Dear Steven Moffat: Dark Water/Death in Heaven


Dear Steven,

Surprised to hear from me? You surely are. Your hack of may have succeeded on a technical level, disabling my ability to save drafts and publish new posts, but you forgot about this: my trusty reserve. I admit the attempt to censor got to me. As “Dark Water” and “Death in Heaven” played on the 72 inch TV in my Las Vegas hotel room and the unauthorised intrusion came to light, the real loser was VIP escort Lana. She’d been pelted with Dalek soft toys and greenbacks for 2 hours, and was already bored, when she was forced to listen to my review orally, feeling the full burden of being the only human being who may ever hear it.

Danny Pink was dead and I had to tell someone how joyous, how special that was. The opening of the first episode was an emotional roller coaster alright, not least because moments earlier I’d had tears crawling down my face, poor Lana trying to console me, as Clara had told the beige bastard she loved him.  What a waste, thought I. A young woman’s life snuffed out by poor judgment, with a hellish, haunted afterlife to follow – late night marking in bed, the Waterloo Road for Christmas, the same tired school girl bedroom fantasy at Danny’s insistence, with all the doubts that engenders buried because she wants, needs, the relationship to work. Then, a miracle: child killer Danny got squished by an upstanding passing motorist. I understand that this, and not Clara’s declaration of feeling was supposed to be the tragic knockout punch to open the episode, but if that’s what you wanted me to feel you really should have put more work into making Clara and Danny’s relationship one to which the audience could aspire, the couple in question being likable and dynamic in each other’s company, rather than the dull middle class Guardianista love-in that you actually created.

It was hilarious that “Dark Water” ended with a cliffhanger in which Danny toyed with deleting his emotions and becoming an automaton. Viewers who’d watched intently, week on week, as this barely animate pedestrian love interest courted the once vivacious Clara, knew it wouldn’t make a shred of difference. Danny Pink was dead? Holy shit Steven, he was barely alive!

So Clara, out of some misplaced sense of entitlement, of the kind she’s exhibited all season, tried to blackmail the only man she knew in possession of a working time machine to bring her one note boyfriend back from the hereafter. It’s typical of your writing in general that this was both a good and terrible scene. Good, because Capaldi was wonderfully blasé about Danny’s death, as only this Doctor can be, and terrible, because it turned out to be a dream, which somewhat undermined the Doc’s conclusion that he’d been betrayed, as nothing had actually happened. I mean, I might have considered throwing Lana out of my hotel room and refusing to pay on the grounds that she wouldn’t put on the Cyberman costume I bought for the occasion, but thinking it isn’t the same as doing it. And besides, Clara was out of her mind with misplaced grief, etc.

So after a lot of fucking around, and the Doctor being sexually assaulted, we finally got to the meat of the story. The afterlife was, as we suspected from the use of iPads, no such thing but a virtual reality created using Time Lord technology (“we have Steve Jobs” just about worked as a throw away explanation for budget constraints). Thanks to an unholy alliance between the Mistress nee Master and the Cybermen, the consciousness of the dead would be uploaded into Cyber-brains and an army would be created that would march in London and cause traffic disruption for many miles. I confess I didn’t understand why any of this was necessary. Aren’t the Cybermen independently functioning automatons as it is? What’s to be gained by adding human consciousness stripped of its defining characteristic, namely emotion? Wouldn’t that be like topping up oil with more oil? I suppose if the Cybermen were dead it would make sense, but then where did Missy procure the corpses and how did she get them into a facility under St Paul’s unnoticed? Lana thought you might have written the episode backwards – you know, thought about the iconography and conceit first (dead bodies in tanks that are revealed to be the organic component of Cybermen, dead people transported to a virtual afterlife), then worked out how the fuck to tie it all into a coherent story, but I said tish – you’ve never done that and you never would, as it would show contempt for the audience.

None of it quite stacked up, and the laws of the nethersphere were baffling (your uncoupled consciousness can feel what your dead body, er, feels? What?) but I liked the long game played out over the course of the series. Danny existed so he could die: that’s all, and by foregrounding that death, creating the intrigue around Missy’s domain before unceremoniously dumping Danny therein, you set up a powerful reason for the Doctor and Clara to go there, tying the journey into a major character’s fate. In the end, the only thing that scuppered the plan was that the dead man in question was an underwritten bore that no one but Clara cared about – the only reason for her caring being that you did. Though credit where it’s due: the “Dark Water” climax set up the delicious and deranged possibility of a sexual relationship between a woman who once lived inside the brain of a Dalek and a man trapped inside the head of a Cyberman. Only on Doctor Who, Steven, only after one of your late night laudanum sessions.

Finally, in the first episode, there was Missy, or rather the Master. I think we all knew in our hearts it was he – er, I mean she, as you signpost your twists a hundred years ahead of time. I suppose the logic here was to finally show a gender swap regeneration, as no one had the balls to give the Doctor a vagina, but I confess to being a little disappointed by the inevitable reveal. Surely the opportunity here was to develop the Rani, rather than revive the Doctor’s proto-typical nemesis? It would have been nice for the audience, because it would have teased the possibility there were more Time Lords out there, and a neglected villain from the classic era could have been revitalised with a new incarnation. Anyway, at least we won’t be seeing John Simmcard again. I think we can all be grateful for that.

Then we got to episode two and a sensational tease that I knew to be a fuck you to all those like me who’d complained that Clara had been too prominent all season. Clara pretended to be an incarnation of the Doctor to escape Cyber-execution, and although the idea made no sense in the context of all that had come before, her eyes were inserted into the opening titles to add a little credence sauce to this giant scoop of bullshit flavoured ice cream. Now I understand you like to screw around with the audience Steven, but I think this half-hearted bit of fan baiting was ill-advised. One wanted to enjoy “Death in Heaven”, despite its flakiness and lack of a compelling story, but thanks to Clara’s dummy revelation we spent half the show in a state of eerie anticipation and annoyance, trying to fathom how this idiocy could possibly stack up. That it was dismissed just as flippantly, with Clara shrugging her shoulders and revealing she’d made it up to confuse the enemy, just made its senselessness more pronounced somehow. When you pull these little stunts, your manipulations being a lot cruder and more obvious than days of yore I might add, you come the closest you ever have to writing like a fanboy who’s won the chance to write Doctor Who on a very special episode of Shane Richie’s All New Jim’ll Fix It.

“Death in Heaven” summed up this series for me. It was sloppy, frustrating and lacked weight. Sure, pollenating corpses was a creepy idea – who doesn’t like hatching graves, but like so many of your episodes it was presented to us alongside other miscellany, all in search of a story to bed down in and support. Now, I’m not saying you’re tired, Steven, or that you’ve essentially run out of ideas, but this hotchpotch finale could have been mistaken for the work of a man who was tired and had run out of ideas. We had UNIT, the Doctor as president as Earth, the Master playing the delinquent (for the benefit of those who’d missed infantile Time Lords) and a nebulous alien threat (the motive not being clear until the end, but we’ll come to that in a moment). This is the tickbox approach to Doctor Who finales; the kind of stuff show runners like you reach for when you can’t think of a great character story.

In fact all the character stuff in “Death in Heaven” was pretty thin. The episode was supposed to pivot on the now doomed love between Danny Beige and Clara, but in the end a nation was left indifferent to the point of sleep, struggling to feel anything as the Cyber-converted Pink said his goodbyes behind his metal helmet. Yes, his sacrifice could be seen as heroic – I mean, he saved the human race for love, the dick, yet, in line with his problematic characterisation all season, he still managed to come across as pious and a little boring in these final moments. That was an issue alright, because this was the alleged crux of the season – the single, devastating moment we’d been groomed to react to with all-consuming devastation. Instead, the Clara and Danny show, the world’s first spin-off to run within its parent programme, ended as it began, with a shrug. In fact it’s a measure of how much I’ve grown to despise Danny that even his noble decision to send the boy he’d murdered back to the realm of the living instead of himself, thereby leaving Clara alone and barren, felt like one last act of self-important grandstanding. Poor Clara would always remember Danny as the man who’d sacrificed his life twice over – once for love and once for redemption, but we’d always know him as human-shaped hole in Capaldi’s first season.

So following Pink’s death and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart’s reincarnation as a Cyberman, who was fortunately in the area when his daughter tumbled through the sky (what’s next, a pint-sized Cyber-Adric?), there was only Missy’s motive left to ponder. Why had she gone to the trouble of raising an army of corpses? Apparently because she wanted to bond with the Doctor – hand him a global squadron of mechanised murderers and watch as his in-built fascist came to the fore. Then the Master could feel better about herself, because the Doctor’s embracing of evil would retrospectively validate her lifetime of evil, and they’d be friends again, or something. Now again we’d been primed to embrace this moment – the season’s tease being whether the Doctor was a good man or not, but when it came to it we really couldn’t invest in the idea. The Doctor suddenly becoming a genocidal king just didn’t seem like a realistic possibility – something the Master would have known if he/she had bothered to recall all his previous encounters with his enemy, and this Doctor never seemed to have that much shade anyway. He was grumpy, yes, and occasionally cold, but a frustrated conqueror? No. If you wanted us to believe that such a thing was possible, thereby giving us a real heart in mouth moment, your writing would have to been a lot stronger this year. This season was never really as dark as touted, nor as morally ambiguous. Your intent was plain to see but your limitations as a dramatist were all too evident. Peter Capaldi’s a fine Doctor, Steven, but he’s unlikely to thrive while you’re writing to formula and commissioning derivative scripts.

Indeed, as Lana pointed out, once I’d made her watch the previous 10 episodes, this has been an uneven and often underwritten year. Clara became a human being, only to trail off in the final episodes. Danny Pink, your great hope for providing a strong emotional arc for the year, crashed and burned, because he was a well-groomed blank, and the archetypal reason men hate their attractive female friend’s partners. And the new Doctor – a more interesting and troubled incarnation than we’ve seen for a long time – both acerbic and strangely innocent at times, felt almost underused. After 12 episodes I’m not sure I know this version, and whereas that means there’s plenty to uncover next year, it’s also symptomatic of how he’s been marginalised in his inaugural batch of episodes. I expected him to dominate his own show – perhaps even lacerate it, but instead he’s been Clara’s curious pal. If the scene in which he lied about finding Gallifrey, intercut with a scene of him smashing the TARDIS console in frustration felt like a great moment, it’s because it was the kind of raw, uncompromising show of feeling we’ve had too little of this year. Capaldi can do more than looked confused, Steven. Isn’t it time you noticed?

Yours in time and cyberspace,


P.S: Nick Frost as Santa Claus? So another Christmas episode about Christmas then. So much for all of time and space.

P.P.S: Wasn’t it sweet of Clara and the Doctor to lie to each other, thinking they were doing the best for their friend, when it fact they were just condemning themselves to loneliness? I hope they find out before Boxing Day.

P.P.P.S: To save you time I’ve devised the titles for the next series. You need only adapt your computer templates accordingly and hey presto, the show’s written itself, which given your performance this year is probably a good idea.

  1. Spookment Basement
  2. The Louche World of the Lizard Creatures
  3. Clench!
  4. Murder at Mongo’s Starpalace
  5. The Horse People
  6. Planetaire Unbound
  7. The Man in the Terraced House Doing a Thing
  8. The Companion Episode
  9. The TARDIS Goes Wild
  10. Night of the Living Phones
  11. The Building with a Human Brain
  12. Fountain of Youth Culture.

The New Old Adventures: 

The Matt Smith Years: 

The Distant Past:

Deep Time:

Gig Review – Midlake at Halifax Minster

Originally posted on The 'Spill:

Midlake 3 v3

Sorry. I’m a bit late with this. The gig was last Friday evening, and I was supposed to write it up and post within 24hrs. But first of all I had a bit of a cider hangover (thanks Bruv, Gordon & Ali), which took out Saturday. Then I ended up working all the way up on the Cumbrian coast on Sunday (took me so long to get back I missed the World Cup Final). And finally I got an email from Michael Hann on Monday morning saying that The Graun wouldn’t be using the review even if I sent it! So that kinda took away any sense of urgency I might have had.

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Published in: on July 18, 2014 at 09:11  Leave a Comment  

Is That All There Is has moved


Dear Lovelies,

Your 347th favourite blog has moved to a new location. New posts will appear at:

I’m sorry to say the old ones are archived there too.

I hope you’ll continue to read it. If you won’t, who will?

See you on the other side,



Published in: on July 17, 2014 at 13:09  Leave a Comment  

Who Murderised Lucy Beale? One EastEnders Viewer Speculates


Stuck in the West Country, with little to do but think about EastEnders’ plot and the effects of a limited gene pool on hereditary disease, I wondered who’d murdered Ian Beale’s fat-free daughter. Reasoning that the answer was hiding in plain sight and mindful that the solution wasn’t tricksy or left field, as intimated by Executive Producer and smiter of young girls, Dominic Treadwell-Collins (DTC), so not a spear of frozen urine from a passing aircraft, melted away by the time the body was discovered on Easter Monday, I’ve put together these plausible scenarios, based on close-viewing and the desire to say I told you so in 10 months time. If I’m right, what do I win? Your respect and admiration that’s what: plus my place in the pantheon of armchair detectives.

The Accidental Death Theory:

How can characters seem unperturbed the morning after Lucy’s demise, yet still be guilty you say? There are only two in-story possibilities: a) they’re psychopaths or b) they didn’t know they’d killed Lucy. Assuming B is true, a number of characters could be in the frame; characters that may have confronted Lucy over an as yet unknown issue, for example, her missing snout, injured her and left, without knowing that smashing her head with an anvil was fatal.

This scenario puts half the cast in the frame, including brother Peter, who could conceivably be Lucy’s coke dealer, or indeed Lauren 2. The dramatic irony of Lauren 2 accidentally giving Lucy a fatal gash in an argument about one thing, while unaware her best friend was riding her perverse Pa, would be soup-thick. But this theory’s tendrils penetrate so many characters in so many places that it starts to become a dead end: did Whitney beg to see Lucy to have it out over Lance Corporal Carter only to beat the stick insect with her breasts, unaware that Lucy’s skull was, like the rest of her, paper thin? Did Max give her a whack? Was Lucy seeing David on the quiet and threatened to tell cancerous Carol, necessitating a thump with a big bag of medicines? Without new information this gets us nowhere so let’s turn a stone over and examine, amongst the worms and bugs…

The Pressure Cooker Theory:

I find it hard to believe that Lucy’s death was premeditated; something in my viewer’s brain says it was a row gone wrong, but a row about what? Who’s got a beef big enough? Well here subtle clues can yield big rewards. Remember Masood whining because Jane was shackled to Ian’s litter? It could have been a throw away remark or, for the sake of this blog post, it could have been the seed of a dark thought in the increasingly demented postman’s mind – the idea that if you break the family you break the link. Ridiculous, you say? Well at least I’m trying damn it, and no, I have no idea why Masood would lure Lucy to the common. Maybe they arranged to meet at the flats, Masood’s plan being to bully Lucy into driving Jane away; perhaps he confronted her drunk, grabbed her legs for emphasis and she threatened to tell Jane he was a pervert of note? You don’t like that? Okay, then what about Abi – so bad tempered the morning after. What if she was the one tormenting her Dad with photographic evidence of his latest paedophilic fantasies, texted Lucy to warn her off and a fight ensued? If that doesn’t knead your dough what about a case of mistaken identity? Lucy’s final text could be a red herring – indeed any of Jake’s dishes. What if Abi, terrified that Jay and Lola were getting close, mistook Lucy for Lola in the gloaming? Why would she be following her and how could she make that mistake when Lucy wore a distinctive polka dot shirt and grey suit, you ask? Well don’t you have a lot of questions.

The Jake Factor:

We all saw Jake looking guilty and full of jitters the morning after the murder. Assuming this is simple misdirection, because you wouldn’t wish to tip the audience off just five minutes into a year long story, he can’t be guilty, right? But hold the fuck on. What if Jake didn’t kill Lucy but saw who did? Witnessing a murder can make a man very edgy. I know what you’re thinking; don’t I have something else to think about? Somewhere I need to be? Why don’t I try dating or something? But you’re also saying, okay Ed, why doesn’t Jake just go to the filth? Well that, my dear Watsons, could be because he’s close to the killer and doesn’t want to turn them in. Were the culprit Lauren 2, for example – Jake might think twice. He might also stop short of handing in Abi for the same reason. He wouldn’t shop Max, because of his familial association with Lauren 2, nor Alex, his womanising landlord who we currently know very little about but understand to be involved in some black market chicanery. Was Alex selling Lucy white line? I know, you’ve never seen the two have so much as a conversation have you? And now you never will, but I’m confident there’s more to Alex than meets the square eye: DTC didn’t grow him in a lab from the DNA of an ‘80s KGB agent, just to comment on the local market and ask Jake what he did the previous evening. Watch that bastard, he’s into something: dead girls and dope.

The Unlikelies:

Beyond the zone of evidence the unlikely candidates get a little more unusual but are you really going to write them off in a show that once offered a wronged wife burying her husband alive? I refer to the likes of Ronnie, a woman on the edge following her recent Lola episode, in which she smashed her with a car and conflated her victim with dead daughter Danielle. I wouldn’t want to be a young blonde woman around Ronnie, would you? Add to the mix the mirthless Mitchell’s recent promotion to murderess, the fact she’s mentally and psychologically unstable and has a nasty habit of interfering with other people’s kids, and you’ve got a suspect. What’s her motive, you cry? Well try this: Alex is banging Roxy, Alex is also plundering Lucy, Ronnie finds out, goes berserk, confronts Lucy and gives her a bit of the ol’ Carl White. But what of the photograph of Lucy and Max you say? I’m prepared to put that down to a jealous Jake, following Lucy around but also keen to get a little payback for Max’s hypocritical piousness over his ruinous affair with Lauren 2. Maybe Jake had a habit of following Lucy and this lead to him witnessing the murder. He’s got no loyalty to Ronnie of course but won’t want to implicate Alex – the man gave him a room and venue to meet women for a peppercorn rent.

Sure, that’s reaching but the rest is even more outlandish. Terry Spraggan, ladies and genitals: a character that has little reason to be now Bianca’s left him plot-inactive. She thought he was a dirty old man – a groper of Whitney, but what if it was a case of right instinct, wrong feminoid? Perhaps Terry does have a taste for young girls and his attempt at cracking onto Lucy, who reminded him of old squeeze Nikki, went horribly wrong…or right, depending on your point of view.

Okay, you hate that, what about Sharon? Yeah, that’s right – good old, drug dependent Sharon. She wouldn’t want Phil knowing she was dealing would she? He’d throw her out and she’d be back to square one with that brat Denny in tow. So what if Lucy threatened to tell Phil after a row over coke pricing? Or she threatened to tell her Dad what Sharon was up to and Sharon feared the worst? Ridiculous you bleat, but if this is a 30th anniversary reveal, DTC may want to make the perpetrator a classic cast member, and what scenario would pack a greater punch that Ian discovering his life long friend had murdered his daughter?

The So Remotes They’re Hardly Worth Considering:

We’re in ultra-mad territory when talking about as yet unseen but still very much alive Nasty Nick Cotton, the man responsible for Walford’s first ever on-screen death – a story that may tie to the mysterious Charlie (geddit, Charlie?) and his Dot Con. Less likely still is deranged War Veteran Lee, who may have PTSD and frequent flashes of as yet unseen violence.  Jane, who has no motive and no history of violence, but is played by an actress with the same initials as Lucy, is a remote outsider at this stage. Dean Wicks – just returned, but maybe a peripheral presence for longer than we know and responsible for Lucy’s coke addiction, could be one to watch. Danny Pennant – no friend of Lucy but not on screen either so not a great suspect, can’t be ruled out. Phil – Ian’s long time enemy and perhaps, spiteful shagger of Daddy’s girl, is the longest of shots but the real kick would come from finding out that the killer was from within…

The Beale Clan:

It makes a perverse sort of sense that Lucy’s killer may be a very close relative. Sure, you can take your pick from jealous Cindy, butter wouldn’t melt Jane, and reliable but controlling Peter, but of course the real shock would be an unmasking of none other than show stalwart and ever reliable paterfamilias, Ian. Impossible you say? Well consider this. DTC said he had Broadchurch in mind when plotting the bastard, but what about that other dead kid odyssey, Twin Peaks?

Now I’m not suggesting Ian’s literally possessed by a serial killer but what if he’s a Jekyll and Hyde character – reliable, boorish businessman by day, deranged, child abusing bad Dad by night? What, you ask, could be more tragic than that? Did Lucy not recoil when he spoke of the two of them taking the family forward? Did she not act like a damaged child, throwing herself at so many older men? Ian’s a bit controlling but he’s not a terrible Dad – Peter, Cindy and Bobby seem fine, so why should Lucy be so fucked up? Anyone who’s seen Tim Roth’s The War Zone knows why. A schizoid Ian Beale would be a hard sell to a nation that feels they know this fundamentally good weasel inside out, but what a story! Did you see the way Ian looked out of his kitchen window the morning after the murder? Those dead eyes as he rang Lucy’s mobile? Go down to William Hill tomorrow and put everything you have on the Christmas revelation being that Ian’s been hiding treatment for dual personality disorder: a dissociative condition that allows him to function as a normal man while hiding a monster that demands attention after lights out. Why haven’t Ian’s previous wives seen both men, you say? Well maybe Ian’s time on the street upset the balance of his mind more than we thought; Mandy will do that to you. It may seem unthinkable but outing the show’s longest running character as a grade A schizoid on the night of the 30th anniversary, a man who’s spent the last ten months looking for himself, may be too much of a temptation for DTC. The biggest shock in EastEnders’ history? You better believe it.

Remember I told you.

Lucy Beale’s killer will be revealed to the nation on February 19th 2015 and Ed doesn’t have a fucking clue who it is, obviously.

Published in: on April 24, 2014 at 16:32  Leave a Comment  
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Goodbye and Good Riddance to BBC3


I hope it won’t empower those who see BBC3’s detractors as snobs and Herod-like enemies of the young, if I confess to masturbating with furious vigour and indecent grunting at the news that the corporation’s dedicated youth channel would soon be consigned to a haunted afterlife on the Internet. There it will take its rightful place amongst content detritus like cats in suits, Biggles with lizards and this blog, becoming part of the short form, attention deficit baiting, empty headed distractarama that anecdotal, that is to say unreliable evidence tells us our babes oft prefer to the well-produced, scripted television their parents were lumbered with, the poor, lucky bastards.

TV comedy producer Ash Atalla was furious at the decision, which he presumably learned about watching Three’s ADHD-friendly sixty second news. Atalla’s beef was that exterminating Three disenfranchised the young and working class. In the new history of Television (ed. David Irving), it had therefore become a fact that before the crowning of BBC3, its head covered in the blood and feculence of lazy assumptions, there was no BBC television for the young. Not a sausage. 16-34 year olds, though catered for in every other walk of life, threw their hands up and declared “for shame, nought’s made for me – no drama, no comedy, no documentaries – nothing – it’s as if the people who make television assume there’s some overlap between adult interests and my own. How little they know me, how neglected is my generation, how culturally impoverished am I.”

Yet watching Atalla berate Tony Hall and the suits who’d turned off the cameras as the highbrow mafia, it was hard not think of my own experience as a BBC viewer during teen and twentysomethingdom, and my recollection that the absence of a ghetto for youth programming didn’t dent my faith in the corporation one little bit.

Call me what you like, call me typical, call me someone who watched a lot of television, call me young at the time, but I never sat slumped in front of the drool box, enjoying a varied schedule designed to pique my interest on matters external to my everyday experience, fully conscious of the difference between the broader, more family orientated fare on BBC1 and the alternative, special interest programming and edgier comedy on BBC2, and thought, “there’s just nothing for me here; not a damn thing. Where’s my cup and ball?”

But someone in television, someone frightened that in the brave new world of digital broadcasting, where audiences once groomed to enjoy a balanced diet of news, arts and entertainment were aggressively reprogrammed to narrow their menu using niche channels as a way eliminating all that superfluous, wrongheaded variety – young audiences would leave the BBC to binge on television’s answer to crisps and chocolate: E4, Yikes, TelewizonWOW, and many more made up but highly plausible new digi-stations.

These brains worried, despite knowing nothing of the audience they feared losing, that so incurious were they, so indifferent to the adult world – contrary to the experience of every teenager who’s ever lived, and so self-absorbed – prisoners of their own, boorish, age-specific obsessions, that only a dedicated channel that offered an alternative, not just to commercial rivals but all that yawn inducing, high minded public service gruel on exant BBC services, could hope to retain them as willing licence fee payers. Sure, some fool argued that the BBC as it was provided those kids with an alternative to the slush they could suck up just about everywhere else and consequently the still forming brats were more than catered for, maybe even talked up to, but no: the suits had no faith in the pulling power of the alternative so designed Three to halt the exodus.

Thus a channel was born from the odious assumption that the only content of value to Jack and Jill Sprat was that as empty headed, glib and prurient as the BBC imagined them to be. Of course it was possible that an 18 year old interested in theatre may tune in to watch a two part Arena film celebrating the National – editorially sober, unapologetically highbrow, culturally interrogative – but such a youth was an aberration and certainly not reflective of the degenerates cuming into a rolled up copy of the Radio Times as their feckless, drink soaked parents collapsed in the outhouse.

BBC3’s version of the same documentary would have to descend to meet its target audience’s barrel scraping standard. Penelope Wilton’s voiceover would be replaced by tongue in cheek links from Rick Edwards, interviews with British Theatre’s doyens would have to be seasoned with the kind of facile asides beloved of a jejune generation – “Jonathan Miller, did you and Peter Cook ever play soggy biscuit?” – and the only plays featured would star James Corden. How else could a sapling relate to the material? Calling the show Arena would also be out of the question. What’s an arena when it’s at home? What does this strange, unfamiliar word have to do with theatre? Best to keep it simple and eye catching so the archetypal BBC3 viewer knows exactly what to expect: Theatre and Plays…with Rick fucking Edwards.

When you assume your audience are stupid and tell yourself that by making programmes calibrated to appeal to their presumed idiocy you’re doing them a favour, and therefore fulfilling your public service obligations, the programmes effectively make themselves. By auditing what’s hot amongst the obtuse and characterless using tried and tested techniques like overheard conversations, your sister’s Facebook updates on her kids and a skim through Twitter, a whole schedule can be created (padded out with films and repeats) that takes the pulse of today’s young bucks and does, only falling short when it comes to nurturing the inner life of a varied and open minded audience. Hairdressin’, Fucking Abroad, Celebrity Snafu, The Tawdry Adventures of Dick and Fanny, School Com, Kids with Flick Knives, Help Me, I’m Bored – commissioning takes a lunchtime. The titles aren’t important because the content neatly falls into place regardless.

Ash Atalla’s so of the now he can’t remember a time when the BBC wasn’t patronising younger licence fee payers. Those with longer memories may conclude that giving 16-34 year olds programming that extends into television every child’s natural instinct to be a part of the adult conversation around the dinner table (yes that old middle class ritual), is healthy, humane and the epitome of Reithan values, that old set of ideas, today rebranded elitist, that once justified the BBC’s funding model.

BBC3 wasn’t just unnecessary, it devolved the viewing experience of the young. Its stars have good reason to be worried; they’ll soon be asked to test their material against the far stricter admission criteria of BBCs 1 and 2. Many will be found wanting. They’re gonna need better knob gags. In the meantime the channel’s advocates will argue that BBC3 programmes are popular with their target viewers. We might call this the viewer paradox. Ignorant, white middle class television executives create programmes for an imaginary constituency of undemanding youths, which once screened, become what they watch. Retrospectively justifying the decision to create those shows, indeed the channel that hosted them, consequently becomes as easy as being affiliated to PIE. But we paid for this bilge my friends, our money retarded our kid’s viewing experience, and the best apology we can offer to the little bastards is to get them watching more aspirant fare before we lose them forever to the world of perma-stunted, frivolous web vomit.

This post was originally entitled F**k off, BBC3 but subsequently rechristened in the interests of talking up to readers.

Published in: on March 7, 2014 at 14:25  Leave a Comment  
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A Guide to the Scottish Independence Referendum for Seven Year Olds

Alex Salmond

Alex Salmond’s pitch to the Scottish people, mixing sleight of hand with a prospectus that’s simplistic, not to mention historically and culturally disingenuous, is predicated on the assumption that the average voter has the same intelligence as a seven year old.

Here, for balance, is a guide to the debate aimed at real seven year olds who are advised to absorb this information and pass it on to their less informed parents and older relatives.

This guide takes the form of a Q and A:

What is Scottish independence?

Scottish Independence refers to a debate that’s happening right now in Scotland, the northern most part of the United Kingdom. Some people in Scotland think this region is a country that’s ruled by the English, a large group of moustache twirling, monocle wearing people who live below them. In September they plan to vote on whether Scotland should legally become a separate state. If they vote yes then the country we were all born into will be destroyed.

Why do they think Scotland’s a separate country?

They’re confused between the past and the present. Three hundred years ago Scotland was a self-governing kingdom. Scotland wanted to build an Empire in South America, so they sent their soldiers there to build a colony called Caledonia. This was called the Darien Scheme. But the Spanish people who lived there didn’t want to share their stolen land with Scotland, so they fought them and the Scots were forced to go home. The trip cost a lot of money and made Scotland very poor, so they decided to join up with their rich neighbours in England. The result was a legal act of union that formed today’s United Kingdom.

But not everyone liked the idea of marrying into money. Over many generations Scots that didn’t like being with the English began to say that they’d been deceived into giving up their independence. These people said the English weren’t friends but oppressors, who treated Scotland like a colony of the British Empire. Because that idea made Scots feel better about themselves it was preferred to the truth. In fact Scotland was a partner not a colony and benefited enormously, both culturally and economically, from being part of one of the richest trading empires in the history of the world. But the people who hated the English, (and yes it’s perfectly fine to start a sentence with a conjunction, your English teacher is wrong) because their Mums and Dads had brought them up to believe this twaddle, ignored this. They started to say England and Scotland should go their separate ways.

Isn’t it silly to say something’s true now because it was in the past?

Yes. But sometimes people are very sentimental about the past, despite not knowing anything about it, so sometimes want things to go back the way they imagine things were, without really knowing how they were.

Who says Scotland and England should break up?

The Scottish National Party or SNP. They’re lead by a man called Alex Salmond.

If the union between Scotland and England has been successful, why does Alex want to break up?

Sometimes in partnerships, when one person has less power than the other, they can feel inferior. People who feel this way can feel anger and resentment toward the other person, the same way we sometimes think it’s unfair that our bigger brothers and sisters get to do what they want when we can’t. Alex feels that way about England.

How do you know he doesn’t like England?

Alex’s friends became more popular when a racist called Mel Gibson made a propaganda film called Braveheart. A propaganda film is a film that tells a lie to try and make people think a certain way. Mr Gibson’s film showed the English being very bad toward the Scots. Mr Gibson is from Australia. Sometimes people from Australia also hate the English, the way some people hate their parents. Mr Gibson hates the English and made a film he knew Scottish people who also hated the English would like. When Alex saw the film he was very pleased. He said thank you to Mr Gibson by putting a picture of him into Scotland’s National Museum. Putting a picture of Mr Gibson in a museum sent a message that Alex not only believed what the film said, because he put it in a place for things that are historically important, but that he liked it very much.

Was the film popular?

It was. Mr Gibson made it for people who believe, as Alex believes, that the English are cruel and rule Scotland without their permission. This is a very popular lie that has become part of Scottish culture. It’s one of their favourite fairy tales.

Alex sounds like a very angry man, is there a name for someone like that?

People who hate other people because of where they’re from are sometimes called bigots. A bigot ignores what’s good about a person, and the benefits of having them around, and looks at them with fear and anger because they are different. Sometimes they feel threatened by them because they are different. This is why mice hate cats.

Is hating the English the only reason Alex wants to break up?

No. Alex is also a self-important man who wants more power for himself and to become a Scottish national hero and a person of historical interest. He wants to be Mr Braveheart, the character he liked in Mel Gibson’s film.

What does self-important mean?

It means you think you’re a very important person, though you may not have done anything to become important. People who think this way are usually making up for the fact that other people don’t think they’re as important as they think they are.

I don’t understand

Alex wants to be Prime Minister of Scotland but he can’t be because of the United Kingdom. Before there was a Scottish parliament Alex was a member of the House of Commons, but no one took much notice of him there. He wasn’t very impressive and no one in Scotland thought he should be Prime Minister.

Then one day Scotland got its own parliament that elected people in a way that allowed Alex’s party to win more seats without being any more popular or interesting. Slowly, in this new, easier parliament, Alex started to win more seats because the other parties weren’t very good (all the good politicians were in England), and became First Minister, but he still didn’t have much power.

He’s like a footballer playing in the first division who wants to be a premier league player but isn’t good enough. But if you break away from the Football Association and become the only league, then you get to be the new best league. That’s why Alex doesn’t want to play with England anymore.

Do Scottish people know this is the real reason?

Some do. They’re called unionists. But nationalists like Alex believe him when he says Scotland will be better off on their own with him in charge.

But maybe Alex likes the English but wants to do things on his own?

That’s what he says but he’s a liar.

How do you know?

Because of the things Alex has said in the past. Alex isn’t against unions you see, he only dislikes the successful one with England – one of the most successful ever. A while ago, before he discovered it was dangerous, he wanted Scotland to join the Euro – that’s the money they use in Europe. Joining the Euro means letting people in Brussels, the capital of Europe, make most of the decisions about your money. Alex didn’t mind Germany and France being in charge of Scotland but he doesn’t like being partners with England, the people he says are Scotland’s closest friends. This makes him very stupid.

What else has he said?

That he doesn’t really want anything to change. He’d like things to be like they are now, only with him in charge of everything. Scotland will still have England’s queen and he’d like to keep the United Kingdom’s money. He also wants people to move from one kingdom to the other without controls, like they do now. The only difference is that the parliament Alex works in will make all of Scotland’s decisions, instead of most of them.

Can’t it make all of them without leaving the UK?

It can. It would require a change in the law, nicknamed “Devo Max”. Devo means devolution. That means giving power from a big parliament to a smaller one. It’s like me giving you a floor of the house to do whatever you want with but I still own the house in case something bad happens, so I can fix it.

Why doesn’t Alex just call Max then?

No, Max isn’t a person. Never mind that. Alex wants to have the house, even though he can’t pay for it all by himself and the union put all the good stuff in it like the welfare state and the National Health Service and the book shelves, because he doesn’t like the English and the English pay the mortgage.

You keep talking about the England and Scotland as different places but I thought we were one big country?

Good, glad you’re paying attention. That’s right, we are. Alex likes to pretend we’re not because if he can make people think we’re already separate then they won’t notice he’s doing anything wrong. English and Scottish people have lived together for three hundred years in one big state. We each have our differences but we’re more alike than different. Some Scottish people live in England and some English people live in Scotland. We share lots of things. Scotland and England have their own character but they are not different countries in the same way that France and Brazil are different countries.

My Scottish Dad says that the pound belongs to Scotland too and that those Westminster bastards are threatening to take it from us if we leave, is this true?

No (and watch your language). This is the lie that Alex has told imaginary Scottish people like you. To get his way, Alex must pretend that everything will be the same after a yes vote, except Scotland will be a separate state, but it won’t. The pound is the United Kingdom’s currency, not Scotland’s. It only belongs to Scotland while it stays part of the United Kingdom, in the same way that you can’t play in the garden behind the house you used to live in because you’ve moved out. If Scotland leaves the United Kingdom then all the things that come with being part of the United Kingdom – the money, our special membership of the European Union, the thirty million taxpayers south of the border, will be left behind too.

But my Dad says that if England refuses to share the pound that’s okay because we won’t pay our part of the national debt.

That’s fine but according to all the experts that would make Scotland what we call an “economic pariah”, which means that no one else in the world would ever lend it any money because it didn’t pay its debts. It wouldn’t even get a Vanquis credit card, and they’ll give one to anybody.

What’s special about Europe and why do people keep talking about it?

At the moment Scotland is part of a massive power sharing club called the European Union, because the UK is a member and Scotland is part of the UK. Aside from the irony that Alex doesn’t want to be part of a self-governing union but does want to remain part of a larger one that isn’t very democratic, Scotland will probably have to re-apply to be a member of the club as a new country. Alex likes to pretend Scotland wouldn’t be a new country, legally speaking, but it would because it isn’t now. That’s the point.

Nicola, Alex’s deputy said on the radio once, “Europe’s about taking down borders and barriers between countries”. She said this to argue with the man who told her that Europe might not let Scotland in as a new country. By using this argument she showed that, like Alex, she’s not really thought any of this through because if you want to take down borders and barriers, separating from a place you have no barriers with is probably not the best way. Alex and Nicola are both funny people who are thinking so hard about being apart from England that they don’t care if they contradict themselves.

What does contradict mean?

It means when you say the opposite of what you say you mean to show what you’re saying is true.

That doesn’t make sense.

I know.

Why would someone do that?

Perhaps because they can’t say what they really think because they know it will make them look silly to intelligent people.

Dad says that Scottish people in England and Wales can’t vote is that true?

That’s right. They just have to hope that the Scottish people that never left home don’t vandalise the country because Alex succeeds in appealing to their prejudices.

That doesn’t sound fair.

It’s not really but Alex doesn’t want Scottish people living and working in the rest of the UK to have a say because those people won’t be fooled by the lie that we’re all living in different countries, as they know better.

My Dad sa-

You talk about your Dad a lot; doesn’t your Mum have any questions? Perhaps your Dad doesn’t like her to have her own opinions. Perhaps she’s looking for a new man. Why don’t you give your Mum my e-mail address and I’ll take her out?

My Dad says Scottish 16 year olds will be able to vote is that true?

Yes. Alex thinks that older children are more excited by things that are new, like the idea of a new country, and have not lived long enough to have a broad and complicated understanding of history and politics, so are more likely to vote yes.

This sounds terrible. I wish it wasn’t happening.

So do I. Now go and tell your parents to vote no before a bunch of spacks decapitate Great Britain.

Scots go to the polls in September, in a vote coincidentally scheduled in the 700th anniversary year of The Battle of Bannockburn; a coincidence highly unlikely to influence the result as no one’s stupid enough to vote on the politics of the 14th century in the 21st. Surely?

Published in: on February 19, 2014 at 08:00  Leave a Comment  
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Dear Steven Moffat: Sherlock – The Sign of Three/His Last Vow

Sherlock S3E3

Dear Steven,

I was going to send a separate letter for the second and third episode of this year’s Sherlock but I’m too fucking lazy, and besides there is, as we discovered during a very strange final episode, some overlap between the two.

I know you’ve had a lot of criticism over this series. You’ve been told it’s little better than idiotic fan fiction with all the lapses in tone, character and sense you’d expect from authors far less capable than Arthur Conan Doyle, and that’s just been me! Imagine what the Great British Public are saying? They must be furious.

I’m a dye in the wool Sherlockian, Steven. I spent a fortune on cocaine, just so I could have a habit like my hero. I went to the Reichenbach Falls and threw myself in. Hell, I even abstained from relationships with women, just so I could taste the life of the perpetual bachelor. The latter wasn’t easy y’know, they’ve been hammering down the door at the rate of one every 15 years and counting – I’m having to have it reinforced! But despite my devotion to the great detective, in fact most Disney movies featuring mice, I’m actually on board with the fanfic approach.

Yeah, be surprised if you like, but my logic is simple. You’ve set the show in the twenty first century. Being a purist under these circumstances is a waste of time. Sure, you can rip off the original’s iconography, pun the story titles, but there’s something intrinsically late Victorian/early Edwardian about the adventures of Holmes and Watson, so the only way to enjoy Sherlock is to see it as a modern day valentine to the original; a show that celebrates intelligence and the exceptional outsider, just as Conan Doyle did.

It’s a good job I feel this way Steven because I think we can both agree that with every episode of your version the link between Doyle and yourself becomes ever more tenuous. Some would go as far as saying that the odd episode suggests you don’t even understand the original at all (A Scandal in Belgravia) but once you accept the show’s a pastiche, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, can at least be enjoyed on its own terms.

I had that sentence written out and attached to my TV as I watched last week’s The Sign of Three. I know some people hated this episode, in fact a snap poll conducted by me over curried chicken stuffed with cheese and spinach, found that one person marked it as “a load of bollocks”, while the other found it to be “twattish rubbish”. In contrast I thought it was the funniest and perhaps best structured episode you bastards have even done. The conceit of a mystery being outlined, thought through and solved during the best worst best man’s speech ever delivered, was a fine idea, Steven. Like Cumberbatch’s Sherlock I find the argument for marriage specious, sentimental and idiotic but the institution’s existence was validated via its inclusion in this story. I found it supremely satisfying that a character that existed on the fringes of society in Victorian Britain can still, with a little added autism, speak so vividly to twenty first century outsiders who find their friend’s rituals and rigid conformity both stifling and intellectually incomprehensible.

It struck me that you’d have to be humourless and curmudgeonly indeed not to enjoy Sherlock’s anti-oratory. I’ll credit you, Gatiss and the other one, Steven – it took skill to make this episode both touching and uproariously funny but you did it. In fact everything in this instalment worked for me, from the blood alcohol calibrated stag night to Sherlock’s murder Q and A. I especially liked the way that the wedding, normally a redundant and melodramatic device to wring a little conflict and pathos from a cast of characters, was reverse engineered to become the centrepiece of the plot. When I thought about why it worked, I realised that this was a scenario that played to your strengths. It was inherently ridiculous, it gave you the opportunity to have fun with a whole draw full of clichés and you got to be tangential, except this time you had the mighty wedding with its well known trajectory acting as a lighthouse, bringing you home every time. Yes, all was well Steven; then His Last Vow happened.

So why, when The Sign of Three, with all its silliness and Jonathan Creek style eccentricity, worked so well, did His Last Vow feel so stupid? Well this wasn’t the jocund Sherlock of last week, oh no, rather the ponderous and po-faced finale both fanboys and girls alike expected. After all, we wouldn’t want to believe you weren’t taking it seriously, yet it’s when you attempt serious plotting that the strain starts to show. Episodes like Vow vividly illustrate what many of us have long suspected, particularly those who’ve been watching a lot of Doctor Who; you’re a great ideas factory but you’re not a dramatist.

Your spin on The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton was a reminder that the word Sherlock, when studied closely with a magnifying glass, looks a lot like schlock. This is the kind of story where characters who spoke and acted like human beings, not excitable children or smug adolescents, really would have paid dividends; a story where plot logic would have been welcomed like an old friend; where plot could remain simple as you wouldn’t want the impulse to shock to upend your characters. Sadly you said fuck it to all that and did the opposite.

I wanted to believe in this episode but I spent most of it muttering, “are you fucking kidding me?” or variants thereof. You instantly started to rub me up the wrong way with the wholly misjudged comic tone. This may be news to you but the kids will forgive you if you don’t undercut every scene with a joke; that takes the edge of it and edge is what we need, not characters that talk like glib ironicists.

You could say that Sherlock was more human in this episode, more fallible, but another way of looking at it is that he’d become docile, as though he was still hungover from the wedding. I wondered if this was an import from a draft where Holmes had spent most of the story licking a sugar coated iceberg. That made sense, not least when he was shot by, er, Mary and went on a long and self-indulgent journey around his mind palace. Had he been on drugs, perhaps crazed on Devil’s Foot, this overlong and soul achingly depressing sequence might have felt congruous with the action, but instead it just seemed silly. Come on Steven, be honest – did the BBC make you take all the cocaine stuff out? Most coke addicts are boorish, gabbling arseholes, I understand that, but few of them – well, none – have Sherlock’s marbles. Wasn’t this a chance to say to the young adults of Britain – wake up kids, Class A narcotics aren’t for you, they’re for the super intelligent, the geniuses, the people who can afford it because they have a professional occupation? Instead you left us with an episode that played suspiciously like the writer was on bentines.

Look, this isn’t Sherlock Holmes, I understand that – it’s a pseudo-comic variation on a theme; a version of the character defined by self-awareness, postmodern irony and psychobabble – so very much a man for our times, but can’t you close your eyes at night and try and infiltrate the lost mind palace of Arthur Conan Doyle? After all, he was a man who gave some thought to shit making sense – a lot more than you, anyway.

So Mary Watson, in probably the stupidest twist in TV history, is a former CIA assassin – a trained killer with numerous professional hits under her belt. Are we really supposed to believe that she wouldn’t kill Sherlock when he walked in on her and Magnussen? What’s that, she got sentimental? Well you better hope I get a similar pang when I visit you in the early hours of the morning.

John forgives Mary, without wanting to know her past, why exactly? Because he loves her? Well I loved her too, Steven, until I realised she was a killer and then I started to ask questions. The thing is, if you wanted to make Watson all gooey eyed about it, after months of conjugal abstinence, then it was a mistake to make Mary pregnant. Only a fuckwit would chuck away a file on his killer wife with a baby on the way. What if that file showed she’d murdered kids? Or that she already had some and had strangled her last ten husbands? What if the file revealed her nickname was “The Black Widow”? Would you really want that kind of woman raising your daughter? And don’t tell me The Long Kiss Goodnight shows that ex-female assassins can come good and get maternal because that was a Renny Harlin movie and thus by default a fucking lie.

While we’re on the subject doesn’t Mary being a multiple murderer make her the antithesis of everything Watson believes? I know he’s seen some action abroad but crucially he’s a military doctor, he’s sworn an oath to preserve life. I could understand Watson forgiving Mary on the spur of the moment but after three months of careful consideration? It looks like John’s made a few compromises with himself here; something you tried to cover with Sherlock’s “you chose her” speech; but what I saw and I suspect many millions of others, was a character altered to facilitate a decision you’d already made. Not because it preserves the integrity of the character, just because you liked the idea.

Oh yes, and you made Sherlock a murderer; a crime for which he was sentenced to four minutes on a plane. My hero. Alright, you created a situation where it turns out the world’s most dangerous man is an idiot who reveals that all that stands between Sherlock and freedom is his death because all the incriminating information only exists in his head, so killing the bastard is the only sensible thing to do, but Sherlock Holmes shoots a man in cold blood?! Watson didn’t seem to have an opinion on that either. I had one though; to me it looked suspiciously like Sherlock had killed the man out of wounded pride. I know your Holmes doesn’t handle defeat well, but murder? Well, this is fan fiction Steven, I know it – I’m okay, I just hope you realise this is like making Superman a killer, and I’m sure you’d agree that no one would be stupid enough to do that.

So that was the third series of Sherlock. It was mostly fun, I mean we learned that Holmes has had the same haircut since childhood, but can I ask, you know in my capacity as your ol’ mucker, that for series 4 you get some crime writers in? What about The Fall’s Allan Cubitt? He wrote Prime Suspect 2, you know. He could plot them and you, Gatiss and the other one could add the jokes and the pop culture stuff. He’d still write the big scenes you understand, you know, the ones you needed to sell, but it could work. It may even allow for the possibility that one day, maybe in 20 years time, we’ll rewatch the series and say, “man, it was good wasn’t it? It’s really held up to repeat viewings”.



P.S: You may have brought back Moriarty. This, you know, is sacrilege. Still, as no one cares anymore, in for a penny…

It’s still wrong though.

Keep on sleuthing in the free world:

Dear Steven Moffat: Sherlock – The Empty Hearse


Dear Steven,

Normally I wouldn’t spend time discussing your other child, you know the one you only see for a few weeks every year, but I have downtime and I thought you’d welcome the feedback, you know, like you haven’t previously.

So how successful was The Empty Hearse as an update of The Empty House? Well as ever with this series it was a patty made of allusions, word association and modernica. I like the way Mark Gatiss thinks, not as a dramatist perhaps, and certainly not as a purist, but like Holmes himself.

He’s a lateral writer, going to his mind palace with a few prompts and from there extrapolating the shape and content of the episode using whatever images suggest themselves. So the empty house conjured an association with an empty Houses of Parliament, perhaps vacant because everyone therein had been killed, a plot to murder our elected and archaically unelected representatives suggests the gunpowder plot, which gives our newly resurrected hero a suitably substantial reason to come out of hiding. But how to deliver the bomb in modern times? Well Westminster suggests the nearby tube as well as the palace, from empty hearse, perhaps the first thing the production agreed on as you have to start with a pun these days, you get the image of an empty car. The production’s obsessed with America, because that’s the only foreign market the BBC cares about these days, so car, as an Americanism, suggests carriage, an empty carriage coupled with the tube running under parliament gives you your delivery system and add all of that to the original story’s plot, in which Holmes lies low to flush out the last of Moriarty’s underground network, and you’ve got the underground. Underground + Westminster + empty house + empty car = episode.

Sure the elements may have occurred to Gatiss in a different order or they may have been part suggested by you – perhaps added to a tombola after a team brainstorm, and picked at random, but I’m guessing that’s how it went down. So this, Steven, is the first show in history to be effectively written “in character”, aping the cognitive techniques of the titular ‘tech. I’m not knocking it you understand, my only worry is that it could lead to Doctor Who syndrome – a show that puts conceits and textual irony up front but neglects to strengthen its all important backbone, i.e. Character and plot.

Still, I’m not going to tell you I didn’t enjoy the character work in TEH because there was much to like. Conan Doyle’s Holmes wasn’t so insensitive that he wouldn’t have anticipated a backlash from his long absence when revealing himself to Watson, in fact he was quite apologetic, but Cumberbatch’s insensitivity was right for this iteration. Interrupting Watson’s marriage proposal with his French waiter routine then being graceless about his moustache, felt spot on. I was a little worried that Watson had chosen to marry during a prolonged period of depression but I’m glad you didn’t stoke the homoerotic undercurrent that’s sometimes threatened to trivialise the friendship between the two men by turning Mary into an adversary for Holmes. “I like him” was fine and meant no tiresome retread of the territory soiled in Guy Richie’s last Holmes flick. I was also pleased that Mrs Hudson had maintained a shrine for the fallen detective and didn’t think to charge him for back rent when he returned; both decisions felt well judged.

So what about a satisfying explanation for Holmes surviving the rooftop fall? Well I was glad Gatiss made a running gag out of this. I nearly choked on the idea that Derren Brown, a bungee rope and a face mask might have had something to do it, so the relief when that turned out to be armchair bullshit was palpable. That meant I could enjoy Holmes and Moriarty’s moment of sexual tension on the rooftop as well the final suggestion, nicely handled, that the Jonathan Creek version, simple and not too exciting when you know how, just might be a bluff. I’ll be damned if I can see how else might have happened but I accept that you probably couldn’t think of a better solution either. Fluffing the part of the audience that wouldn’t accept any on screen explanation, was therefore a smart move. I’m just grateful that Holmes didn’t jump inside a large scale tessellating man suit.

So ultimately, despite having a plot instead of, er, a plot if you know what I mean, this was an enjoyable return marked by exciting cinematic direction from Jeremy Lovering. I think when it was reported that Paul McGuigan was off to make movies fewer people would see, there was a worry that these feature length episodes would lose some of their visual wit; the fate that befell the episodes in the first two series he didn’t lens; but not a bit of it. Lovering has his own style and it’s very rich indeed. Speaking of visual gloss, my compliments to the FX house charged with blowing up the Palace of Westminster. We’ve seen it done many times with rushed CGI in terrible Hollywood blockbusters but here, at last, was a bang you could believe in. It was a great moment in a fun episode. “There’s always an off switch” noted Sherlock, but thanks to some good gags and smart pacing, we never had cause to consider using ours. With that in mind I await your contribution to series 3 with interest.



More Sleuth Saying:


Published in: on January 1, 2014 at 23:49  Leave a Comment  
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Dear Steven Moffat: The Time of the Doctor


Dear Steven,

Christmas in Graubünden isn’t bad, even when you’re confined to a sanitarium for sci-fi victims and can only enjoy the winter wunderland through a three by two window covered in gauze. The orderlies are nice here, they let you pull a cracker, though the chemically impregnated card strip has been removed in case the bang triggers seizures. I got a great present too; my friend Hayley sent me a Starship Enterprise pizza cutter, though it was confiscated and destroyed in a controlled explosion on Christmas Eve.

Still, since November I’ve had hope. The discovery of a portal in my room, a wormhole that lead to Central London, gave me cause to believe that I’d get to see the final adventure of Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor after all. You and I have been on his journey together, Steven. Despite the risk to my recovery it felt right that we should be together at the end: you as writer, me as a web pest that insists on reviewing your work at interminable length, despite your earnest (but I feel sure, insincere) legal letters, begging me to stop.

So today I waited until we’d finished our dinner of Turkey feet and parsnip bulb, taken the beating we’re grateful to accept as dessert and been thrown into our rooms, lights out, then took my chance to use the gateway. In a flash I’d returned to London and just an hour and fifty minutes later I’d used the city’s peerless public transport network to travel the 1.8 miles to Saggy Membrane’s place in the demilitarised part of Bermondsey. He wasn’t there but I knew he wouldn’t mind me breaking in and using his TV to enjoy the broadcast. I later remembered I had a key.

Well Steven, I’ve now watched The Time of the Doctor, got over the shock of Matt Smith’s perfectly bald head and formed my impressions. First, kudos: you convinced the BBC to put the show on before Danny Dyer’s debut on EastEnders, knowing that viewers coming off that shock would be in a far more critical, embittered frame of mind. By getting in first and setting the episode in a town called Christmas where the days are short and the snow ever falling, you stood half a chance of investing Smith’s farewell with a bit of Yuletide spirit. Did a story that had cock all to do with the festive period really need those seasonal touches crowbarred in? No, but I suppose that’s one of the directives that comes from on high along with the requirement to cross promote BBC products. References to Strictly Come Dancing and the iPlayer really brought it up a notch though, so well done.

Okay, so to the plot, which tried and almost succeeded in tying every 11th Doctor arc together to give the impression that his was a single story that had been mapped from the outset. Perhaps too much lore turned up on Trenzalore, or maybe I was just too tired having spent half the episode trying to stop Saggy’s cat dangle his tail in front of the screen, but I confess to feeling disappointed that this was a tidying up exercise and not a story with a strong backbone of its own.

Like many of your stories it had the feel of a tale made up on the spot, like a sci-fi version of Whose Line Is It Anyway? At one point I’m sure I heard Clive Anderson’s voice shout “Doctor Who finale” but that could have been Saggy’s ginger wine. There was lots of expository patchwork, enough to make a quilt in fact, and a fair bit of retconing: the Silence’s attempt at killing The Doctor adjusted to include a forestalling of the Time Lords’ return, but I wasn’t quite convinced you knew about any of this before you sat down to belt out a first draft. Still, it just about worked (if you concentrated). Amy’s crack turned out to be a simulacrum of the one hiding Gallifrey, The Silence were just monks that feared another Time War so set out to kill the galaxy’s version of Gavrilo Princip (the so-called Destiny Paradox being an ontological by another name, you bastard), and despite the weight you’d attached it it, it turned out there’s nothing in a name after all, as The Doctor’s was, er, The Doctor: a moniker that explained who he was in essence. By that measure you’d be The Bullshitter.

As always, you took the risk that a story built on a swamp may sink if leant on too hard. For example we could just about accept The Doctor being oblivious to his 13th incarnation’s participation in the previous episode’s fight for Gallifrey; ignorance required to sell the scene in which he told Clara he was out of lives; but it was harder to believe that faced with perpetual stalemate and the prospect of being marooned in space-Berkshire until death, The Doctor wouldn’t simply whisper his name into the crack and summon his people to tip the odds his way, or that it didn’t occur to him to parlay for more lives using either Clara’s argument that he was basically a bloody nice bloke, or the more persuasive one, namely that anyone listening at the other end could only do so because our hero had saved them from oblivion.

So yes, it didn’t make much sense but there were nice touches. You borrowed from, of all things, the Tom Hanks movie Cast Away, to build an unlikely friendship between The Doctor and a severed Cyber-head. Making Smith’s stay centuries long and ageing him was smart: it prepared the audience for the appalling psychic shock that awaited them; the insane, revolutionary, mind melting idea that the next Doctor could be an older man with a lived in face. Alright, the reset was a risk; it made the transition more stark for moist tweenies and semi-retarded viewers; and you made the regeneration lightning fast, as though sneaking it in, wrapping the episode up quick before the kids could process what had happened, but this was a swap well handled. The Doc’s got a fresh set of regenerations, which hopefully won’t be wasted by future Christopher Ecclestons, and we got one last sensuous look at Amy, whose appearance, although utterly contrived, made my loins’ Christmas dreams come true.

And with that the Smith era was over; three years of good jokes, paradoxical plotting, conceptual masturbation and intrusive contemporary idioms. Cometh 2014, cometh Capaldi and maybe hope that reminders of past missteps included in this episode like Clara’s libidinous urges toward The Doctor, references to “apps” and so forth, will be permanently consigned to the past.

I can’t see the craggy faced Scot filling in as the boyfriend at Clara’s 2014 family Christmas and I hope his reaction to any pop cultural nonsense would be curmudgeonly incredulity. I expect he’d like a little more drama too; plots built on strong foundations rather than sand and slight of hand. Still, as Tom Baker recently pointed out, “who knows?” Only you, Steven, but get the 12th Doctor wrong and you’ll soon know a thing or two about a blogger’s bloody revenge!

Merry Christmas.


The Matt Smith Years:

The Distant Past:

Deep Time:

Dear Steven Moffat: The Day of the Doctor

Tennant and Bugs

Dear Steven,

As this 50th anniversary’s approached I’ve become morose. How morose? Well if you think John Hurt’s face looks like melancholy personified then imagine a puss 13 times as world-weary. Why should I be in the doldrums? Christ, you might read these fucking letters! In my last correspondence I spoke of Graubünden and the clinic that’s been my home these last few months. The therapists here wanted to flog the last bit of Whovian fandom from my broken, bleeding body. It was a surprise to learn this wasn’t a metaphor and there would be cruel and unusual punishment as well as psychiatric care. If I was to get better, they said, there was no possibility of watching the anniversary show.

When a programme is being shown across the world, in the cinemas of 94 countries as well as being beamed into every television in the British Isles and you can’t join in, your mood turns. This morning I sat in the corner of my room and wept bitter, excluded tears until my eyes swelled to the size of Elizabeth Regina’s breasts. I’m not kidding, Steven – David Tennant would have titty fucked my face if he’d been in town.

Thank Omega then, that I chose to end it all by headbutting myself to death. That shrewd decision proved decisive. What no one seemed to know, and certainly not the orderlies who’d chosen this particular room for my detention, is that the corner I was squatting in was a phased area and that if you pushed through you surfaced in the BFI Southbank’s NFT1 just half an hour before the institute’s 3D screening of the episode with no less a set of VIPs in attendance than Matt Smith, Jenna Louise Coleman, Sylvester McCoy and, holy space time, you.

Steven, I’ve never seen an audience with so many hats and scarves. I’d also never sat in an auditorium with you and your family before. Sure, it was disconcerting at first – more so when I realised you and your son had the same hair and that in order to sit in on the action I’d have to discreetly kill a man sitting on his own and fold him under the seat until I could safely leave at the end, but what a feeling! The buzz when you walked in and the crowd applauded! The spark of electricity when Matt Smith took his seat! The ripple of pleasure throughout the crowd as Sylvester McCoy took his place on the left side of the cinema, reserved for those Doctors you didn’t deign to cast! The boos when a few people noticed Rufus Hound! This, Steven, is what it meant to be a Doctor Who fan on the show’s 50th birthday: taking pride of place amongst a warm congregation of mostly mentally well-adjusted people.

So I’m sure you’re anxious to know what I thought of the episode. After all this was the big one. If you fucked this up fandom would hate you until the day you died then desecrate your grave, and not just yours but that of every Moffat until the end of time. Well I’ll get to it in a moment. First of all I have to thank you for the prequel minisode. The gentleman next to me, who may have been the director Nick Hurran, as his companion wildly clapped his credit, was good enough to show it to me on his chatbox and not ask any questions about the man under the seat. Correcting the injustice that we were cheated out of the 8th Doctor’s regeneration was retconing at its finest, assuming such a thing can truly be said to exist in the Whoniverse. It tipped us off that you may be minded to undo some additional errors from the show’s shakey return to the nation’s drool boxes. With that thought held in space and time let’s get into it, starting with…

What went well

For me everything that worked about the anniversary can be summed up in two words: Elizabethan Bust. No, sorry – I mean John Hurt. Initially, like most fans of this fucking thing, I was horrified at the invention of Hurt. A forgotten Doctor? An incarnation conveniently hidden both from the audience and The Doctor himself? This seemed like retconning at its worst, Steven:  a sure fire way to destroy the series forever by doing perverse things to its chronology. But it seems you’re not a complete bastard after all because Hurt’s function was to be one big wizened Russell T. Davis remover. When he popped up in the last seconds of The Name of the Doctor we couldn’t know that he’d be the means by which you’d undo some of the worst decisions ever taken by a Doctor Who showrunner. Hurt’s character was the device to restore two things sadly missing in the show’s post 2005 incarnation: Gallifrey and The Doctor’s moral authority.

Anyone brave enough to rewatch Russell Dust’s first series in charge will now realise how frivolous and stupid the Time War concept was. It’s clear that Davis invented it for two reasons. 1) He wanted to underline the fact The Doctor was all alone in the universe; a point that didn’t needed emphasising as it’s always been an implied dynamic and 2) it sounded cool. That’s it. “There was a time war, a trillion billion people died – the Daleks and the Time Lords – you know, the show’s two greatest staples, wiped out – oh, and it can’t be undone because it’s timelocked…oh and, er, The Doctor did it…he ended it with a mass genocide…he willfully murdered two billion kids. Anyway, never mind that, he’s lonely.”

Wait, The Doctor committed genocide?!! Holy fucking fuck. That’s the worst idea ever dropped into the show’s 50 year time line. I can’t tell you how heartbroken I was when I realised that we may never seen the Time Lords or Gallifrey again. And how could The Doctor be a true hero if he’d deliberately slaughtered his own race? I know, he did it out of “kindness and charity” or some nonsense but The Doctor’s supposed to be a genius…and a pacifist. Was Russell really telling us that mass murder was his only move? Why not let the war continue and give the odd individual a chance?

So The Day of the Doctor was important because it set this right. Finally, belatedly, The Doctor used his famed intellect to avoid obliterating his people. Not only that, Gallifrey is saved. Sure, it’s frozen in time but it exists and it’s populated with Time Lords and that’s all that fucking matters. Not only did you undo Davis’ act of soundbite driven whimsy, but you also managed to create the preconditions for the show’s future. Saved from certain destruction by The Doctor, his people now owe him a big favour. Not just any old favour you understand; he’s earned more than the demotion Kirk got in Star Trek IV – I’m talking a fresh set of regenerations here. Anything less smacks of ingratitude in my eyes and The Doctor’s timing couldn’t be better because with Capaldi and his angry eyes imminent, he’s short on bodies. This and not the great rabbit scene with David Tennant was the anniversary show’s gift to the audience: the promise of another 50 years. Only The Doctor’s old foe, the controller of BBC1, can stop him now.

John Hurt’s non-Doctor also provided the show’s other masterstroke: its critique of New Who, with its penchant for youth, whimsy and pop culture. With Hurt comes gravitas, a quality that for all the likeability of the post-2005 Doctors, has been somewhat lacking. Here was an actor crusty enough and sharp enough to arch an unamused eyebrow at the mugging and infantilism of his fresh faced successors. Delight was the only word to describe his contempt for phrases like “timey-wimey” and his serious, bullshit-free approach to the role of the war torn Time Lord. Better yet was this Doctor’s lack of grandstanding and his personification of the old show’s sobriety. His incredulity when Tennant and Smith held their sonic screwdrivers aloft like weapons, showcasing the annoying New Who confusion about what this tool is actually for (who isn’t tired of The Doctor holding it like a gun?), was perfect. Assemble a cabinet at them indeed. You had balls criticising the demographically aware iteration of the show, Steven, not least because you’re responsible for half of it, but in Hurt I saw both a statement of intent for Capaldi’s Doctor and a canny way of introducing this old school sensibility to the post-2005 audience. That’s what I took from it and if I’m wrong you’ll find out just how uncomfortable a sonic endoscopy can be.

So John Hurt worked a treat, Steven, and so too did the meshing of Tennant and Smith. What a nice, slightly antagonistic relationship they had. This was well judged on your part. Multiple Doctor stories have traditionally run with the gag that each Doctor has mild disdain for his other selves, like a grown man meeting his teenaged incarnation and groaning at the stupid shit he used to say. Keeping this dynamic showed your respect for the past, as did the episode’s major coup – the return of 4th Doctor Tom Baker…or at the very least a reprise of his face. Anyone who says they didn’t leap a little when they heard that familiar booming voice is a bloody liar – not least all the women Baker slept with at the height of his fame. Sure, he looked every one of his 600 years and I realise that getting him in it was the only way to ensure he’d watch it, but having him on screen, even for a couple of minutes, made it a real anniversary episode, not just a celebration of your work and your predecessor. Making it an ambiguous cameo (is it the 4th Doctor/the retired Doctor/someone else entirely), was a nice touch, as was foreshadowing his appearance with the scarf draped round the asthmatic. This, in viewerland, is what we call good work.

Yes, there was much to like in this episode, Steven: the door joke, the original titles, the Coal Hill school cameo, Ventolin, and the decision to end with a full set of Doctors, albeit in creepy CGI form. But inevitably not everything could work old fruit, and so reluctantly, because no discussion of the episode would be complete without it, it’s time to talk about…

What went wrong

There were lots of little things I didn’t like about The Day of the Doctor. Even when I could see the mechanics behind the decision I still wanted to climb over the few rows that separated you and I and tear out a few of those curls. These weren’t fatal flaws, Steven – the show still worked, but it’s perhaps worth noting that if you’d posted me the draft script as I requested then maybe some of these problems could have been avoided.

To start with an easy one, Hurt’s Doctor. Ahead of the episode you assured us that his inclusion wouldn’t change the numbering of Doctors, because he wasn’t The Doctor. Yet at the close of this episode he was. He didn’t kill the Time Lords and his future selves welcomed him back into the fold. Alright he won’t remember it but the numbering system applies in the real world, not The Doctor’s, so it’s now a given, surely, that Hurt is the 9th Doctor, the absent and too damn good for the likes of this show to return to it for the likes of us, not even for one fan pleasing regeneration scene, Eccles Cakes the 10th and so on? What, did you think no one would notice? You put it in an episode watched simultaneously in 94 countries!

So with the Time War unlocked and the Time Lords survivors we at last have an idea of how it was possible for there to be a Gallifrey sanctioned book entitled “A History of the Time War”, as seen in Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS. What isn’t clear, however, is how Matt Smith’s pre-Day of the Doctor Doctor got a copy. When he ultimately gets to Gallifrey will he pick one up, then travel back in time and give it to his younger self who’ll then deposit it in the TARDIS library? We know he hasn’t read it because surely the events of this episode would all be in there and that being the case The Doctor should have known what to do from the very beginning. Seriously Steven, why did you let that idea through? It’s almost as annoying as Matt Smith’s hair continuity.

A weapon with a conscience is a good idea, I was with you there, until you decided that its manifestation would be Billie Piper. This is one of those instances where real world anniversary considerations trumped plot logic. If the device had searched through The Doctor’s time line to find a form that would make an impact on him, maybe to dissuade him from using itself, wouldn’t it choose someone who meant something to The Doctor at that stage in his life? Why should John Hurt give a fuck what Rose/Bad Wolf thinks? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to show him Ace? Or Adric? Or Susan? Anyone in fact, except a person from his future. Sure, I knew why she was there, Steven – it was for the so-called fans, but I’m a fan and if you’d asked me I’d have told you that I could happily live my entire life and never see Rose or any variant thereof, again. Still, you didn’t ask and you’ll have to live with that.

Why doesn’t The Doctor know roundels are called roundels? I know they’re called roundels, the audience knows, every fucking fan-based publication in the universe knows – why doesn’t The Doctor? “Round things” sounded silly, Steven. If you’re going to write this show do the research for God’s sake.

Why do Gallifreyian kids dance around maypoles and dress like renaissance children? Is this a stupid question? I thought Gallifrey was thousands of years ahead of us, after all the 1st Doctor, 50 years ago, made a point of telling Ian Chesterton that his people were moving though space time while they were figuring out the wheel, so does it really make sense that their kids would look and play like 16th century tadpoles?

Other than that, just little things, Steven. I don’t like Zygons really; they look like something you’d find in an oceanic trench (but the running gag it set up with Tennant insulting Elizabeth was almost worth it). UNIT: I know it had to be in there but let’s be honest, it was of a time and that time is not now. You’re not Russell Dust – why use them? Capaldi’s angry eyes: nice to see them but where was he at the end? Shouldn’t he have been there, standing amongst his selves? After all, he helped disappear Gallifrey along with everyone else. Clara’s teaching: when did she get her QTS? I thought she was a child minder? Is the Coal Hill school now one of Gove’s academies? What would Barbara say if she knew that unqualified staff were now taking lessons there? And finally, why didn’t Clara already know the backstory to Hurt’s Doctor before she and Smith were standing in front of the Arcadia painting? Are you saying that following the climax of The Name of the Doctor she neither asked for more information nor got any? Man, I miss the days when the role of companions was to ask questions.

So that’s it Steven, congratulations on your mostly successful 50th anniversary Doctor Who – probably the most difficult episode to write in the show’s history. Given the scale of the challenge and the weight of expectation you handled it very well. Sure, some plot points made little sense (The Doctor spent all his lives working out how to put Gallifrey in a parallel pocket universe? Er, what?) but you managed to pack in all the Doctors, a rabbit and some tits into a 75 minute monster and come out smelling like Amy Pond. No mean feat. Above all you made a show that gave cynical bastards like me hope that the Christmas farewell for Matt Smith may be worth watching and that Capaldi’s new Doctor will mature a programme that’s always thrived on reinvention just when it needed it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a clinical suite to return to. Happy anniversary!

Yours in time and cyberspace,


More to sate your anniversary cravings:

The Distant Past:

Deep Time:


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