...a blog by Richard Flowers

Friday, November 30, 2012

Day 4290: DOCTOR WHO: The Angels Take the St Michael

Saturday (flashback bonus):

In their own way, the Angels are like history: they look fixed, but that's only our perception.

The opening of "The Angels Take Manhattan" is narrated, in character, in film noir style, by "private dick" Sam Garner. But the fingers we see typing his voiceover are manicured with scarlet nail varnish, which Mr Garner is not otherwise seen to wear. This is a first allusion to the writer's power.

In the Moffat-verse, it seems, history is contingent, memory unreliable, time itself as he keeps endlessly saying can be rewritten. But once it's written down it is sacred.

In an odd way, it's like the flip-side of "Logopolis": there, the ability of "living minds" to perform Block Transfer computation – to make TARDISes work, to Time Travel even – depends on a certain flexibility. A computer would be altered by the process as it made the calculation; the implication is that it would suffer a critical paradox. And thus the link from Russell's Paradox to Existential Mathematics is made via the Turing Test.

Does Moffat see the structure of time, that big ball of timey-wimey stuff, in similar fashion? Is it that same flexibility of perception that allows you to alter the past that you think you know, while the written record, like the "computer mind" with "absolute knowledge", is fixed and invariant? Is this, essentially, the central paradox of writing: the ability to know something is fiction and still true?

When they were first introduced in "Blink" the Angels were specific, living creatures that turned to stone when you looked at them. In "The Time of Angels" we heard that they were actually living ideas, idea-shaped holes in the continuum that we just perceived as statues – and in return, anything that we perceived as an Angel could become one. Now, they seem to have evolved again, into, it would seem, ideas that choose to occupy statues, any statue (and not just stone ones, as the enormous metal lady from Liberty Island attests). River certainly seems to say that the Angels have "occupied" every statue in 1938 New York.

And possibly the more powerful the idea – or the more "time energy" it has fed on – the larger the statue it is able to occupy, hence the "baby Angels" using smaller cherub bodies… and you need a really big Angel, who's had all the energy of the Winter Quay battery farm to feed on, to occupy Lady Liberty.

We're left with the same puzzles: do the statues actually move – as we saw them start to in "Flesh and Stone", and as the thunderous "Statue of Liberty sized Grandmother's footsteps" imply – or is it just the idea that moves, incredibly quickly, so that when we look again we perceive the statue in a different place. That is, not that the atoms and molecules of the statues actually translate from place to place, but that the way we perceive the arrangement of those atoms changes, the original statue ceasing to have any meaningful pattern, and a whole new statue being created from different atoms just by how we perceive their (usually much closer to us) arrangement.

This might also explain how they displace you in time: it's not the physical atoms of your body that get sent back, only your conscious mind. Your perception of yourself includes your body around you, so naturally you perceive the atoms at your arrival point as a you-shaped body. The "you-shaped arrangement of atoms" at this end ceases to have any perceptual meaning as a person, and that – if you like – is where the Angels get their conceptual dinner from.

Alternatively, adding information – i.e. you – to an earlier time zone is the same as adding entropy to the Universe: almost whatever you do will interact chaotically with your foreknowledge of events, making the Universe more random, which is the definition of entropy. The trade-off, so that the Universe remains consistent, is a sharp decrease in entropy of the Angel at the same time as an increase in entropy of everything else.

Or possibly it's all a load of nonsense.

The thing about entropy and the Second Law of Thermodynamics, as explored extensively in "Logopolis" and summarised as "things fall apart", is that most people react to it with denial or horror. The Master himself reacts this way – "Horrible! Horrible!" – on seeing the leader of the Logopolitans, the Monitor, reduced to a drifting ember by the entropy wave, and this from a man who shrinks people to death for a living. Underlying "The Angels Take Manhattan" is a clear horror of ageing.

Of course, there's always been something of that about the Angels, the fear of your life being snatched away by time: literally "Blink" and you miss it. From that point of view, they're the world's fastest ever zombies. But this time it's really hammered home, from Mr Grayle with his collection of old things to River's philosophy of her relationship:

"Never let him see the damage," she says, and she refers to the Doctor as an "ageless god who insists on wearing the face of a twelve-year-old".

It's not really strong enough to be a proper satire on our youth-obsessed culture, but it certainly looks like it's playing on Mr Moffat's personal demons.

But it's the institutionalisation of old age that is particularly Moffat's fear, as we see all the Angels' victims trapped into living out their days in an old folks' home from Hell.

A better writer than Steven Moffat – yes, I know about all the awards – is Charles Dickens, and we recently watched a modern-day take on his third novel, "Nicholas Nickleby". As Alex pointed out at the time, it's one of the best adaptations of Dickens we've seen because it got past the "look at the gorgeous frocks"-ness that so overwhelms such rightly-acclaimed recent Dickens as "Bleak House" and "Great Expectations" and gets down to the brass tacks of what Dickens was writing about: a sharply direct critique of the society he was living in.

Adapted by Joy Wilkinson, she recognises, like Moffat's own take on Conan Doyle, that Dickens was writing a contemporary drama, not a period piece.

So, "Nick Nickleby" based on "The Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby" is set in 2012 and addresses itself to a contemporary concern: old age care. "Dotheboys Hall" becomes "Dotheolds Care Home"; Nick's companion, the simple Smike, becomes traumatised old lady Mrs Smike; wicked uncle Ralph and the infamous Wackford Squeers profiteer from the mistreatment of the abandoned elderly rather than unwanted offspring; and so on. All very broad brush, I'm sure you'll agree, but actually the kind of sharp social satire that Doctor Who ought to do from time to time (whether in "The Green Death" or "Bad Wolf").

The point is that it's actually making a point; it's not just taking something that scares the Mister Moffster – being the child left out in the cold, the monsters under the bed, and now, getting old – and using it to add a frisson of feeling to the clever mechanics of the plot.

Well, to a certain value of "clever".

Over the many deaths of Rory Pond, I've been increasingly reminded of, ironically, his first time, during the encounter with the Dream Lord in "Amy's Choice" (a lot of that referenced in "The Angels take Manhattan" as well – Amy twice more not willing to live in a world where Rory is dead). Most pertinent is this particular exchange:

The Dream Lord: You die in the dream, you wake up in reality. Ask me what happens if you die in reality.

Rory Williams: What happens?

The Dream Lord: You die, stupid. That's why it's called "reality".

Tossing in post-modern references to the Rory's many returns from the dead ("When don't I?") doesn't actually excuse the fact that each time you do it you're basically writing "It's a dream, it's a dream, it was all a dream" all over your script like you're a five-year-old who's never been told what a crushingly banal cliché that is.

Why do they so-conveniently wake up back in 2012?

The Doctor says it would take "incredible power" to create a paradox enough to destroy this timeline and set them all free. Or, apparently, jumping off a building five minutes later.

(And it's not like the Angels couldn't save the Ponds from falling. They've got wings haven't they? Or that big Lady with the Torch could just catch them.)

Why not wake up Captain Jack-like on the sidewalk in front of Winter Quay. Still in 1938 (i.e. you can't get killed because it would be a paradox, but you don't escape from the Angels that easily. An outcome that could save Rory but leave Amy dead, actually, and then he surrenders to the Angels and lives out his life in Winter Quay as ordained.)

Ultimately we're left with Moffat as the boy who cried (Bad) Wolf, protesting "no, this time I really, really mean it!" after an episode full of even his own characters saying "yeah, I always come back from the dead". Why should we invest in this instance? What have you done to convince us that this time it's different?

We're supposed to believe that once it's "written in stone" it is impossible to save Rory. And yet the very next thing that Amy does is change what is literally written in stone.

How exactly is the Doctor prevented from ever seeing his friends again?

Yes, I get that something about 1938 makes it difficult to land the TARDIS in that time and place, and that the paradox used to defeat the Angels increases that to "impossible" but... what's to stop him landing in 1932 and just living the difference? Or in Boston in 1938 and just taking the train? He could, quite literally, get there before them and be waiting to rescue the Ponds with no time wasted (from their point of view).

But that isn't really the problem.

Actually, there is a question of whether they're in 1938 at all.

The evidence for just how far back you are sent is, obviously, just as contradictory, with both "Blink" and "Angels take Manhattan" supplying examples that they send you back by the exact amount of life you have left to live (Billy Shipton and P.I. Sam Garner are both seen to expire within minutes of the moment when their younger self is touched) or that a given Angel sends you back to a given point in time (Billy arrives in 1969, the same year as the Doctor and Martha were displaced to; everything points to Amy arriving in the same year as Rory).

So could Rory and Amy get sent back fifty years (based on Rory's age: 82 on his gravestone and 31 in "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship") not to 1938 but probably the early sixties? Well, in fact no, not if we take into account "P.S." which reveals that they adopted a son, Anthony, in 1946.

But let's be fair: the Doctor doesn't say that he can't get to when Amy and Rory are (whenever that is). What he says is that one more paradox will tear a whole in the fabric of time and drop New York right through it. It's not that he cannot get there, but that he must not.

Except, except, except... even this is just a different spin on "The Impossible Astronaut", a "fixed point" in time that depends on what we think we've seen, but like the conjuror's art, could be a case of misdirection, something the Doctor himself could do just by "popping back in time" and commissioning that headstone himself – a variation on his Tesselector "you only thought you saw me die" gambit.

It would not establish a paradox for the Doctor to find and collect Amy and Rory from the relative past. It would not change anything that he personally knew.

(Ironically, if the Doctor had met Anthony then there would be a paradox in rescuing Amy and Rory because it would contradict the implied history of bringing up their adopted son.)

Basically, you do not get points for cleverness for beating the rules of time travel if you made the rules up in the first place, you're changing them all the time and you won't tell us what they are anyway.

That's why "The Impossible Astronaut" feels like a cheat and this feels like a cop-out.

I have to confess, the prospect of reviewing "The Angels Take Manhattan" did not fill me with overwhelming joy.

It's beautifully filmed, contrasting the sunlit Central Park with the noir-toned nights in 1938 and the overcast graveyard in Queens where the Ponds final resting place catches up with them.

The film noir theme works very nicely. Alex, who loves a film noir, was particularly pleased to see an effective evocation of the era and the appearance of Forties films. He also praised the decision to use River as the hard-boiled gumshoe and not as the more obvious femme fatale. With the Angels present, the story had quite enough femmes fatale anyway.

And Mike McShane's Mr Grayle (film noir reference "Farewell My Lovely") is an interesting stooge, his relationship with the Angels slightly ambivalent – the opening sequence could be read as him feeding private detectives to the Angels' battery farm; and he knows enough about their M.O. to place River literally within one's grasp.

Matt Smith and Alex Kingston are as top-notch as ever. He gets to wear the "brainy specs" by stealing Amy's reading glasses. She gets to spell out what we've mostly already guessed this year: that he's erased himself from every database in creation (annulling her prison sentence into the bargain). In spite of this being "Professor" River Song, she's not as smug and unlikeable as she appeared back in "Silence in the Library", perhaps because she can now be more honest with us about who and what she is but I suspect largely because Alex Kingston has more control of the role now, and her relationship with Rory is rather sweet in the brief scene they get together when we first discover who Melody Malone really is.

Murray Gold does everything he can to yank on your heart-strings. It's too much really; I don't need the music to be forcing me to feel the emotion. I remember back in 2005, Christopher Eccleston could break your heart with a single glance and it was all the more moving because he did it in absolute silence. But some of the references to Amy's theme – and there are many – are quite poignant, for example the long moment as the Ponds fall, Amy's hair streams up around her and I wonder if it's not a visual and musical reference to the first scene of "The Beast Below" where she floats in space with her hair floating about her.

But it's so... predictable.

Apart from the whimsical introduction of the "cherub" Angels, and the monstrous error of the Statue of Liberty (I mean seriously? ) what does this actually add that "Blink" didn't already do? Grandmother's Footsteps with live (if Timey-Wimey) ammo, defeated by a paradox (this time a Grandfather Paradox rather than an Ontological Paradox, but they're both classics!). All it needed was the addition of a scene where the lost Ponds' offspring deliver a letter to the as-yet-unaware Brian... oh, wait... Here comes Mr Chibnall to prove he can run the photocopier over a Moffat script with as much aplomb as he can ape an RTD episode.

Why would the "Lonely Assassins" even want an army? Given that their Achilles Heel in "Blink" was what happened if they were caught looking at each other, is it entirely wise to have filled the statues of an entire city with Angels? In particular one really, really big one? Surely she paralyses half the Angels in the Big Apple whenever she decides to saunter over to Winter Quay. And with her staring at that roof, with her big snarly face, no other Angel can sneak up behind you, making that surely the safest place in New York!

It was a good send-off to give the Ponds, but it was way past time for them to have gone. One of them long-suffering and exasperated with all things Who, the other Scottish, spikey, smart and very occasionally incredibly selfish... but enough about Sue Virtue and Steven Moffat, Amy and Rory have been the longest-serving companions of the recent Who era, and yet it's still incredibly hard to say we really know them, what with their secrets and altered histories and all. And such a shame that, at the end, Moffat undoes all the good he did by keeping Mrs Pond a Pond, finally subsuming her to the identity of her "man".

Time for something fresh and, in the form of Jenna Louise Coleman, engaging and cheeky. And let the Ponds go to their Big Sleep at last.

Next Time... It's Christmas and what could be more Christmassy than Moffat the Grinch pinching another Christmas favourite. Never mind Aled Jones, the Doctor is walking in the air and Kim Newman's wintery "Time and Relative" is the next book to look suspiciously familiar when we face a not-so lick-the-mirror-gorgeous Richard E Grant and "The Snowmen".

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Day 4283: DOCTOR WHO: The Power of Twee

Saturday (flashback):

It's possible that I may have been unkind to Mr Chris Chibnall, back at the start of season two of "Torchwood", when I suggested in my review that Russell Davies had written "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" for him.

It becomes clear from "The Power of Three" that he can at least write a very good pastiche of RTD. All the tropes are here: the emphasis on character; the way they stand around and emote heavily at each other to tell us how very special they are; the kisses to the fans; the adoration of the Third Doctor/UNIT era; the failure to do the research; the hand-wavy non-resolution; the implicit xenophobia...

Let's start with the basics: if you want to call your story "the power of three" and especially if you want to finish with that as the valedictory line, then you really, really need a resolution that depends on a contribution from all three leads. Ideally, something unique to each of them, that proves how vital is the contribution each one makes, but failing that at least have each of them do something.

It is surely not beyond the wit of man to think of something. How about an invasion from the second dimension – moving shadows! – but which can be trapped when approached from three directions at once.

You would be better off calling this something like "Real Life (Interrupted)" or "How the Doctor Couldn't Sit Still" which at least would draw attention away from the largely-irrelevant invasion plot.

Because what we have here is just a bog standard invasion plot (and, judging by starship design and alien make-up, it's an invasion from the "Babylon 5" universe); it's the Master's "plastic daffodil stratagem" without the plastic daffodils. Or the Master.

Certainly, the cubes start off as intriguing. They spend a year carefully waiting, infiltrating human society, scanning us to identify our key vulnerability (which disappointingly does not turn out to be a weakness for the Apple company's product design), and then take advantage of that to suddenly wipe out a third of the human race.

(Handy, incidentally, that it's a third. So you can have the Doctor – who can survive it – get zapped and let his two companions be the "other two thirds". Though no one else who gets actual screen-time is among the casualties either. Brian, of course, has been conveniently kidnapped otherwise he'd have certainly been watching his cube and been killed by it. But we don't even get the horror of seeing someone we've "met" – the married lesbians, say, or Rory's friend from the hospital – collapse. Even without the absurd "nobody dies" miracle ending, this is shying away from the truth of the plot.)

Almost it would be better if there was no explanation. They do their thing and just as mysteriously vanish.

Sometimes, awful things just happen.

Thematically, that would go quite nicely with Brian's conversation with the Doctor about what happens to former companions, and would neatly foreshadow the events of next week, while at the same time being an almost literal "you could be hit by a bus tiny black cube tomorrow; you might as well get out there adventuring".

And, hey, after the events of "Miracle Day" maybe the cubes were just reversing Earth's massive overpopulation problem. Whadda ya mean 'how could Chris Chibnall be expected to follow plot developments in "Torchwood"?'. Oh...

Instead, we veer off sharply into a string of the most dreadful Who clichés: the ancient and terrible foe, known in the legends and bedtime stories of Gallifrey, who we hear of for the first and probably last time when the Doctor pulls an "oh, I know all about you" out of his fez; and their motive to unravel human history, to prevent humanity colonising space… we make the universe messy.

And they would have been unstoppable too so long as no one from Earth could make it onto the command ship and have the entire plot explained to them and then be left alone with the "off" switch... oh. These aliens are so dumb they don't even deserve to have nearly gotten away with it except for those meddling kids.

(Actually, I'm now regretting making that throw-away remark about "correcting" the events of "Torchwood", because the next biggest Dr Who cliché is of course the ancient and terrible thing from Gallifrey left behind by the Time Lords, because the Shakri are just begging to be renamed the Mother's Little Helpers of Rassilon.)

Given the brief "life with the Doctor from the Ponds' point of view"; given that this is the last adventure before their last adventure, couldn't we have had something more about what makes the Ponds so special to him, rather all the dialogue just saying they're "oh so special to him!"

Rory in particular is back to being badly served (a shame as one of the few good aspects of the dire Silurian two-parter from 2010 was that Chibnall handled Rory quite well).

Rory is exactly the guy you want to be stood next to when your heart gets stopped, because he can fix you... but he's been sent off to another part of the plot. (One which, for all its intriguing cube-mouthed orderlies, will just peter out and vanish).

But still – by an unbelievably massive coincidence – he's also the guy in exactly the right place to tell the Doctor where the portal to the alien ship can be found and... instead gets removed from that plot too and the Doctor just finds the portal anyway (and indeed rescues the now-unconscious Rory with a wave of his illicit smelling salts).

Amy doesn't fare much better, being all doe-eyed and "you're so wonderful, Doctor" a lot of the time – yes, yes, "I'm running towards you before you fade from me" is a lovely scene, and Matt acts it beautifully, but still – and of course she kills the Doctor stone dead with a defibrillator. Oh no wait, it's a magic defibrillator that doesn't work like any other defibrillator on Earth and can restart a heart that's stopped while not stopping one that's working properly. How clever is that!

(Seriously, folks: the clue is in the name – a de-fibrillator is used to normalise the pulse of a heart that is in fibrillation i.e. firing irregularly. If your heart has stopped you need CPR and pretty damn quickly too. It's quite bad that Amy doesn't know this, but when Nurse Rory suggest "mass defibrillation" as a response to all those people who've been cardiac arrested by the cubes... well, you wonder just how much professional training he's skipped while having larks in time and space.)

The fan-pleasing moments (Zygons under the Savoy aside) are, of course, the return of Mark Williams as Rory's dad Brian and the (re-)introduction of Kate Lethbridge-Stewart in the appropriate setting of UNIT's secret base under the Tower of London.

Or possibly an impressively-badly-done green screen of the Tower of London.

Kate is a lovely character. Not quite consistent with her single-mum appearance in the BBV story "Downtime" (aka the The Worldwide Web of Fear), but as a scientist leading the military, certainly a step on the way from the Brig's "action by havoc" UNIT to the "zen military" that the New Adventures repeatedly imply they evolve into. Played perfectly by Jemma Redgrave with a dry sense of humour that really did seem like she might have inherited it from the late, much-loved Nick Courtney, it would be nice if she was intended as a recurring character. If there's any truth in the rumour that Chibbers is being groomed as the next show runner (or at least is one of the possible candidates, along with Toby Whithouse and Mark Gatiss), then Kate may be "his River Snog".

But even if it's not Mr Chibnall setting out to create a recurring character (or Mr Moffat, for that matter – he too has form) I would like to see more of Kate Stewart and her UNIT bloodhounds. And her Ravens of Death.

It's sad that we're almost certainly not going to see Mr Brian "Pond" Williams again, as in just two appearances he's made himself the Wilf de nos jours. Grounded and dependable, occasionally the butt of the joke, but clear-sighted enough to cut through the Doctor's blether and speak it how it is.

I also rather like that he seemed to be able to stay awake for forty-eight hours solid watching the cubes while in the TARDIS. A property of the timelessness inside the time ship, or just "dad power"?

Brian, of course, is the one who first puts his finger on what's going on when he asks the Doctor about how companions leave.

That's the underlying sadness to this episode (which again is totally opposed to the "everybody lives" cop out of the conclusion). This is clearly playing out as a tragedy.

There's a wistfulness on the part of the Doctor: you can see that somehow he knows that this is his last time with the Ponds. He's already confessed to Amy in front of that green screen that he can tell they'll soon be going their separate ways. And from the moment of his conversation with Brian which is immediately followed by asking if he can stay with Amy and Rory, he does not want to leave them alone because – it seems – he is certain that the next time they part it will be forever. That's why he tries to wish them a hearty farewell at the end and, ironically, it's Brian himself who then urges them into the TARDIS for the fateful trip to New York that is coming.

Some people have taken this apparent foreknowledge to suggest that these first five episodes of season thirty-three are in the "wrong" chronological order, that, for example, the Doctor in "Asylum of the Daleks" is actually from after the events of "The Angels Take Manhattan".

I think that there is a possible case for the suggestion that "A Town Called Mercy" takes place within the seven weeks away during Amy and Rory's wedding anniversary party. (One episode inside another – how very "The Time Monster"!) A throwaway reference to King Henry VIII – Rory leaving his phone charger in the Tudor monarch's bed-chamber – takes on a different resonance when we see our heroes hiding in said chamber. Sloppy script editing or a sly tie-in? I prefer to give the benefit of the doubt in this case and accept that these are the same incident seen from two angles.

The case for "Asylum" being out of order is weaker. That the Daleks might kidnap Amy and Rory from earlier in their time stream is not impossible, collecting the 21st Century versions rather than the strictly contemporaneous back-to-the-20th Century Ponds, and thus "filling in" a gap in their lives that the Doctor had skipped over, namely Amy and Rory's temporary divorce – though I still cannot see how that fits with their characterisation in any other episode.

But otherwise... no, I think that these stories have to take place pretty much in broadcast order. Brian meets the Doctor for the first time in "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship" and the Doctor meets Brian for the first time in "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship"; it's not a tricky timey-wimey thing. They know each other in "The Power of Three" so those episodes must be in the right order. And, although it's not explicit, it would diminish the tragedy of Amy and Rory leaving on their final trip after Brian give them his blessing for them to pop back several more times. There's not really any coming back from "The Angels Take Manhattan".

So I think that the Doctor's behaviour is more a matter of being old enough and wise enough to see the cards on the table, perhaps with a dash of Eighth-Doctor prescience thrown in.

On the subject of relative time though, there is Amy's unexpected reference to having spent ten years of her (and Rory's) life with the Doctor on and off. Which seems like an awful lot of unseen adventures. Certainly the Moffat-era creators are far more willing to embrace the idea of lots of life being lived off-screen than almost any earlier era. The Troughton stories, for example, on occasion seem to take place all on the same afternoon, such is the tightness of continuity between episodes; while the UNIT era definitely appears to take place in "real time", despite disagreements about how far into the future said time is taking place.

It's possible that this explains Rory's "I'm thirty-one" remark in "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship", although not Brian's lack of incredulity, if Amy and Rory have been "doubling up" their time by having the Doctor return them to Earth "later that same day".

(And isn't that at least bending the Laws of Time? Oh well, there's no one left to spank him now. Except his wife!)

So what we have here is a mash-up between a series of character vignettes without a plot and a crude cartoon of old-style Doctor Who each getting in the way of the other.

(Was it just me, by the way, who thought that "Pond Life" was made from off-cuts from this episode? The fact that the first four "minisodes" are a minute each and that this under-runs by about four minutes? But it's not like "The Power of Three" needed more Ood-on-the-loo related fun, so why was Chibnall writing this instead of a much-needed explanation of what happed to the cube-faced porters or why they were kidnapping patients from Rory's hospital? And, whatever the reason for kidnapping them, the victims are definitely left behind to get exploded along with the Centauri cruiser Shakri spaceship. Which is a bit harsh.)

The character scenes are trying to tell us about death or separation being forever and that's directly contradicted by the Moffat-lite "everybody lives" invasion story. And lovely as Kate Stewart is – and she is lovely – she's still a bit of sleight of hand by a writer tossing some continuity red meat to the wolves of fandom to cover his lack of coherence.

Finally, if this was the power of three, why make such a fuss about the significance of seven? Seven minute countdown, seven portals, seven Shakri ships (which we never see). And why, like so much in this episode, does it not go anywhere?

It's not awful, but it is a mess. A sign of a writer, and a series perhaps, in transition, not yet either one thing or another.

Next Time... Angels 3... Doctor nil. Yes, it's time to "Blink" one last time, as River narrates her own flashbacks and the Ponds finally get permanently killed by living happily ever after to death. Prepare to be clubbed over the head with the meta-textuality of "The Angels Take Manhattan". Also, the Statue of Liberty... give me strength!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Day 4338: Don't Dumb Down Our BOTYs!


This week there's a call from Daddy Alex (supported by Auntie Jennie, following Lord Bonkers) for REVITALISATION of the Liberal Dcemocrat Blogger of the Year Awards.

And rightly so. In 2010, when my obvious awesomeness was (finally!) recognised, it was a HUGE deal. This year's ceremony, for the just-as-deserving Mr Mark Reckons, didn't feel as SPECIAL. And that's a SHAME.

But today Mr Paul Burblings, who's usually very wise, falls into the TRAP of ANTI-INTELLECTUAL SNEERING about "long blog posts", implying we should drop the BLOG of the year for the TWEET of the year.

Which would be GHASTLY!

For the better part of five thousand years, Rhetoric, the ability properly to couch an argument, whether in speech or essay, has been one of the seven Liberal Arts and a bedrock of what we laughingly call Western Civilisation.

And while the likes of Mr Dame Stephen Fry may (from time to time) Tweet a bon mot with the erudition of a latter day St Oscar that doesn’t stop most of Twitter being an exchange of rather dull, partisan rants.

I'm on Twitter myself (@millenniumdome) but increasingly I don't like what it does to my arguments. It seems to me that 140 characters is ideally calculated to reduce them to the meanest and often stupidest. The immediacy, the brevity, the peer pressure to big up "your side" or, more often, bait the "other side", all combine to incite the sort of Tweets that lead to flame wars. The advantage of a "long blog post" is that it makes me THINK about what I'm writing and consider the OTHER viewpoint(s), not just fire off for instant gratification. And what the fluff is WRONG with allowing a bit of NUANCE anyway? Or even some circumlocution?

Twitter is a conversation in a crowded room with everyone shouting at once, some of whom are friendly, some hostile, some utterly indifferent and no one is really, entirely LISTENING to each other. It’s not as shared an experience as blogging, where a post is out there on the aggregator for anyone to see. The great thing about “Lib Dem Blogs” is the sense of community that it creates and fosters. We all feel we’re on the same team, sharing viewpoints. Twitter never gives me that same sense of togetherness.

As for a “tweet of the year” – at least with a “blog post of the year” there’s a chance of it being memorable/having hit the golden dozen/at least you can look back over the aggregator archive. But if you *want* to produce a “tweet of the week” post every week for 52 weeks then maybe people will have something to base their choices on, otherwise you’re asking people to review an unspeakable number of tweets. Most of which will be dribble.

There's nothing wrong with praising a well put, pithy Tweet. There's no reason not to praise short, gossip or "look at this" style blog posts. If that's what you're good at then more power to your fluffy elbow. But there are NO EXCUSES for dissing the long essay. Writing a long essay is HARD WORK, and people who have put time and HEART into writing – even IF they're only read by eight other people ever – deserve respect and encouragement, not contempt.

Usain Bolt can run a hundred metres in nine-and-a-half seconds. But you wouldn't tell Mo Farrah that his 10,000 metres is "too long and boring", would you? And Jessica Innes would be well within her rights to stick you with a javelin if you criticised her for doing seven events over two days when she should be getting it all over quicker by doing just one.

We complain about SHORT-TERMISM and FALLING ATTENTION SPANS. We are DEEPLY AGGRIEVED when people make SIMPLISTIC black and white judgements – like "the Lib Dems just jumped into bed with the Tories cos they wanted bums in ministerial limos". We have EVERY RIGHT to be BADWORDED off when the BBC reduces political arguments to "left v right" or "rebels v loyalists". So why put up with a trend that says "I can't be bothered to read more than two sentences".


One of Americaland's greatest presidents, President Bartlet, once said it like this:
"There it is. That's the ten word answer my staff's been looking for for two weeks. There it is. Ten-word answers can kill you in political campaigns. They're the tip of the sword. Here's my question: What are the next ten words of your answer? Your taxes are too high? So are mine. Give me the next ten words. How are we going to do it? Give me ten after that, I'll drop out of the race right now. Every once in a while... every once in a while, there's a day with an absolute right and an absolute wrong, but those days almost always include body counts. Other than that, there aren't very many unnuanced moments in leading a country that's way too big for ten words."

If you're going to approach the Internet with an attitude of "tl:dr" then it's YOU who has a SERIOUS problem, not me.

A "blog" is a diary, is a journal, is a body of work that builds up over time and develops coherent and self-supporting philosophy. You CAN read it one post at a time. Or you can read it in long stretches. You can read it as a single essay that catches your eye, or as chapters in a developing narrative.

As Liberal Democrats we EXPECT MORE of people than just a grunted "didn't like it". We NEED more too. Unlike the Red or Blue Labservatives, we pride ourselves on our grasp of HISTORY and PHILOSOPHY and IDEAS and INNOVATION, not our TRIBAL DOGMA. We NEED "long blog posts" because we need to be always renewing our intellectual STRENGTH IN DEPTH. We, far more than the knee-jerk Conservatories or Her Majesty's Loyal Opportunists in Hard Labour, we need to know what the next ten words are. And the next ten. And the ten after that.

Perhaps we expect too much, but if we have it in our power to encourage the "better angels" of human nature then that is what we should do.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Day 4329: Hope. Again.


If you're NOT exhausted by voting yet, you've still got an HOUR to vote in the Liberal Democrats Federal Elections: a last chance to give a first preference to Richard Flowers for the FPC!

Can we also say HUGE thank yous to everyone who has voted already, especially to those who gave a "Richard Flowers" first preference!

Meanwhile, thank Americaland and thank goodness, President Barry O has been re-elected.

We may not be too happy about him EXPLODING bits of Pakistan and Afghanistan with robot drones BUT... robot drones IS an accurate description of his opponent making a speech.

Running on a platform of "we NUKED the economy SO HARD that the other guy hasn't been able to fix it in four years... so give us another go!" never deserved to be rewarded with the Presidency (take note Hard Labour). And yet it seemed to be gaining BIZARRE traction. Ironically, it's all the FRUIT-BAT CULTURE WARS nonsense that he had to spout about abortion and gay daddies just so that the Tea Party faction would let him on the ticket that has cost him the election.

And it's NICE that he's united the young and the old, the women and the ethnic minorities all under one banner of "DEAR LORD, NOOOOOOOO!" Maybe next time get them on HIS side, though.

The Replutocrats tried to steel the Dumbocrats "change" clothing, but what we've seen is a vote to let Barry O FINISH THE JOB of change that only began in 2008.

So it's CONGRATULATIONS to Barry O who now returns to the White House and COMMISERATIONS to the Mitt-bot 5000 who will now be put back in his factory packaging and have his hard drive formatted.

And over in China...

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Day 4323: Now it's the Conservatories' Turn to be Burned by Labour's Hypocrisy


Apparently Mr Milipede Senior... I want to say Milipede Prime, but that makes him sound like a TRANSFORMER (robot in disguise)...

...though I guess, wot with him being a DECEPTICON, he ought to be called MEGAPEDE...

...which, I suppose, would make the other one GALVAPEDE (the even-more-evil model sent back from the future to replace him)...

...I'm drifting...

...Apparently Mr DAVID Milipede was appearing on Questionable Time* in his role as his own representative on Earth (no one else will do the job) and described Hard Labour's SHAMEFUL SHACKING UP with the Tories' Europhobic Wingnut brigade as a "repositioning".

(*with one of the Dimbledonkeys. It's too early to tell which.)

This is, of course, the RANKEST hypocrisy. It was Hard Labour who agreed that the EU budget should rise to its current level in the first place.

But more than that, Hard Labour's policy on the economy is – Mr Bully Balls has bellowed it often enough – to SPEND more NOW to invest for jobs and growth for the FUTURE. Plus, they oppose every cut – even the ones they'd have done themselves... in fact, ESPECIALLY the ones they'd have done themselves – because they "hurt the least well off".

So why does that not apply to Europe as a whole? What happened to "workers of the world unite"? Don't Hard Labour BELIEVE in their own economic strategy? (Clue: no.)

Wouldn't it actually make SENSE for the EU budget to INCREASE (a bit) so as to provide some RELIEF to hard pressed citizens at a time when their own NATIONAL budgets are having to CONTRACT under AUSTERITY?

In fact, although you wouldn't know it from ANY of the commentary, most countries in Europe (24 out of 27 Union members) are INCREASING their own national spending budgets. Including GREAT BRITAIN.

At a hundred and forty billion euros, (equivalent to about a hundred and ten billion quid), the EU budget is about ONE SEVENTH that of Great Britain. Or about 1.05% of Europe's GDP – compared with Britain's spending escalating north of 40% of OUR domestic product.

Is the EU budget all spent WISELY? No, of course not. But 94% of it IS injected back into the European economy. Which is the kind of STIMULUS all Parties keep saying that they want.

And in a week when the Conservatory Defence Secretary Mr Hammond-Organ is splashing three-hundred-and-fifty million pounds on what as far as we can tell are ENTIRELY DECORATIVE nuclear willies missiles – not to mention the FO tossing off ten grand to re-stuff Mr Vague's SNAKE (I'm not going to ask how long Mr Vague has been wanting to say get stuffed to Matthew d'Anaconda) – it's a little bit (pardon my pun) RICH for the Right Wing (let's INCLUDE Labour in that now, shall we) to be telling someone else to CUT SPENDING.

What's more, since the Germans ACTUALLY pay for most of the EU budget anyway, isn't this in fact a way to achieve the MUCH-DESIRED "reverse fiscal transfer" (giving some money back-ness) where the better-off Germans help out their poorer neighbours in return for the favourable exchange rate that is powering their economic success?

Actually the contributions to the EU budget from Germany, France and Italy are all MORE than those from Great Britain. So you can understand why our constant WHINGEING is beginning to BADWORD them off. Plus we already HAVE a negotiating position agreed with them to keep to a real terms FREEZE. Reneging on that now is only going to BADWORD them off MORE!

What does Hard Labour really GAIN by joining forces with the like of Mr Bill Strapped-for-Cash, Mr Peter Bone-headed, Mr Mark "Utterly" Reckless, Ms Anodyne Dorries and all the rest of the chorus of discontent?

"Humiliation" for Mr Balloon, apparently. Humiliation? Really? Do you think ANYONE will remember another little embarrassment after the Omnishambles Budget and the Pleb-Plod-Gate-gate scandal?

They point to "divisions in the Coalition". Well durr! We're LIBERALS and the Conservatories are.... less so. Of course the Coalition is divided: WE are divided from THEM – but the Liberal Democrats AS A PARTY have been remarkably UNITED under enormous pressure; the Party that's SPLIT is of course the Conservatory Party; it's Mr Balloon who has lost all control over his militant tendency.

Personally, I think Labour LOSES MORE, by showing – once again – that they've got NO PRINCIPLES at all.

Apparently it's "hateful and outrageous" to vote with the Conservatories... but they end up following their Whips' orders anyway just to score a cheap point. And they have the chutzpah to call US "spineless".

Oh Labour, whatever happened to you? Remember the days when Lord Blairimort bestrode the World like a COLOSSUS? Okay, an evil warmongering, fascist colossus, complicit in murder and torture and intent on tearing up Britain's traditions of liberty and fair play, but... Actually, seriously, the FIRST DUTY of ANY Liberal in 2010 was to bring down that slathering zombie monster that Labour had become. EVEN if it meant supporting the lesser of two evils. But at least they were an enemy WORTH opposing.

I suppose we shouldn't EXPECT any better from Her Majesty's Loyal Opportunists. They were just the same under the so-called Saint John of Smith when they voted against the Maastricht Treaty (which they supported) just to tweak the nose of Mr Major Minor. (Like it made ANY difference to his IMPLODING ADMINISTRATION, but it showed us the way Labour would go in Power.)

But it's this "repositioning" that WORRIES me. When you add it together with Hard Labour's border-line RACIST policy towards immigration, it's in danger of sending out a really NASTY message. Not content with engaging in a race to the bottom with the British Nasty Party for the working class vote, it seems that they want to "reposition" to take advantage of the UKIP tendency too. After all, Mr Farago is such a NICER class of bingot, donchaknow. (Yes, do please vomit.)

Captain Clegg warns of a CATASTROPHE if we wrap ourselves in the Union Flag. And we all know that CATS wrapped in FLAGS are EVIL!

Great Britain has spent most of the last twenty to thirty years standing on the side-lines of Europe shouting "NOT LIKE THAT", haranguing and hand-bagging when we should have been HELPING, helping to build a consensus.

There's every chance to build alliances with friends across the continent who want to build a better, less top down, more democratic Union. And that does NOT mean Lord Blairimort's plan for a MORE top down Presidency, that presumably sees HIM elevated to President (and thence presumably Supreme Chancellor and then EMPEROR...). No, funnily enough, the DARK SIDE does NOT cloud our vision as far as THAT plan goes.

A toxically xenophobic press (ironically mostly foreign-owned) with their own self-interested agenda, aided and abetted by a complacently parochial BBC who have utterly failed to inform OR educate – let alone entertain – anyone about the culture, politics or daily lives of our nearest neighbours, have COMPLETELY DECEIVED the British people into thinking of Europe as AT BEST an expensive irrelevance and possibly, in the more FEVERED imaginings, a malign PLOT against us.

(Because if you're going to take over the World, then surrendering any claim to territorial expansion, sharing your sovereignty for the greater good, contributing from your own treasury to support the less well-off and not building ANY secret rocket bases inside volcanos are DEFINITELY the first steps you would take. If ONLY Mr Blofeld had seen it that way!)

The idea that the rest of Europe looks to Britain with JEALOUSY – of what? Our tattered industrial heritage? Our democratic institutions riddled with privilege and self-interest? Our swift and efficient and not in any way biased in favour of the super-rich and powerful legal system? Or those protections of our civil liberties that keep government at the service of the people, the constitution that is famously not worth the paper is isn't written on? – Perfidious Albion, they think. Invited to join the Jeux Sans Frontières but forever spoiling the game by shuffling the chairs like wayward children.

Of COURSE the Conservatories want it all back the way it used to be; when a quarter of the globe was pink, every schoolboy (girls not allowed) could quote that BADWORD poem by Tennyson and EVERYONE ON EARTH HATED US. They're Conservatories; they're always looking backward to an imaginary golden childhood.

But we don't have to behave like children any more.

And what is Labour's excuse (this time)? The great NANNY, actually ENCOURAGING the children to throw a tantrum, colluding with racists and press barons and Tories. Oh my. All to encourage us to "hold on to nurse for fear of something worse".

Repositioning, Triangulation, Opportunism. It's all too easy to say whatever you think people want to hear when you don't believe in anything at all yourself. But it doesn't earn you any TRUST.

We're still two-and-a-half years away from a General Election, but Labour are further away than ever from being a Party we could trust with the government of Great Britain again.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Day 4317: JAMES BOND: Skyfall


Hooray! I have a new THEME SONG to sing along to!

"We've got Trifle...
"We've got crumble..."
"We've got pies full...
"To eat all...

Yes, it's celebration time. And not just my Daddies' anniversary. You didn't think I wouldn't get in to see the newest James Bond film, did you?

The thing is, before I can tell you all about it, there's a fairly MASSIVE SPOILER (no, not the one about Naomie Harris; the REALLY big one).

So what CAN I tell you?

M drives a Jaguar XF in British Racing Green. I mention this for no reason...

Yes, we have an ejector seat.

OK, spoilers-ho! You have been warned.

There's something very odd going on with time in Bond's continuity.

For a start, the familiar set up at the end of this film – M, Tanner, Moneypenny, the wood-panelled office – all feels as though this is bringing us back to the beginning, and the start of Dr No. Which makes Bond's timeline into a weird Möbius loop in which he goes on to have the adventures we've seen earlier, until ultimately the new M is replaced by a woman who sees Bond as a sexist, misogynist dinosaur.

But then there's the car. The DB5, the most famous car in the world. It would make sense for the Aston Martin that Craig's Bond uses to make his escape with M to be the one that he won from the short-tempered Dimitrios in "Casino Royale". But then it's got the ejector seat. For that matter it's got the machine guns! Are we supposed to understand that this is the car that Q (Desmond Llewellyn) gave to Bond back when he was Sean Connery? Does that mean that all of the adventures that happened to "earlier" Bonds have now happened to this Bond between "Casino Royale" and "Skyfall"? And, as an aside, if he's ditching the Jag because it's a company car... isn't the Aston Martin just as much of a company car? Or are we supposed to conclude that he's read the files from the Connery era and been... tinkering... with the car from "Casino Royale"? Well, as he says to this year's in-every-sense-fabulous villain Silva, everyone needs a hobby.

In fairness, it seems very odd that after "Casino Royale" was about Bond's origin story, his first mission, and the "Quantum of Solace" took place immediately afterwards, starting literally minutes after the point where "Casino Royale" finished, meaning that they both take place over a course of a few weeks at the start of Bond's double-oh career, then suddenly "Skyfall" is talking about him as a washed up, out of date, past-it old man.

Of course, in part, that's because this film is discussing Bond – and the Secret Service in a wider sense – as to whether they still have any relevance in a post-Empire, post-Cold War world. There's some irony there, in that Judi Dench's M came in in "Goldeneye" describing Bond as a relic of the Cold War and here she is now defending the service and the double-oh section on the grounds they are more needed than ever.

Does the world need an Empire to look after it? Does it need Britain? We certainly don't seem to have done that good a job. Just as Bond, old, tired, half-broken is a symbol of what we think we still are, Silva is emblematic of all the sordid little compromises we've made just to get along. Your sins will find you out, indeed.

"Fiat justitia ruat caelum"

"Let Justice be Done, though the Sky fall"

This is the dilemma presented at the conclusion of Moore and Gibbons' seminal "Watchmen": the World has been saved from nuclear armageddon by a grand deception, but that deception itself was a crime that cost millions of lives. Justice – personified by the vigilante Rorschach – demands that the perpetrator of that crime be exposed and punished, even though the inevitable consequence will be the unravelling of the fragile, new-formed peace and almost certainly the end of the World.

"Skyfall", the twenty-third James Bond film, starts from a similar choice. Not, admittedly, on the same scale, but coming from the same place. M commits an injustice, handing over one of her own agents to the Chinese, knowing he would go to torture and death, in return for six other agents and a peaceful hand-over of Hong Kong. One of those dirty little diplomatic compromises that see innocent people chewed up and spat out by the system in the name of the greater good.

M justifies this – to Bond, to herself – by picking an agent, Tiago Rodriguez, who was exceeding his brief, doing a little work for himself on the side. But recall her first scene, her very first scene back in "GoldenEye" with an older, more cynical Bond:

"If you think I haven't got the balls to send a man out to die, then you're dead wrong. But I won't do it on a whim."

With hindsight (or retcon) she's not talking about what she might do (to Bond) but what she has already done.

Rodriguez however survives to reinvent himself as cyber-terrorist Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), an alarmingly-what-have-you-done-to-your-hair-bleach-blond ambisexual with a topical penchant for revealing the innermost secrets of the Secret Service – in the memorable phrase of the Metro's reviewer "half Julian Assange, half Julian Clary".

Silva's pronounced accidie – not to mention sexual ambivalence – is a reflection of Bond's creator, Ian Fleming, and many of the characters he wrote, especially the villains, where sexual deviancy as much as ethnicity was linked to moral corruption, charming old bigot that he was. Bond's response – "what makes you think this is my first time?" – is a "fifty-seven academics just punched the air" moment, reflecting the oft-asserted suggestion that Bond himself may be an over-compensating closet homosexual (again, allegedly, like Fleming himself).

In the movies, Bond Villains tend to fall into one of two categories: the charismatic "masterminds" like Drax ("Moonraker"), Stromberg ("The Spy Who Loved Me"), Goldfinger (hazard a guess) or, of course, Blofeld (five out of the first seven movies); and the "anti-Bonds" such as "Red" Grant ("From Russia With Love"), Colonel Moon's alter-ego Gustav Graves (in "Die Another Day"), or Alex "Janus" Trevelyan from "GoldenEye".

Silva clearly falls into the latter category (though, actually, the "anti-Bonds" have become much more common in these days when we expect baddies to do their own physical brutality without the need for henchmen).

"Skyfall" hinges around the scene in the middle, literally and metaphorically at the heart of the film, where Bond is tied to a chair and introduced to Silva, his opposite, for the first time. Not so much a clash of personalities – or even a homoerotic seduction – as a presentation of two mutually-exclusive worldviews.

"Mommy was very bad," says Silva.

"She never lied to me," asserts Bond.

Did she lie, when she said Bond passed his MI6 assessments? Or did he lie to the assessments, faking his low scores in the knowledge that the Service had been penetrated by someone easily capable of discovering his results? Either that or Bond stages a truly remarkable recovery once back in the field, eliminating six of Silva's men in as many seconds before holding the man himself at gunpoint while the helicopter cavalry arrive.

Of course, she tells lies to him all the time. But that's not the point.

From the very beginning, the relationship between M and Bond, that is between this M and this Bond, has been characterised by deception. He has repeatedly shown the ability to penetrate her defences, to her flat, to her computer, to her real meaning behind the words she uses. His talent is either impossible or something in which she has connived. Similarly, she has repeatedly given him orders to do one thing while anticipating that he will do what she really wants instead. She gives him purpose. He gives her deniability.

What Bond is saying is that there is a deeper truth to his relationship with M, one they have not, possibly cannot have, acknowledged. M has never misused Bond. Not even when she gives the order – "take the bloody shot!" – that sees him knocked off a train and believed drowned. He's aggrieved that she didn't trust him to do the job on his own, but he also implicitly understands that "licence to kill" means "licence to be in the line of fire".

A brief digression: during the fight in the lair of the Komodo Dragons – yes, Komodo Dragons are this year's piranha fish – when Bond effects his escape by using one's back as a step, it occurred to me, "hey, isn't that the alligator scene from 'Live and Let Die'?" and I began to wonder if there aren't references to all the other Bond films, a game played as recently as "Die Another Day", the twentieth in the sequence.

It's quite possible that once you start looking for these things, then you end up reading them in whether they are there or not, so when Bond's response to Ben Wilshaw as the new Q is "You must be joking" (as Connery to Desmond Llewellyn in "Goldfinger") or you see the unlikely return of the signature gun from "Licence to Kill" you think you're onto something, but then you find yourself thinking is Sévérine armed with a Beretta as a reference to the gun M takes off Bond in "Dr No." and then you're reduced to bluffing "didn't Silva mention something about redirecting a satellite" as a nod to the central plot of "Tomorrow Never Dies".

In spite of that, Alex felt that there were particularly strong echoes of the Pierce Brosnan years.

And that's quite appropriate because those are also the Judi Dench years.

So, in particular, as a former SIS agent, literally burned by the Service, scarred and obsessed with (from their point of view) betrayal, Silva is an almost exact match for the villain of her first movie, Sean Bean's two-faced 006; while the personal history with M brings to mind Sophie Marceau's Electra in "The World is Not Enough".

The repeated theme of the post-1990 Bonds has of course been "what is the point of you any more"; "GoldenEye" very strongly playing the before/after the fall of communism card, while the New World Order, particularly the rise of China, is the backdrop of both "Tomorrow Never Dies" and "Die Another Day". While, again, "The World is Not Enough" uses a wounded shoulder as a repeated reference to Bond's aging and the damage that his life does to his body.

Though if we're speaking of thematic similarities, the other Bond film that comes to mind is "For Your Eyes Only", with "Skyfall" resonating thematically with the 1981 film's motifs of revenge and an older Bond.

"For Your Eyes Only" saw Roger Moore's Bond placing flowers on the grave of his wife Tracy, not only a part of that film's recognition that Bond was a man with "a past", but also the first time the series had made even an implied statement that Moore's Bond was the same man to whom the events of "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" had happened. (In contrast with "Live and Let Die" which had gone out of its way to suggest Moore's agent could be a different man, drinking whisky instead of martini, armed with a huge Smith and Wesson rather than the Walther and so on.) Similar intimations of mortality are shot through "Skyfall", starting from the foreshadowing of Bond's concern that a wounded fellow agent will bleed to death before medical help can arrive, through his bearded reappearance – like his own ghost – in M's house, and via the word in passing that M's husband (seen – ish – in "Casino Royale") has died, to the graves at the chapel on the Skyfall estate in Scotland.

That progression reminds me just how long this movie is. At 143 minutes it's technically a minute shorter than "Casino Royale". But it's a lot longer than the 108 minutes of "Quantum of Solace".

And while "Quantum of Solace" felt like little more than an extended pre-title sequence, "Skyfall" feels like at least three Bond films in one: the pre-titles that does the now-traditional Craig era free-running escapades but bigger and bolder (as with the trip to Venice in "Casino Royale", this chase round Istanbul seems to suggest that you can't go wrong when returning to the locations of "From Russia With Love"); the trip to Macau and Shanghai and then by junk to Silva's island, which is very much "The Man with the Golden Gun"; Silva's "he wanted us to catch him" plot, which is a mash up of "Silence of the Lambs", "Day of the Jackal" and, as almost everyone has spotted, the Joker's twisty-turny plot from "The Dark Knight"; and then the final "Home Alone" section. (Somehow I'd guessed from Adele's lyrics that "Skyfall" – like "Goldeneye" in the real world – would be the name of a house.)

The colour tones for each section are quite distinct too, the bright sunlight of Istanbul (before the fall); the super-saturated lighting, be it neons in Macau, fireworks in Shanghai or over-bright sun in the Island, all suggesting an unreal, exotic, other world; giving way to the greys of rain-soaked Britain. As night comes in in the last third it feels cold and oppressive in a way that it didn't in the Far East parts.

Pastiche of Nolan (Silva's island, like something devastated by a tsunami, is as reminiscent of "Inception" as the later plot twists are of "The Dark Knight") is clearly the new pastiche of Bourne. But about that plot-within-a-plot. The Joker, in "The Dark Knight" has an endgame beyond the exigencies of getting himself locked up so that he can get into the secure prison cells of the Gotham PD. That's all just one more step on the way to making himself top dog of Gotham's criminal underworld (and putting that underworld back in charge, the way it was before Batman).

Silva has no such overriding aim. His motives appear to begin and end with taking revenge – or, from his point of view, seeing justice done – by having M humiliated and killed. Which makes the whole business seem ridiculously overcomplicated. For goodness' sake, he's got a bomb planted set to derail a passing tube train just on the off-chance that someone manages to work out how he's got out of MI6, decrypt his computer map, work out where he's going and chase him through the tunnels and the tube to get there. That's serious planning in depth.

(And was I alone in being surprised – and a little disappointed – that that tube train wasn't as full of commuters as every other tube train and platform we'd seen up to that point?)

I kept expecting the other shoe to drop, for there to be a reveal of the "diabolical mastermind" behind the scenes, pulling Silva's strings.

In that scene on Silva's island again, the villain explicitly describes his cyber-terrorism as picking his own secret missions "for the highest bidder" which led me to expect him to be acting as an agent or a catspaw for someone else.

At this point you might rightly be thinking of a final-scene cameo from Jesper Christensen as "Mr White", although after the perceived critical failure of "Quantum of Solace", we're sadly unlikely to be seeing him or his SpECTRE-lite buddies again. Sadly, in my view, because SpECTRE would be the final part of re-creating the original "classic" Bond set up.

But the real "obvious suspect" was Ralph Fiennes (here playing Lord Voldemort in a very grumpy mood in spite of getting his nose back – actually, his character's name is Mallory, but I kept thinking of him as a Marlow. As in Kit.). His backstory places him in charge in Northern Ireland and even "Spooks" uses that as code for "a bit dodgy" whenever they want Harry to be a bit more shades of grey. Plus, he ends up with M's job – how is he not obviously the villain?

The fact that he saves M's life, and gets shot in the shoulder for his pains, seems like exactly the sort of "appears to be the hero" Xanatos Gambit you'd expect from a master manipulator.

In fact, Silva bursting into the inquiry, guns blazing, doesn't appear to serve any purpose other than giving Mr Fiennes his "I know an awful lot about intelligence and I can save you from terrorists" moment.

(And to show that, for all their supposed brilliance, when it comes down to it neither Silva nor Bond can shoot a moving target from three feet away.)

For the first half of the movie, the McGuffin – oddly forgotten in the second half – has been a list of all NATO agents embedded within terrorist cells (initially on the hard drive Bond and Eve struggle to recover in the pre-titles; later in possession of M's mysterious enemy whom Bond seeks to trace). Cheekily, this is clearly the "NOC list" plot device of the first "Mission: Impossible" film. But also, as M's debriefing with Lord Voldemort stresses, it's a list that the Secret Service shouldn't have ought to have had, and that our allies do not know we possessed.

This is the sin that will bring M down – something that the film doesn't properly emphasise – that she will be exposed for spying on our friends, an act of betrayal.

Silva's discovery that MI6 have acquired this list must precipitate the events of the film. His possession of the list is what gives him the leverage to precipitate the public inquiry.

But, given that he can and does blow up M's office whenever he likes, he doesn't need to do that just to "draw her out". If he just wants to kill her, he could have done that at any time. So he must want the inquiry to judge her and find her guilty.

So doesn't attacking M at the inquiry rather undermine his aim to see her humiliated and fired by that inquiry?

Rather he makes her point for her: that enemies can spring out of the shadows anywhere.

(Rather like the Doctor in "The Trial of a Time Lord", this is the sort of thing that usually ends up with the accused being cleared of all charges in spite of clear evidence of wrongdoings on the grounds that the baddies have proved them to be sort of right. About something or other.)

But what happens here? Cui bono?

After terrorist gunmen attack a Parliamentary inquiry and a disastrous attack on the London Underground (even if there isn't anyone but the driver on that tube), it would be astonishing not to see a huge increase in funds to our first and possibly only line of defence: the Secret Service. Just look at what happened post-September 11. Or Post-July 7. With M herself forced to retire by revelations – or even killed by the terrorists – surely it's all going to fall into the lap of her successor.

And indeed it does. It's just there's never that moment of revelation when he "does the evil voice".

(Actually, as Alex remarks, Fiennes spends most of the film in the nice three-piece suit he wore as Steed in the "The Avengers" movie. No, not the one that's taken more than a billion dollars at the box office. The other one. Along with M being taken for an "Emma"; the same psychiatrist, Nicholas Woodeson (playing Dr Darling/Dr Hall), along to do the evaluations; and the coda beginning with Bond on the roof of Whitehall in just about the place where Mother takes tea with Steed and Mrs Peel at the end of "The Avengers" it's kind of hard not to think of this as a takeover of one British spy franchise by another, rather more stylish, one. And "M" could stand for "Mother".)

Also, isn't Bond's ploy to lure Silva to Skyfall with "a trail of breadcrumbs that only Silva could follow" a bit redundant given that to the best of his knowledge only Silva is following them?

Of course the most surprisingly overlooked suspect is... Bond himself. With his own "death" as motive, and his previously established ability to walk in and out of M's secrets giving him means and opportunity, it's a shocking oversight that it isn't even mentioned that he might be the one doing this. Even if it was only for him to raise the issue and M say that she'd already thought of that.

It will take time, and a good many more viewings, before I can decide whether this, like "Casino Royale", is a truly great Bond movie. (Though I can tell at once that it's a huge improvement on "Quantum of Solace".) As with "Casino Royale", they've concentrated on telling an emotional story about Bond's relationships, and in Daniel Craig they have an actor well able to portray those emotions through minimalist quirks. They've also allowed him to have a little more fun with the character, and unlike Timothy Dalton in "The Living Daylights" (who you can see wince every time he has to deliver one) Craig clearly enjoys the occasional quip.

He also has a brilliant chemistry with his "Bond Girl", Judi Dench, who obviously steals the show and all of the expletives. She gets to write Bond's obituary, closer to the original book of "You Only Live Twice" than the Roald Dahl-penned movie (and doesn't this make it thrice if he's supposed to be the same Bond?). There's a case to be made that that big spoiler at the end here is as big a trauma for this Bond as the death of Tracy was for his earlier incarnation in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service".

Both of the other women – Naomie Harris and Bérénice Marlohe – get to play a mix of strong and vulnerable, and also sexy, without (I hope I'm right) being demeaned by this. I found myself, against expectations, warming to Ben Whishaw as Q – I'd not liked him in "The Hour", though I had in "Richard II" – with a larger part than I'd expected too. (Madam!) Though only a moron would connect a known cyber-terrorist's laptop to the SIS mainframe and not expect what happens to happen. Javier Bardem as Silva is terrifying and also hilarious, often both at once (though I bet people thought the same of Mr Wint and Mr Kidd in "Diamonds are Forever" at the time too).

This is Daniel Craig's third decent Bond film... assuming you count "Happy and Glorious". Apparently, rumour has it, he has signed up for another two Bond flicks, possibly a two-parter. In which case, on the strength of this, I am delighted to agree with "Skyfall's" closing caption: