...a blog by Richard Flowers

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Day 5347: DOCTOR WHO: Don’t Care Was Made to Care


As the new season of Doctor Woo approaches, I thought we might warm up by reviewing one that we missed last year.

Of course, this was on in the running up to the Wedding of the Century™ when daddies got very busy sorting out their big day. Which is NO EXCUSE. Still, it certainly didn’t help that this one’s a stinker!

There’s a school that enjoys “The Caretaker” as a fun romp that advances the character’s story arcs.

I don’t. I loathe this episode. It’s full of people being horrid to each other. And has a really rubbish monster.

This is the episode where we find out what Danny Pink is really like. And it turns out he’s a monster too. Controlling, manipulative, and keeping his emotions buried beneath secrecy, he’s already half way to becoming a Cyberman. Maybe it’s that affinity and not that he’s so so special and wuvs Clara so so much that’s going to let him retain control in the (spoilers) season finale.

He protests that Clara has kept secrets from him, when he’s not telling her about his own past, he’s buried his own name and is staying buttoned up about the child he killed. He is outraged that she has lied to him, right at the moment when he has lied to her so that he can sneak around the school to find out about the Doctor. He unjustly accuses the Doctor of being the man to send you into a burning building when running into a burning building is almost literally what he caught the Doctor doing. His uncontrollable need to demonstrate that he’s the man means putting down Clara’s bravery and saying she ought to have been scared (like a girly), undermining her and trying to force her to be dependent on him. Not something that the Doctor ever does. By the end, he is possessive, jealous and possibly psychotic when he makes Clara give him an unkeepable promise to run to him when the Doctor steps over the line. The first thing Clara needs to do is run to the Doctor to tell him Danny has stepped over the line.

Clara though is far from perfect here either. The opening montage showing her rushing from adrenaline fuelled adventure to date to adventure to date, eventually almost breaking down but telling herself she can have it all… she’s showing every sign of addiction, including lying to everyone including herself. Her worst moment comes when she betrays the Doctor’s trust (not for the last time, either, this season) by stealing the invisibility watch and, faster than you can say Ring of Gyges, gives it to Danny so he can abuse its power to snoop on the Doctor. She too has almost psychotic breaks: snapping at the Doctor about space boglins when he leans through her classroom window to correct her on Jane Austin’s dates; and again when she starts to free-associate the most ludicrous lie yet about the very obvious alien incursion being a surprise school play. It is cringe-making to see her embarrass herself like this. But worse, no one cares: the Doctor and Danny are both expecting her to make them feel better – which indeed she ends up doing – rather than trying to help her when she so clearly needs them to.

So it’s just about possible that the Doctor is actually being the least unpleasant and irrational person this week.

When he tries to lure the monster into the school – as he explains it himself, the largest empty building – he’s trying to do the responsible thing. Is he responsible for the danger being there in the first place? He does say that it’s all the artron energy – presumably from all those TARDIS landings – that has attracted the threat. But then arguably he’s trying to clear up after the mess he’s made. And what responsibility Clara, when it’s all for her benefit that he keeps coming back here again and again?

The monster-of-the-week in question (other than Danny) is the Skovox Blitzer rolly-toy: armed to the teeth; capable of destroying the planet; and, as usual, unable to hit the broadside of a barn.

Why wasn’t it a Dalek? Functionally it’s a Dalek. It’s got the same shape in the plot as a Dalek… in fact come to think of it it’s got roughly the same shape as a Dalek in the physical sense too. And it’s not like they haven’t been actually in Coal Hill School before. (That would be the last time the Doctor was offered the position of school caretaker. Though he was a bit overqualified for the position.) It could even have been a white-and-gold Imperial one left over from “Asylum of the Daleks” the Shoreditch Incident in 1963 (“Remembrance of the Daleks”).

And the Doctor could have pointed at a Dalek and said: “That is a soldier. That is the ultimate in soldiers. And they made me be a soldier. And on Christmas they made me be a soldier all over again. For a thousand years. And then I died. So that, Clara, THAT is why I hate soldiers.”

Because seriously sometimes you really do need to make the subtext the text.

And of course, Danny beats the Blitzer monster with… P.E. That ludicrous look-at-me spring jump. Given the way it talks – all sub-Mechonoid numbers mixed with language – would it have been totally beyond the wit of man for the writer (TV’s Gareth Roberts and Steven Moffat) to have him distract it with maths? (And of course you could not have done that to a Dalek!)

It’s not that the episode is without merit, or moments. That opening montage, if it weren’t so emotionally troubling. Capaldi’s wicked glee when schoolgirl Courtney says she’s a disruptive influence and he shakes her by the hand. And his “I may have a vacancy” line. And that she does get to travel in the TARDIS. Chris Addison as the unctuous afterlife receptionist Seb, and our little glimpse of Missy this week. Oh my god… she’s a bit busy.

Incidentally we get confirmation in passing that Missy’s heaven is the Promised Land mentioned in “Deep Breath” and “Robots of Sherwood”, even though the robots who’ve been trying to get there don’t really seem to fit with that once we find out that it’s a… but I’m telling you the plot.

And there’s an intriguing moment when the Doctor reveals that he thinks that he and Clara look the same age. And given that Clara is wound all around the Doctor’s timeline, then from the Gallifreyan point of view, it’s not impossible that that is exactly what they do look like to him.

But these are like glimpses into another – better – story, possibly some kind of black comedy assembled from these parts but… funny.

There are a lot of times where – and I may be totally misreading it here, in part because one of the writers is Gareth Roberts who is famously witty and the other is award-winning comedy writer Steven Moffat, – we appear to be being invited to laugh at these people, as though emotional distress is supposed to be funny. Chunks of this have the shape of a farce – Clara running down corridors; the mistaken identity of Clara’s boyfriend; the whole “hilarious” parents evening and the monster must never meet. And then they do the thing that farce cannot do and “drop the plates”, have the thing that mustn’t happen happen, i.e. have Danny actually collide with Clara’s other real life. And instead of hilarity ensuing, we just get spikes of raw pain.

Back in Moffat’s first season we had a roughly parallel arc for Amy and Rory. Amy ran away with the Doctor for “secret” adventures behind Rory’s back, but also kept secret from the Doctor that she had a boyfriend (whom she loved); halfway through the season we had a turning point – “Vampires of Venice” – where the Doctor and Rory collided, and Rory got to tell the Doctor a few home truths. And then Rory evolved. Okay, maybe he got killed a couple of times too many along the way. But he became a person who held his own in the TARDIS crew, and supported Amy’s choices and was worthy of her.

“The Caretaker” is no such turning point. Danny rejects all the choices that Rory takes, rejects all the wonders that are on offer in the Doctor’s magic box, and never grows into a better person.

Of course Danny is free to reject those things. That’s his choice. That doesn’t make him a bad person.

But what makes for poor storytelling, why this is poor in comparison with season five, is that “Doctor Who” – always seen as transformative – has no such effect on Danny.

(What does make Danny a bad person is that his tries to reject those choices for Clara and the Doctor too. He knows best. So he needs to control the Doctor by labelling him “an officer”, putting him into a box. He needs to control Clara by putting her into a “relationship” where only she needs make promises to him and he need make none to her (because he’s the boss). That’s why Danny’s a monster: because he will do anything to control other people. That’s what has always defined the villain in Doctor Who.)

At the time of broadcast, we didn’t know that that was the way the series would go; we could have hoped that this was a – deliberate – low point and that the characters’ behaviour here would be seen to be mistakes from which they learned and put things right. Instead, everyone will carry on making the same mistakes and worse lying and covering up so as to stop others seeing they are making the same mistakes.

People do behave like that in the real world. But they are not healthy and happy people. And “Doctor Who” has a responsibility to say to the audience: treating other people like this is not good.

Nobody wins today. When this happens in “classic” Doctor Who – in “Warriors of the Deep”, say – the Doctor sees that it is a disaster and at least has the grace to decry the carnage with a “There should have been another way”.

“Warriors of the Deep” is better than this.

Next Time… Do not get your hopes up for ALL the missing episodes… last time I said I’d try that the diary entries fell off a cliff again. But IF we manage it, next time we discover the ultimate Kinder Surprise and face the ultimate moral dilemma… without the Doctor. Another episode that divides fan opinion. Which way will I vote? And will Clara choose to “Kill the Moon”?

Monday, August 10, 2015

Day 5335 (again): A Song for Jeremy aka Labour’s White Flag


My Lords, Labours and Gentlebeans, please be upstanding for THE SONG:

The People's BEARD is sort of WHITE,

And gives the PARTY such a FRIGHT;

It looks like AUTHENTICITY,

But it's economic FANTASY!

      So raise the BEARD and SANDAL here,
      With policies of YESTERYEAR;
      And CRASH the economy AGAIN!

We'll tax the WEALTHY for their GREED,

And PRINT the money that we NEED;



      So raise the BEARD and SANDAL here,
      To Facebook LIKE and Twitter CHEER;
      Will DROWN out anybody's MOANS!

But if you choose to DISAGREE,

We'll throw abuse and shout "TORY!"

We sneer at TRAITORS in our RANKS,

And make the BLAIRITES walk the PLANK!

      So raise the BEARD and SANDAL here;
      The GREAT and GOOD all quake with FEAR;

When 2020 comes round at last,

You'll find us focused on the PAST;

We'll Ban the Bomb and Stop the War,

And vote to reinstate CLAUSE FOUR! (Or not!)

      So raise the BEARD and SANDAL here,
      Election chances DISAPPEAR;
      Emblazoned with our silver FUZZ,
      Though NO ONE wants to VOTE for US!

Day 5335: The Corbynite Manoeuvre


For those of you who don't speak "geek" (are there really such people reading my diary?!) "The Corbomite Maneuver" is that episode of "Star Trek" where Captain Kirk threatens to blow himself and his ship to bits rather than admit that he can't win.

Of course, it's really a BLUFF, as the miracle element Corbynite does not truly exist…

(It ISN'T one of the ones where they travel back in time to the Nineteen Eighties… but it COULD be.)

On the other fluffy foot, the enemy captain, the balloon-headed Balok, turns out to be an empty sock puppet too. It's all WEIRDLY TOPICAL!

A load of Balok

Hard Labour appear to have discovered a completely new corner to paint themselves into.

Mr Jeremy Corbyn, previously self-effacing standard bearer of the left, presently discovering – like all potential revolutionaries – that he really, really wants to be able to order people about is leading the polls to be the next Labour Loser.

EITHER, he will win and command the support of less than a tenth of his Parliamentary Party (as even fifteen of the people who nominated him have since recanted; bet Labour are SO pleased to have put SO much effort into replacing Lynne Featherstone with a Corbyn-nominating useful idiot)…

OR he will come substantially first in the first round of voting and only be beaten by a centrist/Blairite/neoliberal fascist running-dog (choose your insult of preference) candidate, potentially Yvette "the snooper" Cooper having come from THIRD and overtaken Andy Crash-and-Burnham with transfers from Liz Kendall Mint Cake and then overtaking Corbyn with transfers from Burnham.

This, it has to be said, at the very least would make Mr Milipede's last minute crown-snatching from his brother look FAIR and LEGITIMATE.

(Which, Daddy Alex points out, is clearly why Yvette and Andy are trying so hard to persuade Liz that she should bail out; they will have a better PERCENTAGE in the first round if she's just not there, which will look better when – they calculate – they win on transfers.

Plus they probably reckon they've a better chance of picking up support from people who would have put Liz Kendal "1" – Liz and her campaign manager, by current polling – if voting for Liz isn't an option. If you've got a vote you are more likely to use it, and so pick either Yvette or Andy; if Liz is on the poll, then you might just stop voting after giving your first preference to her.)

The rise of Mr Corbyn has been compared (whether it is fair or not) to the current pole position in the polls for Dame Donald of Trump in the Replutocratic Primaries in Americaland. Just as the Prima Donald is a throwback to the land before treating people with respect, so Uncle Jezza, the new Santa Clause Four, is a throwback to the land before treating people's choices and aspirations with respect.

The intellectual comparison is, of course, laughable. But they ARE both, in their ways, a SYMPTOM of our troubled politics and economic hardship, with the people to whom they appeal reaching out for a comfort blanket of NOSTALGIA, for the certainty and ideological purity even that a SUPERFICIAL view of the past suggests existed there and no longer does.

It is what you might call the CATHOLIC view of political history – we lived in that ideological EDEN before the millennial FALL. Lord Blarimort cast here as the SERPENT. (And like the Catholic view of ORIGINAL INNOCENCE and the FALL into SIN (or indeed SPIN), it is based on MYTH not truth; politics was ALWAYS dirty and compromised.)

In a way, Mr Corbyn is the completely logical outcome of Hard Labour's problem with their own history and the economy. They've spent five years in denial about the events that led to the crash, their spending record – and record spending – running a deficit during a boom, stoking the boiler of an already-overheating economy with cheap borrowing while taking their eye off the banking regulation ball.

Many in Hard Labour won't or can't admit that the Coalition by implementing austerity budgets took the only possible course of action – as did every other government on the face of the planet; as in fact, Labour would have done themselves (as they even SAID until the day they lost the 2010 election and with it any direct accountability or sense of responsibility).

Corbyn's rejection of Liberal Keynesian economics – of balancing the books over the cycle, automatic stabilisers in the downturns and surpluses in boom time – in favour of old-style Statism and the Command Economy appeals to everyone who wishes that there was a better, purer way.

(I don't believe in "there is no alternative"; but I don't believe that the failed policies of the past ARE that alternative.)

Again and again the same zombie arguments keep shambling out from Labour and their supporters: Labour's overspending didn't cause the crash. Or more simply "blame the bankers", "blame the Tories", "blame anyone… in fact… other than ourselves".

Failing to take responsibility is at the heart of Labour's failure to move on from 2008, and their failure to develop a new programme based on credible economics. Corbyn is NOT about taking responsibility and moving on; quite the reverse, he's all about saying we were never wrong in the first place, reassuring them that the Satanic Blairimort was an aberration (for not spending ENOUGH money!), and making them feel better about themselves (and never mind all the people they will fail by putting their own feelings first).

The World that Corbyn wants to take us back to, one of full employment in mass industry – reopening the coal pits, for heaven's sake – DOES NOT EXIST. If fact it's only going FURTHER AWAY! Full employment will get less and less plausible as more and more jobs become automated – self-driven cars mean robot lorries and no more truck drivers (and the tube drivers will strike once too often and go the same way too). And that's merely the beginning.

We need to plan NOW for an economy where we all share the proceeds of innovation and growth, not just those with the capital to buy themselves a secure income from robot labour, before we all end up serving coffee to the 0.0001% in branches of Trump-Branded EvilCorp.

The #LibDemFightback is the place to start.

But we NEED the Official Opposition to get their act together too.

But when the response of Labour activists to THEIR OWN ELECTION POST MORTEM is to call it "Bull…", they might just not be in a place to do so.

Right now, the Tories are running rampant, blaming victims of wars (often ones Great Britain is complicit in starting) for threatening their home comforts, selling off banks to the advantage of their friends and doing unspeakable things to education and health, and all the while shredding the Constitution, probably tearing the Country apart, for their shoddy advantage.

They are behaving like they believe there is no tomorrow. Probably because they know that for them there isn't one. They are acting like they think they will never win an election again. And quite probably – in spite of all the column inches saying they cannot lose in 2020 – they are right, they can and they will. The chances of May's election fluke being repeated are vastly reduced by the Liberal Democrats simply refusing to lie down and die.

The only thing that might save them, in fact, is that this Leadership contest is making Labour LESS electable than in 1983.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Day 5326: My Fair Ladies (and Lords)


The Conservatories seem to have discovered a previously-buried passion for democratic "fairness". They say something like this:

"The Lib Dems only got 8 MPs, but they have 101 Lords, that's so unfair."

And of course they are RIGHT.

We believe in Proportional Representation. There are 1432 Westminster Parliamentarians, and so to represent the 7.9% of the electorate who voted for us on May 7, we should have 113. So we are owed 4 Peers.

I look forward to Mr Balloon firing 29 of his more egregiously stupid followers so they can achieve the "fairness" that they say they want.

Lords Reform aka Night of the Living Clegg

*I've heard this line several times now. See also: Lib Dem Voice. So clearly our erstwhile Conservatory "friends" are being heavily briefed to repeat it. They are trying to set the agenda, make the story before they gerrymander even further and clearly want to hammer the legitimacy of the revising chamber before anyone notices that the practically-in-name-only-elected chamber is far more WILDLY lacking in legitimacy.

**No, I'm not calling for the creation of 176 UKIP Peers; or even 54 Green Peers – the Liberal Democrats pushed very hard to REFORM the Lords during the Coalition; reform that was blocked by the usual unholy reactionary alliance of Conservatory and Hard Labour. But it's a bit rich of them complaining now that the unfair system they insisted on produced an unfair outcome!

***yes, I did just call the Conservatories "a bit rich". I'm experimenting with UNDERSTATEMENT!