...a blog by Richard Flowers

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Day 2974: DOCTOR WHO: The End of the World


Well, so much for doing THAT on a weekly basis! Anyway, this week we were all much cheered when our subscription to the Doctor Woo DVD files finally arrived! Hooray! So I have settled my Daddies on the couch again and put on episode two… "The Cave of Skulls"

Hang on, that's not right…

I suppose the first and most obvious thing to say is that this doesn't mess with the established continuity. Well, okay, it does but not really.

Let me explain: the "traditional" view says that the Earth is destroyed in the year ten million or so (as seen on-screen in Billy Hartnell false-ending-fest "The Ark"). "Frontios" with Peter Davison's Doctor is dated to the same era, largely because it too has a huge "Ark" spaceship, and from the description of the colonists as "fleeing from the doomed planet Earth" (as Turlough tells us with much relish).

Some people – naming no names, but they wrote "About Time" – seem to have invested rather too much in this, in fact, since some of their more outré theories hinge on the similarity between this span and the Doctor's rant about "ten million years of absolute power" in "Trial of a Time Lord". This is reinforced by the "Time Parameter Exceeded" warning from the TARDIS console in "Frontios", as though the post-End-of-the-Earth period is particularly perilous for Time Lords.

Time Lord history and Human history, they both last exactly ten million years, eh. Nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more. Although to give them credit they also admit it could all nothing more than humanoids having a love of large base ten numbers.

Even so, this does leave them tying themselves in knots to explain that the Earth only seems to be (in Han Solo's words) totally blown away in the course of "The Ark". Actually, they claim, it's just a bit singed, and the National Trust put it right.

It is all nonsense, of course.

This whole theory is based on a few lines of dialogue in "The Steel Sky", aka part one of "The Ark", which I reproduce here, half-inched from the Doctor Who transcripts project:

We rejoin the Doctor in conversation with the leader of the Ark's crew of Guardians, discussing the Doctor's recent travels.

DOCTOR: ...including the Daleks.

COMMANDER: Nero, the Trojan wars, the Daleks! But all that happened in the first segment of time.

DOCTOR: Segment? Er, to use your phrase sir, what “segment” are we in now?

COMMANDER: The fifty-seventh.

DOCTOR: Good gracious! We must have jumped at least...ten million years, hmm!

The first thing you notice is that he says "at least ten million", an "at least" which surely throws any sense of "exactitude" right out the window.

Anyway, that the "first segment" spans at a bare minimum The Trojan War ("The Myth Makers") in c.1200 BC (ish – if it happened), Nero ("The Romans") 64 AD (as dated by the Great Fire of Rome which happens in part four), and the Daleks, possibly the Dalek Invasion of Earth (guess the story) in 2150 (A!D! if in Technicolor) although it's as likely to mean the Daleks' Master Plan (guess the story again) in 4000 AD.

That might seem to imply "segments" of five to ten thousand years at least, though that would only place the 57th segment as far forward as 570,000 AD, a long way short of 10,001,965 AD (i.e. ten million years from their last stop: Wimbledon Common to collect Dodo at the end of "The Massacre"). But really, what is there to say that the first segment ends anytime soon after the Daleks' Master Plan? Or, for that matter, what is there to suggest that segments have a fixed span anyway? You could as easily suggest, based on the Doctor's wittering about us spending a million years as downloads and a million years evolving into clouds (in "Utopia"), that the "First Segment" lasts from the evolution of Homo Sapiens some 3 million years ago until the evolution of our first successor species in the year 0.1/Semiquaver/8…

Oh yes, quite how we get from "Fifty-Seventh Segment" to "5.5/Apple/26" is harder to explain… if 0.0 to 0.1 is the First Segment, maybe… but that only puts us in the Fifty-Sixth… well, it's close.

…anyway, the point is we have no idea how long a "Segment" is supposed to be, or how they relate to how we recognise time. And – more importantly – neither does the Doctor.

The first Doctor was the most notorious for not having any clue as to where or when his erratic time-machine had taken him. Take this exchange from "The Dalek Invasion of Earth":

IAN: Doctor, I don’t understand this at all, we saw the Daleks destroyed on Skaro, we were there!

DOCTOR: My dear boy, what happened in Skaro was a million years ahead of us in the future. What we’re seeing now is about the middle history of the Daleks.

A million years? "Planet of the Daleks", set in the twenty-sixth century, reports the events of "The Daleks" as history, indeed almost legend, to the Thals. So "The Daleks" cannot be more than a few hundred years, if that, in the future of "The Dalek Invasion of Earth", certainly not a million.

Clearly, when pressed on a question, if he doesn't know the answer, he's most likely to just make something up.

So frankly, even if he hadn't given himself 4.99 billion years of wiggle room in the form of that "at least", then we cannot place any reliance on his dating "The Ark" to the year ten million, while contrariwise Mr Eccleston's know-it-all New-Roman-Empire incarnation is not only capable of steering the TARDIS (usually) but has an actual destination in mind.

In short, five billion years in the future and while the intergalactic set are mingling aboard Platform One, the Guardians (slightly out of shot) are shipping out all the rest of the people and animals aboard their fleet of interstellar Pickfords. This, in fact, almost makes sense: if the Ark (or Arks if you include "Frontios") are lifeboats from a flood then it makes sense that this was a relatively sudden but predictable calamity that they were warned about (like the National Trust's money running out) rather than the long, long expansion of the sun we would normally expect. And when Rose asks "What happened to all the people" the Doctor replies "all gone."

I suppose he could have added: "they're just down there" points "you can wave if you want."

All of which discussion takes us up to the end of the pre-title sequence.

The main thing to notice in the rest of the episode is the way the Doctor's attitude does a 180 flip: at the start, he's full on channelling Russell "positivism" Davies, complaining that humans do nothing but worry about the planet being destroyed, when they never even consider that they might survive. But by the end, he mournfully saying how we never consider that one day it'll all be gone, even the sky.

But there's a reason for this, because what we're actually doing is uncovering the character of the Doctor. In the process we learn that what he never considered, that Gallifrey might one day be gone, has in fact come to pass. "There was a war, and we lost."

Say "Last of the Time Lords" to any Doctor Who fan during the, er, sixteen-year temporary pause between seasons twenty-six and twenty-seven and you'd have been met with something between derision and outright hostility, as this was the title attached to the increasingly-ludicrous "Doctor Who movie" project from Coast to Coast aka Green Light (not to be confused with the actually-ludicrous "Doctor Who TV movie" starring Paul McGann). With a plot that allegedly involved all the worst possible continuity clichés (no, it's really not to be confused with the "Doctor Who TV movie" starring Paul McGann), and of course the biggest cheesiest sci-fi cliché of them all, the "last survivor of a doomed race", or "Superman" cliché.

To be fair, Doctor Who has flirted with this one before. The Third Doctor encountered the Last of the Dæmons (and, arguably, the Last of the Uxarians); the fourth took down the Last of the Osirans and the Last of the Jagaroth (though the Fendahl was – pretty much by definition – its own "Last of…"); while the fifth Doctor even travelled with the Last Daughter of Traken. Kwundaar help us.

What they all had in common (well, probably excluding Nyssa) was that they were all bonkers.

In the hands of Russell Davies, though, this madness itself becomes an exploration of the loneliness brought on by being the last of your kind. The ninth Doctor is clearly suffering from survivor guilt, to the extent that at times he appears to have a death wish. You have to ask yourself if his confrontation with the Nestene Consciousness last time wasn't supposed to end with him thrown into the Nestene's pool of boiling liquid which, thanks to his anti-plastic, would end up killing both of them. Rose swinging to the rescue thus saved him both physically and spiritually.

Interesting also to note that when they get into an argument it is again Rose who pulls them out of it. In "Rose" the argument was about his failure of concern over Mickey, where he gets into a right defensive strop because he forgot – twice – that Mickey might be dead. Rose deflects that row by asking him about his beloved police box. "It's a disguise" he says, and he's so chuffed. This week, Rose can't cope with the culture shock / future shock of all the alien guests (not to mention Cassandra) and then learns that the Doctor's machine has been "messing with her head" – another example of the Doctor failing to get human psychology. So Rose makes her "don't mess with the designated driver" comment (which actually reemphasises, but deflates, her realisation of the physical dependence she has on him, the realisation that started her panic in the first place as she talked with Ruffalo the plumber) and then gets him onside by talking technology again. Showing that she gets him even if he doesn't get her, yet. Which is quite a contrast to the way she was treating Mickey, if you think about it.

But it's a very human relationship, the key quality to all of Russell's writing, of course. And a very much more credible one than most of the "what's happening, Doctor" relationships that companions have had down the years.

What we begin to see is the idea that the Doctor might be a very damaged individual, that the wild-eyed boggling might, this time, be covering up something deeper and darker. This is where Chris Eccleston's ability to turn on a sixpence from goofing to deadly serious really comes to the fore, and becomes the bedrock that this reinvented series rests upon.

What is really odd is that this character story was billed as a visual spectacular. With hindsight, Russell's "we did it once to prove we could; never again" looks laughably naïve. They did it once and proved only that they would have to do it again and again and get bigger and better every time. And in fairness they have. "The End of the World" doesn't look spectacular now. No, that's not quite fair: the Earth exploding is still spectacular and Cassandra is a work of genius. On the flip sip, those giant fans never impressed anyone. But what "The End of the World" did was to set the baseline for the sort of visual riot that we now expect Doctor Who to achieve. And equally, we've never had quite that big a mix of aliens since, either – the planned crowd scenes at the Shadow Proclamation for "Journey's End" tragically being lost for budget reasons. But while the Trees, Jabe Lute and Copper, are truly well realised – and our first sight of the go-to guy for New Who monster suits, Paul Casey – and the Face of Boe is a mightily imposing prop worthy of being reused, the other aliens are a bit… stand at the back and hope no one looks too closely. The future, it seems, is either blue or wicker. At the time we were amazed, but once you've seen an asteroid full of Sycorax or a platoon of Judoon on the Moon, they all begin to look a little bit "school play".

What that actually means is that we can see the underlying story much better now, without all the "oohs" and "ahhs". (Though with a few "gosh, CG has come on a lot since then"s.)

And what we see is, another Russell Davies trope, it's all about the women.

There's Jabe, of course, the forest princess, beautifully played by Yasmin Bannerman as smart but naïf, flirtatious but slightly coy, and a little bit in love with the Doctor. Basically, she's Rose. And their gentle flirting makes her eventual sacrifice for him all the more tragic.

Mind you, the Doctor's remark of "Jabe you're made of wood", really deserves a putdown reply of "Doctor, you're made of flesh", not least since the ignition point of wood is about 600 C, while a mere 250 C is enough to incinerate a human body. Though of course since Jabe is flexible enough to walk and talk we should probably assume she's a bit more complicated than your basic tree. We still have to put the Doctor's spontaneous non-combustion down to Time Lord powers™ though.

And on the flip side, there's Cassandra, an admixture Zoë Wanamaker’s delicious performance and the CG alchemy of the Mill. Cassandra gets all the best lines because in spite of being a monster (she's horribly racist even before she tries to murder everybody) she's also very witty.

She also verges on the sympathetic for brief moments, particularly when she looks down at Earth and sees where she used to live. But then she's into the xenophobic rant and Rose has a huge go at her for "nipping and tucking" away all of her humanity, that clearly hits home. (And that's obviously the moment when Cassandra decides to kill her – leading to the fabulous "sun-filter descending" peril. And the Doctor told Rose not to go starting any fights.) And so you forget that she – like the Doctor – is actually very, very lonely.

Cassandra, the Last Human, she is a "Last of…" as well and she has the madness too, expressed in her egregious desire for thinness.

She – quite literally – breaks all the rules. Platform One bans weapons, religion and teleportation. Clearly her spiders are weapons, and she brings her teleport device aboard too. But also, her catspaws are the Adherents of the Repeated Meme, and if adherence to a repeated meme isn't a definition of religion, I don't know what is.

(More prosaically, the Adherence of the Repeated Meme are, acronymically, Cassandra's A.R.M.s. Although, Alex points out that a repeated meme is me, me, me, me, me, me… and we’re back to Cassandra.)

Perhaps it's vanity or perhaps it's a stubborn unwillingness to accept that it's time to leave the stage, a refusal to lie down and die. It's obvious that she, in her frame, is a mirror for the Doctor himself. And maybe that's the source of his unforgiveness: everything has its time, he says, and everything dies – so why aren't I dead, is the subtext.

It's hard to think of another Doctor being quite so… brutal as the way the ninth allows Cassandra to die.

(OK, hindsight can be unkind too – just ask Nicola Bryant on seeing how part fourteen of "Trial…" retconned Peri's fate to worse than death – so we now know, of course that Cassandra didn't die but we don’t know that, and importantly neither, at the time, did the Doctor.)

So the episode that began with the Doctor showing off, being upbeat about the future or deceiving himself to his new chum, ends with him being honest (if suicidally depressed) with someone who is now his friend. And, again very Russell, chips.

Next time: What Phantasmagoria is this? No, Mr Gatiss, that was your Big Finish CD. This is the one with gas and ghosts and a gross misunderstanding from Lawrence Miles. What the Shakespeare? It's "The Unquiet Dead"


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Day 2970: Conservatory Local Plans mean MORE Centralisation


More BLACK MAGIC from Ms Caroline Spell-person, Conservatory spokesperson for turning local councillors into eunuchs, with her plan to "give more power to local government" by, er, taking their powers away and giving them to mayors.

This promises to do the OPPOSITE of what it says on the tin.

The proposal to increase accountability will actually DILUTE it; the promise to return power to people will really move power IN to a new centre that is less representative and more remote; the plan to free local government from central government control will, in reality, SHACKLE local councils even further.

In short: a perfect example of how the Conservatories have adopted Hard Labour SPIN techniques (aka Newspeak).

First, accountability: where you might have three councillors representing one ward, a mayor represents the whole borough, town or even city – it's difficult to see how one mayor would have as much time for each constituent as a score of councillors. And the London Mayor has shown how totally unaccountable he can be, with Hard Labour's Mayor Ken and now Bojo the Clown cheerfully batting aside or laughing off any attempt to question them or their various cronies who have come under suspicion of corruption, racism or old-fashioned incompetence.

Second, representation: a mayor (no offence to Ms Dorothy) is LESS representative of the community not more, because there can only ever be ONE WINNER. There's no way of having a PROPORTION of Bojo the Clown be Liberal while the rest is Conservatory (Red or Blue flavour). We've seen from London that even the BEST Liberal voices are shut out of the mayoral contest, and we're the THIRD BIGGEST party in the country – supporters of (No)Respect, UKPnuts or the Natural Law Party have ZERO chance of having their voices heard at local government level.

Of course, what the Conservatories have seen is that there are big benefits – TO THEM – in a winner-takes-all election, particularly one with such a huge electorate that their money can buy a significant strategic advantage. It pretty much guarantees that they or their identical twins the Red Conservatories of Hard Labour will be in. It's a step backwards to the old cosy consensus of two-party politics that has does so much to leave Great Britain in an economic DARK AGE.

The completely selfish attitude of the Conservatories was exposed most nakedly by Ms Spell-person herself on the The Today Programme, when she was asked why the change of heart from Queen Maggie's policy in the '80's of centralising every local government power she could.
"You've got to understand, the landscape of Local Government has completely changed: back in the Eighties there were far too many Loony Left Councils; nowadays WE control two-thirds of them."
So, er, you give the powers to Councils so long as the "nice people" are back in charge… and presumably take them away again if anyone else gets in!

And of course, because all their power has been taken away, local council elections now reflect the national political scene more than local issues – so the Conservatories control of councils is less about whether or not they are value for money (they aren't) and more a reaction to the fact we have a Hard Labour Government nationally.

But third, what about the MONEY? Mr Balloon says he wants to give people a referendum on the Council Tax if the rise is more than 5%. He says this will make Councils more responsive to people. But that's just not true.

I mean, on a superficial level, it will put them in fear of MISERS, certainly, but what about people who want the Council to SPEND MORE on meals-on-wheels, or lollipop ladies, or places for kids to hang out that aren't street corners, or health visitors or just filling in potholes in the pavement? Will they get to call a referendum if the Council Tax is too low? Clearly not.

But the REAL stealth tax here is that the BIGGEST CAUSE of Council Tax increases is… Central Government giving the council a low rise in its grant. With 75% of Local Government money in the gift of Whitehall – not to mention all the things that local government has to pay for but has no control over, like nationally agreed teachers salaries – all it takes is for a minister to make a small cut and the council is over a barrel.

Suppose we actually had inflation of 2%, the Bank of England's Government-set target (and remember it's higher for wages than goods, and that even as the recession bites it's still only fallen to 3% this month). Cutting the increase in central government grant from a raise of 2% to 1% means the local council has to put up the Council Tax by a whopping 5% just to stand still, and instantly put them in the "referendum DANGER ZONE"!

And we already know that the Conservatories plan to use this stick to control local councils. Mr Oboe's so-called FREEZE on Council Tax, a policy that will rewards Councils that are "good" (i.e. do exactly what they are told by CENTRAL GOVERNMENT) and penalises anyone who dares to do differently.

Other aspects of the new Conservatory wheeze include:
  • Encouraging NIMBY-ism by abolishing regional planning (while, presumably, still retaining central Government's SHINY new QUANGO with powers to bulldoze anything they fancy)

  • Giving local authorities the power to levy a business rate discount (how do you LEVY a DISCOUNT???), another example of only giving Councils the power to take less in tax; why not just let them control the business rate full stop?

  • Requiring Councils to publish details of "perks and expenses" online – so this week Mr Balloon is in favour of openness about how the public money is spent… oh the IRONY of Westminster telling local government it should reveal it's expenses!

Giving Councils control of a FAIR local income tax, with the ability to adjust the rates themselves as they choose; returning control of business rates to local council control; allowing councils to share in the benefits of granting planning applications and rezoning decisions; putting the money back in the hands of real people, not some TV personality that you've parachuted in with his team of faceless, unaccountable "advisors" who really run the show… THESE are the ways that you return power to local government. Putting local schools and local health care back in the hands of local people, THESE are the ways that you restore communities and empower people.

Obviously these are LIBERAL DEMOCRAT ideas.

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Friday, February 13, 2009

Day 2966: X-Rated Phone Calls – Should the Mayor of London be treated more leniently than Jonathan Woss?


A popular personality from BBC television programmes phones up a member of the establishment and delivers a tirade of abuse…

Obviously, Bojo the Clown going CHRISTIAN BALE on ultra-slimy Hard Labour stooge Mr Keith Vayse-Vase-or-Vose will do nothing but INCREASE the mayor's maddeningly unearned popularity… to the extent that when asked "who leaked the transcript of their private phone call" the "quo bono" question (that's LATIN for who gets the DOG FOOD!) means that the fluffy foot of suspicion should not JUST point to the Vase office.

But the REAL question is about the DOUBLE STANDARDS of the Meeja.

Will the Daily Hate Mail be mounting a campaign to have thousands of readers (who never HEARD the conversation) write in to City Hall and demand Bojo's head on a plate?

Will cat-monster-fancying former Conservatory Minister for Dungeons (and one time Bake-o-lite Girl) Ms Ann Widdy-one be appearing on Questionable Time to insist that sacking is tooo good for him?

Will mad Fart-for-the-Day contributor and celebrity vicar's wife, Ms Anne Hatpins be using her bully pulpit to call – more in sorrow than anger, of course –for the mayor to be incinerated in an enormous wicker Russell Brand?

Will they BOJO!

And anyway, since Bojo's complaint was: "I didn't bring my diary; you know I'm no good with details; and now you've told everyone that I had to keep changing my story to get the facts straight it's making it look like I was covering up that I tipped off Mr Balloon."

To which the obvious answer is: if you know you're no good with facts then wasn't it a bit STUPID to turn up without your diary?

Or, more succinctly:

Bojo: "you [expletive deleted] made [expletive deleted] me [expletive deleted] look [expletive deleted] like [expletive deleted] an [expletive deleted] idiot!"

Vose: "you don't need any help from me!"


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Day 2965: Lincoln Memorial - a late Frost/Nixon


You've probably already missed this, as my Daddies and I caught the last screening at our local flicks, but if you get the chance, see FROST/NIXON.

Why's it not called NIXON/FROST?
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Maybe it's time, maybe it's his being dead, maybe it's the utter utter bad-word-ness of the Monkey-in-Chief, but at the end of the film, the power of this drama is that it allows you to feel sympathy for this man who broke the idea of America.

We can at least say this: he did wrong, but he did admit it.

(And yes, that's the irony-meter is pinging at the man who played Frost being the man who played Lord Blairimort the unrepentant.)

Happy Darwin Day!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Day 2963: When Sorry is the EASIEST word to say


Oh, so the four senior bankers are "sorry" are they?

Not sorry for their business practices having got us into this mess, of course. Not sorry for their greed or megalomania. And certainly not sorry for all the innocent people who will lose their homes or their livelihoods because of the financial CHAOS that they have caused.

No, they're sorry that the "situation arose". Sorry for their shareholders. Sorry for themselves. Sorry that the value of all those shares that they should never have been given has fallen flat.

But not sorry enough to do anything about it, apparently.

Well "sorry" doesn't mean A SINGLE FLUFFY THING unless you put right the think you horlicksed up in the first place.

People say that there is a lot of BLAME to SPREAD around: why didn't the regulator stop them? Why didn't Mr Frown enforce the regulator? Why did Parliament make Mr Frown act? Why didn't all of us elect a better Parliament?

Well, BLAME doesn't work like that. It doesn't get LESS because someone else is also involved; it doesn't get THINNER the further you SPREAD it.

These people were SPECIFICALLY and PERSONALLY to blame for the harm this crash has done, and they personally benefited from doing that harm.

The punishment seems perfectly simple. They should be stripped of their assets. All of them. Let them live in Council Housing. And if there isn't Council Housing… well, these people were, apparently, community leaders. Let them see where they've LED!

As for their banks: we own the RBS now. We own the Northern Rock. We have a large chunk of the Lloyds/HBoS super-bank. They should all be broken up. Torn up. Take their assets, the physical buildings of their banks and their cash (formerly OUR cash) and split them into six hundred local banks, and then sell them to local councils or consortiums of local businessmen and unions. Have a local lottery and give away the shares to the winners. Apportion them by lot. Give them away to schoolchildren with a pint of milk; fluffy goodness knows schoolkids couldn't make a WORSE hash of running a bank.

Nobody above branch manager level would be needed anymore so they could all be SACKED. Save the billions in bonus payments and use that money instead to form a "rescue fund" to try and save as many people from losing their homes as possible.

You think I'm a bit CROSS? Of course I'm CROSS – there are times when THERE JUST AREN'T ENOUGH CAPITAL LETTERS!!!


These smug bas...bad-words have destroyed lives with reckless abandon for their own enrichment and aggrandizement (of the WORST "my bank's bigger than your bank, I bought ABM Amrose" kind). With names like "Fred the Shred" they've even been PROUD of it! And the HARSHEST punishment they can get is A MILD WIGGING from a panel of MPs.

And I'm FED UP of the Liberal Democrats being "just another political party". Shouldn't we be tearing up the system? SHOULDN'T we be ENRAGED!

Let's see something REALLY RADICAL for once. Let's see some Liberalism RED in Tooth and Claw... and TUSK and FLUFFY FOOT!


Friday, February 06, 2009

Day 2959: M M Murder


Number of people DEAD as a result of the Jonathan Woss / Russell Brand-name telephone titter: NIL.
(Daily Mail leads campaign AGAINST BBC)

Number of people DEAD as a result of measles due to the fall in MMR vaccinations: NOT NIL.
(Daily Mail leads campaign FOR measles)

The Daily Hate Mail: we kill people to boost our profits; trust US over the BBC or your house price will fall!!!!!!!!!

Fluffy Footnote: anyone at all familiar with where the Daily Mail's support lay in 1938 will know that accusing the BBC of using "informants" to oust Ms Thatch is IRONIC: a clear case of the pot calling the kettle… a term of racist abuse.

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