approach to immigration and a generous policy towards the poorest people of the world. Nothing incompatible between support for traditional marriage and a respect for gay couples. Nothing incompatible between investing in our own defence and worrying about the arms trade".
Or, as Mr Jeremy Hardy once put it, nothing incompatible between singing hymns to Mr God in church in the morning and dancing naked for a Black Sabbath to Mr Satan at midnight, and I see no contradiction in that.

But in spite of that, you can't REALLY fault the first one, since building a bigger coalition is something that all of us in SERIOUS political parties try to do. But two and three seem to me to be deeply scary and authoritarian things to be planning.

Obviously it was the JESUITS who said "give me the child and I will give you the second-, third- or fourth-term Government" and they were WELL KNOWN for their fluffy Liberal decentralization… or indeed NOT!

And while it's LONG been debated whether the is an intrinsic BIAS at Auntie Beeb – with the answer being whoever is in Government thinks the Corporation is biased against THEM – the idea that there is an institutional left-wing tilt to the PRINT media is well beyond PARANOID and off into MONOMANIA.

Is it REALLY the case though that the next election will be as he puts it a "REALIGNMENT ELECTION"?

It seems to me that there WAS a fundamental realignment in 1979 – look at ME with the ancient history! – when power moved from Big Unions to Big Finance. The state shifted her favours from large, heavily industrialized and nationalized sectors to City-based gambling. PEOPLE didn't really get a look in.

Queen Maggie expressed it as a "home owning democracy", and the emphasis was definitely on "owning". The "new coalition" promised oodles of wealth – an economic miracle – but it was a SILLY promise based on a FIB because it was all built on BOOM and BUST as we KEEP finding out to our ever-mounting COST.

That "ruling coalition" (between the City and the Civil Service) has been in charge ever since, even if the name on the brass plate at Number Ten keeps changing. Replacing Mr Frown with Mr Balloon won't make a JOT of a difference, and the bonuses will KEEP ON being paid.

That's why we need a REAL realignment, one that smashes up the cosy club, and cuts the city and the state OUT.

That's why we need the Liberal Democrats.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Day 3218 (again): THE SARAH JANE ADVENTURES: The Mad Woman in the Attic


It's all TERRIBLY exciting this week, as Dr Woo himself will be dropping by for his old chum Best-friend Sarah's wedding to that rotter from the adverts who doesn't pay to be privileged!

By way of a TRAILER, here is a flashback to last week's carnival ride of JOLLY DESPAIR! Here are Daddy Richard's thoughts:
Apparently, this two-parter has earned the joint-highest appreciation index to date, a well deserved reward for writer Joe Lidster. Joe, who wrote this and the memorable episode "A Day in the Death" from Torchwood's second season, seems to be cornering the market in "regrets": a signature style is a tragic figure looking back, with flashbacks, on the disastrous decision that brought them to their current, usually dreadful, pass.

In this case, rather shockingly, it's one of our youthful heroes: a now-aged and abandoned Rani looks back on an empty life from the year 2059. This is heady stuff for a children's show.

We all have days when we are frustrated or belittled by our nearest and dearest, when we find their enthusiasms exasperating, or when we mistake their interest in someone else for excluding us. I dare say many of us have even wished to be left alone once in a while. WE don't really mean it, but what if someone granted that wish. That's the concept behind this week's story, almost fairy-story-like in its simplicity.

The framing device, set in the future, sees a local teenager, Adam, come exploring Sarah Jane's abandoned old house, only to discover the self-styled "mad old woman of Bannerman Road", namely Rani Chandra, alone in the attic.

She tells him the story of she's been alone since an ill-starred day fifty years ago, and we follow her through all the simple things that she – and in fairness her friends too – got wrong. Luke and Clyde are chatting online with Maria in America: they don't fail to include Rani but enthuse too much to her about the "brilliant Maria" so she feels left out, with an underlying sense that she feels second best, like she's Maria's inferior replacement (which is a clever riff on the "new girl coming into the show" to generate extra empathy with the audience who may also be feeling that she "took Maria's place"). When Sarah Jane pooh-poohs her suggestion for an investigation – typically in character for no-nonsense Ms Smith, and also typically in character she later recognises she's been dismissive – then Rani steals off for an adventure of her own.

Lured back to her old home town of Danemouth by an e-mail from her one-time friend Sam, a lonely orphan who has recently stopped communicating with her, she agrees to investigate a "demon" haunting a closed down funfair. Rani rightly deduces that the demon is actually a lost alien, who turns out to be a girl called Eve who is being looked-after by the caretaker and her mysterious Ship, who appears to speak from mirrors (yes, just like the Magic Mirror in the Disney "Snow White"). What Rani fails to realise is that Eve has dangerous powers which she cannot properly control, and Rani's interference threatens to unleash them.

There is an interesting moral question that's not really picked up on but it informs the feel of the whole show: Eve takes people who are homeless, lonely and makes them happy though playtime. But it takes their will away. We would label that "bad" but it's not her intention, and – if she's a utilitarian – she may well not even see it that way.

What is particularly wonderful here is the way that the story properly grasps the series' central idée fix that "the universe is wonderful and terrible at the same time". Eve is both wonderful and terrible, neither she nor her Ship are actually evil, but they do have, as I say, an alien morality that skews nicely away from what we might expect; they are literally fey, like fairy-folk they are perilous for mortals to be near. And for once you can understand why anyone would want to be in this world of prophetic time-seers even with all the danger that comes along with it.

Given that the title itself is a literary reference (to Mrs Rochester in "Jane Eyre", or possibly to the "Cracker" episode of the same name), there's some pretty heavy referencing going on: Eve comes from a race of time-sensitives (see "Warrior's Gate") who were caught up in "a war" (obviously the Time War, see in particular "The Unquiet Dead") and faced "extermination" (guess who!). And that's even before we get to the flashback clips (a device which itself is a reference to "Mawdryn Undead" and many others) where we get to see – whoo hoo – actual old Doctor Who clips from the third and fourth Doctor eras. And of course "he is returning" and "the darkness" allude to the prophesies in Doctor Who's 2008 series (go directly to "The Fires of Pompeii") or maybe the similar prophesy in "Planet of the Dead" – the clip from "Planet of the Spiders" is also a visual reference to "there is something on your back".

Meanwhile, Harry, the fairground caretaker, is played by Brian Miller, aka Mr Lis Sladen, who last appeared in Doctor Who (alright Doctor Who proper) in "Snakedance", also playing a Carnival worker. So that's a reference too.

And, getting self-referential, the conclusion sees Eve's new family taking a familiar shape – but, as Alex remarks, if Eve is Rani, Harry is parent-figure Sarah, computer-in-the-wall Ship is Mr Smith and fish-out-of-water orphan Sam is Luke, then where is their Clyde analogue?

Showing Sarah her future is a great idea, and knocks her back just the same way that seeing her past did in last season's "The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith". It's almost a pity that the pay off will come almost immediately, as it might have been nice to have that hanging over us for a little longer.

On the other hand we do get the final resolution of the long-running "K-9 in a cupboard" plot, releasing the tin dog to take a bigger part in the adventures now that the BBC have permission to do so, it would seem. "So you'll be staying," says Mr Smith. "Oh good." Brilliant.

If anything there is too much good material, as it does slightly squeeze out a decent resolution. The major twist, that Ship deludedly grants Rani's unintended wish, and strands her in a world without Sarah-Jane, comes too close to the end, meaning the "I'm really here to set things right" resolution is rushed, almost as an afterthought.

If I might propose a solution, I'd have used a little non-linear story-telling: bringing the twist up to the front of the story and having Adam trying to get old-Rani to tell him the background. If we start with the illusion that Ship is malevolent, then the twist becomes that she's actually just as hurt and confused as Eve. Adam could then explain this to old-Rani who from that realises who he must really be.

We finish with "mad woman in the attic" Rani being replaced by "happy granny surrounded by family" Rani, which is another of the series' touchstones – the need for family. This too is rather more fairy-story than science fiction, the idea that timelines can be casually rewritten like this not really being in keeping with the Doctor's usual philosophy. (And it doesn't bear too close an examination in logic either; given that we can reasonably expect Sarah-Jane and gang to save the world again in the not-too-distant future, having Ship edit them out of existence would surely mean old-Rani wouldn't have a planet to stand on!)

But in fairy-story logic, this is just right: the ill-starred wish gets you into trouble and the selfless act gets you out again, which is just what happens here. Even if the order is a bit muddled.

Next time… Something old, something borrowed, something blue… that'll be the TARDIS, then. He is returning! But is the Trickster really giving away the bride at "The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith".


Monday, October 26, 2009

Day 3218: Why are people allowed to tell lies in newspapers?


Well, I know: freedom of speech. But FACTS are FACTS. Surely freedom of speech is freedom to voice OPINIONS, where there are different ideas about things where there is NOT a known answer, like politics or who makes the best sticky buns.

It's not the freedom to make unfounded assertions that contradict known evidence.

And yes, I know some people say that there are NO facts at all, only points of view, but that's just a RUBBISH idea.

Look, I am nine: some things are RIGHT and some are WRONG.

And telling lies is WRONG.

So, Ms Jan Moir.

A week ago, Ms "Grimpen" Mire put poison pen to paper to write the article that has received more complaints than any other in the last five years. I'm sorry, I'll read that again: the article that has received more complaints than EVERY other in the last five years, added together.

A lot of people, including me and my daddies, were quite sad to hear about the sudden death of a nice young man called Mr Stephen Gately.

Ms Mire, was NOT upset – she saw an opportunity. She "wrote" [Daddy suggests the verb "daubed"] an article for her "paper" – for which she was presumably paid money – in which she not only indulged her own rather sickening fantasies about the possible deaths of other much-loved famous people, like Mr Robbie Williams or Ms Kylie Minogue, but also described Mr Gately's life as "sleazy" and his death as "unnatural". She also, with spectacular ill-grace, accused the poor boy's grieving mother of lying.

Can you imagine for just one second how that poor mummy must have felt?

The terrible news that she's lost her little boy, then the horrible human thoughts set in that something horribly horrible – drugs? murder? naughty games gone wrong? – something must have happened, then – guilty relief – the expert in charge tells you that it was a tragic tragic accident, a heart condition, the sort of "ordinary" disaster that out of the blue affects a small number of people every week. And THEN this horrible woman starts flinging the dung around, like she's picked up every evil rumour and bad thought that has floated like scum across the surface of the Internet and gigglingly printed them up like they mean something.

Can you imagine how Mr Gately's husband must feel about this? Practically airbrushed out of the coverage of the funeral already and then smeared with the implication that he went off to bed ("I've got no proof but not alone fner fner! By the way, I don't even have to underline the prurient assumption that that's BAAAAAD!") leaving his hubby to die on the couch.

What a horrid thing to do.

What I want to know is WHY, why would we even LET someone like that print a load of lies in a newspaper?

It is NOT an "opinion" to claim "there was nothing natural about this death". That is a statement about the facts: either poor Mr Gately died of natural causes or he didn't. The coroner said that he did. Ms Mire had NO grounds for questioning or challenging that assessment. So her article is just a LIE.

Now, she has written a "response" [Daddy suggests the noun: "screed"] to all the complaints.

She unpologises for the TIMING of her article, but not for the blatant LIE.

And then she tells ANOTHER lie:

"If he had been a heterosexual member of a boy band," she asserts, "I would have written exactly the same article."

Exactly the same? EXACTLY the same?

So after the sudden unexpected and tragic death of a HETEROSEXUAL young man, she would have written that: "it strikes another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships"?

It would have been BIZARRE NONSENSE to have written any such thing.

But more than that, while I would suggest that it would still be a really PRETTY STRANGE thing to say even if she had changed the wording to "the happy-ever-after myth of straight marriage", I do not for one picosecond believe that she WOULD have drawn such a conclusion from a tragedy involving a "nice straight boy".

To suggest that the first article made no link between Mr Gately's sudden death and his sexuality is A MONSTROUS FALSEHOOD. The first article doesn't say anything BUT "he died because he was gay".

Snide little innuendoes are laced throughout the piece, all with the same undercurrent:

"Healthy and fit 33-year-old men do not just climb into their pyjamas and go to sleep on the sofa, never to wake up again" …unless they're gay.

"if we are going to be honest, we would have to admit that the circumstances surrounding his death are more than a little sleazy" …because he was gay.

"Yet the recent death of Kevin McGee, the former husband of Little Britain star Matt Lucas, and now the dubious events of Gately’s last night raise troubling questions" …about them both being gay.

And NOTHING links the tragic suicide of lonely Mr McGee to the tragic accident of happily-partnered Mr Gately EXCEPT that they were both gay.

(One could just as easily link Ms Mire herself to any notorious heterosexual suicide, with equal lack of any real meaning… for the most ludicrous possible example: "the death of the German Reichsfuhrer, the former longtime companion of German model Ms Eva Braun, and now the dubious events of Ms Mire's last article raise troubling questions". It doesn't MEAN anything because there is NO real connection – apart from them both receiving the support of the Daily Fail – just the SINISTER SUGGESTION of one put in your head.)

To deny that she used homophobic words is almost MORE wicked – it is the "I didn't do anything wrong!" barefaced deceit you might expect from a naughty little girl caught with her hand in the cookie jar. In anyone over the age of FOUR it is CONTEMPTIBLE.

I don't think lies like that should be allowed.

Newspapers have ENORMOUS power, but are accountable to practically no one.

Now there's a very simple and easy comparison to make: the BBC.

Ahh, you might say, but the BBC gets public money and the Daily Fail is a private company. OK, in that case the Daily Fail can pay me back my share of EVERY PENNY that it got in advertising. Because I had no choice in them getting that money, so they owe me – either accountability, or I'll take the cash.

Yes, that would be fair: either you can sign up to an accountable oversight commission, and that probably means a PARLIAMENTARY one – yes, I'll take MPs over journalists any day of the week – or you are banned from taking advertising.

So, last year, on the BBC Radio Two, Mr Russell Brand and Mr Jonathon Ross caused offence to a great many people when they made some silly rude phone calls to Mr Jonathan Sachs. (Not to be confused with Mr Andrew Sachs, the Chief Rabbi.)

Egged on by – of all papers – the Daily Fail, a record number of people (over forty thousand) complained. Mr Russell lost his job. The person in charge of Radio Two lost her job.

This year, in the Daily Fail, Ms Mire has caused offence to a great many people by telling a vicious lie.

Egged on by absolutely nobody, a record number of people (over twenty-five thousand) have complained. So, Ms Moir should lose her job. The person in charge of the Daily Fail should lose his job. Both of them, in fact.

No other outcome would be JUST.
I am indebted to Mr Stephen of the Glenn and the Cardiff Blogger for reading the Daily Fail so that we don't have to.


Friday, October 23, 2009

Day 3215 (again): THE PRISONER 42nd ANNIVERSARY: Checkmate


My Daddies have been watching telly again. This week, Mr McGoohan spends all his time OBSESSING about who is BLACK and who is WHITE. And do you know what? By the end of the show he is mistaken for one of the FASCISTS!

Funny the things they allow on television, isn't it?


If you think of the Prisoner, you think of playing chess with living pieces, and that means that you're thinking of this one.

Has the Prisoner found an ally? Is it the Count or the Queen or the Rook? And is there any way of telling?

The show opens with Rover. It bounces down the road, round corners and under arches, as though they decided that if the robot wasn't going to work they'd just defy the laws of physics in order to make that weather balloon seem alive.

All the Villagers freeze when they hear Rover approach, all except one, who we later are told used to be a Count. The Prisoner follows him, and discovers the chess game where he is persuaded to play as Pawn to the Queen. Suddenly, the game is disrupted when one of the Rooks decides to make up his own moves.

With the game over, the Prisoner talks with the Count who suggests that one can tell guard from prisoner by their manner. Thinking that this might just work, the Prisoner set out to take charge of a band of escapees…

there's been a slight misunderstanding

I've come to the conclusion that this should have been the third episode, not the fourth, and we should have watched it before "The Chimes of Big Ben".

Alex disagrees. He felt that, having a more complex plot, this episode feels like it has gone deeper into the Village and deeper into the Prisoner, and for that reason thought it was right to be placed fourth.

The thing that started me thinking this way is the Prisoner's brainwashed, puppy-dog love interest – at least she's interested in him. She is Number Eight, but in "The Chimes of Big Ben", the woman who says her name is Nadia is introduced to us as the new Number Eight.

On its own, that's hardly conclusive; each week there are new people with numbers we're seen before. This week Number 42 is a male gardener, for example. But the very fact that the newness is emphasised in this case could be seen as significant.

So I reassessed our reasons for putting "Checkmate" fourth.

Previously, our assumption was that the Prisoner was morenaïve in "Chimes of Big Ben" and that the betrayal at the end of that episode sets him looking for how to spot who is on which side.

That isn't really what happens, though. The idea to start trying to spot warders is actually put into his head by the chess-playing Count.

So what if it's the other way around: the Prisoner demonstrates a sharp distrust, indeed thinly-veiled contempt, to everyone in "Chimes" and in particular his paranoia about trusting the "new" Number Eight is much, much higher that it is of the Number Eight in this episode. It takes nearly killing her twice to even garner a wary trust from him. And of course they are pushing at his resistance to female company, trying to break into his gallantry response which feels more like a development on the "thrusting a woman upon him" ploy tried here in "Checkmate", a ploy which seems like a crude, backwards step, in comparison.

Other evidence: in "Checkmate" he recruits several allies; in "The Chimes of Big Ben" he tries to keep knowledge of his latest plan to the barest minimum and his escape attempt gets much further, or at least appears to get much further, even if it's finally revealed the furthest he got was the next cove.

And in "Checkmate" the Village is foolproof, they beat him by the very nature of their set up, they don't need to even try; contrast that with "The Chimes of Big Ben" where, although they nearly succeed, it's also the first time that the Village really overplay their hand, by strongly hinting – through the presence of the Prisoner's boss – that they are "our side's" Village.

You might feel that the escape plot here is more cunning than the build a boat-disguised-as-a-piece-of-art plot in "The Chimes of Big Ben" because of the clever "identify the guards from the guarded" element, and there's merit in that. But I'd say that the actual escape plan – "build a radio, contact the outside world and get rescued" – is an only-slightly-more-complicated reprise of the "get a message out; get rescued" ploy of "Dance of the Dead".

In fact, I realise now that there's also a nice bridging element to the "build a radio, get rescued by a ship" plan that connects the "find a radio" part of "Dance of the Dead" to the "build a boat" part of "Chimes": it's as though the "your world is a dream" conversation with Mary Morris's Number Two in "Dance" convinces him that the sea is the Village's weak point and he obsesses about what might be "out there": hope. That may, in fact, be a clever ploy by Number Two: surely Rover is better equipped to patrol the sea than the mountains, and the open ocean is surely more exposed to surveillance and radar than the mountains where there are places to hide (though of course there are also places to hide cameras too).

Equally, the Rook is almost "offered up" to the Prisoner as just the person he needs, the one with the technical skill required to make a radio. Coming after "The Chimes of Big Ben", where he's offered just the person he needs, the one who knows the location of the Village, you would have thought he would be much more suspicious of that. With "Checkmate" coming first, he might believe that useful people can be found, he just needs to treat them in the right way.

The Rook's claim to have been in the Village for "months" maybe longer doesn't really help us, but the Count remarks that the Prisoner must be new here, if he's not worked out that some of the guards pretend to be prisoners.

Finally, there's the "power scale": as time goes by, the Prisoner grows in strength and Number Two steadily weakens. By that measure, "Checkmate" has to be the earlier episode.

The Prisoner here thinks he's in charge, doing well, outwitting the guardians, so at the end he almost blows a fuse when he's beaten, showing temper and pointlessly smashing the television through which Number Two is taunting him before resorting to roughhousing with the Village crew.

In "The Chimes of Big Ben", he's almost worse when he nearly comes to cracking at the thought that maybe, just maybe, it's his own side that's done this to him. But he doesn't crack, and he comes through it stronger, and is able to walk away from Number Two and Number Eight with a phlegmatic shrug.

In contrast, Leo McKern's Number Two is, as I've remarked, teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown, whereas no such weakness afflicts this week's master of ceremonies…

the new number two

Peter Wynguard, normally known as the High Lord of Louche, here turns in a tightly restrained performance, powerful, unemotional and totally evil.

His delivery of the opening lines in the title sequence is Olympian, not quite so knowing as Mary Morris, but detached and cold.

He is an aesthete: immaculately manicured and impeccably polite, but he doesn't even push his own control desk's buttons with his fingers, preferring to use his brolly. And likewise he prefers to push the Prisoner's buttons indirectly, showing him a little thing here a little thing there.

There's a very Eastern, Zen attitude to him: he doesn't so much try to break the Prisoner as allow the Prisoner to "come onto the punch", to break himself. Perhaps this is what is being flagged up by the unexpected moment of him sat, apparently meditative, then suddenly exploding into a karate chop.

He makes no effort to resist when "captured" by the Prisoner and his band of would-be escapees, if anything he's disappointed at the lack of originality, meekly surrendering to being tied up, probably because he already knows it's all a sham. His explanation to the Prisoner that "I hate to disappoint you, but the Polotska's our ship" is patronising and paternal; his expression becoming a slight moue of nausea on seeing the Prisoner's fisticuffs. And then evil glee on unleashing Rover.

As the master chess-player from behind the scenes, one is left to wonder whether the presence of the butler at the chess match isn't a clue that although the moves are dictated by Number 100, the real opponent isn't a remote Number Two.

follow the signs

The one thing this isn't is a crude "life is a game of chess" metaphor. Chess is a game of pieces that move in predictable and controlled ways; "Checkmate" is patently rejecting that model: we are not pieces that you can push around; the Village's brainwashing and aversion therapy don't actually work – the "love" they create is hollow and ultimately hurtful; their deprogramming of individuality even less successful.

It's clear that the Village's masters, typical of Sixties authority figures, buy into all sorts of control crap, whether it's the behavioural determinism of B. F. Skinner seen here or the RAND Corporation's Game Theory efforts which "proved" that America had "won" the Vietnam War by the end of the Nineteen-Sixties.

Skinner took the work of Pavlov (who in fairness only experimented on animals) and applied it to people. He didn't actually advocate torturing them to make them behave better: his ideas of positive and negative reinforcement were about encouraging "right" behaviour be either giving a reward (positive) or taking away a discomfort (negative). But his work does tend to lead directly to "A Clockwork Orange" (and, obviously, what is seen here in the Rook's "hospital treatment").

Wikipedia quote him as saying:

"When Milton's Satan falls from heaven, he ends in hell. And what does he say to reassure himself? 'Here, at least, we shall be free.' And that, I think, is the fate of the old-fashioned liberal. He's going to be free, but he's going to find himself in hell."

To which the old-fashioned Liberal in me tends to reply: "well at least it won't be you making life hell for me, you demented control freak!"

Of course, the real aversion therapy is to make the Rook distrust all authority figures, and in particular the Prisoner.

The reveal of the Rook is done almost like the twist in a Whodunit except without setting up that something had been "dun". The structure of the piece ought to lend itself to a few moments of questioning: could it have been the Count? Could it have been the Queen? Could it have been Penry, the Mild-Mannered Janitor? But there's literally no time between the Prisoner realising that he's been betrayed and the "outing" of the betrayer.

It's also an interesting moment of commentary on the unreality of television. The Prisoner's response to Number Two's big reveal, as I've already said, is to snatch up an ashtray and smash in the television set – as though he's under the impression, often fostered by television, it must be said, that Number Two is looking out at him from the same set, as though it's an Orwellian televiewer. But of course it's not, and we see, from Number Two's perspective, that he can still watch what is going on.

What is almost as interesting is the way that the Queen, Number Eight, just drops straight out of the plot. Initially she's ambiguous – and almost funny with the exchange: "I've often helped other people's plans." "Then why are you still here?" "Well, none of them succeeded!" – and there's a vaguely interesting idea about monitoring her emotional state as a new way of keeping tabs on the Prisoner. Alex, however, is most disparaging about the way that cod Sixties behaviour modification psychobabble suddenly works perfectly when it needs to create the lurve. Given that the whole thrust of the series is about individualism – not to mention "brain-zapping BAD!" – and that this show in particular seems to be debunking classical (Pavlovian) conditioning, it's just a bit of a switch.

So we get a slightly disjointed "thrilling" chase with the Mini Mokes, disjointed because it's not sure whether it's interested in her pursuit or what the Prisoner is really up to and tries to do both at once. Then there's a toe-curlingly cringe-worthy sequence where she makes him cocoa and he tries to be nice about it. And then he's mean to her on the beach, finally snapping and shouting at her. But once he's taken away the magic emotion-chip pendant, she's just gone. Did they have some spare plot left over from an unmade episode that they wanted to use up?

It is, surely, a small gag though that the Prisoner adopts the role of Queen's Pawn (also the working title of the episode), as it's a sign that he is, or was, Oh Her Majesty's (Secret?) Service. Mind you, the title, "Checkmate", is a bit of a rough pun, too, as the Prisoner must literally "check" who his "mates" are.

Which brings me back to the episode's theme… Some of the Villagers wear white Number badges; some of them wear black ones. The suggestion, possibly facile, is that the producers originally thought that the inmates could wear the white and the guardians the black, until they realised that made it all too obvious when someone was a double-agent. So they muddled them up.

In essence, though, this story is supposed to be about un-muddling the badges, telling who is black and who is white. In that sense it is about real life, it's about the value judgements we make, often instinctively, about the people we know, how we pick those who are going to be friends and those who are not. It is well known that humans prejudge each other very quickly based on body language, and that is what is going on here: the Prisoner is reading people's body language… and prejudging them. Which, obviously, is why he messes up.

who is number one?

This week I want to promote a minor piece: Ronald Radd as the Rook, even though he's only another pawn in the end.

With huge, almost elemental forces of McGoohan and Wynguard moving around him, he remains the essentially human element at the heart of this story: he's the one who sweats; he's the one who does the actual work of making the radio; and he's the one who shamefacedly appears next to Number Two having sold out for all the wrong reasons.

While the Prisoner is chatting merrily with the Queen, it's the Rook who demonstrates true individuality by breaking rank and rules to stride across the board, putting himself in charge. He's punished for that, tortured for that. Which is a quintessentially human outcome.

next time…

That would be telling.

Be seeing you.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Day 3215: Electric Dreams


Pardon my Eighties flashback, but: "I like driving in my car" PLUS "Together in Electric Dreams" EQUALS have the Chinese found a way to Save the World, with a new electric car that can, allegedly, do 250 miles on one charge and up to 100mph?

Shouldn't we be checking this out with some urgency, 'cos if it's TRUE then it will be a BIG HELP towards cutting CO2 emissions*.

Just as importantly, isn't this EXACTLY the sort of thing that WE should be making? New car plants PLUS zero-carbon cars EQUALS hello new economic miracle. And that's VERY Eighties!

(*so long as you remember to use renewable for GENERATING your electric battery juice!)
Bless the BBC for their up-to-date-i-tude, but here is the Grauniad with the same story six months earlier.

And here is Treehugger at the launch a year before that!

Look, if we've KNOW about this super-whizzy long-life battery for THAT long, why the FLUFF are we not URGENTLY tooling up to match the technology?!?!?!


Day 3213: New Words: UNPOLOGY


unpology (ŭn-pŏl'ə-jē): noun (pl unpologies)

1. a written or spoken statement to be used where convention or legal instruction would require a statement of regret for fault or failure

2. an insincere expression used to accentuate positive aspects in order to downplay a negative verdict and avoid admission of guilt or contrition

3. (colloquial) any New Labour ministerial statement not previously trailed in off-the-record briefings, selected newspapers or on the Today programme

viz: former Second-Home Secretary, Ms Jacqui Spliff, made an unpology in the House today in response to the findings of the Commissioner for Standards.

see also: Blairgerism

Here is the FULL Hansard transcript of what Ms Spliff had to say for herself:
I am grateful to the Committee on Standards and Privileges for its consideration of the detailed report from the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards following his seven-month investigation. I want to apologise unreservedly to the House, as I have to my constituents, for wrongly claiming for the cost of films alongside my broadband and cable connection. This claim should never have been made and, as the Committee notes, I paid back the claim in full as soon as it was brought to my attention.

On the issue of second home allowances, the commissioner and the Committee recognise that my London home is indeed a home. They dismiss the most usually repeated newspaper descriptions of my living arrangements, and I welcome this judgment. As the report makes clear, I sought and received written advice from the parliamentary authorities that supported my main home designation and, indeed, I spent more nights in London than in Redditch for three of the four years in question. I have never flipped my designation and I own only one home.

The Committee recognises that there is no evidence that the taxpayer would be any worse or any better off as a result of my having made a different decision. However, in retrospect the commissioner concludes that I should have used my discretion to change my main home designation. I accept the Committee’s conclusions and I therefore apologise to the House. I want to say sorry, too, to my constituents. They are my No. 1 priority, and for too long this investigation has overshadowed the work that I do for them.

So, for starters, she apologises UNRESERVEDLY for the wrongly claiming of the cost of films, and then RATHER LESS SO for the Second Home Allowance.

It should be remembered that the Commissioner for Standards, Sir Paul Lyon, UPHELD the complaint that Ms Spliff had wrongly claimed for, er, pay-per-view movies and ALSO UPHELD the complaint that she had had it away with over a hundred grand by wrongly designating her sister's spare room as her "main home".

So why the equivocation?

The report – she says – makes clear, she sought and received written advice.

Here is what that advice from the Department of Finance and Administration actually said:

"I can confirm therefore that the location of a Member's main home may not always be where their family reside. I agree with your assertion that is reasonable to continue to claim the allowance against your constituency home given your ministerial responsibilities require you to spend the majority of your time in Westminster"

But that advice was in reply to HER writing a letter to them saying (basically): "look, I've been told that I don't have to count where my family live and spend all their time as my main residence, so if I continue to claim that this spare room is my main home, that's okay isn't it?"

So essentially, the "advice" reduces to "if you say so"!

She goes on: "indeed, I spent more nights in London than in Redditch for three of the four years in question"

But that's not STRICTLY true, is it, at least not within the tolerances of MATHEMATICS.

What the Standards Committee says (point 12) is:

"On the evidence available, the Commissioner has concluded that Ms Smith spent more nights at her London home than at her constituency home between 11 May 2005 and 27 June 2007. He has also concluded that Ms Smith spent more nights at her constituency home than at her London home between 28 June 2007 and 31 March 2009."

So that's two years and nearly two months spending more nights in London and one year and seven months spending more nights in Redditch. Which is a LOT nearer to TWO and TWO than it is to THREE and ONE.

And then she adds: "I have never flipped my designation and I own only one home."


You see, when Ms Spliff was first elected, she quite naturally designated her home in Redditch as her "main home". All fair there. In 1999 she became a minister. Yes, I know, but she did. The RULES then in play said she HAD to re-designate her London home as her main one. Okay, fair play, can't say that's her fault. But then in 2004 that rule was cancelled and she had the CHOICE to re-re-designate BACK to how it was to start with. And she didn't.

So although she didn't take any ACTION to "flip" her house, the EFFECT is the same; if she had not been a Minister, she WOULD have had to have "flipped" to be claiming what she was from 2004 onwards. As the Standards Commission says, other than becoming a Minister, NOTHING changed in Ms Spliff's circumstances, so how other than a "flip" can you describe her choice to stick with the re-designation?

Because more than anything else, it's OBVIOUS that the WHOLE POINT of scrapping the "Ministers have to declare their London home as their main home" rule was because it was clearly SILLY in the case of people like Ms Spliff. Giving her the CHOICE was an act of TRUST that she would properly declare the secondary home, NOT an invitation to maximise her allowances. It was an act of trust that she BETRAYED.

She does, kind of, sort of, reluctantly come to the word "apology" at the end of her statement, although her acceptance of the Commissioner's findings comes heavily framed with an "however" and an "in retrospect", but before that she plays her ultimate "Get Out Of Jail Free" card:

"The Committee recognises that there is no evidence that the taxpayer would be any worse or any better off as a result of my having made a different decision."

Ummm. Sort of. They do and they don't. Point 34:

First they say:

"If Ms Smith had nominated her Redditch home as her main home, she could not have claimed for the rent she paid to her sister because the House rules prevent a family member from benefiting from allowances."

Which seems pretty plain and simple: Ms Spliff got the homes the wrong way round; declared the other way around she could have claimed nothing; ergo the taxpayer was stung for the WHOLE WHACK, was out of pocket by over a hundred grand. Thank you. We'll take a cheque.

BUT, then the Committee goes on to say:

"However, she could have bought her own home in London; she could have rented a home in London from a non-relative; or from June 2007 she could presumably have used a taxpayer-funded grace and favour residence in central London, as many previous Home Secretaries have done. Any of these courses could have resulted in a different claim on Additional Costs Allowance"

She could also, presumably, have been kidnapped by space-aliens, taken Holy Orders and retreated to a Convent, or been elected Queen of the Mountains of the Moon.

Is it REASONABLE to think that ANY of these things might have happened? Or are we ACTUALLY saying that we can't work out how much the public purse has lost because the former Home Secretary might have found some OTHER way to diddle the taxpayer?

You have to ask, who signs off on this sort of TWADDLE? Who takes a fairly clear-cut double-barrelled guilty verdict and says there are "mitigating circumstances". And, in fact, who therefore concludes that the appropriate punishment for someone who has, let's just say, "inappropriately acquired" over a hundred thousand pounds of other people's money is a few grudging words of mainly self-justification?

In short, just who ARE the Standards and Privileges Committee, anyway?

Well, in accordance with Standing Order 149 para (2): "The committee shall consist of ten Members, of whom five shall be a quorum", there are ten members of the Standards Committee, five of whom are members of Hard Labour and five of whom are not.

Interestingly, though, not all of them were PRESENT when the report on Ms Spliff went through.

The meeting to decide on their response took place on the afternoon of 22 September. That's slap in the middle of the Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference, which I'm sure is a HUGE COINCIDENCE.

Nevertheless, a glance at the MINUTES of the meeting reveals that PRESENT for this discussion were:

Mr Kevin Barron (Hard Labour)
Mr Andrew Dismore (Hard Labour)
Mr Chris Mullin (Hard Labour)
Mr Paddy Tipping (Hard Labour)
Dr Alan Whitehead (Hard Labour)
Mr Greg Knight (Hard Labour stooge Conservatory – no, be fair, you can't blame him, outnumbered five to one and they'd have been quorate even if he'd refused to attend)

Meanwhile, NOT present were:

Mr Sir George "Very Old" Young (Conservatory)
Mr Nicholas "Bunter" Soames (Conservatory)
Mr Elfym Llwyd (Plaid Cymru)
Mr Nick Harvey (Liberal Democrat) – away at the Party Conference, what a coincidence.

And at this point I have to say: is it just ME or is that starting to look just the TEENIEST bit PARTISAN? And perhaps just the TINIEST bit SUSPICIOUS?

Maybe it's COMPLETELY INNOCENT, maybe it just LOOKS bad, MAYBE.

But – at a time when Parliament is in the LOWEST of esteem and when MPs' expenses are under the TIGHTEST scrutiny – would it not have been at the very least BEST PRACTICE to make sure that the opposition Parties were all present and correct when deciding the fate of a senior Government THIEF. Er, member.

There's a PRICE for this sort of behaviour. You can't just "stitch things up" any more, you can't just "play the game"; Jacqui Spliff may have begrudged the House of Commons even a small sign that she was sorry, but mouthing the words in Parliament isn't enough when it looks like you are getting away with daylight robbery.

People are angry about this, FURIOUS in fact.

For Ms Spliff, the backlash has begun, with over six thousand Redditch voters telling her to get gone and the campaign is already rolling to stop her receiving an undeserved peerage as a reward for failure.

Or as Liberal Democrat Peer Lord Oakeshott put it: "Shamed MPs should not stroll into the House of Lords."

But for the rest of us, the price will be paid in the years to come, because people have lost their FAITH in politics and they don't care enough anymore to demand more of their Government. If we end up electing the next truly GHASTLY Conservatory regime it'll be because most people are more interested in seeing the current bunch of crooks and shysters ejected than in holding the next lot to account.

I believe that we deserve BETTER than that. I believe that we can have a world that is actually pretty GREAT, and we don't need EITHER Hard Labour OR the Conservatories bossing us around and ripping us off.

And I make no unpologies for that.

And, tragically, Ms Spliff has immediately LOST her title as MOST EGREGIOUS UNPOLOGIST of the YEAR to Ms Jan Moir of the Daily Fail. More on THAT story later


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Day 3211: THE SARAH JANE ADVENTURES: Prisoner of the Judoon


Hooray! Best-friend Sarah-Jane is back! There may be no FULL series of Doctor Who this year, but with fifty minutes of Adventures each week this season, I feel like these are like PROPER Doctor Who stories now!

Daddy is saying something about it being "just like in the Peter Davison era"… shut UP, Daddy, what would YOU know about it?

This week: Rhinos are STUPID. Well duh!

Also, don't forget to tune in to the "Spot the Blathereen" game on the website for more proof that POSTIES are EVIL!

Now, I suppose I OUGHT to let Daddy say something…
Another cracking start to a series: funny, exciting, full of ideas. And it's been years since Sarah-Jane was possessed; here Lis Sladen shows how it should be done, turning in a performance that is cheeky, even saucy at times and with a gleam of wicked fun in her eye, and yet also channelling real anger and evil when called up to end the world.

Publicity stills in the RadioTimes of our alien villain-of-the-week led us to dub this one "The Judoon versus the Jem'hadar", but new alien Androvax the Annihilator, a Veil lifeform and the eponymous prisoner, proved to be much more interesting. His method of possession – "stepping into" his victims – was a rather swish effect, and his telltale forked tongue flickering from his victims' lips was just brilliant. And, goodness gracious, a villain with a motivation – so what if it's the old "my world was destroyed so I will take revenge on the entire universe!" shtick; it gave him a little bit of depth, and Lis was able to play with that, that hurt underneath the spite driving the wickedness, to great effect.

It's just a pity that he's (another sci-fi cliché) "last of the Veil" as they'd make cool recurring villains. Obviously he's a genocidal nutter, so it would be wrong to hope that he escapes again…

Opposite Androvax, on the side of Law and Order – or at least the side of stomping about causing chaos – is new Judoon hero, Captain Tybo.

Tybo takes those moments from "Smith and Jones" that show that the Judoon can be funny and really runs with them. He's hilarious, and yet totally in character, and actually smarter than he's given credit for. Even Sarah-Jane pigeon-holes the Judoon as "a bit thick", and yet Tybo wins us over from practically his first appearance, because even while he's being bloody-minded about it and shooting up everything in sight, he's also struggling to get on with his job while barely recovered from being whacked over the head with an iron girder. Bloody-mindedness or dogged determination: his unswerving law-abidingness is actually quite a worthy trait. And for all that he's hidebound to follow any rule he sees, from "No Unauthorised Admission" to "Pay and Display" with equal intransigence, he's actually quite adaptable, and he does "get his man". He's unswervingly polite too, always thanking people when they obey his (okay usually barked, usually delivered at gunpoint) orders; as role-models go, I can think of worse, and I wouldn't object to a few kids playing "Captain Tybo" in the playground. His final line to the kids, commuting their "death penalties" to "being grounded" surely shows that he has a sharp line on what's really going on as well.

Kudos has to go to Paul Casey who has to perform some rather complex mime and to Neil Gorton for making such a brilliant, flexible, mobile prosthetic Judoon head who between them bring Captain Tybo to life and make him feel completely real. And of course Nick Briggs, too, for giving up his larynx to give Tybo his voice.

Nothing quite tops the hilarity of Judoon driving, though. "I am trained in all pursuit vehicles!" Tybo insists before lurching off in a "commandeered" police Landrover. And when Androvax' spacecraft lurches off into the sky at the end, we remarked: there's a Judoon driving that, isn't there.

Slightly less hilarious was the "comedy" subplot involving Rani's parents getting themselves caught up in Judoon shenanigans. Although there were elements of farce in the "ooh, Rani mustn't let Mum and Dad see her with an alien" ducking behind pillars and near misses, the timing was never sharp enough, nor was there any real sense of "disaster" if they actually did collide; this is all far more Secret Seven than Buffy the Vampire Slayer, after all – we're not going to end up with emotional meltdown. Nor was the "lets humour the parents" ending entirely in keeping with the show's overall message of "there are wonders out there if you're willing to look".

And besides, we've seen this done before and done infinitely better on November 23rd 1963, when Susan was the one who understands and accepts the "unearthly" and it was Ian and Barbara who went into "can't cope" mode. And it's done without compromising the dignity of the teachers, which doesn't just help them as characters, but also makes the alien more alien, (and less "panto").

I think they just about got away with the coincidence of Sarah-Jane getting possessed on the very day she has just visited the very nanobot laboratory that villainous Androvax needs to work his dastardly scheme. Swarms of tiny little dots being quite handy for the effects guys, these miniature monsters actually worked rather well as a threat, particularly the 'peril' moment where they eat through some fire doors to get at Clyde and Rani, leaving a delicious bite-hole in the woodwork. It would have been nice at the end though, if when they'd all switched off they'd left some sizable bite-marks removed from the building too.

Oh, and under the microscope molecule-sized robots really don't look like cute beetles with chomping mandibles.

For the regulars, it was a good week to be Clyde, who pretty much took the lead here, coming up with the ideas and generally keeping things moving – even while claiming to be no more than "one-liners guy". Not a bad week for Sarah's adopted son Luke either, who gets to be rather brilliant in talking Mr Smith out of self-destructing and disabling Androvax ship after one glimpse of the blueprints, plus psychoanalysing the villain into surrender: not a bad week's work at all. Which just leaves Rani to be a bit wet.

I don't want to get too into the gender politics of it, but for a series that is normally chock full of positive female roles, this week had Sarah-Jane turned "evil", Rani's Mum doing something dappy, and Rani herself reduced to tailing Clyde and Tybo and hiding whenever her parents appear.

On the other hand, where Captain Tybo was generally portrayed as dim (albeit with undertones), Rani's father Haresh, who is also remember their headteacher Mr Chandra, was reduced to pure comic relief and the only person her Mum could get one over on. Including making him literally wetter than his daughter.

The "fifth" regular is obviously the multi-talented Alexander Armstrong, also returning to BBC1 in the brilliant sketch show he shares with Ben Miller ("face the front!") and probably still to be seen on BBC4 or BBC HD as Clive Sinclair in tragic-comedic Eighties microcomputer biopic "Micro Men" ("there's even a bloody game about me trying to get a bloody knighthood!" "you might want to read this" "ah… apparently, I've been offered a knighthood"). It's only a shame he wasn't guest presenter of "Have I Got News For You" on Friday as well.

Alex remarks: I do hope Sarah-Jane remembers to cancel the self-destruct properly because he was left thinking about it on a three-second countdown. Oops!

Next time: Oooh, looks like spooky goings on! Make a wish! A haunted house and a crazy old lady… that can't be Rani can it? Is she… "The Mad Woman in the Attic"?!


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Day 3210: The Vince and the Paupers


At the risk of incurring Auntie Jenny's FANGIRL-ENVY, I've been to see Mr Dr Vince "the Power" Cable.

He was here in Tower Hamlets to boost the local party and particularly our excellent candidate, Mr Ajmal Masroor.

Bethnal Green, currently fiefdom of Mr Gorgeous Pussycat George, leader of the Respect-the-Leotard Party, is one of the most deprived Boroughs in the country and yet it lies directly between the glittering riches of the twin towers (of wealth) that are the City and Canary Wharf or, as Mr Professor Tolkien might probably not have put it, Minus Morals and Minus Money.

And now, young Jedi...
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Mr Dr Vince explained a bit of how the economy has had a massive HEART ATTACK, and how the treatment was massive injections of medicine, or "MONEY" as it is called in banking circles.

The GOOD news is that the patient survived.

The BAD news is that there is a lasting legacy of damage done.

For a start, there's the legacy of rising unemployment, expected to top three million and particularly impacting young people and ethnic minority men.

Then there's the legacy of bad banking, with good businesses unable to get credit because the Smaugs in the City want to sit on their hordes not invest them: for example, the RBS or Royal Bank that WE Saved, is actually lending LESS in the last few months.

Asked how it is that collapsed banks have the wherewithal to pay out bonuses, he said that they shouldn't be. These bonuses are just jarring. Clearly there are two different types of banks: the plain and simple cases like Northern Rock, like HBoS, where the taxpayer has stepped in and rescued them. Clearly they shouldn't be in any position to do this. But then there are also the other sort of banks, including Goldperson Sachs who have caused such a fuss this week, who have not been saved DIRECTLY but have nevertheless benefitted SUBSTANTIALLY at the taxpayer's expense: from the perception that – post Lehman Brothers – no matter how badly they fluff up, Governments will be forced to bail them out rather than risk another atom bomb type blast wiping out what's left of the world economy; to all the money they are making by brokering and marketing the very I.O.U's that the Government has had to issue to pay for rescuing the OTHER banks. It's just WRONG that they be allowed to operate on this basis.

"The banks know they can't fail so they take excessive risks," protested one member of the audience, "and then they pay bonuses based on one year's performance that reward those very risks!"

"You've correctly recognised the problem," said Mr Vince, sagely. This is the very problem that the G20 drew up new rules to address… it's just Mr Frown's Government that is being slow to do anything about it!

Which of course brings us to the legacy of wrecked government finances, with income right down and spending on benefits spiralling up, which is why it is so necessary for a proper PLAN with key objectives of preserving frontline services, the things that Government MUST do, while cutting back on the things that Government should NOT be doing which in the short term means things like not replacing Trident, but also continuing cuts like cutting benefits for people earning fifty-or-more thousand pounds and then more painful things like looking at freezing public pay.

But he also wanted to be POSITIVE, to note that even if Hard Labour have smashed the economy, there are still things we can do to rebuild, starting with an urgent programme of building much-needed social housing.

At a time when much of the building industry is actually being mothballed and leading to unemployment, there is also a chronic shortage of affordable and Council homes. Obviously, we should be bringing these two together, fixing two urgent problems at once. And many building firms have found themselves with large empty blocks of flats, costing them money to keep empty: we should be able to acquire these and take over them for social housing.

At the same time we need a focus on young people because they are being hardest hit by the recession, and we have to avoid another "lost generation", like the people failed by the Conservatories in the Nineteen-Eighties. Instead of squandering ten billion pounds on a VAT cut, most of which has just disappeared, we would have put that money into guaranteeing young people a job within ninety days.

I piped up with a question about Mayor Bojo the Clown's new above-inflation hikes in tube and bus travel for Londoners: is this DAMAGING during a recession or a NECESSARY investment?

Mr Vince admitted that there was a bit of a "torrid" time ahead for public transport: it needs a lot of money investing in it, and where is that money going to come from? We supported the principle of Congestion Charging at the time it was introduced, and we support Crossrail, so long as it stays within its budget, because it's a good project.

I think that was a qualified "yes" to "necessary investment", though I'd add that Mayor Bojo would have less of need to hike the Central Congestion Charge by 25% if he wasn't simultaneously abandoning the Western Extension.

Mr Ajmal also reminded people of the suggestion from our London Assembly members to adopt a system like they have on the continent where if you bleep your Oyster Card for ONE bus or tube journey, within a limited time if you change to another bus, or from DLR to tube or the like, you don't get charged for a SECOND journey when you've really only made the one.

The audience actually seemed quite KEEN on the idea of the "mansion tax", perhaps easy to see why when our society is becoming increasingly UNEQUAL, unequal in income AND unequal in wealth. One of our key proposals, Mr Vince reminded everyone, is to lift a great many people out of tax, and to cut taxes for all lower and middle income earners, by shifting the burden of tax to those who can afford to pay more. At the moment, even a relatively modest family home can cost seven or eight hundred thousand pounds but will pay the SAME in Council Tax – tax band H – as a thirty MILLION pound mansion. When most countries, and even American cities like Washington and New York, have a property tax of this kind, so it's not exactly cruel and unusual punishment.

"Should you have told the rest of the Shadow Cabinet, though?" someone asked.

"Ah, well, yes it would have been desirable to have gotten my colleagues on board, and I've apologised to them for that," he admitted.

He didn't JUST want to talk about the economy, though, and he wanted to add some words about our distinctive Liberal Democrat PRINCIPLES.

Civil Liberties is central to our beliefs, and that's why we were first to oppose the I.D.iot cards, first again to stand up against ninety-day detention without trial, and first to oppose the abuses of anti-terrorism powers.

He told us a little story: in his constituency of Twickenham, aircraft noise from Heathrow is a big issue. So Mr Vince recently went with a party of entirely-respectable middle-aged persons to throw PAPER PLANES at the Ministry of Transport as a protest. But before they could launch these "missiles", a police inspector turned up and told them they had five minutes to clear the street before he invoked the Terrorism Act!

We're also INTERNATIONALIST by nature; we opposed the invasion of Iraq because it was ILLEGAL under international law. Now there is Afghanistan. At the time of the attack to deal with the Taliban government and their support for Al Qaeda terrorists, we AGREED with that necessary, proportionate and finite action. But now we have to question whether there is any proper PLAN to what we are still doing there and, if there is, how we are supposed to achieve it, and if our soldiers have the equipment and supplies they need to do what we ask. Because the alternative is that we are now trapped in an open-ended commitment to support a corrupt undemocratic government that is in power on the back of a fixed election.

One thing that was interesting was that the audience, a relatively even mix of people from different ethnic backgrounds, were more concerned about Iraq… and IRAN… than they were about MPs' expenses; the one question on the expenses scandal seemed to draw little interest (though there was laughter in response to Mr Vince's remark: "I saw I was on the list of 'angels'; looking at who else was on the list, I thought 'the criteria for admission to heaven have been relaxed a bit!'."), whereas there was much discussion of human rights abuses from Afghanistan to Burma, from China to Palestine.

The third principle Mr Vince chose to emphasis was ANTI-RACISM. He remembered his late wife, who was coincidentally Asian, and how at the time of Mr Enoch Powell's speeches she had to stay off the streets for safety. He also remembered that, even though he had been in the Labour Party at the time, it was always the LIBERALS who stood up for minority rights. We've made a lot of progress since then, but prejudice still remains and that's why we see the rise of the British Nasty Party and their ilk. Liberal Democrats believe that it is our DUTY to take them on, and where we take them on – like we did this year in Burnley – we BEAT them.

We finished with a question about why he ruled himself out of the leadership after Sir Mr the Merciless resigned.

"Well," he said, "I didn't rule myself out; I was ruled out. My colleagues said that they felt, after what happened to Ming, that they wanted someone from a new generation, and I might have thought that I was doing a perfectly good job running the party, but that was the choice that was made."

I think we all know that for all that he was VERY good as acting leader, he did have that magical aura of protection in the word "acting" that would have vanished quickly if he'd gone from acting to actual. But I thought that that was interesting because I had not heard the story told that way before. A tinge of regret? Perhaps.

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Day 3208: THE PRISONER 42nd ANNIVERSARY: The Chimes of Big Ben


Yes, it's a week late – Daddy was kidnapped by the Village but I was able to disguise myself as a weather balloon and rescue him. Unless it was all a terribly bad-taste hoax to promote a new reality show: I'm a Former Secret Agent… Get Me Out of Here!


Trust, escape, deceit, betrayal. Business as usual in the Village.

The Prisoner observes the arrival by helicopter of the new Number Eight, and later Number Two invites him to watch from the Green Dome as she goes through the same disconcerting awaking that he went though in "Arrival", first finding herself in "her own home" and then discovering that it, and she, has been transplanted to the Utopian (literally "no place") Village.

Concerned that Number Two's methods may be driving her to suicide, the Prisoner agrees to a deal: he'll take part in the Village crafts contest in return for being given charge of her. She claims to know where the Village really is and, under cover of "joining in", together they plot an escape to London.

Only hearing the chimes of Big Ben will convince them they are safely home… but will it be safe to answer the questions about where they've been all this time?

what's your number, please

Well, this one is clearly not the second episode: the Prisoner is too settled in, too well acquainted with the ways of the Village, too chatty with Number Two to still be so very "new" here.

Watching the New Number Eight, Number Two asks: "it's just like old times. Do you remember your first day?"

This has to be some time since "Arrival".

But then he is still willing to believe that the Village is somewhere that he can escape from in something so mundane as a sailboat and he's in no way facing up to the full level of paranoia and doublethink that his captors indulge in. His boat-disguised-as-art-installation is hardly the most cunning of camouflage, and yet he is quite blasé about his success. Writing for the BBC website, Jonny Morris puts his finger on the nub when he asks: "why isn't he suspicious that no one is more suspicious?"

In return, the Village is still pussy-footing around putting the real pressure on; Number Two wants him broken, but not in pieces. Interestingly, this week brings forward the issue of the resignation again; interesting because Number Two is clear that it is only a minor mystery, but it is the key with which he will unlock the Prisoner's resistance: once he gives up that, the rest will follow.

We later get an answer but no details: it was a matter of conscience. We can probably assume that that answer is honest – it is only afterwards that the Prisoner rumbles the deception.

Early on, we are told that there is to be an exciting new competition, and that entrants will have six weeks before the exhibition. The Prisoner's escape attempt takes place the night after the prizes are given out, so at least six weeks have passed during the episode.

The journey to London is a matter of hours, of course; something that the Prisoner carefully checks using his borrowed watch, but arriving in London his bristly boss, Colonel J, tells him that he disappeared after his resignation and he's been missing for "months".

"Months" could be anything up to a year, but suggests probably less than "six months". Taking the "month-to-an-episode" assumption, that would mean "Dance of the Dead" takes place a month after "Arrival" and then "The Chimes of Big Ben" starts a month after that, and ends in the Colonel's office six weeks later, or two-and-a-half months since the Prisoner disappeared. That sounds just about right, maybe a little short.

The other reason for placing this story ahead of next week's "Checkmate" is that it makes sense that as a result of the double-cross here that he decides he needs a method to tell prisoner from warder, a plan he puts into action next time.

the new number two

This is the first of two (or three) appearances for Leo McKern as possibly the most well-remembered face of the Village's chairperson, certainly the one whose full-bellied laugh made it to the "Power Themes" version of the theme tune.

It's also the first glimpse we get that all may not be well in the Green Dome. For all his full-on fruity bonhomie and bluster, this Number Two is prone to fits of rage when the Prisoner lands a particularly successful moment of defiance upon him. He is no way in as much control as his predecessors from "Arrival" or "Dance of the Dead".

He often jokes with the Prisoner, loudly dictating pointed notes for the Prisoner's file, but it is an aggressive, probing, angry sort of humour, using wit as a weapon – what a pity it's such a blunt one.

He also admits that he too is a "prisoner": "We're both lifers – I know too much" he says, when the Prisoner challenges him on this. He makes out that he is accepting of this, making the best of a tight situation and living well as a result. But it seems he's also realising that he may only be a small cog in the machine, and outside of the Village not such a big fish after all. Number Eight's parting remark, "it was a good plan and you did your best", is more the sort of kind remark made to an unfortunate underling, than something you say to the boss.

He may also feel he is living on borrowed time: if he's given up the information he had, he can only hope to win a longer life by being useful, and his fate after what happens here therefore remains uncertain.

His philosophy is very SpECTRE: East West, mere points of the compass. Number Two presents a face of not caring which side the Village is actually "on"; he claims that it is a model for a perfect future world – again Utopian – and when both sides see what they've created there.

But this is also another sign of his insecurity: outside the Village, he is nothing, so he would deny that the Village can have and outside. Everything is to be within his ambit!

Thus asked what he wants, his answer: the whole World as the Village.

The Prisoner's typical response: then I want to be the first man on the Moon.

follow the signs

If you were going to write "The Prisoner" – and if you weren't bonkers in the nut the way McGoohan is – then "The Chimes of Big Ben" is almost certainly the episode you would end up writing. It is completely mundane, the most "spy drama" episode that the series comes up with: the "twist" telegraphed from practically the opening titles.

Obviously it's all been a set up, and obviouslyNumber Eight – another powerful but untrustworthy woman – was in on it from the very beginning. Is it a clue that where he discards his number at once, she keeps hers on, even on her swimming costume, even when ostensibly committing suicide? For the numerologists again, 8 is 6 and 2.

In the same vein, Number Two's notes for the file keep going in paragraph 42 – another 4 and 2 like last time, though his subsections go 2, 3, 4, 5 and then 1. If you don't know what that might mean, then go directly to "Fall Out", but don't expect to pass "Go"!

(Also, confusingly, this week Number 54 is a retired general – and he's definitely not a flirty maid!)

This week, the ultra-mild flirtation around the terms "Big Ben" and "Big Bill" is as close as we come to any romance but then the Prisoner is willing to compromise, to "deal" with the Village if he thinks a woman is in peril.

And the Village is definitely beginning to get to him. His automatic distrust of Number Eight when she arrives leads directly to him behaving towards her as the other Villagers behave towards him. And for the first time he fully accepts the Village's mark on him, telling her: "Sorry – no names. I am Number 6. You are Number 8."

For Number Eight, it's all been a consummate acting job on her part; that's why I refer to her as Number Eight, and not "Nadia" the name she gives to him, as though we can trust that. It's all just to get the Prisoner to trust her, not trust her completely but just enough so that she can prime him to expect the chimes of Big Ben. Those chimes are to make him feel that he's home, feel that he's safe, so that then he will answer the Colonel's question.

The irony, what little irony there is in this so straight episode, is that it nearly works, and it's only those very chimes that give the game away at the end.

who is number one?

You would expect it to be Leo McKern, but I'm actually going to give this week's episode to a scene-stealing turn by Kevin Stoney in a truly incredible moustache as the Prisoner's boss: Colonel J. If you've ever seen Danger Mouse, you'll remember the mouse detective's superior is a Chinchilla called Colonel K. That is exactly what Kevin Stoney's moustache looks like here.

It's a small part, but a vital one: this is someone that the Prisoner ought to trust, but his staccato questioning and over-the-top delivery, carefully reminiscent of Number Two, provoke enough distrust to send our hero right to the brink as he starts to realise, to draw on a movie parallel, just how deep the rabbit hole goes:

"Are you sure you don’t know about the Village? …Are you sure you haven't got a Village here? …I risked my life, and hers, to get us here because I thought it was different. It is different, isn't it?"

Or, if you prefer an Arnie metaphor to a Keanu one, he's the chap who turns up in "Total Recall" to warn that it's all a dream. Except he can't quite stop himself from perspiring.

next time…

That would be telling.

Be seeing you.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Day 3206: MYSTERIES OF DOCTOR WHO #21: Frontier in Space… What Happened Next?


If the answer is "Planet of the Daleks" there's something wrong with the QUESTION!

Let us look at what has been going on: Space… the final frontier… these are the voyages of Dr Woo in a space-going prison flown by Mr the Master.

"Frontier in Space" is Mr Mac "the incredible" Hulke's contribution to the all-singing, all-dancing (well occasionally, during "Carnival of Monsters") Tenth Anniversary of Doctor Who, and is also the first half of an EPIC twelve episode cross-over adventure that sees the Master and the Daleks team up to actually not meet the Cybermen for contractual reasons.

…available now on DVD under an exciting "Dalek War" wrapper!

This double-story celebration of the series' greatest villains is a twelve-part homage to the mighty "The Daleks' Master Plan", Mr Dr Billy's great adventure that also took place over the course of twelve weeks, and likewise features a Dalek scheme to conquer the galaxy, this time with added beardy villainy, making this actually: "The Master's Dalek Plan".

Then as now, the "epic" was split into two distinct halves: one part written by Mr Terry National Lottery and the other by someone who could actually write. Er. The DIFFERENCE is that last time, Mr Terry came up with a title, some character names and the mystery space elephant element Terrynationerum later shortened to Tarranium before handing it all in a manila envelope to the series script editor and jumping into a taxi for Heathrow. THIS time, Mr Terry insisted on writing it all himself. Which he did… in 1963 when it was called "The Daleks". Still, you couldn't get DVDs in those days so a "remake" in colour was actually a rather SMART way for new viewers to see what they missed back in the beginning. (Also available as, er, "The Beginning".)

What I'm trying to say is this: "Frontier in Space" is actually really good. REALLY good. Especially if you watch it one episode at a time. Certainly it entails Dr Woo being locked up in a whole succession of prison cells, but it's actually all rather clever the way that it escalates the sense of galactic threat: first he's just put in a cell on a space freighter that's come under attack; then he's locked up on Earth; then he's locked up on the MOON; then he's handed over to Mr the Master… and locked up; then he's locked up by the alien Draconians; and THEN he's locked up on the Ogron planet and it turns out that the DALEKS are in charge! The President of Earth, the Emperor of Draconia, the Master, the Earth-Minbari War, er… all sorts of huge characters and huge politics are cleverly presented to us as Dr Woo struggles to get ANYONE to listen to him. Meanwhile Jo Jo Grant finally proves herself when her pluck resists the Master's hypno-powers.

All of this build-up leaves you as tightly wound as a spring, expecting a big, big, BIG conclusion.

And then you get Planet of the Daleks. I'm just saying.

But SERIOUSLY, at the end of part six, there's a bit of a MYSTERY as to what is going on. Dr Woo has used Mr the Master's own "fear box" to escape from his (most recent) prison cell, he has freed Earth leader General Williams and the Crown Prince of Draconia and seen that they escape but on trying to get back to the TARDIS (stolen in part one by the Ogrons) he runs into the Master and a large group of his gorilla-like hench-lifeforms. Mr the Master pulls a gun and SHOOTS Dr Woo…

What, as they say, happened next?

Well, what we ACTUALLY see is that Mr the Master is suddenly gone, the Ogrons are scattered and a sobbing Jo Jo – now armed with Mr the Master's gun – is dragging Dr Woo into the TARDIS.

What is MISSING is clearly the intervention of the Ogron Eater, a being known – for reasons I am too young and fluffy to understand – as the "Giant Ogron Bollock Monster". We've seen it once, in the distance, attacking one of Mister the Master's goons. Mr General Williams describes it as a large, aggressive reptile, which suggests that either HE has never seen a large aggressive reptile (unlikely; he's stood next to the Draconian Prince) or the DESIGNER wasn't paying attention.

We see another, or rather a huge mural of it, in the Ogron's shrine, and it's clearly SUPPOSED to be establishing something for a big reveal at the end… Chekhov's Giant Ogron Bollock Monster if you will… but that reveal never comes. Probably because Jo Jo turning into an enormous hairy testicle was considered UNBROADCASTABLE. (This IS thirty years before TORCHWOOD, remember.)

But that's clearly what was SUPPOSED to happen: with Dr Woo out for the count, Jo Jo grabs the "fear box" and turns on. SOMETHING appears, terrifying the Ogrons setting them running. Mr the Master is knocked flying; Jo Jo gets hold of his pistol; and he does a runner. The rest you know.

Well THAT was easy… for an encore I shall prove that BLACK is WHITE… or rather in COLOUR these days (and the restored episode three of Planet of the Daleks actually look really good, especially – to daddy's surprise – the ICE tunnels, where you would have thought black and white pretty much covered it, but in fact they look much better, with a kind of depth to the polystyrene set that the B&W flattens and deadens. Well done all round; hope they have the cash for the other episodes that need colour restored.)

But what is actually WRONG with Planet of the Daleks?

Well, actually, there's a list as long as my rather magnificent nose… starting with the TARDIS air supply, and "infected by the fungoids"; via some of Dr Woo's most patronising lectures ever; via some of Jo Jo's truly astonishing stealth in Dalek control (there's a Dalek looking RIGHT AT HER when she slips out of her hidey-hole) not to mention her hiding the Thals' explosives BEHIND A FROND; via some of the WORST space-dialogue in the history of this part of the space-galaxy(!); via some of the most WOEFUL glowing-eyes-in-the-jungle effects you ever did see outside of a Scooby Doo cartoon; via all the random invisible aliens, space-plagues, countdowns and other Flash Gordon plot coupons Mr Terry so loves to use; through to a conclusion involving literally dozens of tricky-action Dalek toys and a gallon of wallpaper paste that just cannot be described in polite company!

But what is ACTUALLY actually wrong with it is that it's NOT parts seven to twelve of the promised epic.

Let's flash back to "The Daleks Master Plan" again. With Mr Terry writing – or rather NOT-so-very-much writing – the first half, they could let Mr Spennis Dooner write what he wanted for the huge impressive conclusion and director Mr Dougie "Colonel" Camfield and script editor Mr Donald "this is" Tosh could make up what they wanted so long as they finished where he started.

This time out, Mr Mac writes a tremendous political thriller building up to the outbreak of all-out war with the Daleks poised to sweep in and conquer what's left of the galaxy and Dr Woo calling on the Time Lords themselves to intervene… and then Mr Terry writes an ordinary six-parter where Dr Woo is SURPRISED to find that there are Daleks on this Planet.

There's nothing to connect this to the bigger picture that we've just spent a month-and-a-half developing; this adventure is essentially self-contained and almost "small scale", with the big picture further undermined by the underwhelming revelation that the greatest Dalek army ever assembled (subject to Time War revision) consists of a mere ten THOUSAND of the metal menaces. Ten MILLION maybe, would be a threat to the galaxy – though it would make the concluding Icecano-gunking even more improbable a method of stopping 'em – but ten thousand? With Earth, Draconia, Sirius III and IV mentioned in "Frontier in Space" ALONE, that's only twenty-five hundred per planet (assuming the Ogron world can be counted as "under control" already!).

I know "one Dalek is capable of exterminating ALL!!!!" but really!

Half the problem is having the Thals in it AT ALL. Apart from anything else it makes doing Dalek history a REAL pain, as this bunch of wet warriors REMEMBER the events of "The Daleks", a story that finishes with, er, the death of all the Daleks.

The Thals come from the Planet Skaro, and have only recently (it's now the Twenty-Sixth Century) developed space flight. The Daleks ALSO come from the Planet Skaro – yes, that's the REAL "planet of the Daleks" – and have had space flight since at least the Twenty-Second Century when they invade the Earth (in, er, "The Dalek Invasion of Earth"). That's a technological head-start of at least FOUR HUNDRED YEARS.

It's not IMPOSSIBLE to imagine a planet with two competing civilisations each developing space travel… like Russialand and Americaland did in the 1950s and 1960s. But NOT if one of those civilisations is the DALEKS. That would be the "exterminate all other species" Daleks. Even if they have no sentimental reason to re-colonise their homeworld, wouldn't they at least have used their MASSIVE space superiority to BOMB the Thals into extinction FROM ORBIT?

(…like they ACTUALLY do to Earth in "The Dalek Invasion of Earth" and, well, Spiridon in, frankly, "Planet of the Daleks"!)

The solution is obvious: the party who have crashed on the "Planet of the Daleks" should NOT be Thals. In fact, they should be a party of humans and Draconians – following on from the end of "Frontier in Space", the Earth Empire and the Draconians should have allied themselves and sent out a force of scouts to search for the real enemy of both sides, now revealed to be the Daleks. Then, rather than references to "mythical figures" of Susan and Ian and Barbara it is Dr Woo's PERSONAL knowledge of Mr General Williams and Mr the Draconian Crown Prince that gets him in the team's good books.

This doesn't just tie IN with "Frontier in Space", but also ties UP the loose ends at the end – it neatly tells us that the Prince and the General DID escape, and that the Earth-Draconia War is OFF. By giving us a threat of ten (cough cough) million Daleks, enough to smash the Empires even if they DO unite, then the story gets bigger and becomes a vital race to give the new alliance a fighting chance.

Oh, and if the Dalek War has already started, then you can have the scout ships being SHOT DOWN by Dalek Saucers, rather than crashing. TWICE. (In the story as shown, we have to assume that the Thals have discovered space FLIGHT but not space LANDING; even then, it's an GINORMOUS coincidence that both rockets crash in the same small area of a rather large planet!)

You can even change the concluding moral homily from:

"when you tell your people this story, don't GLORIFY it; don't make it as an exciting space adventure in six weekly episodes…er…"


"we haven't won the war; we haven't even won the first battle; we've just given ourselves a fighting chance…"

and by this you can imply that this is a small, but vital, skirmish part of a much larger, much broader history, consistent with the view from "Frontier in Space". (Plus get rid of more ghastly patronisation!)

Of course if you really, actually, desperately NEED to have the Thals in it… well, there's a solution to that too: you set the "Planet of the Daleks" actually ON the planet of the Daleks, namely Skaro, and the "random invisible aliens" turn out to be none other than the THALS themselves!

It would actually make more SENSE than that the Spiridons… er, Spiridonians… er, Spiridon-people have evolved/developed invisibility for no apparent (sorry, pun) reason.

The PEACE-LOVING Thals on a planet full of murderous (not to mention, post "The Daleks", vengeful and really quite p…ed off) pepperpots would need to find a way of staying hidden, and we already know that they have had some rather, er, peculiar evolution not to mention an affinity with drugs that affect radiation. Acquiring the ability to "fold" light around themselves would be a positive requirement and, frankly, not MUCH weirder than anything else that happens on Skaro.

It could also explain why Thal scientist Mr Codal knows what an "anti-reflecting light wave" might be!

Now, all you need to do is make sure that the designer doesn't install Dalek control panels with buttons that can only be worked if you have fingers (and not, say, sink plungers) and you're away!

Doctor Who's tenth anniversary came in the middle of the five year period when the series was produced by Mr Barry Letts, and we have heard from Mr Andrew and Mr Will that, sadly, he has passed away.

Mr Barry took over when Doctor Who was a series that had very nearly been cancelled at the end of the Black and White era, and along with his charismatic star, Mr Jon Pertwee, he turned it around and made it once again a National Institution.

Ideas and icons of the series introduced in his era have lasted through to today: okay, it's true that UNIT and Autons were ACTUALLY invented just before he took over, but they are closely associated with the show that he made, and you cannot deny him the creation of Mr the Master. The very shape of Doctor Who's future history, Earth's Empire, and its deep past, the Silurian legacy, were founded in these years, and even poorly regarded stories, such as "The Time Monster" (which, like "The Dæmons" before and "The Green Death" and "Planet of the Spiders" after, he covertly co-wrote), have left a legacy of powerful images, such as the god-like Chronovores or the TARDISes inside one another, which have influenced fans ever since, not least the great big lovely Welsh fan who – at least until Christmas – currently runs the show.

But more than that, the series that he inherited had become a shadow of the cutting-edge drama in space and time first developed by Ms Verity Lambert and Mr Sydney Newman, reduced to, a lot of the time, chasing monsters up and down corridors. Mr Barry put some HEART back into the series, introducing a thread of stories – like "The Curse of Peladon" or "The Green Death" – that were ABOUT something, and by having other stories – like "The Mind of Evil" and "Day of the Daleks" – play out against topical concerns about a possible World War Part III.

"Satire" today is often seen as just mocking and mickey-taking, particularly of those in power or the public eye, and we've rather lost the more important element of taking a critical view of society, even trying to correct it. It used to be the duty of the BBC to INFORM as well as to ENTERTAIN: Mr Barry clearly thought that that meant getting people to THINK, and that is a praise-worthy effort in itself.

I'm not going to say "rest in peace" because Mr Barry was a Buddhist. I'm not sure whether "come back soon" is appropriate either. Daddy Alex met him on several occasions and apparently he was lovely. Thank you Mr Barry.