...a blog by Richard Flowers

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Day 4255: DOCTOR WHO: Survival



Essex Lion!

Clockwork Kitling!

With an ESSEX LION on the prowl, it's a good time to look back at the PERIVALE CHEETAH.

Obviously, I'm NOT afraid of cat-monsters... but I must now go and look after Mr Stripy behind the sofa while Daddy Richard tells you all about it!

"Survival", like "The War Games" and "The Horns of Nimon" before it, is the last ever episode of Doctor Who. And, like those previous stories, it stands Janus-faced both as the capstone to one era of the series and as gatekeeper to a new and greater one.

It is a source of bemusement to many people that Doctor Who was still being made in its twenty-sixth year, a bemusement almost as great as the utter bafflement of those few millions still watching the show that the BBC chose to suspend it following this season.

For me, season twenty-six is one of the truly great seasons, up there with season one, seven, eighteen and twenty-seven, or the glorious Hinchcliffe era; a season which consolidated the huge steps forward in storytelling and production that producer JNT and lead writer Andrew Cartmel made in season twenty-five, so that the show was finally back on track. "Ghost Light" and "The Curse of Fenric" are as complex and "timey-wimey" as anything by Steven Moffat while "Survival" is widely regarded as not just the springboard for the "New Adventures" but as a prototype for "Rose", with its mix of urban landscape, high concept and situation comedy. And in production terms, the Destroyer ("Battlefield") and "Fenric's" Haemovores are easily up there with the likes of the Slitheen and the Judoon in terms of appearance (and of course Mike Tucker went from doing effects for season twenty-six to doing effects for season twenty-seven with only a decade of Red Dwarfs in between).

It doesn't all work (see the DVD extras for Mike Tucker's explanation of why a robot kitling was never going to work) but most of it does. Alan Wareing's direction is very fluid and modern. Dominic Glynn's music, particularly his guitar themes for the Cheetahs, capture the mood of both boring Perivale and terrifying Cheetah-planet. And the guest cast (with maybe only the exception of a one or two non-speaking members of Midge's track-suited gang) are all excellent: the younger members all going for it with intensity, while Julian Holloway brings a very believable, very human confusion and bloody-mindedness to Sergeant Paterson. And Anthony Ainley... well, we'll come to him later.

In another throw-forward to the Russell Davies era, the monsters of "Survival" are both anthropomorphic and, after the fashion of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", allegorical. The Cheetah-people may not quite live up to the delicate masks of the Cat-people ("New Earth" and "Gridlock"), but the spirit is willing and, thanks to the writing and work under the fun fur above and beyond the call of duty by Lisa Bowerman, audio director and eponymous star of the Bernice S Summerfield adventures for Big Finish, they have some real heart.

"They are essentially a fun loving species," says the Master, later echoed ironically by the Doctor, by which he means they – like he – are entirely hedonistic, serving only their own carnal desires, whether for food or "play". Juxtaposed with Sergeant Paterson's "survival of the fittest"/"leave the weak behind" social Darwinism, it's perhaps the most subtle and yet most cutting critique of Thatcherism of the Cartmel era (and, by extension, of the whole series). For the Cheetah-people there is literally no such thing as society – as Kara demonstrates when she admits that she would enjoy hunting Ace even as she welcomes her as a new Sister.

The Cheetah-people are allowed a kind of nobility, though, even if it's a bit "white-man's idea of the savage"; where it gets really nasty is when the Master brings it to Perivale and begins turning the local self-defence class into his own little fascist gang. There's something deeply nasty about the way that a cult of the individualist can be used to turn people into a pack or a herd.

This isn't just lefty wish-fulfilment though, literally "monstering" the hated right. Notice how Ace proposes collective action to counter the Cheetah-people, but – in a hint of "Animal Farm" – her leadership only propels her towards "joining the other side".

Speaking of "going over to the other side", it's compulsory to mention that there's something fairly Sapphic going on in Ace's relationship with Karra. All of that Moon symbolism and calling each other Sister and running together. To be fair, between Glitz and Mike Smith the Nazi sympathiser she's not had a lot of luck with men, admitting in "Fenric" that "I used to think I'd never get married", and I'm sure that Susan Q gave her a lot to think about in "The Happiness Patrol". (Never mind, though, the New Adventures are on the way to very thoroughly straighten her out.)

Undertones aside, this is really a lot of what the 'Eighties probably called "women's studies" as though it was necessary to be derogatory about growing up and discovering yourself as an independent person capable of your own agency. Again a la "Buffy" Ace is becoming empowered as she is literally super-powered – never mind all that "run forever" stuff; she can, at very least, teleport across the galaxy.

Then again, there's an interesting question there about exactly where the Cheetah-people's planet is to be found. The novelisation suggests the far side of the galaxy, but I have the more interesting notion, remembering that "Battlefield" has already done "sideways in time" this season, that the planet is actually the Earth: the essential wilderness of Earth in the way that the Cheetah-people are revealed to be the wildness within people.

The idea that the world is being destroyed by conflict is another one that the Cartmel era has touched upon before (and again with less subtlety).

And if we're going to talk subtlety we have to mention that this is one of the few scripts that allow Anthony Ainley to show what he could actually do as the Master. It is probably the first new, interesting story for the character since, oh, "Logopolis", maybe even "The Deadly Assassin" (hilarious goings-on in "The Oseidon Adventure" retconned in in between, aside).

To go all Freudian for a moment, the Master is the ultimate Ego, and here we see him being torn apart by the ultimate expression of the Id. There is a power here, as he says, but it's not one that he can ever have without abandoning everything that makes him him. The possibility of embracing it, accepting it as a part of himself – which appears to be Ace's solution – simply does not, indeed cannot occur to him; everything must be a struggle and must be subjugated, not surrendered to. (The stuff about willpower probably alludes back to the Doctor's conversation about Nietzsche in "The Curse of Fenric", too, although it's also the sort of thing that the Master was always going on about in his 'Eighties incarnation.)

And while we're looking at the id, ego and super-ego we can also see how this story represents a completion of Ace's personal journey through what "Babylon 5" would call the "three ages of man": control by our base instincts; control by our parent figures; and freedom. Sophie Aldred speaks of how in "Ghost Light", "The Curse of Fenric" and "Survival" Ace goes through a trilogy of facing her past, present and future fears. But another reading is to say that in "Ghost Light" she overcomes her instinctive behaviour, learning to understand and adapt; then in "The Curse of Fenric" she confronts and leaves behind the forces that control her represented by Fenric (and, to an extent, the Doctor); so that, by "Survival" she is an adult woman, free to make her own choices.

The Master, here, is also, of course, the ultimate 'Eighties consumer. Look how he buys Midge's affection with clothes and toys. And, like a good little Thatcherite, how he discards Midge once he's no longer useful. No neo-feudal obligations to his employee for this Time Lord turned baron of capitalism. Or perhaps – to stretch the political metaphor – he's a prescient incarnation of Mr Blair: power-hungry, he adopts the trappings of the Cheetah-people's culture without understanding how it will destroy him. Does the reveal of his glowing evil eyes in the first cliff-hanger not make you think "New Labour, New Danger"?

And yet, although "Survival" is undoubtedly political, from Ange's passive/aggressive collection for the hunt sabs – contrast that with the morality of the Cheetahs' hunt – to the shopkeepers pressured to open up on Sunday (yes, even the Hale and Pace bit), it's not about politics.

(Actually, it's a great tragedy for our public life that people don't see "politics" as anything to do with the day-to-day lives of the body politic. Witness again Ace's attempts to rouse her friends to action and their apathetic response. "Yeah, yeah, the government's evil and wants to eat us, but leave us alone to eat the bracken.")

What we're really seeing is a confrontation between the Wild Magic and the High Magic, between chaos magic and order. The Doctor and the Master are Wizards (or Angels – and in Tolkien those are much the same thing anyway), they are Time Lords, Lords of Order. Only by rejecting that simple binary conflict, by surrendering instead of fighting, does the Doctor escape.

And, of course, that's the Doctor's solution from "The Curse of Fenric" too – in war, the only winning move is not to play. Only this time he's the one playing one of the pawns.

See also – those who so often accuse the Doctor and particularly the seventh Doctor of not getting his hands dirty – how he puts himself in harm's way rather than allowing Ace to face off against Midge for him on the motorcycles.

"Only the creatures of this place can leave, because they carry it with them," or as Mephistopheles might have put it: "Is this not Hell nor am I out of it."

And so, fittingly for Doctor Who's very own fallen angel, the Master confines himself to Hell in the end.

And it is the end. The Doctor has kept his promise from "Dragonfire" to show her around the galaxy and back to Perivale in time for tea. Ace has completed her trilogy. Dorothy Gale has her "East, West, Home's Best" moment. "Home?" asks the Doctor. "The TARDIS!" And Dorothy McShane is ready for her New Adventures.

"There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, and the sea's asleep, and the rivers dream. People made of smoke, and cities made of song. Somewhere there's danger, somewhere there's injustice, and somewhere else the tea's getting cold. Come on, Ace — we’ve got work to do!"

Andrew Cartmel wrote the Doctor's final speech with the thought that it might be the final speech, and the aim to break your heart. And it does break my heart, a little, even now, even though this wasn't the end, merely another "last ever episode".

It's impossible not to think that Paul Cornell (and Russell Davies) was inspired by that speech when he wrote the "He burns in the centre of Time" eulogy for "Human Nature", but that's a speech in praise of a god. "...and somewhere else the tea's getting cold..." isn't the speech of a god; it's the speech of someone who gave up being a god to go travelling with his friends.

And we're travelling with him still.

PS: Doctor Who returns Saturday at 7.20. But you probably knew that.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Day 4252: Success! Prince Harry Plays Pool Without Wearing Nazi Uniform!


Short version:

Makes you Proud to be British, as Mr Winston Churchill once said.

Slightly longer version:

Why is it supposed to be a scandal that a fit, healthy young man wants to get naked with ladies? Or even gentlemen?

Thinking about it, delete the qualifiers "fit" "healthy" "young" and "man". Consenting adults should be allowed to get naked - and yes even "sexy" - without it being a scandal!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Day 4249: Ecuadorean Standoff


The Foreign Office's recent threat to INVADE ECUADOR was a new LOW, managing to break the LIBERAL Principle of internationalism, the CONSERVATORY Principle of maintaining traditional values and the REALPOLITIK principle of not giving anyone else the excuse to do it back to us, all at once!

Mr Vague was clearly having an OFF DAY or (more likely in the middle of August) a DAY OFF. Thankfully, it seems we’ve backed down. But we NEVER should have said that.

But aside from that (Mrs Lincoln) how was the THEATRE surrounding the Eva Peron of the Embassy: Mr Julian Estrange?

What more is there to say, really?

On the one fluffy foot, there are a lot of people who believe that he is facing very serious accusations of sexual assault against two Swedish women. To be fair, that’s not a statement of belief – it’s a statement of fact.

On the other fluffy foot, there are another lot of people who are convinced that Mr Estrange is potentially in danger of being whisked away to Americaland and quite possibly executed to death.

So what we have to do is weigh the ACTUAL HARM that has ALLEGEDLY HAPPENED against the POTENTIAL HARM that MIGHT HAPPEN and might be greater or might not even happen at all.

If ONLY we had some kind of SYSTEM where independent arbiters could be appointed to look into this and, er, JUDGE which course of action is right.

The case has been distinctly NOT helped by some of Mr Estrange's (self-appointed) advocates trying to suggest that there might be some circumstances where inserting your willy into a woman when she doesn't want you to might be (brace yourselves) "a bit less rapey" than others.

These people need to read what Mr Andrew has to say:

The ONLY way you should ever end a sentence that starts “It’s not rape if…” is with “all parties involved consent.”

The question of whether Mr Estrange has committed a criminal act is properly one for the COURTS of SWEDEN to decide, and that is what the Swedish police were trying to do.

The question of criminality, though, however STUPID the things people are saying might be, is at least more to the POINT than the wider excuse being used, namely that Mr Estrange is FAMOUS and has CROSSED AMERICALAND and so should not have to face charges at all.

It is almost certainly TRUE that Mr Estrange IS deeply disliked by the government (and probably most of the people) of Americaland because he was behind the Wikileaks website revealing all their secrets and deeply embarrassing them.

And Americaland does NOT have a good record of behaving in a JUST and LIBERAL manner to people who deeply embarrass them. The treatment of the soldier who LEAKED the Wikileak sounds dreadful. And we all know that Guantanamo Bay has become a byword for American contempt for international law and due process. Nor has President Barry O covered himself in glory on this issue, pursuing a policy of raining death on anyone his government decides is a terrorist. (NOT, so far, including Mr Estrange.)

And it is ALSO true that SHADY governments (up to and including OURS) have been more than happy to manufacture allegations of SEXUAL IMPROPRIETY and MORAL CORRUPTION against "enemies of the state" because it's much more convenient to ruin someone's reputation than martyr them for freedom. It is sufficiently common an idea as to have been used in BBC Sci-fi "Blake's Seven", where the TOTALITARIAN Federation – yes, like the one in “Star Trek” – has rebel leader Roj Blake all ready to plead guilty to sedition when he learns he's actually banged up on charges of child abuse.

But just because it COULD happen does not mean that is HAS happened. Fortunately for Blake's Seven we KNOW that Mr Blake is all heroic and honest because we've seen what really happened. That's NOT the case here – we do not KNOW if Mr Estrange is guilty as charged or guilty of being fitted up.

Again, if ONLY we had a SYSTEM for deciding whether the Swedish have a sound basis for wanting to put him before their own courts.

Oh, wait, we do...

Because Mr Estrange has made all of these arguments before and has lost at every stage of his appeal. You may very well think that the prosecutor was over-zealous in this case, or that the Swedish police have been heavy-handed in demanding extradition, or you may feel that the police SHOULD come to the accused criminal or that governments SHOULD agree to the terms imposed on them by suspects... but the fact is these things have been examined and found to be acceptable within the rule of law.

Check out these five MYTHS about Mr Estrange's case – line them up and shoot them down.

So his supporters are reduced to claiming it is ALL an establishment plot against him.

A conspiracy that takes in the Swedish police and prosecutors, several British courts, and the CIA NOT kidnapping someone off the streets of London when they can... well, it's certainly one for the Internet theorists.

(Though admittedly it's not quite up there with that one about the Olympic Stadium being built on a confluence of LEY LINES so that the GIANT LIZARDS who SECRETLY RUN THE WORLD could FAKE an ALIEN INVASION under cover of the CLOSING CEREMONY in order to institute a WORLD GOVERNMENT in fulfilment of the MASONIC PROPHECIES of WILLIAM BLAKE.)

But this is a case where NO ONE is going to WIN.

Of COURSE Mr Estrange ought to go back to Sweden, for all the reasons stated that is the proper place to decide his case. There are two women in Sweden – and a man in the Ecuadorean Embassy! – who have a right to justice. And I completely sympathise with Auntie Caron for her passion to see justice done.

But I’m afraid I have to agree with Mr Stephen O’the Glenn that we must respect International Law FIRST.

You CANNOT uphold the law by BREAKING it.

ALL THREE of those people are being denied justice. But we cannot break into the Ecuadorean Embassy to enforce that. Not because of any potential harm to Mr Estrange, but because of all the potential harms caused if we toss aside the Vienna Convention that says that once you're inside an embassy you are SAFE.

So Mr Estrange has escaped to Ecuador (no matter that it's a bit of Ecuador in the middle of London). A huge police presence around the embassy is a waste of resources and he could STILL get away in a big enough diplomatic bag; and sabre-rattling makes us look pathetic.

There are lots of STRONG ACTIONS that we can suggest… NONE of which we will be able to take!

So let's just leave him there, and much good may it do him.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Day 4236: Lords, Losers, Liars and Louise


Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

So, Great Britain's constitutional reforms lose the Olympic Gold for "Not Crashing and Burning", narrowly surprisingly clearly pipped by the American Mars Lander "Curiosity".

Curiosity, equipped with LASERS to kill any SPIDER-CAT-MONSTERS-FROM-MARS it encounters, succeeded in making the tricky descent through the Martian atmosphere.

Lords Reform, equipped with KNIVES for stabbing Captain Clegg in the back... didn't. Instead it descended into chaos and recrimination.

Wooden Spoon goes to Ms Louise Mendacious, for "spending more time with her family" (surely the Murdochs don't have something on her after all!). Did she get wind of a non-promotion in Mr Balloon's reshuffle?

NO ONE comes out looking good.

Mr Balloon has lost control of his Party. Mr Milipede would rather score tactical points than stand for anything. And we look like we've thrown our toys out of the pram.

There are two fundamental failures here:

First, the failure to deliver on ANY constitutional reform beyond fixed term parliaments. We are the party of change, the Conservatives the party of the status quo – the clue is in the name, really – and no change is a WIN for them. Not good.

This should leave us seriously questioning our place in the Coalition. We may well end up deciding that we can still do more good IN government than out, but we NEED to have that debate.

Second, there is the failure to COMMUNICATE just how important it is to lift the dead hand of the establishment, and to give real power to people to make a difference. Our opponents in Tory and Labour Parties have been able to play the “why now” card and cash in on public apathy because we have failed to make the link between the establishment and the economic disaster clear. Power in the hands of the few is what allowed the bankers to gamble away our money and allowed Gordon Brown to double-mortgage the farm without anyone to stop or even question him.

We should have been saying "fix government or the crash will happen again". We need to spell out that the real price the Tories have exacted is another round of boom and bust.

I tried to express this to a senior MP last night, and I'm sorry to say that they just weren't buying it. "Doesn't make the direct connection to people's lives" and "we look like constitutional obsessives" were the grumbling excuses.


It is the JOB of our MPS to communicate WHY our policies DO have a direct relevance to people's lives. WE are NOT in the business of asking what people want like some kind of Parliamentary SANTA CLAUS; we are in the business of PROPOSING SOLUTIONS and EXPLAINING why they are needed and will work.

START with this justifiably FAMOUS post by Mr Mark Reckons – showing that there is a LINK between SAFE SEATS and EXPENSES SCANDALS.

And STOP with being EMBARRASSED to be a LIBERAL!

It is in the INTEREST of the ESTABLISHMENT that we be "embarrassed" to be "constitutional obsessives" – and for FAR TOO LONG we have allowed GREEDY PIGGIES, squealingly-eager for the rewards of PATRONAGE, to dictate the LANGUAGE of the debate – we really need to TAKE IT BACK:

Why do we bang on about changing the constitution?

Because our government IS A JOKE, a BAD JOKE.

Ask ANYONE – ANYONE AT ALL! – do they think that this country has a good system that serves its people well, and they will TELL YOU it is a JOKE!

If an interviewer sneers at reforms, turn it back on them – ask THEM why THEY are defending the system? Do THEY say we have the finest government that delivers the goods? Tell them they would be LAUGHED at for suggesting such a thing and THEN ask them why THEY are shilling for the establishment.

"The economy is more important" people will cry – tell them: "How can Parliament fix the economy until Parliament itself is mended?"

The debacle has exposed that the Conservatory Party ITSELF is a COALITION, and one that Mr Balloon cannot hold together. Ninety-one GREEDY PIGGIES – too LAZY to stand up for their principles, they'd rather coast into the Commons on Mr Balloon's Etonian coat tails than tell their constituents the TRUTH about their REAL manifesto; too eager to get their SNOUTS in the TROUGH of ERMINE to support their own Leader, putting SELFISHNESS ahead of Conservatory VIRTUES like LOYALTY and HONOUR.

The behaviour of Mr Milipede, Leader of the Opportunists, is as much a SYMPTOM of this as it is a CAUSE. He claims to support reform... but he won't back it. In fact, he COLLUDES with the greedy piggies to score some kind of political "point" as though embarrassing the government in today's papers – tomorrows chip wrappings – is in the long term good of the country.

Mr Milipede MAY or MAY NOT be a progressive, but he is TRAPPED in the body of an ESTABLISHMENT MAN doing the ESTABLISHMENT'S dirty work.

He has ACTIVELY HARMED the good of the majority and supported the corrupt establishment for chip wrappings.


Cap'n Clegg may have been defeated, may have tried and failed, but Mr Milipede WENT OVER TO THE DARK SIDE!

To paraphrase the Grauniad: "For the sake of the NATION, Ed Milipede Must Go! "

(I really DO NOT recommend reading the CiF comments – shrill, self-satisfied and smugly revelling in the fact the Coalition hasn't yet solved the economic chaos wrought under their new best friends in Hard Labour, the sort of people who call the Lib Dems "spineless" and then vote to support an electoral system that means ONLY conservatives can ever win power just to SPITE the progressives for being weak when that very system makes them weak... that's when they aren't calling for the overthrow of democracy itself... it's not a place to seek wisdom – but if you want a FRANKLY UNEDIFYING look into the minds of so-called Lefties who are SO STUPID that they support the Establishment merely because it lets them be snide about Cap'n Clegg, then you know where to look. Clue: it's above the line.)

GENUINE progressives – and, who knows, there may even be some inside Hard Labour, there may EVEN be some at the Grauniad – must, must, MUST break with the past, the old push-me-pull-you game of Labservative BUGGINS' TURN.

Because when our system rewards OPPORTUNISM, how can people be even remotely SURPRISED when BANKERS behave OPPORTUNISTICALLY to make their bonuses?

And when our system rewards SHORT-TERMISM, why is it not OBVIOUS that companies will SUFFER from SHORT-TERMISM because no one want to invest for strong, stable growth, only a quick profit, a fast buck?

And when our system rewards WEASEL-WORDS (or what I would call DOWNRIGHT LIES by those Conservatories who stood on a manifesto promising their constituents they were in favour of reform when in fact they were in favour of making sure their comfortable retirement club was kept exactly as it is), when our system REWARDS these things, then you cannot express SHOCK that corporate lawyers use weasel words to avoid their obligations; that litigation replaces taking real ACTION; that compensation culture flourishes; and all the "jobsworths" and "health and safety gone mad" consequences of people being rewarded for covering their FLUFFY ARSES rather than offering a helping fluffy-foot!

The Government and Opposition benches in the House of Commons are separated by TWO SWORD LENGTHS PLUS A FOOT.

When you build your government on a PLAYGROUND BRAWL not a HANDSHAKE then you really can't expect it to be anything other than CHILDISH.

The problem with Britain at the moment, and it's what is underlying the failure of recovery, is a LOSS OF TRUST. Credit, as in "credo", "I believe", is LITERALLY and METAPHORICALLY in SHORT SUPPLY. George Osborne's political, tactical, omnishambles Budget; two years of Hard Labour shrieking TRAITOR whenever they draw breath; Liberal Democrat compromises – yes, that damn Tuition Fee pledge again – ALL driven by our stupid constitutional arrangements and ALL contributing to the breakdown of TRUST.

Great Britain is NOT Broken. But it IS POISONED. And we won't get better until we address the SOURCE of the poison.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Day 4227: The Morning After The Dark Knight Before aka A Tale of Two Kitties


Mr Christopher Nolan Sisters would like it made quite clear that his new movie "The Dark Knight Votes Palin" is IN NO WAY political, and any resemblance between Mr Bane the Baddie's OCCUPATION of NEW YORK and the, er, Occupy New York movement is entirely a DELUSION brought on by Obamacare.

Obviously, this makes Mr Nolan Sisters either FRIGHTENINGLY naive or the biggest FIBBER since, well, Mr Bane.

Nice to see that, in spite of the chaos caused by the Joker, the Dent Act hasn't made it any harder to get vast quantities of explosive anywhere in Gotham, though.

Spoilers follow...

As the third instalment in the "Dark Knight Trilogy", this has the distinct feel of a part FIVE and hang on haven't we missed a bit?

For starters, the end of "The Dark Knight" surely did NOT imply that Batman was going to vanish into the (k)night.

I remember writing at the time how this was win-win: Gotham's white knight (Harvey Two-Face) gets to keep his reputation intact; Batman gets to let everyone think he might actually kill people without Bruce breaking his "I'm not going to kill people" rule.

(The studio, apparently, wanted the third film to star the Riddler and carry on in a more traditional fashion.)

Instead what we get is "eight years later..." and – improbably – a Gotham that has cleaned up its act. The (implicitly draconian) "Dent Act" has succeeded in cleaning up the streets.

Not that we get to SEE any of that, as we "skip to the end" where the prisons are full of baddies and everyone is happy so long as Commissioner Gordon doesn't mind that his conscience is gnawing at him like an ulcer.

It turns out, in a twist on The Brothers Karamazov, that you CAN build a utopia on a LIE so long as the lie is "One good man sacrificed himself for this city".

Good job THIS movie doesn't end that way too, then! Oh...

I said that, in spite of its OBVIOUS sexism (and BIGGEST crime against comic: airbrushing Ms BARBARA GORDON out of the story!), "The Dark Knight" was like a SOCRATIC DIALOGUE between Mr Batman and Mr Joker about CHAOS and ORDER and who tells lies to which end.

In comparison, this is a RANT, student politics – commies are baad and fascists are baad and people are baad and all – delivered at a bellow and not entirely coherent.

It seems that, at times at least, what this film WANTS to be saying is that this utopia IS a lie and it DOESN'T work. Moments like young detective John Blake (Mr Nolan Sisters LURVES Joseph Gordon-Levitt) talking righteous anger to Commissioner Gordon or Ms Never-actually-named-as-Catwoman Selina Kyle whispering sweet nothings about an Oncoming Storm to Master Bruce on the dance floor. I don't THINK she means Dr Woo.

Thing is, the movie TOTALLY BOTTLES it.

When we get to see the inside of Blackgate Prison, we DON'T discover that it's full of POLITICAL PRISONERS in ORANGE JUMPSUITS who are there because they drove their taxi past the wrong cop one night. Even the "Arkham City" game managed THAT! We don't get to see that the consequences of unlimited police power are unlimited police brutality and corruption. No, we just get a sub-Silence of the Lambs scene where Selina gets to break a comedy bad guy's wrists. For laffs.

We're told that Bruce and Miranda spent billions on clean cheap energy and then abandoned the project – couldn't we see CONSEQUENCES of this?

We're also told that Bruce loses all his billions, but THAT doesn't seem to have consequences EITHER. I mean, given a chance to show Down and Out in Gotham we get... a taxi ride back to Wayne Manor.

Similarly, it is implied that Selina has a BACKSTORY that leads to her wanting the "Clean Slate" anti-Google software, but we're never TOLD what it is, or what has driven her to take to crime? So it comes across, largely, to be because she LIKES it. And how does a cat burglar get away with all this crime if the Gotham P.D. are so ice hot these days?

(Also, she drives the Batpod remarkably well for someone whose skillset is burglary with a little light acrobatics.)

We hardly get to see the "common" people of Gotham at all. Everyone is a cop, a billionaire or a baddie. So how can we tell if the Dent Act has left the everyday folk happy and prosperous or starving and oppressed?

Batman, when he arrives, acts to defend the STOCK MARKET, and to turn the police into an ARMY.

The problems of RICH PEOPLE and the ESTABLISHMENT are SO much more important, after all.

Once again Mr Bane is badly served by a Bat-movie. I don't mean by giving him the cod-Mittle-European accent of Dr Johann Krauss from Hellboy II and then filtering it through the wrong end of a bicycle pump, though obviously it doesn't help that he sounds like he's swallowed Batman's fist even before the punching starts.

No, it's the way the dialogue forced into his mouth has him saying things like: "I vil tvorture an intyre schity just so you don't git ze idea zat my stance against corrupt government and plutocracy haz ein point, ya!"

Bane here is characterised as an almost NINETEENTH CENTURY villain: the anarchist revolutionary, specifically a FRENCH revolutionary.

Daddy Alex points out, quite rightly, that there are plenty of RUSSIAN revolutionary clues too – not least the rivers of Gotham freezing over, like it's a St Petersburg winter, but I say just LOOK at all the references to "A Tale of Two Cities", even without the YES WE GET IT reading from the book at the end (if not the end of the book, as many have pointed out).

We get the storming of the Blackgate Bastille, and Mr Bane's declaration of "rights". We get a showcase "people's court" (yes, very Reign of Terror) presided over by everyone's favourite nutty professor, Dr Jonathan "Scarecrow" Crane, no less (nice "Death By Mau Mau" gag, by the way). With that thing on his face, it's only a surprise that we DON'T get a "shot in the jaw" moment for Mr Bane.

Of course, later it turns out that he's ACTUALLY a fascist PRETENDING to be a revolutionary, but by that point it's not even his plan any more.

Yes, there's the "The World is Not Enough" twist ending that reduces him (as per "Batman and Robin" and THERE'S a comparison you DON'T want) to female baddie's henchperson.

"Ah, I know zat you are really Bruce Wayne," is supposed to be a sign that Mr Bane is a GENIUS.

"I know your secret identity 'cos my girlfriend's dead dad told me," doesn't come across as quite so impressive.

Nor is there any sense that he has the same fighting skills as Batman. He's SUPPOSED to be the anti-Batman, trained by the League of Shadows and with a brain as smart if not smarter than the great detective. Yet he mostly just stands there and takes it as Mr Bats slaps him around the chops, going "Ha ha von ha; now I vil gobbledegook".

Not that Talia al Ghul (yes, the daughter we never knew he had) is much better served – nice to see Aslan Neeson doing the "materialising out of the Force" thing that he refused to do for George, to explain the plot to Master Bruce, though. I'm pretty sure that in the comics, however, Talia is MORE honourable that her father. Of course it helps that she's in love with Batman/Bruce Wayne, but I thought that she would stick to her code where her mad dad would happily toss it out the window if victory was an option.

The SUPPOSED purpose of the League is to sacrifice one city in order to drive the rest of the world back to "Order" (whatever "Order" is supposed to mean in these circumstances – i.e. "doing things the way WE say you should" probably).

Now, the first interesting question here is how, other than SCALE, is this different from Commissioner Gordon and Batman's plan to drive the people of Gotham back to Order through the sacrifice of one man (in this case Harvey Dent – or possibly Batman's reputation)?

The second question, though, is isn't the Dent Act supposed to have WORKED? Hasn't Gotham turned back to order and light and locked up all the baddies? In which case, why ARE the League going to destroy Gotham?

So it seems that petty vengeance is her only motivation. Basically: "You killed my dad so I'm going to nuke your city!"

And Bruce Wayne just hands over the keys to Wayne Enterprises to this person?! When exactly did he stop doing deep background checks on everyone he meets? This is the guy who had his own childhood sweetheart checked out, and now he's just letting "Miranda Tate" turn up and take over? Gee, he HAS gone slack.

For that matter, though, when are Bane and Miranda/evil Talia supposed to have trained with the League? If it's supposed to be AFTER "Batman Begins", then wasn't Ra's al Ghul supposed to be a little bit DEAD and the League disbanded? (Remember this is "REALISTIC" Batman, so Ra's al Ghul's "immortality" involves disguising his identity and faking his own death NOT get out of death free by mystical resurrection.) But if it's BEFORE "Batman Begins" then wasn't it really rather CARELESS of Ra's to train TWO successors in quick succession and have BOTH of them go off on him? Especially after two thousand years of the League's cleansing programme working fine (unless of course he just made that up on the spot to give himself a sense of history and grandeur, which admittedly monomaniacs often do). And it's he just a tiny bit too surprised that Bruce might turn down his offer of leading a genocidal pogrom when it appears that his own daughter must have done just that too?

Actually, the timeline of "Batman Begins" is quite difficult to work out properly, what with all the flashbacks within flashbacks. It makes for a great movie, but in no way a straightforward one. (It's even more complicated than "The Empire Strikes Back", where Luke appears to have months of Jedi training intercut with Han and Leia spending an afternoon being chased round rocks by the Empire before the Falcon takes a few months without hyperdrive to fly to Bespin during which time Luke spends an evening in a Cave of Evil(TM).)

For example, it appears that the main action in Gotham takes place over JUST FOUR DAYS, and for two of those, Batman is unconscious!

Seriously: the first appearance of the Batman (taking down Boss Falconi at the docks – great image of the "first bat signal") is on a Thursday; next night (after Bruce Wayne does dinner and buys a hotel) he goes to the Narrows and gets gassed by Scarecrow. Two days later, he wakes up and it's Bruce Wayne's birthday. He has Alfred keep the guests entertained (tell them that joke you know) while he goes and rescues Rachel from Arkham Asylum, chases home in the Batmobile, gets Wayne Manor burnt down and stops Ra's and the League's plan to destroy Gotham ALL IN ONE NIGHT!

(It's more likely that several days pass between the first appearance and the trip to the Narrows, but the film REALLY doesn't play that way!)

It's even WEIRDER when you think that FOURTEEN YEARS pass between the earliest flashbacks (Bruce falls down the well, breaks his arm, has his arm set by Daddy Wayne, gets taken to the opera – "time to get up" ties this to the broken arm – and sees his parents murdered) and the day that Joe Chill gets shot and Bruce runs away to discover how to be Batman.

And then ANOTHER SEVEN years at least pass before he's trained and comes back! (Alfred having had him declared dead... and that's another thing, dontcha think that in comparison Bruce Wayne is declared dead extremely quickly at the end of "The Dark Twice Knightly"?)

Just how OLD is Bruce Wayne supposed to be, anyway?

With THIS movie taking place "eight years later", the trilogy spans THIRTY YEARS (if we throw in a year for the gap between "Batman Year One cough cough Begins" and "The Dark Knight"). Arguably this takes us from the Nineteen Forties to the Nineteen Seventies (since Bruce's parents were killed "in the Depression") or (somehow presciently and yet actually more likely) from the Twenty Teens to the Twenty Fourties.

I guess that means he starts off about TEN and finishes about FORTY.

Anyway, what we don't, actually, know is how long out of his seven years' exile he spends training with Ra's and the boys. If it's just the last six months then maybe, maybe, Ra's just about has time to train Talia and Bane in the NEXT six months while Bruce is back in Gotham making his Batty preparations. Maybe.

However, I'd have to say that judging by the age Miranda/Talia appears to be in Gotham and the age child Talia appears when she climbed out of the pit then we have to assume that Ra's gave them their training FIRST, probably YEARS before he found Bruce.

Which makes it rather an OVERSIGHT that he never mentioned this failure before, not to mention him being REALLY RUBBISH at picking successors.

So it's really not true to say this movie is apolitical. It is HIGHLY political, it's just DEEPLY confused about what its politics actually mean. The effect of Mr Nolan Sister's brand of "realism" on the series is to take the fundamental contradictions of the Batman character and ramp them up to a THOUSAND.

So, Bruce Wayne is a privileged PARASITE whose well-intentioned efforts as a vigilante and in the boardroom only make things worse for everyone except his own elite class, while Commissioner Gordon is the most corrupt cop of them all, securing his personal power with a lie and apparently locking up people at will because "he knows"! And the movie actively endorses the choices that these bad-words make as not only right but GOOD. The people who oppose them are in fact lying and acting from selfish or possibly insane motivation. The only person – Selina – who dares to whisper a word against them actually aspires to and in the end succeeds in joining their class.

Auntie Jennie, of course, makes all these point more succinctly.

Inspired by her, though, here are more thoughts on the Dark Knight...

Fusion reactors don't work like that...
Fusion is where you take atoms and force them to stick them together as bigger atoms, at the basic level taking two hydrogens and making one helium. One helium has slightly less mass than two hydrogens and because Einstein said E=mc2 this means you get energy out.

Of course it's not as easy as that. You're trying to take one atomic nucleus (made of protons and neutrons) and squish it into ANOTHER atomic nucleus (also made of protons and neutrons) and because BOTH nucleuses are POSITIVELY charged they repel each other quite strongly until you can get them close enough that they suddenly snap together like LEGO.

So you need a lot of energy to start with to force those nuclei to collide.

The traditional fusion model is the magnetic torus or "STAR IN A BOTTLE" version that involves putting hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium into a metal doughnut using magnets to stop them touching the sides and then whizzing them round and round very fast so that they turn into a plasma and start fusing. Once they are going fast enough, they start to collide with enough oomph that the repulsion from the positive v positive charges is no longer enough to make them bounce off each other so they smash together instead.

The NEW-FANGLED way of achieving fusion is to use office-block-sized lasers to zap your target atoms with enough energy for them to reach the fusion point (so not REALLY like what Doc Oc does in Spider-Man 2).

Neither of these, you will have spotted, has anything remotely resembling a "core" in the form of a huge dangling cat toy that can be removed for Bane to play ball with.

Hypothetically, Bruce might have come up with a shiny NEW way of initiating the fusion reaction that DOES involve a "core" that looks something very like a BOMB – some sort of "starter motor" that will set the reactor in motion. But in that case, surely his best hope for making it SAFE is to turn the wretched thing ON!

Nuclear Bombs don't work like that...
Because even given all that, the script still seems dizzyingly confused about how THIS core actually works. The Russian scientist warms MR Bane that the core will DECAY, and that after five months he might not get any bang at all. But then Mr Lucius Fox warns that ACTUALLY the core will become UNSTABLE after five months and rather than not explode at all, definitely WILL. Now forgive me if I read too much in here, but I would have thought that UNSTABLE means it is more and more likely to go off AT RANDOM. Except everyone seems able to time to the MINUTE the moment it's going to detonate. Even Mr Batman, even though he was already dragged off to prison in darkest African Middle-East when it was unplugged and can't know precisely when the countdown was started.

Also, it starts off with a whole load of green and red LEDs which start going out to indicate growing doom, but by the end of the movie someone has kindly wired in a digital clock displaying the minutes and seconds as they count down. I guess Mr Bane needed a hobby.

And even if your batcopter CAN get you six miles in sixty seconds, there's still going to be a blast wave and a tsunami hitting the city.

Helicopters don't work like that...
Helicopters gain lift because the air above the rotors has to move faster than the air below; this makes it less dense and therefore the air below pushes the helicopter upwards. Covering the upper surface of your rotors with armour plate seems to me more likely to compress the air above the rotors, making it heavier and pushing your batwing DOWN rather than UP.

Also, from what I could see of it, the rotors on the engine were steeply sloped like a jet engine, rather than a helicopter. More precisely like the FRONT end of a jet engine (which is indeed designed to compress the air, before it's injected into the ignition chamber and shot out the back to create thrust). This suggests that (a) there ought to be an outlet at the top somewhere and (b) it's upside down.

Breaking your back doesn't work like that...
Although Daddy points out that they're quite careful NOT to say that that loud snapping noise as Mr Bane brings Mr Batman down across his knee in a faithful rendition of the "I'll break you" scene from the "Knightfall" comic is Mr Bruce BREAKING his back, it's probably worth pointing out that Mr Tom Conti saying "one of your vertebrae is sticking out," would suggest that not all is entirely well. Mind you: "let me just punch it back into your spine," is probably not best medical practice either.

Incidentally, I'D thought that the way a CHILD might get out of that prison where a GROWN UP couldn't would be because they were small enough and light enough to use the thin cracks in the wall to climb rather than leaping between platforms like it's Tomb Raider or, er, Lego Batman. But that would have been CLEVER rather than MACHO. Also, might have stopped broke-back Brucey getting out just in the nick.

People don't work like that...
Cut all the bridges to New York and rely on emergency food packages? H-Bomb or no H-Bomb you'll have FOOD RIOTS in forty-eight hours tops.

The Ending of Inception doesn't work like that...
There's more than UN HINT of a suggestion that Mr Nolan Sisters is trying to recapture the is it real/is it all a dream AMBIGUITY of the ending to his previous mega-movie "Inception" in the final moments where – all shot in dreamy sunlit Paris – Mr Alfred sees Bruce and Selina alive and well and living happily ever after. Is this for real or all in his fluffy old head, just a recurrence of his fantasy from the years when Bruce was away training (as confessed earlier in the movie)?

Only there are really just too many other P.O.V.s pointing to REALITY – Mr Lucius discovering that Batty Bruce HAD fixed the autopilot after all; Mr "Robin" being given directions to the Batcave.

(And incidentally – again – it is COMPLETELY wise to give stately Wayne Manor over to an orphanage – even to escape the Wayne estate's debts – when all it takes to get into the Batcave is plinking on the piano a couple of times? Like the kids aren't going to find THAT by about the second afternoon.)

Still, it all LOOKS absolutely gorgeous, and if you like guns and cops and REALLY tight rubber then I'm sure you'll find LOTS to appeal to you in Mitt Romney's electoral address, er...

For me, somehow I find myself preferring the Sixties Batman Movie, and the nobility of the almost human porpoise. We didn’t even get the nobility of the almost human humans here, last seen in the bad man's orange jumpsuit throwing a detonator out the window at the end of "The Dark Knight".

Last thought: "The Dark Knight" is not just a good title, but a PUN. And so is "Knightfall". "The Dark Knight Rises" is neither.

Although it might be taking the Rise.