...a blog by Richard Flowers

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Day 3800: DOCTOR WHO: The Almost Title-By-Ben-Aaronovitch


No, I'm getting confused with that OTHER Doctor Who episode where they nearly use one of Mr Ben's titles and the Doctor goes {spoiler deleted}*1 at the end: "Remembrance Tanks of the Daleks".

THIS is the one where {spoiler deleted}*2 turns out to have been {spoiler deleted}*3 shaped by {spoiler deleted}*4. Hang on…that's INTERFERENCE again…

Anyway, it CAN'T be the Daleks, because the Mr Moffster has announced that he's AXING them. Apparently this ISN'T because of the reaction to his Dalek redesign but because they've been defeated, like, four-hundred times. IRONICALLY, their last adventure was "Victory of the Daleks".

Though it DOES look a teeny-tiny bit like he's reacting to the fan backlash by throwing his shiny, plastic, multi-coloured toys out of the pram afterthat redesign went down like a bucket of cold sick. Seems like the Grand Moff has got the hump. Right after they did.

All of which has nothing at all to do with Saturday's episode of Mr Smith the Space Assassin…

Although there are other things to talk about, I really can't start without addressing "THAT THING" that happens at the end, and it's such a big "thing" that I've even censored Millennium's intro gags. So we'll cut to the Spoiler Curtain and then get into it.



One wave of the sonic and Amy is reduced to a woman in a fridge while the Doctor murders the flesh-ganger shaped by Amy's mind that has taken her place for the last several weeks.

It certainly looks like the Doctor kills Amy. And that is what Karen Gillan, interviewed on "Doctor Who Confidential", seems to think happens.

I'm pretty much in agreement with Jennie's views on the Doctor's actions here. Although where I do disagree with her is when she infers that Amy's pregnancy is against her will: come on, given the nature of the show surely Amy's baby has got to be Rory's baby too, possibly affected by time in the TARDIS. Rape and forced pregnancy would be too much for the audience. And the thought of the Doctor cuckolding Rory wouldn't be so much game-changing as shark-jumping and series-ending. Besides, he prefers bunk beds.

Let's trot through the excuses:

First, are we sure he actually kills the flesh? Yes, he waves the sonic and f-Amy "bursts" or "melts" and turns back into base flesh which collapses out of shot. But then we cut immediately to h-Amy and her inside-a-tube point of view. So we don't actually see a steaming puddle of dead flesh on the floor of the TARDIS. It's not completely impossible that next week will start with the Doctor mopping it up into a bucket and whispering: "there there, all better now; no nasty being forced into human shape any more".

(Quick note on terminology: I'm not going to buy into the real-Amy/ganger-Amy distinction as the episode is at pains to remind us that both are equally real; so instead I will refer to f-Amy for the one who started out as flesh and h-Amy for the one who started out as human. Which I think avoids hierarchy between the two as much as possible. Slightly clumsily, this leads to the f-Doctor and the tl-Doctor, but what can you do?)

If the flesh is sentient in its liquid form – and that does appear to be the whole point of the Matthew-Graham-written bits of the episode – then turning it back into yoghurt could justifiably be claimed to be liberation, not murder.

Admittedly, if that's the case, the episode really needed to say that was the case. And the way that he does it, doesn't seem to tie in with "I'll be as humane as possible". Although "Amy, come and stand in this bucket… no, no reason" doesn't seem entirely credible either.

Alex suggests a second plausible excuse: at the end the Doctor drops off h-Cleaves and f-Dicken at a press conference to spill the beans on the company and the abuse of gangers. We assume that this is to assert some rights for the flesh as a sentient being, and the gangers as real people; but, suggests Alex, what if the Doctor's ulterior motive is to impress upon the company that they need to ensure that "later" versions of this technology have to be absolutely, definitely non-sentient. That is, he's arranging matters so that his intended elimination of f-Amy won't be murder.

I like that as a solution, it does tie in to the seventh-Doctor vibe that Matt Smith has got going on, but once again it relies on us reading more into the episode than is actually spelled out on screen.

The excuse that I'm not buying is one I've seen trotted out several times, including by the episode's writer, that f-Amy "doesn't count as sentient" because she's only receiving h-Amy's consciousness by "telephone wire". If anything this makes the matter worse. What this is saying is that there is a sentient creature – the flesh – whose sentience is then brutally crushed aside by imposing h-Amy's thoughts and actions on its physical body. We call this possession and in Doctor Who deposing someone's mind and walking around in their body is universally portrayed as A Bad Thing.

The episode itself does appear to support this interpretation: when he has his "why why why" fit that so frightens Amy, the tl-Doctor (pretending to be the f-Doctor) speaks of the flesh working all day and knowing it will be discarded and killed at the end.

So when you say that f-Amy "doesn't count", you are missing an entire victim. The sentient creature who the Doctor murders is not "the being who thinks it is Amy", but "the being who is being possessed by Amy's mind ".

So all I can think is that the Doctor has been driven mad with fury.

I've spoken before of how angry the eleventh Doctor is. He's been skating on ever-thinner ice for a while now, trying to hold it in, making mistakes – messing up Amy's life, letting the Daleks get away again. From his perspective, this "flesh creature" is implicated, complicit in the abduction and incarceration of his current best friend and he just, simply, loses it.

It is a categorical error to think of the Doctor as "nice". The sixth tried to strangle Peri. The seventh blew up Skaro. The eighth blew up Gallifrey! The ninth had a death wish. The tenth went berserk as the Time Lord Victorious. And each step is taking him closer to the Valeyard.

There is a chance of redemption. It is just possible that the two-hundred-years-older Doctor who dies in "The Impossible Astronaut" does so with grace because he has accepted that he has to let go. "I thought I'd never get done saving you." It's not just a recognition that he is going to die, but that he has set himself free to do so.

Moffat's clumsily heavy-handed insistence, also in "Confidential", that the flesh Doctor isn't just a copy but is the Doctor clearly flags up that he at least considers this one possible "get out" of the dead Doctor corner into which he's painted himself. The f-Doctor has all of the Doctor's experience and wisdom, but is innocent of his actions. Yes, I'm suggesting that the Doctor really will die, and that the flesh is his replacement.

Assuming of course that being turned back into liquid flesh allows you to survive an exploding acid factory.

Mind you, the Master turned into a liquid snake and survived extermination by the Daleks, so you never know.

Slightly less contentiously, there are a couple of big questions of "when?": When was Amy swapped? When did the Doctors swap places?

The two Matt Smiths were both brilliant, bouncing off each other and finishing each other's… character ticks. Loved the moment they both spring into action with the same little bob and jump. Loved seeing the Doctor getting on with himself, in a way that he traditionally doesn't when it's two different incarnations. And – let's overlook that ending for the moment – loved that both of them lived up to the principled stance that they were each as real as the other. Swapping the shoes to convince Amy – and the audience – of this fact was genius. Amy was right: he is twice the man we thought he was.

I think that the only logical point for them to have swapped shoes is right back at the start: after the f-Doctor has his funny turn and vocal flashbacks, the tl-Doctor asks him about Cybermats (foreshadow, foreshadow?) and they agree that they have to do something to settle if there's any difference between them. Then the camera cuts to the mining team trying to barricade the door against the gangers. Then, when we cut back, the two Doctors are side by side, wibbling on about "agreeing a protocol" between them and basking in each other's glory. That "agreeing a protocol" must mean they've swapped shoes.

And swapped the sonic as well.

There's some suggestion that there is a continuity error with the sonic, but I'm not seeing it myself. The f-Doctor (pretending to be the tl-Doctor) chucks it to the tl-Doctor (pretending to be the f-Doctor) who takes it out to look for h-Jennifer while the f-Doctor clearly doesn't have it when he and the others go to investigate the thermostatic controls (which is probably why he can't fix them). At the end, the tl-Doctor chucks it back to the f-Doctor before leaving in the TARDIS. Yes, yes, he then has another screwdriver in the TARDIS, but we do know he gets new screwdrivers from the TARDIS console. It might have been clearer if we'd seen the TARDIS fabricating it as a new one, but it's not an error as such.

My suspicion is that the flesh can copy organic matter – clothes as well as people – but not metal. Though where that leaves the metal eyelets on the Doctor's boots where they lace up, I don't know. The clue would be that it's the tl-Doctor (still pretending to be the f-Doctor for a few more moments) who has the key to open the TARDIS. Also, h-Jimmy gives f-Jimmy his wedding ring on a chain from round his neck. Which would be pointless if the flesh had copied it along with the rest of him.

As for when Amy was swapped: three possibilities present themselves. Probably the most likely, certainly the most obvious, is sometime in the "three months later" between "The Impossible Astronaut" and "Day of the Moon". In the former episode, she thinks that she's pregnant and – perhaps significantly – the 1103-year-old Doctor says she's put on a couple of pounds suggesting that this Amy is pregnant. It's not until the start of "Day of the Moon" that she says she's not pregnant after all, and of course shortly afterwards she has her first vision of the "Eye Patch Lady" in the door of the child's room in the spooky children's home. The Silence kidnap her after she sees the Eye Patch Lady, so clearly they kidnap f-Amy rather than h-Amy, which probably confuses them no end.

(I have seen a suggestion that the Silence kidnap her from the room where she discovers them hanging from the ceiling, replacing her with f-Amy and then kidnapping her again from the child's bedroom. Though that seems barkingly over-complicated, even for them!)

It's possible that the Doctor in "Day of the Moon" already knows that Amy's been swapped, hence his rather casual lack of swift action to rescue her from the Silence. (Five days pass with Amy in the Silence clutches: she is kidnapped as Apollo Eleven launches, but rescued as the Eagle touches down on the Moon which is, as the television announcer tells us in the episode, five days later.)

The second possibility is that h-Amy is kidnapped at a point between "A Christmas Carol" and "The Impossible Astronaut". That would, in a way, make sense of the rather confusing opening to the series where the Ponds have apparently left the Doctor and settled in at home in, probably, Upper Ledworth. If you recall, I said in my review of "The Impossible Astronaut" that, Sarah Jane aside, it was unusual for companions to be set down for a breather. If Amy and Rory have travelled and adventured with the Doctor for a while following "A Christmas Carol" and then eventually left him, and then she is kidnapped, it could explain why the older Doctor starts "waving at them from history" and eventually sends them the TARDIS-blue invitation that re-unites them with his younger self.

The final option is that h-Amy was taken at some point during the previous season (One or Five or Thirty-One according to taste). It's been suggested that during "The Lodger" is a possibility, because she sees something in the TARDIS and then forgets; I shall have to check.

I don't like this possibility, because it seems to betray the point of "The Big Bang", that Amy was special enough to remember the Doctor back into being, but I feel I have to raise it because if the Amy in "The Pandorica Opens" is actually f-Amy, a ganger that might be partially under the control of the Silence, that could explain how they were able to program the TARDIS to collide with her wedding day and explode: i.e. they had her do it for them.

Another theory is that she was gone before "The Time of Angels": when Idris whispers "the only water in the forest is the river" was she referring to the forest on the Byzantium? There was "River" and "Pond" in that forest, but only if Pond was real. Where would that leave the Doctor's backwards-in-time conversation with Amy to remember what he told her when she was six? It's a nice theory, but I think, to that one, no.

Let's look at the rest of the episode.

I thought that it was rather too convenient that at least one each of the humans and gangers was killed, leaving us with no inconvenient doubles at the end. H-Dicken, in particular, tosses is life away in a pointless horror-cliché death, when it would have been more satisfying to have had twin Dickens to enter the concluding press conference side-by-side.

H-Cleaves, much as I liked her world-weariness and bitter sense of humour, seems to have undergone another personality swerve from the h-Cleaves who, last week, zapped f-Buzzer in cold blood. I didn't quite spot the point where she switched from "them and us" to signing up for "Friends of the Gangers", either. F-Cleaves had a much better character arc, essentially going along with f-Jennifer's "war" for a quiet life, until f-Jimmy showed a bit of backbone and she realised that f-Jen's mission of vengeance was pointless.

The fact was that f-Jennifer had gone completely round the twist – better illustrated by her using her own flesh to create a Cocteau-esque tableau of accusing eyes then by turning first into a slack-jawed impression of "The Mummy" and then a bad CGI monster of the "Lazarus Experiment" school. Her hypocrisy in creating another f-Jennifer with the intention of killing it to convince Rory that she was the "good" one, was underplayed or possibly overlooked in a busy script. Yes, she was just as bad as the humans, creating a ganger intending it only to be killed when she was done with it.

(And given how obvious this development was, you could have had a slightly more interesting conversation between the two f-Jennifers where either the new ganger presents the older one with this accusation, or they creepily agree that it doesn't matter which of them is killed since they are both the same flesh. Or is that too suicide pact?)

Sadly h-Jennifer has the indignity of only being seen as a dead body. Which is a shame. My suspicion is that early drafts of the script had Jennifer being the aggressive one on both sides. When we initially meet the miners, Jennifer is the only one not in a ganger. A subtle suggestion, perhaps, that she is revolted by the gangers? Replace h-Cleaves with h-Jennifer for the scene with the electric zapper and a lot of the characterisation issues are resolved. If she's already borderline phobic of the gangers, being copied would be enough – at least for TV pop-psychology – to send her screaming over the edge. Likewise, f-Jennifer would literally "hate her own flesh" and hence get her own dose of paranoia and madness. I can imagine that Graham or Moffat between them may have looked at that and thought "well, that's a bit boringly symmetrical" and swapped some of the action beats around, only for it to turn the characterisation to total dribble.

It is equally a shame that Rory is portrayed as a gullible duffer. He starts off well, seemingly about to tell the Jennifers that they are both real, but then slightly lets one kill the other before falling for her pity-me act and agreeing to trick the Doctor and Amy into a trap. He also loses points for actually backing away from Amy in the scene at the end. He nearly doesn't… but then does. Though to be fair, the Doctor's gone a bit scary at that point.

Incidentally, if you want continuity errors… Rory appears to be following f-Jennifer after she makes the eyes in the corridor and then… isn't. She has time to go back to the other gangers, try to switch of the thermostatic controls, duplicate herself and only then get found by him again. Plus, Rory and f-Jennifer seem to leave the discarded ganger bodies together, only for h-Buzzer to discover f-Jennifer there alone. Of course, it could be that there are dozens of f-Jennifer copies around the castle by this point, but we never see more than one except for the "let's fool Rory scene".

And speaking of "huh?" moments – why do the gangers think that the tl-Doctor is one of them? Yes, he's fooled the humans and the audience into thinking he's the flesh-Doctor, but how do the gangers even know that? Is it just because h-Buzzer has bashed him over the head? Or can they smell his made-of-flesh shoes?

All of this welter of complaints serve to disguise the fact that actually, there is a good, solid story underneath all of the cack-handed characterisation and bolted-on curlicues. The monastery makes a great setting and looks visually stunning, but it doesn't fit the story. Simon, I think correctly, says that setting it on Earth makes the bonkers science intrusive in a way that they could have got away with on an alien planet. And, murderous coda aside, the morality of the story – "gangers are people too" – is bang on, even if the episode produced goes and makes it easy for itself by killing off all the "spares".

A case, possibly, of a good story spoiled by too much script editing.

Could it be that this was Moffat trying to prove that he could do what Russell achieved with "Human Nature": taking a brilliant stand-alone story (about, er, human nature) and seamlessly weaving it into the season story arc, both in plot and theme. Trying and failing rather badly.

Next Time… At the moment, it looks awful. But the possibility exists that Moffat's intention is for Doctor to recognise that he has fallen to the dark side. This is his darkest hour. The battle of Demon's Run is about to begin and "A Good Man Goes to War"


Those spoilers in full:

*1: all planet-killing/companion-murdering psycho bonkers

*2: Dr Woo's ginger-haired new-best-friend

*3: made out of goo

*4: the ideas and memories of a real person.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Day 3793: DOCTOR WHO: Apocalypse Not Now


How RUDE of the BBC to schedule part two of this Dr Woo adventure for after the Apocalypse! Tune in next week to discover that the Rapture is a load of old CHIBNALLS.

Frankenstein is close to the surface of this series of Doctor Who. Not so much Mary Shelley's Modern Prometheus as the movies of James Whale, most noticeably last week with the patchwork people, not to mention Elsa Lanchester hairdo, of "The Doctor's Wife". Even the Silence managed to paraphrase: "we belong dead". By comparison, this week's lightning bolt bringing inanimate flesh to life was merely banal.



The story would actually be more interesting if it didn't need a great big god-metaphor to stick in his proverbial finger and zap the copies to life.

The opening teaser, blackly humorous as they treat a melting man with complete disregard, finished with the last of Buzzer's dying Ganger screaming as it dissolved. That surely implied that the Gangers carried on being alive even after the user disconnected.All the Doctor's talk about how the flesh was more than slightly psychic yoghurt – has anyone ever done a yoghurt golem before? – seemed to be pointing to something more interesting, as though it was learning, evolving or even stealing their identities bit by bit.

Basically, anything more interesting that just another "Transporter Accident".

I find myself pulling in two ways on this story, because the location filming was atmospheric; the effects were the right mix of chills and pathos; the direction was mostly pacey and exciting like a good thriller, only occasionally telegraphing developments; and the acting was almost universally good – Marshall Lancaster being, for me, slightly too bored with the proceedings, but Sarah Smart and Raquel Cassidy were both terrific ("Oh that's so me" has to be my favourite line); Mark Bonnar (also on TV at the moment in "Psychoville" as murderous detective Finney) was rather sweet as family-man Jimmy who you could see him almost empathising with his ganger, while Leon Vickers as Dicken looks like he might be pretty and let's hope they give him something to do next week.

But the writing was deeply flawed: the story was slow and clichéd and, worse, predictable; the setting made no sense whatsoever – it's a monastery, that's also a factory, that's also a mine, for acid – and the characters were taken directly from stock – the northern one (in it for the money), the Scottish one (family), the young one (sneezes), the one who falls for Rory and the idiot in charge. Meaning Sarah Smart and Raquel Cassidy were both terrific in spite of their characters performing motivational loop-the-loops: Jennifer-ganger goes from "hug me Rory" to "kill 'em all" for no readily apparent reason – okay, she does witness Buzzer-ganger getting zapped, but the change from reactive and fearful to proactively murderous is still a bit of a handbrake turn – and Cleaves' intelligent, witty persona is totally at odds with her "I just wanna pump acid" actions.

Cleaves, in particular, seems to be going out of her way throughout to actively engineer the cliffhanger: ignoring the Doctor's warnings about the coming Solar Tsunami, for that matter ignoring the actually foreshock they've already received, ignoring the fact that they've lost communications with the mainland – surely that alone should require emergency shutdown of the acid pumping? – and then, after the lightning bolt, immediately jumping to the decision that killing people is the response that the situation requires.

The idea that the gangers might not be "real people" too seems incredibly crass, frankly, and hardly worthy of the amount of effort that the episode puts into hammering home that "this is wrong!"

Some reference has been made to philosopher Donald Davidson's in-no-way-ripped-off-from-Alan-Moore "Swampman" thought experiment: a bolt of lightning (of all things)blasts an unlucky human to atoms while elsewhere another bolt coincidentally spontaneously arranges a different set of atoms into the exact form of the human, including the pattern of memories in their brain. In short, nature invents the accidental teleport.

Davidson suggests that the words and actions of the newly created person are without meaning because they have no true causal history.

I say that that is nonsense.

For starters, I cannot actually tell that I haven't just been created – memories and all –by some cosmic accident, because the sense input would be functionally identical to my memories being true.

Descartes could prove that he existed in the instant of his doubting that existence (do I have to say "cogito ergo sum"?), but even he had to infer that his past history (and everything else his senses and memory told him) really existed on the grounds that "god isn't a bastard".

To me, it seems self evident that anything capable of passing the Turing Test should be treated as alive and sentient, not least because the consequences of mistakenly choosing the opposite are dreadful.

In a way, this is another of the episode's cop outs: the flesh gangers are essentially robot waldos. And real robots would be so much more practical in the acid environment. But would the moral question be so clear if they looked like machines? (Very few people seem to notice that the "Star Wars" universe is built on and endorses slavery, for example: C3PO clearly passes the Turning test and yet is bought and sold and mind-wiped at will, and not just by "evil" characters. "Oh but he's got an off switch!" "So have you, if I punch you hard enough." I'm drifting…)

And of course the "robot struck by lightning comes to life" is another cliché; it's just less obvious when the "robot" is made of goo.

Where the writing succeeded was in giving Rory something to do. In fact, this may deliberately be "the story that's about Rory", as a lot of the time the script and direction chose to favour him over Amy or the Doctor. And about time too. Give Matthew Graham some credit, he's thought about Rory's choices, to be a nurse, and used that to inform the character, while giving him a dry sense of humour about his own situation too. "Welcome to my life!" The implicit Amy/Rory/Jennifer-ganger love triangle works; Karen plays Amy with a nice air of surprised "aren't you supposed to chase after me?" while Arthur gives Rory a kind of self-knowing "yes I fancy you but I'm not going to be unfaithful to Amy". And he is the very best of humans when he defends Jennifer-ganger from the others' hostility. (I've changed my mind: "you don't know anything about her"/"I know she's frightened" has got to be my favourite line.)

It does mean that the plot slightly loses track of real-Jennifer for a long while, before she turns up again near the end with a limp (and possibly getting surprised by the ur-Doctor). And Rory too seems to lose track of which Jennifer is which, as he goes running off to find the real one even after becoming close to the ganger version.

The scene where they bond is the episode at its most touching. It slightly tries to riff on the "Blade Runner" idea of implanted memories, things that look human and think that they are human because of the memories they've been gifted with.

But this isn't "Blade Runner". The Gangers know that they are Gangers. In lots of ways, but most obviously because they have to concentrate to retain their fully human form, and then there are those Mr Fantastic super-powers.So the copies know they are copies; they don't face Rachel's existential crisis.

Which also seems to undermine the briefly-intriguing possibility that Amy and Rory – who wake up in front of the flesh's giant font – have been copied too. Or that all the "humans" are actually gangers, and that what we have are copies of copies (and maybe copies of copiesof copies etc).

Essentially, it's another riff on "Who Goes There" most famously filmed as "John Carpenter's The Thing", with all the fun of guessing which crew member is 'real' and which is a doppelganger with added visceral fleshy attacks.

And of course, the Changelings of Star Trek's Deep Space Nine owed a debt to "Who Goes There" as well, in particular the idea of blood testing to identify who's an alien, so it's only natural that the flesh should inherit Changeling Odo's half-formed features.

Nor is it unfair to suggest that this is "The Hungry Earth" done right. Or at least done better.

There's a gang of diverse human stereotypes and a more identikit race of non-humans in a base-under-siege situation. Conflict arises because they both stake a claim to the same territory: the Silurians and the humans want the same planet; the gangers and the humans want the same lives. The non-humans aren't intrinsically hostile (apart from the war-monger within their ranks) and the Doctor, who knows more about what's going on that he's saying, tries to negotiate a peaceful outcome. But it is (as usual) the humans who initiate hostilities, when a hot-headed female ignores the Doctor's explicit warnings and kills one of the no-humans provoking a "war". "Our heroes" are left barricading themselves into a chapel waiting for the cliffhanger. All of which just adds to making the "it's us against them" conclusion so crushingly familiar from last year's disappointing lizard-fest. (Which itself was hardly scoring highly for "originality".) Just once why not go for something different, maybe a third faction where some of the humans and copies accept each other?

And a clone Doctor, well colour me stunned. If I hear Moffat say "you've just got to do that" one more time I will, well, tut a bit. It looks, in fact, as though the Time Lord is trying to cause the flesh to clone him, what with sticking his hand in the gloop and later nipping back to the chapel to sonic the stuff, what is the man up to? And what does he know about the future of this technology (that means he refers to this version as an "early" version). Please note, wingnuts of Gallifrey Base, this is not the origin story for the Autons, Sontarans, Silence or Wombles, no matter what your over-active conspiracy glands are telling you.

One conspiracy theory I did like though, was the one from Sir Guinglainlinked to by Jennie that "our" Amy is herself a (more advanced) ganger and the real Amy got kidnapped ages ago and is being looked after by the Eye Patch Lady.

The twenty-second century is a moderately unusual time setting for a Doctor Who story, though possibly one we will start to see more of. Back in the original series, it was the twenty-first century that was the acme of futurity.In a handful of Troughton-era adventures in rocketships and silver lamé underwear, "The Moonbase" "The Wheel in Space" and "The Seeds of Death" established a plausible (ish) near future of space travel and solar exploration. Now that we're in the twenty-first century – and a good decade into it, mind – then we have to start looking at the next century again for our "this is the future" shorthand.

Except of course, in Doctor Who the history of the twenty-second century has been written and it's "The Dalek Invasion of Earth". Which is kind of why it's a good thing that the series has steered us away from that period.

It's not a problem, as such – the Daleks don't smash the Earth to a pulp until the 2150s, and this can be 2111 (these things can usually be dated to an exact 100 years into the future). But it does feel… odd. Any developments – say, humans and flesh living in harmony – are going to be reset really soon when the planet gets bombed back to the Stone Age.

Or, perhaps, it's post-Dalek Invasion and the flesh is much cheaper than robots when they're short of resources. Horribly they've not learnt the lesson from Robomen. Or worse, leaned all the wrong lessons from Robomen: adapting the Dalek's bio-technology but not recognising the slavery. Actually, that would make more sense of the whole operation, wouldn't it: where did the acid come from, and why do they need it? It can't be natural – clearly it swallows the TARDIS in nine minutes flat but hasn't done that to the monastery in nine centuries – but if it's the residue of a Dalek weapon… and they do say they are sub-contracted to the military.

So there we are. If this seems like a fairly perfunctory review, just saying all the obvious things, then that's only because it reflects the episode itself.Perfectly functional, perfectly average, but somehow not quite satisfying.

An aspiration to be better than "Fear Her" does not appear to have carried us very far.

Hopefully next week's instalment will make the whole more than the sum of, well, this part anyway.

Finally, technobable-wise, if you're riffing on "Evolution of the Daleks" – gamma particles, and the Doctor struck by not-quite-lightning – then you may be onto a losing streak.

Although inside the solar power cockerel (whatever) there did seem to be what looked like a Solex Solar Agitator from the James Bond film "The Man with the Golden Gun".Which of course there would be if it's converting solar power. So that made me smile.

Next Time… The Two Doctors.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Day 3786: DOCTOR WHO: The Doctor's Wife


Probably the best episode of the new series. And I mean since "Rose".

This is the sort of story I watch Doctor Who for: glorious, barmy, inventive stories that you wouldn't, indeed couldn't see anywhere else; by turns funny, scary and heartrending; a meditation on all that it means to be "bigger on the inside". From the internal convolvulations of the TARDIS corridors, themselves twisting through time and emotion, to the hugeness contained in the word: "alive".

We all contain universes, and this story opens with a throwaway shot of the entire universe. Do you need a better illustration?

Spoilers follow in fairly short order; you can't really discuss the episode without spoilers, so if you've not seen it… look away now.




Of course the Doctor's "wife" was going to be the TARDIS. I'm moderately surprised that not everybody guessed that before the episode aired; I'm utterly staggered that there were people on the Internet who still didn't get it after seeing the show. Never let it be said Doctor Who fans cannot be obtuse.

So we return to a scrapyard – the Totter's Lane at the End of the Universe – and as in "An Unearthly Child" the discovery "it's alive" is the central turning point around which the mystery is revealed.

Idris: Incarnate Dimensions and Relatives In Space? Who was she before House killed her and stuck the TARDIS in her dying frame? Not, I think, one of his "family" – Uncle, Auntie and Nephew – she has a name and that marks her out as different. She's too whole to be one of his collection of patchwork dolls. I fear she was some poor lost soul who was caught by the rift and washed up on House's darker shore.

And he kills her. The TARDIS spends the episode walking around in the body of a dead woman. It's not her fault, but it is an interesting echo of Margaret Slitheen in "Boom Town" (and that saw the soul of the TARDIS for the first time).

The idea of the TARDIS as a living, thinking being is not by any means new. As early as the third ever Doctor Whoserial, "The Edge of Destruction" aka "Inside the Spaceship", the series has propounded the idea of TARDIS as alive, a sentient if unimaginably alien intelligence. The idea that the TARDIS was deliberately taking the Doctor to places where he would have adventures rather than necessarily where he wanted to go – taking him where he needed to go – has also long been currency in Doctor Who watchers' circles. Nor is it completely original to suggest that she chose him, as much as vice versa. TARDISes have walked before (try the Melkur in "The Keeper of Traken"); TARDISes have talked before – and bitched about the Doctor's habit of collecting waifs and strays (check out the, er, rather cross "old girl" voiced by Nicholas Courtney in Big Finish's Fortieth Anniversary tale, "Zagreus"); TARDISes have even had their souls poured into human bodies before (when Rose stared into the heart of the TARDIS in "The Parting of the Ways", and it would have killed her too).

(And I've always felt that the being who destroys the Daleks at the end of "The Parting of the Ways" is not Rose, or at least not just Rose, but the TARDIS. And it would seem that the reuse of the phrase "My Doctor" from there to here could be read as confirming it.)

And at this point you will be expecting me to mention, because I almost always do, Lawrence Miles, and particularly the TARDISes Compassion and Marie, who are walking, talking people as well as pan-dimensional timeships, and the short story "Toy Story" which covers a lot of this ground. I'll leave Mr Hickey to make the full case.

Except that this is by Neil Gaiman. The Neil Gaiman.

To say "Compassion came before Idris" is to deserve the riposte: "but Door (the miraculous method of travel in human form from Neil Gaiman's Doctor Who-esque "Neverwhere") came before Compassion".

Neil Gaiman has been the secret Godfather of Doctor Who ever since the late 'Eighties, when Andrew Cartmel was remodelling the seventh Doctor as Time's Champion in the mould of the comics and graphic novels of the time. The last years of the seventh Doctor on television but even more the continuing series of books, the New Adventures, which followed were enormously influenced by the comic book scene and especially the works of Gaiman's friend and inspiration, Alan Moore. And Gaiman's own masterwork, "The Sandman", published over roughly the same period as the New Adventures completely dominated the science-fantasy scene of the Nineties.

(That this was a piece of Science Fiction – with its discussion of what it means to be human and what it means to be a TARDIS – seems to have eluded some people too.)

It's almost impossible to say that Lawrence Miles doesn't share a lot of those influences. Particularly when the opening line of Miles' "Interference" is practically a quote of Moore's "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow".

That's not to say that they are "copying" each other (or, as the more beresk beasts of the Internet would have it, "ripping off" each other), but that the same architecture of ideas will often end up with the same outcomes. Like rival masons building gothic cathedrals they both end up with huge buildings that… look like gothic cathedrals.

The central conceits of "The Sandman" were worlds made out of stories and beings bigger than gods squeezed down inside bodies that looked like people, bigger on the inside. And that is what Gaiman presents as his incarnate TARDIS: a goddess of the box in human form, literally the Dea ex Machina.

Of course Miles rather infamously, and unfortunately, hates Gaiman's guts, though mainly as an extension of his ongoing obsession with loathing Steven Moffat.

Miles' argument appears to be – and I massively oversimplify here – that being a writer ought to be a vocation not just a job. Gaiman (and Moffat) are just writing "the stuff they think people want to see" (possibly in order to "get into girls' pants") rather than because they are crazy enough or angry enough to be properly creative. Which slightly overlooks the fact that Gaiman (and Moffat) are writing stuff that people want to see.

The lesser objection that Gaiman put something as vast and sublime as Death into the body of "a goth chick" seems, well, a little bit self-blind from the man who put something as vast and sublime as a timeship into the body of "Nicole Kidman with freckles".

Yes, death (and for that matter goth chicks) are exactly the sort of thing that Gaiman's target audience are likely to obsess about. Some people call that "hitting the zeitgeist". It certainly doesn't make him "wrong" for expressing those ideas, any more that Shakespeare was "wrong" to write about kings and witches and merchants of Verona just because his target audience was a bunch of superstitious, social-climbingmercantilists in an era of absolute monarchy.

That's the thing about writing stories: there are good stories and bad stories, and stories well told and stories told badly. But there aren't any wrong stories.

Here, Gaiman tells a good story and tells it bloody well. Incredibly densely packed with ideas, almost as text dense as the masterful "Ghost Light", with every line mattering; perhaps too packed for them all to get all the attention they deserved – the Corsair, love to find out more about him/occasionally her, and Time Lords changing gender tossed in almost as an afterthought; Aunty and Uncle, fascinating and literally cast aside when the plot no longer needed them; Nephew the green-eyed monster (a clue, there, surely), Gaiman brilliantly adapting Russell's cthuloid creature to his own script (though, remembering that those Ood translation spheres represent a severed exo-brain, did anyone else feel the Doctor's quick fix was slightly: "here, let me repair your chains for you, slave"?).More Moffat-y than Moffat (and without the irritating non-explanation lack of ending), which is again unsurprising since Moffat is as influenced by Gaiman as Miles. (Yes, that is ambiguously phrased.)

And yet, actually, it's at heart a very simple (bigger on the inside) story: boy meets girl and they run away together.

The look of the episode, all grungy goth, was very Gaiman too. Michael Pickwoad, as designer, and there's a man who is clearly a TARDIS in human form, continues to turn in these fantastic worlds: the winding canyons of calcifying debris that made up House's world (the Houseworld? No, Larry fans, don't get carried away) all lit in the sickly green light of his inner radiance were a perfect setting, and the wider shots of the elephant's graveyard of half-eaten TARDISes – owing no small debt to nearly-Doctor-Who-designer Ridley Scott's "Alien" – informed the planetoid with majesty and grand tragedy, so you could believe this was the last place in the universe you wanted to end up: the plughole of time. Where Ed Thomas was perfect for Russell's grounded, "realistic" universe, ranging from grimy metal or dressed marble but always somehow rectilinear, Pickwoad feels very much more curved, even fractal, very much seeming to capture the fairytale aspects required for the new Moffat era.

Unlike last week's "Curse of the Black Spot", which lifted great chunks from earlier stories without so much as a by-your-leave let alone the relevant context, here the story is filled with references that inform and expand on the stories where we've seen them before: the Time Lords message boxes – tesseracts, four-dimensional hypercubes, the New Adventures would have them ("Love and War" and "Deceit") – seen in "The War Games"; rebuilding a TARDIS console and travelling unshielded in the void – seen in "Inferno"; deleting rooms to generate thrust – seen first in "Logopolis" but rather more pertinently in "Castrovalva. These "kisses to the past" understand how those tropes were used first time around and only add to our understanding of the series. This self-mythologising is, again, typical Gaiman (and typical New Adventures era Doctor Who), based on making the story itself bigger on the inside.

Then, alongside kisses to the past there were the expected (well, it is Moffat-era Who now) kisses to the future. No Eye Patch lady this week, disappointingly, or maybe not if you want this week's story to be really real and not part of Amy's questionable narrative experience. But there was Idris's dying prophecy: "the only water in the forest is the river" (any or all of which might have capitals). It all seems too obvious, doesn't it? But maybe not.

And then, more subtly perhaps, there's that mysterious telepathic key code: "Crimson, Eleven, Delight, Petrichor"

Petrichor: the smell of rain on dry earth, or the smell of the forest after the rain, or the smell of the only water in the forest.

"Crimson, Eleven, Delight, the only water in the forest" What exactly does the TARDIS have on her mind if that is what she comes up with as a key?

Well, the answer given by the episode is "all of time and space" and again it rewards repeat viewing as you start to piece together some of her disjointed conversation, disjointed in the sense she says one thing at one time and the connected thing later. Or earlier.

I particularly enjoyed: "Goodbye! No, the other one!" as her first greeting, which both prefigures and reflects the final scene with the Doctor where she works out what she's been trying to say, ending with "hello".

Though I did like her calling him her "thief" also.

Suranne Jones gets to be divine as the fallen angel coming to terms with her new terrestrial incarnation. She is sweet and crazy and, yes a little bit Helena Bonham-Carter, but in the end serene, just as the script calls on her to be. I can completely understand when people say they wanted the TARDIS to be something more, but also this is forty-five minutes and they've got a lot to cover. This is a sketch of what the relationship between Doctor and TARDIS would be, a miniature, and it captured the essence, the likeness, if not the full portrait.

(And while I'm running around that metaphor, it's hard to believe Suranne Jones is the same actor who portrayed the Mona Lisa in "The Sarah Jane Adventures" – as Alex says, she plays an iconic piece of art given human form… and also the Mona Lisa; do they have her on speed-dial for when they have artworks to personify?)

But this was a fantastic episode for all four of the regulars. Yes, four, counting Suranne Jones.

Sure, Rory dies and Amy cries. Again. But the Ponds get much more to do than their usual clichés.

Amy gets to show that she is smart, and in tune with the Doctor and the TARDIS, not least in getting how the telepathic password works. She can be strong and trusting of the Doctor, and also highly cynical of him locking them inside the TARDIS, but also vulnerable and needful of Rory, which is nice ("hold my hand" in the console room more than that scene).

And Rory, Rory gets to be smart enough to save their lives by giving House a reason to keep them alive, and gets the telepathic message from the TARDIS – "hello, pretty one!" – and guides them to the console. And he gets to be old and he gets to be angry. "Hate Amy" "Die Amy" scrawled on the TARDIS walls, was more frightening than any number of possessed Ood. Plus he gets to express the unusual sentiment for a companion that someone's death isn't just larks and adventure. Oh, okay, he also gets the Scooby Doo "bopped by an Ood" moment too.

And Matt Smith continues to polish away new facets of the Doctor. Eleven is so… angry. He has the guile of Troughton or McCoy, but also the guilt of Eccleston, full of sadness and personal self-loathing and just brimming with fury. It's like the events of "The End of Time" haven't made him better at all, but just brought it all back and worse. The tell-tale moment is the exchange with Amy where he acknowledges that he wants to be forgiven (and in fact, when he says "don't we all", she half recognises that she does too – worth remembering when she thinks Rory is dead. Again.)

Since the Time War, the Doctor has been defined by his loneliness. This story gave him hope that he was no longer alone, and took it away. And then gave it back. It's got to change him, this new knowledge that he's never really been alone and he never really will be.

Being very nearly perfect, there were of course one or two little niggles that I'd have changed.

In an episode chock full of brilliant lines – "biting's excellent; it's like kissing but there's a winner"; "you were going to say that; now I don't suppose you need to"; "I'm a madman with a box without a box!", "oh my beautiful idiot, you've got what you always had…"; "did you wish really hard>" – the, I'm afraid, rather magnificent line of Doctor machismo from the trailer: "Fear me; I've killed hundreds of Time Lords"/"Fear me; I've killed all of them" felt slightly misplaced in the actual episode coming just before the Doctor's seeming surrender and "let's give him a round of applause for winning" moment. I'd have juggled those in the edit so that the powerful, threatening and frankly vengeful Doctor, warning House to fear him, came after his seeming surrender and after Idris's body died, at the point where House most thinks he's won."Fear me; I've killed all of them" should be enough to give House pause just at the moment that the Doctor snatches victory from the jaws of defeat.

Appreciating that the budget was not going to stretch to more than three sections of corridor, I should have liked to see a scene where Amy and Rory at least try to access some of those other rooms:

Amy: Swimming pool!
Rory: The Doctor deleted it!
Amy: Library, then!
[doors slam in her face]

And it would have been nice to see House's green light expelled from the TARDIS and fizzing off into space, like an evil absinth fairy, because (a) the possibility of a rematch with Michael Sheen never hurt anybody (b) there's no need to make the TARDIS a killer and (c) unhoming him is a fitting punishment as it's what he did to her.

Is this the "best story eveh"? I have to say it's too early to say, and I mistrust my feelings in the aftermath of a deliberately highly emotive episode. And of course, everybody seems to have loved this.

We all like to think that we're "independent thinkers" and not led by the herd. Hell, I likedlast week's instalment and everyone else seems to have rubbished it (but then I have a wilfully perverse soft spot for "The Time Monster" and "Time and the Rani" so I may just be bonkers).But the huge popularity and positive reviews all make me want to pause and come to a decision later.

"An Unearthly Child", "The Dalek Invasion of Earth", "The Evil of the Daleks", "The Dæmons", "The Deadly Assassin", "Logopolis", "The Curse of Fenric", "Lungbarrow", "Alien Bodies", "Last of the Time Lords".

For me, these stories are magnificent, and profound, and iconic, era-defining moments, the best of Doctor Who. Not necessarily always the best individual stories (no "The Caves of Androzani"; no "Human Nature"), but the ones that best express the things that make their eras great, the ones that changed everything.

The genius of "Last of the Time Lords" is that it takes the MacGuffin of "Human Nature" and makes it the crux of the series' plot arc. "Yana's got a fobwatch" remains the most "why didn't I see that coming" moment of Russell's entire era. To this day, it remains stunning. And that turns "Human Nature", a brilliant stand-alone story, into the backbone of a much larger, more "mythic" story.

So again, it's too soon to know if Moffat, the grand master storyteller, we're told, can fold this in and make it as much an integral part of his overall skein as Russell did with Paul Cornell's tale; it's too early to see whether the Moffat era will depend from "The Doctor's Wife" or whether this will be its own glorious monument standing slightly alone.

Next Time…Oh look! It's Lady Gaga's tank of goo! Let's see if you can't make a Madonna clone out of just the bits you've got here. Can Matthew Graham redeem himself for "Fear Her" with "The Rebel Flesh".


Friday, May 13, 2011

Day 3783: Police Action! aka Correcting Conservative Contradictions on Constitutional Change


Doesn't it seem EXTRAORDINARY that sections of the Conservatory Party are crowing about last week's rejection of AV while AT THE SAME TIME trying to implement a HUGELY BIGGER change to the way we elect our public servants than ANYTHING the Alliterative Vote might have done: namely replacing APPOINTED police authorities with ELECTED Wild West Marshalls, er, I mean Police Commissioners!

I mean, our coalition partners couldn't be MONSTROUS HYPOCRITES could they. So they must mean that the "No2AV" vote is ONLY a rejection of a not-very-good electoral system and are keen as mustard for MORE FAR REACHING REFORM.

Certainly anyone who claims that Constitutional Change is off the agenda for a thousand years (or thereabouts) is clearly an opponent of Mr Balloon's REFORM AGENDA, and so not at all to be taken SERIOUSLY.

And that is why it CAN'T be right to suggest that the Conservatories are fighting tooth and nail to STOP any locally elected presence overseeing health, when they are clearly GAGGING FOR locally elected oversight for crime! I mean, that would be like suggesting that they want to rig up a system of elections for HANGING and FLOGGING (where Conservatories think of themselves as STRONG), but not for CARING and SHARING (where Conservatories might think Hard Labour would be more likely to be the election-winners)!

Liberal Democrats are, of course, IN FAVOUR of giving more power back to our bosses, the people of Great Britain. That's why it's right there in the Coalition Agreement that:
We will introduce measures to make the police more accountable through oversight by a directly elected individual…
Though we might just have to put a steadying fluffy foot on our partners to restrain their FERVOUR to overturn the constitutional status quo and remind them that that sentence finishes:
…who will be subject to strict checks and balances by locally elected representatives.
That's why it is QUITE RIGHT that Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords stepped in to call a pause to this ADMIRABLY RADICAL race to change to our DEMOCRACY.

Call us OLD-FASHIONED, call us CAUTIOUS if you must, but we thought – as with Mr Andrew Landslide's Health Service Reforms – it might be better to GATHER EVIDENCE and RUN TRIALS before diving in with all four fluffy feet into an UNTRIED and UNPROVEN policy.

For example: we asked one Police Commissioner about his SUCCESS in reducing crime through a policy of allowing a BARKING MAD billionaire-in-tights to go vigilante on his city's ass, but, being fictional, Commissioner Gordon declined to comment.

There is, of course, as much evidence for the existence of BATMAN as there is for the benefits of the Conservatories' policy.

So, while we are VERY GRATEFUL that the Conservatories want everyone to know that "No2AV" means "Yes 2 REAL CHANGE", let's do this in a MEASURED and EVIDENCE-LED way.

In fact, I think that – since he is the MAIN MAN in charge of guiding constitutional change – Captain Clegg needs to step in, take this reform away from the Home Office and make it part of a PROPER LOOK at local democratic representation, perhaps linking it to greater accountability in HEALTH as well.

Best of all would be to make it part of a LOCAL REPRESENTATION ACT and introduce reform to the whole of local government elections – starting with using British PR for council elections.

I'm sure that that is JUST what the Conservatories want! It's certainly what they DESERVE!


*Thanks to Google gobbling up all the diaries on blogger yesterday, this is a REPOST. So, sorry to all of you who were experiencing some DÉJÀ VU!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Day 3783: Police Action! aka Correcting Conservative Contradictions on Constitutional Change


Doesn't it seem EXTRAORDINARY that sections of the Conservatory Party are crowing about last week's rejection of AV while AT THE SAME TIME trying to implement a HUGELY BIGGER change to the way we elect our public servants than ANYTHING the Alliterative Vote might have done: namely replacing APPOINTED police authorities with ELECTED Wild West Marshalls, er, I mean Police Commissioners!

I mean, our coalition partners couldn't be MONSTROUS HYPOCRITES could they. So they must mean that the "No2AV" vote is ONLY a rejection of a not-very-good electoral system and are keen as mustard for MORE FAR REACHING REFORM.

Certainly anyone who claims that Constitutional Change is off the agenda for a thousand years (or thereabouts) is clearly an opponent of Mr Balloon's REFORM AGENDA, and so not at all to be taken SERIOUSLY.

And that is why it CAN'T be right to suggest that the Conservatories are fighting tooth and nail to STOP any locally elected presence overseeing health, when they are clearly GAGGING FOR locally elected oversight for crime! I mean, that would be like suggesting that they want to rig up a system of elections for HANGING and FLOGGING (where Conservatories think of themselves as STRONG), but not for CARING and SHARING (where Conservatories might think Hard Labour would be more likely to be the election-winners)!

Liberal Democrats are, of course, IN FAVOUR of giving more power back to our bosses, the people of Great Britain. That's why it's right there in the Coalition Agreement that:
We will introduce measures to make the police more accountable through oversight by a directly elected individual…
Though we might just have to put a steadying fluffy foot on our partners to restrain their FERVOUR to overturn the constitutional status quo and remind them that that sentence finishes:
…who will be subject to strict checks and balances by locally elected representatives.
That's why it is QUITE RIGHT that Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords stepped in to call a pause to this ADMIRABLY RADICAL race to change to our DEMOCRACY.

Call us OLD-FASHIONED, call us CAUTIOUS if you must, but we thought – as with Mr Andrew Landslide's Health Service Reforms – it might be better to GATHER EVIDENCE and RUN TRIALS before diving in with all four fluffy feet into an UNTRIED and UNPROVEN policy.

For example: we asked one Police Commissioner about his SUCCESS in reducing crime through a policy of allowing a BARKING MAD billionaire-in-tights to go vigilante on his city's ass, but, being fictional, Commissioner Gordon declined to comment.

There is, of course, as much evidence for the existence of BATMAN as there is for the benefits of the Conservatories' policy.

So, while we are VERY GRATEFUL that the Conservatories want everyone to know that "No2AV" means "Yes 2 REAL CHANGE", let's do this in a MEASURED and EVIDENCE-LED way.

In fact, I think that – since he is the MAIN MAN in charge of guiding constitutional change – Captain Clegg needs to step in, take this reform away from the Home Office and make it part of a PROPER LOOK at local democratic representation, perhaps linking it to greater accountability in HEALTH as well.

Best of all would be to make it part of a LOCAL REPRESENTATION ACT and introduce reform to the whole of local government elections – starting with using British PR for council elections.

I'm sure that that is JUST what the Conservatories want! It's certainly what they DESERVE!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Day 3782: Liberal Democrats, we must earn back the trust of students; we must oppose flogging degrees to the rich!


The universities minister, Mr David Witless, is proposing that Universities in England may be allowed to make extra places available for wealthy UK students.**

Let's just say that again: if you're RICH, you'll be able to BUY a place at a British University.

Quite simply, RICH people will have MORE CHANCES of getting a university place than POOR people.

And Mr Witless thinks this is going to make the tuition fees debacle BETTER???

Perhaps he'd like to sell them a LADDER to PULL UP after them too!

It's not FAIR and we should be AGAINST that sort of thing!

Allowing the RICH to game the system in their favour is the whole of the problem. It's a shoring up of the VESTED INTERESTS, the very OPPOSITE of what Liberals should stand for.

Ladies and gentlebeans we have FORM on tuition fees. We fluffed up.

20:20 hindsight is a wonderful thing, and at the time I was all FOR doing the best deal for students we could achieve, and hang the political consequences: the people would UNDERSTAND that we'd made a difference and made things better.

Well, it turns out "the people" don't do NUANCE.

I'm coming around to the opinion that in the long run students would have been better served if we had kept faith with them and kept our promise EVEN IF the short term result cost them more. By concentrating too much on the DETAIL, we lost sight of the BIG PICTURE. What Mr Lord Bonkers might call "too much POLICY; not enough IDEOLOGY", or as the Hon Lady Mark might say: "the POLICIES aren't the issue; the electorate operate on the basis of PERCEPTION."

It seems – perhaps monstrously unfairly – not to matter HOW MANY other promises we KEPT; we broke ONE and it's tainted EVERYTHING.

All along, Captain Clegg has argued that we need to do everything to PROVE that coalitions WORK. Well, to too many people, "broken promises" are the proof that they DON'T.

The damage that that one broken promise has done to the idea of cooperative politics… at the moment it appears incalculable.

We need to recognise that. We need to apologise for that.

I think we need to say: "we promised we would oppose tuition fees and then voted for a rise and that was wrong". We did it for the best of reasons, because the deal for students that we could get by doing that was better than any other offer on the table, but we know that we broke our promise there and it's not good enough and we are sorry.

And then we need to say how we are going to FIX this.

Step one is to kybosh this BARKING MAD, RIGHTWING proposal before it gets started.

This is LINE ONE stuff, people: "the Liberal Democrats EXIST to ensure no one is enslaved by ignorance, poverty or conformity". NOT "the Liberal Democrats exist to ensure everyone can be free from ignorance so long as they're already wealthy".

We've stopped (for now) the Tories privatising the Health Service; now let's stop them privatising our bloody Universities as well!


** The BBC updated their story AFTER I wrote my diary to say the Prime Monster has squished this policy already.

ELEPHANT: Fear Me! I have destroyed hundreds of Conservatory policies!

BALLOON: Well, fear me! I've destroyed all of them!



Day 3779: DOCTOR WHO: Liberal Democrats and the Curse of the Black X Marks the Spot


Becalmed in the polls and beset by an evil blue Siren (who turns out to be a faulty health policy), is it time for the notorious pirate Captain Clegg to abandon ship?

No, of course it isn't!

By the way, my Daddy Richard is a PIRATE too! After all, Richard starts with an “Arrr”… Oh please yourselves: here’s his latest review…

I must be getting old, because I thought this was better. Good lord, a Doctor Who story with a beginning, a middle, and an end; a mystery, an investigation, and an explanation. Whatever will they think of next?

People have been very willing to dismiss this as “simple” and “traditional” fare (or “obvious” and “clichéd” in some translations) but frankly coming after the opening two episodes of dazzling confusion, a restatement of the series' basics is a welcome relief.

I was very tempted, rather than review this myself, just to link to Simon's review which, being far faster than mine yikes!, has said most of what I want to say already. I will say, though that I'm relieved and grateful to have seen Simon and Lawrence Miles and heard Chris and Joe of the Eleventh Hour podcast and particularly their listener Donald who have all referred to the Doctor's actions against the Silence as genocide. After the comments on last time's review, I'm glad to learn it wasn't just me!

It’s not the best pirate story that the series has ever done (that, obviously, is Mr Simon’s “The Pirate Loop”). But it’s not the worst, either (almost unanimously voted Troughton-era metal-wigged ludicrous-accent-fest “The Space Pirates”).

Sailing as close as she dared to Disney's lawyers, "Curse of the Very Nearly Copyright Infringement (and with Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides in cinemas within the month too, quelle surprise)" actually played against the Pirate clichés more often than with them, subverting and underplaying rather than going over the top.

Appropriately enough for a pirate story, it's carried off some treasures from earlier adventures: the time-windows of Moffat's own "The Girl in the Fireplace" combined with the sudden genre-defying twist of "The Stones of Blood", but done with rather more panache, combined with the emergency medical hologram from Star Trek Voyager. Never has Robert Picardo looked so super-model-ish. The spaceship sets may – like the Megara's prison ship – be the cheaper element of the production, but – unlike the Megara's prison ship – it's the right kind of cheaper. And if you're going to knock off a medical horror trope, you might as well jump straight to "Coma".

I must confess, I've always felt that "The Stones of Blood" builds its tension really nicely over the first two episodes and then throws it all away with the – to my mind – rather silly "trial" sequences in the concluding half. The cheapness of the spaceship set and the Megara doesn't help, and nor does painting Susan Engel blue. Here I felt that the abrupt reversal actually worked much better, possibly because it was fundamentally an explanation of everything that had gone on in the first half hour, rather than a literal jump to the left.

Previously in the series, we’ve seen – or rather most of us haven’t – the lost Hartnell tale “The Smugglers”, to which this is loosely connected by the treasure of Cap’n Avery.

Except of course it isn't, since the treasure doesn't survive this story, far less get hidden in the crypt by Holy Joe Longfoot for Avery's vengeful successor to come a-hunting and indeed discover (with the Doctor's help) in part four.

Henry Avery was a real mutineer and pirate who, despite his short career (only two years), was said to have committed "the single richest crime in history", namely the theft of (as seen here) the treasure of the Mughal of India. And he did disappear, or at least drop out of history's record. Though he was said to have been generous to his crew with the disposal of the treasure, all of them ending up rich.

Hugh Bonneville is rather touching as the pirate captain who has put his love of gold above his love of country or even family. Yes, the sub-plot with his runaway son is clichéd, even trite, but he invests the Captain with levels that let you see he is both human, with feelings of love and guilt, and yet still basically wicked.

With Bonneville's presence, "Curse of the Black Spot" was also very reminiscent of the Christmas episode just gone: you know, a big fruity role for one of the nation's treasured thespians; a singing part for a woman more known for her pretty face than her acting talent; something to do with sharks.

Where it was different, was that this was a rather good Amy and Rory story. Yes, Arthur Darvill barefoot and stripped to the waist: never going to complain about that. But there was rather good business for both of them: Amy – she of the dressing up games as a career path – turning in a nice bit of gender-reversal in her Pirate Queen get-up, while the pirates run around "like girls" (you might say); and Rory who is just always so embarrassed about the whole business of having adventures, actually having reason to be embarrassed this week; but then reflecting that with his genuine love and faith in Amy, willing to gamble his life on her never giving up. (Pity she actually does give up, but we'll gloss over that as an overenthusiastic bit of melodrama from someone.)

Admittedly, having what looks like a "will Rory die?!?!?" moment (answer: no; not a spoiler) was perhaps overegging the pudding. We have very much been there; done that. Twice at least. The words "Kenny from South Park" have been mentioned.

And yes, I have to confess it's yet another "everybody lives" story – for just one second I hoped that someone would have the bottle to kill one of those kids with which Moffat-era Who seem seems to want to litter its stories; ah well, maybe one day – although it was nice that they can only live if they stay hooked up to the alien medical system (and in a slightly parallel plane of existence).

Some people have said "why didn't the Doctor help with the CPR?" but I thought that the episode was pretty clear that the "doctor/siren" would only hand over Rory's treatment to his next of kin, i.e. Amy, and she'd probably have tried to stop the Doctor intervening. Although dragging the dying Rory off to the TARDIS was a bit unnecessary… almost like the director didn't want to risk doing multiple takes while maintaining the continuity of all those pirates in the background.

Speaking of continuity, I assume that everyone has spotted the "blunder" by now: the amazing disappearing boatswain. Lee Ross (Kenny from "Press Gang") does a nice snarling turn as the black-hearted boatswain, but then vanishes without explanation between the scene where young Toby stabs him with a sabre (last seen barricading the door) and when Avery and the Doctor return to the magazine. He's in the medical centre, so we'll just have to guess that the Siren got him at some point.

Jon Blum has described the episode suffering what he calls "Coldheart syndrome": otherwise perfectly decent fare being dismissed as "filler" because it is "arc-light" in the middle of a major story arc, and I think that's probably right. Mind you, I rather like "Coldheart" as well.

The story on the whole is not troubled by Moffat's Silence-arc, apart from what we can guess were the two scenes that were added when it was moved from the latter half of the season. The reprise moments at the end – Rory and Amy agreeing to keep the Doctor in the dark about his future death; the Doctor still staying mum about Amy's is it/isn't it pregnancy – were a bit tacked on, and with a slightly heavy hand. They didn't add anything and served only to leave the audience with a "yes, we know this from last week" feeling. Which might have added to the feeling of some that this story was slightly talking down to them.

On the other hand, another completely unexpected random appearance from Francis Barber as the "Eye Patch Lady" was very much worth the price of admission.

But now we have to come to my horrible suspicion that the big twist to these episodes might turn out to be the worst cliché in history: “it was all a dream”.

Does the intrusion of the Eye Patch Lady into Amy’s reality mean exactly what she says it means: namely, Amy is dreaming these events?

It would certainly get us out of any of those uncomfortable problems about whether the future Doctor is dead, or whether he committed genocide, or for that matter continuity errors like the disappearing boatswain.

And could it be that those creepy guys in suits aren't the "real" Silence at all? It would explain why they look so “generic alien” if they just are Amy's subconscious idea of a generic alien.

At the very least it would introduce ambiguity about whether the events we've see on screen are really as they happened or as Amy remembers them or even as Amy’s memories have been altered to remember them.

It all sounds too rubbish to be believed… and then I thought: “when was the last time that a story started with Amy and Rory back home in Ledworth. Oh, and Amy was pregnant in that one too.” Suddenly it all looked too horribly plausible.

And then they go and employ the "master of dreams", Neil Gaiman.

Was it twee that the Sirius references turned into Captain Avery literally navigating by "the second star on the right and straight on till morning". Probably. But fun all the same. Which rather sums the episode up.

Next Time… Oh that's what we've not seen since "The War Games"! The Doctor faces his most terrifying for yet… Tony Blair, er, Michael Sheen. TARDIS corridors! Green-eyed Ood! Really, really crazy hair! THIS one, I want to see. John Nathan-Turner is back with a vengeance in "The Doctor's Wife"


Only one of the TV listings magazines had Dr Woo on the cover this week; all the others chose to go with "The Apprentice" instead. I guess they just preferred PIRATES!

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Day 3778: The People Have Spoken… the Bastards!


Well, THAT went well, didn't it.

{…tumbleweeds… …tumbleweeds… …tumbleweeds…}

Okay, how about this then:

I’ve never really GOT poetry, but today made me think of this:

“Between the idea
“And the reality
“Between the motion
“And the act
Falls the Shadow”

We KNEW this day was coming, was inevitable really, as a consequence of the position we were left in at the end of the last General Election.

But there’s a difference between “knowing” that and the reality of it actually happening, the difference, the “shadow” that we put between ourselves and the abyss staring us in the face.

Hence all the WAILING and GNASHING of TEETH today. Hence the RENDING of GARMENTS and SILLY calls for Captain Clegg’s head on a plate. And all the GENUINE pain and heartbreak.

Cold comfort for all our friends who've lost council seats, I know, but actually they all did BLOODY WELL to stand up AT ALL under UNPRECEDENTED fire. The No2AV campaign was, basically, a not-very-disguised MASSIVE ATTACK on the Liberal Democrats and on Captain Clegg in particular, with every voter getting at least two leaflets that can be summarised as: "Don't vote Lib Dem! Traitors! Scum! Broken Promises!"

We faced the full might of the anti-democratic vested interests, the “right” AND “left”. And they won. But some of us, at least, survive.

Remember, our choice, our ONLY choice, last May was whether to face electoral ruin here and now, or irrelevance and annihilation at Westminster in a snap general election last October.

And I know some people will think we chose the wrong forum to take our whipping.

But this is politics: it’s not a SPECTATOR SPORT; it’s about GETTING THINGS DONE, and that only comes from BEING IN POWER. We could not, at Westminster level, opt out of that without making ourselves POINTLESS. And although there are now councils across the country where we AREN’T in power; nationally WE STILL ARE.

But there's really no dressing up that these results are a BIT of a BLOW.

It's difficult not to see this as a victory for Labservatism.

The British People may SAY that they prefer their politicians to behave like grownups, but when it comes to it, they punish the junior coalition partner – nationwide, the Liberal Democrats; in Wales, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid Cymru. Depressingly, this suggests that, contrary to all my beliefs, the electorate is stupid. But then, the "No2AV" campaign appear to have prospered by assuming that the electorate are stupid. So what do I know.

The worst thing will be if Hard Labour decide that eleven months of screaming TRAITORS! SCUM! BROKEN PROMISES! in the faces of Liberal Democrats is a successful electoral strategy.

Worst for us, obviously, because they'll keep on doing it and believe me it is NO FUN AT ALL.

But worst for our already damaged democracy, since reducing your entire position to NEGATIVITY and PARTISAN NAME CALLING abdicates your responsibility as opposition to present alternative policies. You can't complain that "there is no alternative" when you can't be bothered to PROVIDE ONE!

And actually worst for them too. Because it's NOT a successful strategy. At BEST Labour have made themselves the repository for anti-government protest votes. And then, ONLY where they are seen as the only alternative; in Scotland, the voters preferred to switch to the Scottish Nasties.

(And whoever thought that we'd say "thank goodness for Mr Salmon"!)

But thanks to the hopeless Mr Potato Ed's BRILLIANT strategy of telling the Scots that their election was just for sending a message to Westminster – nice that he thinks Scotland is just a warm-up act for his own doomed election campaign – and he may have secured the break-up of the United Kingdom and the end of any hope of a British Labour government ever happening again.

And, it has to be said, whoever advised him to make the "Well, dur!" observation that the Coalition "split down the middle" over AV needs to get fired. (It was almost certainly an alien space-lizard thinking it was a week early for the Apprentice!)

Mr Potato Ed's MAIN contribution to the referendum seems to have been to LOSE CONTROL of TWO-THIRDS of his own Party. And his PETTY and IDEOLOGICAL decision to refuse to share a platform with Captain Clegg was a GODSEND to No2AV's "Hate Clegg" campaign. Genius lead there, Mr Ed, showing us that before we can have grownup politics we're going to need some GROWNUP POLITICIANS.

As far as I can see, nothing has changed my forecast for the outcome of the NEXT General Election: either a small Conservatory majority or another hung Parliament.

Hard Labour are just not doing that much better, and (worse-for-them, worse-for-us) they are only doing better against US, better enough perhaps to switch some Liberal Democrat marginals to the Tories; but that HELPS the Tories and NOT Hard Labour.

So in 2015, either Mr Balloon gets to keep his job, and then we'll be able to say: "look, you see, we DID make a difference. Look at them NOW!" Or else Mr Potato Ed is going to have to accept looking VERY SILLY INDEED when he has to ask Captain Clegg to be HIS Deputy PM. Oh yes. Because the answer to his PETTY and IDEOLOGICAL "the price of a Lib/Lab Coalition would be Nick Clegg's head" (haha, very "Rewenge of the Frown-ites") is "fine, bye then". Because under those circumstance, either Mr Millipede can be Prime Monster or he can be the ex-Labour Leader.

Captain Clegg's intervention in the referendum campaign – repeating the mantra "our electoral system is broken, we need a change" and "if you think our electoral system works, think again; we need a change" – clearly shows that he was the ONLY ONE WITH A FLUFFING CLUE!

So just look at him doing his job – doing it, as Captain Paddy puts it, superbly well with tremendous grace under pressure – and you must realise he's the best we've got. And we've got a LOT of good people!

There are JUST TWO messages in politics: "don't rock the boat" and "time for a change". Captain Clegg gets it. "Yes2AV", hmmm, not so much, it appeared.

Only an IDIOT would call for him to resign, now. (And we Liberal Democrats HAVE THAT IDIOT!)

As for a leadership challenge… look, I am a BIG FAN of Mr Huhney-Monster – and look, in Eastleigh we actually MADE GAINS; so clearly what we need is a charismatic, aggressive millionaire cabinet minister in every seat and we're sorted. Sigh. But I CAN'T believe he would mount a leadership challenge. And actually I DON'T believe it, because he's too smart and too loyal and this rumour smells too much of STIRRING. And if anyone ELSE want to challenge Captain Clegg then they'll have an angry baby elephant to go through first!

This ISN'T the end of the Coalition.

Ironically, Captain Clegg's position may actually be strengthened. Mr Balloon had to do BIG FAVOURS for the rightwing loony tunes of his own Party and he knows it. So he knows he OWES us BIG TIME. Absolutely, we need to trade that for PROPER REFORM in the House of Lords Club. And it's probably the end for Mr Andrew Landslide and his NHS plans too. And if we're getting three wishes, Mr Balloon can sack Lady Insider Warsi before she appeals for votes from the BNP again makes his government look any MORE two-faced and incompetent.

This ISN'T the end of Electoral Reform either. In fact, this is merely the beginning. The pressure to fix our broken politics is only going to get more and more urgent.

We've got lessons to learn. Starting with a big bang conversion of Westminster elections was NEVER the way to do it. Not because – as cynical Lady GoreGore has it – the very thing that gives us the power to ask the question simultaneously taints any question to which we want the answer "yes". No, it's because if we've learned ANYTHING from our Liberal traditions it's that it's no good just giving people a TOP-DOWN solution IMPOSED take-it-or-leave-it Hobson's Choice. We need to re-grow our democracy FROM THE ROOTS UP.

That means starting with the LEAST democratic part of the system: much needed reform of local government.

We DESPERATELY need more voices to be heard in our council chambers, and that makes them the perfect fertile ground for PR (and that tiresome and frankly half-untrue "constituency link" argument falls immediately because most wards already HAVE multi-members.)

And we need to do this PROPERLY, do it in a way that people can see what they are getting and decide if they like it, running local trials first, letting people find out what works for them, bringing in local PR, bringing in House of Lords PR, working UP towards the Liberal Democrat policy of a Constitutional Convention, where everyone in the country can contribute and have their say.

Because BADWORDS they may be, but the people HAVE spoken, and it's up to us to LISTEN and come back to them with what they WANT.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Day 3777: Have You Voted YES Yet?


Vote YES to CHANGE to our broken democratic system. You CAN make the difference!

There's still time for YOUR VOTE to make a REAL CHANGE, a change that will give YOU more power in future elections and make politicians work harder for YOU!

But don't just take MY fluffy word for it! Here are EIGHT reasons, in proper preferential order, from Daddy Alex:

#1 YES: I want my MP to be supported by a MAJORITY rather just the BIGGEST LOSER!

#2 YES: I want to THROW OUT crooked incumbents!

#3 YES: I'm smart enough to count up to THREE!

#4 YES: I want my MP to think twice before filling in the EXPENSES claim!

#5 YES: I'd ENJOY putting my least favourite party last!

#6 YES: I want to vote without tactical SKULDUGGERY!

#7 YES: I've had enough of DINOSAURS ruling the Earth!

#8 YES: I want to STICK IT to the British Nasty Party!

So what are you doing still sitting there reading my diary! GET OUT and VOTE YES!

And May the Fifth Be With You!

Monday, May 02, 2011

Day 3772: DOCTOR WHO: Day of the Moon


The Doctor set the monsters on them, the worst monsters of them all: the human race.

It's genocide. It really is: an order to kill encompassing an entire race, the Silence. Compared to this, River shooting a dozen of them – in self defence, mind – is pretty fluffy stuff.

He owes an apology to Harriet Jones. And the Brigadier, for that matter. After all, he's the one who implanted the entire human race with a post-hypnotic suggestion to kill the Silence on sight. Genocide against the Sycorax or Silurians isn't even leaving that page of the monster book.

I suppose that it makes for an interesting twist on the UNIT question, i.e. "why does Earth start getting invaded every four weeks from 1970?" if prior to 1969 the planet was really under the control of a far more powerful race than the humans who only appear to live there.

[edit to add:] In fact the Doctor's regular visits to Earth really only start in the Nineteen Seventies; the Sixties incarnation of the series was almost made of the fact that he never really visits the Sixties. The Hartnel stories started off on the basis that he couldn't get back there, or Ian and Barbara's story would end, as eventually happened, but even after that he never got into the habit beyond the occasional pit stop. The Troughton adventures are almost all in the future, especially the "near future" or the twenty-first century. Sure the "modern" Doctor visits the past all the time, but it's much more like he's dropping in rather than hanging around the planet, the way that Three and Four spent time with Jo and Sarah or more recently Ten and Rose's family on the Powell Estate. Consequently, 1969 makes for a convenient break point that might explain why the Doctor has never run into these Silence before.

It might also be a Moffaty riposte to Lawrence Miles' concept of the "ghost point" – the point at the end of the Twentieth Century when humanity suddenly and for no reason stops its rapid cultural development and settles into "mundane" galactic imperialism – if the reason for humanity losing its drive is that the driving force has been, er, driven off.

(More blatantly, River Snog's plunge off the side of a skyscraper into the open doors of the horizontally parked TARDIS is a direct lift from the start of Larry's "Alien Bodies"; that isn't even trying to be subtle. Although the splash-landing in the TARDIS pool is the Moffster's own gag – lifted from "The Eleventh Hour", of course.)

Mind you, if the Silence are supposed to have been here for tens of thousands of years, guiding human development, you have to ask did they not notice everyone else was doing that too? I suppose you can forgive them for overlooking the genetic tampering of the Fendahl; and Azal and the other dæmons tended to be napping under Devil's End for long stretches; and the Exxilons kept themselves pretty much to Peru; but you think that they'd at least start to recognise Scaroth Last of the Jagaroth as he pops up every now and then to hand over fire, the wheel or astronomy.

And it does raise a far more relevant question: where are the Silence from? It's all very well having Amy and River and Rory go round tallying up how many Silence they see – of course, the snag with the tally marks is how do you know if you've seen fifty Silence or one Silent fifty times? ("There's one!" makes note, forgets, "There's one!" makes note, forgets, "There's one!" makes note, forgets, etc.) – but you can do that with humans and find the planet seriously overrun with them, thinking they own the place. Did I mention the Silurians? If only the Doctor had some way of going back in time to see how long they've been here and if they are invaders or natives… oh…

For all that the scale of this story was huge, as wide as the Cinemascope American vistas, for me it still wasn't enough. This needed to come at the end of a whole series of discoveries, a series of stories, where the sheer scale of the Silence's ambitions are uncovered. As it is, we just don't know if the Doctor's response is justified.

Are the Silence actually evil? That's an important question to answer if you're going to commit genocide against them, and one that is somewhat fudged. Yes, there's the whole claim to be running the Earth, but is that actually a reason for them to deserve death? After all, the Doctor doesn't routinely try to wipe out the human rulers of the planet even though they are arguably making just as bad a job of running it. (Or to be fair they appear to be to anyone not in on the Silence's conspiracy.)

And there is controlling people by post-hypnotic suggestion. Which, of course, the Doctor uses himself in order to order the massacre. Are humans really enslaved by the Silence? The editor in "The Long Game" once asked the Doctor is a slave a slave if they don't know they're enslaved. "Yes" was the Doctor's answer, so that may be what's in play here (though it needed saying if that's so). But if the Silence's idea of enslavement appears to be to give us spaceships and Nineteen Sixties consumer good, how is that actually a bad thing? Well, it still is, of course it is, it's still slavery, but we need to here that to understand why the Doctor's response is just and proportional.

It is in the nature of Mr Moffat's writing to keep secrets, hold answers back, and keep things ambiguous. And, for obvious reasons, the Silence themselves aren't exactly chatty about their plans. It's in the name, really. But in this case we really did need the Doctor to get more answers before making his decision.

The main reason we know they are evil is that they blew up that woman, Joy, at the White House for no apparent reason. But given their very particular modus operandi, does anyone else know – i.e. based on evidence rather than "they look icky" – that they are bad? Does Amy remember any of the White House bathroom incident (and can we not call it that again, please)? And does the Doctor ever even hear about it?

It's not impossible that he might: it appears, from that same scene, that you get all you lost memories back when you see another Silent, so Amy could have remembered and told him at some time during the three months between the cliffhanger ending to "The Impossible Astronaut" and the start of "Day of the Moon".

The big cheat in that three month gap is not the "let's not bother to get out of the cliffhanger"; it's that we never see how the Doctor goes from literally knowing nothing at all about the Silence, never even meeting them in the first episode, to being in a position to set up Amy and River and Rory with their tally marks and Canton Delaware as the double (secretly triple) agent hunting them down while building him a plot device from (as Simon points out) "The Invasion of Time" (another story to feature a race of aliens who ought to be all-powerful thanks to their superpower).

And incidentally, how exactly does the American government get hold of dwarf star alloy when, as this very episode is keen to point out, their space programme is currently engaged in trying to land men on the moon using a spacecraft with roughly the computing power of a toaster?

And while I'm mentioning "The Invasion of Time", that story also sees the Doctor respond with summary justice to a race, the Vardans, because the only possible way to beat them is to beat them totally and completely all at once. There's a possible case to be made that that is also true of the Silence: their power means that the only safe response is to turn that against them and make Earth totally hostile to their presence. But if that's so, could the Doctor at least tells us that, and maybe agonise for a minute. Even Tom had his "do I have that right" moment.

It's not made entirely clear whether the Silence's memory thing actually affects the Doctor. We see P.O.V.s for all the others to see that it does work on them, but he only tells us who it works. Certainly, "Time Lord powers" protecting him would be a help. In fact, it's about the only possible explanation for how the "revolution" starts in that the gap that I can come up with. Unless perhaps the TARDIS can perceive them, but then there's the whole question of just how does the TARDIS perceive?

So what we are missing here, and it's somewhere in that "three months later", is the crux of these two episodes: the bit where the Doctor works out what is going on, assesses what the Silence are doing and takes the moral step to annihilate them.

And those are quite big things to be skipping over and taking as read.

The way that you get away with skipping over it, is to dazzle the audience with spectacle. The cinematography was, if anything, more amazing than last week, particularly the helicopter shot of the FBI chasing down Amy, and the astonishing pullback reveal from of the Doctor sitting in the capsule of Apollo Eleven.

The little dots of humour spotted throughout were just enough to keep the episode from disappearing up its own X-Files. The Doctor advising Nixon to tape everything was great, and the lovely "gay agenda" moment – with Nixon being not that liberal.

Alex in particular – though of course I agree with him – thought it was a little bit much to keep using Nixon as a "get out of being arrested" card; he did say he was expecting it to turn out to be Amy using that body-bepple thing from the trailers for the last series of Sarah Jane.

Speaking of disguises, River was a hoot in her Fifties twinset and pearls look, but Rory in his HRG disguise was just adorable. Of course Amy would be wishing it was him coming to save her. Or if you want more depth for the character, there was his conversation with the Doctor about remembering two-thousand years of waiting for Amy, very much a darker twist on the "they sleep in my mind" conversation between the Doctor and Victoria so long ago in "The Tomb of the Cybermen". And in some ways, Rory is twice as old as the Doctor, which connects to the Doctor's being not quite able to kiss River which in turn added another shading to her character.

Then there was Amy's whole Scully subplot. And I don't just mean dressing up the redhead in a little black suit and giving her a flashlight and a spooky old building to investigate. Though they did do that. But the entire abduction/stolen pregnancy is Scully's major arc in the X-Files second season.

Plus the X-Files was definitely the first drama of the cell-phone age, so the use of Amy's phone for the denouement was entirely in the key of X.

(Some people have complained that the Silent gives entirely too convenient a reply on camera with its "you should kill us on sight". But they're forgetting just who it was who briefed Canton on what question he should ask. There's also the sense that, like with the con artists of "Hustle" – or like begging Davros not to use the Hand of Omega – this is the Doctor giving the Silent an "out": the Silence are literally "done by as they do"; they had the chance to say they would treat humans better, but no, they had to say "wipe them out, all of them". Or was that Darth Sidious? That still doesn't excuse the Doctor programming all humans to kill the Silence.)

And by the way, who the hell hires Frances Barber (Eyepatch Woman) for seven seconds of screen time? I think our foreshadowing is showing rather more obviously, Mr Moffster.

Everything about Amy's pregnancy – from its mysterious not-happening-ness to the deep-and-meaningfuls with the Doctor in the TARDIS (overheard by Rory), to, yes, that surprise twist ending – suggests that the little girl is Amy's daughter, who might still be River, taken by the Silence as a baby – my guess: because they need a pilot for their half-finished time machine, and remember River's remark about Empires that would tear the Earth apart for one cell of a Time Lord's body.

(The possibility of River being a Time Lord, or even a half-Time Lord isn't ruled out by us having seen her death in "Forest of the Dead"; at the time she remarked that the power would be enough to fry the Doctor himself, so her not regenerating her way out of that death is no evidence one way or another.)

Whether the "glowy Time Lord energy™" is a full regeneration or not, we have yet to see. Certainly, the implication is that the Doc's Last of the Time Lords membership card has just expired. Again.

It was a moment both glorious and at the same time slightly too much. There are already so many open threads – River, what's she about; the Silence, what are they about; the Doctor's death, what's that about; Amy's pregnancy, what's up with that, the TARDIS exploding, what actually caused that (or rather, if it was the Silence, then why blow up the Universe you happen to be living in?). Do we need another OMG WTF moment on top?

Well, it depends. If, if this series manages to hold together as a seven-part (or thirteen-part… or twenty-seven part…) drama, then we can look back with hindsight and go "ah!". But if it's not all part of a grand master plan, if it's just throwing in more and more stuff just because it's "cool", then this is the moment we tipped over into a "Lost" or a "Heroes".

Don't worry; that wouldn't be the end for Doctor Who. The series has been so many other things in the past – travelogue, Quatermass, Hammer Horror, student revue, Rambo-with-Cybermen – that it can be "Lost" for a while and then it will be something else.

The most crucial moment of all, though, is the one where the Doctor and River face the Silence and River says "he disapproves, but he also thinks it's rather cool". That, for me, sums up Moffat right there. He knows that this is wrong but he thinks it's kind of cool. And, (gratuitous Lawrence Miles moment) as the Enemy tells Chris Cwej at the Hollywood Bowl Shooting: cool wins.

So for me, this was brilliant, but bitter.

The moon landing is one of the most awesome and wonderful achievements of human history. A thing impossible, to reach out to the moon; and we did it ourselves. Brilliant and human and good.

Russell would have celebrated that moment; Moffat has… used it.

With this episode, Moffat first has it all inspired by aliens and second has it used as a weapon, a weapon. It's a violent and ugly reversal of the end of "Last of the Time Lords" – where Martha laughs, laughs at the very idea that the Doctor, the "man who never would", would send her to create a weapon.

Next Time… "Deadman's secret key: Smallwood, Ringwood, Gurney". Well everyone says that this is, astonishingly, a prequel to 1966's "The Smugglers". So weigh anchor with Cap'n Avery for "The Curse of the Black Spot"