...a blog by Richard Flowers

Friday, May 28, 2010

Day 3428: DOCTOR WHO: The Very Hungry Caterpillar


Writing for Dr Woo has to be the official BESTEST JOB IN THE WORLD EVER™ but, in spite of this, it can be quite tough getting anyone to have a go. Apart from Miss Kate Bush who wrote "Kinda" and Mr Stephen Fry whose episode fell through, the only REALLY famous person was Mr Dougie Adams.

But now with Mr Simon Nye, Mr Richard Curtis and Mr Neil Gaiman writing episodes, you've got to admit the Grand Moff has been really jolly successful at getting some famous and talented people to write for him.

And also Mr Chris Chibnall.

If you didn't know there are alien space lizards in this (who aren't ACTUALLY aliens OR from space), then… oops, it's too late to warn you about SPOILERS, but here's Daddy Richard's review:
The easy thing to say about "The Hungry Earth" is that it's a very traditional Doctor Who, and a very slow one. Which overlooks that for all its lack of incident, for all its incredible Pertwee-era-redux wish-fulfilment, for all that even a Pertwee seven-parter could have got through the plot faster, it is actually quite enjoyable.

So, Chris Chibnall, bane of John Nathan-Turner and/or viewers of TV's Torchwood according to your taste, here tries to pull off Steven Moffat's trick of taking familiar elements and reworking them into a new story. The emphasis being on the word "tries".

The elements in question start with references to the televised adventures of the Earth Reptile People – "…and the Silurians", "The Sea Devils" and "Warriors of the Deep" – almost too numerous to recount, but including: the Doctor name-checking almost every variant on what the Reptile People have been called; his determination to try diplomacy; the monster point-of-view shots; the "examination tables" of the Silurian scientist; the description of a "network of underground caves"; from the trailer, the Sea Devil-like weapons and so on. "Warriors of the Deep" was supposed to see the Sea Base (under siege) plunged into darkness before the Silurian attack – which indeed happens here. Perhaps most subtle, subtle to the point that I might be making it up, are the blue-grass patches forming fairy rings in the drilling fields – with the Reptile People becoming the Unseelie Faerie Court in Paul Cornell's novel of the Eighth Doctor, "The Shadows of Avalon".

Nor do the "borrows" from the show's history end there, with – just for starters – the church and energy barrier from "The Dæmons", a hint of "isn't that us from the future" from "Day of the Daleks", the graveyard mystery of "The Curse of Fenric", and the Doctor being what monsters are frightened of also in the mix too (which is more Paul Cornell by way of Steve Moffat, of course).

Actually, it's been suggested that this episode is, more than anything, an homage to the opening stories of season twenty-one: "Warriors of the Deep" supplying the monster; "The Awakening" donating the church with sinister something breaking through from beneath; and "Frontios" giving up the empty graves and earth that sucks its victims down. Next week, we discover that it's really the Daleks who are mining numismaton gas to sell to the Sirius Corporation… or maybe not.

Alex, on the other hand, thought it was very, very much "… and the Silurians", plus a lot of "Inferno", and then loads of "Frontios", but hardly any of "The Sea Devils" or "Warriors of the Deep" at all.

It's all so clunkingly obvious, though. As though it's an exercise in ticking the boxes in your spotter's guide, rather than using them as extra polish to your own story.

The centrepiece is one of those "big science projects" from the early Pertwee-era, like the National Space Centre ("The Ambassadors of Death") or the Nunton Nuclear Reactor ("The Claws of Axos"). The Wenley Moor experimental cyclotron in "…and the Silurians" is another one, of course, though the most obvious parallel is the drilling project in "Inferno" – but done here on the cheap: only three staff at the ground-breaking drilling project? Where are all the extras in white coats and wellies moving purposefully about in the background, eh?

This is one of the key things that undermines (pardon the pun) the story: this is a huge scientific endeavour but it appears to be being run as a schools science project at the whim of Meera Syal's character Doctor Nasreen Chaudhry, assisted by her chum Tony and his son-in-law, Mo (presumably, in another reference, he's named for "Project Mo-Hole", the attempt to drill to the Mohorovičić discontinuity – aka "Moho" – that inspired the original "Inferno"). And it all appears to take place in their back yard. I mean, I do realise it's not completely without precedent – in "The Seeds of Death", Professor Eldred appears to have built an entire space rocket in his shed – but nevertheless it's just… bizarre. Ultimately what's it all for? Doctor Chaudhry claims that they are investigating the minerals in the blue grass. So, um, isn't that a bit of a leap to "let's drill twenty miles into the ground"?

Of course, it's all just a bit too obviously betraying the smallness of the cast – and couldn't they have avoided that by having Chaudhry, perhaps after some visit to brief the minister in London or Cardiff, arrive back at her huge project and be astonished to find all her staff have vanished? (Well, that's exactly what happens except her "staff" is established in the pre-titles as "one bloke".)

"Doctor Who and the Silurians" is about a clash of two civilisations: as a story it's huge, and not just because it's seven episodes long. The scientific installation and its staff represent an urban and elite Britain, but the setting of Wenley Moor with farm and cottage also take in Britain's rural aspect. We see people ranging from junior ministers to the local doctor, army officers and soldiers to commuters and a railway porter. In short, this feels like the whole country is involved. And for the Reptile People the stakes are even higher: even though there are only three speaking roles for "Silurians" – and their three-note whistle – Mac Hulke still manages to convey a sense of an entire race and all their technology and even their sense of aesthetics. And it could all come to nothing because the planet – their planet – has been overrun by verminous apes.

In contrast, "The Hungry Earth" seems to be about one family in Wales living in an oddly otherwise-empty village. (Just who does Ambrose prepare meals on wheels for?)

It doesn't half make talk about an all-out war between Reptile People and "apes" seem a little overblown.

On the other hand, maybe the small cast and the slow pace are deliberate so that the writer has more time than is usual for a modern Doctor Who to develop character.

I will say one thing for Chibnall: he's not indulged himself in the ongoing treatment of Rory as a "joke" character – something not helped by the unkindness of not adding Arthur Darvill to the opening titles, leaving his character seeming less of a "proper" companion than Karen Gillan's Amy. Which is a shame because Doctor plus two companions is a nice mix and not one that Russell really tried in his five years (yes, yes, aside from five minutes of Rose and Captain Jack, and Mickey barely stepping into the TARDIS before he was first sidelined into the B-plot, then into the B-universe).

Here Rory gets some actual character traits – he is, for example, slightly petty about Amy wearing her engagement ring – and even his own proper storyline, as he gets to be the one mistaken for a police officer. And he does gamely try to carry it off, even if admittedly he doesn't get very far with his investigation.

Amy, in contrast, seems almost under-characterised, mainly bitching about being dressed for Rio (which she's not, really), though, if we are to believe Doctor Who Confidential, this is because she suffered most from cutting the episode down from almost an hour in the first edit to the forty-five minute slot: a long chat with the Doctor as they progress to the drill-site being the – understandable – main casualty. A shame, as it sounded like an interesting conversation, and I hope it makes the extra features section when the series gets to be released on DVD and Blu-Ray.

It does seem odd to be praising the normally über-macho Chibnall for the softer side of his characterisation this week, but clearly it's something he's been working on. There may not be many of them, but at least the cast of characters do feel like real people with real motivations. Tony's sudden kiss of Nasreen at a moment of high tension is human and believable. Her appreciation of it plays against the usual cliché too.

Likewise, it is rather lovely that Dr Chaudhry expresses both scientific curiosity, which drives her to insist on accompanying the Doctor, and undiluted delight, both when she sees the marvellous interior of the TARDIS and at her discoveries in the cave passages once they’ve been dragged underground. She is a character who actually enjoys what she does – too often Doctor Who features scientists who seem actually grudging of making discoveries, like that isn't what they got into science to do.

There is also nice work on Eliot, son of unlucky Mo, who has dyslexia and attitude, and on his mum Ambrose who is a strong woman capable of shaming the Doctor when he's been alien and therefore stupid about letting Eliot wander off. My money is on Ambrose as "the one who will kill", just because she is a wife and mother. (Though that green stuff taking over Tony might be worth an outside bet – possession by green alien goo being, naturally, another lift from "Inferno".)

And of course, the Doctor. With a slower pace to the episode, Matt Smith gets to show that he can do the Doctor as a character without needing all the frenetic flapping around. Chibnall actually appears to get what that other Chris, Christopher H Bidmead, was trying to get across all those years ago, about an old man in a young man's body. There's a lovely moment where the Doctor goes to Tony (a man of, for a human, more than average years) slaps him on the shoulder and says "well done, lad". Robert Pugh's look is priceless. But also the terrible mistake with Eliot occurs because Eliot mistakes the Doctor for a young person and the Doctor forgets what young people are like, casually waving Eliot off without thinking what he's going to do. Or maybe the Doctor makes the reverse mistake: assuming someone who looks young might be just as self-reliant as he is himself.

And the centrepiece of the episode, what it all builds up to and then depends upon, is a character piece: the confrontation between Matt's Doctor and the Reptile Person Alaya played by the hugely talented but unrecognisable Neave Campbell McIntosh [thank you, Dan] (who we remember as the Lady Fuchsia in the BBC's disastrous "Gormenghast").

As I said to begin with: the easy thing to say about "The Hungry Earth" is that it's a very traditional Doctor Who, and a very slow one.

That's easy to say and sadly true, but this is also, much more unusually for this series, a very political story with Alaya seemingly on a suicide mission to use her own death to provoke a war between humans and retile people. It's a strategy reminiscent of those employed by the "honourable" Minbari in episodes of "Babylon 5", where the warrior caste try to reignite the war between Earth and Minbar, and indeed Alaya explicitly refers to herself as warrior caste here. This builds on the basic premise of the Silurians – that to them, we humans are the invaders of their world – adding the contemporary spin of asymmetric warfare and guerrilla tactics.

That's quite a complex motivation, and interestingly not one that sits with her given explanation that she and her fellow warriors were recently awoken because the drilling disturbed the hibernation bunker's life support. And we do know that she will lie, as "the drilling woke us up" isn't her first story. That was the failed "I'm the last of my race" gambit, an interesting self-aware reference to the series own habit of over-doing that cliché.

The presence of an enormous Silurian city twenty-one kilometres down also would appear to give the lie to the "we just woke up" line. Together, these things suggest that the Reptile People under the earth are rather more familiar with the civilisation of "apes" living up top than we humans are familiar with them. Moreover, we can further infer that the Reptile People in the city have decided that they would rather live down there than try to reclaim the surface – otherwise why build their city? Thus, on top of that, we conclude that Alaya may represent a faction opposed to the status quo among her people. Why else does she have to provoke warfare? Why would there need to be a pretext for war if the Reptile People were already keen to retake the surface?

(Alex points out that when I say "build", I overlook the possibility that the city is just supposed to have survived down there, untended for three hundred million years, what with a towering spindly city being so much more crunch-proof than the reinforced shelters that Malcolm Hulke described in the Cave Monsters, most of which had been crunched anyway. But he's kind enough to add that that, even if "true" in the story, would be very, very stupid.)

The Reptile People are redesigned again – thankfully referred to as another species by the Doctor, and thanks to "The Sea Devils" there is precedent for reptile people coming in different stripes – and their appearance is both beautiful and totally wrong. Beautiful because it's a work of scaly art, and allows for expressive facial movement and interaction. But wrong not because of, as so many people have pointed out, the mammalian eyes – or, even less subtly, the mammalian mammaries oh-so obviously unconcealed by the oh-so obviously form-fitting bustiere of her armour (and after the cyber-basque-and-kitten-heels of Chibnall's "Cyberwomen" this is starting to look like a pattern) – but because the whole point of the Silurians is that they are earthlings who could barely look less like us. The original series, "…and the Silurians", even goes so far as to suggest that humans have the screaming ab-dabs from just being near them they are so alien to us.

Unless, of course, there's actually something genuinely subtle going on and that these reptiles have had even more contact with humans than we've already inferred. Are those fairy rings a bigger clue than they appear? Should we be led to believe that these fey people have been taking away humans for a while now?

(I'm tempted to make a terrible "Deep Space Nine" joke and ask if the Reptile People might look like the Jem'Hadar but actually turn out to be changelings… no, better not.)

That's almost certainly an inference too far. I don't want to anticipate a far more interesting story than the one we're really going to turn out to be in the middle of… Next week we will probably see Mr Chibnall return to typical macho form and finish with a big fight.

Which reminds me: the other question for next time, of course, is whether there was any point to the opening scene in which future-Amy and future-Rory wave at present-Amy and present-Rory from across the valley. Or was Chibbers just indulging in a bit of gratuitous timey-wimey to show that he's got with the Moffat programme?

Forgive me if I analyse the "next time" trailer for a moment – yes, I know, spoilers on top of spoilers – but there appears to be the suggestion that the Doctor has an opportunity to re-write human/Earth Retile history (provided he can arrange a peace accord a thousand years early) because this isn't one of those "fixed points" in time. The "fixed points" appear, from "The Fires of Vulcan", to be "things that we know must be history"; or at least, from "The Waters of Mars", things that the Doctor knows must be history. But how can that be the case when future Rory and future Amy are able to come back here and wave at their earlier selves? To them, the events of "today" (all right, this day in 2020) must also be "things that we know to be history".

Perhaps I'm oversimplifying things here. The Doctor says that he can see the difference between times when he can and cannot change things. Meaning that presumably there is some flexibility to the course of history that allows re-writing (and of course, he's recently discovered the possibility of un-writing history too, through the crack in time). And yet surely the long-term, knock-on effects of making peace between human and Reptile People now would be so massive and wide-ranging that they would have to impact on some fixed points sooner or later, as it were. I suppose you could say the same for his intervention in "The Dalek Invasion of Earth", except he'd already visited a "future" (relative to 2164 AD) and seen humans travelling in space (in "The Sensorites") so you could argue he was setting time on the lines he knew it would take – as in "The Fires of Vulcan", being the cause of the fixed timeline not changing it (see also "The Romans" and "The Visitation").

Nevertheless, we still arrive back at the problem of whether the Doctor can really change anything in the here and now of this story without causing at the very least a major continuity error in the timeline of his two companions.

Mind you, "Day of the Daleks" managed a continuity error between the two "they meet their past/future selves" scenes too. Maybe the Blinovitch Limitation Effect means that always happens.

We'll find out next week, I guess. Before then there's a cliff-hanger to be resolved.

Typical of the episode, the cliff-hanger is just too soft-peddled. Amy's revealed to be in peril, sort of, and then the Doctor and Nasreen find… a balcony…

Okay, the reveal of the city is nice in a slightly muted way, but what the story called for was to overturn all the "smallness" that we've had up to this point with something huge! We shouldn't have had just Amy and Mo on the examination tables… we should have had Amy and Mo and a hundred other slabs with the rest of the scientists from the drilling project. We shouldn't have just had the Doctor and Dr Chaudhry overlooking the Reptile People city… we should have had a swooping "crane" shot through the city full of Reptile People and then cut back to the reverse on the Doctor and Nasreen so we can see their faces as, with the sound of running feet, they are surrounded by a dozen Reptile guards. It's the difference between "oh, a city" and "oh WOW, a city!"; the difference between "oh, they're in trouble" and "oh NO! They're in real trouble!"

Unfortunately, that would probably have cost just that little bit too much more money.

With a new production team and a new TARDIS to build and the switch to HD – which I have to say looks gorgeous – and a cut in the budget on top of all that, it's almost like we're back in 2005 and they're having to feel their way into a new way of making a TV series, making the ends meet. And I suspect that it's making them… cautious.

Admittedly, it's a different kind of caution to the one they had in 2005. The Eccleston series was quite audacious in the range and style of stories it threw at the screen – mainly because they feared it was their one and only chance – but kept them quite small in production: the "biggest", meaning most effects-laden, being "The End of the World". Russell's caution was "let's do what we can because it may be our only chance"; Steve's is "let's do what we know works".

It hasn't really – up to this point – shown on screen, except it occurs to me now that perhaps this is part of why 2010 feels a little… less than the last five years. I've been putting it down to Russell writing "emotion" and Steve writing "plot", meaning Russell's stories just connect more, but a new thought occurs to me. They're trying too hard not to break it.

In a way, that's actually encouraging, because it means that it's not that they can't do it, and that they'll get better as they gain confidence, just as Russell's team grew in confidence about what they could ask for and achieve.

Next Time… And the Doctor talked it all over with Okdel and sorted everything out in a jiffy over a nice cup of tea and they all lived happily ever after. Or not. "Cold Blood"
You know, if you DIDN'T know that there were alien space lizards in this then putting it on after Junior Apprentice where Lord Sugar-Plum-Fairy has his OWN alien space lizards – or the Sir-alan-lurians as they are called – was a bit of a GIVE-AWAY, wasn't it!


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Day 3407: DOCTOR WHO: Fleshed Out or Just Stoned


They say that a week is a long time in politics. Well, sometimes a bit of politics means it's a lot more than a week between episodes of Doctor Who.

I'm going to have to have a stern word with Daddy Richard. Last time he did any of his reviews, Dr Woo was trapped in the Maze of the Dead and surrounded by the Weeping Angels.

Honestly, I've not BLINKED for a MONTH!
"Flesh and Stone" feels less like part two of "The Time of Angels" and more like part five of "Doctor Who and the Cracks in Time".

The form of this two-parter eerily resembles another classic of macho posturing, "Earthshock": the first half involves the team of big, butch soldiers and one lady archaeologist running around in a system of caves, while something picks them off one by one; in the second half, the monsters, an old enemy, come out into the open while the action switches to a spaceship where the Doctor engineers a series of delaying tactics and strategic withdrawals.

The Cyberleader, though, makes for a more engaging conversationalist than Angel Bob. Which is saying something.

(And when I said that the rather nice tornado-like teleport effect looked like the Blake's Seven series four teleport "done right", Alex retorted that this was just more of the early-Eighties machismo showing up.)

Before we start, I just have to say the "previously on Doctor Who" is brilliantly edited; I've never seen a better one. Normally they're just the "important" clips strung together, but this one someone seemed to have taken the trouble. I wonder if the director was planning ahead when directing the first episode to make sure these moments could be used twice – like a post-modern nod to the conversation via DVD Easter egg in "Blink".

After that, though, the episode hangs – if you'll forgive me – between two startling moments where the effect of artificial gravity changes our perspectives with a twist of the camera: the opening escape from the surrounding angels by jumping up to the inverted surface of the starship Byzantium; and the conclusion where the crack in time swallows the fallen angels.

Is this just using the same plot device twice, or can we call it clever foreshadowing? As the Doctor says when Amy asks "What happens if the gravity fails?": "We all plunge to our deaths. See, I've thought about it".

The problem is with what we have in between, which is very little: one of the lamest "base under siege" Doctor Who stories ever. As Alex says, even the Troughton-era stories had greater depth of character and more diverting interaction than this.

With Bishop Octavian remaining stoical and mostly silent, and his remaining clerics having almost nothing to say before they "go into the light", what we're left with is more badinage between the Doctor and River about her oh-so-fabulous backstory and Amy counting backwards.

(Actually, the counting is moderately interesting – like some sort of numerological Tourettes – and the explanation, that the angels are sadists, is at least appropriate for monsters.)

The truly terrible thing about the forgotten clerics is that they are so totally forgettable. We're never given any reason to care about any of them. We were barely given a reason to care for Cleric Bob last week before he had his neck snapped – and even having his larynx borrowed by a living stone does not appear to have removed much timbre from his character – but the grunts in the forest don't even get that.

Nor, it has to be said, am I that impressed by the Church's ability to get its troops to obey (holy?) orders. They're told to defend Amy with their lives and yet by ones and twos they troop off on a pointless recce leaving her blind and alone in a clearing they know to be surrounded by hostile monsters and succeed only in getting themselves annihilated.

The purpose of this character carnage is, of course, to enable Mr Moffat to fill the middle of his story with a whole new way to terrify the kids: by transforming his deadly game of grandmother's footsteps into a fatal form of blindman's buff!

Even though doing so means completely overturning the "rules" of how his monster works.

Charlotte Gore is quite right when she rails against Moffat changing the rules like this. And she's right again when she says that actually seeing them move destroys the angels' unique selling point.

Last week, Moffat seemed to be escaping from the logical problems thrown up by his creations by having the angels inhabit the perceptions of the people looking at them; this week he has them turning to stone if they think they're being looked at. As Charlotte puts it: What?

He also seems to have forgotten the crucial rule – and it's crucial because the climax of "Blink" depends upon it – that the angels can't move if they can see each other. Aren't they called Weeping Angels because they cover their faces with their hands to prevent exactly that? And yet, in the secondary control room, the Doctor is looking from side to side to try and keep them motionless and the angels on the side he's not looking at are in motion – even though they are clearly in the line of sight of the angels that he is looking at. Later, in the forest, there are whole crowds of angels, all of whom ought to be paralysed in each other's sight, particularly once the whole place is lit up by the light of the time energy.

And that's even before we get into questions about whether the sensors of the tree-borgs ought not to be keeping the angels frozen too.

(Loved the tree-borgs by the way – loved the whole forest-in-a-bottle-on-a-spaceship-in-a-maze – and are they perhaps the start of the evolution of Jabe and her tree friends in the year five billion?)

Likewise, when Amy is "pretending to see" using the communicator as a sort of radar… how is that different to really seeing? The communicator is presumably sending out radio bleeps and receiving them back, essentially detecting the angels with a stream of photons… just like seeing them. We return to the idea that it is Amy's perception of the angels that lets them move or not.

You can't fool your own perceptions; Amy knows she can't see and by the new rules that ought to be enough for the angels to move. And by the old rules, where it was observation that froze them, they can definitely move.

But if the angels are ideas, conceptual entities, then what Amy thinks the rules are may matter more than what they actually are.

You can't fool your own perceptions, but is the scripting tight enough for the Doctor to have fooled Amy's perception or rather conception of the angels? Is it that, so long as she believes that this will work then it will work. If he tells her that "acting as though you can see means that they can't move", will that mean she has enough belief that they really can't move? It's lurching dangerously towards questions of "faith".

In which case why is the Doctor repeatedly undermining her faith in the process?

The other thing that is clearly supposed to be important in the middle of the episode is Moffat's trademark timey-wimey stuff about the crack in time, clearly there as exposition for the whole year's story arc.

Certainly, it's something of an innovation, and a refreshing one, for the Doctor to spot this year's running story before episode twelve.

But are we actually supposed to be impressed by this sort of unfocussed, muddled, unexplained "what's going on"-ness just because it's "something to do with time"?

How exactly, for example, does this un-writing of people's timelines work? We have several of the clerics – first a pair, then a third then the last of them – wander into the light and then they are forgotten because they never existed. Thing is, if they never existed then wouldn't Octavian have brought someone else along instead? Should we not have lost Marco, Pedro, Philip and immediately gained Julius, Benedict, and Nick? Of course, they go wandering off into the light too, but you see how this works, don't you.

For that matter, the Doctor, Amy, River and Octavian only survived the angels' attack in the airlock because those four clerics were there to provide covering fire. So if they ceased to have ever existed, shouldn't the angels have (retrospectively) got 'em? Or does the presence of the Doctor somehow shield people near him from that form of paradoxical time alteration?

"Sapphire and Steel" did that sort of thing, but they did it by giving us an explanation; it just happened to be a baffling one. Here it just seems that if time has gone wrong all bets are off.

One other thing that may be explained later, from the file "things I learned from the Internet": as the Doctor is leaving Amy in the care of the forgettable clerics, he suddenly reappears, leaning in close and speaks to her to reassure her, and he tells her it's important that she remember what he said when she was seven. It's a tight close up, so it's not at all obvious, but the Doctor is wearing his jacket, the jacket he just lost to the Weeping Angels. A simple continuity error? Or a clue that he's re-writing his own past?

It's possible that all will all become clear once we've seen the whole series – though "The Trial of a Time Lord" should stand as a warning of what happens when you put your explanations ten weeks later.

The Doctor, however, thinks he's worked it out already. There's a clear moment – just before the bishop is caught by an angel – when the Doctor realises, or infers, that there is a reason why no-one remembers the Cyber-King in "The Next Doctor" and why Amy does not remember the Daleks invading the Earth in "The Stolen Earth"/"Journey's End". His inference is that this is because he is going to end up being eaten by the time energy, that it is his timeline that will be unwritten.

This may not actually be right, but it seems to be what he's feeling, and why he's so very, very angry with River, after Father Octavian's death – another hugely impressive performance from Matt Smith, it nearly goes without saying. The bishop was confronted with an inevitability and faced it with dignity; the Doctor's not quite sure he can manage that equanimity himself.

At the end, though, he's positively skipping he's so happy that the angels fell into the time energy instead of him. Now he's starting to think again, and thinking that time being re-written may give him a way out.

And, of course, there's River – a living prophecy about his future life. He seems to find the possibility that she's his murderer intriguing. At least having a death is better than never having lived.

So is River not just the Doctor's wife but his death? Is Steve really, really taking the rise out of Lawrence Miles and stealing "Alien Bodies" as well?

That certainly seems to be the implication of all that "they say you killed a man, a good man," "The best I ever knew" bit. Although by that point Alex thought that they were laying it on with such a trowel that it had to be a double bluff.

I wonder, in passing, if every encounter between River and the Doctor is supposed to take place in reverse order. Surely not, or why would she have to consult her diary to work out where they are up to each time? There's got to be a story to tell about how she eventually gets out of this Storm Cage prison and before she gets her Professorship.

Moffat has now promised, via Doctor Who Confidential, that we will get to see the whole of the River Song story, though surely that's a promise he can't expect to keep: she must see at least one more of the Doctor's regenerations (else why refer to him as becoming "baby faced"). If she sees out two more incarnations, she can shoot his thirteenth and that'll be the end of him. Unless he regenerates into Joanna Lumley.

Maybe thatis the Grand Moff's plan, to outlast John Nathan-Turner in the producer's chair and finish the series.

Still, at least River's signoff is rather wonderful: "That is a fairy tale" "Who isn't?" And we're promised we'll see her again "when the Pandorica Opens". Which translates as "in episode twelve".

The irony, of course, is that "Flesh and Stone" is not a fairy tale. Unlike "Blink" it does not have that magical slightly-removed quality. In "Blink", the angels mean something: they're what haunts the old dark houses, the curiosity that killed the cat, the thing that moves in the corner of your eye. In "Blink", the Doctor isn't the star; he's a magician, a slightly untrustworthy force of nature with his own agenda, who provides only just enough answers for the plucky heroine and hero for them to fulfil his plan.

"Flesh and Stone" isn't like that. It is an episode in the ongoing series of adventures of Doctor Who, the monsters are just monsters and the Doctor is a Time Lord from Gallifrey, tune in if you want to find out more about Mrs Who or Timey-Wimey Why.

It’s not that it’s unenjoyable. In fact, watched again, as part of a pair with “The Time of Angels”, its weaknesses translate into sustaining and drawing out the tension that has been wound up over the first half of the story. Watched as part of the whole season it may well be essential.

But it’s not quite magic.

And then there's the tag scene. Amy tries to jump the Doctor's bones. I do wish she hadn't. It seems such a clumsy way of setting up the arc for the next few episodes of the Doctor travelling with both Amy and fiancé Rory.

As a scene from "Coupling" it was a perfectly adequate, but was deeply awkward and uncomfortable in an episode of Doctor Who. It makes me feel prudish, and I don't want to feel prudish. And I don't want to see the Doctor flapping about like Steve from "Coupling", even if he's been doing something similar ever since Cameca slipped him a cocoa in "The Aztecs". In fact, William Hartnell deals with romance and the Doctor in a more gentle and whimsical way, and a much more accepting way. And I certainly don't wanting him going "ew, ew, but you're human" when it seemed not to matter a jot to him in his ninth of tenth lives. Matt Smith's eleventh Doctor is older and wiser and deserved to have a more dignified way to put Amy off.

Or perhaps it was just in this episode of Doctor Who, where it seemed a huge emotional swerve from the "sharing secrets" moment of Amy responding to the Doctor being forced to reveal his relationship with River by showing the Doctor her wedding dress. Isn't Moffat the one who's always on about this being a kids' show? Kids' shows usually find so many more intelligent things to talk about than just sex. Sharing of deep and painful secrets is a very "kids" thing to do; casual sex is really not.

And wasn't it odd, after five years of Russell-ness, for the Doctor not to respond to Amy's advances by going all misty-eyed and to mumble about Rose?

We also have – returning to Russell-era tropes – absolute date and time confirmation: Amy's present day is 2010. Strictly: 26th June 2010, which, unless they drop a week, should be the broadcast date of episode thirteen: ominously, "The Big Bang".

Next Time… Pretty girls in veils and white dresses and Amy wants to join in. The Doctor's determined to have her remember she's marrying Rory, and reckons that a romantic trip to plague-era Venice is just the trick. Trouble is, as usual, something's a bit fishy. Altogether now: there's something in the waaaa-teeeerr… "The Vampires of Venice"


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Day 3426: Who's On First? Good Luck Ms Diane Abbott-and-Portillo


Congratulations today to Ms Diane Abbott-and-Portillo, not just for discombobulating Mr Naughty on the The Today Show with her surprise announcement, but also for totally opening up the contest to be the next loser leader of Hard Labour.

The contest was looking increasingly like a choice of pale-male mini-me's to be Hard Labour's Mr William Vague.

Now we have a genuine choice! Will Mrs the Queen's Loyal Opposition be led by the next Mr Vague or… the next Mr Michael Foot!

Seriously, though, it IS a relief to see a genuine lady-person in the contest for the top job.

And, as well as being – as Mr Frown might point out – a woman, Ms Abbott-and-Portillo also represents one of the MINORITIES for Hard Labour: yes, she actually BELIEVES in things…

Because, of course, the REAL significance of Ms Abbott-and-Portillo is NOT that she LOOKS different to the other candidates, but that she THINKS different to the other candidates.

If you can get past the fact of her "celebrity comedy career" as part of a double act – famous for their "Who's OFF First" routine – with one-time Conservatory leadership contender Mr Michael Abbott-and-Portillo (no relation) AND that she radiates more than enough SMUG-ON radiation to have prematurely aged her share-ee of Mr Brillo Pad's sofa, even in spite of his natural OIL SHEEN of protection, you have to admit that she stands for a distinct BREAK from the Labour of Lords Blairimort and Mandelbrot.

It was GOOD to hear her wanting to re-engage Hard Labour with the CIVIL LIBERTIES agenda. It's about time they recognised that BURNING the MAGNA CARTA does not a happier safer country make. And, after what Daddy would have said in his speech, it was EXTRA good to hear her speak up AS a child of immigrants for a BETTER debate about immigration, particularly when she went on to say that the real problems were housing, jobs, services… hey! has she been reading my diary?

She'd be definite lurch to the left. But for a Party that was starting to make Mr Genghis Khan go "phew, they're a bit right-wing", that's really no bad thing. And she'd assuredly try to reconnect the Party to its roots… as bunch of well-off middle-class Islingtonians writing manifestos for poor people they've never met and certainly wouldn't want their kids to share a school with. Sorry, what?

Still, if you can't get over where she keeps her reproductive organs, or the amount of melanin she has about her person, I think it really HELPS the country see itself AS one country if people of all colours and genders and backgrounds can be seen to be in with a shot at being Prime Monster, so Ms Abbott-and-Portillo is to be warmly congratulated for stepping up to the plate for that reason too.

Parliament was already looking like it was reverting to a debating club for boys even before Mr Balloon set up a Cabinet which only included FOUR women to replace "reforming" Mr Frown's Hard Labour Cabinet… which, er, only included FOUR women.

But it would be really SAD if people thought you HAD to look like Hair-of-Blair to get anywhere in politics.

Well, of course, ACTUALLY, Mr Bully Balls is more Hair-of-Brown than Hair-of-Blair… and the Millipedes are more SPAWN-of-Blair than Hair-of-Blair… and Mr Andy Crash-and-Burnham is closer to We-Don't-CARE-of-Blair than Hair-of-Blair…

…I'm drifting!

Look, I'll admit it: it didn't help when Captain Clegg put five Liberal Democrats into the Cabinet and they all had "Y" Chromosomes.

Of course, the Liberal Democrats DID have a great many REALLY REALLY good lady candidates at the election – and in "winnable" seats too – but, by one of those HUGELY IRRITATING quirks of the voting system, most of those winnable seats LOST, making us LOOK a bit rubbish on the representation front. We'll have to mend that.

I think we can all guess that if Ms Julia Good-as-Goldsworthy had not lost, she'd have been a hot tip for the Chief Secretary job; and if Ms Susan Kramer-versus-Kramer had lost out to snotty-nosed rich-boy, er, valued Conservatory ally [retch, barf] Mr Slack Goldfinger she would have been a sure pick for the negotiations team and a fast track to a top job there too.

(Not that the boys aren't BRILLIANT, but you do see what I mean: we could have gone for 60:40 gender split with no loss of talent if the voters hadn't decided otherwise.)

Anyway, Parliament is supposed to represent the whole country and all points of view so that we can be SEEN to be coming to good decisions TOGETHER. At least that's what the NEW POLITICS should mean. So a Parliament that represents ALL people is a BETTER Parliament!

And anyway, as Auntie Stephmog says: Ms Diane Abbott HAS to win, if only so Mr Balloon can say, "I was arguing with a black woman last week…"


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Day 3422: What Daddy WOULD Have Said Was…


Honestly, politics moves so FAST these days, there is no time to let Daddy Richard off for a couple of days is there!

Off we went to Brum again, to a BIG SHED near the motorway, to attend the FLASHMOB CONFERENCE on the Coalition between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatories AKA the Solihull-Pyongyang twinning ceremony.

(Look, even Captain Clegg was surprised by the overwhelming support from Party members for the deal!)

There were a-hundred-and-seventy-two speaker's cards put in, and I'm afraid Daddy Richard was NOT one of the thirty-eight called. So here is the speech wot he wrote:
As many Liberal Democrat Ministers will be thinking this weekend: it's my first time… and I'm terrified!

Conference, I support this agreement, but we must never get comfortable with it.

We have to avoid the great error of Labour's first term – Labour's mistake was to be concerned only with the next election, not with doing anything. They were in power only for the sake of being in power. The spin and triangulation were all with a view to wrong-footing the opposition – or, in the case of Mr Blair and Mr Brown, each other – with an eye on the political advantage, not the good of the country. It was only ever about getting re-elected.

Conference, this coalition is never going to be… campaigning for re-election.

That's why we have to make a real difference, a Liberal difference right now.

People ask – usually the media, who can't get their head out of the playground politics of the past – how are Liberal Democrats to campaign against Conservatives if we are together in coalition. I tell you it's easy: you just say to people, look at what we've done in Government and ask them wouldn't you rather your government was a little bit mre Liberal?

That's why we have to make a Liberal difference right now.

Just for once, people are really paying attention to us, and we can – must – use that to change the political weather, to change the way that we frame the debate, to change the LANGUAGE of politics.

During the election, we we're attacked – attacked by both other parties – for our policy on immigration, and it was because we allowed them to frame the question, to define immigration as the "problem".

Immigration is NOT the problem – the problem is housing, the problem is jobs, the problem is employers forcing wages down, the problem is pressure on services… immigration is a scape-goat for these things, a convenient excuse from a Labour government that had let down its own voters.

Conference, I live in Tower Hamlets, one of the most diverse Boroughs in the United Kingdom. And, yes, despite lying in the shadow of glittering wealth at Canary Wharf, one of the poorest. Look at our history: Huguenots in Spitalfields, Chinese in Limehouse, Jews in Cable Street, Bangladeshi in Brick Lane… these weren't people coming to "sponge" off us; they were coming to take up the opportunity that a free and Liberal society offered.

David Cameron is being hailed as "the new Disraeli"; when Disraeli was Prime Minister there weren't any Little Englander worries about immigration; people were welcomed for the talents that they could bring.

Britain is built on immigration. We are stronger for immigration, for all those people with get up and go who got up and came here, to these lucky islands.

But it's more personal than that. My partner is Alex Wilcock – you may have heard the cheers for his intervention – and his Mum is a "Non-EU immigrant". If there'd been a cap on immigration, I might never have seen my Alex.

So, conference, approve this motion, support the coalition, but don't get comfortable with it. Don't accept that the other Parties can frame the debate.

Let us make a Liberal difference.
As you may have guessed, though, of the hundred-and-ten interventions submitted, Daddy Alex WAS one of the thirty drawn out of the hat. Hooray!

Daddy Alex pointed out that he WANTED a PROGRESSIVE alliance… but with only fifty-seven Liberal Democrats and ONE Northern Ireland Alliance MP, the Progressives didn't have much of a majority! But even WITH only fifty-eight MPs, LOOK at what we've achieved – and THINK what we could do with a majority! We HAVE made the Conservatories better – and the ALTERNATIVE was a partnership between Conservatories and the DUP (Deeply Unpopular Party) with the sectarian self-interest of the Unionists making them much, much WORSE!

This, said Daddy, was our FIRST CHANCE of national power in almost fourty years of his LIFE – and he didn't want to wait ANOTHER forty years and be wheeled on when he was seventy-eight to say: it's ANOTHER economic crisis and finally ANOTHER Hung Parliament maybe we should have a go this time…

…which was followed very smartly by Mr Richard Moore who said that he WAS seventy-eight but he didn't need wheeling on just yet, thank you very much!

Did I mention Conference gave Daddy a CHEER!

Oh, and then we all voted to let Captain Clegg use the IMPERIOUS curse on Mr Balloon…


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Day 3418: It Was the Worst Thing We Could Have Done… apart from Anything ELSE We Could Have Done.


"Shall I be tempted by the devil thus?"

"Ay, if the devil tempt you to do good."

Richard III, Act IV, Scene IV

"…and I for one welcome our new Liberal Deputy Overlord!"

Kent Brockman, Springfield News

For a moment yesterday, the Liberal Democrats in Parliament looked like they might actually be wooed away by the siren voices of Lord Mandelbrot and Lord Hephaestus.

And, at least is seemed to me, the Liberal Blogosphere replied with a sudden hardening of the line: a whole string of people came out saying we HAD to do the deal with the Conservatories.

Auntie Caron weighed up the pros and cons, but look how everyone decided.

From Mr Lord Bonkers, Mr Mark Reckons, Mr Paul Burblings, Mr Scary Andy, Mr Stephen of the Glenn, Mr Jonathan Wallace-and-Grommet, and Mr Andrew Porrer and Mr Keith Nevols and Mr Tom King and Mr Tony Koutsoumbos, and even in these wonderful words from Auntie Jennie you can see the REJECTION of Hard Labour.

It's not because people on the Internets are YOUNGER or RICHER, they've not FORGOTTEN what a Conservatory government is like – and if they HAD, they've just had a thirteen-year long IMPERSONATION of a Conservatory Government by Hard Labour to remind them!

For reasons of policy, and pragmatism, for the national interest and for the mathematics, for what the people actually voted for, for the change that we promised, for the hope we HAD to agree to deal with Mr Balloon.

The sight of the Pie-faced Etonian in Downing Street did made me QUAIL, though, I have to say.

What, I said to Daddy, have we DONE?!?

"We did what we had to," he said. "We won."

THINK what the alternatives were for us: sit on our fluffy behinds and let the Conservatories run riot as a minority government? Is that RESPONSIBLE? Does that deliver ANYTHING for the MILLIONS of people who trusted our policies and voted for us? No.

Join Hard Labour in a rainbow coalition, forever in hock to the Irish Unionists and Scotch Nasties (not to mention Dead-Men-Don't-Wear-Plaid Cymru). And Radio Caroline Lucas of the Sickly Greens if she decides to agree on that issue. Does that sound even REMOTELY plausible? With Ms Diane Abbott-and-Portillo, and Mr Tom Harris, and Mr Blanket the Security Blunket and NICE Mr Dr John Reid and Ms Kate "Hong Kong" Phooey, and Mr Andy Crash-and-Burnham all saying they wouldn't join a coalition with the Liberal Democrats? Does that sound like a recipe for anything other than total CHAOS? No.

WE promised that EVERY vote would count and LOOK – they DID! There will be Liberal Democrats at EVERY level of the Government and in every department of the Government. WE have a QUARTER of the CABINET!

(And people are going to have to TALK to each other in Cabinet again – no more of this Government by stitch up between Lord Blairimort and Mr Alistair Henchman hanging out in "Tony's Den". Liberal Democrats are going to have things to SAY to the Cabinet and will SAY them. And Conservatories are therefore going to want to SAY things too. We might even get some responsible collective responsibility, rather than a bunch of unimaginative sheep bleating whenever the Prime Monster says "boo".)

And now Hard Labour are hooting that there's only one "progressive" Party left in Great Briatin.

Darn tootin' there is – it's US.

We've just had a decade of the NASTIEST, most CENTRALISING, most AUTHORITARIAN, most ILLIBERAL, most ANTI-SCIENCE, , most in-Hock-to-VESTED-INTERESTS, most BACKWARDS, semi-literate JUNTA that this country has seen since the age of STEAM ENGINES!

They haven't just IMPEDED progress; they've KILLED IT STONE DEAD! They've taken it out and SHOT IT. And then jumped up and down on the pieces and LAUGHED about doing so.

Look, just LOOK at the PROGRESSIVE POLICIES that the new Liberal-Conservatory Government is promising:

ID cards scrapped; ContactPoint database scrapped; DNA protection equal to Scotland, rights to non-violent protest restored, review of libel laws… better CIVIL LIBERTIES policies than Hard Labour.

No third runway at Heathrow, no expansion at Gatwick or Stanstead, flight tax per plane not per passenger, the Government signed up to 10/10, carbon capture and storage... better ENVIRONMENTAL policies than Hard Labour!

No income tax on the first ten thousand pounds you earn, lower earners protected from Hard Labour's NI rise too, tax cut for millionaires shelved… better TAX policies than Hard Labour.

Immigration… BAD… but we'll stop locking up CHILDREN so actually BETTER than Hard Labour!

Benefits… BAD… but not actually WORSE than Hard Labour!

Fixed term Parliaments, right to recall your MP, clean up of Parliamentary standards, limits on donations, controls on lobbying, more devolution, asking the people about the voting system, House of Lords Club to be elected… BY PR!!!… and Captain Clegg in charge to make sure it all happens… better FAIR POLITICS policies than Hard Labour.

Today, TODAY, the new Government has stopped the third runway at Heathrow, and I.D.iot cards are on hold.


Meanwhile, SCIENCE has detected a SUPER-MASSIVE BROWN HOLE being ejected from its galaxy causing destruction all around it.

Daddy Richard, because he is a big SOFTIE, was almost feeling SORRY for Mr Frown, at least until the incredible sulk started speaking:

"I loved the job for its potential to make this country I love fairer, more tolerant, more green, more democratic, more prosperous and more just - truly a greater Britain."

Just a shame you didn't DO any of those things then, really, isn't it, Mr Frown.

People are praising the DIGNITY of his exit… but even THAT was (a) a political manoeuvre to try and stay in Downing Street as "caretaker" until September and, failing that, (b) storming off in a strop in order to leave Mr Balloon and Captain Clegg having to scramble for the deal at the last minute. So much for Mr Frown doing his duty to see a strong stable government installed.

Is it worth a tenner on him being sat in Mr Grocer Heath's old chair in the commons for the next, oh, ever.

I am quivering with terror. And also hope. You can't have one without the other. Hope REQUIRES change, and that is always FRIGHTENING. This could go so, so, SO badly wrong.

But what if it doesn't?

What if Mr Balloon ACTUALLY MEANS IT?

If we're right about democracy and fairness and freedom and the environment, then we should have our polices actually put into effect.

And now we will.

So, when it's the worst that could happen APART from ANYTHING else that could happen… we'd better get this right.


Day 3417: Luthor


With its mournful soul/country ballad theme, not to mention its star, it's clear that Auntie Beeb were hoping that this might be a British "Wire". But it doesn't have the sprawling character set, slow-moving-yet-gripping intertwined plots or documentary filming style to do that.

Rather, as psychodrama dressed up as police procedural, and with an anti-heroic lead – Mr Idris Elba: subtle and awesome – whose brilliance and insight are set off against his self-destructive personality, its true ancestor is ITV's acclaimed "Cracker".

But watching last night, we realised what this REALLY is: it is BATMAN without the dressing up!

John Luthor: brooding, brilliant, powerful but "captured by the dead" – remind you of anyone? And we have NEVER seen a better performance as the Joker than Ms Ruth Wilson's crazy/scary Alice.

There are three world class actors on show: the lead, of course, and Ms Ruth – also on the tellybox as the OTHER one worth watching in ITV's rehash of "The Prisoner" (more on that story later, as they say) – and also the other lady in Mr Luthor's life: Ms Indira Varma – formerly of "Torchwood" and "Rome" and, ahem, lots of proper acting – as his separated wife, Ms Zoe.

Oh, and Mr Dr Paul McGann is quite good too.

It is a BIT scary for some viewers – and you might get upset with the first episode when a DOGGIE gets murdered (also some people), but it looks like it might be quite GRIPPING viewing.

After all, what else could keep you glued to your tellybox on a Tuesday after the election is over?

Oh… that…


Monday, May 10, 2010

Day 3416: Captain Clegg and the Path to the Dark Side


It seems that a lot of people may have voted for Liberal Democrats to "keep the Conservatories Out!" and are now a bit miffed that we might let them in.

Well, sorry, but we never promised to keep the Conservatories out – we only promised that you'd never have to vote tactically again if we could at all help it.

It's our BROKEN, WINNER-TAKES-ALL system that makes us HATE and FEAR other Parties, and in many ways that's WORSE than all the other ways that it poisons our politics.

Seriously, this is what the "New Politics" was ALWAYS going to look like: we WANT people to TALK, and to NEGOTIATE and COMPROMISE.

People HATE and FEAR the Conservatories because of what they did with UNTRAMMELLED power during the reign of Queen Maggie.

Nowadays, almost everyone agrees that SOME changes did have to be made, but equally that the Conservatories were way too harsh in the way that they made them. Could they have been as BRUTAL if they hadn't had a monopoly on power with only a minority of support?

If Queen Maggie had had to negotiate and explain, to listen and to compromise perhaps not only would it have been better for everyone else BUT ALSO everyone else would not have ended up with paranoid terror of the Conservatories ever coming back.

FEAR, as the thousand-year-old Fozzie Bear once said, is the path to the DARK SIDE. FEAR leads to HATE, HATE leads to ANGER, ANGER leads to thirteen years of police powers and terrorism acts. Wokka wokka wokka, he added.

What we've seen this last weekend is that people CAN behave like GROWN-UPs when they HAVE to. Wouldn't it be nice if they have to behave like grown-ups ALL THE TIME?

That is why it is so important, SO important that we reform our electoral system. And THAT is why it is so important that we make these negotiations with the Conservatories work. I KNOW we hate and fear them – we've got to do BETTER than that.

Two points:

First, a BIG part of the Conservatories case for the winner-takes-all first pass the port electoral system is that coalitions are WEAK. If we make this work, it proves them WRONG.

Second, if we do reach an agreement with the Conservatories it proves that we CAN reach a deal with the Conservatories. Because otherwise we will ALWAYS get the "Lib-Lab Pact" thrown in our faces and be told – not least by Hard Labour – that we can only ever be a junior partner to the forces of the LEFT.

(And I am SO tired of being told, by Hard Labour or their stooges, that I am part of the "left-liberal consensus". As Mr Harry Wilcock once said about I.D.iot cards – "left-liberal consensus"? I am a Liberal and I don't approve of that sort of thing!)

Look, even at the heights of "Cleggmania" we were NEVER expecting the Liberal Democrats to poll more than 50% (even if 49% was pretty darn close), so if we really, truly BELIEVE in trusting the people's vote, then we would ALWAYS have had to negotiate a partnership with one or other Labservative.

We're NOT in this to sit on the sidelines heckling; we're here to make a DIFFERENCE. And that means doing politics DIFFERENTLY.

So that's what's in it for us, but what's in it for the Conservatories?

Well, how about the chance of REAL GREATNESS.

Lord Blairimort's biggest problem – apart from being a psychotic monomaniac with a messiah complex, of course – was that he was great at ACHIEVING power and never had a clue what he wanted to DO with it. He was swept in on a great wave of "time for change" and revulsion at the old Conservatory sleaze, but didn't really know HOW he was going to make sure "things could only get better". This meant that his first term was wasted making everyone very cross by following Conservatory spending plans and his second term was wasted making every very cross by following Replutocrat INVASION plans.

Lord Blairimort wanted to go down in HISTORY – which of course he WILL, but not in a GOOD way – but even he sensed in himself the lack of true VOCATION. He wanted to be a "great reforming Prime Monster", like Mr Lloyd George or Mr Atlee or, er, Mrs Queen Maggie.

The reason that he WON'T be remembered as a great reformer is because his vision didn't extend beyond getting elected and then re-elected.

Now Mr Balloon has arrived, with a campaign straight out of the New Labour playbook, swept into power on a great wave of "time for change" and revulsion at the old Labour sleaze and what's he going to do now? His manifesto is less a platform more a collection of sound bites and idea bubbles – "hug a hoodie", "vote blue go green", "big tent society", "save my job"… no, that one was slipped in by Mr Vague.

Mr Balloon, self-styled heir-to-Blair, has always showed every danger sign of being another election-friendly policy vacuum.

But we could save him from himself.

The Conservatories will be negotiating saying "we got 307 seats; you only got 57" and we will be going in saying "I think you'll find that we got 23% of the vote and you got 36%, so we'll be splitting the power 40:60 if you don't mind".

But think about what we REALLY offer the Conservatories: a programme for government that is consistent, thought-through and ready to roll.

A Great Reforming Parliament: the Great Tax Reform Bill, to make the tax system fairer; the Freedom Bill, to roll back the intrusive state powers that Hard Labour have seized; and a new Great Reform Act, to empower a citizens convention and really, really usher in a politics for the New Millennium: the politics of fairness and consensus and individual freedom and empowerment

If you were Mr Balloon with THAT on the table, could you really, REALLY turn down the chance to be remembered in one breath with Churchill or Queen Maggie just because your resident wingnuts were unhappy with changing a system that was really only brought in by Labour less than a hundred years ago with the abolition of multi-member seats?

For goodness sake, STV is even known as BRITISH Proportional Representation. You know, like calling the EMULSIFIED HIGH-FAT OFFAL TUBE the British Sausage, it may just be all in a NAME if you want to get people to swallow something.

I have seen Hard Labour twitterers tweeting and bleating that to deal with the Conservatories is to do a deal with the devil. "If you handle dirt with clean gloves," they say, "it's not the dirt that gets cleaner."

Well maybe that's true, but if NO ONE handles the dirt then we all DROWN in it.

Hate and Fear are the path to the Dark Side. We have to have a BETTER answer.


Friday, May 07, 2010

Day 3413: Bloodied But Unbowed, the Battle Goes on - update Have Your Say


First let's get this out of our system:


Right… HUG Daddy, and…

NOW is time that our Four Principles were prepared for.

Captain Clegg has stuck to his word and made clear that the Party with more votes and more seats - that's the Conservatories - should have first TRY at forming a Government.

The Liberal Democrats should NOT go into a Lib/Con coalition. But we should seek to negotiate a "comfort and supply" deal on the following conditions:

1. Fair Taxes

There should IMMEDIATELY be formed an all-Party economy committee to conduct a full spending review.

NO budget until after we all know what the position really is. That puts a PAUSE on OUR tax cuts plans and THEIR spending cuts plans. Sorry. But we must put the National interest first.

Internal Conservatory feuding over who is to "blame" for their election campaign may cost Master Oboe his political head. Let's just say we shouldn't stand in the way of that.

2. Fair Jobs

We need to get the banks lending again. We should be able to agree on THAT.

3. Fair Start in Education

Mr David Laws and Mr Michael Borogrove to agree to work together in principle to develop a new settlement for schools that will try to combine the best elephants elements of the Liberal Democrats' pupil premium and the Conservatories' policy of giving more power back to parents. Both Parties look to the Swedish model, so differences may - MAY - be bridgeable.

4. Fair Politics

Agreement for government time for a Liberal Democrat sponsored Bill, which the Conservatories will be free to oppose in Parliament, to reform Parliament and elections.

Even the Conservatories must admit that our political system is BROKEN. All we can ask is that they let us put the CASE, first to Parliament, and then to the people in a referendum.

We always said we would have to make our case to the people of Great Britain; if the Conservatories are so sure of the case for the status quo, then they should have no FEAR of letting us ask the question.

I would REALLY REALLY REALLY rather that the case for Fair Votes had not had to be made by the Liberal Democrats GAINING in votes and STILL losing in seats, and losing so many good - no, so many GREAT - MPs.

But nevertheless, with people queuing to vote, being DENIED the vote, crying out for change and SEEING the system THWART that, it is now undeniable that this question MUST be put.


What should the party do next? Have your say by 2pm on Saturday

On Saturday afternoon the party's Federal Executive is meeting to discuss how the party should handle the Parliamentary situation. There's no pre-set, universally supported answer to this so the FE's discussion is going to be meaningful and important - which means that if you want to influence what the party does, now is the time to let the FE know.

Because many members of the Federal Executive are scattered around the country - sleeping, travelling back from election counts, making their way to London and so on - the FE members may be hard to get hold of and many will not necessarily be checking their emails frequently.

Therefore, in order to ensure that people have a chance to send in a view that will be read before the meeting, we've agreed with the Party President Ros Scott a special email address - which can be used to email in your
views. A member of staff will collate all the messages and make sure that they are drawn to the attention of Ros and also reported to the members of the FE in time for their discussion.

A few tips when emailing this address:

- Given the pressures of time, short and concise messages are likely to be more effective than 12 pages essays

- As with letter writing or lobbying more generally, saying in full who you are and where you're from is likely to add to the impact of the message

- Please send your message as soon as possible


Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Day 3411: Change of Face or Change for Good?


That’s the choice that faces you tomorrow. Will you vote for a superficial facelift on the Labservative in Number Ten, or will you vote to blow the doors right off the box?

For the Liberal Democrats, there are our four key principles; for Mr Balloon there’s his “big tent society”.

Look around for the kind of changes Mr Balloon thinks his “big tent society” will make, you see him squawking from posters everywhere: “let’s bring back national service”, “let’s cut benefits for the poor”, “let’s roll up the drawbridge”.

That sounds like a CHANGE all right. A change BACK to the era of privilege for the few and poverty for the rest.

What does “change” REALLY mean?

Do you want REAL CHANGE in education?

The Liberal Democrats will raise two-and-a-half billion pounds for a pupil premium, to ensure that the kids who are least well-off will get the same amount of investment as pupils in private schools, the investment that will let schools cut class sizes, invest in more one-to-one tuition, give everyone the best possible start.

Liberal Democrats believe that the opportunity to learn should be available to everyone; learning is a good in and of itself, as well as for the opportunities that it opens up. Only the Liberal Democrats will abolish tuition fees. We have a plan to phase them out over six years, starting with third year fees so everyone who is a student this September will benefit.

The Conservatories will… er… leave you to sort out the school yourself.

Do you want REAL CHANGE in your tax?

Only the Liberal Democrats are offering a radical redistribution of tax from the very well off to those on lower and middle incomes. Paying no tax on the first ten thousand pounds you earn will make a REAL difference to millions of workers. The rich will pay more, that’s only fair, in order that we can reduce the burden that most people have to pay. We know that it’s going to be difficult for EVERYONE as we try to rescue the country from all the debts that Mr Frown has run up, so we want to start off by sharing out the tax system a bit more fairly so that everyone feels that we ARE in this together.

The Conservatories will… er… cut your tax if you’re a dead millionaire.

Do you want REAL CHANGE for the economy?

The Liberal Democrats will invest for new green jobs, converting former shipyards to build the wind turbines that we will need for renewable green energy. Liberal Democrats will address the shocking shortage of affordable housing by paying to bring thousands of disused and abandoned homes back into use; and we want to make the tax system MORE FAIR to people renovating homes by shifting some of the VAT that they would otherwise pay to new build homes. And above all we want to make the banks start lending again, with tough action to cut down on the OBSCENE bonuses and new laws to split up your high street bank from the casino bankers in the City who caused so much damage.

A vote for the Liberal Democrats is a vote for Mr Dr Vince as Chancellor, Britain’s most trusted politician, with years of experience as chief economist for Shell as well as his time as Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor, he is the most honest of all the Parties’ economic spokespeople – yes, the IFS said that 75% of the cuts in our plans still had to be explained… but we SAID that up front, we admitted that until there has been a full Spending Review, we don’t KNOW how bad the situation is, no one does. That’s why we want ALL politicians to put aside differences in the National interest and work together to tackle the budget deficit.

There’s got to be a BETTER way of doing this than just shouting at each other across the House of Commons.

The Conservatories will…er… put Gideon Oboe in charge!

Do you want REAL CHANGE in the way we do politics?

The Liberal Democrats are the ONLY Party with a consistent and principled position on reform of voting, and parliament, and the House of Lords, and freedom of information, and free speech, and protesting outside Parliament, and…

You KNOW that the system is broken, you KNOW that the system leads to lazy MPs and corrupt MPs and rubbish MPs who do what the whips say not what their constituents want.

Patronage STARTS with safe seats. You do the right favour for the right people and you get a safe seat and a job for life. And “the right people” aren’t “the voters” but someone on the Party committee.

Get rid of the safe seats and we START to root out the patronage, the favours, the backroom deals and threats, that has poisoned our politics.

Mr Balloon warns against “voting tactically”, but ONLY the Liberal Democrats want to change the system so that you NEVER have to vote tactically again.

Mr Balloon says that the current voting system lets you throw out the government. Well tell that to a voter in Richmond (Conservatory majority: 17,807 – where 40% of the voters have NO SAY AT ALL

The Conservatories idea of “change” is to redraw the boundaries in their own favour, to cut the number of MPs who might hold their government to account. (Reducing the number of MPs without making the system more representative just makes more and bigger safer seats.)

Will the Liberal Democrats do better under a FAIRER voting system? Well YES, but that doesn’t make it WRONG.

Greens and Libertarians and Christian Democrats and Monster Raving Loonies and Animal Rights Campaigners and Pirates and Cornish Separatists and Socialists and yes even the fruitloops from UKIP will ALL do better under a fairer system.

And above all YOU will do better out of a fairer system, because whoever you vote for, you’ll have a better chance of having your voice heard in Parliament. You will do better from a system that doesn’t EXCLUDE voices, that doesn’t FORCE all the politicians to SOUND THE SAME just to appeal to the swing voters in the key marginals.

In fact the ONLY people who’ll do WORSE are the Old Labersvatives who’ve been COLLUDING to keep you out of power for SIXTY-FIVE YEARS.

Liberal Democrats do BADLY under this system because our support is EVERYWHERE, rather than concentrated in a few small areas. Doesn’t that mean we represent the WHOLE COUNTRY, rather than just the SPECIAL INTERESTS of Hard Labour’s inner city ghettos or the Conservatory’s hereditary squires of the shires?

Only the Liberal Democrats will put YOU back in charge: fair votes, no safe seats, the right to kick out your MP, more power local government, more power over your local health and education

The Conservatories will… er… NOT change the system.

That’s right, the Conservatories idea of “change” is NO CHANGE AT ALL.

Tomorrow is the General Election.

The Liberal Democrats are better placed than EVER BEFORE. Don’t let the polls put you off – if you look at the DETAIL, we are WAY WAY up on where we were in 2005. If you look at the crowds of people who turn up to hear Captain Clegg speak you can see that something has given HOPE back to people. Unlike the Labservatives the Lib Dems just don’t have enough staffers and party workers to fake this kind of thing – those are REAL PEOPLE turning out in HUGE numbers to hear a politician, a POLITICAN(!) tell them that they CAN make a difference. On the ground and online this is MASSIVE and it is REAL.

Hard Labour know that it’s all over. They can’t even agree on the strategy for damage limitation any more, is it vote Labservaitiev, or vote tactically? Who cares.

Vote for change, vote for REAL change, not a airbrushing of the old, vote for something really new.

Vote for the Liberal Democrats.

Thank you!


Saturday, May 01, 2010

Day 3400: DOCTOR WHO: Angel Delight


This week, we watched the most powerful dangerous monster in Doctor Who history. It's Mr Kronos the Time Monster in, er, The Time Monster! This week in his incarnation as Mr Flappy, the man in the front-axial-projection bird-suit.

Yeah, that's how to do REALLY SCARY.

Meanwhile, Daddy has some thoughts on some completely-not-flappy monsters…
Steven Moffat is a memetic jeweller. His gems are ideas, some his own, some other peoples. He takes them and polishes them up and places them in a setting and creates a work of art that is, perhaps, more than the sum of its parts.

Just some of the ideas that reappear in "The Time of Angels" include:

The illuminated gravity globe revealing the catacombs and the ancient statues is the same but even more beautifully done as the one from "The Impossible Planet".

The impossibly-fast monster steels the voice of the person it has just killed, just as happened in the Library.

The Doctor casually mentions having dinner with the Aplan architect, just as he "nipped back" and had dinner with the architect of the Tersurus castle in "Curse of the Fatal Death".

And Dr River Song is "The Time Traveller's Wife". Or is she? Well, in spite of all the efforts to muddy those waters, that still seems to be where she is in the plot.

The James Bond-in-heals opening is brilliantly thrilling, the effects are glorious, the intercutting between 51st and 171st centuries works perfectly - there's a lovely pan where the camera swings and we cut between times at the same moment - and Alex Kingston is deliciously cheeky as not-yet-Professor Song.

She's a 51st Century kind of a girl, capable and capricious, straight from prison to a covert expedition.

Yet River is much, much better when she is winking knowingly at the camera than when she is smugly piloting the TARDIS. We forgive Romana for being better at flying the TARDIS than the Doctor because she's such an obvious naïf at everything else. Besides, she's immensely prissy about it and clearly the joke is on her, that the Doctor may fly badly but he does it with panache. In contrast River is superior about her piloting of the ship, and the joke is on the Doctor for not being as good as her. That's typical Moffat, to make the man the butt of the humour and for his response to be embarrassment. But the Doctor is not just the Moffat stand-in for these jokes, and you're verging on being snide about our hero. The moment where River lands the ship smoothly and casually informs the Doctor that he just leaves the brakes on actually had me groaning.

(...and wanting to write the scene where she does it again, tells the Doctor "see, there's no need to do it your way" and steps out of the door only for a great big time trap to get them and the Doctor to tell her: "I don't leave the brakes on, I misphase the time rotor to disguise my time trail so that no one can find me and do this!")

Last time she turned up, she asked among other things if they'd done the crash of the Byzantium yet. Here they are, doing the crash of the Byzantium. This time she only refers to "the bone meadows" - is that a clue as to her next appearance? Is it that we will trace her life through his by means of these clues like the hyperlinks in Lawrence Miles' "The Book of the War"?

Ah, the Book of the War again, the gift that never stops giving for a magpie genius of the likes of Moffat. He should read it, he'd find all sorts of things.

For example, conceptual beings, beings that exist as living ideas, interacting with other life forms by influencing their perceptions. One particular breed are the "anarchitects", beings that inhabit buildings, structures, statues or rather the idea of buildings and so on and make us think they are moving by altering the way we think about our surroundings. Just think what Moffat could make of an idea like that.

Okay, I'm slightly taking the mickey; I don't want to suggest that Moffatt steels because what he does is pick up other people's ideas and refashion them as something new.

So, we have angels that are not so much altering the physical structure of the statues they inhabit, as altering our perceptions of them, just as they alter Amy's perceptions of her own arm, telling her it's turned to stone; angels that can move into a recording of themselves; angels that can march right into your eyes and into your head.

The Doctor expressly describes the angels as the most powerful and deadly creatures ever evolved (which may be Mr Moffat bigging up his own monsters or, more kindly, an acknowledgement of winning all those "Best Monster EVEH" polls). Yet if we run with the idea that the angels are anarchitects, then they are survivors of the Time War, and the Doctor's particular horror and fear of them makes sense.

It almost goes without saying that Moffat has clearly answered all those who said there was nothing more to say about the angels after the perfectly-formed "Blink". Last time, I went into a bit of a rant about how tossing in the world "quantum" did not qualify as a proper explanation for the angels powers. But now, as Andrew Hickey was correct to point out, by making the angels memetic, Moffat gets away from many of those problems - because the angels exist in the perception of the people seeing them, not in the actual statue.

And likewise the whole "you can't stop watching the telly or the monster will come out and get you" is very, very clever.

Having just one angel, at least to start with, was a subtle touch of horror if you remember that the Doctor's solution last time, which was to have angels looking at each other - you can't do that if there's only one of them.

Lucky then that it turned out the haunted Aplan "Labyrinth of the Dead" was rotten with the things. The serried ranks of "zombie" angels were a rather lovely touch, though. The melted faces, showing like skulls beneath the skin were arguably more creepy than the full angel form, and their "slow" faster-than-you-can-see movement was if anything more frightening for its slow inevitability as they closed in.

As with a couple of weeks ago when I guessed - correctly - that the glasses of water were to demonstrate the Starship UK's lack of engine vibration minutes before the Doctor explained exactly that, I was again reward with a rush of geek smugness for spotting the contraction between the Aplan's description, alluded to as though it's a comedy moment, as two-headed aliens and the one-headed statues in their necropolis ahead of the Doctor and River's shared moment of horror at spotting the same.

(And the Doctor's apology for making a potentially-fatal mistake echoes the one he makes as Tom Baker in "The Horror of Fang Rock".)

I don't, incidentally, say this just to show off my own cleverness, but because it's really not me but Moffat being clever placing, Agatha Christie-like, clues that the viewer can spot ahead of the heroes and get a buzz out of it, or failing that clues that reward you for watching the repeat too.

In this case it's a good difference between Moffat and his predecessor. Russell would hand wave over details like this; Steven cares.

Another difference is that for this first two-parter of the season, Russell would have returned us to his touchpoint of early twenty-first century England. Moffat isn't bothered. That's good too, it's reminiscent of the contrast between the Earth-based, Earth-bound Pertwee era and the more nomadic Fourth Doctor of the Hinchcliffe stories that followed. In fairness, the series is much more established now, and Moffat is in a stronger position to trust the audience to stay with him wherever he goes. So after the future and the past we're now further into the future again, with no pit stop.

The 51st Century is clearly Moffat's favoured era, just as the year five billion was Russell's, and that's borrowed too, borrowed from Robert Holmes's "Talons of Weng Chiang" when he created the Time Agent, Captain Jack. He returned there for the SS Madame de Pompadour in "The Girl in the Fireplace". And, accepting that she could be misplaced in time by her adventures with the (future) Doctor, it's probably River's native time too.

It's a busy time for Doctor Who, with "Weng Chiang"'s Magnus Greel, an Ice Age in the Year 5000, possibly the one seen in "The Ice Warriors" (is it set in the future in the year 3000, or 3000 years in the future?) and the "Great Breakout" described in "The Invisible Enemy".

There is an interesting possibility that the Earth is in a state of some devastation, possibly following on from those Solar Flares that Moffatt referenced a couple of weeks ago in "The Beast Below". I'm reminded of the (implied) Earth destroyed by fire which is a backdrop to the Twilight Zone classic "Demon With a Glass Hand" which in turn is referenced by the Babylon 5 episode "The Deconstruction of Falling Stars" where a post-apocalyptic Earth is covertly mentored by warrior-priests the Rangers.

Warrior priests, of course, brings me back to "The Time of Angels", where Moffat has his troops supplied by the Church, with Iain Glen investing intensity and integrity in what good have been an overlooked role as Bishop Octavian.

Although the Doctor describes the Church as having "moved on", this seems much more the Church getting back to basics with these guys as their future Knights Templar.

Nor have other Doctor Who authors avoided this idea, with some having descendents of UNIT adopting a semi-mystical system of values, while the Order of Adjudicators as depicted in the Virgin New Adventures (in particular Andy Lane's "Original Sin" and "So Vile a Sin" by Ben Aaronovitch and Kate Orman) has religious elements to many of its ceremonies. The Adjudicators, from Pertwee-story "Colony in Space" of course, are destined to evolve into another quasi-religious organisation, the Knights of the Grand Order of Oberon ("Revelation of the Daleks"), at least according to another New Adventure ("Lucifer Rising" by Jim Mortimore and Andy Lane again).

You see this level of bonkers interconnectedness is why Moffat is the perfect Doctor Who showrunner.

Though of course Moffat almost certainly had a much simpler idea: sending the Church to deal with an angel.

For many, the archetypal Script Editor of Doctor Who, who today would have been in Moffat's executive producer chair, was Robert Holmes. Holmes special genius was to create worlds out of sight with just a couple of phrases, giving stories like "The Ribos Operation" or "The Caves of Androzani" a sense of existing in real places and informing that reality into their (occasionally flimsy) plots. It seems to me that Moffat has almost the reverse gift: he loves to take the worlds that other people have sketched and to fill in the details to make them endlessly more fascinating.

It does seem almost rude to bring back the Daleks as great big Technicolor kiddie-toys and then follow them with the brutally, almost literally monochrome Weeping Angels. And yet what both stories have in common is that very strength of Moffat that may, in time, come to be seen as the weakness of the his era: both stories are almost entirely made of plot.

In a Russell Davis story, whether it's one of the more obvious satires like "Aliens of London" or "Bad Wolf" or the more allegorical parables like "Gridlock" or "Midnight", you can grasp, almost intuitively, what the story is about; they make you feel.

Under the new regime, there is not - yet - that underlying emotion that turns a beautifully constructed series of interconnecting devices into a story.

Ultimately, this is a brilliant jeweller's diadem, but it may yet prove to be empty.

Next Time… In Milton's Paradise Lost, Satan opines of God:

I now, of force, believe [our foe] almighty, since no less
Than such could have o'erpowered such force as ours

Or more succinctly, we'd have won if almighty god hadn't been, well, almighty. I'm just saying, if you want to defeat Angels, you need God. But will the real battle be for Amy Pond's soul, whether it be in "Flesh or Stone"


Actually, there WAS a point in mentioning "The Time Monster".

As Part Four ends, the chronovore devours Dr Woo!

But wait! The Mister Master explains the plot to Ms Jojo Grant. Mr Kronos has not LITERALLY chewed up the grisly bits, but has dumped Mr Doctor Jon into the Time Vortex.

Handily, this means that Jojo can pull the "get out of cliff-hanger free" lever to rescue him at the start of Part Five.

But, on seeing this, it suddenly struck Daddy that this is a really good explanation of why Mr Doctor Eccythump does not die when HE is eaten by the chronovores reapers in "Father's Day".

See what happens with these explanations, you blink and miss 'em.

Don't blink!

Don't BLINK‼