...a blog by Richard Flowers

Friday, September 30, 2011

Day 3922: That Milipede Moment


And now, over to our LIVE-ish feed from the Hard Labour Conference in Liverpool where Mr Potato Ed is just rising to address the sheep delegates. The mood is ELECTRIC. Literally: they've wired up the seating to ensure he gets a standing ovation…

Thank you Comrades, Congress, Concords.

It’s great to be here in Liverpool.

A generation ago a Labour leader came to Conference to condemn the behaviour of a Labour Council in Liverpool.

Thank goodness the Liberal Democrats were in power here for a decade and fixed everything, eh!

Concords, I've got a couple of jokes for you. Harriet Harman.

I'd like to thank Harriet for her unswerving loyalty. To herself. And for applauding my apology for invading Iraq. Even though she voted for invading Iraq. Thanks for that one, David.

Concords, a year ago I was elected your leader.

No, don't laugh.

No, don't cry!

But ask me what has been important to me this year, I say my new son Sam. Giving him his first dagger. Showing him his brother's back.

But Concords, let's get down to business. Which, of course, we can hate again now.

But today we face a choice. Will we change or carry on? Will we stick or twist? Should I stay or should I go? And will you still respect me in the morning?

But Concords, the choice facing the country is urgent. Yes, urgent! Because the election may be three-and-a-half years away – now signed into law – but I could be ousted tomorrow!

But I have to say to you, are we ready? Are we ready to ask the country: will they stay with the new coalition government or can we persuade them to throw the coalition out for the reheated old mantras of the very people they chucked out only eighteen months before?

But Concords, I’m going to tell it to you straight.

This is the lesson I have learnt.

To be true to myself.

Sorry, Mr Ed, I've got to interrupt you there.

Are you familiar with the opera "Peer Gynt" at all? Because Mr Peer Gynt, the hero of this tale, claims as his motto "to thyself be true" when of course he ISN'T at all, he's always changing what he does or says and never finishes or achieves anything, and eventually it is pointed out to him, once he's lost EVERYTHING, that even his MOTTO isn't his but nicked from the Goblin King.

Sorry, I just thought I should mention it, is all. Please carry on with your speech…

But I remember the moment it came home to me most was when I heard the terrible news that Milly Dowler’s phone had been hacked. I was at a party at the time. I was handing Rupert a cocktail. You can make halfway decent pocket money waiting, even on minimum wage.

But this is the lesson I learnt, rule one of British politics: Don’t mess with Rupert.

But I did mess with Rupert.

But I did it because it was right.

It was the right bandwagon to jump on and the right time to do it!

But that’s the lesson I have learnt most clearly in the last year: you’ve got to be willing to break the consensus, not succumb to it.

Nobody ever changed things on the basis of consensus.

But I know what you're going to say. Consensus is the basis of democracy, our whole system of government. But that's why we opposed a real chance of real democracy in the House of Commons. But don't worry. The lesson that I have learnt is that we're not IN government!

But that’s the lesson I have learnt: I may not know who I am, but I know I’m not Tony Blair.

I know I’m not Gordon Brown either.

Great men, who in their different ways, achieved great things.

But I’m my own man. And I’m going to do things my own way. Except when the Unions tell me not to. (Sorry about ditching the reforms, Peter.)

But Concords, we need to tell people that times are scary. Yes they are. Woo! As scary as that! As scary as finding David at the bottom of my bed at four in the morning. With the scissors. Again.

Concords, the world economy is falling to bits. But we can't let the coalition use that as an excuse. No, that was OUR excuse! Let them find their own excuse. Better yet, let them take the blame for what we left of the economy.

A year ago, lots of people thought the Government was taking the right course: The Governor of the Bank of England; The International Monetary Fund.

But one person in particular stood outside the consensus: Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls.

Hang on, sorry, me again.

Mr Balls has only been your Shadow Chancer since January, you idiot.

It was Mr Alan Johnson a year ago. Postman Pat, remember him? You know, you appointed him and he made all those mistakes about not knowing anything about the economy. And then Bully Balls leaked that thing that made him resign and made you look like a twonk.

Sorry, sorry, carry on…

But concords, you’ve seen a series of crises hitting our country over the last few years: recession… riots… Rupert…

I call it the something for nothing culture.

But as young people confront the choices they have in life, they see routes to success today based on a wrong set of values.

The something for nothing of celebrity culture.

The take what you can of the gangs.

The job for life of a safe Labour seat.

Concords, I say to you: riots! Phone hacking! Bankers! Fill your boots!

And that's why I say to you Mr Balloon is WRONG to talk about Broken Britain, because I say to you BRITAIN IS BROKEN!

Let’s be clear about one thing: the problem isn’t the people of Britain.

Britain, Britain, Britain…

We've had running water for over ten years, we have a tunnel connecting us to Peru, and we invented the cat.

Concords, the people of Britain are wonderful… except for the ones who are horrid.

The teachers, the nurses, the young people… the rioters, the phone hackers, the M.Ps… er…

So I say to Mr Balloon, let's put the politics aside. You agree that I'm right and I'll agree that I'm right too.

You see, Concords, this country needs a new kind of politics. That's why I say to you today, and I say it in all humility: yah boo sucks! Nick Clegg's a Tory and he smells!

Yes, he may be in favour of social mobility but I say what's wrong with daddy fixing you an internship then a cushy number as Mr Frown's SPAD? Only we can represent the proles because only WE know what's good for them!

Concords, it wouldn’t be responsible to make promises I can’t keep. That’s another cheap Nick Clegg’s joke.

Labour would NEVER make promises on tuition fees that they didn't keep. Except when we promised not to introduce them and then did. And except when we promised not to increase them and then did. And except when we promised to support the Browne review and then opportunistically voted against it because it was politically expedient to embarrass the Lib Dems.

So when I promise to cut tuition fees from £9,000 to £6,000, you'll know how much that promise is worth.

And that's why it’s right, as a down payment, to tell you that we would use every penny of the sale of bank shares to pay down the debt.

After all, it was the TAXPAYER who saved those banks, so it's only right that they shouldn’t see a penny back and we should use all their money to pay off the debts that WE ran up. Er.

But concords, that's the lesson I have learnt.

Mrs Thatcher did some good things. But she did some bad things and that was very wrong.

And then came New Labour. And I am very proud of all the things that we did. But let me apologise for doing some of them.

Harriet, you may clap now.

Concords, we got some things wrong. In 2003, we accidentally spilled some ink over Tessa Jowell's biology homework and in 2007 we stayed up past our bedtimes and were crabby in the morning. And that is all!

But I'm very sorry for doing it.

But this is the lesson I've learnt: it was wrong and I pledge to you it will never, ever happen again unless the dog eats my schoolbooks and I don't even have my fingers crossed or anything.

But concords, we won't win back the trust of the British people by mentioning great men of the past.

I mentioned Gordon Brown once. But I think I got away with it.

Concords, for thirty years we've had a Tory-led government. Or a Tony-led government. Same difference. Yes… you may boo.

And what happened?

Your living standards have been squeezed by runaway rewards at the top.

And we have seen immigration policy which didn’t work for the people whose jobs, living standards and communities were affected.

Big vested interests like the energy companies have gone unchallenged, while you’re being ripped off.

No, sorry, sorry, it's me. One last time.

Just wanted to ask, Mr Ed, as a former SECRETARY OF STATE FOR ENERGY AND CLIMATE CHANGE, was there anyone, anyone at all who you can think of who might have challenged the energy companies? Anyone? Any names spring to mind? No? Nobody? You're sure? You're quite sure about that? No one at all then.

Okay, just carry on with your speech and I promise no more interruptions…

But that's the lesson I've learnt: NHS, Labour, lovely. Tories, waiting lists, betrayal.

It’s all got to change.

But it will not happen with the old set of rules.

But that's 21st century Britain: still a country for the insiders.

What’s my story?

My parents fled the Nazis.

And came to Britain.

They embraced its values.


Immigrants. But not the bad sort.

Who built a life for us.

So this is who I am.

The heritage of the outsider.

The advantages of the insider.

Think of me as inside out.

The guy who is determined to break the closed circles of Britain.

Not like Nick Clegg, no. He just wants social mobility and an end to foot-in-the-door internships and spadships like the ones I benefitted from. That doesn't mean he'll break the circle of insiders. We won’t let him. Er.

We can't let him!

But this is the lesson I've learnt: we know waiting for the Tories to fail won’t win us back your trust.

And we won’t deserve your trust if that’s what we do.

But it's the only plan we've got!

We can’t spend our way to a new economy. But Ed Balls is damn well going to give it a try anyway!

We can’t pay our way unless as a country we invent things. So I'm going to invent a world where I'm a credible leader and we have polices that are popular, and successful and even exist!

We can't be anti-business, even though we are, because that isn't even a choice any more. If it ever was. Or was it?

But let me tell you what the 21st century choice is:

Are you on the side of the creators or the strippers? The producers or the predators? Swap Shop or TISWAS?

Concords, there are things that Britain does brilliantly. But sometimes we are evil.

And I can tell which is which.

With my magic pointing stick.

But concords, that's why I'm here today. Because this is the lesson I've learnt. I have to offer you a New Bargain. And that's like the New Deal only, you know, cheap.

But my top demand of my Shadow Cabinet, my party, my team, is this:

Remember I'm ED not DAVID!

But my SECOND demand is ambition. Ambition to change our country. It’s why we were founded. It’s in our souls.

Those of us who have souls.

It’s the only point in doing the jobs we do.

Though of course it's a sign of vile treachery and betrayal of their principles in the Liberal Democrats.

Because Concords, that's the lesson I've learnt: people like values.

So I say to you this: I've got values. Good values. Great values. Huge lovely values. Best values! Cheapest values! Bargains!

I don't know what they are. You don't know what they are! But the important thing is that they're there and they're real and in a real sense so am I.

So concords, that's the lesson I've learnt:

To promise you the right values.

Whatever they are.

To fight for the New Bargain.

Whatever it is.

And to fulfil the promise of Britain.

Whatever that even means!

Concords, I've been Ed Nose Day, I'm here all week, try the veal, Thank you.

And the audience groans and rolls over in their seats and here we must apologise for the power cut in the hall preventing us from broadcasting the standing ovation.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Day 3923: Hard Labour – The Weal Truth


This makes me sick. And not JUST because I have to link to the wretched Daily Hate Mail.

(I'd much rather hat-tip Stephen and Neil.)

On Monday, we felt for Rory Weal, as he told Hard Labour's Conference how the Welfare State saved his family when their home was repossessed.

I was PUT OUT to see, smugly shaking the boy's hand, Mr Potato Ed, one of the very people RESPONSIBLE for destroying the economy and hence wrecking young Rory's life.

But now we learn Master Rory is just as much of a PRIVILEGED little LABOUR PRINCELING as Mr Ed.

All week Hard Labour have been going on about how the recession/deficit/debt (delete according to ineptitude of speaker) was not no way never caused by Hard Labour OVERSPENDING but by the wickedness of the bankers and the speculators…

…and it turns out that Rory's daddy was a bit of a property speculator.

Yes, far from being a VICTIM of fallout from the global collapse, it appears Mr Weal Senior was one of those people that we bailed out when they trashed the economy. You know, the people Labour have been BLAMING all week. In fact all YEAR.

Now, you can say I shouldn't judge Weal Junior by his BACKGROUND. It's not HIS fault what his father did during the Credit Crunch. And that's TRUE. But I can blame him for his CRUSHING IGNORANCE.

(Something, oddly, I was much more willing to forgive before I learned that:

"What does [Cameron] advise when I can't afford to go to school in the morning?"

doesn't mean: "we had to choose between my bus fare and feeding the electric meter"

but actually: "I had to leave my very nice private school for a very nice grammar school")

Master Rory and his mummy, even AFTER divorce and bankruptcy, appear to be better off than my daddies. And my daddy Richard is BLOODY WELL OFF! So Rory doesn't have a CLUE about the Welfare State. All he knows is his own PRIVILEGE.

To deconstruct Rory's speech a little, then, when he complains about the Coalition "tearing up the Welfare State", what he's ACTUALLY saying is: "I want the state – by which I means the rest of you – to carry on giving people like me a free guarantee to gamble!"

What he wants is a promise that HE can collect the nice homes and £13,000 a year school fees when daddy wins and WE will pick up the pieces when they lose.

And that's – if you'll forgive the grisliness of the pun – just a bit RICH.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Day 3912: DOCTOR WHO: Beware of the God

Saturday (again):

If this was really the last story for Amy and Rory Pond, it would be – rightly – remembered as a classic. But it isn't.

Instead, it's a standalone story relying heavily on the series' established continuity, but at the same time undermined by the continuing aspects of the plot.

Hinging on Amy's faith in the Doctor immediately after a story that showed an Amy who had lost her faith in the Doctor and in the middle of a season-long arc where Amy's faith in the Doctor is betrayed by his failure to rescue her baby seems… misplaced.

And our foreknowledge of the season conclusion – set up by the arc as early as "The Impossible Astronaut" – means that we can be certain that Amy and Rory will return for the climax whether it's the Doctor's death or their daughter's wedding. So the departure at the end here feels like another cheat, another "death" that doesn't count. We are asked to commit to the emotional payoff of the end of Amy's journey, but without that journey really being over.

There is a weird sense that this series is almost a time loop. "The God Complex" ends with the Doctor leaving Amy and Rory in the nice new house that he appears to have bought for them, one that almost seems like it must be the one we find them living in at the start of "The Impossible Astronaut". And if it wasn't for Amy's line about her daughter, we could quite happily have accepted that we were actually having an episodes-long flashback.

In fact, the biggest problem that people have been having with this series is that the Ponds (Williamses) haven't been emotionally wrecked by the events surrounding their daughter's birth, abduction and subsequent growing up to be River Song. All of which would be removed from the equation if these recent episodes were set before the earlier ones.

Separating out the standalone episodes from the arc you actually get a pretty decent half-season. Suppose that we had had a season six that opened with "The Doctor's Wife", followed by "Night Terrors", "Curse of the Black Spot", "The Girl Who Waited" and this. Add in next week's companion light "Closing Time" and only then going to America for "The Impossible Astronaut".

Wouldn't that actually make more sense? The way these stories cover the Doctor's growing ennui, his self-loathing and his fear that he destroys his companions' lives, leading to him going off alone. It's a great fool that Amy and Rory leave only to find themselves caught up in his life again, but it would play better if "leave before I really wreck your lives" came before he really did wreck their lives. By which I mean the whole losing their daughter thing. Plus these stories are all basically about fathers and sons, meaning the second half of the year could all be about mother and daughter.

As a bonus you get a cracking "half time" cliff-hanger and that "three months later" opening of "Day of the Moon" would be less of a cheat when it's almost three months later in real time.

Of course, the downside is that you get a second half that consists of the second half of a two-parter, "Day of the Moon"; another two-parter, "The Rebel Flesh" and "The Almost People"; and effectively a three-parter of "A Good Man Goes to War", "Let's Kill Hitler" and "The Wedding of Melody Pond", which serves to highlight that "A Good Man Goes to War" and "Let's Kill Hitler" only make any kind of sense as "series finale" or "series opener" episodes, all spectacle rather than story.

(Of course you'd have to do some serious editing to smooth the join between "A Good Man Goes to War" and "Let's Kill Hitler" – which again emphasises how unnatural they are in their storytelling – and it would probably mean losing the "crop circle" open for "Let's Kill Hitler", which is a shame as it's moderately cool. And you'd still need to have introduced "Mels" earlier; I'd suggest having her in the house at the start of "The Impossible Astronaut". But the editing of other stories would, on the whole, be minimal.)

But I'm getting distracted. The fact I've written seven hundred words already and barely touched on the actual content of a beautiful and moving episode, I think, illustrates just how the story arc just gets in the way. Bit of a shame!

(At least, that's my excuse!)

I'll just say that I'm glad I wrote this before listening to the Eleventh Hour podcast or reading Andrew's piece at the Mindless Ones. Joe and Chris point out how unaffected they feel about Amy and Rory "leaving"; while Andrew develops a sharper (but fair) critique of the problems of the intrusive story arc.

And obviously the references are not just limited to the current series. A big shout out to "The Horns of Nimon", of course. A nice borrow of the "Horror of Fang Rock" moment where the Doctor realises he's made a terrible mistake. And everyone will spot that the ending is a direct lift from "The Curse of Fenric" (though I have to thank Jon Blum for spotting that where "Fenric" features the Doctor breaking Ace's faith with a lie, "God Complex" sees the Doctor break Amy's faith with the truth Or does he? Or does he? It's just a real shame that he has to do so by, once again, taking away Amy's agency: reducing her to a little girl, or to Amy Williams). And, personally, I can see in the "ancient mythological creature as guardian of the abandoned complex in space" a good slice of "Terminus" in here too.

But if you want to talk about a dark "science fairy tale", then a minotaur that eats your faith is about as Moffaty as you could hope to get.

It's a great twist on the clichéd "fear eater", which Doctor Who has done plenty of times, and another spin – after "The Curse of the Black Spot" – of the Doctor improvising a theory and getting it wrong. And that's good. Well, not for the three people who die as a result, but good to show the Doctor as an explorer again, and not a cosmic know-it-all who ends stories merely by "knowing the answer" (yes, "Night Terrors", I'm looking at you!).

Let me briefly mention the "secular agenda". The minotaur was somebodies god until they shucked off their faith and turned him into the active ingredient in their bizarro prison. What's obvious, but unstressed, is that they have weaponised the whole affair. The prison has been set floating in space with a mission to pick up anyone with "faith" and feed them to the minotaur.

I have to say, when it comes to "aggressive atheists" that's a wee bit beyond "The God Delusion".

Gibbis' line at the end about "that's my planet" seems to suggest that it is his homeworld of Tivoli that the prison is now orbiting. (If it were anywhere but the Tivoli system, Rory wouldn't be able to see the planet, although there may be some imaging technology involved.) Though given that most of the people recently taken are human, it would be more sensible for it to be near to Earth. Perhaps it has recently swept past.

It does, however, seem a bit odd that if it is attracted to "faith", that it has chosen to pick up a modern Western Muslim woman, a blogger and a guy with a gambling addiction. Rather than, say, al Qaeda and the Tea Party.

Perhaps it's not after people who are strong in their faith, but rather those who are weak and questioning – because they are "convertible". That might actually be more in keeping with it going after Amy. And to stretch a point it might actually be why Gibbis survives: he finds his room with the Weeping Angels before Amy looks into hers so logically he ought to start "praising him" first; but his faith in "being invaded" is actually quite strong.

It was refreshing to see each character have their own individual story. Even the police officer, Lucy Hayward, had a story, even if we couldn't quite see it. I suppose that showing us their deepest fear and their strongest belief was a good shortcut to that, but it really worked. Howie, in particular, was given most to do in the dual role of first paranoid geek – or as Rory rightly saw him, hero over the stutter – and then devoted cultist. Where gambler Joe had been decidedly creepy, with his wide-eyed faith, Howie made us feel for him as the person under the possession. Which in turn forced us to reappraise creepy Joe and see the Doctor's point of view in wanting to save him. And reappraise Gibbis the mole-man's attitude to Joe, which was ever so similar to the way we were prompted to respond to the "madman".

And we were, of course, supposed to fall in love with Rita. Smart, clever, witty. A Muslim – don't be scared. One of the more brilliant lines, that, both as a moment of foreshadowing, a clue if the Doctor had only spotted it, and in a broader context of modern Britain. Rita files "Gibbis is an alien" under "to freak out about later"; how many of the audience would file "Rita is a Muslim" similarly?

Conversely, we are supposed to find Gibbis (guest turn David Walliams under the latex – mostly fine, but occasionally a bit too "Little Britain") morally repugnant. His "sly cowardice" provoking the Doctor into one of those rash promises that the tenth always used to throw around: "no one else dies". And yet he is the one to survive.

And it's always a joy to see Caitlin as little Amy again, for what would have been a perfect bookending with "The Eleventh Hour" as the Doctor finally sorts out Amy's hang ups before she leave… if only he had sorted them out and if only she had left!

One thing I nearly said about "The Girl Who Waited" was how I felt it was a massive rebuke to the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" episode "The Inner Light". There Picard gets to experience a whole life compressed into thirty minutes and afterwards he is a wiser and better man; in "The Girl Who Waited" Amy gets an entire lifetime of experiences… and they are wiped away. It's a much crueller and yet more poignant story.

I mention that here because of course this was a "Star Trek" holodeck story. And it is the only holodeck story ever where the holodeck actually does exactly what it's supposed to.

(Though, in fact, even here, they toss in the "glitches in the system" to explain why there are random clowns and PE teachers a-haunting the hotel, but fundamentally this simulation is doing what it's supposed to be doing, however barking the programme might be.)

If I'm going to mention glitches, then: "That's why it kept showing you the exit," the Doctor says to Rory. Well, except, it showed him a way one once, leading us to suspect that there have been scenes cut for time.

I didn't quite get where that was leading – or the moment where Rory discusses his time in the TARDIS in the past tense – unless it was as simple foreshadowing for the end.

Do watch out for the fantastic Rory moment in the scene in Amy's room: he's trying to hold the door closed and the minotaur bursts in, flattening him against the wall. Where he stays for the rest of the scene. Easy to miss, but once you've seen it you can't not notice. Poor Rory.

There was also a rather noticeable amount of reused music. Particularly "Amy's Theme" which makes a lot of sense in context, but also "I am the Doctor", Murray's hero theme which – although I love it – was a bit out of place. And it wasn't as though there was not original music in the piece either, like a strikingly modern theme for the minotaur. But it was the "old faves" that saw the dial turned up to, as it were, eleven.

I hardly need to say that the hotel from hell was once again a design triumph for Michael Pickwoad, and for my money the minimalist, Tron-esque God Complex revealed at the end was too. The direction by Nick Hurran – with some assistance from Stanley Kubrick – was also excellent: the rapid intercutting of the terrified/blissed out victims as they were driven to "praise him", and the near-subliminal printed words all on the right side of baffling; and the close-up on the minotaur's eye as it was summoned, like the Kraken being awakened, all helped to set the mood that was screwed up psycho-terror. Nor, it should be said, did the episode outstay its welcome, revealing its answers at just the right pace to keep us impressed with the Doctor's intelligence, even when he's pointing out his own failures.

Which leave us only with the question: will they do the right thing and leave well alone the question of what the Doctor saw in Room 11?

Next Time… We answer the questions: is "partner" better than "companion"; does James Corden deserve another go in Doctor Who; what would the Doctor spend his last hours doing; and what do the Cybermen get up to after hours? And as a bonus, just who is the Impossible Astronaut? All this, and Stormageddon, Dark Lord of All in "Closing Time".

Day 3921: Nu(Lab)Speak: What does Profligate Mean aka More Balls


The GENIUS of Mr Bully Balls is to hold two completely contradictory views simultaneously without EXPLODING.

For example:

On the one fluffy foot, the (Hard Labour) Government CANNOT be blamed for the MASSIVE ECONOMIC IMPLOSION of 2008 because they were at the MERCY of worldwide economic conditions, the poor helpless little ducks.

On the OTHER fluffy foot, the (Coalition) Government are ENTIRELY to blame for their powerful, cruel, ideological policies causing the stagnation in growth and employment in 2011 because that CAN'T be anything to do with the meltdown of the Euro and the chaos in Americaland, can it?

Today, Mr Balls has made a speech to the Hard Labour conference setting out a plan to rescue the economy from the trouble he got us into that is entirely the Coalition's fault, except for the bits caused by bankers. Lehman Brothers didn't collapse because Hard Labour built too many hospitals you know, oh no, it was just a coincidence that when they went bust we didn't have any money left and had to borrow massively to save a couple of banks of our own.

Oh and Labour didn't "build" hospitals: they RENTED them on the never-never from PFI firms that will OWN THE PROPERTY at the end of the contracts. IDIOTS.

Mr Balls has FIVE NEW policies for the economy. To a certain value of "new". To a certain value of "five" for that matter.

His policies are:

1.       Repeat Hard Labour's bank bonus tax which does not raise as much money as the Coalition's bank levy
2.       Bring forward capital spending like what the Coalition are already doing (CaptainClegg announced this a week ago)
3.       Cut VAT
4.       Cut VAT
5.       Give businesses a National Insurance holiday like the one the Coalition are doing but a bit different. Ish.

Now as far as I can make out, that's FOUR policies, with "cut VAT" included TWICE.

Why am I thinking of that bit in Star Trek where Gul B'Stard has Captain Picard strapped to the torture-matic and is making him say: "There are FIVE policies!"?

And, you know, "cut VAT" (i.e. Mr Alistair Dalek tried last time and it didn't work but what the hell, we've got two slightly different flavours of VAT cut!) is an idea that Bully Balls has been banging on about for QUITE SOME TIME.

As is "repeat the bonus tax" (i.e. take VENGEANCE on the VILE BANKER!).

Now, I don't want to ASSUME anything but it does not seem LIKELY that Mr Balls has suddenly become an arch MONETARIST and so is not intending to LOWER the tax burden, so I must guess he means to do the bonus tax ON TOP OF the bank levy.

And just the other day Mr Potato Ed was talking to Andy Marrmite about "tax cuts for financial services companies", which turns out to mean the Corporation Tax cut for ALL companies (which, oddly enough is supposed to attract companies to move to Great Britain and hence stimulate GROWTH).

So Mr Ed and his almost-exactly-the-same-as-the-Coalition tuition fees policy wants to fund a cut in university costs FOR THE RICH by creating a differential Corporation Tax rate for banks.

Which is quite a LOT of extra taxes to heap on top of the banking sector. And yes, I know they've been VERY naughty, but still…

Look, I do think that we became OVER-DEPENDENT on financial services during the years that can only be described as "the Hard Labour government", but I am still a BIT dubious about policies that seem designed to drive THIRTY PERCENT of the country's economy into the SEA!

It's not exactly a solid GROWTH strategy, is it?

We need a MIXED economy which includes a SOUND banking sector, ideally with more and smaller banks – more because more competition is good for the consumer, and smaller because smaller is easier to bail out if they fail!

The bank levy is FAIR because we are charging the banks for the guarantee that we will bail them out. But PUNITIVE tax rates on both the banks as corporations AND the bankers who work in them will sooner or later see them relocate their businesses and, from a deficit-cutting point of view, their all-important tax revenues.

So, having redefined the word "five" (to mean "four") and the word "new" (to mean "same old same old") let's cut to something with more than one SYLLABLE and see what we can do about "profligate".

Mr Balls denies that Hard Labour were "profligate".

Well, let's see. You WERE spending more money than you raised in tax during the biggest longest boom in post-war history. Some might say that that was a touch EXCESSIVE. Maybe they might even hazard UNWISE. But was it "profligate"?

Well, the wiktionary gives me the definition:

"Inclined to waste resources or behave extravagantly."

So I suppose it depends on whether you think that Hard Labour ever WASTED any resources.

Was, say, invading a Middle Eastern country on the basis of a lie a "waste of resources" or was that a useful and productive endeavour that in no way wasted hundreds of our young people's lives?

Was it, to pick an example for which Mr Balls was personally responsible, "extravagant" to promise to rebuild every school in the country – whether they needed it or not? Whether we could AFFORD it or not?

Was it a waste of resources to commission a vast, pointless, endlessly unfinished IT project for the NHS?

Was "Blairforce One" an extravagance at all?

Did Mr Frown make the best use of resources when he flogged off the country's gold reserve at an historic low in the gold price?

Are you COMPLETELY sure that the Olympics aren't a MASSIVE VANITY PROJECT?

I could go on…

…and I shall!

The response to the foot and mouth outbreak, slaughtering pretty much every cow in the country, was that the best possible use of resources?

Surrendering the British rebate to the European Union, did we get all that we possibly could in exchange for that?

The Jubilee line extension, do you feel that all the extra payments to contractors have successfully avoided endless closures for repairs?

That, ahem, big tent in Greenwich for 2000 A.D.

Clearly it is POSSIBLE to argue that Hard Labour may have OVERSPENT by an few teensy BILLIONS and TRILLIONS, but only on things that were NECESSARY and IMPORTANT. Like the wallpaper in the Lord Chancellor's rooms. Or repaying Mr Bernie Ecclestone.

Clearly it is POSSIBLE… but only if you are BARKING MAD.

So, we must conclude that in Mr Balls' dictionary "profligate" means something like "spending wisely and with prudence", so he can deny ever being "profligate" and it be perfectly true. .

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Day 3915: The Big Conference Speech aka Quality of Mush


Well, the meeja might possibly give more attention to what Captain Clegg has to say, but for me there was a MORE IMPORTANT speech this week, cos it was my Daddy Richard's FIRST TIME!

Many people do not realise that Daddy Richard has never spoken at Liberal Democrat conference before. It's probably because he is so ANCIENT! Okay so he has spoken at the BOTYs a couple of times. If you count flapping his mouth like a landed fish when I won my award in 2010. But never a proper speech. Until today!

Here's what he had to say:

Conference, listen to what Jill Hope has just said.

We can do so much better than this.

Have we ended poverty? Have we defeated ignorance? Have we banished conformity? We have so much more important things to do.

This paper invites us to base our policy development, our next general election, on the idea of "quality of life" or "wellbeing", a concept so nebulous, so warm and fuzzy, as to be almost meaningless.

It says, in the first line of the paper, and it's repeated in the motion, that "most people's aim is to have a good quality of life".

If that's the case, then this is a simple truism. All policy should always be based on wellbeing; I mean who would vote for a worse quality of life?

I'm not even sure it is true. I think most people aim to make ends meet, or to see their kids all right, or to go to the gym more. I aim to write a book. You can say all these things are about "quality of life" but you spread the definition so wide that it can mean anything .

And if you try to mean everything, you end up meaning nothing.

Yesterday, we debated Facing the Future, a paper that grudgingly mentioned wellbeing in the introduction and then forgot all about it. Today we have a quality of life wish list. A string of nice policies tied together by woolly thinking .

How does this fit with our existing policy? New regulations for business - do we say which ones we will be replacing under Vince's one in one out rule? More interference in the curriculum, more government telling teachers what to teach. And more bureaucracy, a whole new quango, just to collate data, not to do anything with it.

The paper breaks down quality of life into individual wellbeing, community and environment. I've got a phrase for that. It's Free, Fair and Green. And Liberal Democrats, we do that already.

If you want to improve people's quality of life: plant some trees. Or write music. Or fund the BBC properly.

But don't give up the core of who we are.

ALL Parties would say they intend to improve quality of life. We differ on how, and for whom. And it is our choices that define us.

It's not that there are not good things in this paper. Who could be against shorter commutes, or support for volunteering, or better mental health care?

Indeed, as I said, who is going to disagree with improving wellbeing. But it seeks to shift our focus away from Freedom onto "being nice".

I can see how, in a coalition with the Nasty Party, we would want to shout out to people "but we're the nice ones".

But at a time when we alone stand against the cruelty of unrestrained Tory capitalism…

…and against the folly of Labour's profligacy and mismanagement …

we don't need to redefine ourselves.

We just need to be ourselves!

I know we crave comfort from the pain caused by this world of austerity. But our ideas need to be inspiring, not just comfortable.

I was listening to Paddy Ashdown last night, and he reminded me that Liberalism isn't easy, it isn't warm and fluffy. It can be difficult to trust people to make their own choices, rather than promising to make it all all right.

Joe Grimmond didn't tell us to march towards our comfort zone; he told us to march towards the sound of gunfire.

Liberalism is like a flame: it warms you, protects you, lights the way. But it can burn.

It's not a soggy security blanket.

We don't believe in leading people by the hand. That's the other lot.

We believe in empowering them, trusting them and getting out of their way.

It's not about wellbeing. It's about Freedom!

Conference, please reject this motion.

To our surprise and quite a bit of relief, we were not the only ones against the motion. Ms Jill Hope, who daddy mentions, was first to oppose it, telling us how SILLY we were going to look on council estates and up tower blocks talking about "well being" when they want jobs and houses and the lifts to work. And Ms Christina Baron who highlighted how ridiculous it was to be setting up a new quango, the Institute of, or perhaps for, Wellbeing.

We managed to fight them to a count, and it was quite close: a hundred and fifty-eight to a hundred and twenty-two.

But the real shame was that my other daddy, Daddy Alex was not called to give HIS speech, 'cos it would have been a cracker and I think he could have won the day for us!

Have a read of what he would have said and decide for yourself.

Even so, it is to be hoped that such a NARROW SQUEAK for what should have been an EASY policy paper, and for what IS such an IMPORTANT one, will give the Party pause and maybe they will think again.

And if not, we'll just have to get Daddy Richard to stand for FPC again.

Sunday, September 18, 2011



For technical reasons, it appears that already being me means it couldn't be me again. Or something. Which sounds like a very silly rule to me.

Thank goodness, then, that my DADDY ALEX wrote SUCH A GOOD POST about how all the Conservatories are just FROTHING at the mouth with how much the Coalition is really a LIB-DEM-LED government that he was given the shiny BOTY for bestest individual post. Wot he has deserved for absolutely AGES.

So we are STILL an award winning HOUSEHOLD!

My campaign to be nonimated blogger of the year again NEXT year begins HERE!

Seriously, though, huge congratulations to all of the winners in all of the categories, but especially congratulations to the four short-listers for AWARD-WINNING ELEPHANT AWARD OF THE YEAR AWARD:

Mr Matthew Gibson

Auntie Caron

Mr Neil Monnery


Mr Nick Thornsby

who between them demonstrate four very excitingly different and good ways of blogging, be it: in depth policy focus, accentuating the positive and the workable; personal campaigning with breadth and immediacy; proper journalism in the sense of keeping a daily diary journal, of personal and sometimes whimsical thought; and on the spot reportage and some fine economic analysis.

Really all four deserve to be award winners, but on the night the prize went to…

The Very Fluffy Diary of…

Oh no, we did that joke at the award ceremony!

Congratulations to the REAL winner, Mr Nick Thornsby (with some additional scenes by Phil Woolas Hard Labour's no-longer-MP for Old and Sad).

Now, if any of you need a STAND IN for the interview with Captain Clegg…

And don't think I won't be back next year! (Your scheduled Dr Woo review will appear later!)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Day 3889: TORCHWOOD: Manacles Day: The Porn Ultimatum


Well here is a secret I bet you did not know. Auntie Helen has only watched Torchhoot TWICE, and both times she turned on during the RUDE BITS!

So she turned off again quickly.

My daddies did NOT turn off. Bad daddies! Bad!

Okay, this is, hopefully, going to be quick. The last episode of "Miracle Day" is on a at nine tonight and I want this up before then. I don't want to fall further behind!

This was a really good episode. It was even a really good episode of Torchwood. It was just in entirely the wrong season.

This, or something like this, would have greatly strengthened "Torchwood's" first year, showing us Jack in two time zones but also two times in his life: the younger Jack recognisably closer to the Jack who met the Doctor in "The Empty Child" and this story helping to bridge the gap both in our knowledge of what happened to him after the Game Station and in his emotional journey from the grinning, running, happy-go-lucky omnisexual of "Doctor Who" to the brooding Angel-a-like of "Torchwood". A century of disappointments, where trying to live your life like the Doctor ends in pain and murder again and again would start to take the perkiness out of anyone's strides.

This year, I'm afraid, it slightly has an air of taking us away from the plot again. Even though it is very obviously central to the story, and is done pretty much beat perfect in itself, "Miracle Day" is seven weeks in now, and the story ought to be picking up the pace, not slamming on the brakes to deliver us the exposition.

The reveal that the villains behind the Miracle are human after all, and not aliens, is a moderately interesting development, but it's no kind of shock twist. That, even more mundanely, they appear to be the Mafia, is verging on silly. I'm not sure why, but slamming the "spy-fi" genre (the genre of "Torchwood" and "the X Files" and even some "Bond") into the old-fashioned gangster genre just doesn't quite gel.

More importantly, this adds nothing to our understanding of the plot. Introduced earlier in the series, maybe around episode three, perhaps even two, this would have provided a solid grounding for the series to springboard from. They might even have got away with the swerve last week revealing that the mission to the modules had been a colossal waste of time. This late into the series' run, there's a sense that we've been strung along with the mystery of these Triangle people for ages now, and the answer is a big "so what?"

And, it has to be said, after "Children of Earth" featured a flashback to Jack's past revealing his "surprise" involvement in the conspiracy, this felt a little bit "samey".

That said, it is a gorgeous episode, beautifully written by Jane Espensen. I can't say if the period details of 1927/28 are right, but they certainly look lovely, and there is a wonderful sense of culture clash running through the episode where Angelo's inter-war conservative Catholicism conservative Catholicism rubs up against Jack twenty-first century metrosexuality. (Sure, he's a fifty-first century boy, but his cracking-wise about sex adn sexuality is so much of the "now".) It's much better done than the crushingly obvious Welsh-English/American-English culture clash between Gwen and Esther in Espensen's earlier "Dead of Night".

Daniele Favilli delivers a beautifully tortured performance as Angelo, stricken with guilt even as he is drawn more and more into his "devil" Jack's world. And, as has been said, he looks good too.

There are moments where the pair of them are running around shooting alien brain worms and escaping the mafia goons and they look like they are having such fun, and fun in a "Doctor Who" sense, the running and adventure. And then "Torchwood" slams Jack's failures into them in a brutally cruel, but exactly right sort of way. Because "Torchwood" is the fallen angel of the "Doctor Who" universe. And naturally, Jack – with his flaws – picks a companion with flaws, one who freaks out, and that leads to an incredibly powerful, and toe-curlingly gruesome sequence of Jack's repeated murder in the meat locker of the family butchers. It's not overdone with gore, but the repeated point of view shots as Jack revives only to see more and more people standing over him ready and willing to kill… Earlier in the episode, Jack being "out-and-proud" had told Angelo, "I don't care what anybody knows"; how those words come back to bite him.

If anything, Jack's excuses for leaving Angelo are too kind. Never mind the Doctor's line of "you'll grow old; I won't" – how about: "you failed the test, kiddo, when you murdered me seventeen times running. Bye, then!"

We are, of course, supposed to contrast Angelo's betrayal with Gwen's in the present day. But there's no comparison, is there. Angelo is wound up like a spring with guilt and fear and confusion and goes mental with admittedly pretty appalling consequences. Gwen, on the other hand, has ages to try and scheme her way out of this, to save Jack and her family, but no, she just goes to hand him over like the self-confessed selfish bitch she is.

(In fact, she only gets away with this because Nana Visitor's little gang are even more inept than Torchwood themselves. "We are watching", Gwen is warned. Yeah, everything except the other two Torchwood doofusses. Or Gwen's known PC associate in Wales. How totally on the ball is that? And then, Ms Conspiracy basically finishes the episode by saying: "well, sorry, that was actually just our really over-complicated way of saying, why not come over and discuss a few answers to this whole business." 'Cos it's not like Torchwood weren't right out of clues at the end of last week.)

This is really a cathartic moment for Gwen and the audience, who've been saying since year one (and the unspeakable affair with Weevil-boy Owen) what is it with Gwen's narcissist syndrome? "Say yoofa-give me!" she hollered into Rhys's face in one episode after she'd confessed all but before retconning him to forget the whole confession again: a selfish shrieking banshee who wanted to feel good for having confessed all but didn't want to handle the consequences. And that's how she's been ever since. So here the series actually faces up to the fact that Gwen is a deeply flawed, troubled even, individual.

But, again, this would have worked so much better back in series one, as a payoff for her frankly reckless and self-indulgent behaviour (and again, the affair).

If series one of "Torchwood" had had this and "They Keep Killing Suzie" (and let's face it not "Cyberwoman" or "Countrycide") it might have been a whole lot better remembered.

So, I'm relieved and grateful to Jane Espensen for showing us what American "Torchwood" can actually do and what a really decent version of the series looks like. It's just a shame it's so late.

Too late? We'll know after tonight's climax. Now I'd better go and pack for Conference!

Next Time…After an episode that blends romance, tragedy, backstory and genuine alien thrills in perfect measure, what do you think is called for? A tense thriller that takes the pace up to the next level? Or more padding? "Torchwood" reaches "The End of the Road" (but if you've any sense you'll skip to the end and watch tonight's finale instead).
"Torchwood: Miracle Day" continues tonight at 9pm (yes, that's in an hour!) on BBC1 and BBC1HD or if you're falling behind like me, then you can still try the iPlayer, but frankly by this point you're probably gonna have to buy the DVDs! .

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Day 3905: DOCTOR WHO: The Girl in the Timey-Wimey Place


You know what Doctor Woo is missing? GLOW IN THE DARK CATS!

Never mind creepy dolls or kill-you-with-kindness handbots, THAT'S a monster to be REALLY scared of! Honestly, when these appeared it was nearly ME that aged thirty-six years in a matter of minutes!

Anyway, where's Daddy review?
Well, this is awkward. My first reaction was that the episode was awesome. Alex… was rather less enthusiastic. He has been, if I can put it this way, timey-wimied out. So, I have to review this without my normal sounding board and soul mate. We'll just have to see how it goes.

The point of Alex's reaction is that this is very familiar territory for the Moffat era of the series. The effects of relative time, as seen in "The Girl in the Fireplace" and "The Eleventh Hour" and again in TARDIS corridors sequences from "The Doctor's Wife"; the dangers of alien medical technology, revisiting "The Empty Child" and "Curse of the Black Spot"; the fact the danger is situational rather than there being an actual enemy; the use of catchphrases; the way that nobody really dies…

Now, that's not to say that this was not taking those elements and crafting what I found to be a rather brilliant story out of them. And you might choose to argue that the conclusion, where we are made to feel every beat of older Amy's pain that her life is to be rendered undone, meaningless even, is a condemnation of this very undermining of death in the series, making the case against the "no one really dies in sci fi" mentality, a riposte to Moffat's repeated and casual "time can be rewritten" of the "and you kill someone every time you do" variety. But looking at the repeated memes in close up like that, you can perhaps see how they've been done to death. Assuming death even means anything in Doctor Who any more.

However, it seems to me, that what Mr Moffat is doing with the series this year, the reason why these ideas and themes keep recurring, is that he is exploring various ideas of predestination and free will: what they means for time travel; how one might get you out of the other. I mean, that's fairly obvious, isn't it, with the great big flag of killing the Doctor himself set up at the start.

In the most blatant terms, this shows up with the way that "The Impossible Astronaut" foreshadows the obvious get-out clauses: Amy declares that the fallen Doctor must be a "clone or a robot" and later in the series we see both of those solutions presented as possibilities: the clone in the Flesh of "The Rebel Flesh"/"The Almost People" and the robot in the Tessellector of "Let's Kill Hitler", either of which could perfectly mimic the Doctor. In fact, this is too blatant; it can't be a coincidence.

There's another one, this week, when – as Simon hints – thirty minutes in, the Doctor tells us that if you know the future, and if you're bloody-minded enough, then yes you can change it. Rory even says "so Amy can change the future". If he'd given a Miranda Hart look to camera at the same moment it couldn't have been clearer.

"My life in your hands, Amelia Pond," as he says in "The Impossible Astronaut".

(And just after "fish fingers and custard", which comes up again in "Let's Kill Hitler".)

But I think Moffat is offering up possible escapes routes for us to latch onto in order to pull one of his trademark surprise twists out of the bag. (And he can no doubt relish the thought of factions of Flesh Doctor and Tessellector Doctor advocates forming on the forums.)

And that's just plot mechanics, where Moffat is trying to do a Derren Brown trick of showing us his workings and still distracting us at the same time.

But undercutting the clever-clever stuff there seems to be a strand of genuine philosophical thinking.

In terms of classical physics, both time travel and free will ought to be impossible. But Doctor Who as a television series has never subscribed to either view.

Except that if both "you can time travel" and "you have free will" are true, then you must be able to go into your past and do things that you know did not happen.

This is a paradox for the series, the ultimate Grandfather Paradox. If the Doctor goes back in time then can he or can he not rewrite that history? We only ever see him "defending history", i.e. stopping invasions that we know didn't happen. But why not stop invasions we know did happen, like (and this is always the test case) the German invasion of Poland in 1939.

The series has tried to address this in several ways over the years. The key stories are "The Aztecs", "The Time Meddler", "Day of the Daleks", "Pyramids of Mars", and "The Fires of Pompeii".

[And the following discussion does involves SPOILERS, in particular for "Day of the Daleks"; if you want to enjoy the story on DVD first, do skip to the end to "What does the Mister Moffster think he's doing?".]

What Does Timey-Wimey mean?

Initially there is what we might call the "David Whitaker Doctrine" as set out in "The Aztecs": the Doctor says "you can't rewrite history, not one line" and this is both true and a physical law of the universe.

Though by "history" the series has always meant "what the viewers know". (Which, incidentally, means that the history of, say, the end of the dinosaurs or the Trojan War or Atlantis/Minoan Crete or the reasons why King John signed the Magna Carta are always "what people at the time thought their history was", even if we think we know differently now. But that's a whole other argument.)

So that means there's a problem with the Whitaker Doctrine: it only seems to apply when the Doctor is "in the past" (or, strictly speaking, in those bits of time that we, the viewers, call "the past").

If he goes to Skaro – in "the future" – then it's fine for him to intervene and change anything he likes – wipe out the Daleks, be our guest – that doesn't break any laws of time that we haven't written yet. But that doesn't seem to make sense. Because no matter when you are, it's still "history" to the people who come later: the descendants of the Thals on Skaro (who, in "Planet of the Daleks", we get to see) actually call the events of "The Daleks" history.

But then Whitaker leaves and, after Dennis Spooner has a go, Donald Tosh becomes script editor. And he thinks that that's no fun at all. So we get the new revised rules set out in "The Time Meddler" namely you can change the past and what's more the Monk has done it a lot. But it's very, very naughty and the Doctor does not approve of that sort of thing. So now, "you can't rewrite history" is a moral law, not a physical one.

This begs the question: well who's to say what is "history", to which it turns out the answer is the Time Lords, and once Barry Letts arrives to run the series with Terrance Dicks as his script editor, then we develop a framework of "laws of time" laid down by these benevolent overlords. And because Barry and even more Uncle Terry are of an old-fashioned and small-c conservative bent, the Time Lords are both patrician and good.

(Whether that's what Dicks and Hulke intended in "The War Games" is another matter. Afterwards Robert Holmes, an entirely more cynical figure, takes over and the Time Lords become corrupt and decadent. And then eventually we get to Eric Saward and they, along with everyone else in the universe, reach the depths of thoroughly amoral and borderline psychotic. But I'm getting ahead of myself.)

"Day of the Daleks" (available on DVD now, in full "Nick-Briggs-o-scape" special edition) tries to address the problem by presenting us with an alternative future Earth, conquered by the Daleks, because World War Three took place in the late Twentieth Century.

This, however, is a bit of a paradox pile up.

It turns out – spoilers – that World War Three is caused by people from the alternative future coming back in time to prevent it happening and instead accidentally triggering it. Now, this is a paradox already because if they hadn't have come back in time then no one would have started the war and they would not have existed and so could not have come back in time. In other words, the whole business should never have happened in the first place.

But then, the Doctor gets caught up in events and he manages to stop the people from the future causing the War that leads to their own existence. Which means that the events don't happen so the Doctor doesn't get involved and so does not prevent them coming back in time to accidentally start a war. Which means that the events do happen so he does get involved… etc ad infinitum.

Also, there are Daleks in it.

This is important because it directly addresses the predestination/free will question.

Lawrence Miles and Tat Wood address this in About Time volume three (original version) in an essay called "How Does Time Work". They try to make sense of the paradoxes by suggesting that the whole predestination paradox comes into being all at once in twentieth and twenty-second centuries and whatever century the time travelling Daleks arrive from simultaneously when the Daleks first travel back to re-invade the Earth. i.e. they go back in time and find that someone has already screwed up Earth's timeline for them.

History, they suggest, has "taken account" of all the consequences of past and future actions caused by the Daleks' time travel. However, history as not taken into account the Doctor's future actions.

Thus they conclude that no one has free will except the Time Lords. "Ordinary" time travellers cannot "change" history because they themselves are already a part of history and so they were in the history that they propose "going back to".

(This argument actually falls at the first hurdle, because of course the Daleks have changed history: the twenty-second century of "Day of the Daleks" is not the same one as the twenty-second century of "The Dalek Invasion of Earth".)

Tat quite rightly repudiates this argument in (much longer) version of the essay in the revised volume three, on the grounds that it is against almost everything the series stands for, up to and including the Doctor's own dialogue in "Day of the Daleks".

All of which suggests that if you try to make "Day of the Daleks" logically consistent you just make your head hurt. It is the written equivalent of the optical illusion in Esher's "Ascending and Descending" (those monks on the never-ending stairway): the loops look like they are consistent because of the way it's drawn but you can't actually build it in real life.

But looked at as an allegory, though, it makes perfect sense:

The Daleks conquer the Earth using a paradoxical loop that says time travel leads to predestiny, i.e. they win by taking away free will.

But then the Doctor trumps this with a second paradox, saying no, we will have free will and can choose to avoid fate if we try.

Which is entirely what the series is about. (It only adds to the irony that the Doctor wins by using the Grandfather Paradox.)

At this point I need to divert to a sidebar about the The New Adventures, which developed a thesis of "crystallised time", that is the Doctor came from a place very early in time and space, and for him all of the future is fluid and malleable… until he visits it and interacts with it at which point those bits of history become fixed, "crystallised" and cannot be changed. Obviously, because he's spent so much time on Earth and travelling with Earth people, a lot of the crystallised bits are Earth history and that is why he cannot interfere too much here. In other words, it's the Doctor's own interest in our planet that gives it its privileged "no messing with history" status.

Lawrence Miles, ever the iconoclast, suggested exactly the opposite theory in his Faction Paradox works: all history is fixed by the "Great Houses" (i.e. Time Lords) except for the bits where they or their timeships arrive which are made "malleable".

This idea of "contingent history" is as it happens consistent with the theory developed by Robert Holmes in "Pyramids of Mars". In that story, where Sutekh the Destroyer threatens to end the world, Sarah Jane (who has a habit of asking exactly these awkward questions while Holmes is script editor – see also "I don't speak Italian" in "Masque of Mandragora") puts it to the Doctor that since it's 1911 and she's from 1980, they know they're going to win. So the Doctor shows her Earth in 1980 and it's a blasted cinder. In other words, by becoming involved in events in her own history, Sarah has put that history on the line, as it were. Because she has free will and not predestination her own past is now in question.

This kind of "contingent history" is what gives us the "Back to the Future" rules where if you change your past (or even just go back into your past and find someone else has done something inconsistent with your history) then history rewrites itself… but not instantly, so you have a chance to put it right again. At least that's the Doctor's explanation to Martha in "The Shakespeare Code".

Jumping almost up to date then, we come the companion who is even more stroppy and awkward than Sarah, namely Donna Noble, and it takes Donna to directly confront the Doctor on the ethics of leaving Pompeii to get wiped out merely because they know that that is what is going to happen.

And so the Doctor explains that there are fixed points in time. And, as a Time Lord, he can see them.

This is terribly handy: it means the Doctor can intervene whenever he wants to except when he can't and only he can tell the difference.

"The Waters of Mars" tries to explore this further, asking what happens if the Doctor himself tries to defy one of these fixed points (answer: time seems to find another way of tying itself up, rather like death in those dreadful "Final Destination" movies) but muffs it up, or rather "The End of Time" muffs it up by not being about the consequences of the Doctor having gone bonkers.

But in fact, Douglas Adams had long ago proposed the most elegantly workable solution in "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency" (nee "Shada"): history is too complex, too fractal to "fix" – i.e. "solving" one problem actually causes another to pop up. The example given is the Dodo and the Coelacanth. Professor Chronotis (in either version) goes back in time in order to save the Coelacanth from extinction. Only the unintended consequence of this is that, when he returns to the present day, he finds that dodos are now extinct when before he left they were not. Understandably, this rather puts him off.

(Mind you, I'm not sure that the viewing public would find much joy in a story where the Doctor travels back in time to prevent World War II, that terrible war between the British Empire and America, only to return to the "present day" to discover that instead there was now a World War II between Britain and Germany.)

But then, ironically, "Shada" was never completed so that timeline is sort of in doubt.

In a fractal history, though, fixed points and "strange attractors" actually make sense. No matter how you distort the pattern, some of the original order will reassert itself. Vesuvius will always destroy Pompeii; there will always be a Shakespeare; Bowie Base will always be destroyed – it takes a being of unimaginable, godlike power – like Sutekh – to destroy these things.

Time then is like a jar of coloured sand that makes a pattern. It looks fixed. But you can shake the jar and everything changes. But new patterns emerge.

Or perhaps, rather than grains of sand, say little coloured strings, some short some long, representing events strung together in sequences that we call histories or life stories. "Now" isn't a slice through time so much as the leading end of each thread where new events are being added to the chain. "Now" is happening at every point in time and space adding more events wherever there are gaps.

So "History" is a big ball of these strings all knotted together, forming ever-more-complex patterns which can be changed, disarrayed, smashed to bits even when the ball is disturbed; they are drawn to certain patterns and nexus points so that whenever the patterns are changed, some familiar once inevitably reassert themselves; the threads are both linked to and threaded around each other in a manner that can only be described as wibbly-wobbly…

All of which brings us to Mr Moffat.

What does the Mister Moffster think he's doing?

At the end of last season, Steve just went and broke all the rules. He had the Doctor use predestination paradoxes like they were going out of fashion to repeatedly cheat time. He got out of the Pandorica by having got out of the Pandorica, and everything that followed, mop, fez and all.

(Those dear boys at the Eleventh Hour podcast want this to be just the last iteration of a process where the Doctor first worked out how to get out of the Pandorica from the inside, then goes back in time to give the sonic to Rory to let his earlier self out, thus rewriting his own past to get himself out quicker, and then having been released by Rory, replicates the actions of himself from the previous version to create a stable non-looping version of history.

But that's really not what happens is it.)

And look: he uses a predestination paradox and lo, a Dalek comes back to life. And the bugger kills him.

Now, at the time we all thought that this was Mr Moffat having his little joke. Or at least playing "Curse of the Fatal Death" with live ammo.

But suppose he's not just larking about showing how clever-clever he can be with his writing. Not "just". Suppose in fact that he's waving all these predestination paradoxes under our noses to start us thinking about them.

Remember, the very next thing that Moffat wrote was "A Christmas Carol", in which the Doctor tries rewriting Kazran Sardick's past… and it does not work. It goes horribly wrong, every time he tries. Only an act of free will saves the day.

Moffat seems to be very much on the side of free will and choice.

It shows up mostly in the big "arc" episodes, but it's there in the standalones too: even something as seemingly unconnected as "The Curse of the Black Spot" is working with the "curse" idea to suggest that we are powerless, or we make ourselves powerless, when we do not try to understand, and concludes with Captain Avery changing his destiny.

"Night Terrors" last week, under the mush, was being driven by a little boy's fear that he was going to be sent away against his will. The "daddy loves you" conclusion was also an affirmation that his choices will be listened to, that his free will matters.

Notice also how "The Doctor's Wife" sees House, who believes in absolute control to the point where his puppets literally drop dead without his will controlling them, contrasted with the TARDIS, with all her non-linear perspectives and, at heart, choice, the choice to steel a Time Lord and run away, the choice to take him to wherever he was needed (and never to tell him what to do when he got there). In its crudest form, House is a planet and represents unchanging stability and the TARDIS is a ship representing travel and freedom.

From a certain point of view, the difference between the rebel gangers and the Flesh Amy was free will: their Flesh had gained it; her Flesh was taking hers away.

From a certain point of view, the point of the Silence (or at least the monsters formerly believed to be called the Silence) is that they take away free will by giving us post-hypnotic suggestions.

This might – might – take a step towards justifying the Doctor's actions in "The Day of the Moon". He is fighting against an embodiment of predestination; he is giving humans back free will. On that scale, you can see why he did what he did. From a certain point of view.

Equally, you can see how the Doctor and the Church would end up on opposite sides of a war. For god has to be omniscient, and omniscience destroys free will even more effectively than time travel does. Because if anyone can know everything that is ever going to happen, then everything is predetermined and there is no choice at all ever.

I've written before about how in a lot of ways the White Guardian is at least as bad as the Black Guardian. We need both but neither can win. In a universe of total chaos we couldn't live; but in a universe of total order, we'd be dead.

Moffat's Doctor is about giving people choices.

That's what he does to Rory in "The Girl Who Waited".

"That's not fair," says Rory, "You're turning me into you!"

But you know, the Doctor has the perfectly legitimate comeback: "No Rory, you chose to be me when you decided that you were not going to tell me about my future death."

We are supposed to believe – because River tells us so – that they are being all noble and preserving the web of time by keeping the Doctor's future a secret. But it's possible that they are just plain wrong. They are taking away his free will, and Moffat seems to want us to think that that is worse than messing with paradox.

Rory and Amy's lives are riddled with paradoxes, the Doctor having rewritten their pasts repeatedly and then rebooted the whole universe, so they are literally no longer the same people they were last year. But it's always been about giving them choices not taking choices away – the one time the Doctor took Amy's choices away was when he left her life to be swallowed by the crack in her wall and he's been trying to restore if ever since.

This may also be why we never hear of "Mels" before "Let's Kill Hitler". As the Doctor puts it "You named your daughter… after your daughter?" Moffat, I suspect deliberately, has chosen not to show Melody to Mels' history as a predestination paradox. Moffat – like the Joker – would prefer a past that is multiple choice.

Ultimately of course the whole of the Moffat era hangs on the relationship between River and the Doctor, and the whole of their relationship hangs on the very serious question of whether either of them has a choice.

Every time they meet, one of them knows the other's future. They could rewrite each other's history over and over but they don't. So the question that constantly underlines their relationship is this: are they powerless to change the intertwined course of their lives or do they choose not to?

This, I think, is why it is no accident that the season will end, just as last year's did, with a wedding. A wedding seems like the ultimate moment of destiny, so many things forcing you inevitably to that moment. And yet, the entire ceremony hinges on a question. "Will you take this man?" It is the single most important expression of free will that we have, in this case quite possibly capable of tearing time and space asunder.

We will see.

So the thing that's great about this episode, even apart from all the things that are great about this episode – the acting, the make-up, the dialogue, the design (Millennium Stadium with just a hint of Tim Burton) – the thing that is great about this episode is the way that it pulls into focus all the themes that Moffat has been developing and points us forward to where they might go.

If that's where they choose to go.

Next Time… Angels, minotaurs and David Walliams. Presumably he's a timey-wimey guest star who likes timey-wimey things. The TARDIS crew check into a hotel where every room seems to be room 101. And we can test my theories about omniscience. And see who has "The God Complex".

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Day 3882: TORCHWOOD: Middling Day: The One Where It Turns Out You Needn't Have Watched the Last Three Weeks


So, why didn't Jack just go straight to PhiCorp Chief Operating Officer Winston Zeddemore the moment they discovered PhiCorp were ready for the miracle with their stockpile of painkillers?

We could have stuck this one rather good scene with Ernie Hudson at the end of episode three, sparing us the clichéd "let's download all of PhiCorp's secrets from Jilly Kitsinger's computer" shtick and cut straight to the good stuff (no, not the bonking… well, not just the bonking…) in next week's episode. And, as a bonus, not gotten Dr Vera involved in the silly spy plot and hence incinerated.

Episode eight of this series is called "End of the Road" for no particularly apparent reason, but you would have been better off calling this episode "Dead End", because that's very much what it does to all of the leads we've had so far.

The scene between John Barrowman and Ernie Hudson really is rather good. They both underplay nicely, and there's a sense of fun between them that is so often missing from Torchwood's DNA. Hudson is rather delicious delivering the "devil in a three-piece suit" line, though I have to say, Jack does just believe him rather easily. Because though he defines himself as neither a good man nor a bad man but a middle man, that is basically a fib. He and his company are profiting mightily for being a "part of the system", and he's fully cognizant that there is a system and what his part in it is. Not to mention, he's doing the dirty with and subsequently on his secretary Janet. He's a baddie; he's just not the chief baddie.

And yes, the setup with Janet the secretary was verging on the ridiculous – she goes from no idea her boss/lover is about to dump her to "go get him" in no time at all, without apparently experiencing anger, denial or sorrow along the way; and by the way, are we supposed to assume that the contents of the top secret server stolen in episode four are actually Stuart's flirty emails? – but none of it was particularly more ridiculous than any other Torchwood route in to their target.

But the real thing about that scene is that Hudson's CEO Stuart Owens (not really Winston Zeddemore) is telling Jack: "that PhiCorp lead that you've been following, it stops here. You need to find a new plot next week." (Which, indeed, is exactly what happens, with new players appearing out of the woodwork at the end of this episode just at the moment when all the other plots have collapsed.)

We, the audience, have basically been led to believe that PhiCorp are (in "Buffy" terms) the "big bad" for this season and suddenly we have the rug yanked from under us. It ought to be an outrageous triumph, bluffing the audience and then going "fooled you". Unfortunately, it just delivers the all-too-expected news that much of the series so far – yes even the actually rather gripping "Categories of Life" – has not just been a protracted series of barely logical connections between tedious set pieces to find the next in the series of clues, but also a terrible wild goose chase all along.

Sometimes an investigation really can run off in entirely the wrong direction, and there can be drama in discovering that, in trying to win your way back from a big mistake like that. But there's no sense here that our Torchwood team are in any way appalled to discover PhiCorp was a red herring. And if they don't seem to care, then why should we? We were invited to invest in the arc of the last three episodes only to be told it's not actually where the story is at. So why did we even bother?

This is even reinforced by the conclusion where Jack's triumph that the world now knows about the modules and the category ones, his glee at their whistleblowing, is swiftly undermined by Rex's cynicism and the White House spokesperson saying actually they'll carry on burning people thank you very much.

(Though as I said in the comments to last time's review: category ones are not the problem – you don't even need to feed them or keep them warm because they can't die; you just need to stack 'em up somewhere – no, your problem is the escalating numbers of category twos who are conscious and demanding pain relief. And anyway your real problem is babies.)

Again, you could make a story out of the world's "failure of outrage" something like the way that millions marched against the Iraq war (remember that, Russell?) and it didn't change a thing. This feels like a reaction to the cynicism engendered by that. Except the script just doesn't care that the world doesn't care.

Somehow this episode manages to make the parts of Miracle Day that had real heart and drama in them feel like padding. And that's a real shame.

The rest of the episode also feels very much about closing off plot lines.

Gwen manages to redeem (sort of) last week's hilarious ineptitude and finally rescue her father. She's given two goes at getting a "crowning moment of awesome" for her troubles: first, her withering put down of Dr Patel for complicity in the death camp; and she's right, Patel has broken her Hippocratic Oath and so is no longer a doctor. And, second, the explosive demolition of the Modules at the Cowbridge Overflow Camp. At least I assume it was supposed to be a "crowning moment of awesome"; I'm afraid I was slightly left feeling "ooh, I hope Gwen's remembered to check they weren't loaded full of those people due be incinerated at 6am before she, er, incinerated them." Better hope it took her less than twenty minutes to change into her leather catsuit, find some C4 and a sexy motorbike and plant her explosives, eh.

(Rhys's moment of triumph, smashing through the camp gates in his big truck and vanishing into the night, is fatally undermined by the message from the people who've improbably hacked the I5 contact lenses – henceforth known as the world's most pointless kidnappers – saying he's only escaped as far as getting scrobbled by someone else. Sigh. It takes just a moment for someone to say "hang on, Rhys is away rescuing dad; let's have just the mother and daughter kidnapped".)

Rex finally comes off the fence and declares himself to be Torchwood not CIA. Shame that that's going to be rolled back in a couple of weeks' time as well. Good job he's not posted a video of him identifying himself as Torchwood (and ex-CIA) on the Internet for everyone to see, isn't it. What's that you say? He did what…?

And li'l Esther gets to prove that a flailing woman can incapacitate a man twice her size when he has her in a neck lock (what, did the CIA give her no training in self-defence at all?); and that she's never seen any horror film ever (it would have been a shock if Colin hadn't come back from, well, not the dead but you know…).

Still at least we got rid of creepy Colin and his unbelievable pronunciation. Jane Espensen tweeted during the UK broadcast to assure us that Americans really do pronounce "badminton" as "bad mitten" (presumably for the same reason they can't get aluminium right either), but thankfully this appalling word crash has been dealt with extensively at Tachyon TV already.

It's also necessary to ask, why Owens didn't tell Jack more about his own investigations. Jack asks about "specific geography" (the clue from the assassin back in "Escape to L.A."); it's almost as though he could tell Jack where the last episode is going to be set but chooses to withhold the information in order to prolong the series for yet another couple of episodes.

So rather than come out and say "why yes, Captain Harkness, only today I was having my man investigate some peculiar land deals in a painted back lot made up as Singapore" instead he gives him some guff about "the blessing" (gee, Mr Shiban, I think your X-Files are showing again).

This by the way is not a useful or practical clue (in the manner of the breadcrumbs that we've been following through the plot since "Dead of Night" – whatever happened to the Soulless, by the way?) as anyone who stifled a guffaw at Jack Googling "The Truth" will tell you. Three hundred and ninety-one million hits, all of them guff, when I counted.

Next Time… Captain Jack actually gets an episode to himself, in which he shoots the Stargate Franchise right in their Goa'uld and gets some really fabulous sex. Also, Gwen is a bit of a bitch, but I think we all know that already, right? It's called "Immortal Sins" or (fingers crossed) "The Good One".

"Torchwood: Miracle Day" continues tonight at 9pm (yes, that's in an hour!) on BBC1 and BBC1HD or if you're falling behind like me (yes, it's getting more and more difficult to stay just three weeks late with the reviews!), then there's always the iPlayer!

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Day 3902: Let's Tackle Britain's highest tax rate… no, it's not the 50p band


The Conservatories want to abolish the 50% higher rate tax band.

Master Gideon and Mayor Bojo want it, because tax cuts make Tories feel all MANLY and POWERFUL, and tax cuts for RICH PEOPLE will make them POPULAR with all their RICH FRIENDS.

Now twenty "high-profile economists" (or "rich people") have written in to say they think it should go too because it makes Britain LOOK like a high tax country (that's LOOK like, not actually BE a high tax country, 'cos we're not).

But 50% ISN'T the highest rate at which people can pay tax on their income. Some people – they're still PRETTY WELL-OFF people actually but they're NOT the richest earners, so, you know, Mr Potato Ed would still call them part of the "squeezed middle" – pay a HIGHER rate of tax only it's a STEALTH TAX and it's down to the "withdrawal of personal allowance".

In the UK, if you earn more than £150,000 then you pay tax at 50% on each extra pound that you earn. Well, actually, you pay tax at 52% because of National Insurance, but that's a different dishonesty.

However, thanks to the stealthy thieving fingers of Mr Alistair Dalek (who's been plugging his memoirs "Gordon was a big fat bully" all this week), if you earn £100,000 then your personal allowance starts to get taken away at a rate of 50p for every extra pound you earn.

This means that if you earn £1 more, your TAXABLE earning go up by £1.50. You pay 40% tax on that extra £1.50, which is 60p of tax, or really a tax rate of SIXTY percent.

So, to the Conservatories, if you think that the 50p rate is iniquitous, why are you not kicking up a bigger fuss about this (assuming you actually UNDERSTAND the tax system)?

And to the progressives, if you think that the tax rate should be higher the more you earn, why are you not complaining that the super-rich pay a lower marginal rate than the merely very nicely off?

But the REAL problem is that it is COMPLICATED and DISHONEST. It is a HIDDEN 60% tax band.

If you want to raise more tax from the better off, then do it by LOWERING the starting threshold for the 50% band.

And it is DIVISIVE – typical Hard Labour – it says that rich people someone "don't deserve" the same personal allowance that everyone else gets. As though people who've worked hard and earned more are somehow LESS deserving.

(Talk about "deserving and undeserving poor" we've managed to invent the "undeserving rich" – yes, I'm sure Lefties will have no problem with that term, but hello we're Liberals and we should be feeling uncomfortable about it. Particularly when this definition of "undeserving rich" is so focussed on EARNINGS (where people at least have to do SOMETHING for their wage, even if you think they are overpaid) and MASSIVELY IGNORES people whose wealth, often inherited, is all in land and investments and grows fatter WITHOUT them working for it – see, THIS is why Liberal Democrats have plans to tax mansions and land and have already delivered higher taxes on capital gains: because it's MORE FAIR, but see also Hard Labour CUTTING the tax on capital when they were in power.)

So, before anyone even THINKS about abolishing the 50p band – yes, I know, Master Gideon "thinking"; it's laughable, isn't it – they should FIRST talk about abolishing the withdrawal of personal allowance (and say how they're paying for it; I'd suggest by having the higher rate start at, say, £140,000 rather than £150,000), otherwise they're NOT seriously addressing tax inequality; they're just GRANDSTANDING.

And while we're tackling the UNFAIRNESS caused by the withdrawal of personal allowance, we need to think about the UNFAIRNESS caused by the withdrawal of BENEFITS.

Because the poverty trap is such that some people at the VERY BOTTOM pay an EVEN HIGHER marginal rate than the squeezed-nearly-super-rich (or, as Mr Potato Ed would say, very very slightly upper middle) – but that means REFORMING the way that benefits are paid and withdrawn as people get into work AND increasing personal allowances for EVERYONE not taking it away from your favourite hate group.

Remember, there isn't actually any money to PAY for a tax cut.

And even if there WERE money, it would be BETTER for the economy to give that money back to people who are more like to SPEND it than to people who are more likely to SAVE it (or invest it in the stock market or in gold or in Swiss bank accounts etc.)

Which is EXACTLY what the Coalition IS doing.

We are giving a tax cut to lower and middle income earners by raising the personal allowance year on year up to £10,000.

But these are the LIBERAL DEMOCRATS' tax cuts and because the Liberal Democrat's tax cuts are going to LOWER paid earners then for Master Gideon they just doesn't quite hit the spot. And by "spot" I mean "the City".

As Daddy Alex has pointed out, the Conservatories are being driven OUT OF THEIR TINY MINDS by just how LIBERAL DEMOCRAT the Coalition's policies are.

For them, abolishing the 50p rate would be something big and visibly CONSERVATORY.

So let's not pretend that it's about fairness or even Britain being "competitive"; this is about the Conservatories wanting to WAVE THEIR WILLIES about because they need to look BIG and IMPORTANT and not in any way IMPOTENT!

So let's try and take the MACHO POSTURING out of the tax debate and try and put in a bit of honesty and transparency.

The highest tax rates are NOT borne by the highest earners and some of the wealthiest avoid income tax on their land and estates altogether, And that's WRONG.

And if we're going to give a tax cut to the rich, let's make the RICHER pay for it!

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Day 3898: DOCTOR WHO: Fear Him


Tonight's Doctor Woo starred DADDY ALEX! Well, A daddy Alex. Which is nearly as good.

(For Daddy Richard – aka Sir Quincy Flowers – see "Phantasmagoria", also by Mr Mark Gatiss!*)


"Night Terrors" is an episode that rewards a second viewing.

Perhaps because we weren't anticipating anything happening, we enjoyed more of the moments along the way. Mostly these were scenes between Matt Smith and Daniel Mays, though there was nice badinage between Amy and Rory and I think the laconic performance from Bernard the Bulldog is worthy of mention as well.

What is it with dads hugging their little boys this year, though? Cap'n Avery and Toby; Ganger Jimmy and his bouncing boy Adam; now Alex and George. Does Mr Moffat have some issues that he's trying to work through?

Jenny asks, not unreasonably, couldn't it have been a mummy and her girl needing a hug this time around.

Well, I suppose the first answer is that that would have made the comparison to 2006's dud "Fear Her" all too painfully apparent.

The second, more considered answer is that it would have made the comparison to the situation of Amy and her daughter Melody – who is surely in need of a hug – all the more achingly overlooked.

The real answer, though, is that – like 2006's other dud "The Idiot's Lantern" (yes, you may follow the links and see how nice I was about them in those days) – this is a semi-autobiographical piece: author Mark Gatiss has confessed that he suffered night terrors as a child, and it is very clear that the fear of rejection and the feeling of being a cuckoo in the nest are his own. The need for affirmation from a dad "no matter what you are" is extraordinarily powerful. Compare Alex's acceptance of George with Eddie Connolly's rejection of his son Tommy.

It was lovely to see a working class family again. Post-Rose Tyler the Doctor drifted into much more middle class territory (plus developed an extremely irritating habit of dropping his Time Lordly "Lordliness" into conversations to the extent that you wanted to slap him by the time "Planet of the Dead" came round). Thankfully, Smith's Doctor seems very much more at home here than Tennant's would have done. The juxtaposition of the council flat of "EastEndersland" with the grand house interiors of the dolls' house world rubbed them up against each other with the right sort of wrongness.

Where Gatiss was being clever – and let's not think that he isn't a clever and thoughtful writer – was in rubbing together two completely different kinds of horror trope: the "classic" haunted house and the modern suburban horror – and there was in particular a terrifically "Poltergeist" vibe going on with George's story (most obvious in the fantastic moment where his bedroom seems to concertina in on itself as his dad and the Doctor are dragged into the wardrobe with an actinic flare of light), which was all triggered by a "special" child's emotional trauma (the traditional "cause" of poltergeist activity).

And there we touched – if very briefly – on the buried pain of infertility and IVF. Daniel Mays' expression after blurting out "Claire can't have children" as though he wishes he could swallow the words back capturing a world of guilt and self-recrimination for the underlying thought that "it's not my fault". There's also the sense, from "as much IVF as we could afford" and the landlord coming round for his £350 that they ran themselves into debts that they still haven't got out of more than eight years later.

Where Gatiss was being too clever-by-half – no, that's unkind; I think he got away with it – was playing the hidden continuity reference game: "Snow White and the Seven Keys to Doomsday" referencing the stage play staring Trevor Martin as the 3½th Doctor; the old lady is Mrs Rossiter which is the married name of the sixth Doctor's Big Finish companion Evelyn Smythe; the Doctor refers to "Empires of Glass" which is (almost) the title of a Missing Adventure (in Venice with the first Doctor).

In terms of Moffat-arc continuity, of course, this episode was moved from third to ninth this year, necessitating the trimming of an "eye-patch lady moment" (must have been some time during the meet the neighbours montage). It has been suggested that the Doctor's "good to be back together… in the flesh" line is a bit… odd? Suggestive, at least. Although that might be a hangover from the flesh-Amy arc too. The creepy/prophetic nursery rhyme was nice – reminding Alex, among others, of the girl in "Remembrance of the Daleks" and her similarly-creepy hopscotch rhyme – but would have worked better if we'd heard it properly in the dolls' house where it would have been a completely left field moment; playing out with it, especially over a reprise of the scanner showing the Doctor's date and time of death was just a bit "and remember this year's arc, kiddies". (And if we get it again next week it'll be every bit as bad as the repeated scanner image of Amy pregnant/not pregnant in the first half of the season.)

The dolls were distinctly disturbing, in the same way as the earlier clockwork robots, and particularly the malevolent way that Amy-doll turns its head towards Rory just after she's been "done". (Though maybe could have done with a slightly greater similarity in the clothes to what the human characters had been wearing, if only to spot whether Mrs Rossitter got got at all.) And they could have done with longer on screen.

But that was the problem all over: the pace of the episode was all shot to hell.

The creepy dolls – the main feature of the episode, if we're honest – only make their first appearance on the dot of halfway in, and it continues to do setup rather than payoff well into the second half. In fact, at times it was so languorous, that I thought we were headed for an unexpected two-parter.

Mr Purcell, for example, (oh, Andrew Tiernan, I remember when you were young and pretty in "Cracker") doesn't get eaten by his carpet until the second half, and old Mrs Rossitter is still wandering about in the dolls' house too – though in fact we never see if anything actually happens to her there, like being turned into a doll, say, and she is next seen crawling out of the bins the following morning, which is exceptionally weird in an episode that could have done with more punch lines to its participants' plots.

Structurally, the pre-credits sequence was screaming out for Mrs Rossiter to get into the lift, George and mum Claire do the thing with the cupboard, and the lift doors open… and now it's empty!

Of course that would have been a bloody obvious opening, a real groaner, but when the whole episode is drowning in "trad" it would fit right in. But no! Instead, she gets to wheel her creepy shopping basket past George's window, do a scene with the Doctor about her hip replacement, go down to the bins and only then get vanished. In fact she survives longer than Amy and Rory do!

Nor is it immediately apparent why people start vanishing tonight. There's no sense that people have been vanishing for a while. In fact, everything suggests that Amy and Rory are the first victims. (Though where the other dolls in the house come from is unclear. I mean, they might just be dolls.) Alex theorises that George's fears and powers have been building for a while but that both reach a pitch on this one night and that simultaneously grants him the power to reach out to the TARDIS in flight and to start vanishing people into the dolls' house. That seems logical. Which means that the scenario only feels like a massively contrived coincidence, and this ought to have been covered with a dab of exposition somewhere.

(You might even guess that it's Amy and Rory's "loose" connection to time that lets George vanish them first, and that's what creates the entire dolls' house world, and only after than can he start zapping people he's really scared of. But there's nothing in the episode to say that that's the case.)

Basically, it all smacks of a great idea for a scenario – haunted dolls' house, straight out of Sapphire and Steel via Paul Magrs' "Hornets' Nest: The Dead Shoes" – but no real idea about what to do once in there.

It means we get lots of little backstories from a miniature Royston Vasey's worth of bit parts around the flats rather than all the proper haunted house tropes that Gatiss could and should have been using: the fake-outs, jump moments (the one good jump is Mr Purcell getting his makeover, lovely use of ramping and jump cuts), "let's split up" and all.

It means that we have Amy and Rory sneaking round an old dark house trying to work things out for a huge chunk of the episode while the audience at home know perfectly well that George and his cupboard are the cause of their problems.

In part this is a flaw because when they end up so far behind the audience it leaves us screaming at the companions: "you're in a dolls' house, you morons!" And in part it's a flaw because we know the solution to Amy and Rory's problems lies outside anything they can accomplish because we know that the problem and the solution (i.e. George and the Doctor) are still outside the dolls' house. Plus, you want to find out where you are? Hello! Try looking out the bloody windows, you idiots!

So, lovely as those scenes of them exploring are, they are also frustrating.

Personally, I'd have gone for a cold open of Amy and Rory coming to in the old dark house with Rory's lovely "We're dead. Again." line; done the exploring; and finished the pre-credits with a zoom out of the window to reveal they're in a dolls' house with George outside shaking with terror and crying "save me from the monsters" (nice double meaning: does he mean Amy and Rory?).

Of course, there's then the question of how you sustain the episode for forty more minutes. How long can you carry on with essentially a game of tag, where the monster kills you if it touches you? Well, Moffat managed to make a two-parter out of "The Empty Child", so it's not impossible

The chance to form a team of people to get dollied one by one is lost. Instead, it's really only ever Amy and Rory against the dolls, so we have them literally run into a dead end and decide, against all sense, that the best thing to do is to try and rush their attackers. Which goes about as well as you'd expect, really.

The problem of Amy getting turned into a doll is the same as Rose losing her face in "The Idiot's Lantern": it may up the scare factor for younger viewers, but for many, I suspect, that's the point where "oh, it must be reversible" sets in (leading to the inevitable "everybody lives").

You might be able to get away with that if you introduced a new twist to the threat – perhaps Alex and the Doctor (who don't know that the dolls are people) might be fighting them off with a giant box of matches instead of child safe scissors and setting them on fire. Then they unwittingly become a threat to Amy. (And before you say the Doctor wouldn't 'off' people: he doesn't have much problem doing that to Cybermen who are pretty much the same thing even though metal not wood and converted by science not magic.)

In fact, doing essentially a Cybermen story but with wooden dollies would have given the episode the narrative kick that it needed for the "inside the dolls' house" half of the plot: have the humans cast into the house creeping round, meeting up with each other, maybe have someone "betray" the others to the dolls. And balance that against the Doctor and Alex and George's story outside.

A word about cuckoos: cuckoos do not lay thousands of eggs in the hope one will wind up with foster parents; they lay one and they very specifically lay it in someone else's nest. George is clearly not a cuckoo. Perhaps if Alex and Claire had fostered an alien child and the cuckoo was not George, but another alien – the one animating the malevolent dolls – that had lodged itself in George's dreamworld and was parasitising the nurturing love of Alex and Claire's for George, and thus really was a cuckoo in their nest. Amy and Rory's story could then have its own conclusion by having them defeat the inner parasite, while the Doctor and Alex resolve George's rejection problems and let everyone out again.

Why, you might ask, am I script editing this? Well, someone should have. The thematic similarities to "The Idiot's Lantern" might be excusable if you think that Gatiss is exploring the same issues again, but somebody should have noticed the point-for-point remaking of "Fear Her": alien possess human child/takes human child form; develops power to vanish people; unspoken emotional trauma in past (abusive father/infertility); resolution through power of love et al.

It's not like Doctor Who must never recycle a plot: see "Caves of Androzani" – or "The Power of Kroll" as it was called first time out – or indeed most of the Mighty Trout. But this felt flabby and over-familiar.

Which is an enormous shame, as there were a lot of good ideas, designs, direction, performances and indeed writing on show too.

Next Time… The time is out of joint – O cursèd spite; It seems Rory's got two Amys again – how will he set it right? Or will he even want to? (See also "Space" and "Time" for more of the Grand Moff's subtle and original "the gormless man and the sexy lesbian twins" humour! Oh, my sides.) How do you choose between the girl who flew away and "The Girl Who Waited"?


*For BOTH daddies see, well, pretty much ANY of the works of Mr Simon, really.