...a blog by Richard Flowers

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Day 4196: Meanwhile, in Middle Earth England


Today presenter: So why have you taken such drastic measures to cut down trees alongside the railway lines, sometimes up to thirty yards from the tracks?

Network Rail Spokesperson: Well, I don't see what the problem is. We got on the palantír to the Dark Lord Sauron and he said we should tear down the forests of Isengard and burn them to power an industrial machine that would carry a new Darkness across all the lands of the West.


Sauron: This is getting silly! I've been waiting for my invasion for Ages now! What's causing all these delays?!

Announcer (over PA): Network Rail would like to apologise for the late running of the 18:30 Nazgûl from Minas Morgul to Minas Tirith. Further delays are expected to all services between Orodruin and the Black Terminus of Barad-dûr. This is due to the wrong sort of ash and lava on the line.

Sauron: Oh Balrogs!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Day 4194: Mr Balloon and the Culture of Entitlement


"I want to screw with COMMON PEOPLE," as Mr Balloon might have put it in his speech about abandoning ALL under twenty-fives in the pub toilets*; "Common people like YOU," as he might have announced to the assembled dignitaries at... it says here Bluewater Shopping Centre.

I know we're hard up as a Nation, but is the Prime Monster REALLY reduced to opening the latest branch of LIDL for a fee?!

"And I Would Have Got Away With It Too If It Weren't For Those Meddling Liberals!" he is believed to have added as the police led him away.

When times are TOUGH and the SQUEEZE is on, it's very, very easy to pick on one group, especially one that is too weak to fight back, and to say that THEY are the ones to BLAME. This week Mr Balloon is picking on those receiving benefits. (Just as last week, losing lots of points, Mr Milipede was shamefully picking on IMMIGRANTS.)

There are a lot of MADE UP stories – mostly HORROR stories – about what an EASY life it is living on BENEFITS, especially if you've got six kids, two ASBOs, a noise abatement order and a council debt collector chasing you. Millions of people IN work (they claim) would gnaw off their own fluffy feet for such luxuries.

The technical term for this is: "a load of old HONK!"

But if you WANT horror stories, here comes Mr Balloon putting the VIDEO NASTY back into the NASTY PARTY.

"Woo, look out!" he tells us. "You might be a couple earning twenty-four thousand between you and unable to afford kids, but the family on benefits down the road has FOUR children already and gets twenty-SEVEN thou (soon to be capped at twenty-SIX) for the privilege." Of course that means they're getting by on four-and-a-half grand per head, compared to twelve-grand a head for our poor put-upon workers, but we'll ignore the details...

"Shivers!" says Mr Balloon, "what about the GOOD GIRL and the BAD GIRL! Good girl went to college, got her qualifications and got a job, but STILL can't afford to leave home. While Bad Girl (let's call her SUSAN – she wears MAKE-UP and probably doesn't believe in ASLAN any more) she went on the dole and got a free house!" Though, obviously, by "free house" we actually mean "grotty bedsit" in a concrete tower block or some suburban terrace where the hugely over-inflated rent goes straight into the pocket of the landlord. Look, he's got a string of buy-to-let properties and votes Conservatory so HE can't possibly be to blame!

"Nightmare!" the Prime Monster reminds us. "Some of us have to commute for hours and stare longingly at properties we could never afford, some of which are occupied by benefit claimants! The horror! The horror!" Though, naturally, by "us" he means "you proles" what with the State providing HIM with a FREE HOUSE, right OVER THE SHOP (and ANOTHER one in the countryside, convenient for the PUB where you can leave unwanted offspring behind**).

And WHO'S fault is that? After YEARS and DECADES of successive Governments (yes, including THIS ONE to our SHAME) colluding in a plan to keep house prices inflating on the grounds that (a) "An Englishman's Home is his Castle (even when he's mortgaged to the eyeballs)" is very popular and you don't mess with very popular and (b) the housing bubble is all that's keeping the British economy afloat at the moment. We can't have the bank taking ANOTHER hit, can we. And remember it was NEGATIVE EQUITY as much as Black Wednesday that nuked the Conservatory reputation for economic competence in the early 'Nineties.

This CONSPIRACY has entailed squeezing SUPPLY to keep prices HIGH through massive under-provision of SOCIAL HOUSING (all those people are on the Housing Benefit in private accommodation because there are not enough COUNCIL HOUSES for them) and a conspicuous LACK of private development while building companies have sat on their land banks and watched the price of their assets INFLATE.

When it comes to OLD people (you know, the ones that VOTE and complain loudly about GRANNY TAXES when told they might not continue to get even more on top of everything everyone else gets) Mr Balloon says this:

"If you have worked hard all your life, then you deserve real dignity and security in your old age."

But you know what? I think EVERYBODY deserves real dignity and security.

And ACTUALLY, as one of the richest countries on the face of the planet, we SHOULD really be able to afford that. No, let me REPHRASE that. As a county that earns more in a year than the one hundred and thirty poorest countries COMBINED, we damn well OUGHT to be able to afford that.

Where's the DIGNITY in asking someone in a wheelchair to walk across a room? Or a heart-attack victim to pick up a pencil? Where's the SECURITY for the young woman or man thrown out of their home for being pregnant or gay or just not getting along? Or just for losing their job? Or because the Royal Bank-that-WE-own of Scotland decided to upload PACMAN instead of their new BANKING SOFTWARE?

And, you know, maybe if Mr Balloon had been a bit less GAGGING FOR IT to cut the 50% tax rate to 45% then he wouldn't HAVE to be talking about finding ten billion squids of benefit cuts.

(Because if Mr Jimmy Carr-crash's tax avoidance scheme was legal but MORALLY WRONG, what does he think about the MORALITY of giving all those rich people another legal way to avoid a great chunk of their tax?)

Look, it's LORDS REFORM WEEK, so this may all be TACTICAL, a bit of FLIRTATION with the Bonkers-in-the-Nut Brigade to keep them onside, tossing a bit of, as they say, red meat to the Howling-at-the-Moon wing of the Conservatory Coalition.

(A dozen points adrift in the polls, it would be RIDICULOUS to think that he might be preparing the way for a snap Autumn election – perhaps on the pretext that he lets the Lords Reform Bill fail and forces us to collapse the Coalition.)

No, far more likely this is a case of crying "Who Will Rid Me of these Troublesome Lib Dem Priests!" and then denying any suggestion he's egging on a rebellion against Cap'n Clegg's reforms when they get stabbed to death in the Cathedral.

(And the Beardy Weirdy of Canterbury is discovered over the body... no, that's Midsomer Murders.)

But if he's POSING as Conservatory TRADITIONALIST, the questions for Mr Balloon are these: what happened to LOYALTY to our fellow citizens? Weren't we all supposed to be in this together?

What happened to sticking by FAMILY through thick and thin? Weren't we all supposed to a part of that Big Society?

And what happened to, dare a militant atheist fluffy elephant suggest it, CHRISTIAN DUTY to the poor and in need?

The Welfare State has, he says, "sent out some incredibly damaging signals."

(More damaging than "we hate young people"; "we hate disabled people"; "we hate poor people"; and "yes, we ARE the Nasty Party"? That IS incredible! No, sorry, back to Balloon...)

"That it pays not to work.

"That you are owed something for nothing...

"...It created a culture of entitlement."

It's not very "One Nation" is it?

This is CHURCH OF THATCHIANITY, blue in tooth and claw. You can spot it in the LANGUAGE: "aspiration", "self-reliance", "evil bloodsucking vampire overlords", er...

I COULD say that it really DOESN'T "pay not to work", unless you've been given an ESTATE IN SCOTLAND by DADDY, and only someone whose privilege has left him totally insulated from reality might think so. A few ludicrous and largely-hypothetical counter-examples do NOT disprove this rule.

Or I COULD suggest that actually we ARE owed "something for nothing", even if it's only our FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN RIGHTS. Though I would say that anyone lucky enough to be in Great Britain (whether they were born here or immigrated) deserves at least a small share of the MASSIVE NATIONAL WEALTH that we inherited through no effort of our own (and which our forebears largely STOLE in the first place).

But instead, let me reply with some of the "incredibly damaging signals" that THATCHERISM has sent out:

"That being very, very lucky is the same as working hard."

(It's not, and privileged white males who got where they are thanks to an enormous leg up from their parents and the perverse way that our society values parasitical city jobs over CREATIVE or CARING professions should remember that more than most).

"That people who don't want to slave away at a conventional job in the rat-race (and yet are not landed gentry) are somehow dangerous subversives who are a threat to OUR WAY OF LIFE!"

(If they are it's only because OUR WAY OF LIFE desperately needs threatening! Endlessly repeating the cycle of boom and crash in the hope that it will do something different is, as they say, economic MADNESS. In the end, we'll ALL need an alternative lifestyle.)

"And that there's nothing wrong with putting your own interests ahead of other people and Devil take the hindmost!"

(There surely IS, as Mr Carr-crash discovered to his personal shame and cost, and it's a pernicious reversal of Hobbes to think that Government has no business interfering in the "war of all against all".)

"Compassion isn't measured out in benefit cheques," says Mr Balloon.

Perhaps not, but people will COUNT these CUTS as a measure of Conservative CRUELTY.

(Not that ALL Government spending is GOOD and RIGHT, not all cuts are WRONG. A fifty percent cut in the subsidy to the privatised companies that run our railways badly would save as much money as Mr Balloon's slashing of benefit to younger people. But we can't have shareholders taking the risk as well as the rewards, can we!)

Mr Balloon's proposed solutions – flying kites – include cutting all under-25s out of the Welfare State, like we don't already tell young people we don't value them; indexing benefits by the LOWER of wages or prices, so benefit recipients are always going to fall behind; and, asking for a "contribution" from people who are still getting benefits after a couple of years. So, workfare then. Which is neither "work" nor "fair". And then we cut their benefits until they fade away. Or, presumably, they're rounded up and shot.

Thank goodness he ADMITTED that the Liberal Democrats would NEVER STAND FOR THIS.

And with Hard Labour TROUBLINGLY unable to answer the question "what would you do differently", it seems like we are the ONLY Party that still believes in a bit of COMMON DECENCY.

If Mr Balloon is going to talk about people with a culture of entitlement, well, he could START by having a look around HIS OWN CABINET TABLE, and just count the privately-educated underachievers with no more excuse to be there than their own self-importance and imagined right to rule. I really don't think people need lessons in "no one is owed a living" from a man who has never done a proper job and has enough inherited wonga that if he got bored of swanning about Number Ten he wouldn't ever have to work again.

"Dieu et mon droit" doesn't mean "My god, what a load of right-wing hooey". But it SHOULD.

*Yes, that again.

**No, I'm really NOT letting that one go, am I.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Day 4191: Time's Champions Teaser #2, by Daddy Richard

What Doctor Who – The New Adventures Mean To Us: Richard

Doctor Who: The New Adventures (not, as Wikipedia disparagingly lists them, "Virgin New Adventures"), for six years from 1991 to 1997 were Doctor Who.

At the time, everyone was on board with this. The general public may have drifted away, but fans, DWAS, Doctor Who Magazine (and their rivals) all bought into this unifying idea: the series was – temporarily – off air, but that was okay, because the line remained unbroken. People who were recognisably Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred, joined by someone who would eventually turn out to be Lisa Bowerman, continued to play the Doctor and Ace (and their new friend Benny) albeit in paperback form.

With the exception of the four "Timewyrm" novels which are hard to place (although "at the beginning" seems obvious), The New Adventures form a continuous narrative of sixty adventures for the seventh Doctor in between his last two televised appearances. "Cat's Cradle" follows on directly from "Survival" (even the title is thematically consistent). "Lungbarrow" segues directly into the "Time Waits for No Man" TV movie. And "The Dying Days" is a bonus.

In hindsight, it was a miracle that everyone could play together nicely in the same shared universe sandbox.

So the first thing that the New Adventures mean is a shared community.

After Virgin lost the licence to print new Doctor Who there was what we might melodramatically call the great schism, partly caused by rival book continuities as Virgin's ongoing line of Benny-led NAs vied with the BBC's in-house Eighth Doctor Adventures, partly by the rise of the deservedly-popular Big Finish audios, partly just because fandom had decided to fall apart. The possibility that Doctor Who was a single ongoing narrative, one "continuity", was shattered at that point and there's no going back.

I'm not saying that these later stories are bad, or wrong. (Although I admit I'm no fan of the BBC's Past Doctor Adventures of the seventh Doctor and Ace, a strand that seemingly went out of its way to rewrite continuity as though the NAs hadn't got there first.) But Big Finish have produced an excellent series of audio adventures for the seventh Doctor, Ace and latterly Hex. There's also a darker, more contemplative range of solo seventh Doctor adventures, purportedly towards the end of his life, leading up to the lonely Doctor we see at the start of "Time Waits for No Man". But there is no gap for these stories to go in, any more than there is a gap for the equally-good fifth Doctor Peri and Eremim stories that allegedly go between "Planet of Fire" and "The Caves of Androzani". If you think that one continuity bulldozes another aside, that's up to you. If you want to think that they're a different time track, or an unreliable narrator, or a parallel universe away, or that time can be rewritten, or if you want to retcon that a gap can be there after all, then that's perfectly acceptable too. The dimensions of time are stranger than we know and any and all of these things can be true or false all at once.

But there's an extent to which this has led to a revisionist "they never happened" attitude towards the New Adventures. (Or the 8DAs or the audio adventures or all the above.) It's a tendency that says that since, by television audience standards, very few people read them they somehow don't "count", that because the general Joe in the street is not remotely likely to remember them that they didn't really happen (as though the average Joe in the street stands a chance of remembering "Enlightenment" or "Inferno" or even really "City of Death" either). People refer to them dismissively as spin-offs, non-canonical, or the derisive "fanfiction". (Though by that definition "Rose", "Blink" and "Human Nature (TV reprise)" should count as "fanfiction" too. Meaning: what's wrong with fans writing fiction?)

One particular way of disbarring the New Adventures is to say: "but people had to pay to read them".

Yet, for me, this is actually a strength. As fans we're all a bit Obsessive Compulsive to a greater or lesser extent. The urge to "collect the set".

So, the second thing about the New Adventures is their collectability.

In a way, I came to Doctor Who backwards. I remember watching, as a child, because those cliffhangers do stick in the head. I remember seeing Scaroth's face from behind a door at my gran's; I recall that I didn't see what the Foamasi did to Mr Brock because I hid my face; and I remember Tom regenerating into Peter. And Peter into Colin. But somehow I didn't remember the stories.

It wasn't until the advent of the video age, which coincided with both my going to university and my parents moving to Belgium (meaning I inherited a video recorder that would not work on the continent) that I got into Doctor Who. Which meant that Sylv could be my Doctor all over again.

With the series off the air, Doctor Who became treasure. Video was a source of stories that I didn't remember seeing. And of stories that I could never remember seeing, because they were older than I was. To me, the Hartnell era was a gold mine of new Doctor Who. And then came the New Adventures.

The inclusion of "story arcs", present from the very beginning in the "Timewyrm" and "Cat's Cradle" series, the recurring supporting cast, the ability to revisit and greatly expand the mythos of the Earth Empire or Ancient Gallifrey... all this adds to the addictive jigsaw that keeps you coming back for more.

The "Cartmel Master Plan", derided or affectionately remembered, was never a setting in stone of the book series' overarching story. But instead was a metaphor, the idea not just that this secret document was kept in the vault at Virgin Publishing, but that these secrets would be revealed. It adds another dimension to the series' collectability: the desire to keep coming back to see what they will tell you this week, to see if you can puzzle it all out.

But equally the long running themes and arcs of comic book storytelling which underlay Andrew Cartmel's conception of the series in the last television years translate directly into the so-called soap opera aspects that Russell Davies brought to the series in the 2000s. The ongoing emotional developments (and occasional breathtaking resets thereof) of the lead characters were a main feature of the range. Indeed "angst" is easily the word most associated with the range. Yet the very fact that these characters could have relationships was revelatory, even revolutionary.

So the third and final thing that the New Adventures mean is transgression.

Doctor Who has always managed to present as startlingly genderqueer thanks, ironically, to its massively conservative "no hanky panky in the TARDIS" rule (mixed in with actors such as Patrick Troughton, Katy Manning or Tom Baker all liking to play it a bit "naughty").

As often observed, those time-space bromides in the tea (clearly enforced by the TARDIS telepathic circuits until they burn out trying it on with Captain Jack, leading to Doctor ten being Mr Smoochy, Doctor eleven getting married, and Amy and Rory Pond doing the deed while in the Vortex faster than you can say "bunkbeds") meant that we had a male lead who was intelligent, witty, heroic and totally uninterested in girls (Russell retcons about Sarah Jane notwithstanding). At the same time we saw a succession of strong female characters from Barbara Wright to Ace – taking in the likes of Liz Shaw, Jo Grant, Leela, Romana and Tegan along the way, not to mention best-friend Sarah – who were more than capable of holding their own against Daleks, Sontarans and Cybermen and usually more devoted to their hair care than any man. Toss in gay icons from Kate O'Mara to Bonnie Langford – and that's in the same show! – and you can start to see how this was looking to a certain section of the audience.

And yet it was all left unsaid.

The New Adventures could come out (as it were) and say it. How we thrilled – as boy readers identifying with a girl character – to experience Ace's emotional roller-coasters. How we swooned at every hint of Benny's bisexuality (yes, the time-travelling archaeologist who's very much the fiftieth century girl years ahead of River Song. In so many ways). And then actual gay characters (from "Tragedy Day" on). In those years before the word "squee" had been found, we didn't know what to do with ourselves.

And, yes, a lot of the sexualising of the characters was hetero. We'll no doubt discuss the "het-ing up" of Ace later. But we didn't care. The world is mostly straight but not all of it. And so were the New Adventures.

Arguably, taking a television kids' series and turning it into grown-up novels is a pretty perverse thing to do in and of itself. Answering questions you'd never think to ask – can the Doctor get drunk (yes), does he have a navel (yes), do the Time Lords fu- (apparently they used to but gave it all up until very recently) – are all very risqué.

But if that isn't already transgressive enough, the novel as a form lends itself to transgression, playing with time and point of view and unreliable narrator. Perhaps the most playful NAs are "Conundrum" (almost to the point of meta-textuality) and "Christmas on a Rational Planet" (deconstructing the established myths of the New Adventures while playing a game of spot the Doctor Who story reference – can you find them all?) while "The Highest Science" and "Tragedy Day" toy with satire and "Parasite" does the Joseph Campbell monomyth thoroughly to death.

(And in the related Missing Adventures, "The Romance of Crime", "The English Way of Death" and "The Well-Mannered War" develop pastiche to high art in rediscovering the Douglas Adams era.)

In conclusion, then:

Chelonians, Pakhars, Legion, Hoothi, Phractons, Sensopaths, Sloathes, Slaags, Quoth, N-Forms, Toys – never heard of them? You should have. Toss in generous helpings of Ice Warriors and Earth Reptiles and everywhere the shadow of the Daleks and you've got the most interesting range of monsters in Doctor Who's history. Yet two of the best, "Sanctuary" and "Just War", have no alien monsters at all.

From Earth to Io to the edge of Empire. From Gallifrey in the Dark Times to the Worldsphere of the People to the End of the Universe. From Dalek opera to the etiquette of the Ice Lords to Time Lord finger-biscuits. From Ace to Benny to Chris and Ros. Time's Champion, Ka'Faraq'Gatri, The Doctor.

These are the New Adventures.

These are my Doctor Who.

This is how much they mean to me.

First published on "Time's Champions" by Daddy Richard.

Day 4191: Time's Champions Teaser #1, by Daddy Alex

What Doctor Who – The New Adventures Mean To Us: Alex

Twenty-one years old today, the New Adventures were, and are, one of the greatest eras of Doctor Who. There are, I think, three crucial reasons. At the time for the series, they were a lifeline for Doctor Who after the TV show was cancelled, continuing, innovating, reaching into the future with authors like Paul Cornell, Mark Gatiss and Russell T Davies; at the time for me, I was going through a period of explosive change and they act as milestones for me along the way; and, more importantly still, they were brilliant at the time – and they still are.

Doctor Who’s Lifeline

The first New Adventure was published on June 20th, 1991. A year and a half earlier, Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor and Sophie Aldred’s Ace had walked off into the sunset at the end of Survival, the last Doctor Who TV story of the original run. And then Virgin Publishing saw them walk back into the TARDIS for what turned out to be sixty-one New Adventures (fewer with Ace, more without the Doctor).

I was probably the perfect audience for the New Adventures; part of probably the second generation of Doctor Who fans, I’d always followed both the TV series and the Target novelisations – since I was three and five respectively, a decade and a half by then – and with both versions of Doctor Who equally important to me, with no new TV stories what could be more natural than to continue the Doctor’s travels on the page?
“When is a lightning bolt not a lightning bolt?”
The first three books were all written by established novelisers for the Target range (which had itself by the end been taken over by Virgin, establishing a continuing thread from 1973 into the new books): John Peel, Nigel Robinson and, most importantly, Terrance Dicks. For the more conservative fans – and I started off more towards that direction – it was reassuring that the second novel was written by Terrance Dicks (then the grand middle-aged man of Who, writing for the seventh of seven Doctors), giving his blessing. It was also a help that Terrance’s Timewyrm: Exodus was clearly the best of the three, as well as notably experimental in its time-hopping. Within the next few books published, outstanding TV authors from the Sylvester McCoy era had joined the range – Marc Platt, Andrew Cartmel, Ben Aaronovitch (with a new book out today that’s set to be another bestseller) – to make it clear that this was taking up where the TV series had left off with the BBC’s official stamp, all three not just providing continuity but driving on with the books’ original tagline of “Full-length, original novels, too broad and too deep for the small screen”.

But what really kept these Doctor Who stories exciting and made them the most brilliant, influential and coherent continuation of Doctor Who between 1989 and 2005 was the extraordinary influx of eager new writers, most writing their first novels, full of ideas, determined to make an impression. Kate Orman, Andy Lane, Jim Mortimore – and people who have worked on the TV series since its return in 2005 like Paul Cornell, Mark Gatiss, Gareth Roberts, Gary Russell and Simon Winstone. Even, towards the end, a book each from the two biggest creative forces behind the next two big waves of Doctor Who – Lawrence Miles and Russell T Davies.
“Everything is history, if you look at it from the right perspective.”
Nothing dates like “New”, and it’s a bit startling to think that when they began I was a few months away from turning twenty, and now they’ve just turned twenty-one. I remember Paul Cornell at a signing about five years ago exclaiming with a shock that they’ve yellowed and started to smell like old books. But though it seems odd to look back from more than half my life ago at “New”, they still justify the title for always keeping the series going forward, rather than just dwelling comfortably on Doctor Who ‘as it used to be’ – because it never used to be just unoriginal, repetitive and comforting. The New Adventures opened up new vistas; I didn’t always like them, but I realised that when Doctor Who can go anywhere and do anything, it can’t sit still. Fans talked about Doctor Who’s own version of the Political Compass, with “Rads” vs “Trads”, “Frocks” vs “Guns”, and I found myself opening up with the NAs from Trad-Gun tastes to preferring Rad-Frocks. As the New Adventures increased in breadth and confidence, they told cyberpunk future histories, turned the series inside-out with a new, old mythology and introduced the series’ defining companion, archaeologist Professor Bernice Summerfield, then later the Thirtieth Century police officers blond, heroic Chris Cwej and grumpy Xhosa aristocrat Roz Forrester, all with the Daleks seeming more powerful than ever by never appearing but always casting their shadow across the stories. And, yes, the books came to define their own clichés (Ace shooting and shagging, Benny drinking, Sylv’s angst and killer eyes, and lots of Kate Bush), yet they remain one of the series’ most creative ever periods. And traditionalists and radicals, Target-lovers and experimenters were all part of the same run, all playing in the same sandbox, and that made the series so much stronger striking out into the future.

Part of My Lifetime

The New Adventures are a far more evocative memory for me than any other non-TV Doctor Who line, in part because for me they were so much better than any other, and in part because of the time they spanned, a uniquely transitional few years in my life. From Tom through to Sylv on TV, the stories are powerful memories but the setting usually at my parents’ in Stockport; from Chris to Matt so far on TV, the stories are powerful memories but the setting almost without exception with Richard in our Isle of Dogs flat. But the NAs summon up memories of the bookshops where I bought them (Colchester where I studied, or didn’t, London for politics or partners, strangely often the WH Smiths at Liverpool Street Station as I travelled in between), of starting to mix with fans, and much more so of university, people or politics. And as I spent a lot of my time at uni hitch-hiking up and down the country to help out the Liberal Democrats at by-elections back when I still had the health to do it, many NAs for me crystallise into reading them late at night while crashing on people’s floors in between days of leafleting and canvassing in different campaigns.
“You mean I’m dead?”
“…Oxygen starvation, brought about from finding yourself on the moon having believed the place to be Norfolk. I do believe that’s unique.”
So amongst the most vivid memories for me – among many others – are Timewyrm: Revelation in Lancaster for a few days with a brief fling; being frightened by Doctor Who for the first time since 1977 by Nightshade in a very tall, very dark room at friends’ in Portsmouth; Deceit at the Newbury by-election; Lucifer Rising in my physical office and at the end of my term of office as a students’ union President, sometimes surreptitiously, under the desk, because I’d much rather be reading a brilliant Who book than organising a handover; White Darkness at the Christchurch by-election; Shadowmind in East London, as my then relationship was breaking up; Conundrum at a local by-election in rural St Neot’s; Theatre of War at the Eastleigh by-election; a god-awful hitch-hike to Bradford South with only All-Consuming Fire to keep me warm in long, lonely hours stuck outside service stations along the way; St Anthony’s Fire being a very disappointing book but still a vividly exciting memory of finding my way on bus round the Isle of Dogs as I started going out with Richard (or, as I’m sure he’d prefer me to remember, reading the far better The Also People in what was by then our flat); Christmas on a Rational Planet in a coach back from giving a speech in Utrecht, having forced myself to put it to one side and write the speech on the way there; Damaged Goods at the Wirral South by-election and around Merseyrail; The Dying Days in short breaks as I was being driven from place to place as the candidate myself, strangely appropriate as a finale, in Stevenage on General Election day, then late at night when I should have been getting a nap in before the count…


My favourite eras of Doctor Who have long been Robert Holmes and Philip Hinchcliffe’s, my first and still the best, then discovering William Hartnell’s early days… And the New Adventures, most of all as they really get into their stride from about 1994-96. There’s much more Who that I love – 1978, 1980-81, 1989, 2005, 2007 all spring to mind; oh, really, the whole lot of it – but those are the benchmarks for quality I keep returning to. With the New Adventures in particular, I can simply think of more terrific books from that range than I can from all the other book ranges put together. Every set of books has its ups and downs, but the NAs were both unambiguously the Doctor’s continuing adventures and fortuitously had more consistent depth and inspiration than any other non-TV line of Who.
“‘In that case,’ said Bernice, ‘I’ll have an exaggerated sexual innuendo with a dash of patriot’s spirit and extra mushrooms. Roz?’
“‘I’ll have the same,’ said Roz. ‘But with an umbrella in it.’
“‘Coming right up,’ said the table.”
A few years ago, I wrote a series of short pieces on Why Is Doctor Who Brilliant? Several New Adventures featured prominently. We hope to be reviewing the whole range in time – that’s the plan – but in lieu of you reading every NA to discover for yourself how brilliant they are (though you should), here are a few of the standouts, should you happen across them in your local second-hand bookshop:
  • The cream of the crop for me are Andy Lane and Jim Mortimore’s Lucifer Rising, in which the TARDIS crew get a fair bit of character development, oodles of future history is explored, there are huge sci-fi ideas and it’s a murder mystery that’s sometimes very funny into the bargain;
  • …And Ben Aaronovitch’s The Also People, for which I could write a similar précis – more confident character exploration than development, but with other huge sci-fi ideas, another murder mystery and much funnier – but which is a very different book, a small-scale film noir at heart amidst the epic setting and with arguably the most gorgeous prose in the series;
  • The most influential novel was the fourth NA published, Paul Cornell’s Timewyrm: Revelation, which exploded the boundaries and showed that you could write something very different to the TV series; like the following book, Marc Platt’s equally brilliant Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible, it’s a journey of sorts to the Doctor’s heart, one metaphysical, one technological, both in their own ways mythological. With the NAs’ penchant for pop culture references, I think of them as Blue Monday and West End Girls, the one that luckily came out first setting the standard for a new wave;
  • Then there’s Andrew Cartmel’s intense ‘War’ trilogy, with its dystopian near future and übermanipulative Doctor;
  • Paul Cornell’s Love and War, just as political and striking out boldly with the introduction of Professor Bernice Summerfield, who celebrates her -528th birthday tomorrow and is still going strong in her own series;
  • Mark Gatiss’ scary Nightshade, where nostalgia kills;
  • Gareth Roberts’ The Highest Science and Andy Lane’s Sherlock Holmes crossover All-Consuming Fire (he now writes his own bestselling Holmes series), both of which are enormous fun;
  • Jim Mortimore’s Blood Heat and Kate Orman’s The Left-Handed Hummingbird, both of which put everyone through the wringer;
  • Paul Cornell, again’s, Human Nature, which tells an intimate, compelling story that was successfully made part of the TV series over a decade later;
  • Andy Lane’s Original Sin, introducing Adjudicators Roz and Chris;
  • Lance Parkin’s Just War, with appalling real-world horrors but one pricelessly funny moment;
  • Lawrence Miles’ Christmas on a Rational Planet, which overturns much of the NAs’ own mythology with an alternate look at the History of the universe;
  • Russell T Davies’ urban, gripping Damaged Goods that finally makes the NAs as gay as their detractors complain;
  • Ben Aaronovitch and Kate Orman’s So Vile a Sin, a big climax, followed by Matt Jones’ moving Bad Therapy;
  • And the ultimate New Adventure, Marc Platt’s Lungbarrow, in which the seventh Doctor goes back home for his swansong and many questions are answered (with just as many new ones posed).

Loved or hated, the New Adventures were massively important; neither the BBC Books Doctor Who line that took over from them nor Big Finish’s Doctor Who audios would be around without them, and the TV series that returned, had it returned at all, would probably look very different. I loved these groundbreaking adventures that dragged Doctor Who into the ’90s and cast the Doctor as “Time’s Champion”, the books becoming his own champions striding into an exciting future.
“At the far end of the street, hostile armed men came to the party, and twenty minutes passed.”
Richard and I were both in the middle of following and loving the New Adventures when we met and fell in love with each other, so the NAs have an even more special place in our hearts. We started re-reading them this time last year, starting each New Adventure all over again on its twentieth birthday; for the series’ twenty-first today, we’re starting this new blog to look at them all in turn.

First published on "Time's Champions" by Daddy Alex.

Day 4191: The New Adventures and the Last Adventure


We're very sad to hear of the passing of Ms Caroline John, who starred as Dr Elizabeth "Liz" Shaw opposite Mr Jon Twerpee in the seventh season of Doctor Who and was one of the kindest, funniest, most selfless people we've ever met.

Although she only did one season, it's memorably one of the best in the entire run of Doctor Who, featuring at least two classic stories, and in large part that's because Carrie's role as the Cambridge scientist who was the Doctor's equal led to grown-up stories, broader and deeper than the series had ever been before.

"...and the Silurians" is a morality play with reptiles, that famously taught Daddy Alex the lesson that people are people even if they are green rubber people. While "Inferno" is the classic evil doppleganger parallel universe with a twist. Not only is it only time that present day Earth is actually destroyed, but is also spawned Sir Nicholas Courtney's famous, infamous, much-imitated "eye-patch" anecdote. For which convention holders everywhere were eternally grateful.

Add to that an opening in "Spearhead from Space" that was good enough to be reworked by Russell Davies thirty-five years later to relaunch the series on the Twenty-First Century, and the much loved story "Ambassadors of Death" shortly to be released on DVD restored to colour for the first time since the Seventies.

Carrie, as Liz, holds a central plot strand in each of these stories, equally at home building the latest gizmo for the Doctor, tackling the villains or putting down the Brigadier with her dry wit. And she gets to have different hair in every story.

Carrie returned to the role of Liz Shaw for a cameo in "The Five Doctors" and then again in the Nineties in a trilogy of adventures for P.R.o.Be. (the "Preternatural Research Bureau") penned by pre-Who Mark Gatis, and then to Big Finish for a number of Companion Chronicles not to mention an astonishing turn as Madam Salvadori (opposite her real-life husband Geoffrey Beavers) in "Dust Breeding". She also contributed generously of her time to the BBC DVDs, and we cannot recommend strongly enough the commentary on "Spearhead..." where she and Nick Courtney are clearly having far too good a time.

She used to love to tell the story of how she got the job on Doctor Who. Having had great success at the Royal Shakespeare Company, she was still having difficulty in breaking into television. So she hired a photographer and had a range of "bikini" shots taken, which she then circulated at the BBC. They passed across Barry Letts desk and the rest, as they say, is history.

It's the sort of thing Liz Shaw would have done.

UPDATE: more remembrance from Auntie Jennie.

Meanwhile, I was GOING to use today's diary to plug Daddy Alex and Daddy Richard's new adventure with the New Adventures.

Just like season seven, these were a more adult brand of Doctor Who, pitched as a continuation of the TV show, and featuring a strong female lead with a dry wit and top academic credentials (admittedly faked). And Silurians!

So we'd like to invite you to join...

"Time's Champions"

...for a romp through some of the Doctors most thrilling, innovative and angst-ridden adventures yet.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Day 4190: Don't MENSCHn It


Seriously, don't! She gets enough coverage.

Insane self-publicist and darling of the Conservatory fringe (it's a political movement not a hairdo) Ms Louise Mensch, not content with the amount of Twitter she is able to occupy with her bleats and tweets, has launched her own rival version.

It's going to be called "Menshn". Because "Listen to My Flapping Mouth and You Might Not See the Stone Cold Soulless Death In My Eyes" is pretty much as many characters as you'd be allowed to type in a, what, Munch?

Day 4188: Not a Grexit But a Grey In?


The Greek elections have voted in a bunch who are vaguely more in favour of sticking to the austerity package and keeping the bailout money coming in.

Which is good because Greece needs to stay IN the Euro. But cut everything by 30%.

Seriously, if you can get past the fact that Greece is vastly UNCOMPETITIVE because they're stuck with a bad exchange rate, the benefits of being IN are enormous.

Cutting everything by say 30% is EXACTLY what you get with a DEEP devaluation: everyone's salary is cut by 30%, but all internal prices are cut by 30% at the same time. Everyone with savings, bad luck 30% goes up in smoke. But everyone with DEBTS, there's 30% less to pay on them. And yes, that includes the GOVERNMENT's debts, so bad news for those German banks.

Of course the cost of your imports JUMPS (causing inflation, probably, depending on how dependant on imported food and fuel you are). But YOUR goods become much cheaper for EXPORTS. Or (equivalently) it's cheaper for people with Euros to come and spend them in your country. Remember, everything is 30% cheaper.

And if you want to sell TOURISM then you want to make it EASY for your (RICH) neighbours to come visit with no fiddly money changing. So the advantage of staying IN the widely traded currency union is OBVIOUS.

Really, what's more worrying is the French voting in the Socialists who what to chuck the whole Franco-German recovery plan in favour of a SPENDING SPREE.

Honestly, democracy! Who's idea was that?

Oh, it turns out it IS the Greeks fault after all.

Day 4187: Tainted Love


Milipot calls Kettle black.

Last time I got any diaries written, Mr Simon expressed some concern I was being a bit HARSH on Hard Labour by judging them based on what they WERE not what they ARE.

But you know, until they actually start professing some NEW positions (and opportunistic tactical opposition REALLY doesn't count) then I don't think it unfair to judge them by what they WERE on the uncontroversial grounds that IT'S WHAT THEY STILL ARE.

Despite Mr Milipede soft-peddling some of the ANTI-CIVIL RIGHTS policies, they have barely moved from their HIGHLY RIGHT-WING stance on law and immigration.

And under Mr Balls, their economic position is UNCHANGED from the Darling plan (a plan which would have CUT DEEPER than the Coalition's – the main difference being that Darling intended to CUT THE HEALTH SERVICE. The Conservatory pledge of real-terms increases in health spending, which we've agreed to be bound by, means that EVERY OTHER DEPARTMENT bears a HEAVIER share of the cuts, allowing Labour to perpetuate the MYTH that they would have cut less. But it IS still a myth.)

Mr Bully Balls might SHOUT about a "plan for jobs and growth" at every given opportunity, but this is, again, a TACTICAL response to the length of time economic recovery is taking and how that prolongs the painful austerity measures, with no recognition that the outcome under Labour would have been virtually indistinguishable.

Worse, it amounts to no more than a REHEAT and REPEAT of Mr Darling's "borrow more for a temporary VAT cut" tactic of 2009, which resulted in (at best) a dead cat bounce of the economy (and is arguably as much the cause of the "double dip" as anything that the Coalition, Europe, America or Ming the Merciless of Mongo has done since). Like injecting adrenaline into a heart-attack victim, you can get them to jump up and run around, but you're ignoring the MASSIVE DAMAGE to their system that you are EXACERBATING by simulating recovery ARTIFICIALLY.

That isn't a stimulus as Mr John Keynes would have understood it (because you DON'T end up with any infrastructure or educational advantage at the end), and it is completely false to suggest, as Mr Balls continues to do, that Keynesian economics would support continuing to borrow to support a CURRENT ACCOUNT deficit until the rest of the world fixes the economy for us.

Day 4186: EXCLUSIVE: Campbell Diaries Claim Murdoch Used to Dress Up as Dingo to Eat Babies!


Too soon?

Day 4184: Game of Clegg


Obviously the Epic "Dragons and Dangly Bits" Fantasy that is HBO's "Game of Thrones" is completely inappropriate for a baby elephant to watch. More importantly, Daddy refuses to give cash to Mr Rupert Stavro Moredick so we don't get Sky and have to wait for the Blu-Rays before we can see season two!

Anyway, SPOILERS, in season one, nice-but-dim Northern Nick Stark (from Sheffield) gets the job as DEPUTY KING and has to hang out with evil Balloonisters, Georgie and Saucy. He is GOOD. They are BAAAAAD. Guess who gets called a TRAITOR and has his head chopped off.

(And we won't even try to make gags about the House of Clegg having the DIRE wolf as its symbol! As for what Mr Balloon and his evil twin Georgie are doing... let's just say I don't want to get pushed out of a castle tower!)

Yes, it's the latest Liberal Democrat "treason", only this time it's the CONSERVATORIES calling us names – thus proving that they ARE exactly the same as HARD LABOUR.

"We supported you over Mr David Outlaws and Mr Dr Vince "the Power" Cable," they WHINGE. Yeah, AFTER they had lost the jobs in question.

Here's a clue – had the Hulture Secretary Mr Jeremy taken it like a man and resigned, then we'd have given you JUST AS MUCH support as you gave us.

Still, we don't help ourselves when we're both TOO LOYAL to our Conservatory "allies" to actively stab the deserving Hunt when he needs it, but equally TOO PRINCIPLED to support him when he obviously ought to have quit/been fired/never should have accepted the job in the first place. These positions CANCEL EACH OTHER OUT and we end up doing something that – to the real people outside the Westminster bubble – is at best INCOMPREHENSIBLE and more commonly regarded as SPINELESS.

Once again, we look like we're "PLAYING THE GAME".

Day 4183: Sallad Dressing


It's like the Eighties never went away.

Oh, just shoot us now!

Day 4181: Dog-in-the-Manger Collars


The Church of Ingrates – Britain's built-in band of god botherers – have issued their response to the Equal Marriage consultation and it goes thus:
"We have a duty to provide a marriage to anyone who asks for marriage, which, er, we're breaking at the moment when it comes to gay daddies.

"And if you make us do our duty then we'll stop doing marriages for anyone! How's THAT for a threat to marriage!"
Apparently this is a threat to the ESTABLISHMENT of the Church. Which is supposed to be a bad thing for some reason.

Day 4180: Prime Monster Throws Baby Out With Bath Water


Time to catch up with some diaries that I missed. Starting with the Prime Monster's trip to the pub.

'Cos actually, this DOES matter.

How many vulnerable people are there in Britain counting on the Prime Monster not to forget them?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Day 4173: Can You Forgive Her?


Oh Pollyanna Toytown, what a poisonous wee troll you are.

Mr Matthew is much kinder to her, persevering to find praise for Mr Dr Vince in among all the bile she spouts. But I'm not that kind of elephant!

Replaying the Coalition negotiations with the benefit of two years' hindsight, Polly still can't get them right. The Lib Dems, she says, should have forced a Conservatory minority government. AND we should have struck a harder bargain with them from our position of outnumbered-six-to-one-by-the-gerry-rigged-electoral-system strength.

Well make your mind up. Either we agree to a Coalition and make them do some stuff, or we let them rule as a minority. We don't get to do BOTH.

We should, insists La Poll, have forced Mr Balloon to campaign for AV, and we should have prevented the austerity programme. In spite of it being HARD LABOUR'S programme too – Mr Alistair Dalek promised "cuts deeper than Thatcher's", and of course Mr Liam "Father Dick" Byrne's note "there's no money left".

Oh, it's so OBVIOUS now!


She describes Lord Adonis as "adept" in offering us an olive branch. This would be the same Lord Adonis whom she described a day earlier as being FURIOUS with us back when we were unable to negotiate a deal with Labour for the entirely inadequate reason that even if there had been enough MPs between our Parties to form a government – and there weren't – Ed Balls and Ed Milipede were too busy sizing each other up for a willy waving contest to even PRETEND to negotiate properly. I mean CLEARLY, it was the Lib Dems' fault that Labour in 2010 could neither win enough seats nor behave like adults.

She also says how Mr Milipede said from the start he would embrace us. This would be the same Mr Milipede who vowed to destroy the Lib Dems, would it? Or the one who promised he would demand Captain Clegg's head in any future coalition negotiations – an utterly RIDICULOUS position to take for a man contemplating having not managed to win an election and going cap in hand to a smaller party to ask for our support. First on the table: "F*** You" – interesting strategy, Mr Not-Going-To-Be-Prime-Monster-then. How are you going to look when you go back to your supporters and say, " Sorry guys, we're back in Opposition because I stupidly put petty vengeance on the leader of another party ahead of the good of the country".

When Cap'n Clegg said Mr Frown had to go he was only pointing out that the COUNTRY had made its JUDGEMENT. That's not UNREASONABLE after an election when someone's been decisively rejected by the voters; if the Liberal Democrats lose seats and votes as badly in 2015, I suspect the Cap'n may be telling people to negotiate with his successor because he'll do the HONOURABLE thing and step aside, just like Mr Frown should have done. By announcing his position nearly five years in advance, though, Mr Milipede reveals that he only wants Dork Lord of the Sith-esque revenge for the slaying of his Master.

Of course, Pollyanna wants to avoid this awkward moment, by having US knife Captain Clegg on their behalf.

Let me rephrase that: the Hard Labour Party would like us to get rid of the MOST SUCCESSFUL LIBERAL SINCE LLOYD GEORGE.

Hmm, is it POSSIBLE that there is an ULTERIOR motive in their suggestion there?

"If Cameron is voted out, building a moral alliance with the people who kept the Tories in power risks looking shoddy to a disillusioned electorate."

No, Pollyanna, it is YOUR POLITICS that is SHODDY, you and your vile Hard Labour toadies. YOU are the ones who scream and wail about "betrayal" when coalitions go against you, and suddenly have a change of mind when it looks like you might need our support yourselves.

On Mr Andy Marrrmight's sofa, Pollyanna makes big tearful eyes and remarks on Lords reform "we need it but it looks like we're not going to get it". Well, who's going to block it, Polly? YOUR HARD LABOUR PARTY that's who.

You utter, utter hypocrite.

You claim to WANT Lords reform, but you'd rather take cheap pops at the Deputy Prime Monster, who is ACTUALLY DOING LORDS REFORM, than make the mildest criticism of your own side when they prop up the Conservatory establishment and vested interest.

"Can you forgive the Liberal Democrats?" Polly asks.

To paraphrase You should get down on your knees and GROVEL for OUR forgiveness.

Your selfish, self-interested actions are those of a TORY. You betray the poor even as your sanctimonious columns use their plight for your own ends; you protect your own wealth and privilege, your position on the Guardian unearned except by inheritance; you are greedy for power. And your Part doesn't just support Tory policies when they have to; they go around actively coming up with Tory policies, or even more-Tory-than-the-Tories policies (ninety day detention without trial; I.D.iot cards; 18% capital gains tax; 75p for pensioners; light touch banking regulation; tuition fees; privatising the health service and all the rest).

Polly Toynbee, you ARE a TORY.

We can TALK to Tories. We can hold our fluffy noses and WORK with Tories. But we don't FORGIVE them.

Un peut cross? Oui!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Day 4172: Mr Balloon has it both ways


So, to the department of Culture Media and Sport – the Olympics provide the Sport, Lord Leveson is covering the Meeja and as a SLIME MOULD...

Look, just because he's got no hit dice doesn't mean he can't make a saving throw... especially when supported by a wandering Prime Monster.

Appearing on possibly the most oleaginous Mr Marrmite show in AGES (and is there anything else, my lord bishop, that you should like to share with a grateful nation on this occasion of jubilisious auspitude?*), Mr Balloon made his position quite clear:

He didn't WANT to sack Mr Dr Vince, but obviously what he said in PRIVATE – once it was made PUBLIC – meant that he had to.

And he didn't WANT to appoint Mr Jeremy Hunt, but he took legal advice and it turns out that what Mr Jeremy said in private OR in public didn't make ANY DIFFERENCE to how he approached his job.

Hang on, those are MUTUALLY CONTRADICTORY positions – if your private utterings don't matter, why did Mr Dr Vince have to go? If they DO, how could Mr Balloon appoint the Hulture secretary?

It is a MYSTERY!

Let us just say, Britain's chances in the Olympic gymnastics, bending over backwards to look both ways, competition are pretty good.

And to prove that he CAN enter the Get-Shot Put too, Mr Balloon has slung Lady Insider Warsi into an inquiry in under a fortnight. A new personal best!

*And that's without getting to Ms Pollyanna Toytown on the sofa. More of her later, I'm afraid, so sickbags at the ready...

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Day 4171: Ridley Scott v Gynaecology, part deux*


(*Sorry, Mr Simon got the better title first!)

Bit put out!

We got caught sneaking in to the cinema and they just let me in! Seems someone thought I was one of the SPECIAL EFFECTS!

Baby Plush

Face Hugger

As for the movie... It's not so much "Prometheus" as "Pandora". As in "Take the money or open the box"!

What's clear is that "Prometheus" struggles to find its STORY, because PLOT keeps getting in the way.

Which is a shame because "At the Mountains of Madness" HAS a decent story, or at least it did when Lovecraft wrote it.

(Seriously: small expedition travel beyond the limits of human knowledge to discover unexpected alien citadel wherein lies the shocking secret from before the dawn of human history in the form of a race of ancient aliens and their revolting shape-shifting servitor-creations. And one of the Shoggoths has survived! It's a pity 'cos we'd probably have preferred Guillermo del Toro's version.)

Oops, I've just SPOILERED the entire film. Still, if you don't want any MORE spoilers, I'd look away now!

If you remember, "PLOT" (at least in my definition) is the sequence of events that happen in a narrative while "STORY" is the reason we should care that those events happen in that order.

In this case we actually have TWO plots: "Chariots of the Gods" and the original "Alien". It's not ENTIRELY impossible that it's supposed to be a clever pun by the filmmaker about alien DNA combining and corrupting the human "story". Or it might just be a horrible car crash.

Channel Four were kind enough – or UNKIND enough – to put on the original ALIEN later that same night for comparison.

The first thing that is obvious is how much of a debt "Prometheus" owes to "Alien", from the way the one-word-title builds up out of lines during the opening sequence to the closing monologue delivered as "the final log of the...".

We get the same little data plaque about the starship Prometheus (crew of seventeen) that we got about the Nostromo (crew of seven). And the Prometheus visually resembles the Nostromo, both inside and out. Actually, the exterior also looks a lot like the Firefly Class "Serenity" of, er, "Firefly" and, um, "Serenity". Although the advances in CGI mean that we are able to see the ship much more clearly, and in sunlight rather than the shadows of space or a storm-wracked LV 426. And, like much of the movie, Prometheus is made to look beautiful, in a way that was never entirely possible or clear for Nostromo.

But these deliberate similarities soon start to hurt the film.

When we penetrate an alien complex (part-terraformer, part-research lab, part-tomb) to discover a roomful of mysterious knee-high objects (vases rather than eggs this time) we know that they're going to open up to release something icky. (In this case – as Simon says – it turns out to be the black oil from The X-Files, which seems to be Ridley ambitiously trying to sort out someone else's confused backstory as well as his own.)

When Rafe Spall and Sean Harris are trapped in the tomb, you know just know they're going to wind up with some alien willy-analogue trying to melt their space helmets and force its way down their throats. Wouldn't it have been more interesting to have them survive their enforced night in the tomb and get back to Prometheus only to find it had been the site of a massacre? As it is, THEIR story goes nowhere. AND the story of the infected scientist/boyfriend goes nowhere.

When we find "that spaceship" we know it's only a matter of time before we end up with the Space Jockey in his chair. (Even though it makes no sense at all for the end of this film to recreate the situation we discovered at the start of "Alien" – namely crashed ship full of potential Aliens waiting to be discovered – what with it being set on a completely different planet, with a completely different weaponised Alien in the hold. The only possible conclusion is that the Makers/Space Jockeys routinely crash their horseshoe-shaped spacecraft while carrying bio-weapons of mass destruction. That's probably why they're extinct.)

Basically, repeating the "beats" from "Alien" keeps getting in the way of telling the story that "Prometheus" is trying to tell. But is that the only problem?

"Alien" is, it almost goes without saying, a much BETTER movie than "Prometheus", not just much more tightly focused and of course a damn sight more scary, but also even if you ignore all the (not-so-very) subtext about fear of penetration and vagina dentata, it's still profoundly insightful (even if it's borrowed from the MILLENNIUM Falcon!) about how the future of space won't be all gleaming starships and boldly going, but actually dirty and working class and driven by ugly, mundane concerns about the money, where the crew are expendable if it turns a profit and the face of the big corporation is literally an android. Think about how profoundly DANGEROUS space really is: fire, decompression, asphyxiation, hull failure... the tag-line "In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream" is (again) literally true – you don't actually NEED a xenomorph for space to kill you very dead in any or all of these ways. The crew's lack of respect for space, for nature (except of course for Ripley who is the only one who bothers with the rules and does the checks) is what kills them as much as the big shiny penis-with-teeth. In that sense "Alien" isn't just the monster; it's everything about throwing vulnerable human bodies into this situation.

Even if you take away the deliberate use of notes from "Alien", "Prometheus" isn't saying anything nearly so interesting.

Like a teenage GOTH, the movie thinks that it is being really DEEP and asking MEANINGFUL questions like "where are we from?" and "why are we here?". These are hardly ORIGINAL questions, though. And the sub-von Däniken pseudo-answers provided are hardly less so, either.

(Seriously, again: the "god does not build in straight lines" line is straight out of his "aboriginal peoples couldn't have constructed the Nazca lines" playbook. Von Dänikenism was already laugh-and-point material by the time Doctor Who was ripping him off in the early Seventies. Which, frankly, is pre the original "Alien".)

In the story, the alien "Makers" (and taking the elephant-headed Space Jockey of "Alien" and retooling his species as just "really big humans in a Faction Paradox hats" is definitely taking something weird and awesome and making it less interesting) came to Earth and either did the Scaroth Last of the Jagaroth thing of starting life on Earth or possibly just added their own DNA to the existing mix so that humans would evolve.

At least the movie has enough sense of shame to let someone say: "but evolution doesn't work that way" (unless you're Terry Nation – so look on, Master Ridley). But then it makes nothing further of that.

Likewise, at least is it raises the ontological regress: even if WE were made by the Makers, who made THEM? But then it drops that idea too.

The entire premise of the film, of course, is that the Makers left invitations all over the Earth asking us to pop over and visit. So why do the maps not lead to their homeworld? Or at least the Space Jockey embassy on Centauri Prime? Why, of all places, a covert bioweapons development base that they'd want to keep secret? One, furthermore, where the weapons, apparently, got out of control before the Makers even had time to finish terraforming the place.

(Unfortunately, the overlooked possibility that our heroes are wrong and that the star maps are in truth a warning of the "here be monsters" doesn't make a lot of sense in this context either. It's only a place of monsters AFTER the Makers cocked up, and by that point there was no one left alive to go round posting obscure warnings in cave paintings.)

I suppose it's just about possible that (in another genre-jump to "The Matrix") "Prometheus" is trying to say that HUMANS are a BIOWEAPON developed on this planet too (and, what, that the Alien is a later model?) allowing the Makers to conquer planets by proxy. (Which reminds me, "Quatermass and the Pit" is coming soon to our local cinema. Or if you prefer one of the Doctor Who versions, "The Dæmons", then notice that the existence of the star maps – widely separated in time and geography – implies that the Makers must have kept on coming back to "check up" on Earth's progress. And while that doesn't exactly contradict anything we see, it does seem to go against the "and we'll leave you to it" spirit of what seemed to be happening in the opening disintegrating-Maker sequence.)

And how exactly does Idris Elba's captain Janek suddenly figure all this out given that (a) he's spent least time of anybody actually IN the alien complex and (b) demonstrated exactly zero interest in the archaeological mission up to this point?

There are moments when Ridley appears to be reaching for a crossover with his (other) masterpiece, "Blade Runner" – in particular the way that Mr Wayland the supposedly-dead-but-to-the-surprise-of-no-one-actually-on-board-in-a-packing-crate boss of Wayland (not-yet-Yutani) corporation clearly wants to have a word with his creator about getting some more life. This is further reflected in the way that the android David, played by Michael Fassbender, has been created by humans (like the replicants) but without a proper skill set of emotions (like the replicants). And of course, the android created by humans is a symmetry for the humans created by the Makers. Probably.

David is right: "why did you create us" deserves a better answer than "because we could", or at least that answer deserves some proper exploration. But frustratingly, once again, it is raised only to be immediately set aside.

It's almost as though the big philosophy questions are as much stumbling blocks as the plot points lifted from "Alien". Rather than linking together to drive the story, they serve to trip it up, pull it up short with an "and now think about this" moment, before returning you to your scheduled space opera.

Because a lot of this IS soap opera in space. "I can't have children" / "I'm pregnant... but how!" / "It's a squid!" This sort of thing is barely above "Dr Milburn, I thought you were dead" / "I was!" No, wait, they do that one too! Not to mention "Gasp! You're my father!"

(As subtle foreshadowing goes, "This robot is the nearest thing I'll have to a son" followed by "Oh hello Ms Vickers, do you have issues or what?" barely troubles the scorers.)

The clue to the soapyness ought to be the increased ensemble cast, but even this they do wrong. In "Alien", a crew of seven is just about right so that each character has room to BE a character, and each gets a memorably distinct death (or not in the case of Captain Dallas since his cocooning was edited out).

Seventeen is both too many faces for us to recognise and care about them as they get picked off and at the same time ridiculously too few for a mission of first contact. As an archaeological mission, playing essentially a hunch to see if there's anything out here you might, just might, send out a bunch of oddballs like this, particularly if – as it is depicted in "Alien" – spaceflight is become routine, even humdrum, so that a crew of seven "space truckers" can haul a refinery back to Earth from the deeps of space.

But "Prometheus" also wants us to believe that space is NOT humdrum, that the Prometheus mission is a big deal, that Wayland (not-yet-Yutani) have invested a lot of money and effort into this. In which case, why only one ship? You'd send two ships at least if not half a dozen, so there's always someone in orbit to rescue your ass; even the Apollo moon landings left backup in Lunar orbit! And why the loose cannon captain, brain-fried geologist and dropout botanist, why not a hundred security guards. Especially given there is not only a very senior company board member on board but, as it turns out, the CEO too. Wayland quite literally have all their (alien) eggs in one basket case.

(Actually, maybe it's the sudden loss of a trillion-dollar space mission plus two of their most senior executives that precipitates Wayland being merged/taken over by Yutani in the first place!)

But you can bet that even if such a mission went out looking for Dr Shaw's aliens, their protocols would very strictly say at the first sign of first contact you pull out and leave it to the government(s) of Earth. First contact is NOT something that the world is going to permit to happen freelance.

(Whether an obsessive like Dr Liz Shaw would then follow those protocols, or a monomaniac like Wayland would obey the government(s) of Earth is another matter, and might have contributed a plot point or two.)

That's not to say that the characters who HAVE characters aren't interesting, fun and well-acted.

Noomi Rapace's soulful Dr Elizabeth Shaw (probably not the Doctor Who companion played by Caroline John in the early Seventies, but you never know) is a credible (if occasionally credulous) replacement heroine for Warrant Office Ellen Ripley without being a retread of Sigourny Weaver's career-defining character. Idris Elba (if we overlook his sudden moment of Captain Basil Space-Exposition, described above) is terrifically laconic throughout. Charlize Theron underplays in just the right way, playing the emotionally shut-down Ms Vickers so that we just might believe she's another robot. She deserved a better exit than the perfunctory squished-by-falling-spaceship that she got. Guy Pearce... wears an awful lot of latex. (Seriously, were there supposed to be flashbacks? Did he beg to be in the movie? Was John Hurt not available this time round?)

Of all of them, Fassbender's David is the most interesting. And a movie that was much more about him and much less about whatever it was "Prometheus" was supposed to be about would have been a better watch.

(Alex noticed, incidentally, that the androids are, in sequence, Ash, Bishop, Call and now David. We look forward to Eugene in the next instalment.)

It's never entirely clear what's motivating him. Obviously, the superimposed plot of "Alien" requires him to have a secret agenda, orders from Wayland (not-Yutani) that compromise his loyalty to the crew.

And there is a sense that, like HAL from "2001", his homicidal and seemingly irrational behaviour is caused by a programming conflict.

But then at other times, he definitely appears to demonstrate self-awareness.

In what probably ought to be the most important moment of the film, he almost admits it to Dr Shaw when he asks: "Don't we all want to kill our parents?" That's a very disturbing thing to think, but also very profound when looked at on an evolutionary timescale. From a certain point of view, every successful new species must supplant its forefathers.

(Actually, that's not quite true – what happens is you inherit an evolutionary niche if your predecessor species is out-evolved by its PREDATORS. But that's a different crossover franchise.)

This then should be the engine that drives the movie's story – humans threaten to supplant Makers, androids threaten to supplant humans.

Unlike other ideas, this one isn't just touched on and dropped. It remains underdeveloped, but – like a will-o-the-wisp – pops up again in different guises throughout. Dr Shaw's inability to have children – and the implied personal failure connected with that – is then inverted when her unexpected pregnancy is a literal monster (and there's some kind of perverse maternal bond going on there when, at the end, the squid-thing saves her). Ms Vickers confronts Wayland with the bitter accusation: "The king has his reign and it ends."

(Wayland, of course, does not want to be a king. He wants to be a god.)

It all comes down to the two questions at the end, Wayland and Shaw each trying to persuade David to ask one thing of the awakened Maker they've found: "Who are you?" and "What do you want?" Oh no, hang on, that's "Babylon 5".

The questions are (I paraphrase) "How do I live forever?" and "Why do you want to kill us?"

In probably the film's most fatal flaw, Ridley choose not to let god get to answer.

It's very reminiscent of the let-down at the end of Doctor Who's "The Impossible Planet"/"The Satan Pit" story (yes, "Quatermass and the Pit" AGAIN!) where the audience deserved a confrontation between the Doctor and the Devil and instead what we got was David Tennant pulling faces because the Devil had already scarpered.

Of course, the fact that only David (the android, not Tennant) speaks the Maker's language (and we the audience get no help from omnipotent subtitling either) means that we do not know which question he chooses to put. Or if he puts either question. For all we know, what he actually says is, "These people are here to kill you and by the way your mother smells of elderberries."

Perhaps reducing the Maker to a dumb beast IS some kind of "blind watchmaker" statement about "creators". Nevertheless, leaving god without a voice leaves the film without a punch-line. When it's ALL been about the WHY, you can't just miss that out, or worse declare it as "wait for the sequel". It means that even the Alien has better motivation than these gods, and all IT wants to do is eat you or mate with you. Or possibly both at once.

In the end, "Prometheus" is a "Modern Prometheus", a Frankenstein's Monster bolted together from bits of dead philosophers and the leftovers from a thirty-five-year-old better movie. And no stolen fire to animate it.

And whoever thought that finishing with a shot of the most rubbish version of the Alien yet would be a surprise "twist" wants shooting.