...a blog by Richard Flowers

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Day 3464: DOCTOR WHO: The Big Finish? – no, wait, that was Press Gang…


Once upon a time there was a story about stories. You've written yourself into a box. Cracks in the plot. That's just a fairy tale. Who isn't? A man is the sum of his memories; a Time Lord even more so. I hate repeats. And then she woke up. And you were there and you were there… Remember this because it's important, I am most definitely a madman with a box. Did I tell you I stole it? You're "Father Christmas", "The Wizard of Oz" and "Scooby Doo". He's my imaginary friend. Who is real. Let. There. Be. Light.

In short, the Mister Moffster didn't muff it!

But that's just what I think. Over to Daddy…
"Just this once, everybody dies. Hang on, I can fix that."

With "The Big Bang", Steven Moffat, ironically (or not) the man described as "Mr Story" compared to his predecessor "Mr Emotion", has given us an episode that asserts the supremacy of story-telling by making us feel the importance of story.

The entire Universe is destroyed, all the stories have been wiped. But by an incredible stroke of fortune the Doctor just happens to have about his person an enormous video recorder containing the last copies of all the missing stories. Now, if he can only find a way to play it back…

Yes, extrapolating the Universe from a few billion atoms (closer to many trillions, actually) is Douglas Adams and the fairy cake all over again. But it's no use complaining: way back in 1965's "The Chase" (yes, that other epic story featuring the Daleks that concluded on a 26th June) we learned that events are recorded on "light neutrons" and can be played back on the Doctor's big time-telly, so it was already canon.

And the price of getting the Universe back? It costs the Doctor his very existence. Except he's a wily old man, and can wriggle out of his fate by turning himself into a story.

But that was in the canon too.

In "The Time of Angels", an angel in a recording can come right out of a television screen; in "Flesh and Stone" the threat is that an angel in Amy's imagination will come right out of her head.

And in "The Big Bang", the Doctor does exactly that. (So the Doctor becomes an angel(!))

Because the idea is that ideas are more powerful than any mundane physics.

To underline it all, Rory becomes a legend as well, spending nearly two thousand years guarding Amy in the Pandorica and getting his story told on the museum wall (voice-over by Mr Briggs, I think). (As Mr Moffat puts it in "Confidential": as apologies for killing someone go, mowing the lawn isn't going to cut it.) Alex said that the Doctor still referring to Amy as "the girl who waited" is a bit harsh on the Auton… but that was before he called Rory "the boy who waited" too. This is a beautiful little side-story, and rewarded with the wedding where he's returned to his old self but then remembers who he became – you can hear him saying "I was plastic and he was the stripper at my stag night" in the background.

Arthur Darvill is magnificent playing the two Rorys, whether it's with great charm in the lighter moments ("Respect the plastic", "No, too fast"); or with gravitas for the serious commitment ("Why do you have to be so… human?" "Because right now, I'm not"); or with just a roar for the absolute moment of awesome ("Your girlfriend's not more important than the whole Universe–" [punch] "SHE IS TO ME!").

And Rory is a proper member of the crew at the end, no longer a hanger-on, but deciding equally with Amy that their place is in the TARDIS. Please, please put his name in the titles by Christmas!

But the real story is the story of Amy, the fact that the Doctor actually if accidentally destroyed her Universe by being late. He puts it right by seemingly stepping into the crack in Amelia's wall – becoming, as he foresaw in "Flesh and Stone", the complicated space-time event that seals the crack – and in doing so he un-writes history, undoes his mistake of wrecking Amelia's life by returning it all to her.

(Although, if you want to go all metatextual: Doctor Who went away in 1989 and its return was announced in 2003, fourteen years later, just as Amy's travels in the TARDIS begin fourteen years later. Oh it's a coincidence. Except in "The Big Bang" the Doctor turns up in 1996 for "twelve minutes" before being killed off. Who says Paul McGann doesn't count?)

Karen Gillan looks awesome when the Pandorica opens to reveal that she's taken the Doctor's place inside. And yet it's the quiet moments of her tears that really get you. A tear for Rory, when she sees what he has done for her. And her tears at the wedding, structured to reverse the tears for a happiness she does not understand when she begins to recognise Rory in "The Pandorica Opens", tears for a sorrow for the loss of the Doctor she cannot remember.

Alex calls it a very "Harry Potter" story: she's "the girl who waited" instead of "the boy who lived", the little orphan whose Aunt never told her what really happened to her parents, who grows up to meet a wizard and discovers her own special magic.

So, anyway, we start with a riff on predestination paradox, or the bootstrap paradox – named for Baron Munchausen, another great storyteller, and his escape by lifting up his own boots – as the Doctor escapes from the Pandorica by escaping from the Pandorica and going back to effect his escape from the Pandorica.

Oh yes he does. Just because he gives the sonic to Rory doesn't mean he doesn't program it to release him; he might as well stand in front of the box himself. Of course, it's funny and smart and short-cuts a whole load of faffing about while Rory works out how to get the Doctor out of the Pandorica on his own (I'm just after the points for calling the resolution to the cliff-hanger). But it is still cheating.

Personally, I put it down to the TARDIS. I mean she's heroically sustaining the Earth and two thousand years of history, not to mention a two-second time loop with River Song in the console room, while literally burning herself up to do so, so what's one little time paradox to nudge the Doctor towards fixing everything?

We then get another one, where the Doctor arranges for Amelia to be at the National Museum in order to open the box. This writing of post-it notes to stage-manage the actions of past versions of people around him: it's both Benny's diary and the seventh Doctor's alleged modus operandi. (Alleged mainly in Virgin's "New Adventures" and other books, for example the short story "Continuity Errors" from Decalog 3. Whatever happened to the writer of that?)

Although actually, this paradox isn't actually a paradox.

Think about it: there's no reason why the Doctor could not have instead materialized himself in front of Amy's house twelve hours earlier and convinced her Aunt that he was there delivering two tickets to the National Museum as part of a schools' "history awareness" campaign, or something.

And in fact that's effectively what he's done. Just not necessarily in the right order.

Really, the paradox is a visual comment on coincidence in story-telling, in this case, the coincidence of Amelia happening to open the Pandorica at just the right time – that is within minutes of the moment when the Doctor pops up out of the past with River's time gizmo. It's the equivalent of the "clumsy juggler" act; it's Les Dawson at the piano; it's saying "look, as a writer I can arrange events to fit together however is most convenient, but look what happens if I exaggerate that to make it obvious what I'm doing".

Incidentally, how does little Amelia open the Pandorica? Does it open to a touch now? Did the Doctor reprogram it? I suppose it did start unlocking to receive the Doctor when the Doctor first found it; perhaps it's doing the same now it thinks it has to contain Amy. Or maybe it's just confused because that the person it's been trying to keep locked inside for two thousand years now appears to be on the outside.

And does Aunt Sharon suffer the "deleted from history" fate sometime before the museum closes? Or else, why are the staff not all looking for the little lost girl who doesn't answer the call to come to the front desk?

We get a third iteration of the paradox with the Doctor popping back to get Amelia a drink. Which he steals from her earlier self. Meaning she's only thirsty because she asked the Doctor to get her a drink. Alex points out that this is a "reverse Kronos": in "The Time Monster", the Atlanteans grow rich because their pet Chronovore is stealing from their own future; in "The Big Bang" Amelia makes herself thirsty because her friendly Time Lord is stealing from her own past.

Speaking of "stealing from the past", Alex was delighted to see a return of the second Doctor's "oh I should like a hat like that" obsession, first in the form of that fez and then in a top hat. Also, as the Universe collapses times and distances become shorter – nod to "Warrior's Gate" – and we head towards the Big Bang – shout out "Castrovalva". "We all wake up where we're supposed to be" is the conclusion of "The Three Doctors". The Void between Universes references "Inferno" and "The Time Monster" and many Russell episodes. River dating a Nestene with swappable heads (what, she's got Captain Jack's past as well now?) reminds us of Mickey the Auton's detachable bonce back in Rose. And "twelve minutes until the Dalek kills me" harks back to "twenty minutes to save the world" in "The Eleventh Hour".

Oh yes, "twelve minutes until the Dalek kills me": before we can even start to take the Doctor's new blasé attitude to linearity for granted, it only goes and kills him!

The exterminated Doctor zapping into existence at the top of the stairs is a perfect slap down to the Doctor's apparating/disapparating antics, his popping up and down in his fez like a latter-day Fenella the Kettle Witch. (Which would make the Cyber-leader and the Skittles Daleks into Chorlton and the Wheelies… let's not go there.)

It says "mess with Time too much and Time will mess with you right back".

But again, it's also Moffat commenting on his own story-telling: just as he's done explaining to you the temporal shenanigans of the opening minutes by playing them again from the other angle, he repeats the same gag: again, the Doctor pops back from the future but this time it's not to handily pass on a clue to the guys still stuck in the past. This time, he's been brutally murdered. And worse, he's cynically manipulating them into using his own murder to distract the murderer from what he's really doing.

It makes River's cold-blooded execution of the Dalek seem positively fluffy if you think about it.

(Incidentally, I vastly preferred River in this two-parter to her previous appearances. There's been much less of the smugness, much more of a feel that she's a genuine match for the Doctor, with both the compassion and the steel underneath to equal him. Though it is, er, possible to remain slightly more disparaging of the character, as in: "this is what happens when "the straight writer"™ tries to cross Captain Jack with Iris Wildthyme. Oh dear.")

Of course it had to be a Dalek. The idea of "story" demands that it be a Dalek, because the Daleks and the Doctor are inextricably linked in the crucible of the story. I loved the Daleks fossilised in time; that was great. The new-look Dalek redone in stone was a huge improvement, so it must be something about those plasticky colours that just fails them.

Alex winced that the Daleks got completely wiped out again, but you know… along with everything else. That's practically a score draw for them.

And hey, finally one of the buggers manages to kill the old sod. Pity the whole thing got time-reversed. Honestly, some days you just can't even happen.

Time for a couple of quibbles.

What was the point of introducing the Blinovitch Limitation Effect – shorting out the time differential between the two sonic screwdrivers, for those who don't speak geek – if you then ignore it in all the Amy patting Amelia action (accepting the fact that exploding seven-year-olds are not going to get on the BBC at Saturday tea-time)?

And why didn't we get a proper answer to "why is a duck pond if there aren't any ducks?" It was important enough to be flagged up a couple of times in the series. Yes, I get that it's a clue (either actual or allegorical) to the way things from Amy's life have disappeared leaving traces, but it would have been nice to spell it out in the Doctor's "final conversation" where he points out the obvious fate of Amy's parents.

But then, I've had to reassess my understanding of what it means to fall into one of the "cracks in time": the Doctor at first describes this as being "erased from time", that you "never existed". Clearly, that is not what happens at all. Later, the Doctor calls it "falling out of the Universe" and that is much closer to what appears to happen.

Here's how it seems to me: if you fall into one of the cracks, or rather fall out of the Universe through one of the cracks, your physical history, all the things that you have done, remains intact, but the memetic content, the bits of information that let other people understand and remember your actions, that is what gets erased.

In short, falling out of the Universe deletes your story.

This, very neatly, explains away all of my concerns about time paradox plot holes caused by people being erased from time. Take the ever multiplying Clerics paradox: Marco wanders into the crack and is erased; but if Marco never existed, why didn't Father Octavian bring Julius along to fill the place Marco would have taken? But then Julius wanders into the crack and never existed so why didn't Father Octavian bring along Pedro and so on forever. Answer, Father Octavian doesn't bring someone to fill the place Marco would have had because there was a person who filled that place, it's just that no one can remember who it was now.

It's an exact reversal of Lawrence Miles' idea of turning people into "conceptual beings", that is beings with no physical presence who exists only as ideas; the crack turns people into purely physical beings, with no informational content at all.

It would turn you into a particularly horrible kind of ghost, one where you can experience the world around you but no one notices you are there. The Doctor appears to experience something like this as his timeline unwinds (with only Amy, her mind filled with the time energy of the crack, able to hear, but not see, him).

And he is rescued from this state when Amy (again because of her unique time-energy-charged memories) is able to reconnect his memetic self to his physical existence.

In this way, the reference to Professor Richard Dawkins isn't just a cheeky in-joke and reference to "Journey's End". In a history gone wrong, the rationalist sceptic is re-written as a believer, in stars of all things (so even in the wrong universe he's still right). But Richard Dawkins is also the man who first came up with the term "meme" as a way of describing the evolution of ideas, of stories.

To excuse the Doctor's earlier incorrect description, you can probably see that if you cannot remember anything that someone has done then it appears as though they never existed, particularly to someone from such a highly memetic culture as the Time Lords. Indeed, being the literal architects of "history", it may well be that being erased from "history" and being physically erased from space/time are as good as indistinguishable to them. So when the Doctor describes the effect of the crack as "never having existed" he's telling it the way he sees it, even if he's wrong.

So we come to the Universe's biggest ever reset switch – biggest ever because it applies at every single moment throughout history – which has been wittily described as a Deus ex Pandorica. Witty, but slightly unfair. The way to save the entire universe and the way to destroy the entire universe are of course identical: the notion that the TARDIS can pass through every point in creation simultaneously like a four-dimensional infinite improbability drive.

The real leap is that the Pandorica can suddenly be used as the universe's flight recorder, a literal "black box" that contains a "restoration field" that not only stops the occupant from dying, but can recreate exploded stars. Stopping you from dying is not actually unreasonable for a perpetual prison (and supports the idea that the Alliance of Enemies fear the Doctor dead more than they fear him alive – again, because if he dies he might regenerate into something that can get out of the Pandorica!)

I have to say there is a slightly wearisome aspect to the idea that everyone in the entire Universe is actually killed and then identical copies are created of them (or in some cases whole people who were erased are "written back in"). Now on the one hand you could accuse me of "molecular vertigo" (the fear of teleportation stemming from the idea that the "transporter" beam is a phaser at one end and a replicator at the other: it kills you and creates a copy who has your memories). On the other hand this is just about the largest possible example of actions that have no consequences, and we were supposed to have moved beyond that since Russell brought us New Doctor Who.

Perhaps I can suggest an alternative interpretation: the explosion of the TARDIS would be Universe-destroying; the explosion of the Pandorica would be Universe-creating. By having the two happen simultaneously (at every point at every moment in history) they cancel each other out. Who was it who said "supernova and black-hole at the same time"? Or was that "five minutes from Belgium"?

So what actually happens when the TARDIS explodes is that the ship creates a tiny "bubble Universe" (not difficult for a TARDIS – she's one herself) containing the Doctor, Amy and Rory and enough of an alternative Earth for them to sort out their business there.

Alex asks: if a TARDIS exploding can destroy the Universe so much that it never happened, then – what with the whole Time War – why hasn't this happened already?

Well, I answer, in the Time War, the Time Lords were around to fix things like cracks in the surface of the Universe, possibly by chucking in a "complicated space-time event" (or the Castellan). And actually, that sort of Universe-unravelling might have been the basis for Davros' whole reality bomb idea.

Alternatively, now that the TARDIS is the last timeship in the Universe, I suggest that the Eye of Harmony must be on board (notwithstanding "City of the Daleks"). And as the Eye of Harmony is probably the singularity from the first Big Bang, then the whole point of Rassilon nicking the thing in the first place was that it would be linked to every point in history. So an explosion of the TARDIS now would do what happens here.

Hmm, says Alex, but in that case, even if it's only this threat post-Time War, even if he's only just discovered it, wouldn't the Doctor still have to say "sorry, old girl, it's been a hell of a ride but I've got to power you down now so that can never not-have-ever-happened again!"

It's a valid point, because the Doctor himself acknowledges that they've only solved the symptoms of this current crisis: whoever was behind it, whatever "silence will fall" is supposed to mean, we don't yet know.

The suggestion, then, is that next year there will be an even more serious story-arc.

Of course, if you're going to talk story arcs then at some point you're going to have to mention Joss Whedon. Yes, there were Joe Straczynski's five-year "Babylon 5" or Steven Bochco's "Murder One" first, but those were one story apiece. What Joss does in Buffy the Vampire Slayer is set up multiple nested story-arcs: the first season deals with the conflict between Buffy and the Vampire Master; the first two seasons develop the Buffy/Angel relationship; the first three seasons lead up to the story of the Mayor.

(Alex remarked that like Joss's season four, the "big climax" is in the penultimate episode and this week is a quieter more thought-provoking, "Restless" type of episode, and I've been trying fruitlessly to find where I actually suggested Doctor Who should do something just like that.)

Do we hope to see the same sort of developing stories here, with Doctor Who's thirty-first season concentrating on the "cracks in time", but then its thirty-first and thirty-second dealing with "the silence" who or whatever that is or are; and maybe the thirty-first through thirty-third series exploring the history of the Doctor and River.

Or, is Moffat heading in a different direction completely?

Doctor Who always evolves. It is itself a meme. With William Hartnell it began as a "Lost in Space", with Ian and Barbara kidnapped by the titular anti-hero, but when they left it mutated into the story of the heroic Doctor's erratic travels; under Patrick Troughton it was a series of monster yarns and bases under siege; when Jon Pertwee arrived it became an ITC adventure serial, with alien invaders instead of "foreign" spies; and as Tom Baker took the helm it turned into an anthology of Hammer horror pastiches; and so on.

The teaser ending – a telephone call from "your majesty", an Egyptian goddess on the Orient Express… in space – suggests that Moffat has another classic English form in mind. The eccentric extraordinary agent with his gorgeous, capable – married! – sidekick, investigating the most outlandish of situations. Or, if I can put that another way:

"Mrs Pond… we're needed!"

I'd have to say I approve: it would give Moffat a whole rich new vein to rip off tap.

And he might even commission Alex's excellent "England Avenged". One of the authors of "About Time 2" would hate it, though.

The idea of the Doctor going on "missions" might sound like making one of the most anti-establishment characters a bit, well, establishment – Tom's Doctor always railed against the Time Lords when they sent him on their errands, and even the ultra-establishment Pertwee Doctor resented being given little things to do.

But John Steed was the most anti-establishment establishment man and if you could carry it off with the kind of insouciance, even playfulness of Patrick Macnee's performance – and if there's an actor who could do it it's Matt Smith – then it would add a sense of dramatic purpose and dynamism to the show.

You could even, with the bigger, overarching "season mission", just about have a passing attempt at an excuse for the Doctor still using his potential-Reality Bomb of a TARDIS: "I know it's a terrible risk, old girl, but before we both lay down to rest we have one last mission: find who did this and stop them ever doing it again!"

Unfortunately, the Doctor seems to find this only mildly interesting, preferring to go straight to "Woo hoo! Let's have fun at Christmas" instead.

I stand by what I said last time – the problem is one of escalation: how do you follow this?

In 2005, the Daleks returned and threatened to destroy the Earth a hundred thousand years in the future!

In 2006 the Daleks and the Cybermen returned and threatened to destroy the Earth in the Present Day er, one year in the future!!

In 2007 the Master returned and did destroy the Earth one year in the future and threatened the entire universe!!!

In 2008 Davros returned and threatened every Universe ever!!!!

In 2009 the Time Lords returned and threatened to destroy not only the Universe but all time so it never even happened!!!!!

And in 2010 that actually happened!!!!!!

Possibly, Steve has in mind an idea for "the Silence" (oh, I've sneaked in a capitalisation, like "the war" becoming "the War" becoming "the Time War") that will make it or them a new enemy worthy of seven exclamation marks. If not, sooner or later we are going to have to pitch the season finale down a little bit or invent a new form of punctuation.

Last thought: crudely put, Comic Relief skit "The Curse of Fatal Death" (author a Mr S. Moffat) begins with the Doctor messing with predestination paradoxes – nipping back in time later to arrange to avoid death-traps – before the Daleks turn up and take him prisoner – sticking him in a chair even though they have no need of chairs – and concludes with him building a machine to save the Universe which accidentally kills him. And then his companion impossibly wishes him back to life.

But that's fair enough, because "The Curse of Fatal Death" was written as a paean to Doctor Who, recalling the ludicrousness of some of the series' conventions fondly not mockingly, and asserting just how good an idea it was and how, however impossibly, it really should come back.

Anyway, it's nothing like "The Big Bang"; it's got the Master in it.

But then Doctor Who did come back.

And that is what is really at the heart of "The Big Bang" – rammed home with the image of the Doctor literally at the heart of the Big Bang: a celebration that you cannot kill an idea, and that deep down we want that impossibly silly wonderful man back.

"How could we forget the Doctor?" asks Rory for all of us when that big, borrowed, blue box re-materialises in the middle of his wedding.

So for all that the Doctor becomes god (as well as an angel), both the creator god who sets off the Big Bang at the start of creation, and the eternal sacrifice who surrenders his life to redeem everyone, this isn't about a man who "burns in the centre of time"; this is about a man who saves little girls from the cracks in their walls and dances at weddings… badly.

Oh, and I loved the final effect shot: the TARDIS taking off from Earth into space, into the time vortex which then turned into the opening (not the closing) title sequence as the end titles played over.

Next Time… Guess what ITV have planned for their Christmas Poirot? Classic timing again from the commercial channel. It's the Doctor on the Orient Express!

Actually, Daddy, before then you've got to go back and review "The Wampires of Wet Stuff" and "Amy's Choice"!


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Day 3460: George… Don't do that!


Yes, it's Master Gideon's first Budgie. Or, oh fluff! It's Master Gideon's first Budgie.

What did we think of the SPEECH? Well, the VAT rise (equivalent to a more honest 3½p on the basic rate) was no less painful for being predictable, and the squeeze on benefits makes even MY button-eyes water. And that's BEFORE cutting spending by a QUARTER.

And whose FAULT it is? Stand up Mr… oh wait he's not in the Chamber!

Yes, Hard Labour loser, Mr Frown, the man who only missed his Golden Rule target by HALF A TRILLION POUNDS didn't even turn up!

Am I happy with the Budget?


You'd have to be MAD to be "happy" about a Budget that raises taxes, especially a regressive tax like VAT, and cuts spending at the same time.

Am I happy that we are cutting spending NOW, this year, when only a few weeks ago we were cautioning against that?


We had to make concessions in the Coalition Agreement and this was the big one, the one the Conservatives would not give up.

It is TRUE that we ALWAYS made it totally clear that fixing the deficit was a priority that overrode all other concerns but that we wanted to do so PRAGMATICALLY not IDEOLOGICALLY, and that the timing of cuts would be when it was right to do so.

And it is TRUE that on the "pragmatically test" the economy is doing VERY VERY slightly better and might be able to take it.

And also it is TRUE that the situation in the Markets – precipitated by the Euro crisis in Greece in particular – has become very much more urgent, meaning we need to show we are taking action to control our borrowing.

But we should honestly say that we HAVE changed our position on this. We have been persuaded that the Conservatories have a greater mandate to insist on their honestly held belief that cutting sooner is better. We have accepted that the BALANCE of RISK is that the danger of the markets running against us and driving up interest rates and driving down the pound is GREATER than the danger of a double-dip recession.

Remember: Macroeconomics isn't ROCKET SCIENCE – it's MUCH, MUCH MORE COMPLICATED than that!

(Seriously: we can get rockets into space almost every time, but no one knows how to get the economy to go consistently right. It's like steering a SUPER-TANKER by throwing FISH at the front end – sometimes it goes well, sometimes it goes badly and no one ever agrees on why. For that matter some people won't even agree on what "well" and "badly" mean!)

ALL Parties, Hard Labour included, said that there would be cuts, serious and deep cuts. It is HYPOCRITICAL of Hard Labour now to be throwing up SHOCKED MITTENS that anyone might actually DO the cuts.

Am I happy that Liberal Democrats are supporting a rise in VAT?


Of course not. We warned of the Conservatory Tax Bombshell. We said "whenever the Conservatories have to raise taxes, they always choose VAT". Only last week I was protesting that an income tax rise would not just be FAIRER but would be REVERSIBLE – i.e. people could not just see the PAIN they had to pay to fix what Hard Labour did, they could share the RELIEF when the pain was over.

VAT is a regressive tax, whatever way you look at it.

Yes, it's true that FOOD is given a ZERO rate of VAT and that the cost of housing isn't VAT-ed either (rent is exempt and mortgage interest is "outside the scope" which means it's SO exempt that it's not even looked at when they think about things to exempt)

But, based on the Office of National Statistics "basket of goods" used for calculating inflation, food and housing together are only a FIFTH of household expenses.

Transport, clothes, furniture and other household stuff, "recreation and culture" (that's DVDs or the cinema to you and me – though also books which are let off), eating out, holidays… these are all VAT-able and will all go up in price.

(And we can probably expect them to go up in price by MORE than just the VAT rise because of inflation and to "round up" the price – you know, the way that £9.99 goes up to £10.99 not the £10.20 that the VAT rise necessitates).

As the Viz Top Tips say: "avoid the VAT rise – stop buying stuff!"

It's a jolly sight easier to "not buy stuff" if you are a rich family cutting out non-essentials than if you are poor family who couldn't afford non-essentials in the first place!

VAT is a BAD tax and we were against it.

But some battles you just lose.

We managed to get the Conservatories to increase Capital Gains Tax – not to 40%, but an increase, and I'm open to persuasion that the Treasury models showed that any greater increase would have brought in less tax.

We managed to get the Conservatories to increase personal allowances – not yet to £10,000, but as a first downpayment it's a start…

(…and yet already Hard Labour and their quislings are raising the ZOMBIE argument from its grave that a TAX REFORM doesn't help those who DON'T PAY TAX. Well dur! It's not SUPPOSED to! We want to make the TAX system fairer for those who DO pay tax; we want people at the bottom end not to have to pay tax at all. But people who DON'T pay tax we want to help by targeting spending, on education, on child tax credits, so that THAT reaches the people who need it…)

We managed to get the Conservatories to DROP plans to cut Inheritance Tax (the millionaire's tax cut) and to drop married couple's allowance (the ten quid bribe).

But I guess we just could not persuade them to raise Income Tax.

It's really the ONLY viable alternative to a VAT rise – no other tax raises as much money. And somehow Income Tax has become much, much more TOTEMIC. You KNOW what Hard Labour would say: oooOOOooo, WE never had to raise Income Tax in thirteen years, and NOW look what they've done!

(This of course is a LIE: Hard Labour DID raise Income Tax in the DISGUISED form of raising National Insurance. Same money, same effect on the taxpayer, different name. Of course the Tories couldn't raise THAT either, after all their "Jobs Tax" name-calling!)

I suppose you COULD raise taxes on business, but you know… RECESSION. Cutting corporation taxes will hopefully be a help in getting investment back into jobs, though as Mr Mark Reckons says, it could have been better aimed at SMALL businesses who are the backbone of Britain's economy.

Am I happy that benefits are targeted for eleven billion pounds of cuts?


There's got to be some kind of SICK IRONY in breaking the link to the RPI (includes housing) cost of living for most benefits at the same time as we restore the link to earnings for pensions.

And I think announcing cap on Housing Benefit is gesture politics to placate the Daily Hate Mail. But I do not BELIEVE that the Hate Mail's stories of "illegal immigrants in million pound mansions" are anything more than anecdotes that are way way WAY outside the normal experience of benefit claimants.

And introducing medical tests for Disability Benefit seems a bit SUPERFLUOUS when there are ALREADY medical tests for Disability Benefit. Saving money by scaring people off is just BAD.

Is there FRAUD in the Benefit System? Yes there is. But far more overpayments are caused by ERROR because the system is so COMPLICATED. It would be a million times better to just make benefits SIMPLER and EASIER to get, and tell the tabloid press to GET STUFFED because we just ACCEPT that there will be a certain amount of money lost. Because no matter WHAT you do, a certain amount of money will be lost to people who are CLEVER because there will ALWAYS be people who are more clever than the people who operate the benefit system for the simple reason that the Government does NOT employ geniuses to run the benefit system. Or apparently even DESIGN the benefit system.

And anyway far more money is lost in VAT FRAUD than in benefit fraud, but that is lost to nasty scary gangsters who live in faraway places and are quite difficult to catch. Unlike Aunty Maude with her dodgy back.

But we HAVE protected pensions, the biggest part of the social security spend, and better than that, we HAVE restored that link with earnings, something Hard Labour promised by never found the time to deliver in thirteen years in power. And we HAVE done more for families with children.

So AM I happy with this budget?

No, again, no.

But "happy" wasn't on the table. Not after the worst recession in eighty years. Not after Britain had a longer and deeper recession than all the rest of the World. Not after thirteen years of Hard Labour. If you'd wanted "happy" you shouldn't have let Hard Labour spend MORE than they earned by at least 2% of GDP in EVERY year since the 2001 General Election.

Because THIS is the key graph of Mr Frown living beyond his means, as Chancer and then as Prime Monster:

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You see the green line for receipts going up and down? THAT'S the "economic cycle": good years and bad years. Government spending should be averaging out on a line half way between the top and the bottom of those peaks and troughs so that over the "cycle" the government earns all that it spends, borrows a bit, pays it back.
Anything more than that and you are mounting up debts that you're not going to be able to repay. That's what they call a "STRUCTURAL" deficit, it's the borrowing when you should be repaying.

Look what Mr Frown did in his FIRST term, 1997 to 2001: receipts rise, spending falls; receipts fall, spending rises. That was FINE. That was the way to manage the economy PRUDENTLY.

Look what Mr Frown did in his SECOND term, 2001 to 2005: receipts rise, spending rises even further. That's a recipe for DISASTER.

Look what Mr Frown and then Sooty did in their THIRD term, 2005 to 2010: receipts collapse, spending goes through the roof. That's a CATACLYSM.

Hard Labour seem to think that "recovery" would have bailed them out of the trouble they've gotten us all into. But just look at the projection: the receipts recover according to the usual pattern of the economic cycle (in fact rather generously, there doesn't appear to be a downturn of receipts towards the end of the five-year period that the cycle seems to predict) but see how long it takes to bring down the massive overspending.

THAT'S why we have years and years and YEARS of painful careful management to come.

Hard Labour seem to think that now they are in Opposition all they have to do is point the finger and say: they're cutting jobs (that never existed); they're cutting training (that only hid the unemployed); they're cutting hospitals (that were imaginary, that we never funded, that we just MADE UP!).

Or as Harriet the Harminator hooted in her response: it's not fair, it's not fair, it's not fair, it's not fair, it's not fair, it's not fair, it's not fair, it's not fair, it's not fair, it's not FAIR!

The whinge of the biggest baby in Westminster.

And as for Mr Alistair Dalek (formerly Mr Frown's glove puppet Sooty) expressing DOUBT in the Government's growth figures… gasp… gasp… gasp… words just fail me!

It's just not good enough! What would THEY have cut? What were the cuts they SAID they were going to make? Why don't they have any kind of plan at all?

Don't give me this "it's all about shrinking the state" guff. If you REALLY think that the size of the State is "about right", then go ahead, make a case for the EIGHTY BILLION pounds in tax rises you need to pay for it all.

VAT up to 25%? 30%? 35%! It's still not enough!

Raise the basic rate of tax to 40% - DOUBLE IT! – you might just cover it.

That is the sort of scale of tax take you're talking about if you want to keep up this level of spending.

But don't pretend you can keep on spending money like your Sweden while raising taxes like your Texas. And don't lie to people that you can keep on borrowing forever. Mr Frown may have spent a decade with his fingers in his ears going "Lalalala I see no debt" and all the while mortgaging the future of his two young sons.

The WORST kind of lie is the promise to do something and then never doing it. Hard Labour came in by making a lot of promises that they broke. It's hardly surprising they went out making a whole lot more promise they knew they could never keep, and that the next government would have to break.

So yes, the Coalition will have to disappoint you about those free school meals that HARD LABOUR NEVER DELIVERED. They're not GOING to be delivered because LABOUR LIED.

So does that mean I oppose this Budget?



Reluctantly. Grudgingly. With a heavy heart and drooping trunk, I have to support the Coalition budget.

For the sake of stability. For the sake of still HAVING an economy in five years' time. For the sake of getting SOME little bits of Liberal GOODNESS rather than 100% of nothing at all.

Because the alternative is Conservatory Budget untrammelled by Liberal Democrat fairness, based on tax cuts for the rich with no relief for the poor and nothing but contempt the public sector.

Or a Hard Labour budget that is based on AIR and FANTASY and would delivers us to the IMF (I can't even joke that it'd be Mr Phelps' Impossible Mission Force, because things would get so bad it'd have to be the International Monetary Fund to be the only ones who could save us).

As for what did I think of Master Gideon's SPEECH…

Well, here is the young Baronet at the Despatch Box, seemingly flanked by Captain Clegg and Mr Danny Champion of the World.

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I say "seemingly" because in fact you cannot see where Mr Balloon is hiding. Yes, the Chancer of the Exchequer is sat right in the Prime Monster's lap. Or possibly, Mr Balloon has his hand right up Master Oboe's… VAT policy.

I THINK that expression may be what they mean by "fiscal tightening"…


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Day 3457: DOCTOR WHO: The Pandorica Opens


Auntie Caron wants Daddy Richard to explain this week's Dr Woo. Well, good luck with that! I think he's more likely to make your fluffy head spin even more!
Is any of this real?

At the end of "The Pandorica Opens", we pull out from a close-up on the end of Rory's universe, Amy dead in his arms at his hands, to the Earth from space as all around every star and every planet explodes instantly into nothing and we are left alone in darkness, the end of the Doctor's universe. Even the incidental music fades as silence falls.

The problem with cliffhangers like this is not, as Charlotte thinks, the lack of a decent ending.

Amy is dead. Rory is an Auton. River Song and the TARDIS are blown to smithereens. The Doctor is locked inside an inescapable puzzle-box. And the universe has been so utterly destroyed that it never existed.

If that's not enough of an ending for you then nothing ever will be.

If anything, it's the Reichenbach Falls without having to wait ten years for the Empty House.

What would be fairer to say is that we know that this ending is a cheat. Unlike "The Final Problem", there is no pretence that this is the "last" of Doctor Who. We know that there will be an episode next Saturday, and then a Christmas special, and then another series next year. So, unless we're very, very young, intellectually we know that all this will be undone.

And there are at least five easy ways that Moffat could bring back the Universe (and, indeed, the very title of "The Big Bang" suggests the start of the Universe not the end):

1. The Rusty Reset: either a case of "time can be unwritten" or "whatever can be remembered can come back", the Doctor uses timey-wimey powers and/or the time energy of the cracks to make the explosion unhappen or to recreate the Universe.

2. The Douglas Adams approach: "if ever the Universe is completely understood it will instantly be destroyed and replaced by something infinitely more complicated (this may have already happened)" – the destruction of the "Doctor Who" Universe triggers the creation of a whole new Universe.

3. Lawrence Miles in a bottle: similar to the above, the Universe is destroyed only to be revealed as a "universe in a bottle" nested inside a "larger" Universe; the Earth remains in the new Universe.

4. Neil Gaiman by any other name: suggested by the Dream Lord from Simon Nye's episode – one of the three episodes not (yet) tied to the others by a returning non-regular character or monster this week – the events of "The Pandorica Opens" are taking place either inside Amy's head, or in some kind of TARDIS projection. Either or both could explain some of the "does it ever worry you that your life doesn't make any sense" facts about Amy. Alex wonders if Amy's Roman infatuation is retrospectively significant to the Romanesque names of the "Byzantium" and Father Octavian in "The Time of Angels"/"Flesh and Stone". But I have to say that "the crash of the 'Byzantium'" was name checked two years earlier in "Silence in the Library", so it has to be a coincidence, or a foreshadowing of Russell's New Roman Empire.

5. The Seventh Doctor Gambit: (possibly using one or more of the above) it's all a great big trap-within-a-trap – the Doctor has set all of his enemies up and they're going to discover to their chagrin that they are the ones on the inside of the Pandorica.

Proper resolution is impossible anyway for any ongoing series, as the Doctor's travels can no more come to an end than Sherlock Holmes could declare all crime in London finally solved. Doctor Who will always have unresolved plot points, larger or smaller, that carry over from one story to the next.

And the "cliffhanger" has an honourable tradition in storytelling, stretching from all the way back to Scheherazade in the "Thousand and One Nights" to Jackanory – that tantalising signoff, "until tomorrow… goodbye", being as integral to my recollection of childhood as Wombles and Paddington.

Nor is the problem that the story lacks the required "beginning, middle and end" structure: in fact, what Steve Moffat has written here is, far more than usual for most Doctor Who multi-part stories, quite self-contained: we are presented with connected but disparate events which draw the Doctor into the story; we see him work out where he is, discover the Pandorica box and try to deduce what is going on; and we are shown the answers in the reveal that it is a trap by his enemies and they win and shut him in the box. Unfortunately for them they've made a literally cataclysmic error of judgement. Essentially, "The Pandorica Opens" is a miniature movie – Moffat's own private "The (Dalek) Empire Strikes Back" – with a sequel, not a conclusion, due out next week.

No, the problem isn't that this is half a story. The problem is how do you follow that? Not next week. Next week there will be a resolution, one of the above or not, that is either satisfying or unsatisfying. But how do you follow it next year? How do you go on doing stories week in week out when the audience know that even the absolute destruction of everything can be got out of if you're clever enough?

Previously on Doctor Who (to coin a phrase), the Universe has been threatened with destruction on nine occasions: "The Time Monster"; "The Three Doctors"; "The Key to Time" season; "Logopolis"; "Terminus"; "The Trial of a Time Lord: The Mysterious Planet"; "Doomsday"; "Journey's End"; and "The End of Time".

(I've ruled out "Pyramids of Mars" and "Image of the Fendahl" because although Sutekh and the Fendahl might threaten all life in the Universe they wouldn't destroy the structure itself. The Doctor's temporal embolism panic in "The Two Doctors" doesn't count because he's speculating wildly on incomplete – and indeed falsified –evidence.)

In the best of these, the events are transformative for the entire series and the stakes just have to be that high. In "The Three Doctors" it takes a threat of the scale of Omega to put the Time Lords in the Doctor's debt that they might release him from his exile. In "Logopolis" nothing short of the end of the universe could stop the fourth Doctor, so the threat has to be that terrible and unstoppable. Whole planets, including Logopolis and Traken, actually die, and the best the Doctor can do is merely to delay the inevitable forces of physics, even paying the price of a life for doing so.

In the worst of these – "Terminus", "Mysterious Planet" – the threat is bathetic, an overblown statement that only underlines that we probably don't care about an explosion large enough to wipe out the characters to whom we've been introduced by the story. It's the same as last week's overblown "the explosion will blow up the Solar System (insert number of exclamation marks to your taste here)" threat only on an even more ludicrous scale.

Saving the universe shouldn't – can't! – be all in a day's work, not even for the Doctor. There has to be cost to these things.

(The interesting exceptions are "The Time Monster" and "The Key to Time", where the conclusion is an almost zen-like "doing the right kind of nothing". After investing a season of viewing time in "The Key to Time" this is slightly unsatisfying; but under Barry Letts, it almost works – it's certainly a lot more satisfying than other parts of "The Time Monster"(!))

For all that Russell Davies might horribly muff up bits of them – dancing Daleks, anyone? – he at least matches the epic scale of the story to the operatic scale of the emotional payoff. "Doomsday" costs him Rose; "Journey's End" costs him Donna (and Rose again, but never mind that); "The End of Time" costs him his dignity his tenth life.

Moffat has, so far, improved on Russell in as much as the spectacular imagery does match the epic scale of the story. The Doctor is the Lord of Time; only a story spanning all of time and space could be big enough to catch him. In "About Time, volume two" Lawrence Miles and Tat Wood ask: "how do you set a trap for this man?", and it's interesting that this is the first time that the Daleks have set a trap for the Doctor since "The Evil of the Daleks".

(Actually, that's doubly interesting because "The Pandorica Opens" follows on from "Victory of the Daleks"; and "The Evil of the Daleks" follows on from "The Power of the Daleks" which so inspired the Moffat-era Daleks first appearance. If we're playing "quote the Dalek story", next up I nominate "The Daleks' Master Plan" where they form an alliance with a dozen other alien races and then exterminate the lot of them. The sneaky bastards.)

It's the convolutions needed for four-dimensional thinking in order to set up how this time trap works that sign Moffat's signature genius across the season: the way that, if it's true, some of the apparent discrepancies in earlier episodes may turn out to be timey-wimey rather than continuity-cockupy; the way that guest stars from earlier episodes unexpectedly reprise their cameos to give you an alternative through-line to their histories.

Mind you, if Liz Ten – yes, it's the same Liz, the end credits say so, and also River refers to her meeting with the Doctor (saying it was "here" so the Royal Collection must be aboard the star whale or at least wherever Starship UK landed) – is still Queen in 5145, that makes her reign over two thousand years long, longer than all her predecessors' put together.

(Or was that a continuity error in "The Beast Below" and those solar flares should have been set in the forty-ninth going on fifty-third centuries as everyone thought they were and not the twenty-ninth going on thirty-third? Would have had to have had a three thousand-year-old Amy, though.)

Oh, and the very naughty cameo that wasn't: "Fry" particles at Stonehenge? Next you'll be saying the Minister of Chance has popped by, or possibly King Arthur.

An example of how Steve does this better than Russell, though: why didn't the Doctor come across this "lost" Van Gogh until the "right" point in his timeline?

Well, the answer is obvious: it didn't exist before he met Van Gogh.

Yes, it's the same sort of four-dimensional jigsaw reply that people hypothesised as an answer to "why didn't Torchwood just arrest the third Doctor" – unfortunately Russell outsmarted himself on that one by having Torchwood appear in both "Bad Wolf" and "The Christmas Invasion" before the Doctor went back in time and caused Torchwood to happen ("Tooth and Claw" – or "Torch and Wood" I suppose).

But remember, in "Vincent and the Doctor" the Doctor demonstrably changes history by his visit – in the original version, "The Church at Augers" has the face of a Krafayis in the window; in the new version, "Sunflowers" has "for Amy" written on the side of it. In the first version of history, Vincent never saw the TARDIS, with his unique vision, and so never painted it as "The Pandorica Opens".

And you can make a similar, though more tenuous, case for the visit to the diamond cliff to read God's last message to creation © Douglas Adams River's message to the Doctor. The Doctor himself says: "I don't know why I've never thought of this before". The answer, dear Doctor, is that until River went back in time and put it there, the message didn't exist for you to go and translate. Essentially, the idea of this has-to-be-solved mystery has only existed in his head for the few hours or minutes since River wrote it up there!

On the other hand, remember that it is Professor Bracewell who brings the painting to Churchill's attention and a nasty, nasty thought occurs: maybe he never did fully escape from Dalek control. After all, it's the co-ordinates on the TARDIS door in the painting – quoted by River in her gigantic graffiti (theta sigma, indeed) – that draw the Doctor to the Daleks' trap. Meaning that possibly Vincent's vision was forced into the poor man's head by the evil pepperpots. Or, more prosaically, Bracewell under Dalek control may have just altered the painting. (After all, it would make more sense if the date on the door had been the date of the TARDIS destruction, i.e. 25th June 2010, rather than 102 A.D.)

The reversal of the fairy-tale trope is a rather lovely touch: we are expecting – indeed, River cues us up to expect – that the Doctor is the "good wizard" who trapped the "evil goblin" inside the Pandorica. But far from Gandalf the Doctor, it turns out that this wizard is Dalek the White. And the fairy tale in question turns out to be Merlin and Nimue in the crystal cave.

Watched for the first time, "The Pandorica Opens" is an exercise in escalating tension and feverish speculation: even if you've probably already guessed that the obvious person to be in the box is the Doctor himself, it still winds up the tension to the moment of opening when, with all three main character plots coming together at once, the answer becomes blindingly obvious.

Watched a second time, it becomes a grand tragedy, as the Doctor does the Doctor-ish thing at each stage and each Doctor-ish thing that he does leads him one step closer to that box. Of course he works out it'll be under Stonehenge; of course he finds his way into the Underhenge; of course he persuades the "Romans" to help defend the site; of course he threatens the Alliance's starships into backing off, only buying himself the time for the trap to spring.

"Why don't I know about what's inside the Pandorica already?" the Doctor asks himself over and over.

Even such bottom feeders as Prisoner Zero have mocked him for not knowing (though Prisoner Zero probably learned it from the Atraxi, who we see are in on the deal). And the Weeping Angels laughed at him for not knowing. At least until they fell out of the universe.

Well, the simple answer is that it's because it's your future that is in there, Doctor. But also – unless you're Mitchell and Webb's self-aware Nazis again – you never see yourself as the baddy.

My ten-year-old nephew wanted to know if it was true that the Doctor was the "worst thing in the universe", which is remarkably sophisticated analysis from the target audience.

And I had to say that to the Daleks and the Cybermen and the Zygons and the rest, yes, the Doctor is that goblin, that trickster, that warrior, who drops out of the sky and pulls down their world. From a certain point of view. As Obi Wan Kenobi might say to get himself out of a tight spot.

This reversal of expectations is what "The Pandorica Opens" is all about: Moffat comments on, and then reverses his own trope of the Doctor facing down enemies by bigging up his own backstory (and it's also a reference to that famous quote of Paul Cornell's that Moffat keeps nicking: "I'm what monsters have nightmares about"). When he faces down the collected starships that he thinks have come to take the Pandorica, the music goes all triumphant as they back off, like he's won. But secretly they're all covering their mouths as they say to themselves "tee hee, he thinks he's got the better of us".

In the same vein, Rory returns from the dead (just an aside here to say I'm with Amy on this one: Arthur Darvill looks really good dressed as a Roman. Ahem) he returns but he's the one who has to deal with the grief because Amy's forgotten him. That's really harsh.

It was a really good way to bring Rory back: a return so obvious that even the Doctor overlooks it for a comedy moment; a miracle with a monstrous twist. You get the feeling that the eleventh Doctor is looking for miracles now, and that that gives him a blind spot to all the coincidences. Yes, I agree that it doesn't exactly make sense for Rory to remember everything up to the point of his death if he's based on a psychic snapshot of Amy's memories from the last time she was in her house (especially given the whole "erased from time" business, and the fact that the episode itself plays up how he's not in Amy's memories!) or maybe there'll be another explanation next week.

Of course, the first clue that he was not as he appeared was that he managed to kill a Cyberman using a sword.

…Yes, all this and a five-minute interlude to make the Cybermen actually frightening again, for the first time since, oh I don't know… "Earthshock", probably. Hmm, that killed a companion too.

And the Cyberhead scuttling around on its cables, and ejecting the shrivelled skull of its former occupant, were just brilliant. An even more grotesque form of Russell's Toclafane from "Last of the Time Lords". And, of course, a bit of Moffat recycling Moffat, too: the robot-form that wants the Doctor's human lady friend for her brain. But not in a good way. (See also "The Girl in the Fireplace", like you hadn't worked it out already.)

Incidentally, there's clearly a (no pun intended) deleted scene where the Doctor, River and Amy find the Cyberman's head – we only see the head as a relic discarded by the stone over the stairs to the Underhenge, but the Doctor refers to the Cyberarm as "probably belonging to that head we found up top". Oh, and while the whole scene from entry to the web-shrouded tomb to mummified heads spitting poisoned arrows is obviously Indiana Jones, the three-winged paralysing dart – like the ones Jango Fett uses – is another Star Wars nod, as well…

But of course as a human mind trapped in an indestructible artificial body against his will and not necessarily under his own control, Rory is very much another form of Cyberman himself.

It would be most impressive – though I fear highly unlikely – if the Doctor left at the end of "The Big Bang" not with a predictably-resurrected Amy but with a grief-stricken Auton Rory as his companion.

Tragically, I suspect Rory is for the heroic sacrifice to avoid all those Auton-y pitfalls any time the TARDIS lands in a Nestene time zone, but he does remain odds-on to feature as the one who gets the Doctor out of that box.

Yes, how to get the Doctor out of the box: the obvious answer is then one he gave himself in the course of the episode: it's much easier to break into a prison – yet another interesting sidebar: have you noticed how many prisons there have been this season? Literal prisons like the Atraxi Gaol in "The Eleventh Hour" and River's Stormcage; or more metaphorical ones such as the poor star whale in "The Beast Below" (brain accessible via the dungeon of the Tower of London) and then the Doctor, Rory and Amy trapped in dreams in "Amy's Choice". And now the Doctor incarcerated in the Pandorica. If it is all in Amy's head, that's one big Freudian complex about being sent to her room, she's got there!

As for the Doctor getting himself out of the box: well, without going too Captain Jack on us, he ought to have one thousand nine hundred and seven years (give or take a few months) to Houdini it before he catches up with the just-about-to-explode TARDIS in Amy's garden. If it still is in Amy's garden.

As to how: I noticed that River's hand-held gizmo recorded the entire unlocking sequence for the Pandorica. Now she clearly takes that with her to Amy's house and time, as we see her scanning with it, but the Doctor appears to have a similar gizmo through which he talks to her, like a telephone. Could this be the first escape by text messaging?

Of course that would be predicated on River not being roasted in the TARDIS.

There's certainly more to River's story to tell. People – yes, me included – had guessed that the events of the Pandorica would take place before her imprisonment in the Stormcage facility and would probably climax with her committing the murder that got her sentenced there.

Even if I don't buy it – and it's looking even less plausible now – I did like the theory repeated on the Eleventh Hour podcast that although it might be tragic for River and Pond to be the same person, if Amy is a younger Dr Song (notwithstanding being shot dead) then it would fulfil Moffat's promise on Confidential to tell us the whole of River's story, as we would have the beginning in "The Eleventh Hour" to match the end in "Forest of the Dead".

Clearly though, beginning with her already in prison (or at least "in the basement of the Millennium Stadium again") said that we've not got to that key part of the story yet.

And so River has to survive this. Yes, I realise that "in universe" time can be rewritten and unwritten, that older River's presence in "The Time of Angels"/"Flesh and Stone" (a story that itself deals with some of its protagonists being removed from history) cannot be taken as a guarantee of her survival (as demonstrated by the contradicting opening and closing scenes of "The Hungry Earth" and "Cold Blood"). But if Moffat is going to tell us the whole of River's story as promised, then he isn't going to do that by erasing her from time and saying "sorry, those other adventures now didn't happen".

Besides, as Alex says, he clearly loves her too much. I mean really: taking the Captain Jack's signature device, the Vortex Manipulator, from the "beautiful recurring character" of the Russell era and giving it to his own "beautiful recurring character" is just rude!

(Alex wonders if this is where the Face of Boe parts company with the Hand of Boe!)

I certainly think that the Doctor should rescue River in preference to the other way around, but it's not beyond Moffat to have each rescue the other (with or without paradoxical means).

Or the clue could be in the mythology, in the fairy tale. In the legend of Pandora's box, the box contained all the evils of the world. And hope. Obviously that's a two-edged sword: hope it what gives people strength to fight those evils, but equally if there were no hope then there would be no bitterness or despair. But the monsters do not understand hope.

Ah, yes. The Monsters. It's a bit of an odd alliance, this, isn't it? Daleks, Sontarans, Cybermen, yes fair enough (notwithstanding my usual complaint that the Cybermen aren't really important outside of Earth's Solar System), but the Sycorax are distinctly B-List aren't they? And who let the Weevils in?

More importantly, what are the Silurians doing here? Or the name-checked Draconians, for that matter? They're not really enemies in the way that the Daleks or the Cybermen are; or if they are, then it's no more so than humans, who are notably not present.

UPDATE: In the comments, Mr David makes an EXCELLENT argument that the Silurians and Draconians aren't out to get the Doctor but are there because of the cracks in time and they are against that sort of thing.

And why aren't the Ice Warriors in on the deal? On past form, there's only a 25% chance of them being non-hostile, and they're at least as big players on the galactic stage as the Cybermen (who, as I keep saying, even if they are Doctor Who's number two monster, are really pathetically parochial monsters in universal terms – unless Nick Briggs has been re-writing their history again… oh I give up.)

Most of all why aren't the Rutans involved? The Daleks are, at least post-Time War, established as the single most powerful threat in the Doctor Who universe (subject to resolving its current existential crisis), but the Sontarans and the Rutans are engaged in a war that spans galaxies and may well involve time travel as well (the Sontarans posses some kind of time technology in "The Time Warrior" so logically the Rutans must as well, or they'd be wiped out in their own pre-history). The Sontarans would certainly not break off their war unless the Rutan Host agreed to the ceasefire too, if nothing else for fear of being massively shot in the back.

The absence of the Dominators (self-styled masters of ten galaxies – check out the DVD in a fortnight) and the Krotons is also puzzling, if for no other reason than that with them in the line up the new Skittles Daleks would look slightly less embarrassing.

I'm afraid that the answer – necessitated, unfortunately, more by the available costumes than by proper consideration of plot – is that "we haven't done a Rutan story or a proper Ice Warrior story yet".

(To which the answer to the answer is, I'm sorry to say, "why didn't you do one of those instead of that pointless Chibnall two-parter, then?")

Oh, and Charlotte also asked: why didn't the monsters just shoot the bugger! That's an easy one, actually: if you kill him, he'll regenerate and come back as something that could have survived whatever it was that killed him. I think even the Daleks might figure that turning the Doctor completely monster-proof might put a kink in their no-doubt-colourful plans.

The big monster mash-up is the sort of thing that ought to be absurd, the sort of thing that hasn't been done since, well, that Dalek story in the sixties that I mentioned. The one where Terry Nation dropped off half-a-dozen pages of notes and left Dennis Spooner to wing it. It should be the worst kind of exercise in crowd-pleasing theatrics, even more than Russell's Daleks versus Cybermen grudge match (or rather: Cyber ass-whupping).

And yet the story works almost in spite of the rubber-mask Usual Suspects moments at the end. It's a story that relies on Moffat's vision of the Doctor as legendary. So of course it has to be "Murder on the Orient Express": everyone did it!

And yet again, the continuity adds to the air of unreality about the whole business. As though it's all one careful exercise in quotations.

Alex tells me how he was thinking of the novel of "Terror of the Autons". Which he's willing to bet the Grand Moff and his predecessor must have read. When challenged about getting into UNIT HQ, the Master tells the Doctor not, as he does on screen, "Don't bother with trivialities" but that "A number of UNIT sentries firmly believe that they have just admitted the Prime Minister!" which may have given Russell ideas. But there are two more points that make Alex think of the Mister Moffster. In the book, it's stated that were the Master ever to be caught by the Time Lords he would face their severest punishment: "the Master's life-stream would be thrown into reverse. Not only would he no longer exist, he would never have existed." That's the first time anyone ever talks about that. And then there's the Auton in the safe, too: it doesn't just have the door slammed on it, as happens in the TV version, but its arm is caught in the door and cut off, with that severed arm thrashing like a snake, "spitting out energy bolts"…

And it wouldn't be one of my reviews of Steven Moffat's work without pointing out this week's quotation from the works of Lawrence Miles, but I'll leave it to poster "Affirmation" on Gallifrey Arse [link may need registration] to tease out this summary of "Alien Bodies":

"Underneath an ancient Earth monument is a relic - in reality the Doctor - coveted by every race in the universe. As the Doctor races to understand what it is, mighty battlefleets approach. Someone from the Doctor's future is hanging around, but we never get to learn exactly what they know because of spoilers. We do know that the Doctor is a survivor from an epic Time War, though.

Meanwhile, everything we think we know about the feisty young companion (who has the hots for our hero) is turned on its head as we find out that she's been part of the set up."

For myself, I spotted at least two "Eccleston Moments", direct echoes of the ninth Doctor era: disabling an animated arm with the sonic; and "I am TALKING" while addressing (albeit unknowingly this time) the Nestene Consciousness.

And then there was Rory delivering the Tennant Moment: "I don't want to go!"

Is this all just fanboy homage? Moffat unable to resist the urge to add cleverness on top of cleverness, quoting just for the sake of fun? Or is there something more to it even than that?

It's just a thought, but the last time that the TARDIS exploded… okay, the last time on screen that she exploded… the Doctor arrived in the "Land of Fiction", a world where metatextual was a way of life… as I say: it's just a thought.

I don't think I've really answered any of the questions, certainly not any of the ones that matter. So I'll leave them with you until next time…

Why did the TARDIS explode?

(There seems no particular reason why it starts playing up in the first place. Why whisk River away to Amy's house? And why start to go bonkers at that point? Will we see events replay from a different point of view – that would be in keeping with the themes this episode has been developing – so that we understand what happened to the TARDIS?)

Who visited Amy's house, leaving those curiously patterned burns marks on the grass and tearing the door off its hinges?

(The burn marks might be a reference to the Daleks' landing in the playground in "Remembrance of the Daleks" but the door seems more… bipedal.)

Whose is the voice that wheezes "silence will fall"?

(Speculation says that it's Davros – because it does sound a bit like Davros… though of course the Beast sounded exactly like Sutekh so "sounds like" is no guarantee of anything. Speculation is no doubt fuelled by the way that the exploding TARDIS does appear to do the business that he wanted to do with his reality bomb. Besides, speculation always says it's Davros. Even when it is!)

Why does Amy's life not make any sense?

(How can she live in that big house with all those empty rooms? What happened to her aunt or her parents? Why didn't she remember the Daleks?)

And what is a duck pond if there aren't any ducks?

(Amy's duck pond. Without ducks. Amy. Pond.)

I thought "The Pandorica Opens" was awesome. But then my niece, who is seven, told me that the one with the invisible spaceship on the roof was much better. So maybe I'm just an old fanboy after all.

Next Time… Mostly harmless.


Friday, June 18, 2010

Day 3456: A Tax on Gains is a Capital Idea


Must answer my TWITTER correspondence…

@millenniumdome: "#HoTVote Returning the CGT rate to 40% is a sensible way of raising money from the better off to use to increase the personal allowance"

@jazzifull: "Raising #CGT to raise money for any other purpose is simply a way to disincentivise personal responsibility for omes future."

@millenniumdome: "no, it's a disincentive to pretending income is "capital gain"; if people keep more of their income how is that irresponsible?"

@jazzifull: "Playing Robin Hood! How do you think capital gain comes about? Money tree in garden? Investment by individuals, it costs!"

Arrgh! Need more characters! Must resort to a diary entry…

I'm going to take this point by point, just not necessarily in the same order because I'll leave the DIFFICULT bit to last ('cos I get a bit PHILOSOPHICAL in reply to Mr Jazzifull getting a bit INSULTING.)

But first, there's an UNDERLYING sense to most of the objections to the proposed rise in Capital Gains Tax of:
"How dare you put up taxes! Lowering income tax? LALALALA CAN'T HEAR YOU!"
IF you want the government to do stuff – and because I'm a LIBERAL elephant, not a LIBERTARIAN kitten, I DO think that there are some good things that governments can do – then you have to accept that you're going to have to raise tax from SOMEWHERE.

(Well, of course, Hard Labour had the idea that they could just INVENT money from somewhere, or at least that they could ALWAYS run up more debts in our name, but at some point we're all going to have to pay back the money that they spent on our credit cards…)

So if you agree that you have to raise SOME tax, it becomes a question of where it is FAIREST to raise that tax from: from everyone, regardless of how low they come on the earnings scale? Or from better off people who are better able to shoulder the burden?

The WHOLE POINT of the Liberal Democrat policy – and we were completely upfront about this – was to REBALANCE the tax system, so that people who are well off pay a FAIR share.

You remember the story that Rich City Slickers are getting a LOWER rate of tax than the people who clean their offices? That's because of Capital Gains Tax.


First point first:

"Playing Robin Hood"

Yup, happy to put my fluffy feet up to that one. It was ALWAYS the Liberal Democrat plan to try to move some of the burden of taxation from the general taxpayer to the better off, particularly with an aim of taking people on the lowest earnings out of tax altogether.

Very few people pay capital gains tax. Almost everyone in work pays income tax. Raising the personal allowance lets more people keep more of their own money and take more personal responsibility.

Thanks to Hard Labour running up a trillion pound overdraft, none of us get the option to opt out; we've got to raise the taxes from somewhere. I'd rather they were raised more FAIRLY.

And with the AUSTERITY budget that is coming, giving a generous tax cut to most workers, paid for by tax rises on those who could afford it, was our way of saying "we are all in this together".

Third point second:

"Investment by individuals, it costs!"

You do realise that Capital Gains Tax is a tax on GAINS, not on Capital, don't you?

You ONLY pay the tax when you have money to pay it. It's not like COUNCIL TAX (or the TV licence) where you have to pay it whether you've got the cash or not; you're ONLY liable to the tax if you make a profit on selling stuff.

It's not a tax on your HOME; your home is exempt.

It's not a tax on SELLING stuff (like VAT); you only pay the tax if you sell stuff for MORE than you paid for it and then you only pay the tax on the bit more that you get when you sell it. Whatever you put in in the first place – like on "Bullseye" – that money is SAFE.

And, in fact, if you know ANYTHING AT ALL about the way that Capital Gains Tax works you will know that there is a WHOPPING great tax exemption called "Entrepreneurs' Relief" that means that if you spend your life building up a business and then sell it, the first ONE MILLION POUNDS of the profit (yes, that's the PROFIT not the sales price) is tax free.

Think about it like this: suppose you've worked hard to build up a business – the people WORKING in your business, they're working hard too, and they get taxed on the reward for their hard work after the first six thousand pounds. You SELL the business and you get taxed on the reward for your hard work after the first MILLION pounds.


In order to raise allowances, if we can, so that we only tax your workers after the first ten thousand they earn, we want to tax you only at the SAME rate that they pay on their earnings.

Is that not FAIR?

So, perhaps a little less BLEATING about how it "disincentivises" people from investing in businesses that will create jobs.

You could by the same argument say that INCOME tax "disincentivises" people from working, particularly at lower incomes where people may even calculate that they are better off on benefits.

A fairer balance between taxing gains and taxing wages could encourage people to take jobs so that employers benefit too.

Capital Gains Tax is a tax that falls MAINLY on people rich enough to be able to buy and sell stocks and shares (or buy-to-let second homes) and taxes them mainly FOR buying and selling stocks and shares (etc).

As we shall see…

Finally, second (and insulting) point last:

"How do you think capital gain comes about? Money tree in garden?"

Well, at the most SIMPLISTIC level, ALL gains – capital or otherwise – come from someone putting something into an opportunity and getting something back.

Now, that COULD be as simple as putting in some of your LABOUR into a JOB and getting PAID.

Or you could put in MONEY into an INVESTMENT and get a RETURN.

Of course, ultimately all MONEY must represent LABOUR at some point. Just not necessarily YOUR labour ('cos you might have INHERITED it).

It could be that was the labour of making something to sell, or growing something to eat or digging stuff out of the ground.

Or maybe the labour could be the labour of calling yourself "king" and killing anyone who objects to paying you protection money.


Most "value" comes by exploiting the Earth somehow – only writers, artists, musicians, poets truly create something of value out of nothing, and even THEY need something to write or paint ON (not to mention something to EAT!) – so in a sense there IS a "money tree in the garden"; the "money" represents how much effort you've put into collecting the "fruit" of that "tree".

Though of course the suggestion was that I thought money came free from nowhere. Which is really only true of rich people with inherited fortunes. The sort of people who are most likely to be paying Capital Gains Tax on their Trust Funds, as it happens.


You get your money (somehow) and put it into a BUSINESS and get a RETURN. Or you could put your money into BUYING SOMETHING that will go up in value and make a PROFIT when you sell it.

That would be something like stocks and shares or gold or land or property or art. Stuff, basically. Because, obviously, MOST of the gains that Capital Gains Tax taxes are made on buying and selling stuff.

Now, you could be UNKIND and call "buying stuff in the hope that it goes up in price so you can sell it for more than you paid" GAMBLING. But even if you are being generous, "buying things to sell them" is really just a SAVINGS PLAN for RICH PEOPLE.

If you put a thousand pounds in a savings account, a year later you still have your thousand pounds PLUS you have some INTEREST. You pay INCOME TAX on the INTEREST at the basic (20%) or higher (40%) or even top (50%) rate.

If you put a thousand pounds into SHARES and sell them a year later, you MAY have your thousand pounds back PLUS some PROFIT (if the price has gone UP; if it went down, then why did you sell the shares?) You pay CAPITAL GAINS TAX on the PROFIT at the capital gains tax rate of 18%.

Basically, both are INVESTMENTS where you put in some money and get a bit more back, and you pay tax on the "bit more" that you get back.

So why is the gain on the stock market investment taxed at a lower rate than the gain on the savings account?

Obviously, there IS a DIFFERENCE between these two kinds of INVESTMENT. And the difference is that the buying stuff plan has MORE RISK: that's why some people call it GAMBLING.

If you put money in the bank, you are pretty certain to get it back again with interest. So the interest rate will be quite LOW. Putting money into shares is more risky because (as the advert has it) the price CAN go down as well as up. But in the long term, so long as you can afford to keep your money parked in the investment, the stock market USUALLY goes up more, so you get a higher "return" than just a savings account.

And remember, boys and girls: RISKY investing is what led DIRECTLY to the credit crunch and worldwide recession. Are you 100% sure you want your government to be encouraging risky investing?

So why is the gain on the RISKY investment taxed at a lower rate than the gain on the SAFER one?

In FACT, Capital Gains have only been taxed at 18% for the last couple of years. Before that, quite sensibly, the CGT rate was similar to the income tax rate. The REASON that the rate was LOWERED was mainly because Mr Frown caused a MASSIVE RECESSION and STOCK MARKET CRASH and so wanted to encourage people to reinvest in the stock market.

I say "mainly" because it was also to do with Mr Frown's messing up the tax in the first place: a long time ago, you USED to get a allowance for INFLATION deducted from any gain that you made so you only paid tax on the money you made "in real terms". But Mr Frown thought he'd ABOLISHED inflation so he got rid of that allowance, and tried to bring in a "taper" relief instead, so that the tax got less the longer you owned the whatever-it-was. But that all got far too complicated and didn't work properly so he abolished that as well and just made the tax lower.

But this creates a massive LOOPHOLE so that if you are rich enough to get paid in ASSETS instead of CASH – like, say, city bankers – you can get your "salary" in shares and then sell them and so only get taxed at 18% instead of 40% of 50%. Which leads to the SHOCKING business of fat cats paying a lower rate of tax than the people who clean their big shiny offices.

So why is there a loophole open to the rich to get their earning taxed at a lower rate than the rate that the rest of us have to stump up?

So, to sum up, the answer is YES, Mr Jazzifull, I DO know where gains come from (possibly better than you); I DO know how they are taxed (probably better than you); and I know why it's FAIRER for the tax – thank you again Hard Labour debts – to fall on the better off, which is why I know we should switch from taxing income to taxing gains if we can (certainly better than you).

Is that what Master Gideon is going to do in his budget next week?

Well, no, I'm rather afraid that he won't. Because I'm afraid he's an idiot probably going to raise the wretched VAT rate.

The Liberal Democrat plan was to cut the deficit by cutting spending; to NOT increase or decrease the total tax taken (except for adding a Bank levy), just change the balance of taxes to try and be more fair.

But we have got to COMPROMISE now, in order to make the Coalition WORK. And the Conservatories plans include cutting the deficit by a MIX of spending cuts and tax rises. They have agreed to use the Liberal Democrat plans for a Capital Gains Tax rise, but I do not think that they will be raising the personal income tax allowance all the way to ten thousand pounds all at once as we had hoped (making this a tax RISE not tax NEUTRAL). And then there's the VAT.

A VAT rise is a MUCH WORSE idea because (a) it is REGRESSIVE, impacting more on people who have less (though the zero rate for food, and rent being exempt – and mortgages outside the scope – means that at least there is protection for the very worst off); and (b) whereas reversing an income tax rise is easy and has a direct benefit to the taxpayer, reversing VAT rises doesn't tend to get passed on to customers – as we saw last year when Hard Labour cut VAT back to 15% – and so you get stuck with a tax that only ever goes UP.

I am SURE that we will have argued AGAINST it, but it is an argument that we may have lost. And so, I'm afraid, we're going to have to LUMP it.

Arguments about Capital Gains Tax may exercise the more frothing members on the right wing. But VAT hits far more people, and so VAT – not Capital Gains – is going to be the REAL first test of the Coalition.

Hang on tight, fluffy chums, this could get NASTY!


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Day 3450: DOCTOR WHO: The Lodger


For starters: Big Fluffy Hugs and Thank Yous to Mr Chris and Mr Joe (and Auntie Jennie) for mentioning my diary on their Eleventh Hour Podcast show.

We've downloaded ALL your shows, now! The only question is: can Daddy listen to them all before the Pandorica Opens?

('Cos after that… ominous pause… SILENCE WILL FALL… Oooh!)

Before that though, there seems to be a lot of FOOTBALL* about.

Elephants, obviously, have NO INTEREST in football so we're watching Dr Woo…




OK… elephants, obviously, are BEST at football, but IN SPITE of that we're watching Dr Woo ANYWAY.

And even Daddy Richard admitted it was loads better than he expected, even though it had football in it too!
Another week when I'm proved wrong. Hurray!

It's all too easy to look at "The Lodger" and see the "cheap one at the end of the production run" set in a suburban street location in the present day and with one of the series' leads only minimally present and think: ah, this year's "Fear Her".

So I was already ready to look askance even before seeing who was writing it and what he was writing it from.

Which just shows you how little I know.

Reasons why I was expecting this to be worse #1: as I'm sure you already know, "The Lodger" was written by Gareth Roberts.

In the nineties Gareth wrote a triptych of near-perfect Season Seventeen pastiches for the Virgin "Missing Adventures" range ("The Romance of Crime", "The English Way of Death" and "The Well-Mannered War", do check them out if you can find them).

And I'll gladly concede that he has written rather well for the Sarah Jane Adventures, particularly the pilot, "Invasion of the Bane" (co-authored with Russell Davies); and he's been widely praised for the cleverness of his Trickster stories ("Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane", "The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith" and "The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith").

Your opinion of "cleverness" may vary depending on what you think of recycling the plot of "Father's Day" but, even so, you must admit that the Trickster is a terrific recurring villain, and rather better than any that they have come up with for "proper" Doctor Who. Ditto Mrs Wormwood from the Bane stories, in fact.

But for Doctor Who on television Gareth's track record stands at a much less impressive: "The Shakespeare Code", "The Unicorn and the Wasp" and a half-share of the blame for "Planet of the Dead" (again with Russell). There's been a touch of self-indulgence, a hint of "I'm so clever" smugness, the slightest whiff of "I think these people are geniuses and look how I can write like these geniuses". Pastiche worked perfectly for his Season Seventeen stories, where "cleverness" in storytelling was the order of the day anyway, but not so much for his celebratory historicals and I think it's because Shakespeare and Christie actually were geniuses, and Gareth, er, isn't.

"The Shakespeare Code" really needed to finish with genuinely clever wordplay – not a string of random words with a "Harry Potter" joke on the end. There's nothing wrong with the "Harry Potter" joke, as such, but it needed to be at the end of something genuinely Shakespearean, not just one more odd-sounding word in a string of gibberish. Likewise, trying to cram in as many as possible of the titles of Agatha Christie's many books as dialogue was neither big nor clever, and in fact got old very, very quickly. Worse, it got predictable: not being naturalistic speech, you could see each "title" being set up as another forced bon mot. Or maybe that's just me.

None of which predisposed me to expect "The Lodger" to be witty, engaging and, believe it or not, actually rather charming. Being set in the present day seems to have helped enormously: focusing the efforts on the human (and non-human) interactions of the characters with no need to show off the research.

He is lucky in his cast. For all his shortcomings as a comic, for all that he's basically playing the same part over and over, James Corden is getting rather good at the slightly-shy everyday blokey bloke that he's been playing since "The History Boys". Daisy Haggard is almost built for "ditzy blonde" roles, but here keeps the comedy elements of her character turned down very low, presenting a sympathetic long-suffering girlfriend-in-waiting, but with some nice strength to her character, particularly when slapping the Doctor down for suggesting she deserves life in a call-centre and then smartly spotting his reverse psychology (if not the double twist of it). In fact, both Corden and Haggard treat it as entirely real, which is just the way to play comedy drama.

Of course, the real star is Matt Smith, somehow finding incredibly believable ways to play "eccentric alien who doesn't understand our Earth ways" without looking stupid. In fact, in a damn fine performance, he convinces as wise old man trapped in young man's body, seeing both the big alien menace and the small human drama with equal clarity. He gives the Doctor's scripted eccentricities a sense of child-like innocence; his misunderstandings stemming from a failure to grasp such Earthly failings as lying, embarrassment and shyness, rather than from some innate "wackiness".

Even so, even the best of casts – well, unless you have Sir Ian McKellen who can frankly make anything worth watching – can be undone if the writer doesn't give them anything interesting to say.

Reasons why I was expecting this to be worse #2: as I'm sure you already know as well, "The Lodger" was written by Gareth Roberts based on a comic strip that he had written for Doctor Who Magazine (DWM #368, in fact; online here), written for the Tenth Doctor and hapless "tin dog" Mickey.

I confess, I remembered the story mainly because I didn't like it. The simple enough premise – the Doctor sharing a flat for three nights with Mickey because the TARDIS has misfired on landing and made off with Rose for a few days – has the makings of some odd-couple humour. But the problem is that the story is told very much from Mickey's point of view and Mickey just does not like the Doctor, and has some perfectly good and intractable reasons for not doing so: principally that the Doctor stole his girlfriend.

So the tale plays out with the Doctor shown up as an arrogant git. His actions, without so much as a by your leave, make Mickey very unhappy over the course of those days: from "hilariously" sonicing out his own teeth, through being shown up at everything that he enjoys, to having his latest girlfriend encouraged to leave to find her own life. Plus the Doctor saves the planet in his free time. Again.

The conclusion where the Doctor stays with the TARDIS to give Mickey some quality time alone with Rose ought to be about the Doctor having learned something, but doesn't half come across as him pimping out his companion to make Mickey feel better for the inconvenience.

And yet, by some extraordinary alchemy, the revisions needed to make the story work with new character Craig instead of Mickey and the established history between him and the Doctor actually improve the tale enormously.

Because the Doctor has to win Craig over, he starts off by impressing him with his weirdness and his cooking skills. And Craig is clearly taken with him. It means that what follows is much more the Doctor doing more of the same but taking it too far, ultimately alienating Craig because he's an alien and he doesn't know when to stop, rather than him rubbing Mickey's nose in his superiority over and over again.

With a couple of crucial exceptions, the beats of the story are remarkably similar but achieve a very different perspective on both story and Doctor.

The Sonic Screwdriver:

In the Comic: Mickey mistakes the sonic for his toothbrush and accidentally sonics out his teeth.

On Television: In a neat reversal, the Doctor grabs Craig's toothbrush instead of the sonic and rushes to try and save his landlord wielding only toothpaste and a strategically placed towel. The Doctor's near-naked hijinks cleverly distract us from the whopping great clue to Craig's importance in the story: his confrontation with the sinister figure behind the door upstairs and more significantly his entirely unexpected survival.

Boys' Night In:

In the Comic: Mickey and the Doctor play a shoot'em'up on the Playstation – the Doctor somehow wins without shooting. Mickey tries to watch some telly only to find that the Doctor has rewired the TV to watch broadcasts from 10 years in the future.

On Television: Partly because the Doctor is trying not to reveal his non-terrestrial nature, these humiliations are necessarily removed. However, the "I'm the Doctor and I don't use weapons" line is transplanted to the moments after the football match where he misinterprets the team's desire to "annihilate" their next opponents. It's a predictable gag to use, but Matt delivers it with great charisma, particularly when into the embarrassed apology afterwards. And since this is a character study, it doesn't hurt to have a Terrance Dicks-esque statement of fundamental principles for the Doctor.


In the Comic: one of Mickey's mates is sick, so the Saturday afternoon football is off until the Doctor declares himself never fitter. Mickey asks him not to introduce himself as "the Doctor" because it's "weird", but the Doctor does so anyway and no one bats an eyelid. On the pitch, the Doctor proves to be an ace player and the team win four nil. Much to Mickey's chagrin.

On Television: almost exactly the same (the "you can't call yourself the Doctor" bit is even exaggerated by the Doctor doing his "air kiss" greeting)

What is particularly interesting is that while the Doctor is clearly a very good footballer – do you think that being able to see all the alternative probable futures might help? – he's clearly no good at all at football: football is a team game and he's just not a team player, he's doing this all on his own, see especially the moment where he steals Craig's penalty.

It means that Craig's annoyance and frustration are legitimate in a way that Mickey being sulky about the Doctor showing him up is not. We retain our sympathy for Craig's character because he's kind of in the right. But we also retain our sympathy for the Doctor because, and this is at least in part thanks to Matt Smith's natural charm and love of playing the game he'd hoped to make his life, because we see that the Doctor isn't showing off; he's just having a whale of a time doing something he's only just discovered he's got a natural talent for (at least in this body). He isn't humiliating Craig in the way that a gazelle isn't humiliating a chinchilla.

A Night in with the Girlfriend:

Now this is where the TV version gets really clever, taking almost exactly the same scenario and yet totally inverting what the Doctor is doing and why he's doing it.

In the Comic: Gina from the flower shop is Mickey's new date, at least until the Doctor turns up with the wiring and Gina invites him to stay for a drink (name-brand cola only) and he ends up telling her that there's a much wider universe out there and convincing her that she can do better with her life.

On Television: Sophie is Craig's not-date-at-all just girl that likes to hang around his flat all the time and has two sets of keys for it… you get the picture. The Doctor certainly does. She and Craig are stopping in for booze'n'pizza, at least until the Doctor turns up with the wiring and Sophie invites him to stay for a drink (nice glass of wine, doesn't drink any) and he ends up telling her that there's a much wider universe out there and convincing her that she can do better with her life.

Except on television, the Doctor is every obviously trying to make a bigger point: he's showing Sophie that she clearly could do better but there is something making her stay. Specifically, a large Craig-shaped something. Far from splitting them up – in the comic he claims to be "rescuing" Mickey from something he'd never go through with – the Doctor is trying to throw Craig and Sophie together. It's not just a more positive aim; as Mickey himself points out: sometimes people don't want to be saved from their mistakes. Mickey and Gina may be wrong for each other but it's presumptuous of the Doctor to sink it before it can start – and you might also consider it's a bit questionable for the Doctor to be making sure Rose's ex stays single.

The complete reversal of the scene with the eleventh Doctor makes Matt Smith's version a kinder and wiser Time Lord, not acting from either arrogant or selfish motives, just trying to make things a little better but, being too subtle for Craig's perceptions, mucking it up.

A Trip to the Office:

In the Comic: this doesn't happen. We know that Mickey is a mechanic – we briefly see the garage where he works in "The Christmas Invasion", and it's why he's always got different cars – so the Doctor could have gone round to his work and shown him up further by sonicing all the cars he's supposed to be working on. But the story doesn't need it, and in fact is better with the Doctor almost confined to Mickey's flat (he only goes out to the football and that's with Mickey too, poor Mr Smith can't get away from him. Which is the point, obviously.)

On Television: The TV story has a slightly different agenda by this point.

The Doctor is trying to be helpful to Craig – his line "I'll recruit a spy" clearly means Craig, and he does do his landlord a nice breakfast before discovering him near dead from evil-residue poisoning. He thinks that covering Craig's work for him is doing him a further favour.

He's also, ever-so-slightly, procrastinating. Something about the upstairs flat – maybe the time loops, maybe the fact that it can interfere with his TARDIS – has got him nervous and he's, maybe subconsciously, trying to put off the point where he goes up there.

(He's actually right to be wary as if he'd gone up there alone, the planet would have been blown up – though he's slow to realise that Craig is the key: it's almost two days between Craig being turned away at the door and the resolution.)

It is, of course, hilarious to see the Doctor "in the workplace"; he's totally out of place there, and we'd all love to be able to treat annoying people on the phone the way that he does.

And I loved the metal slotted-spoon rotating on the desk in front of him with no given explanation at all. Magnificent.

Craig and Sophie, incidentally, clearly don't work in any normal kind of call centre, at least not from the appearance of the rather nice open plan office with swish desks and pot plants – see the grey cubicles of Adipose Industries in "Partners in Crime" for a more realistic view. Although we are probably safe to assume that it's only the Doctor's special charm that has the boss offering out biscuits.

But we all like to think that we are indispensible at work. We certainly don't want someone else turning up and effortlessly doing better at our job. That would feel like a threat to our well-being, particularly if maintaining our status quo is as important to us as it is to Craig. Remember, his job doesn't just pay for his house; it's also where he met and continues to meet Sophie. So having inadvertently undermined Craig's sense of his own football prowess, the Doctor's apparent attack on his security is what is needed to push Craig over the edge into open hostility.

That brings Craig to the point where Mickey sort of was in order for the row with the Doctor to happen. But even this row is different on television than in the magazine: where Mickey had an actual point about the Doctor's behaviour, Craig is just overwhelmed; and with Craig the Doctor argues back, insists on staying, because he isn't here just to kill time but because he's actually doing something plotwise.

Of course, dramatically, the argument on the telly is so that they are distracted enough not to notice Sophie's arrival and abduction by the upstairs neighbour.

Hence roll on the conclusion…

Meanwhile back in the TARDIS:

In the Comic: no time at all passes for Rose – the Doctor steps out of the TARDIS on Thursday but the materialisation glitch means that Rose emerges on Sunday with no intervening gap for her.

On Television: Amy actually has something to do, even if it's just play with the standing set while emoting to the Doctor's voice. The TARDIS continues trying to land for all the time the Doctor is alone on Earth, with the suggestion being that the same amount of real time passes for Amy as for the Doctor.

(The synchronisation of the time loops with the TARDIS going into shakes seems to indicate this, as does the way that the Doctor's earpiece lets them have conversations with Amy in real time – although he could have built in some kind of temporal compression filter as well. I'm sure someone can find a use for the word "Blinovitch" in any explanation they want to make up. Of course, the Doctor arrives at Craig's a day after the attempted landing and stays for at least more two days… does Amy really spend all that time stood at the TARDIS console? Does the girl need no sleep?)


The biggest difference between the two versions, though, is of course that the TV episode has an actual plot rather than being just a study of two characters forced together despite causing friction whenever they meet.

A forty-five minute television episode needs a stronger backbone than a five-page comic strip.

Of course it was Alex, who is far brighter than I am, who spotted that this one is lifted from "Sapphire and Steel", actually a combination of two stories: the invisible apartment on the roof from Adventure Three crossed with the faceless man on the stairs from Adventure Four.

In the comic strip, the Doctor just happens to save the world in passing (inverting a time cone – how very Logopolis – to hide the Earth from intergalactic scavengers) and it's just the last in his long line of perceived slights at which point Mickey flies off the handle at the Doctor's persistent interfering.

On television, saving the world is the point. And saving the world and the Doctor being a lodger and the romantic subplot and the thing that causes the TARDIS to glitch in the first place all come together in the same point. Hmmm, do I detect the hand of Moff?

That point, that conclusion, that jaw-dropping moment of "oh… it's a TARDIS", which the series hasn't managed since 1965's "The Time Meddler", was an absolute stunner. Of course, all the clues were there if you were up to spotting them. I didn't.

Of course the peril is a little bit silly and slightly overstated. A threat to destroy just Colchester… the episode is set in Colchester, apparently; Alex used to live in Colchester, and he didn't remotely spot it. So, not what you'd call really hammered home, there… A threat to destroy just Colchester would have been equally adequate, and perhaps more appropriate given the stay-at-home themes of the episode. Again, someone who wants to use the word "artron" can probably think of an explanation of why plugging the Doctor into another Time Machine should explode the solar system. (Although this appeared not to happen when he was plugged into the time capsule in "The Two Doctors" – though it might have been a blessing if it had!)

I imagine everyone will mention the "Star Trek: Voyager" homage: Hologram plus Doctor plus "Please state the nature of the emergency".

I imagine everyone is going to say that the timeship looked Jagaroth -like, too, but I won't disappoint.

The gloriously dimensionally-transcendental interior looked like a TARDIS; in fact, looked like the TARDIS that the Master ought to have had: all gothic tomb done out in black metal and sharp edges.

But the exterior, the black sphere and spider-like legs, was straight out of "City of Death". And, with localised timeloops making everything go timey-wimey whenever the thing tries its starter motor, you do have to wonder if that wasn't deliberate.

Yes, localised timeloops equals someone is building a time machine. TARDIS can't land, must be getting blocking, must be another TARDIS. I said the clues were there for the spotting

A TARDIS disguised as part of a building is Douglas Adams-inspired as well: in the uncompleted "Shada", Professor Chronotis's college rooms are in fact his Type-38, usually materialising in the form of "a door".

It's still genius, though, to use a TARDIS as the "upper floor" of a one-storey building. Too rarely do the writers remember the full range and power of the Time Lords' Timeships.

Of course, this isn't a proper TARDIS – or correctly TT capsule – though. It's a homemade version knocked together by someone we never find out about. But what a great hook. I would really like to see the series develop this thread – someone is trying to rebuild the Time Lord technology? It's a bit of Lawrence Miles oeuvre that no one has mined yet. Come on Moffat, there's a story arc in there and you know it.

In many ways this is what makes this the most "Moffat-y" of the Moffat era so far: the use of ingenious plotting as a frame to hang human relations around makes this all but an episode of "Coupling" where an alien Time Machine is needed to bring the boy and the girl together.

Of course, a happy-ending rom-com is never going to be as moving as the intense emotion of the Van Gogh piece last week, so to an extent Gareth was on a hiding to nothing anyway. But in its own way this was a polished little gem, and certainly told me not to prejudge a book by the name on its comic-book cover.

Next Time… Take the money or open the box? Daleks, Sontarans, Cybermen, Drahvins… Drahvins??? Is it for a bet? Is it because "Galaxy 4" is the next story after "The Time Meddler", the one where they discover another TARDIS? Is it a contest with Russell to see who can bring back the most obscure black-and-white alien? Or does Moffat just want an excuse to have more women in micro-skirts? And as a special reward for Gareth Roberts: Chelonians. And Romans. And Stonehenge. Who's locked inside the Pandorica, then? Is it the Doctor? Or someone exactly the same shape as someone played by Arthur Darvill? And is River Snog going to kill him? Expect everything to go timey-wimey 'cos it's Steven Moffat's first season finale. Anything could happen when "The Pandorica Opens".

*Football, as I understand it, is a game where you place one sphere, approximately twenty-two centimetres in diameter, on top of another sphere, approximately twelve thousand kilometres in diameter, and attempt to kick the smaller one and not the larger one.