...a blog by Richard Flowers

Friday, October 03, 2014

Day 5022: Conference Season – Now Everyone Wants to Be the Liberal Democrats*


Welcome to Glasgow, Liberal Democrats (though for wedding reasons Daddies can’t be there).

What with Hard Labour out to steal our Mansion Tax and the Conservatories shamelessly trying to claim our raise in the Personal Allowance, it’s beginning to look a lot like the agenda for the next government is already being set by the Liberal Democrats.

Ah, Party Conferences – a Tale of Two Nitwits, as Charles Dickens very nearly had it.

“It was the worst of times; it was the most hilarious of times,” Mr Balloon might have said, or Mr Milipede might have forgotten to say.

So there were the leaders’ speeches: Mr Milipede promised to save the NHS, but omitted to mention the one thing he’d rather not talk about, namely the steaming great black hole of an economy we’re still left with; and then Mr Balloon promised to save the NHS, but managed to misspeak that he resents the poor, before going on to not leave a tip at the posh burger hut.

Somewhere the ghost of Dr Freud is having a chat about satire with Tom Lehrer.

There was the traditional roll-out of “tempting” new policies. For Hard Labour, a pledge to make employers pay minimum wage earners an extra £1.50 by about 2020. And a promise to sweep away the problems of the health service with a massive two-and-a-half billion in extra cash, totally dwarfing the extra, er, three billion pounds injected by the Coalition. Just this year.

Too little too late.

It could be Hard Labour’s next election slogan. The Country is crying out for a genuinely BOLD alternative to business as usual, a change from the Rich and the City doing very nicely while it’s austerity all round for the rest of us, but the best Labour can come up with is more of the same but a little bit less so.

Mr Milipede’s “don’t mention the economy” moment (he didn’t mention it once and didn’t get away with it), is just too perfect a metaphor for the emptiness of Hard Labour’s offering. It’s actually the sort of error that it’s impossible to recover from – because there’s no way the Tories or the Tory press are going to let him – but with six months to go, Hard Labour are saddled with him and he with them. If he loses, it will certainly have the fluffy foot of fate pointed at it as the defining moment of his failure.

But, if it is possible, what was worse than the TIMIDITY of suggesting a rise to a mere £8 an hour after five more years of inflation, was Mr Milipede trying to sell us this on the grounds that it RAISED MONEY FOR THE GOVERNMENT. The poor workers get to pay more in taxes and receive less in tax credits, so Mr Balls is quids in in the Treasury, but whatever happened to helping the low-paid?

Make the Minimum Wage £10 an hour. From 2015. And don’t tax people on it. That would be a GAME CHANGING, not to mention VOTE WINNING promise. Give the people who need it most MORE of their own money to spend and see if it doesn’t boost the economy AND lift people out of poverty.

I want to be EVEN MORE radical! I want to see an economy that genuinely shares its successes – a kind of John Lewis Partnership of Britain, with a British Dividend, a share of the GDP for everyone, so that you’re rewarded for work but not totally dependent on your job. Because success comes from companies that work together, not from bosses and workers trapped in a them-and-us conflict.

Labour just want to tinker with the already broken system that enslaves people in zero-hours jobs and poverty pay.

The Conservatories, on the other fluffy foot, want to abolish your Rights. And if that doesn’t persuade you, how about some money!

Seriously, though, if you ever wanted reasons to vote for the Liberal Democrats, you just have to tot up the Tories shopping-list of TERRIBLE IDEAS that we have STOPPED them thrusting down your necks in the last five years:

I’d say it was all an exercise in willy-waving, but, er

And finally, of course, there were the Party Games. Pin the Tale on the Dimbledonkey. Call My Bluff. Do the In-Out-In-Out Hokey-Cokey. And of course Hunt the West Lothian Question. First Mr Balloon managed to derail Hard Labour’s agenda, by making the talk of their conference all about English Toasts for English Muffins. Sauce for the goose, then, when Mr Froggage the Kipper managed to derail the Conservatories’ agenda, by making the talk of their conference all about which rat would be next to jump ship.

(You can probably understand the kind of crossness that prompted inept Tory Chairperson Shan’t Gaps to bawl from the platform: “he lied and lied and lied”, but it was… let’s just say UNWISE. You didn’t need to be Mystic Meg to foresee UKIP’s reply: “Mr Balloon promised a referendum on Europe, he promised to cut immigration; he promised to balance the books: he lied and lied and lied.”)

It’s not that there ISN’T a good answer to the “English Votes” question. The answer, OBVIOUSLY, is that England does not deserve SECOND-CLASS, SECOND-HAND MPs.

Why should people in England ONLY get one overworked MP when every voter in Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland has BOTH an MSP/AM/MLA to address their devolved policies AND an MP to represent them at the national level? Mr Balloon is trying to SHORT-CHANGE the English YET AGAIN.

You do have to admit, the Pie-Faced – not to mention TWO-faced – Prime Monster… mmmm, two pies… I’m drifting… Mr Balloon is good at pulling a FAST ONE. His turn on the steps of Downing Street the morning after the referendum before was as cunning as fox coming out the henhouse claiming that all those feathers were because he’d been doing the dusting. Mr Milipede OUGHT to have shut that down FAST by WELCOMING the forthcoming SCOTLAND BILL and saying how much he looked forward to the discussions that would lead to an ENGLAND BILL to follow.

After all, the question of “devo max” has been very fully discussed in Scotland; the question of what the English peoples want has barely been touched upon. Certainly it’s not something that can be answered by Mr Balloon pondering it over his cornflakes and deciding, you know what, the answer must be what Tory policy has been all along and nobody wanted.

Instead Milipede Minor gave us his famous “Wallace-caught-in-headlights” look. It was as if he’d forgotten to think about something. Again.

For a so-called Political Wonk, he’s really not good on the issues very much, is he?

So in the Red Corner we’ve got a promise to be REALLY hard on skivers and you’ll get a bit more money, eventually, sometime, paid for by someone else, if they can afford it, maybe. And tears about the NHS. And in the blue corner we’ve got a promise to be REALLY REALLY hard on scroungers and you’ll get no Human Rights but a bit less tax, and more if you’re rich. And tears about the NHS.

It’s almost like they’re all trying not to win the next general election. Is it like getting the Defence Against the Dark Arts job at Hogwarts?

*Except, probably, for Theresa "British values will prevail against extremism and that’s why I’m abolishing them!” May.

Our Hoax Secretary would rather make an outrageous speech that tries to cover up for her own department’s inadequacies with a “won’t somebody think of the children” and a claim that Liberal Democrats protecting your Internet records were somehow responsible for her losing data and failing to act.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Day 5011: DOCTOR WHO: Crime Traveller, no, wait, come back!


Now that’s much more like it.

Superficially, a piece of stylish fluff after “Ocean’s Eleven” or TV’s “Hustle”, even to the slo-mo entrance and how-they-did-it flashback.

But, Saibra, a shape-shifter just dying for someone to see the real her, and Psi, a human computer who casts aside his memories and his past, could almost be wearing signs saying “we’re aspects of the Doctor”. And a descent into the Plutonic underworld, the minotaur-guarded labyrinth, to unlock the heart’s desire might just make this the most heavily symbolic episode yet in this series that seems intent on “unlocking” the Doctor’s psyche.

The much talked about “change of tone” for season eight seems less of a specific new direction and more a real effort to grasp the series defining ethos of change. With a different kind story every week, Victorian mystery to space war, historical romp to urban horror, they’re almost taking us back to the Hartnell era for diversity of story modes (and oh look, there’s a Sensorite between Androvax from “The Sarah Jane Adventures”, Captain John from “Torchwood” and Daffy Abslom Daak from the pages of “Doctor Who Magazine”). And they’re not so much defining Capaldi’s Doctor as any one thing, yet, but throwing a whole lot of things at him to see what he does with them all.

So let’s look at the Doctor’s psyche this week: a mix of seventh Doctor cunning, first Doctor scorn, and a dash of sixth Doctor braggadocio (“What you need right now is ME!”). And I forgot the eighth Doctor amnesia!

Let me toss a theory out there: each episode so far this year is looking at a side of the Doctor’s character, in fact one of his character flaws: “Deep Breath” represents his self-doubt; “Into the Dalek”, obviously, hatred; “Robot of Sherwood” is cynicism; “Listen” clearly fear; (and of course “The Caretaker” will be all about the Doctor’s jealousy); so, this week – well, given how secure the “securest bank in the Universe” turns out to be, it’s tempting to say we’re talking about his insecurities, but it’s pretty flagged up that really this is all about guilt.

The beautifully designed Teller creature feeds on guilt – and I love the twist of satire that I read on the Net that the bank is quite safe from their pet monster because bankers feel no guilt; harsh but fair. The reveal at the end that the escapade has been initiated by the guilt – as regrets – of the bank’s director, Madam Karabraxos. And the thing the Doctor desires most in the Universe, (or at least appears to) is to make the Teller not the last of his kind, the “survivor guilt” that has plagued the Doctor since Gallifrey, even if he now never foomed the homeworld after all.

Admittedly, the “monster actually pining for his mate” is a rerun of the ending of “Hide”, but rather than being a handbrake turn in a scary-movie story, this felt like a natural twist in a story mode where twists are the order of the day. And it’s not like it wasn’t flagged up ahead of time: the Guantanamo jumpsuit and chains, and the Doctor even asks what hold the bankers could have over the Teller.

And what sort of Teller would the richest bank in the galaxy employ anyway? Obviously a fortune teller.

Mind-reading you to death was new and grotesque. I liked that. And made a good counterpoint (and cure) to the reuse of the Memory Worms, previously established in “The Snowmen”. And the monster is still a monster, in the end – it still turned a whole lot of people’s brains to soup. The Doctor just found a way to deal with it that didn’t involve killing it. Interestingly, the Doctor doesn’t pass judgment on that either. Perhaps it’s not his place to mete out more guilt.

Okay, so “Time Heist” is yet another ontological loop: the Doctor becomes involved because Madam Karabraxos calls him on the number she only had because the Doctor became involved. Perhaps I minded it less this week because I didn’t really notice until I thought about it afterwards. It’s fridge logic: you only notice it when you think about it later.

(Unlike the “if he could set it all up, why couldn’t he have just used the TARDIS?” question I’ve seen on the net. They’ve thought of that one: the Doctor even says robbing a bank is easy if you’ve got a TARDIS. But the last lock on the vault can only be opened by the sun exploding(!) which is the one moment that they can’t use the TARDIS. And as for the complaint that the air vents with the “Do Not Enter” signs on are way too big and easy to get into… well of course they are: they lead straight into the Teller’s tank; they are very obviously a trap!)

Unless, of course, the Doctor, as a Time Lord, can just create ontological loops at will – which it certainly looks like he does, just to drag Clara away from her date, an interpretation reinforced by the last moment of the last scene.

Perhaps this one is about his jealous ego after all.

Actually, there are plenty of ways that it does fall apart – surely it’s a bit unlikely that Ms Delphox would leave the big door unlocked after catching the Doctor and Clara in the vault, so how did they get back in after being captured? But if they don’t need to get into the main vault to penetrate the private vault, then why break in there in the first place? And obviously the biggie: why does no one notice that the solar storm is going to destroy the bank?

I’d like to say I forgave it because at least Steve Thompson’s script was showing signs that he’d thought about some of the flaws and set up answers for you to pick up. But perhaps it’s just that I was just having too much fun watching this to notice or mind those as it went along.

And it’s a bit rude of me to just reduce Saibra and Psi to cyphers for the Doctor. In spite of their brief screen time, they both came across as distinct and interesting characters played with a proper sense of the fun that a heist story can be. It was a proper shock when Saibra was got by the Teller and her smart realization of what the “way out” would be. Psi’s decision to sacrifice his empty/forgotten life for Clara was perhaps a bit sketched because of the episode’s runtime, but came across. And for once the “no they’re alive” was less of a sentimental Moffat trope than a genre-appropriate “fooled you!”.

(Does it count as an “everybody lives” if the Teller’s victims are sitting around drooling with their heads caved in? I would say not, actually.)

And they are genuine Lawrence Miles-esque posthumans! The series very underuses the idea that the human race will have a future beyond homo sapiens and – sure, maybe because they borrow all the clich├ęs – these people felt like they were coming from a genuine future culture (or cultures). The bank itself, for that matter, with its mixed clientele and staff in African, Japanese and European couture – not to mention being a big old pyramid – came across as proper transgalactic, too.

Jonathan Bailey as Psi and Pippa Bennett-Warner as Saibra looked good in the roles and looked like they were having a good time doing it. I wouldn’t mind if the Doctor’s “call me” gesture to them at the end led to them returning.

Meanwhile, Keely Hawes is a wonderful and subtle actor playing both Ms Delphox and her boss Director Karabraxos, and managing to make the latter just slightly more human, ingeniously conveying the brittle, hollowness of the clone – again, online complaints that Ms Delphox is just a caricature, a typical Moffat “strong woman villain in black suit and heels” (to be fair, reinforced by Doctor Who Extra making the same point), fall down because that’s exactly what she’s supposed to be – it’s a choice that both confirms Karabraxos’ opinion of Delphox as a “pale imitation” while telling us that it’s possibly the powerlessness and fear of a literal firing that makes her a different person. It’s quite a clever take on the old nature versus nurture debate – Karabraxos puts it down to “nature”: she thinks the clones are by nature inferior to her original; she cannot entertain the possibility that she is not superior, merely lucky to be in the top position. Would she even have felt regrets if the Doctor hadn’t planted the idea in her head? Another paradox, but again, for me, a pleasant tease rather than an annoying flaw.

Anyway, if it is all about psychoanalysing the Doctor it might add some weight to the idea that “Missy” is indeed inside the Doctor’s head, and Clara’s references to the Doctor’s missing conscience resonate too. (Missy, missy, miss…ing? Nah.) This is the second week running without reference to the series arc – baring the briefest reminded about “the woman in the shop” who gave Clara the TARDIS telephone number, and that more as a lead-in to the unlikeliness of the phone ringing… ooh, it’s ringing…. But then this is the “hiding in plain sight” episode, so who knows what might come back to bite us.

If there’s a downside to the “a different story every week” format, it’s that you know from the outset that you’re going to get divided reactions to all of them. And I can see why this wouldn’t be for everyone, just as I can see why “Listen” pushed so many people’s buttons but not mine. It makes for a roller-coaster of a series, but one with Peter Capaldi at its heart and always dragging us back to see how he reacts to the next trick out of the bag. His superpower, clearly, is to be the centre of attention. It’s the eyebrows.

Next Time: We’ve done horror. We’ve done heist. Let’s try… a rom com. The horror! The horror! All that stands between the Doctor and a fateful meeting with Clara’s boyfriend is a guy in a bow tie. Oh, and a sort of clockwork owl on castors. With really big guns. There’s been a spillage! Call “The Caretaker”.