...a blog by Richard Flowers

Friday, October 23, 2015

Day 5409: Fatal Attraction


David Cameron is tearing down the British constitution before our eyes.

The Conservatories, apparently HIGH on the ARROGANCE of victory, have taken their WAFER-THIN majority to be a sign of DIVINE RIGHT and are rapidly moving to use any means, no matter how dubious or illegitimate, to extend their hegemony.

They've got the House of Lords in their sights.

But if they are so keen on the SUPREMACY of the House of Commons then they should remember that it was the House of Commons that voted to keep the Powers of the House of Lords EXACTLY AS THEY ARE.

Prime Monster Cameron clearly does not believe in of the British Constitution, written or unwritten. He tramples the traditions and conventions in much the same way Boris Johnson tramples small Japanese children.

Which makes him an anti-social Prime Monster and a pretty poor Conservatory to boot.

Instead of PRIMARY LEGISLATION (or even taking it to the actual PEOPLE in a referendum) he is sneaking around trying to nobble the noble opposition by the back door.

This week, we have already seen him and his incompetent henchling Chris Grayman manipulating the standing orders of the House of Commons to freeze out non-English members of the BRITISH Parliament (while further overburdening English MPs who do not have the support of devolved assembly members and thus actually WEAKENING the voice of the people of England).

And now they are threatening to flood the House of Lords with Tory Peers in order to create an UNEARNED majority (remember how they protest that the numbers in the Lords should be "proportional" to the election result – so they should actually lose Peers to match the 35% of the vote they scraped in May).

The alleged cause precipitating this crisis is the Tory plan to slash tax credits, taking up to £1200 away from people IN WORK on the LOWEST WAGES.

It totally makes a LIE of the Tory claim to be the "Party of Labour". And completely UNDERMINES the work of the Coalition in raising people OUT OF TAX to make being in work reward more the people who need it most.

The Liberal Democrats have therefore tabled a "fatal motion" in the Lords to kill the cuts.

(While Labour have tabled a WEAKER, delaying motion, which the Lib Dems WILL support if Labour are too cowardly to support the fatal amendment).

And this has given the Prime Monster the excuse he needed to throw his toys out of the pram.

We have seen a string of figures bullying the House of Lords from the Prime Monster down – and shamefully including the Speaker of the Commons, whose powers are so rightly protected within those doors precisely because they end at those doors (and that's why Black Rod has those doors slammed in his face every year), acting way ultra vires in telling the House of Lords what to do.

(It's worse because the Speaker is supposed to be neutral. He must of course act, within his powers, to defend the interests of the House of Commons. But he also has a duty to defend the people in whose Parliament it is his privilege to sit. If he goes over to the side of the Government – and it looks very like he has been persuaded to speak for the Government here – then frankly that's a resigning matter and he should step down.)

The Tory case for overriding the Lords hangs on two slender threads:

The first is the Salisbury Convention that the Lords do not overturn a Government's manifesto pledges.

Mr Cameron refers to the fact that the Tory manifesto contained a pledge to cut £12 billion from the Welfare Budget. Fair enough. But it did not specify from where within the Welfare Budget. However, the Prime Monster himself said that Tax Credits would not be cut. So how else can we interpret this but that that Prime Monstering promise was part of their manifesto pledge?

So to block the Tax Credits Cut, the Lords would actually be enforcing not overturning the Tories' manifesto, and it's hardly their fault that the Prime Monster is caught in the act of breaking his promise to the British People.

The other is the 1911 Parliament Act which says that the Upper Chamber will not block the will of the commons on Money Bills.

A "Money Bill" (it goes on to say) is a Public Bill which the Speaker says is a money bill.

(Or rather, in his opinion contains provisions dealing with a longish list of understandably tax and borrowing related subjects – in fact contains only such provisions, so you cannot just stick a small tax change in the "Invasion of Mars and Slaughter of the First Born" Bill and ram it through the Lords as a "Money Bill").

Importantly, it then adds that to be such a Bill the Speaker needs to endorse it with a certificate saying it is such before they send it up to the Lords.

So there are two rather glaring problems with what the Prime Monster and his government and his tame Speaker are saying here.

The Tax Credits (Income Thresholds and Determination of Rates) (Amendment) Regulations 2015 is NOT a Public Bill. It's what is called a Statutory Instrument (secondary legislation, using powers granted by an earlier bill to adjust the details – or another example of the Prime Monster dodging the full scrutiny of a proper bill, what a shame THAT came back to bite him on his Eton Mess).

And secondly, it would need to have a certificate of "do not touch" tied to the front.

So unless Speaker Bercow has done so, his threat to the Lords is based on a lie.

The Prime Minister, likewise, if he is saying that the Lords cannot block this is telling lies to the House of Commons.

The regulation was originally laid before Parliament in September and the government won by a majority of 325 to 290.

This week, Labour tabled an Opposition Day motion: "That this House calls on the Government to reverse its decision to cut tax credits, which is due to come into effect in April 2016", which was defeated by the government 317 to 295.

It would not have been binding on the Government, but losing it would have been… "embarrassing".

In the course of the debate, though, a number of Conservatories were reported to make "powerful" speeches against the policy… only to then troop meekly through the Government lobby at the end of the day.

I do worry that another sign of the Tories' fast march towards Chinese Democracy is to generate a SYNTHETIC opposition that is then shown to be entirely compliant with their wishes, doing away with the need for a Labour Party altogether.

Meanwhile senior, even normally entirely sensible Tories, continue to protest that the Lords will "provoke" a CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS.

Be under no doubt. The Prime Monster was LOOKING for this CRISIS. He would have FOUND a PRETEXT.

And frankly, either we Liberal Democrats use what powers we have left to try to protect people from the cruelty of full-blooded Tory cuts or we might as well all go home.

So we should NEVER back down from this fight.

And the Prime Monster should remember too that Governments govern only with CONSENT.

Cite the 1911 Parliament Act all you like, if THAT is the precedent the Tories think they should follow, if they think it covers the Prime Monster for breaking his election promise, but REMEMBER your HISTORY – before forcing the People's Budget through the Lords the Liberal Government sought and received the endorsement of the people on the promise they were actually voting on in a GENERAL ELECTION.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Day 5396: DOCTOR WHO: Under the Whelm


So the Doctor begins the episode by giving us a lecture on the Ontological Paradox – or as he calls it the "Bootstrap" Paradox, as in Baron Munchausen lifting himself into the air by pulling up on his own bootstraps because it's the "it happened because it happened" with no visible cause or means of support one.

He does this by means of an extended metaphor about Beethoven and you think "ah, clever – Beethoven was deaf and one of our characters is deaf and the ghosts are mute so this is going to be relevant". Only it's not.

And that's typical of why this episode disappointed me. It's full of clever or intriguing or just plain well-designed things, which it holds up for us to examine and then does nothing with. Certainly it never weaves its plot-points into anything that meaningfully amounts to a story.

It looks great: the empty, abandoned village, with its Soviet Russia dressings, haunted by Cold War ghosts (before we get the electromagnetic ghosts, but again no one tries to draw a connection).

But it's full of signifiers that don't signify anything.

The title, for starters, "Before the Flood" suggests an allegory or myth: in Biblical terms, perhaps, it could refer to the age after Eden when we had become sinners over that business with the apple and the talking snake, corrupt and degenerate before God sent Noah's flood to literally clean up our act. It was a time of "great wickedness" when there were "giants" in the World.

Were the Nineteen-Eighties an "age of great wickedness"? Is the monstrous Fisher King a "giant"?

Or is there no metaphor here, only the literal: we have travelled back in time to before the valley was flooded?

It doesn't drive the plot or fit to any kind of narrative that writer Toby Whithouse is constructing. Is it just so that the Doctor can blow up that damn dam in the certainty that there are "no Thals left on Skaro"?

Similarly, why is the big bad named The Fisher King, after a significant if minor character in the Arthurian myth cycle? Surely it's not just because he's a fish?

The Arthurian Fisher King is wounded (read: emasculated) and his kingdom is blighted because king and kingdom are spiritually linked. The knight Sir Percival spends a night at the Fisher King's keep and is granted a vision of the Holy Grail, which has the power to heal the king and hence the land. When he wakes, the castle is deserted as though long abandoned.

This foreshadows the darkening of Camelot when Lancelot and Guinevere betray Arthur – in some readings the Fisher King is Arthur – and the king and kingdom are likewise spiritually wounded, precipitating the Grail Quest where all the knights go off to look for the cup, ultimately leaving Camelot so weakened that Mordred is able to take over.

There are elements of that here: the village is long abandoned, say. But does that amount to anything?

Is the Fisher King in "Before the Flood" supposed to be an Alien Arthur, sent to Earth as Avalon to be healed and return to the stars as their "Once and Future King"?

Because he looks a lot more like a big stompy monster.

Again, it looks pretty impressive, in an after-Geiger fashion, but what's it supposed to mean?

He's given a handful of lines to make his place in the plot seem bigger than he is – knowledge of the Time War and all. But he really does very little.

Addressing – recognising – the Doctor as "Time Lord" (and along with the Soviet trappings) makes me think of "The Curse of Fenric". But the reason that "Fenric" as story was powerful (and Fenric, in-story too come to think of it) was the way it wove together elements from previous adventures into something that actually gave greater meaning to those events, repainting Ace and the Doctor's exploits together as a bigger chess game for her very soul pitted against an ancient Lovecraftian god. Here it's more like the baddie has read the series' PR bible.

Peter Serafinowicz who provides the voice of the Fisher King previously did the same for Darth Maul in "Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace". And, as on that occasion, gets all of three lines before being unceremoniously offed. Here it's by being hit in the face by the titular flood.

Unless, of course, he's not dead and all this – not just the dropped-in hint about a "Minister for War" – is set up for something else. In which case it might be a tad less frustrating with hindsight.

Likewise, if Paul Kaye as Tivolian undertaker Prentis seems wasted in a minor cameo, albeit one shot from two angles for time-travel reasons, it's because the episode does nothing with him.

The resolve isn't particularly clever: it's always the Doctor in the box, whether it's the Pandorica or an old Eighth Doctor Adventure ("The Deadstone Memorial", if I remember rightly). The monster was dead all along – which at least references the fate of Arthur in "Battlefield – and the ghosts are just ghosts in the machine, echoes of a design that never came to be.

And then everyone was in love with everyone else at the end, like some kind of instant Shakespeare. We'd had an underplayed hint that Bennett had feelings for O'Donnell last week, when he clearly stays because she does. But Cass and Lunn? I think at least the HR department would have a word.

Killing off of fan-of-the-Doctor O'Donnell earlier – and after killing off fangirl Osgood in "Death in Heaven" this threatens to become a trope – seemed the most gratuitous "insert death here" moment we've had in ages. Plus, they totally blew how to do it – the Fisher King, having set his "ghosts" in motion would have no interest in wasting time adding to his collection. So he would stomp on past on his merry Fisher King business. Only for undead Prentis to appear through the wall and, now programmed to multiply the signal, murder her from behind.

(And it's a completely massive cheat that O'Donnell's ghost does not appear in the "future" until after we see her die in the "past" – no such restriction applies to Prentis.)

So the plot played out just the way it had to because that was the way it had to play out. Practically the very definition of going through the motions.

Which brings us back to that Bootstrap Paradox.

And as for that paradox… it really only amounted to: "well, I had to pretend to be my own ghost because we needed a cliffhanger last week".

And the hiccoughs with the TARDIS (needing the handbrake last week; refusing to return to the Drum; skipping back in time half an hour) were just signs of her not liking that there was a Paradox about. (And not just an excuse to have the Doctor rugby tackle Mr Bennett to prevent a recurrence of "Father's Day".)

After all the set-up with Beethoven at the start, it was something of a let-down that it was only there for lampshading: "I worked out what to do when I realised what I must have done". He didn't even use the guitar!

Why draw attention to it?

It's not like Doctor Who hasn't done Ontological Paradoxes before oh boy, from "Blink" to "The Big Bang" to Clara's entire timeline being retroactively caused by "The Name of the Doctor" (basically anywhere the Grand Moff has left his fingerprints – although the biggie is "Earthshock"). Is Mr Whithouse just writing "HOW HE DID IT!" for the Mister Moffster?

Alex is reminded of Steven Moffat smugly explaining how "The Fire In the Girlyplace" is "Doctor Who Discovers Girls" because he was too important a writer to notice that Russell had just spent the whole Eccleston season doing that more subtly. And when Whithouse is more smug and less subtle than the Moff…

We should at the very least understand that the paradox is in some sense bad, if for no other reason than it's a perpetual motion machine and if left revolving in time and space will eventually wear an entropic hole in the universe.

Turning to the camera with a shrug really won't do. Another name for the Ontological Paradox is the Predestination Paradox or Destiny Trap. It kills free will. Because once you are in it you have no choice but to do what you have already seen yourself do. And the Doctor really ought to be against anything that restricts his free will.

There was an opportunity here – after refreshing our views on the "Let's Kill Hitler" moral dilemma in the first two-parter – to have a look at another cornerstone of Doctor Who: "you cannot change history, not one line" versus "time can be rewritten".

And we completely failed to.

The risk of invalidating your own past is creating a Grandfather Paradox. That's the one that usually spins people's heads because of the way it flips and flops between preventing itself happening and so not happening so it doesn't prevent itself happening so it does happen and back again.

Funnily enough, the Faction Paradox masterwork "The Book of the War" suggests that Grandfather Paradoxes are a way of creating something very like ghosts – if you kill one of your own ancestors you reduce your own level of "reality", becoming less connected to the Universe. (If you are 50% "real" and you kill your Grandfather that only 50% applies to reality and so you create your own 50% existence – and so it actually adds up.) The possibility that the ghosts in "Under the Lake" are actually a result of the Doctor breaking time back in the past of "Before the Flood" would have made for a very much more interesting threat. Unfortunately we didn't go there.

But why would a Grandfather Paradox be bad and a Bootstrap Paradox a… shrug?

I'd say that, in Doctor Who, the exact opposite ought to be the case.

A Universe riddled with contradictions – rather like the continuity we've got, as it happens – or one of rigid order and doing what you're told? You know which choice the Doctor ought to make.

Which, again, is where throwing in the ghosts as consequences of choosing to break the Destiny Trap would have challenged the Doctor, been an actual story about something.

From a writer's point of view, outside the story universe, the Ontological Paradox makes you look clever, it leaves the audience with a satisfied sense that the piece fits together that the end is the beginning is the end and so on. Whereas the Grandfather Paradox looks like you've forgotten something. Because you have to end on one flip or the other, so it's never "complete".

But the Bootstrap, because it has no starting point, can never be created from within the Universe, only imposed from outside by the writer. Or god. Which is why it flatters the writer. The Grandfather Paradox means the characters take charge of their own narrative, in fact rewrite their own backstory, and set themselves free.

But in "Before the Flood" everyone remained trapped in their own perfect little clockwork plots full of references to nothing very much really.

However, Peter Capaldi can play electric guitar on the main theme every week forever, as far as I'm concerned.

Next time… Maisie Williams! Vikings! Maisie Williams! Cyber-Odin! Maisie Williams! Metal Judoon things! A thousand articles on how Maisie Williams should be next companion! Also Maisie Williams! "The Girl Who Died"

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Day 5389: DOCTOR WHO: Lake Superior


This was Classic Who done in Classic style.

This was so old-school it was Quatermass, down to its mysterious etchings on the inside of its unearthed alien spacecraft.

This was so trad you could carve it into a dining table. And it wasn't ashamed to have characters announce the tropes they're riffing on: from "base under siege" to "Aliens" to "you can stay here and play cabin in the woods". Nothing wrong with that. Each generation deserves a chance to see why the classics became classics, especially if done well. Except it doesn't leave me much to talk about.

Although playing with tropes like "dead bro walking" still means you end up killing off the black guy first. (And what a waste of the magnificent Dr Muhahahaha.)

This was Toby "Being Human" Whithouse denying the reality of ghosts, only to whip the rug out from under us, only to whip the rug neatly back into place with a scientific non-explanation explanation: they're not ghosts, they're transmitters; transmitters that imprint a message on your mind and then kill you to start you signalling – the weirdest form of signal boost since six-billion iterations of the Master opened a route out of the Time War for Rassilon.

There must, incidentally, be something in the water (as it were), as I've just listened to "Prisoners of the Lake", the first of Big Finish's "new" Third Doctor Adventures with Tim Trelaw not quite being Jon Pertwee but not quite being his own interpretation either. (He can hit the lisping "s" very well, but I think hasn't quite the "attack" that Pertwee gives his line readings.) To be fair, Katy Manning's Jo Grant voice doesn't sound the same as she did in 1972 either, but with considerably larger store of goodwill. Nevertheless it goes some way to recapturing the feel of the UNIT "blood and thunder" era, at least for the first three parts; resolving itself rather too quickly in part four – limitations of the budget for cast seems most likely reason – when I was expecting it to break out into a bigger six-parter. (Because a three-and-three would have been a to-date unique variation on how to do a six episode Doctor Who). And the Brigadier, alas, is a sadly-missed silent voice at the other end of the telephone. Anyway…

Nice that we had a deaf character on board, fully integrated into the team. Nice that – as my friend Daniel pointed out – they showed that lip reading is hard. But wouldn't it be nicer if there wasn't a plot-contingent reason for her being there? (And "Hello, 22nd Century!" – fairly sure smart phones will do voice-to-text and text-to-voice really very nicely by then.)

Add to that a really picky quibble: the TARDIS translation circuits enable her passengers – or, if it's "the Christmas Invasion", anyone even randomly in the vicinity which must really help with staying incognito for all those non-interfering observation trips the other Time Lords make – to understand other spoken or written languages. But surely that doesn't include the shape of their lips flapping as they make the sounds. So why are the transmitters transmitting a message in English, when they're under the control of presumably an alien signalling to presumably other aliens?

Also, from what angle exactly do the stars in Orion's sword line up with Earth?

Actually the Doctor is wrong here, because only one of them really is a star – the three shiny things apparently hanging below Orion's belt are: the Orion Nebula (M42), which isn't any stars at all; the Trapezium Cluster, which is at least four, possibly eight, possibly more stars; and the star Hatsya (Iota Orionis) at the tip (and there's actually a couple more stars and the M43 nebula too, but they're all much less visible and the Doctor's only got so many tennis balls). Yes, the Trapezium Cluster used to be designated Theta Orionis (a star), but if he's going to be all showy-offy the least he could do is Google it.

One Google search later...

All of the "bright three" are about 1350 light years distant. So if you can draw a line through them, it sure ain't pointing this way.

In fact the only place in the Universe where they line up with Earth is on Earth.

(Oh, all right, or in a direct sightline from Earth to Orion – but that's just getting silly: you need to know where Earth is to line it up to form the sword that's supposed to give you directions to find… Earth. Even the Battlestar Galactica would have had difficulty figuring the way to Earth with clues like that.)

Alternatively, "Sword of Orion" is the second of Big Finish's adventures with Paul McGann as the eighth Doctor. Which was exciting back in the day. So maybe the directions mean: "Go to that planet where Briggsy got to remake the audiovisuals with a proper Doctor and Cybermen".

Anyway, and once again I may be too "seen it all before" to appreciate that cliffhanger properly. To fresh eyes it may be quite the W.T.F. To me it's very obvious that the Doctor isn't dead, which actually dispels the possibility that the "ghosts" are the spirits of the deceased trapped in electromagnetic form. Plus it threatens to be "timey-wimey".

There's nothing intrinsically paradoxical about going back in time to investigate the origin of events that have occurred. In fact, it's something of a surprise that Doctor Who has never done a "reverse The Ark" (fifty minutes of story; leave; arrive 700 years earlier). Although actually, this is closer to "City of Death", where the Doctor (spoilers) uses the TARDIS to pop back – mid-adventure – to Leonardo's studio to check out what's going on with all those Mona Lisas.

But the cliffhanger gives the impression that going back in time, the Doctor has changed the past (and gotten himself killed) resulting in a change to the present (namely the appearance of his ghost).

(And obviously that doesn't have to be how it works out. If the Doctor is just using the "whatever it is that makes signal devices out the images of people who die hereabouts" to send a message to Clara telling her how to resolve the situation, then he can have "programmed" it to wait quietly out in the lake until after he's got back in the TARDIS and gone back in time. Because giggles. Well, no, because to avoid it being one of those irritating ontologically-paradoxical notes to himself from the future he used to leave for/in his seventh incarnation.)

But you have to admit we're stepping dangerously close to "I'll just jump in the time machine and fix this before it ever happened" territory, the sort of "Curse of the Fatal Death" stuff that the series has always said it cannot do. For the perfectly good (Doylist) reason that if he can do that, then there's no drama he can't go back and fix, and there's no excuse for any of the terrible things that happen in the series happening.

And haven't we played enough with "the Doctor's really, really, really dead this time" recently? From "The Impossible Astronaut" to "The Time of the Doctor" to last week's confession dial in "The One with Missy versus Davros"? (*episodes of "Dammit! Missy" not guaranteed to conform to Doctor Who content.)

If we'd perhaps established that the Doctor wasn't certain if the Time Lords had given him just one new life or many it would still be getting repetitive. But at least the threat of him being dead might make sense. Might even develop into a series theme there (too early to say though). But no, quite the reverse, in last year's "Kill the Moon" (yes, I risk mentioning it again; I know some of you have deleted it in favour of Semaphore) he actually raised the idea that he might go on regenerating forever. And even last week he was casually giving away regeneration energy, to Davros of all people, in no way as though it was going out of fashion.

So could we all get on the same page and put at least that trope behind us for a while.

For me this was really good, tense and gripping for the forty-odd minutes of its duration. And vanished like the ghosts in daylight. There was no sense that this was about something other than being a really good Doctor Who episode.

To be fair, it's a part one. It's full of setting up mysteries, investigating, asking a lot of questions, and, yes, a good bit of running up and down corridors. Running up and down very nice corridors and with a purpose. But corridor running, big tick.

Part two might change all that, which would be clever, to illustrate how discovering the past changes our understanding of the present (or future), and how and why the future is haunted by the past.

Until then, it's just a really good episode one.

Next time: reverse Agatha Christie warning as "After the Funeral" backs into "Taken at the Flood". With added fishy monster. Who's in the box? And will it all resolve itself? Avant nous le deluge. Let's step back "Before the Flood"

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Day 5382: DOCTOR WHO: The (Magician's) Apprentice – You're Fired Exterminated


Did everyone else get the same reaction to the recently announced latest spin-off from "Doctor Who": disappointment, regretfully, that it's not the "Missy and Clara Show"?

(Or "Dammit, Missy!" as the Verity podcasters hilariously dubbed this sadly-not-yet-to-be project – and can I also add that their "replace Clara and Michelle Gomez' Missy with Jo and Delgado's Master" game works so perfectly!)

Has there ever been a sci-fi psychodrama sit-com before? What a wasted opportunity if there hasn't. Because judging by this week's episode, it would be genius.

Because this week is all about the Time Lady and the Puppy.

I love Missy's little reminiscence at the start, getting Clara to work out "how I did it!". (Yes, yes, I scored all the points for guessing how the cliffhangers would resolve. Thankfully, Steven Moffat got the answer to the moral question posed last week right too.)

I love that – and I only spotted it on second viewing, but I'm sure most people got it first time out – they actually show three instances of the disintegration/teleport/escape trick, including the end of "Death in Heaven", to confirm that this is what happened then too (meaning last week's cheeky "Not dead. Back." was just a slap to the Saward years' habit of the Anthony Ainley Master to survive without bothering to explain how. Or why.)

I love that it's actually the Doctor's trick – he's done the working out, and on the fly I might add ("what a swot!"), and the Master (he's such a plodder) is merely copying, which seems very much in keeping with the old Jon Pertwee/Roger Delgado relationship (think "Sea Devils") where the Master would have a plan but would have to harness the Doctor's flair and improvisation.

I like to think that the scene with the invisible android assassins might have been written as a cameo for Sean Pertwee to double for his father; he can do the look and would not have had to do the voice. I mean it probably wasn't, but think of the resonance if it had been: "they're all the Doctor to me, so let's give you the frilly shirt" instead of "the eyebrows".

(Of course, that "they're all the Doctor to me" line is pinched from Iris Wildthyme, the erratic possibly-Time Lady created by Paul Magrs and brought to life by the magical Katy Manning.)

This pair of episodes, particularly the second but including moments like the naked horror of her realisation that Skaro is indeed returned in "The Magician's Apprentice", allow Michelle Gomez to transform her Master from merely bananas, however entertaining, pantomime villain Mary Poppins into a fully rounded anti-Doctor. Look at the way she encourages, coaches, even occasionally protects Clara. She's being the Doctor. Of course she might just think of it as house training the puppy, or breaking her in, but…

"If you ever let this creature live, then all this is on you."

That was Clara's accusation to the Doctor in "Death in Heaven". Complicity with the Master if he didn't stoop to the Master's level and murder his oldest frenemy.

Well, how'd'ya like them onions now, Clara Oswald?

Clara's inability to kill Missy the moment she obligingly turns her back is reassuringly human. We would think she was a monster, or a sociopath, if she could actually do it. Even if it wasn't borderline suicidal when wading knee-deep in Dalek sewer.

(The Doctor, incidentally, does to the Daleks what Missy did to the human race in "Death in Heaven": weaponising their dead against them, when he out-Xanatos-Gambits Davros (again), which pays her back for her nicking his teleport trick I suppose. And of course we're playing Time Lord "Hustle" again too ("Time Heist"). My head-canon is going to say that if Davros had taken only the regeneration energy offered rather than trying to take it all, then the Doctor would have let it go at that: that was the "out" he was being offered.)

But it's also a firm rebuke to Clara's words (spoken, to be fair, in anger) at the end of last year's finale. It is a false equivalence to say that one act of compassion is causative of all the harms that follow. This is pretty basic to all our modern morality from "an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind" to Gandalf's gentle admonition of Frodo that "it was pity that stayed Bilbo's hand" (an act of compassion that, ultimately, leads to the destruction of the One Ring and the utter ruin of evil. So you know, hard to top).

(And I do mean modern; I suspect that a Roman or a Spartan or for that matter the knights of King Arthur would all be entirely happy to stab the evil Time Lady in the back.)

Of course compassion (and mercy) are what saves Clara, in the end, from Missy's machinations trapping her inside a Dalek. That's more than merely an inspired bit of twisted sadistic play from the Master; it's virtually the entire point of the episode – what is compassion if not finding the friend inside the enemy.

Mind you, Clara seems to have forgotten the lesson she tried to teach the Clockwork Man back in "Deep Breath": "Never start with your final sanction. You've got nowhere to go but backwards." Just as Clara called the Clockwork Man's bluff, so Missy immediately calls Clara's. And thus psychologically disarms her. Before physically disarming her using what looks like another example of that super-speed she (maybe all Time Lords) sometimes appear to possess (see also Missy's murder of Osgood).

Actually, Missy was never in any danger from a pointy stick: she (though she could have been, indeed probably was, lying) told us that you would need to take out both hearts and brainstem all at once to stop her regenerating. Which more than slightly suggests that Missy deliberately left her pointy stick for Clara to pick up. Another little game. Who hasn't thrown a stick for a puppy, after all?

Moffat has struck on a rich seam of ideas to explore here. There's something Lovecraftian about the episode (even without the "something slimy lurking down below", why hello Freudian scatological horror!). The idea that humans – even ones like Clara – run into primal forces like Missy and mistake them for something… understandable.

Like the "First Ones" in "Babylon 5" – G'Kar (Andrea Katsulas) has a memorable scene where he picks up an ant on the tip of his glove – "if I put it down and another ant asks 'what was that?' how could the ant explain?". Moffat seems to get that the Time Lords, who really are the "first ones" of the Doctor Who universe are… in the old cliché …aliens beyond our comprehension. That's proper sci-fi that is.

This expands on the scene in the first episode, where Missy is genuinely (to whatever value of genuinely you think applies to her) revolted by the idea she might "love" the Doctor.

"Try, nano-brain, to rise above the reproductive frenzy of your noisy little food chain and contemplate friendship. A friendship older than your civilization, and infinitely more complex."

(I pondered last time whether they have really been at this longer than [our or Clara's] Civilization. If Missy meant modern England, which is probably the 400 years from Elizabeth I to Elizabeth II then easily; or even the nearly-thousand years from 1066 and all that, given the Doctor's now more advanced age; but the five thousand plus of human Civilisation from Mesopotamia to present day? That might be pushing it. Unless Missy means that Gallifrey is from, as long suspected, billions of years in the past.)

Andrew Cartmel and Russell Davies toyed with the idea of the Doctor as "god" before, but in Steven Moffat's hands Doctor and Master are rather more Cthulthu and Nyalothatep (horrors from the dawn of time) than magic floaty Jesus.

If this is Lovecraft, then the Daleks, all amoeboid protoplasm and rage, are the Shoggoths, the "machine creatures" of the Elder Things that made war to overthrow the gods.

Again, Moffat is just full of ideas here, gleefully binding together new notions with riffs on old bits of continuity:

The idea that Daleks are functionally immortal was made as a promise from Davros in "Revelation of the Daleks". The full horror of that can only be described as plumbing new depths here.

The third Doctor described the Daleks as moving by psychokinetic power ("Death to the Daleks"), which here translates to emotional energy firing the Dalek gunstick, and saying plainly that Cybermen repress emotion, Daleks channel it into anger. "It's why they keep yelling 'Exterminate!' – it's how they reload." It is absolute genius. As is seeing Missy work this out as she's examining Clara. (Again using her as the canary in the mine, or the test guinea pig in the experiment casing… are you getting that all these are references to Clara as a useful, useable animal, or familiar. Of course both titles refer to Clara – and to the different ways the two Time Lords see her.)

And of course Moffat is not above riffing on himself rewiring the idea of the Dalek's "cortex vault", the prison for their wrong-thinking memories from "Into the Dalek", so that it even translates the words they think/say into Dalek newspeak. Again, entirely consistent with the "computer control" that Davros saddled them with (before they exterminated him for the first time) back in (everything comes back to) "Genesis of the Daleks".

Of course it doesn't quite stack up. We've heard Daleks say things like "Mercy" and "Pity" before, even if it's just to deny they understand the concepts. And if Clara had been thinking calmly – which of course the point is she is not – then she should have been able to come up with a linguistic work-around. But then, given the way that she appears to lose the use of contractions, it's possible there's a kind of feedback occurring between her and the casing by means of the language she is allowed to use. Which is, of course, the point of Newspeak.

We are all a product of our environment, a Dalek even more so.

It's also slightly naughty that the first Dalek to be killed by the let's call them slime Daleks needs to be broached by Missy's brooch, whereas by the end they all seem to be vulnerable to the eldritch horrors of their ancestors' cells. (Oh, I'm so sorry.)

And Alex was quite right when he said how silly it was to have the Special Weapons Dalek right there and not have it be the one to blow up the TARDIS. What do you think it is for?

(I appease him slightly by saucily retconning Moffat's redubbing of the H.A.D.S. from "Displacement" to "Dispersal" by suggesting that it's a call-back to "Frontios" rather than a desperate cheat.)

Anyway, apparently the Doctor and Davros have some special time together in this episode too. But everyone else has talked about that*. And there's some guff about a prophecy and a hybrid and the Doctor's confession dial (which almost certainly contains the message "haha fooled you!"). Tediously that will no doubt turn out to be this year's arc plot. (Rather than the far more interesting hints about the Cloister War or the Master's Daughter.)

Last thought. Every Dalek ever… except for "some of our greatest mistakes". I know it's wrong of me, but in a secret place in my imagination, I see Mr Moffat crying out: "You think my Daleks are sh** Daleks? I'll give you sh** Daleks!!!"

Next time… If the Daleks are aliens from the past then these are ghosts from the future, and Christopher Eccleston needs to be put on danger money. We're going "Under the Lake".

*OK, I can't go entirely without praising the excellent work of Julian Bleach and Peter Capaldi. But I feel I talked a lot last time about the central moral dilemma – which is the thrust of the Doctor/Davros battle of wits here – whereas this week is a really good exploration of what the Master and the Daleks are about.