...a blog by Richard Flowers

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Day 4045: Dr Sentimoo's Birthday Message for Daddy!


Welcome to extreme old age, Daddy Richard (he's like four BILLION and one, or something).

And what better way to start a special day than by listening to the news that the Arch-bigot of York [warning: contains Telegraph] is once again trying to IMPOSE his BIBLICAL view on gay daddies getting married.

Putting the DICK into DICTATOR, the purple-frocked DESPOT says: "I don't think it is the role of the state."

So, you'll be giving up that SEAT in the LEGISLATURE then, your worship?

Quick check for the COMPLETELY-DETACHED-FROM-REALITY: WE are behaving like a DICTATORSHIP because the Government ACCEPTS the will of the people and PROTECTS the interests of minorities like gay daddies.

And YOU want people to obey your commands?

There's some old proverb about "sticks" and "eyes", I don't really remember… maybe a biblical scholar like the Arch-bigot could remind me.

(And if it's the BIBLICAL TRADITION he wants, then I'm sure he won't mind standing still while we STONE him for WRITING an ARTICLE on the SABBATH.)

And then we hear, on the radio, the Ever-so-Reverend Richard Communard cooing over atheist philosopher, and designer of the All New Tower of Babel, Mr Alain de Fluffy-Bottom for his new book "All the Good Things you can get out of Religion".

"The thing about religions is that they allow you to organise doing good," suggests Mr de Fluffy-Bottom.

"Ooh," perks up the Reverend Communard, "do you think it's that we're lacking this "organised goodness" that leads to such OUTRAGES like city bankers and their bonuses?"

Because thank HEAVEN we would never get a bunch as CORRUPT and MURDEROUS as the BORGIAs or the MEDICIs creaming off riches at the top of the pile under and organised religion. And thank the LORD that a criminal fraternity like the MAFIA could never arise in a GOD-FEARING country. If only GODLESS Britain could benefit from such a society!

More seriously, it's clear that HUMAN BEANS like to make ORGANISATIONS (whether that is TRIBES or CITIES or CORPORATIONS or complicated belief systems involving INVISIBLE UNICORNS. Or whatever.)

These organisations are ALL in some way "organised goodness" and they are ALL subject to being CORRUPTED by wicked people. This is why Liberals believe in WORKING TOGETHER with others but remain WARY of power structures and favour DISBURSING power to people.

The goodness of religion is that it brings people together, but the DANGER is that it hands the POWER TO BULLY to people like Dr Sentimoo.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Day 4044: Duck and Cover! This Asteroid is Close Enough to Land a Lego Man on It!


If you're reading this at all, then snappily-named asteroid 2012-BX34 has probably NOT smashed into the Earth obliterating what we laughingly describe as "civilisation".

Or possibly: "hello to our new cockroach overlords!"

Anyway, just time before closest approach / impact at 1600 GMT to congratulate the Canadian students who managed to get a man into space. OK, he was a LEGO man, but you can't not give 'em credit for that!

And while I'm talking SPACE, if you STILL need convincing about a British Space Programme... do you REALLY want the NEO-CONS turning the MOON into a DEATH STAR?!

Run VT!


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Day 4043: Yes to Help for Low Earners, But We NEED to Help the No-Earners Too!


Today, Cap'n Clegg will be calling on Master Gideon to ACCELERATE the increases in personal allowance, giving lower and medium earners more of their money back SOONER (paid for by taking MORE tax from the better off).

This is a GOOD idea. It's giving money back to the people who are most likely to spend it, and more spending will help with the woes of a shrinking economy and falling high street sales.

But cutting taxes for people IN work DOESN'T help the growing numbers of people OUT of work. People we seem to be ATTACKING rather than HELPING.

Like many of my Liberal Democrat friends, I got an e-mail this morning from Mr Dr Vince "the Power" Cable, was by way of a TRAILER for Cap'n Clegg's speech, telling me he is PROUD of the Coalition's commitment to increasing the tax allowance to £10,000.

I WISH I could take PRIDE in this Coalition, but I'm afraid the best I can manage is a sort of NUMBING of the GNAWING HORROR that we are barely taking the edge off the Conservatories' aggressive right-wing agenda.

This sort of thing can't convince me we're doing the RIGHT thing; merely that we're trying to do the LEAST WRONG thing.

(Well that and that the ONLY thing WORSE would have been propping up the AUTHORITARIAN LUNACY of a discredited and economically illiterate HARD LABOUR Party!)

So while you are considering Mr Vince's e-mail, can I also direct your attention to THESE THOUGHTS written by our friend Mr Simon.

Now, I confess that my first reaction was DEFENSIVE – a LOT of my first reactions are defensive these days; I wonder if I'm developing STOCKHOLM SYNDROME – responding to a story about bullying Job Centre staff with the thought "well, would that REALLY have been any different under the LAST government?" In fact, I'm sure we can all get out the DVDs that show that this sort of thing has been in currency since the last Conservatory recession. In fact, probably since the one BEFORE THAT!

And with the increasingly CONTROVERSIAL Welfare Bill still actually in Parliament (and hence all over the news), surely we can't be blamed for how the Law stands just YET – this is still HARD LABOUR's law of demanding people get back to work because of Mr Frown's PROTESTANT WORK ETHIC, not the Conservatory law of, er, demanding people get back to work because of Mr Iain Drunken-Swerve's VICTORIAN VALUES.

But read on!

Because what Mr Simon has to say about MESSAGE and TONE is frightening and true. The messages that are spilling from the Conservatory part of the Coalition – aided and abetted by the frothing venom of the newspapers – are all about VICTIM BLAMING and a VILIFICATION of the NOT WELL OFF.

And so long as we continue to use the words "hard working families" we're SUPPORTING this TOO and that is WRONG with a capital WRONG.

It does not MATTER that Cap'n Clegg assures us that he means "hard-working" in a BROADER sense; it's still using the word WORKING. It implicitly says "and not working equals BAD".

There are two things to say to this:

FIRST: people who are out of work and looking for work – especially when there is NO WORK – do NOT need the extra grief of getting it in the neck all the time.

SECOND: people who are out of work and not looking for work – good luck to 'em. It is NOT the business of government to MAKE people live their lives any particular way and it is COMPLETELY HYPOCRITICAL of the Conservatories to laud as "bold entrepreneurs" the wunch of bankers who get government support while decrying as "scroungers" the bunch of people getting government support because they're not employed any more.

If you WANT help to get back to work then the government should give it, but if you DON'T and if you can live on sixty-seven squids a week then frankly you deserve a NOBEL PRIZE FOR ECONOMICS and not more rude words from people who couldn't get elected against the worst Labour government in History!

(And since I've been saying for AGES that I would support a flat Citizen's Income if only I could make the maths add up – the problem remains the disproportional effect of Housing Benefit in a housing market that is still massively over-inflated, which is why that's proving such a botherer in the current debate about a "cap" on benefits – and I would be the hypocrite to say anything else now.)

There is very little fraud in the Benefits system, and I bet that any there is is more than cancelled out by people doing THEMSELVES out of Benefits because the whole business is too darn complicated.

And because of that, the PLAN was a GOOD plan to SIMPLIFY the benefits into one, and to change the way benefits are taken away as you get into paid work, the so-called "taper", so that working does always pay.

But at a time of massive fiscal contraction that was always going to be difficult to do FAIRLY (and I THOUGHT Mr Drunken-Swerve had got extra money from the Treasury to make the transition more PAINLESS) and doing it at the same time as trying to cut projected benefit payments is WILDLY DODGY!

(Even though that's a not-increasing-the-total-payments-by-20%-like -wot-Labour-said-they-were-planning sort of "cut" i.e. a not cutting but not increasing either sort of cut – or a letting INFLATION inflict the PAIN for you sort of cut, if you prefer.)

But we DID win the fight to make Chancer Osborne increase benefits – not just pensions, but ALL the main benefits – in line with the 5.2% Inflation in September this year when he wanted to use a lower number. Which on the one fluffy foot is a GOOD THING because it's hard enough to live on benefits as it is; but on the other fluffy foot focuses the problem on cutting NUMBERS, because you can only cut the OVERALL Benefit bill by cutting the AMOUNT that people get OR the NUMBERS of people getting it.

Which gets us to the aggressive approach to job centre staffing.

The government spends something like three quarters of a TRILLION pounds and about a THIRD of it goes on the NHS and about another third goes on the benefit bill. If you've sworn not to cut the money to the NHS, then there really is NOWHERE ELSE to cut than the benefit bill. And THEN most of the benefits are actually PENSIONS. You can't cut THEM either – even if it weren't political suicide to piss off the "grey vote", EVERYONE hopes they're going to end up a pensioner one day. The great UNSAYABLE of British politics is to suggest a freeze in pensions or freeze of the NHS, 'cos that's where all the money REALLY goes.

But if you CAN'T freeze those, well, you can see how more and more of the cuts get focused on the segment called "in work benefits" which our Conservatory (AND Hard Labour!) masters appear to think should be called "ought to be in work" benefits.

Quite simply, there is NO WAY to make this add to fair treatment.

At the moment there is BIG BLAME BATTLE going on.

Hard Labour, for obviously self-serving reasons, have been pushing HARD – and with some success – the idea that it was gambling by bankers that trashed the economy.

(Though, of course, that's only HALF the story: what the bankers were gambling ON was that millions and millions of ordinary people would carry on borrowing to fund lifestyles in excess of what they were earning, egged on by a government that was borrowing to fund a lifestyle in excess of what the whole economy was earning.)

In return, the Conservatories (and us!) have with even greater success pinned a lot of the blame for the CRASH on Hard Labour. But the blame for the ONGOING pain... that's more difficult to explain.

(Particularly since a LOT of people are feeling the "double whammy" of the economy grinding to a halt at a time when they have huge debts. The answer "well that's your fault" not being very conducive to re-election.)

Inevitably, we turn to the very human way of excusing ourselves for the pain that we are causing. By BLAMING the very people on whom the burden falls heaviest.

And then BOTH sides take a pop at the IMMIGRANTS!

It's got to STOP.

We should make the benefit system simpler, that's a given.

We should make it more generous too, but we can't get the money.

(Sure, we could talk about mansion taxes and no corporation tax cut, but we won't get them past the Conservatories and we can't cut MORE from anywhere else! And borrowing is RIGHT OUT!)

So let's talk about what we CAN do which is change the LANGUAGE.

'Cos no one is a "scrounger". They are all future entrepreneurs. Or future artists. Or future teachers.

Mr Balloon needs reminding that his BIG SOCIETY depends on people who AREN'T GETTING PAID: volunteers, or carers. Or at the root of it, your basic parents.

So as Liberal Democrats let's make it a CAMPAIGN to talk POSITIVELY about the people who aren't working because they haven't got work or aren't able to work. We can start with thinking of better words than "unemployed" or "job seekers". I've come up with the phrase "free sector" (as opposed to the "waged sector"), but you might think of something better.

And perhaps "families doing their best" instead of the wretched "hard-working families".

Yes, it might sound like political correctness, but if political correctness didn't work, we'd still be using the N word and Conservatories wouldn't talk about "death taxes".

In summary: let people get on with rebuilding their lives and they might start to rebuild the economy.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Monday, January 23, 2012

Day 4039: If this is an Answer what is the Question?


I see that Auntie Jennie and Mr Steven o' the Glenn have popped "The Question". No, no, no – THIS Question:
"What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?"
Well, the answer depends on how much MAGIC you're investing into the phrase "could not fail".

Because if it's a what-would-you-do-but-lack-of-confidence-is-holding-you-back kind of "could not fail", then the answer is: "be a best-selling fantasy author".

But if this is a rub-the-lamp-and-get-three-wishes sort of "could not fail" then it's: "design and build a workable, affordable (non-polluting) faster than light space drive and initiate the human exploration of the galaxy".

In all honesty, it would be nice to see one Daddy elected to FPC and one elected to Parliament. Either way around would do.

But getting millions of people to read my writing would, hopefully, get the Liberal message into people's heads and get them THINKING about it better than yet another nice middle-class Daddy in the "Big Shouting Club". Or Parliament, for that matter.

But if we're going to get full on wishes, it's got to be travel to the stars, for exploration and colonisation. There is so much to see out there – you only have to watch Stargazing Live to know there is more to "ooh" and "ahh" at than even Professor Brian Cox can manage in one lifetime. And let's face it, there are practical reasons too. Even if we don't destroy the planet ourselves, the chances of an extinction level even in the next thousand to ten-thousand years are frighteningly high. Moving to first the Moon, and then Mars and maybe Europa (near Jupiter) and then ultimately somewhere Keppler 22-b like… it's the ultimate in NOT keeping all your EGGS in one PLANET.

And if the ROMANCE doesn't convince you and the SELF-PRESERVATION doesn't sell you on space, then let's go all HAN SOLO and think about the MONEY. There is an asteroid up there called Eros containing precious metals to the value of TWENTY TRILLION DOLLARS. That's the world economic crisis sorted right there; that's all the banks AND the Euro bailed out tomorrow. And that's just one of the NEARBY ones!

The exploration of space can ENRICH us AND make us RICH at the same time.

So if it couldn't fail, THAT's what I'D do.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Day 4035: Bojo May Be Bonkers But At Least He Thinks Big


Obviously, Great Britain needs an airport in the Thames Estuary like a hole in the wind farm, but you can't deny that it is a BIG IDEA. Stupid, yes, but BIG.

In its way, this is of a piece with the bicycle hire scheme and the new Routemaster buses. Mr Bojo may be CLOWN PRINCE of LONDON, but he's not interested in MANAGERIALISM. He wants to DO things, CREATE things. In the HORRID modern parlance, he's got his eye on the "LEGACY".

And this may be the key to his SUCCESS. Well, that and the "loveable" bumbling buffoon persona!

(Something he has in common with his arch-enemy Mr Livingstone: they're both very clever men who know that people don't VOTE for very clever men, so both have successfully concocted "personalities" to hide how much of a smarty-pants they are.)

The arguments for a new airport for London appear to be of the "you've got to build bypasses" variety that gets Arthur Dent's house knocked down in "The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy". And, in case you missed the point, then gets the EARTH demolished too.

(One of the OVERLOOKED arguments in favour of the new High Speed rail link being extended to Manchester and Leeds is that it would REDUCE the numbers of environmentally catastrophic short-haul flights around the UK, easing pressure at Heathrow as a lucky consequence.)

But in the middle of all this on-going global economic gloom, a "GRAND PUBLIC WORK", something magnificent and mad and ever-so-slightly-Victorian has the ability to GRAB the public imagination in exactly the way that a shiny new written constitution DIDN'T!

And we need something like that, something so that people will say "oh, THAT'S what the Lib Dems are about".

Would a new Federal Parliament (subject to Mr Salmon losing his referendum) be too much of an indulgence? Yes, I suspect it would… but we could hold a competition for which city would host it. Mr Graham Norton could host "How Do You Solve a Problem Like West Lothian?"

Or perhaps a more local approach, with a free gift to every council for a bit of CIVIC PRIDE, whether it's putting LOOS in all the high streets or refurbishing all the Victorian Spa Baths so everyone has a swimming pool or just BULLDOZING those IDENTIKIT high streets and rebuilding something with character.

Personally, of course, I'm in favour of a BRITISH SPACE PROGRAMME. We're so very keen to encourage our young people into SCIENCE and ENGINEERING and Mr Professor Brian Cox and his Wonders of the Universe and Stargazing Live, space is as popular as it's ever been. A Space Programme would be encouragement and training all in one, with new technology being developed with who-knows-what side benefits.

Plus, I'm sure that the prospect of sending Mr Professor Brian into space so he can "ooh" and "ahh" from orbit is one that would appeal to millions.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Day 4034: Mr Holmes, It was the footprint of a GIGANTIC ELEPHANT!


An update for those people who think the Curse of the BOTYs has got me at last.

Yah boo! Still here!

Daddy Richard has finished writing his book, or at least volume one (the madness never ends!). It is called "Anarchy Rules: Before Dawn". We might have a look at publishing it now. Some cover art would be nice, if anyone has any ideas. Something with chessboards, perhaps. And fractals.

We're also having a look at collecting my "Mysteries of Doctor Who" into a book as well. This involves Daddy writing some linking material, plus THREE bonus, never-before-published Mysteries, including the long-awaited answer to "What Does Timey-Wimey Mean?"

In the meantime, the Mister Moffster has knocked out another series of Sherlock. Like a deep fat fried Mars bar, it is DELICIOUS but you know it is WRONG. Why is it that these days no one seems to notice that the "scandal" in "A Scandal in Bohemia" is how Mr the King of Bohemia is treating Irene Adler and not the other way around! Honestly, it's not like Sherlock doesn't tell his majesty to basically bad-word off at the end!

At least Mr Gatiss's "Hounds of Baskerville" avoided the gender-fail of "A Scandal in Belgravia" by the expeditious method of ditching most of the female characters! (A bit of Pennant Roberts-style gender-reassignment helped cover this – making Dr Stapleton into a woman helped the back end look a bit less all male, although turning Dr Mortimer into a lady shrink barely troubled the scorers.)

Did Mr Steve Thompson's "Reichenbach Fall" redeem his "Blind Banker" from last year? I'll pass on that one. The cleverest bit, I thought, was the revelation that Moriarty WASN'T the "anti-Sherlock" after all, that in fact it was Jim who was the FAKE, using "magic tricks" to pretend that he had done something very clever indeed™ when actually it was just a case of bribing the right people. He used Sherlock's very cleverness – and the hope that he could have an equal – against him, so that too-clever-by-half Sherlock assumed that Moriarty was as brainy as he was and looked for a too-clever-by-half solution.

(Incidentally, did any "Faction Paradox" fans notice that the "key to everything" that turns out to be a canon by Bach is actually the Clockwork Ouroboros from "The Book of the War"? In an episode chock-full of Dr Who references – what, you didn't notice it was more "The Deadly Assassin" than "The Final Problem"? – I certainly didn't expect THAT one!)

And then Mr Moriarty shot himself. Yeah, right.

But speaking of suicides, we also had the spectacle of Hard Labour shooting itself in the head and missing its brain by six feet.

Really, I now have NO IDEA what Hard Labour's economic policy actually is. If it even exists. It seems that Hard Labour do not WANT their cake and are still going to EAT it.

Mr Balls says that he thinks Master Gideon is wrong and that's why he now agrees with him.

(Okay, he actually says he "won't be able" to reverse the cuts – but surely he COULD borrow more to reverse or partly reverse them; that's what he's been saying so far – borrow more, cut less. Now he says he CAN'T do that. This does seem like saying the Coalition were RIGHT but he doesn't want to take the blame.)

Mr Millipede's appearance on the Andy Marrmite show didn't make things any clearer when he seemed to say that he now opposes the cuts but he accepts them. They are wrong but he's not going to reverse them.

Still, if Hard Labour are going to ACCEPT the Conservatories' Cuts, at least the Liberal Democrats are still here to OPPOSE them. And thank goodness we are actually IN Government and able to DO something about it!

(Do you remember those thirteen years when Hard Labour were in Government and DIDN'T do anything about it? No? You may be suffering from "Millipede Syndrome" also known as "a pain in the Ed".)

And at least there are some signs that Captain Clegg IS opposing some of the more EGREGIOUS cuts.

I mean, for FLUFF's sake, what are we DOING supporting cuts to Disability Benefits? Isn't that taking "we're all in this together" to the illogical extreme! Surely a CIVILISED society would say that the very LAST people to lose their protections in a downturn should be the POORLY.

We can cope with cohabiting with PHILISTINES and IGNORAMUSES [warning: Daily Fail], but do we have to come across as SADISTS?!

SOME reforms of the Welfare State are long overdue (helping people INTO work is as important as helping them when they're OUT of work; never forget that IDLENESS was one of Mr Beverage's "Five Giants") but we're supposed to be bringing some COMPASSION to this Coalition.

Finally, it would take a heart of stone etc… on hearing that Monsieur Sarcastic the President of Franceland has had to suffer the indignity of being downgraded from Triple-A. Actually, the real tragedy is the downgrading of nine Eurozone countries, particularly Spain and Portugal, many of whom are working ever so hard to control their deficits, while struggling with spiralling unemployment, particularly among young people. These downgrades are a sign that the markets are increasingly EXPECTING a default, from Greece almost certainly, but probably from other Southern European countries too.

In other news, a huge cruise liner has hit the rocks off the Italian shore. It is difficult not to see this tragedy as a METAPHOR!

Friday, January 06, 2012

Day 4011: DOCTOR WHO: Forest Gump

Christmas Day:

And now for a very special sneak preview of NEXT YEAR'S Dr Woo Winterval Special…

"What could be more Christmassy than a James Bond film at Christmas," cackled the Mister Moffster as he penned the title of the 2012 Christmas Special:

"No Doctor You Only Live On Her Majesty's Secret Service From Russia With The Spy Who Loved Me Twice!"

Scene One: "Phew, that was close!" cried THE DOCTOR as the TARDIS flew within a gnat's whisker of the Copyright-Infringement-Lawyer-Bots from the planet Intellectual Property Six…"

Anyway, more of that next Christmas. Here's Daddy's review for this year…

Well, it's always nice to see a new writer and I'm happy that this Stephen Moffatt, author of light, character-driven comedy-drama such as "Press Gang" and "Joking Apart", has been chosen to replace the plot-twist-crazed fanboy farceur Steven Moffat who's been running the show for the past two years, the man behind such "reimaginings" as "Jekyll", "Sherlock" and, er, "Who".

It's hard not to think that there's just a touch of overcompensation, reacting to all the "Amy isn't behaving like a mother" criticism, in this Christmas paean to the power of "mum", which sees plucky Forties mother Madge Arwell seemingly take everything in her stride from the Doctor falling out of orbit into her path to Bill Bailey in a spacesuit melting an alien forest for battery acid.

(Pity he still feels the need to toss in a joke about "women drivers". "I'm respecting you… as a woman." Or possibly not.)

Okay, there are just a couple of dollops of timey-wimey added to the sugary mix.

The first is the Narnia-referencing "time goes faster across the dimensional barrier". Which means Mum coming looking for them doesn't entirely make sense, since if twenty minutes for Cyril in the forest translates to just a few seconds, then with the whole adventure taking less than an hour, Mum should not have had time to notice they were gone. (In fact, I'll see your "time passes differently there" and raise you a "What do they teach in schools these days?".)

The other is the way that Madge manages to create her own problems by retrospectively rescuing her husband from the 19th December which results in the telegram that leads her to believe this is the night he died which in turn leads to her rescuing him from the 19th December in a typical Moffat ontological paradox. (In fact, I'll see your "timey-wimey" and raise you a "just this once, everybody lives".)

But that aside, and it's hardly an original observation, it's surprising how linear this story is. Again, Moffat seems to be kicking against his reputation for convoluted story-telling. Although, I'd argue that this one could have done with just a little bit more non-linearity. For example, the story of Madge and the fallen Doctor could have appeared part way through, maybe told as a story to her children to cheer them up in the middle of the frightening forest. Because we start off knowing she helped him in a moment of need, we know why there's a great big present under the tree. In a story that's supposed to be about the sense of wonder, there's not a lot to wonder about.

In a lot of ways, though, what really undermines this story is the presence of the Doctor in it.

It's ironic, really, because the first fifteen to twenty minutes of the episode are a fantastic, frenetic explosion of joyous fun, relying almost entirely on the enormous talents of Matt Smith.

From the cheeky pre-title sequence (never mind the physics, feel the performance) doing "The Christmas Invasion" in under thirty seconds, to the hilarious backwards spacesuit (we see the back of Matt's hair-do just a beat before "I've gone blind!" – Alex laughed out loud, the first time in ages he's had the simple pleasure of genuinely enjoying current "Who" and so worth a million River Snogs; and when the Doctor checks himself out to see that he's not being put back together "backwards"… well, it's quite rude for Christmas!), to the tour of the house (we're genuinely not sure whether he doesn't understand stairs or he's done something to them that isn't working), right through to that huge present, it's all fast, funny and rather marvellous.

This is "Doctor Who" as sketch show, it's "The League of Gentlemen" without the grotesque, or "The Fast Show" with catchphrases "I've made some repairs" and "it's developed a fault" (where the Doctor clearly believes "I've made some repairs" to be synonymous with "I've made it do something bonkers" while Matt's ability to look puzzled and affronted each time he delivers the "it's developed a fault" line is a particular delight). It's probably the perfect form for Moffat the comedy-drama writer to write.

Where the story falters is when it needs to develop an actual plot.

We are, essentially, in classic children's tea-time serial territory: think "The Box of Delights", "The Phoenix and the Carpet" or, obviously, "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" itself. The crucial thing about all these stories is that the protagonists are the children. Adults are either silly, unobservant creatures that blunder about doing "grown-up" things and missing the wonders that the children participate in, or occasionally slightly weird, wise figures who know what's really going on but choose not to interfere except to explain it all at the end.

There's an extent to which the Doctor (or "Caretaker") is being thrust into the latter role, a sort of Professor Digory Kirke (taking over from the absent Uncle Digby, no doubt). But he's too pro-active to accept the role. Of course, he's kind of a big kid himself, playing at being an uncle or a caretaker, but the big kid crowds out the little ones.

In a "proper" version of this story, the children would discover the house for themselves rather than being shown it; the children would both enter the magical wood unaccompanied by anyone to explain it to them; and the children would resolve the problem, rather than waiting for mum.

These stories were always about going out and experiencing; the children learned lessons, but they learned by doing.

In Moffat's version the two kids have very little to do beyond gawp. (Which, I hasten to add, they do very nicely. Both child actors are pretty good, actually, so why not give them something concrete to do?) Cyril "gets into trouble" by exploring the forest ("boy's stuff", watch that, Moffat – though to be fair, Lily was on her way to examine the box when the sound of the sonic distracted her) while Lily mostly gets to hold the Doctor's hand and quiver. (And say "Oh God, Oh God" – both Alex and I wondered whether a nicely brought-up girl from 1941 would blaspheme quite so easily).

The Doctor already has all the answers and babbles them out like Basil Exposition on speed. We've turned the story into one about the passive acceptance of data rather than the learning of stuff by trying.

"In a forest in a box in a sitting room, pay attention!" says the Doctor waspishly when Lily asks where they are, which is either a clever reference to Moffat's own earlier episode "Flesh and Stone" or a summary of everything that he's doing wrong.

Lily's question is not a stupid one, despite the way the Doctor snaps at her, and he's actually going to spend most of the rest of the episode explaining the actual answer.

The weak/strong female/male "mistranslation" is just as blunt and crass. Simply reversing a stupid generalisation does not of necessity make it any less stupid. As certain persons have recently learned. In 1988's "Remembrance of the Daleks", the intergalactic fascist pepperpots want someone imaginative and adaptable to power their battle computer so they use a girl. When the Daleks are doing better gender politics than you, it's time to stop and ask what you're doing wrong.

I can imagine a version of this story with much less Doctor in it. If we started with the evacuation (no need for cute lines about Uncle Digby being in a home – actually, if he is in a "home", why aren't the Arwells living in his house already?). The children explore the house, find weird stuff like the lemonade tap and the Christmas tree and discover the giant present. They both go inside, they each meet the forest people (great wooden statues, pity they didn't do anything, and did I really see the lovely Paul Kasey credited as "wooden queen"?!). Possibly they meet one each, and the King and Queen have conflicting agendas. And we only discover the Doctor near to the end because he's behind it all and probably the captive of one of the forest monarchs.

That's not the Moffat way, though, as he once again bends over backwards to try to write drama without conflict. The principal threat here is not from the impressive statues but from Bill Bailey and friends' intention to burn down the forest with acid rain. There isn't even a suggestion that they are bad for wanting to do this. As Alex puts it: it's OK to kill trees, because if you’re a hippie they’ll turn into stardust, because obviously that’s what trees really want. I'm not totally sure that's how photosynthesis works. (And this in a story where the Doctor has just blown up the Vogons one ship in orbit for merely pointing a gun and a loudhailer at the Earth.) They're just slightly inept, almost a pastiche of a "typical" Doctor Who space crew: "the cold captain", "the psycho security chief" and "the nice one" – think "Colony in Space" or "Kinda" or, gawdelpus, "Terror of the Vervoids". It's Doctor Who as sketch show again.

It's not much of a part, but it's quite nice to see Bill, and he does some great reaction shots. There's not a lot more for Unbound Doctor Arabella Weir to do either (and how's that for respecting her as a woman?), while Paul Bazely gets to mug like crazy and hang a lantern on this week's theme with his "mother issues".

(Oh, and their hand scanners are foiled by Madge's cardigan because it's made of "natural fibres". They're in a forest. I have to ask: do any of their platform's sensors work?)

And they tell us they're from Androzani Major.

Look, I don't have a problem with them being from Androzani Major, that's a nice touch. All too often the Doctor visits planets in one episode that are never heard of before or since; reminding us that this is all one Whoniverse is good, and of a kind with the Sense Sphere/Ood Sphere thing that Russell did.

And I don't mind "Androzani platform" for their vehicle, either. But "Androzani trees"? Given that they're from Androzani Major not on Androzani Major, isn't that a bit like us landing on, say, Beta Caprisis or Draconia Prime and saying "hey, these trees are impressive; let's call them Earth trees"?

(And on the subject of tree-based niggles – if you're CGI'ing a forest, surely you can manage more than one "sweeping over the panoramic vista" shot.)

Anyway, as I'm sure you know, this is a reference to Peter Davison's swansong: "The Cave of Androzani". (And the spacewalking without a spacesuit is a reference to the first story Peter recorded: "Four to Doomsday".)

"Caves" tells us there are five planets in the Sirius System. We're not on Major, nor Minor because we know what that looks like and it can't support forests because of the mudbursts. If you recall even further back, the Pertwee space opera "Frontier in Space" lets us know there are Commissioners from Sirius Four. That doesn't entirely rule out forests on Sirius Four as well, but suggests a terraformed planet rather than a Christmas tree world. Maybe this is Sirius 1 or Sirius 5 then.

I'm not quite sure how to get a handle on the character of Madge Arwell. Claire Skinner plays her as almost "simple", as though she has a wisdom of innocence, except in the "crying is useful" bit when she's suddenly sly. Certainly she pegs the Doctor with a single glance: possibly a spaceman, possibly an angel. The possibility of Doctor as fallen angel has been big this year (and, I'm afraid, not terribly well handled) so thankfully that's about all we get of it here. Instead, he's the Christmas genie, from the (box with a) lamp, granting wishes and not quite getting them right. I guess if you want a woman to play against this hyperactive child persona then the lead from "Outnumbered" is the first one you'd call.

The other guest star is Alexander Armstrong, who got to be slightly wasted in this while his comedy partner Ben Miller got to spend six months in the Caribbean filming "Death in Paradise". Who got the better deal, I wonder?

Matt however remains absolutely the star of this show. The moment when he turns on a sixpence to speak wisely to Madge about why her children should be allowed to be happy is key, as is the reversal at the end where she sends him to be happy with his "children" / "parents-in-law" Rory and Amy.

And the moment at the end, where he discovers he is capable of crying with happiness, for that, for Matt's expression and one gleaming tear, I'll forgive "humany-wumany". Eventually.

I do hope that he'll be staying longer than just one more year – the messages have been somewhat mixed recently, whether he's going to try his luck in Hollywood after another year of the Doctor or whether he's enjoying it just fine. Perhaps because of the interconnectedness of his stories, or because he hasn't had one "great" story yet a la "Human Nature", or possibly because he's only had Amy (with or without Rory) as companion he hardly seems to have been here any time at all. I think the news that Amy and Rory will be leaving in the next season is welcome (inasmuch as we all thought they'd left already!) because a new companion will make the lifespan of the eleventh Doctor feel that bit longer. And maybe persuade him to stay an extra year.

Someone very wise said that the difference between Moffat and Russell is that Moffat writes for his children, but Russell remembers being one. I think that nicely captures both Russell's habit of treating Doctor Who as the "biggest playroom evah" regardless of consequences for plot or character, and Moffat's flaw of – occasionally – writing down to his audience.

When he lets himself have free rein, as in the two episodes of "Sherlock" that he has written, Moffat's writing takes flight, it lifts in song almost, but exposes the deep flaws that he has regarding character, particularly, I'm afraid to say, women. Did he put so much soul into Lynda Day that he just can't do it any more?

"The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe" shows every sign of him making an effort to overcome those flaws, to write against his usual tropes (well, some of them) and produce a simpler, sweeter, kinder piece. That's courageous, even if it's not always completely successful. It starts off as seat-of-the-pants exciting as anything, but the effort to be nice means it rather goes off the boil in the second half. But it made Alex laugh, so top marks for that.

Next Time… Shockingly, not a dickey bird. Not even a title for the next episode! Come on, Moffat! Some of us have a template format to fill in, you know!