The missing article on the new Ghostbusters movie

Sick children, their critical faculties ravaged by illness, unable to get to a cinema, had to endure a live action version of the new Ghostbusters.

Sick children, their critical faculties ravaged by illness, imagining themselves to be safe from the burden of cinema attendance, had to endure a live action version of the new Ghostbusters.

With the recent news that every article on the new Ghostbusters movie had been written bar one, I’ve bravely stepped in to complete the conversation. Feminists, film critics, feminoids, barely cognisant members of the commentariat – take a seat. It’s going to be a long few paragraphs.

To begin, let’s admit something to ourselves and mark this knowledge as an essential precondition for sensible, humane debate; the new Ghostbusters is a terrible movie. You can read my review of it if you like, but I ask you to accept, in the name of sanity, that it is a witless, underwritten, poorly structured, badly edited, ill-conceived (and we’ll return to that one), franchise embryo, that has no life or personality of its own, just the DNA of its grown up, sophisticated parents – Messrs Murray, Aykroyd and Ramis. Yet, unlike very similar films, like last summer’s Adam Sandler bomb, Pixels, it’s a terrible, lamentable Happy Meal of a flick that was critically cleansed and marked as progressive, pre-release, via politicisation. Whenever this happens in art or entertainment, though the new Ghostbusters is neither, it is inevitable that the conversation will shift from what’s relevant – i.e. is the work under glass any good, to the meta-narrative.

Let’s be unequivocal. There were people on Twitter and other social media that used the female leads of this movie as lazy shorthand for their general contempt for the project which they, like millions of others who hold the original film in high regard, intuited was a fucking terrible idea. They are misogynists. There’s no but, just a however.

However.

If we unpack this a little, and ask what this uneducated, sexually retarded group feared, it was, on closer examination, deficiencies that have been culturally coded as feminine; the idea that the film would be superficial, nonsensical, weak and flamboyant (a.k.a. theatrical). Why worry about this? Because the 1984 Ghostbusters has qualities which have, erroneously, been coded as male; it’s witty, deadpan, cynical, self-deprecating, grounded and structured. The “haters” as they came to be known, should have, to use a boorish male-centric sports metaphor, played the ball not the woman. But they either couldn’t, because they didn’t understand the difference between a woman and that which is culturally catalogued as female, or didn’t because they can’t identify with female characters, because they don’t like women.

These miscreants set the terms of trade; they made the conversation about whether male characters should be replaced by female characters, as if Paul Feig’s broad bit of schlock was a superconductive antenna for pulling in and concentrating castration anxiety. We should have been asking, what was great about Ivan Reitman’s version and did the new filmmakers have the talent to recapture that? These ghouls ensured that when the new film crowned and turned out to be, yes, you’ve guessed it, superficial, nonsensical, weak and flamboyant (a.k.a. theatrical), it was no longer possible to say so, because that, far from being a legitimate criticism of material originally constituted very differently – like remaking A Night to Remember as a slapstick spectacular, would be giving succour to misogynists.

One can imagine the anxiety that filled preview cinemas as critics, as some audaciously call themselves, sat down to watch the new movie for the first time. Just as it’s a critical sin to decide a film’s bad before you’ve laid eyes on it, there’s also a strict rule, or at least there should be, against deciding you’re going to like a movie, or are pre-disposed to like it, because you associate its pre-release detractors with the ugliest elements of society and yourself.

Ghostbusters 2016 wasn’t just another summer movie, it was the victim of trolls, and an apparent lightning rod for the kind of stereotypical and largely imaginary fanboy that ordinary people, who are also imaginary, despise; the obese, bespectacled manchild, living at home with his parents, masturbating between Babylon 5 episodes, brushing junk food detritus from gynaecomastic tits. To vouchsafe their own progressive credentials, whether the movie was progressive or not (it wasn’t, it just swapped casual misogyny for overt misandry), to make an emphatic statement that they were against these trolls, to be able to look their partners in the eye, or enjoy that scheduled drink with girlfriends, it was necessary for the glass to be half-full on this one. And thus, a film as bad in every way as Pixels, opened to overwhelmingly warm and positive reviews.

But for some critics it wasn’t enough to talk up the new Ghostbusters, one had to attack and denigrate the object of the haters’ affection, their prized original. Revisionism was the new reappraisal. Michael Hogan wrote an embarrassing piece that told people who knew the 1984 film better than their families, that it was slow, that there was no chemistry between the leads, that no-one had ever quoted this so-called quotable movie. Sure, no one had, apart from any film fan of a certain age who you’d heard reciting lines from it all your life (I’d like a sample of Hogan’s brain tissue), and yes, there was no chemistry between the leads, apart from that which was evident on screen and had always been evident, and right, the film takes a while to get going, which in the old days we used to call the story progressing and building toward the climax at a well-judged pace that allowed the premise to develop and the characters room to breathe, enhancing the viewer experience, but that aside, Hogan was spot on.

He was joined on the stump by the New Stateman’s Ryan Gilbey, who told a disbelieving world that Feig’s movie “improved in every way on the original”; a statement of profound critical illiteracy that would, were there any justice, be career ending. But that wasn’t all. He went on to argue that László Kovács’s original “stately cinematography” was, er, wrong for a comedy. Gilbey liked the new film’s cartoon tone, apparently the only legitimate comic mode, and the colour scheme that matched. What’s that, you thought the original Ghostbusters was full of joyous understatement and great comic tension from the collision of grounded characters with outré situations? Well, why don’t you fuck off and join your wanking buddies in their childhood bedroom? You know, the people Melissa McCarthy and Paul Feig talked about when building a rapport with fans of the film they were about to cluelessly reimagine.

So the new Ghostbusters is out and it’s awful. Not because it stars women – some of the best entertainments ever made have starred women, His Girl Friday, Alien, Eve of Destruction – but because it’s broad, self-conscious, badly-improvised and one dimensional. It is, to the original movie, what the BBC’s recent Brexit comedy special is to Brass Eye – a mirthless ghost of the original. In conclusion, and I’m sure you’d accept, to end this Ghostbusters conversation forever, let’s agree that from here on we’ll take care to keep commentary on a production and the finished product separate, lest we forget what a good or bad film actually looks like. Now if you’ll excuse me, I just heard a growl coming from my fridge.

Published in: on July 22, 2016 at 11:50  Comments (1)  
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Why you can have Jeremy Corbyn or the Labour Party but not both

British Labour party leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn poses for pictures with a tie that he was given by a charity worker as he arrives to address a public rally in Glasgow, Scotland, on August 14, 2015. Voting began Friday to elect the new leader of Britain's main opposition Labour party, with Jeremy Corbyn, a veteran socialist who would move the party significantly to the left, favourite to win. AFP PHOTO / LESLEY MARTIN (Photo credit should read LESLEY MARTIN/AFP/Getty Images)

Welcome to my inaugural post from Brexit Britain – a country broken just as David Cameron promised (assuming I interpreted his 2010 election sloganeering correctly). Leave voters should note that in line with the now universally accepted notion that you’re thick as wet concrete, a single syllable version of this blog will be published tomorrow in Warm Glow magazine – still just half a crown.

Last September we all got together and agreed that the test for Jeremy Corbyn’s then presumed leadership would be cultivating the dormant radical instincts of the millions he, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott, daughter of Newton, imagined to exist. These were the discontents, the victims of capitalism and decades of laissez-faire dogma, who didn’t vote and weren’t served by neoliberalism. Surely they’d show themselves once JC became their cheerleader?

We laughed about it and concluded that their existence was currently a matter of intense speculation, like dark matter and the God Particle once were. Because they didn’t turn out on election day, or register their support in opinion polls, their existence was theoretical, or a matter of faith for non-Marxists. But like the aforementioned dark matter, that’s thought to signal its presence by the difference between the gravity required to form a spiral galaxy and the potential of the visible bodies therein to generate it, young activists, who joined the party or paid an affiliate fee to guarantee the Corbyn succession, were thought to be the planets and gaseous swirls that proved a greater movement existed.

These kids – who’d devoted many weeks of their lives to politics, indifferent to its archaic mechanics and attendant complications, were vouchsafed by JC and his retinue as the first trickle from a cracked dam. They only numbered in their hundreds of thousands, and were to typical voters what the Eurasian Lynx is to the domestic cat, but when they filled a town hall or student union, it must have felt the world had finally woken up to the Bennite project. Soon, went the thinking, their peers would reverse decades of political disengagement and revive mass membership. Soon, inspired by JC’s rambling rhetoric, the millions who’d voted New Labour following Thatcher’s recalibration of British society would be comprehensively re-educated. But weirdly, this hasn’t happened.

Perhaps it could have, but as soon as Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader it was apparent that beating the system was harder than even Twitter realised. By winning the way he did, from the bottom up, JC broke all the laws of political advancement. His supporters’ code for this was “anti-establishment”; the idea that Corbyn, unlike the Blairite quislings in parliament, wasn’t part of the system, just an MP and part of Westminster’s closed shop since 1983. For anti-establishment read non-conformist and for non-conformist read campaigning socialist; a man with no ambition to advance his cause using the machinery of government, rather content to be a martyr to the same. Say what you like about Tony Blair, and I hope you will, but it took him 6 years as Prime Minister to hit that mark.

Because JC’s never had the tenacity and strength of character required to take on colleagues with different views and win them over, he’s not been subject to the usual shaping forces that prepare most would-be leaders for the tortuous slog that accompanies the top job. Parliament isn’t just a chamber for MPs to congregate. It’s a finishing school for debaters, orators and opinion formers. The word careerist has now become derogatory, but a political career is not simply a power trip for the unprincipled, though that’s one of its many attractions. It’s a test of will and character, a battle that can and does last many years. And in the midst of it all, with all the compromises, frustrations and media exposure that comes as standard, politicians are forged; politicians who impress their colleagues and the country with their presence in the bear pit and their ability to cut through and mediate their message to you, the barely cognisant horde.

When JC leapfrogged all the stages between lowly backbench rebel and party leader, he also skipped the trials that make MPs contenders; tests of mettle like the ability to communicate and build alliances. And whereas no one would argue the deserving always make it – William Hague, IDS and Ed Miliband being examples of how preferment, or not being someone else can inadvertently push the wrong person across the line – they’ve usually impressed enough of their colleagues to be given a fair shake. Corbyn circumvented that process, and curiously for a Labour politician, the principle of meritocracy. In so doing, he presumed to lead a party he’d never worked with.

Standing as the anti-politics candidate was an extraordinary idea; a conscious appropriation of the myth that you can institute meaningful change without first engaging with the system. Imagine applying to be an engineer on an anti-maths ticket, or applying to medical school singing homeopathy’s praises. But politics is a strange fish, because it’s a cerebral pursuit often conditioned by anti-intellectual forces. The public’s lack of nuanced understanding is breathtaking, which suits our rulers fine. Anyone who mischievously pretends that the game’s simple, or stacked against the righteous, is deemed to be a man or woman of the people – fatuous and meaningless a title though that is.

The kind thing to do would be to tell Joe and Jacinda Public to sod off and study politics, or perhaps watch the parliament channel all day, every day for a year, so they understood what the fuck was going on. But Jeremy Corbyn, the anti-politics candidate, gave newbies permission to know dick sizzle because he promised to change all the rules. He sold the dream of a new politics, one apparently divorced from the imperatives that shape the thing. It was the idea you could mount a parliamentary offensive without the hard won consent of your parliamentary colleagues. Incredibly, his supporters thought mystified MPs should give him that chance, which is a little like parents voting to let Brian Meek, the quiet school porter, become headmaster. Why won’t the teaching staff just let him try? Why are they so determined he should stand down? Why won’t the bloody establishment respect democracy and let Brian have a go, despite him being profoundly underqualified?

In office Corbyn wasted no time confirming the worst fears of well wishers. He was obstinate and uncooperative with the media, who he saw as propagandists rather than a mirror to people’s values and preoccupations; he was stuttering, long-winded and incoherent at the dispatch box; he was slow to react to events and hopeless at capitalising on them. And in an unprecedented situation for a new leader, his long standing opposition to the mainstream of party opinion made unity impossible; unity being, yawn, the prerequisite for strong opposition.

The party’s policy was to retain nuclear weapons, though Corbyn was unequivocal in saying that as Prime Minister he’d never use them. The party supported military action to tip the Syrian civil war in favour of the dispossessed but the leader did not, as all such action is a symptom of Western imperialist aggression. The party was overwhelmingly pro-European but JC saw the EU as an insidious capitalist club and affront to democracy. Arguments about whether he gave his all in the referendum are ludicrous, given his arguments for Remain came with a dozen caveats. Supporters liked Diane Abbott called it “nuanced” but desirable though that is in general debate, in a referendum where the choice is binary and the aim is to galvanise and maximise you support there can be no half measures. JC told interviewers he was “7.5 out of 10” in favour of Remain – overstating his support by a factor of 7. Subsequently, only 6.4 out of every 10 Labour voters turned out for the cause (the same number that March, pre-campaign polling for Remain said would do so anyway), though this may not have made any difference to the final result.

If there was any doubt, his passion for retaining his stranglehold on the leadership has been far greater than any exhibited during the EU campaign. That shouldn’t surprise anyone; JC’s finally fighting for something he believes in. Having waited all his adult life to have some influence on the direction of the Labour Party, he and his retinue are not going to give it up, just because 81% of his MPs think Tim Farron would make a better leader of the opposition. Nor will you hear him tell miserable and confused young fans why he didn’t wholeheartedly defend something they saw as integral to their future. He could try telling them they don’t get it; that the EU is ideologically impure; but when you’ve counted on the ignorance and historical illiteracy of your natural supporters to protect your position, you dare not draw attention to it.

If you try and explain this to “the movement”, as it’s sometimes known, and groups like Momentum – the cult’s campaigning wing, you’re told that any attempt to dislodge Corbyn is illegitimate, that the members are sovereign, that feckless and self-serving MPs, who only care about forming a government and implementing Labour policies, exist in a bubble divorced from political reality, if you can imagine such a thing.

Diane Abbott went on the Today programme and witheringly denounced talk of winning elections as “Westminster-centric”. Billy Bragg told Facebook that the coup against Corbyn, that now includes famous Blarites like Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband, was based on a fallacy, because JC had won three safe seats in by-elections – proof that a 2020 landslide was a mere formality. Paul Mason, furious at Labour MPs’ disloyalty to a man imposed on them against their will, argued that the referendum result was just a pretext for removing JC, and this despite 64% of the party’s supporters voting Remain. Sure, there was no evidence Corbyn’s lukewarm endorsement informed that figure, and Nigel Farage, who’d barely shut up on behalf of Leave and had made himself ubiquitous on TV and radio, managed to deliver 93% of his supporters, but so the fuck what?

Then, last night on the BBC’s This Week, journalist and Corbyn cultist, Rachel Shabi, told a dumbfounded Michael Portillo that he was a fantasist for suggesting Corbyn would doom the Labour Party to the worst defeat in its history. JC’s supporters didn’t care about party unity or his MPs endorsements, she said; his popularity, in as far as one could measure it accurately, came from the country. A smirking Portillo replied, “you’ve just made my day”. Here was the Labour schism laid bare; those who believed Corbyn would win because their faith was indicative of those hitherto untapped and formerly voiceless millions, versus commentators – some at Westminster, some old enemies like Portillo, who looked at the sweep of electoral history, and the most up to date indications of how people vote, and saw a disaster unfolding in slow motion.

The masses, whoever the fuck you think you are, typically don’t vote for weak leaders or divided parties, or indeed a party that appears to be disinterested in the type of voter you imagine yourself to be – say white, working class and angry. Corbyn’s supporters see disunity as a symptom of treachery and media scrutiny as propaganda, but party discord’s inevitable if the parliamentary wing has not fully endorsed the candidates that finally get offered up to the membership. The Tories may be bastards but they understand this, hence their system that only lets card carrying Conservatives vote once MPs have whittled down candidates to two. Ed Miliband’s reform of the system for choosing the Labour leader dissolved the distinction between MP and member, and in doing so delegitimised the role of parliament in a system where having command of the parliamentary party and the chamber is a copper bottomed necessity.

So Labour’s PLP, directly elected by the general population, stands on the precipice, forced to contemplate either an ugly leadership contest or the nuclear option, unilateral independence and the search for a new base and party machine. Faced with his refusal to resign, they must contemplate the awful possibility that you can have Jeremy Corbyn or the Labour Party but not both.

History, it’s over to you.

My EU Nightmare Is Over

Lasted the Longest

It’s taken a while, four months to be precise, but I’ve finally reached a decision on how to vote on referendum day. Because this vote’s about me and not your so-called lives, the journey to the ballot box has engendered self-doubt and profound political anxiety; in short, an existential crisis.

Though liberal and internationalist by constitution, I’ve not been content to enjoy the virtue signalling arrogance and contempt for Brexiters that’s been the hallmark of chaise lounge pundits lacking the courage to reflect upon and challenge their most cherished assumptions, or the will to read around.

Yeah, that told you, didn’t it?

Back in February, as the referendum campaign yawned into life and the hawks on both sides began urinating on their favoured chunks of discursive territory, repelling neutrals and cats alike, I decided to benchmark my soft Euroscepticism, record where I was at the beginning as it were, and blogged a corrective to what I saw as a Europhile truism, the idea that the EU is a force for progressive politics, adding metropolitan spice to our cultural brew, and broadening our domestic outlook. In doing so, I was conscious that I’d fallen into the Leave trap of wanting to give the aloof, haughty liberal intelligentsia an iron bar to the balls. People like me were the reason they wanted to disenfranchise millions of sentimental Westphalians. You can’t trust an idea as big and important as the United States of Europe with its presumptive citizens.

That the project was clandestine and furthered without popular consent was a huge problem for me, the kind that made me go for Remainers the way a psychosexually damaged person goes for anyone who shows an interest. European institutions and the democratic scaffolding bolted thereon, has been designed to keep voters at least two removes from the decision makers, with MEPs, the only verifiable manifestation of our glaze-eyed demos, elected on a proportional basis from a party list. One imagines they feel as directly accountable to us as a filmmaker does when you complain your cinema seat’s stained with cum.

Yes, this kept me up nights, long after the local prostitutes had tip-toed out, taking the counterfeit cash that they couldn’t quite scrutinise in the gloaming from the bedside table. It made we wonder, just as it plagued Euro-haters like the late Tony Benn, whether the fundamental left-wing case for Brexit was unassailable, regardless of the less cogent or inhumane arguments often grafted to it, then righteously proffered in its name. That’s right, I’m talkin’ ‘bout immigration. And feeling, knowing, that the EU had been built and strengthened as a means to safeguard peace and prosperity on the basis of doublethink like circumventing electors – a matter of record if you care to know it – made confronting the ugly side of the Brexit argument, the domestic violence that comes with the twelve cans of supermarket lager, an uncomfortable and dehumanising experience.

Forget the official faces of the Leave campaign – rabid monoculturist and hypocrite Nigel Farage (autocorrects to fascist), Harry Potter Basil Hallward portrait, Michael Gove, and narcissist strawman Boris Johnson – the problem with having any sympathy for the Brexit case is meeting ordinary Brexiters. Whether it’s the leafleteer on the high street who turns away in disgust when you suggest she may want to live and work on the continent, the man in the pub who conflates pulling out with imperial nostalgia, the dark side of Twitter, that without exception – and here I talk about ordinary epigrammists, not the blue tick brigade – see Brexit as a social cleansing exercise, every encounter is a direct and formidable challenge to the idea that denying these people their say in the country’s future has been an indefensible affront to the Great British Public (GBP). How formidable? Well, I doubt Smokin’ Joe Frasier felt any less apprehensive ahead of The Thriller in Manilla. At least he knew the worst that could happen was death. What’s worse than death? Living with the knowledge you’ve inadvertently allied yourself with the ugliest elements in society and the demagogues who’d manipulate them.

But immigration matters, because of the serious charge that it leads to wage compression at the low end of the income scale and is changing white working class communities beyond recognition. The BBC screened a fascinating documentary, The Last Whites of the East End, showing the 20th century residents of Newham, East London, contemplating white flight to the new safe harbour of Essex, in response to large-scale economic migration having comprehensively displaced their tribe. The argument, we learned, was not that foreigners had taken all the jobs, for such talk as Nicholas Barr at the LSE notes, is bollocks, as an upsurge in population creates greater demand in the economy (the idea that there’s x amount of jobs to go around is called the ‘lump of labour’ fallacy), rather than immigrants had vandalised the culture.

The multicultural dream in Newham was a fantasy, said the would-be Big Brother housemates under glass, as newbies refused to integrate. This made the only viable option moving to a single community where working class whites would do the exact same thing. Yet it was an eye-opener, a film that showed the issue was whatever passed for indigenous values, bound, naturally, to Christian virtues, and the perception these were now under threat. Tony, a West Ham fan who no longer felt comfortable on the streets he’d pissed on as a child, had married a Romanian woman. But there was no contradiction because she shared his moral system. In other words, she wasn’t a Muslim. Watching this fascinating bit of anthropology, the participants unwilling or unable to confront their own hypocrisy, I had to accept that whatever one thought of the locals, most of whom were boorish to the point of inducing coma, they were victims of social policy in which market economics, rather than social cohesion, had been the primary driver. The key question was the identity of the culprit: domestic policy or the EU’s free movement of people principle. If the latter, did I care?

So it was around now, satisfied that I’d identified the key issues, namely sovereignty and immigration, (both cultural and economic), that I returned Daniel Hannan’s book Why Vote Leave to the ICU waiting room at my local hospital, and started to look for facts that would once and for all settle the question of whether the EU was something done to us that was good, like fluoride in tap water, or bad, like ATM bank charges.

I went to debates – lots of fucking debates, in which Leave’s simple message, delivered in the demotic, contrasted with the more nebulous arguments to remain, tellingly framed as a lecture in political science. I listened to hundreds of hours of TV and radio conversation in which representatives of the so-called establishment tried to fight off, half-heartedly, those who argued, with the force of history, that the EU was hostile to reform and allergic to scrutiny, defaulting to the government’s go-to strategy of fluffing your inner monetarist. A case of never mind the erosion of statehood and its social impact, feel the benefit to your mortgage rate, house price and employment prospects. I tried not to dwell on the irony that the tenets of Thatcherism were now being used to defend the creeping union she grew to despise.

But in the end, at long last, real information shorn of propaganda and prejudice, began to trickle though – in print, online, from independent economists I trusted like Paul Mason, and the case for Remain acquired heft. Bagehot was helpful in The Economist, arguing that real sovereignty was relative. This wasn’t just a comment on globalisation, though it informed the argument, rather than supra-national cooperation was a fact of life and would remain so, Brexit or no. North Korea was the most sovereign country on Earth, he said, because it was free of outside interference, though it struck me that even this wasn’t strictly true, as its madness was guaranteed by China and its isolation by the rest of the world – in other words, its xenophobia was conditioned by cultural, economic and politics forces external to it; it was a slave nation.

Depending on who you read, the UK was signatory to anything between 700 and 1400 international treaties, and held hands with the WTO, UN and NATO. Thinking of those three, it occurred to me that the great challenge to British identity came not from Europe but from the US, who’d bled into our language, economic policy and popular culture in a way our EU partners manifestly had not. No one talked about that because the ties that bound were invisible and for the most part, not formalised by a thumping great symbol like the Treaty of Lisbon. Even Kathy Beale on EastEnders drops the occasional Americanism into her chat these days. I’ve never heard her use French.

Paul Mason, writing a mini-manifesto for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, whose pro-EU stance on immigration makes Remain highly vulnerable to the wrath of threatened white working class voters, as featured in the BBC documentary, acknowledged that free movement in its current form did hurt low-income earners, and by the same token encouraged immigrants to come to poor areas. But in lucidly arguing for the Islington beard to hike the minimum wage to £12, make it illegal to hire staff from a single nationality for certain jobs, e.g. Italians as baristas, and introduce a training levy for employers hiring non-UK workers, amongst other things, he inadvertently reminded me that extant grievances were a consequence of domestic policy, not EU diktat, and could be changed at Westminster if the political will existed.

The Lisbon Treaty needs renegotiation, he added – debt written off, privatisation initiatives ended, the Stability and Growth Pact mandating austerity scrapped – but the message was, don’t throw the baby out with the goat’s blood. The arguments for these changes, crystallised by the referendum, would now be immediate like ever before. In other words, Europe was having a near death experience. Change or die. If we left, it might die anyway but we’d have the State version of locked in syndrome.

So the EU may have enabled mass immigration but it’s been our unwillingness to control the supply market that had caused social problems. The EU took away some of our sovereignty, but not enough to constitute a coup. 55,000 EU civil servants draft proposed legislation that 393,000 UK civil servants amend, with parliament ratifying the mongrel instruments. The democratic deficit was there, for the people are sovereign and most of them haven’t a clue what MEPs are doing in their name, or for that matter what the UK parliament’s giving away while they’re distracted by more immediate domestic concerns, but this can and I thought, on balance of probability, would be reformed in time.

And with that I decided to vote Remain on June 23rd. It has nothing whatsoever to with our idiotic Prime Minister or his imbecilic retinue, and quietly ignores the harping, sanctimonious Scottish Nationalists, whose hypocrisy is total and threat to decouple from the rest of the UK if England votes Leave, empty and politically unworkable in the timeframe they’d have to carry it out.

Rather, Brexit is a false God – an apparent panacea for our social ills and domestic policy fuck ups, wilfully blind to the interrelated political and economic forces that create them, and an argument for nationalism that masks a deep-seeded mistrust of difference. Its advocates use the language of compassion and inclusivity – caring for the health service, homes for everyone, better public services, while hoping to usher in a new era of hard-line Conservative thinking that would almost certainly destroy all of the above.

It’s been a long journey to end up where I’ve been most of my life then, but I can cast my vote next Thursday satisfied I’ve strength tested my instincts. If everyone who votes next week has also taken time to jump on the floorboards, the result will be considered, not an affirmation of prejudice or self-righteousness, and that can only add depth and understanding to the long and torturous debate that follows.

Published in: on June 16, 2016 at 11:03  Comments (1)  
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The Tragedy of the Just Eat Chicken Madras Girl

Just-Eat-I-See-You-Baby-Chicken-Madras-720p-2

A couple of weeks ago I was lying in bed, eyes closed, trying to sleep, but I couldn’t relax. Time passed and I became progressively more anxious. My heart started to palpate, I tasted acid, there was coal burning in my chest and throat, and I started to weep. I couldn’t stop. This seemingly inexplicable surge tide of emotion was, I later understood, the result of the last thing I’d seen before going to bed – 30 seconds of film squatting in my consciousness; memories and a Manson Family of associated thoughts stalking my interiors, wielding knives. The film? Just Eat’s Chicken Madras commercial; adland’s nadir and a demonstrable tragedy for the jobbing actress in the leading role.

I suppose my brain, prone as it is to moral outrage, calibrated to crave justice, internalised the plight of the Chicken Madras girl and couldn’t help but cry out. Sure, it was impotent rage, emptied into the void; I couldn’t help her; but the more I thought about the events that had compounded on one another, resulting in this half-minute humiliation, perhaps the sad anti-climax of a lifelong dream – the culmination of thousands of hours of scrimping, pressing, phone calls, going to auditions and making ends meet with a job at a North London call centre, begging people to up the money they’d pledged when mugged on the high street – well, tragedy seemed an understatement.

I’m not trying to belittle the Chicken Madras girl. She gives a terrific performance in a thankless role. She moves well, indeed naturally, and the camera loves her. I can understand why, of all the thousands of women who must have auditioned, at a time when the last of their nectarines were spoiling in the bowl on the kitchen top, and when the only foodstuffs left in the fridge were Rivita crackers, two weeks past their due date, half-fat cream cheese, and chutney with a surface layer of mould, the director plucked her from obscure poverty. Once she’d been fitted for that figure-flattering silver outfit with its dynamic stringy accoutrements, no one could have doubted the choice. I’ve seen the ad many times now, and like Jack Nicholson in The Shining or Jim Carrey in The Dead Pool, I can’t imagine anyone else playing the part.

There’s no question that the commercial, all thirty punishing seconds of it, will now become this small screen star’s signature role, but should it? I don’t know her, though I’d certainly like to, but I’m sure that when she became estranged from her parents, who after her Oxford graduation, expected her to follow them into the legal profession; when she moved to London – giving up on the boyfriend who refused to move from the sleepy village of his birth; when she shared a flat for a year with a needy bisexual self-harming cokehead who threatened the sanctity of her bedroom on more than one occasion, so she could save money and remain flexible enough to attend auditions in makeshift offices at the summit of squalid Soho walk-ups, staffed by lecherous agency talent scouts who’d guarantee you a part on TV for a blowjob and a fee, she had greater ambitions than singing and dancing to a retooled cover of Groove Armada’s ‘I See You Baby’, in a bid to sell a takeaway delivery website to lazy cooks.

Just Eat’s ad proves that the Chicken Madras girl is talented and versatile (the premise of the commercial effectively makes it a double role). You wouldn’t blame her if she’d been excited when offered the part, perhaps imagining it to be a springboard to bigger, better things. But watching it back, especially when hungry, it starts to resemble a dead end. It’s not just that the ad irritates, its flat attempt at humour the brainchild of some idiot karaoke loving backside, fat on curry and after-work pub visits in which bored friends listen to him wax lyrical on life in show business, but it makes a fool of an actress with plenty of spicy potential. This ad is the centrepiece of her showreel now, and as such the parts that were once hers in all but name – juicy roles on Poldark, the next series of Line of Duty, a new channel 4 drama about a respectable businesswoman who inherits a brothel from her Madam mother, will now be denied. There’s no seeing past that dance, past the crude sexual objectification of a hot red curry. A career that could and should have peaked in Hollywood movies is now a ruin; a ruin covered in sticky hot sauce.

So the next time you sit down in front of the drool box to engage in a bit of schadenfreude and cast yourself as superior to the Chicken Madras girl, think instead of the waste of talent and the senseless chain of non-creative decisions that lead to the ad’s creation, birthing a trap for an actress desperate to break into an industry whose gatekeepers are crude, manipulative and cynical. All she wanted was to perform. Instead, she was pushed into a showbiz grave. If I were Just Eat CEO David Buttress, I’d consider a written apology, substantial compensation for this fine performer, then blowing my brains out. It’s the least he could do.

Euro-nly Live Twice

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Have you decided how you’re going to vote in the upcoming referendum on EU membership? Today’s Times/YouGov poll suggests we’re heading for “Brexit”- no, not a crunchy breakfast cereal high in fibre, but the figurative exploding of the channel tunnel and a return to Island status, one assumes psychologically as well as politically.

For decades now we’ve endured a disingenuous dialogue on the matter, with the Europhile right claiming the benefit stems from intergovernmental cooperation and a single market, free of tariff barriers, while the left talk about the imposition of progressive employment and judicial measures. Both, in effect, are playing a game of see no evil, hear no evil. They know the EU is a proxy for the kind of social democratic government Britain seldom elects; a centralised supra-national check on the conservative, reactionary forces the Eurosceptic right dream of unleashing. Iain Duncan Smith, Lord Lawson and the like, understand that legislating in the interests of Middle England and their own prejudices would be a doddle if it wasn’t for Brussels, and this is keenly felt now the Conservatives have an overall majority and Labour looks to be entering a long spell in the wilderness with Ed Miliband’s fetid corpse cuffed to its wrist.

Why is this disingenuous, you say? It reads as legitimate to my eyes. Well, trying to curb forces that would freeze Britain in aspic, once we’d regressed a few decades, is a perfectly honourable ambition. The problem is that it ignores the German-Franco elephant in the room: democracy.

We have to talk about democracy when it comes to the European project because the principle arguably transcends all other considerations. When a majority of voters, as things stand, seem intent on severing Britain’s link with the continent, it’s tempting to ask why they’re suddenly interested in the appointed European Commission, and the Council of Ministers, and MEPs, elected using a party list system, so not directly accountable to anyone. Why suddenly give a fuck about the primacy of European legislation, or indeed, successive treaties that have seen, in Tony Benn’s memorable phrase, powers lent to our MPs stolen from the electorate and given away to Brussels? After all, haven’t Eurosceptic parties been drawing attention to these, er, anomalies for decades now? Didn’t William Hague, one time stand in for a serious Tory leader, go to the country in 2001 on a ticket to “keep the pound”, only to be resoundingly ignored? Yes, you’re not dreaming, that all happened and nobody cared.

The reason, suggest political scientists, is that Europe, for the longest time, wasn’t what they call a “salient issue”, in other words, what Joe and Jacinda Public really cared about was the price of their house, their job prospects, how much petrol they could afford to put in their bastard wagon, and where Janette and Terry could go to school. But another thing they cared about, an issue that thanks to reality distorting media hype, feeds itself – that now, thanks to the short-sightedness of UK politicians has become inextricably bound up with the European question, is immigration. And it’s that monster that’s made Europe salient.

For the country’s Eurosceptic horde, what’s relevant is the way that Europe’s free movement of people, a fundamental principle underpinning the union, threatens Britain on an existential level. The working time directive, straight bananas and funding for arts projects doesn’t change the character of a nation but its population does. So now, in what will soon be one of the weirdest debates we’ve ever seen in this country, the right point, namely the democratic question, will be argued for the wrong reason, with those who support the union privately wishing that the ministers responsible for waving through the EU’s enlargement without negotiating either an opt-out or some form of transitional control, hadn’t gifted the haters such an acute focaliser.

Too many are coming, say the sceptics; they’re undercutting wages, leading to compression/stagnation, and they’re not integrating – just setting up pockets of their homeland here in Blighty, which inevitably erodes communities and creates division. Most seriously, mass EU migration dilutes the cultural identity of the indigenous masses, even if said culture, say the young, middle class, internationalist metrosexuals with friends from twenty countries, is constituted of a pie and a pint from Weatherspoons and Ant and Dec on a Saturday night. When you don’t respect Britain’s white working class voters, or give a sod about their low wages because you have a well-paid graduate job, then you can dismiss all this, arguing the fragmentation and forced re-engineering of a degenerate mass is a grand project, and worth backing. But these people have a vote in the forthcoming plebiscite and could yet push us out the door. Europe, after all, has to work for everyone; a guarantor of, rather than a threat to, its citizens’ way of life. The current model, one could argue, has disenfranchised millions.

The dilemma for the fence sitter, then, is how to use your vote to achieve a result that’s both democratic and addresses the very real problems that exist with the European project. In that polling booth it will be tempting to see it as a simple left versus right affair, though with the camps flipped from the 1975 vote. One could think about David Cameron’s deal, assuming he has one by then, tinkering with protocols without affecting fundamental structural changes to the union that could only be implemented by treaty. Thinking about the EU, you soon realise that in order to make it work properly – to build something that respects the sovereignty of member states while promoting intergovernmental co-operation; to make a union that facilitates financial liberty while providing certain protections for domestic industry, all existing EU treaties would have to be repealed; we’d have to start again.

In our polling booth, we should also think about the hypocrisy and/or ignorance of those parties trying to sway us one way or another. In Scotland, voters should reflect on an SNP that once opposed EEC membership, now brandishing our EU status as the latest ultimatum in its sad and destructive campaign to break up Britain. Does Nicola Sturgeon understand the contradiction between arguing for independence from England while wanting ever closer union with Brussels, a set up that gives Scottish voters less say than before and commits them to, er, pooling sovereignty? Does she have any idea that opening UK industry to Europe destroyed it, including the traditional cornerstones of the Scottish economy? Why blame Margaret Thatcher for the reforms that inevitably followed, but not the European project? Isn’t Lib Dem support, which at least has been consistent, just more from a party seeking to circumvent the UK electoral system any way it can in a bid to get its agenda into law? And why should we trust UKIP or the Tory right, when their campaign for leaving is fuelled by a noxious cocktail of imperialist nostalgia, resistance to change and myopia, when it comes to the myriad of EU funding agreements that grease the wheels in science, industry and higher education, on which these sectors in part depend, and which are now a nightmare to untangle?

So whichever way you look at it, there’s a lot for you, the box crosser, to grapple with when the time comes. Whereas it’s clear that whatever happens, the European project, as envisioned by the likes of Jacques Delors, Harold Wilson and Helmut Kohl, and ultimately seen as an ultra-left Trojan Horse by Margaret Thatcher, is dead, we must still decide if we want to hang around to shape what remains. Regardless of the arguments proffered, the real debate will be underpinned by social class, community, status and one’s access to the fruits of union. It should really be about democracy of course, but who, in this self-interested, peer-centric society of ours, is interested in voting for a principle?

Published in: on February 5, 2016 at 12:59  Leave a Comment  
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Dear Chris Chibnall: Think. Are you really the right man to run Doctor Who?

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Dear Chris,

Hello. Ed here. God alone knows if I’ll be around to correspond with you in 2018 when the first series of Doctor Who under your stewardship goes out. Maybe I’ll be dead, having taken badly to the new Star Trek series, or perhaps I’ll have given up life as an armchair pundit to write about my experiences being ignored by Steven Moffat, so I’m writing now instead. Why? Well, I just need to be sure about something. Are you certain you’re the right man for the show runner’s job?

Look, I understand it’s your dream. You were on Open Air back in 1986, showing how much you cared about the show with a withering viewer critique of its then camp direction. 25 years later you showed the world how it should be done by writing “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship”, featuring Mitchell and Webb as comic robots. So when Steven put you forward it must have been the culmination of all your writerly ambitions; like a scientist being inducted into the Royal Society or a sexual deviant becoming a light entertainment presenter. But ask yourself, did you get the gig on merit, or have you made the right friends and above all, garnered the right worthless industry plaudits?

I can imagine that being part of the Doctor Who inner circle, as well as a Torchwood survivor and someone who wrote a middlebrow drama starring David Tennant that drew attention from the all important American market, you pulled on all the right cocks. But when we look at your record a little closer we’re left wondering if your instincts are the ones that will partner with viewers’ desires to produce a new and dynamic era of bold and experimental Who. When Steven leaves to write the long awaited third series of Chalk, we’ll be at a strange juncture; a time when fans will want more meat and conceptual clarity in their Doctor Who diet, but also a move toward edgier, more experimental storytelling.

Forgive me, Chris, but when I look at your work I see a writer who drives on the middle of the road; a man who neatly folds his toothpaste tube and drinks Tesco Champagne. We’re all familiar with the departing Steven’s problems; he’s no dramatist, but a vigorous conceptual masturbator and occasional wit, who isn’t afraid to think big (and indeed long). We’ve liked his ambition but hated his vanity and its warping and irreversible damage to the mythos; we’ve applauded his audaciousness while loathing his inability to write a story; we’ve enjoyed his jokes but despised his propensity to glibly undermine his best ideas. His tenure as overlord has been frustrating and he’s right to think it’s time to pack it in, but no one can say he’s played it safe. Russell T Davies made it broad and mass audience friendly; Steven gave the show some much needed vitality and complexity.

Are you about to take us back to the Russell Dust era, Chris? Because when we look at your stuff, we see a man serving McDrama to a broad church of viewers. Your hit ITV murder mystery, I forget its name, considered by many your crowning achievement, is a soap with thin characters and stark plot contrivances, particularly in the second series; a show built to hook those who dine out on cliché, melodrama and the kind of stock characters, designed to resonate with the boring people at home, who populate them. You were an obvious adjunct to the Russell Dust era of Who, because he shared your taste for this thin gruel; the stuff that builds a big, undemanding audience, but doesn’t stimulate the brains and yearning for something innovative that excites the sophisticated genre literate viewer who’s attracted to a show like Doctor Who precisely because it offers the promise of something off-kilter.

Hey, maybe that’s why you were given Torchwood. Perhaps that’s why when Steven needed a palate cleanser, a solid bit of filler to bridge the gap between more exciting or experimental episodes, he chose you, knowing you’d deliver 45 minutes of alright. But is this what the new era of Doctor Who needs? Five years of “that was okay, and my kids, who aren’t usually into sci-fi because it’s esoteric and conceptually dense, love it, their other favourite shows being Holby City and Endeavour“?

You see Chris, ratings matter, of course they do, but if you want a show that maintains a loyal and devoted audience, instead of a huge disposable one, and garners international acclaim, becoming a prestige showcase for the BBC around the world, thereby justifying its budget, you have to think like the American subscription networks do, the likes of HBO, AMC and Netflix. You make a show that doesn’t worry about broad or populist touches, you just write the best, boldest juggernaut you can, and trust that there are sufficient numbers of people who appreciate such efforts to justify the risk taking.

Sometimes the BBC gets confused and thinks the licence fee means that you have to cater for everyone WITHIN a format, when of course what it means to say is that a flat fee necessitates producing programmes that cater for every section of the audience: niche programming. So if you write a Doctor Who that talks up to a genre loving audience, knowing they’ll pretty much follow you anywhere (while the casuals complain) you’re meeting the remit. Are you with me, Chris? You can break the mould and people who love the show, rather than just see it as comfort food, will approve.

So consider, Chris. Are you the man for the job? Once Steven’s finished with us, his final set of fuck yous due to hit in 2017, we’ll be wanting a transition into an era of confident, varied and intelligent storytelling – the kind that holds hands with the show’s most astute followers, turning around every so often to encourage the rest to catch up. Figuratively, we’re talking about a Barry Letts to Phillip Hinchcliffe type regeneration. Not a shift that disavows the past, merely one that recognises the series can and must do more; that there are no limits and no concessions to those who really aren’t sure about this sort of thing.

A show like Doctor Who can never go backwards, Chris. The time travel must remain in-story. So if you’re not one hundred percent sure you can innovate, talk up to the oldest members of the audience and hire some lunatics to produce head popping serials, then get off your cloud and help find the right person before it’s too late. After all, you don’t want to be the man who killed the show, do you? You don’t want to be the John Nathan-Turner of our time, prompting some poor kid to go on a daytime discussion show and complain the programme’s become a laughing stock?

Thought not.

I’ll be watching you. Maybe.

Ed

Published in: on January 23, 2016 at 22:22  Comments (7)  
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Lynton Crosby thinks you’re an imbecile. Are you?

Miliband's Sandwich

Are you an imbecile? If you voted Tory last May, Lynton Crosby, the Conservatives’ 2015 General Election Übermensch, certainly thinks so. Today’s Guardian contains a piece by Sam Delaney that sets out the cynical, reductive pillars of his campaign strategy, and it makes for depressing reading – like an obituary for your intellect.

Crosby, hired in 2013 for the idiot-stoking sum of £500,000, is considered a genius in Tory circles. It’s tempting, if you’re a non-Conservative, to write off his contribution. After all, wasn’t he the degenerate behind Michael “Hammer” Howard’s “Are you thinking what we’re thinking?” 2005 campaign – a pub conservation with a billboard budget? Yes he was, but what’s disturbing about Delaney’s piece, is the suggestion that the duff thinking underpinning that patronising Dracula Vs Blair contest, was the fundamental principle guiding the 2015 strategy.

Crosby wasn’t stupid enough to literalise the insult this time, but it’s that one potent idea that still shapes his conception of you, the pliable, docile voting public. Posters like the one depicting Ed Miliband in Alex Salmond’s pocket (in place of the chip surgically removed from his shoulder) didn’t create a perception, says Crosby, “it just drew attention to it.” Apparently he was thinking what you were thinking, begging the question – were you thinking?

The article makes Crosby’s philosophy clear enough – employ the so-called “dead cat” ruse, the tactic whereby you throw a figurative stiff feline onto the table in the middle of dinner, getting the pliant media to shift attention to whatever you want them to talk about, cultivate myths about the opposition based on the public’s ignorance and/or tabloid understanding of their values and attributes, gently reposition floating voters in key marginals with e-comms that introduce the fickle change-fearers to the empowering joys of tactical voting, and hammer home the key messages, stripping the election of all its nuance; disabusing the people of their misplaced desire to interrogate the issues. The vote is now a simple, binary choice between polished leader and awkward cartoon character, economically literate party and profligate mob, pragmatists and ideologues, sensible politics and chaos.

The worst part? It worked, apparently.

So this begs the very real question of whether the electorate are indeed as backward and lacking in political sophistication as Crosby imagines. Can we assume that these tactics were decisive? Did Crosby make the weather or, like Rupert Murdoch before him, just read a forecast and invest in umbrellas?

You feel there’s something to his suggestion that Labour were “intellectually lazy” and “didn’t do the work”; even the most committed Milibandit on Twitter, the left’s digital branch office, struggled to tease out the party’s cohesive vision for the future. I voted Labour in 2015, determined to do my part in preventing another five years (or more) of David Cameron’s reactive form of government, with the occasional half-baked policy idea crowbarred in, but I did so frustrated by Labour’s piecemeal politicking, crass virtue signalling and timidity. If I felt that way, and I pay attention to these sorts of things, able to pick out the key actors from a line up, understanding both the antecedents and details of party policy, then how grave were the suspicions of those who only brushed up against Labour in grabs on the evening news, or via silly stories in the red tops written for those with a reading age of five?

And yet it troubles the soul to think that Joe Public and his illegally sub-let housemate, who occasionally provides additional benefits in exchange for free food and energy, were so easily programmed. The Conservatives ran a thin and uninspiring campaign. Anyone who’d scrutinised the coalition’s record would be struck by how fragile the economy was, how ineffective George Osborne had been on bank regulation, industry and infrastructure; how the government, with the Liberal Democrats’ help, had weakened the health service, loaded students with punishing levels of debt and handed power over the housing market to their friends in construction at the expense of those wanting cheaper homes and affordable rents.

Above all, and perhaps especially, given the value Crosby placed in David Cameron’s image being decisive, “we had a good product”, those taking a deep and probing interest in the political scene, would have noted how little vision the Prime Minister had, that the Tories’ talisman was a knee-jerk man, a vacillator and a waffler; in power for its own sake and in service to his class interests. How did those fingering ballot boxes on May 7th miss all this? It seems they either didn’t know or, as they’d benefited from Tory policies aimed at key demographics – pensioners, existing home owners, business people, middle-high income earners, didn’t care.

All of which seems to confirm a suspicion that may yet destroy the Labour Party. As discussed in this blog, Jeremy Corbyn’s hopes for 2020 (he currently has an approval rating of -38) rest on the assumption that there are millions of would-be left leaning voters who will be enticed to step up once the party fully returns to its socialist roots. There’s no evidence these people exist, because they don’t vote at the moment, so remain imaginary, but these homo ficti alone can change everything by beefing up the hard left’s representation when added to the pool of existing box crossers who, history tells us, will lean toward the Conservatives to protect their gains from decades of social inequality and policies that prop up and cultivate individual self-interest. But if Crosby and the Tories are right, the only voters playing the game are the ones we have – inherently conservative types who’ll only trust Labour in sufficient numbers if, as in the era of Blair, they believe they’ll by and large govern as Tories with a conscience soothing social liberal bolt-on.

Why are voting patterns so regimented? Why can’t you beat the system in the post-ideological age of embedded Thatcherism? Because, thinks Crosby, the public are politically ignorant, have no understanding of the issues, have no desire to look into them and only start to think about these things when the starting gun’s fired for the election. Such rank stupidity, with millions trying to orientate themselves in years of policy making from a standing start, with no context for their deliberations and no desire to be better educated on the subject, makes it possible to play up to prejudice, underline myths, turn multifaceted debates into child-like arguments, and deny millions their chance to be better informed and think for themselves.

It’s little wonder that when it comes to the players in the election, Crosby’s first instinct is to imagine them as children. When talking about pollsters, for example, or slaves to public opinion, he used a junior metaphor – “are we there yet? Are we there yet?” To Lucky Lynton, a man paid a fortune to prey on the people’s half-formed perceptions, that’s the game: managing the views of the naïve and ignorant. One hopes, despite the 2015 result, that he’s underestimated the voters – that a chunk are alert to the underlining realities but ultimately chose to be selfish, to preserve their way of life. But when you hear a report on the Today programme about SNP canvassers door stepping the public in Glasgow, with one woman persuaded to drop her lifelong affiliation to Labour with the words “Nicola Sturgeon”, because she quite likes her, then you begin to wonder.

We get the governments we deserve. Oh, to live in a world where everyone had a basic level of political education. Imagine how difficult it would then be for Lynton Crosby to run a campaign like that of 2015. Imagine how much political parties would be forced to change. In the meantime, enjoy the government you’ve got, allegedly chosen by Crosby’s millions – the thoughtless, clueless and fearful.

Published in: on January 22, 2016 at 17:22  Leave a Comment  

Dear Steven Moffat: The Husbands of River Song

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Dear Steven,

I’ve often wondered if your Doctor Who Christmas specials would be better if the BBC lied to you and said they’d be going out in April. It would surely change the way you approached the task, so instead of staring at that flashing cursor with a mind to crowbar in festive iconography or stuff the pudding with sentimentality and yuletide whimsy, you’d just write the best script you could. Sure, I don’t know what that means these days and neither do you, but it could result in a story with a little dramatic integrity…and no snow…and no comedians hamming it up in key roles. Can you imagine it, Steven? Because I can, and did while “The Husbands of River Song” made light of bigamy and gold digging on Christmas Day.

So this was a romp then and a relief for you, no doubt, because the Christmas brief allowed you to play to your strengths (jokes, surrealism, lashings of shtick) while giving licence to dump all the stuff we expect of the series proper (drama, plot, stakes, consequences). This was an episode for the fans, and by fans I mean pissed up geeks masturbating furiously at the re-introduction of River Song, revelling in her sexually liberated, mercenary brand of sass. This was, we inferred, the occasional companion’s final (from her point of view) chronological appearance – the last staging post on the journey to Tennant and Tate, so you were determined to make it celebratory. This walking headfuck, possibly the most problematic subject of Who Do You Think You Are? ever, would have one last chance to shine while the Doctor retained a respectful supporting role – anonymous for the most part, due to the comic conceit of River having no knowledge of his thirteenth face.

Did we buy the idea of River not recognising the Doctor? Well at first it was enjoyable enough, but as the story went through its inconsequential paces there was the sense that Song had taken a huge dose of the stupids. The man she mistook for an intergalactic surgeon answered to the name of “The Doctor”, which in isolation was no give away, but he also seemed to be a know-it-all who took the piss, feigning amazement at the TARDIS interior, and had useful suggestions on how the time machine worked which just happened to be exactly right. That, plus the constant prompts about his identity, ‘don’t you recognise me?’, ‘don’t you know me?’, should, I feel, have been enough to tip off a woman of River’s intelligence. But for comic reasons alone the misunderstanding continued for most of the episode, denying these two long standing characters a chance to engage in a reunion of any substance.

Instead you used the conceit to tease the suggestion that River wasn’t the Doctor fan girl we always supposed. As someone who believes that each of us is different with different people, that in effect there’s no such thing as a consistent character, I was pleasantly surprised to find this idea gaining a little currency on my Christmas drool box. You took a chance and had River be a bit of a bitch – someone who was happy to kill a man to get the diamond in his brain, who presumptuously stole the TARDIS without the Doctor’s permission and helped herself to the brandy and, when talking to a man she believed to be a stranger, categorising the Doctor as no one special but ‘terribly useful’. Capaldi played the disappointment beautifully, with great understatement, yet remained on side when most of us would be thinking of taking Song straight to the date and place of her death without further delay.

But this was a Christmas episode of course, so we ultimately learned this was all self-protecting brio on River’s part, and that she did love the Doctor, but liked to pretend otherwise as her feelings almost certainly weren’t reciprocated. In an ideal world, one in which the Doctor remained in character, he’d love her the way you and I regard the cat or our favourite jumper, but on this most mawkish of holidays there was the unwelcome suggestion that Capaldi’s Time Lord felt a bit more than that. There was even an idiotic fairy tale caption at the end to underline the point.

River and the Doctor lived happily ever after? Well only if you count a 24-year long night out as forever and ignore Song’s certain death. Incidentally I tried to work out how a restaurant that served a clientele who booked for 24 years at a time would operate, but was defeated. When the manager told the Doctor to come back in four years, did she mean four of hers or four of his? Did she really mean, ‘come back in 96 years’? And why do they celebrate Christmas on Darillium anyway? Or indeed anywhere else in the universe bar Earth? Are we exporting it in the future? I mean, why should any alien culture be interested?

So “The Husbands of River Song” was just good natured filler, really; an episode you had in your pocket in the event you ran out of ideas for festive specials. Effectively an emergency episode, it was light hearted, fun and a few of the jokes raised a smile; I suppose if that’s the test for a Christmas special then it passed. But do these seasonal farts have to be throwaway? Would it not be better to use the guarantee of a captive audience on Christmas Day to unleash a feature length slab of knockout, mythos-deepening drama, with implications we’d talk about for months to come, ahead of the new series premiere? What’s that, be grateful for Greg Davis and Matt Lucas? Well I hope you have a real fire at Chez Moffat because you’ll be getting coal next year.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: This year’s movie reference was Spies Like Us and a reprise of the fake Doctor surgical procedure. It was funnier when Chase and Aykroyd did it.

P.P.S: Did the Doctor need to retain his sonic sunglasses now he has a new screwdriver? Did the TARDIS not generate a fresh one as a polite way of saying, ‘ditch the shades, idiot’?

P.P.P.S: Was it me, or was the 54th century street on Mendorax Dellora just the London alien street from Face the Raven with added snow and Christmas decorations? How cheap do you have to be to reuse a distinctive set from 3 episodes ago?

P.P.P.P.S: “The pandorica opens; that sounds exciting.” Not as exciting as it could have been, sadly. But we won’t get into that.

P.P.P.P.P.S: Catching a diamond with your tits. Great party trick.

P.P.P.P.P.P.S: “How are the twins?” “Still digesting their mother, thanks for asking.”

P.P.P.P.P.P.P.S: “You wouldn’t know if I look nice or not.” A nice bit of backtracking from you there. Of course Capaldi professes not to have any understanding of what constitutes a pleasant human appearance – an idea given some credence by his choice of clothes in his sixth incarnation – but this didn’t really seem to be a problem for his predecessors. Anyway, why the fuck not? Does anyone really care anymore? See you next year!

The Old Man and the C: 

The Clara Oswald Show:

Smith – The Dark Suit Jacket Years: 

Smith in his Pomp:

Deep Time:

Dear Steven Moffat: Heaven Sent/Hell Bent

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Dear Steven,

A year ago I sat naked in my Doctor Who themed den and typed out a long lament for a series that had lost its way. The Doctor had become a stranger in his own show, his companion, sweet though she was, had taken centre stage – perhaps because she was young and flippant, so an easier character for you to write, and your high-concept finale was wan and confused. In fact, one might liken the experience of watching the 2014 series to punching through TARDIS-strength crystalline cum for four billion years. It hurt, it was exhausting, and by the time it was over we’d half forgotten why we were doing it.

Steven, I’m pleased to say that this year’s batch of adventures have shown a marked improvement. Doctor Who’s a little like baking – forty minutes is fine for the base but the memorable stuff, the decoration, takes at least another forty. Sometimes an hour. In 2015 stories had a chance to breathe. The ingredients were all in the correct proportions. A judicious measure of a more comfortable, more confident Capaldi, a little less Clara but enough to add a curious, bittersweet flavour to the mix, plenty of time travelling, non-linear lunacy – the show’s trump card, which you alone have fully exploited – and just the right amount of recurring guest star. Here of course I refer to Maisie Williams’ Ashildr, a character we saw develop over the course of billions of years – something you couldn’t say on any other show. And at the end, once we’d digested this strange, oddly satisfying confection, we were left in a stupefied state, wondering how you’d managed to do all the shit we hate and have criticised you for, while leaving us exhilarated and looking forward to the next series.

Sure, turning Clara into Schrödinger’s companion, a woman both dead and alive while she remained in her space box, reversing her death while keeping it as a fixed and irreversible moment in time, was both ingenious and irritating, a cheat and an opportunity to fulfil your ultimate desire, namely to turn her into the Doctor, which you did by providing her with a Type 40 TARDIS, an existence outside of time and, fuck me hard, a companion of her own. Did “Face the Raven” writer Sarah Dollard approve of this development, Steven? Or did she submit her script on the understanding you’d honour the death, only for you to send her home with a thank you note and a determination that Clara would end her time on the show as the Doctor in all but name, even if it killed you? I suppose we’ll never know but we have our suspicions.

We can argue about how effective a climax this was and whether Clara deserves this kind of conditional immortality, as well as an improvement on the Doctor’s situation, namely a companion that will never age or die (like herself, provided she stays away from Gallifrey and is never recalled by space lasso), and we can legitimately ask whether the Doctor would risk the safety of the universe and endure a four billion year cycle of death and imprisonment to extend Oswald’s mayfly existence – the Time Lord equivalent of you or I agreeing to a life sentence to give our cat a few more years, but none of that really matters.

For one thing the answer is no she doesn’t and no he wouldn’t. For another, it means we’re shining our torch in the wrong place. “Heaven Sent” and “Hell Bent” worked as a mind-bending celebration of the Doctor and Clara’s friendship, with our hero prepared to endure a transdimensional Gallifreyan torture chamber and the horror of his own people, who let’s face it have always been obnoxious, just so he could have another few days in extremis with the English teacher all teenagers would like to have an inappropriate relationship with.

Truthfully, no one on Earth cared about the hybrid question or any idiotic Gallifreyian prophesy, but the conversation at the end of the universe and the re-opened question of the Doctor’s half-human existence (Doctor Who’s answer to midichlorians, buried since the 1996 TV movie) did, in a way that was curiously affecting, remind us of the Doctor’s special emotional connection to Earth – in effect his adopted home – and consequently the contrast between him and his Gallifreyian brethren. Ultimately the story showcased the Doctor’s innate humanity, literal or no, and how his modest background and compassion for those less fortunate, set him apart from the imperious, caste-minded Time Lords who, thanks to the gift of regeneration and their dominion over time, had learned to devalue life and races different from their own.

Did it matter if the rules of the Time Lord prison were shaky, or if the Doctor was a hypocrite for caring this much about extending Clara’s life when he was nonchalant about the end of others, namely bores like Danny Pink? No, not really. One could believe in the Doctor’s decency and his sense of duty toward a woman he’d groomed for high adventure, only to see the policy lead to the death of his best friend. You’d have to have two hearts made of the same stuff as that prison wall not to feel something when Clara learned of the Doctor’s sacrifice or his modest explanation for the same. Steven, conceptually you don’t always join the dots – in truth I think you often confuse yourself – but you got the human portion of this story, the part that didn’t rely on time-babble and grandstanding, so very right.

Likewise, the decision to let the Doctor and Clara roll the dice and share the risk of one forgetting the other together, in contrast to the tenth Doctor’s unilateral choice in wiping Donna’s memory, was a nice touch. “Tomorrow’s promised to no one Doctor, but I’m entitled to my past,” Clara argued, and right she was. Her time in the TARDIS was as good as it gets for a bereaved educator with no realistic chance of a decent relationship thanks to her exposure to an impossible to beat male archetype, but the Doctor had a fantastic life to fall back on, not to mention memories of accidentally-on-purpose stumbling upon Amy in the bath. Clara, we felt, had earned her right to remember and it was reassuring to think the Doctor might recall something of her one day…though hopefully not her first series, when she was a bit annoying.

I Confess, Steven, is a great Hitchcock movie and I suggest you check it out, but also I confess I was touched when the TARDIS, thankfully Sonic Sunglasses free, left Nevada and Clara’s face, graffitied thereon at the end of “Face the Raven”, peeled off and blew away on the wind. That was poignant, symbolic – pick your word and nail it up. It was good to know Clara’s time had counted for something, if only with Clara, and that the Doctor wouldn’t spend the next series moping, because thank God his loss would be an abstraction – just a half-remembered story he told himself and the occasional diner employee. It gave us hope that Capaldi’s next chapter would be as different as this one was from his first, that there was better to come, and more importantly, he’d be doing it all with a sonic device that didn’t make you angry every time you saw it. Yes, God help us Steven, we ended this series with a sense of optimism…a sense that lasted thirty seconds until we saw the trailer for the Christmas special. Still, it wouldn’t be your show without a closing fuck you to the audience, right old fruit?

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: When did we British start asking, as the Doctor did in “Heaven Sent”, ‘what is this place?’ And can we stop saying it? Surely we mean, ‘where am I?’

P.P.S: How did all those skulls get into the water in “Heaven Sent”? Did the Doctor take thousands of attempts before he got the angle of descent into the water correct, and if so where was the rest of the skeleton, or did the prison just rotate and the skulls somehow fall from the teleport room and into the water, say through an open window or floor cavity? What occurred?

P.P.P.S: Would the Doctor really be able to punch through a substance as hard as TARDIS alloy, even if he had four billion years? Wouldn’t he just break his hand…for four billion years?

P.P.P.P.S: “Hell Bent” allowed Murray Gold’s Clara theme to officially enter the Whoniverse. I don’t like the idea he and his orchestra exist there.

P.P.P.P.P.S: Gallifrey is ‘Space Glasgow’? If you mean it’s rough, I agree, if you mean it’s the centre of universal high civilization…

P.P.P.P.P.P.S: I wondered if the Doctor’s undemocratic takeover of Gallifrey was a good example to set to émigrés thinking of returning to Britain after a long absence. We have to be careful in these difficult times, Steven.

P.P.P.P.P.P.P.S: I’ve never liked the Doctor growing up in a barn. He’s not Jesus, you know.

P.P.P.P.P.P.P.P.S: Was that a TIE Fighter I heard in the Matrix? Does this mean the TARDIS is going to feature in The Force Awakens? Or are you about to be sued by Lucasfilm?

P.P.P.P.P.P.P.P.P.S: The old Type 40 TARDIS is a thing of beauty. It saddens me to think I’ll lose this erection one day.

The Old Man and the C: 

The Clara Oswald Show:

Smith – The Dark Suit Jacket Years: 

Smith in his Pomp:

Deep Time:

Published in: on December 6, 2015 at 00:26  Comments (9)  
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Dear Steven Moffat: Face the Raven

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Dear Steven,

Being able to look both backwards and forwards is a gift, as we discovered in tonight’s episode. We’ve all got to “Face the Raven” sometime, a phrase that likely to become a stock euphemism for death amongst Whovians from now on, but in Clara’s Oswald’s case the writing’s been on the wall since her debut all those vortex runs ago in “Asylum of the Daleks”. The impossible girl, as she was known in her irritating early period, when she was less a character, more a human maguffin, had an association with death akin to a smoker’s relationship with brown fingertips. From inauspicious beginnings, Clara became both enigmatic and, controversially, pivotal to the Doctor’s existence…though that was more about your ego than good plotting.

She’s the first and likely only companion to bookend her tenure with death. Previous versions were sci-fi cheats – a destroyed original that was copied in time and distributed throughout the centuries that ultimately lead the Doctor, in his ultimate bootstrap paradox, to investigate the existence of a girl he only knew because she’d died to save him, thereby retrospectively seeding herself in his timeline. Yes, we hated that Steven, and you for a time, but later, on a hidden street, with an old enemy and gormless graffiti artist watching, there was no way out – Clara fucked up, or maybe, as part of her believed, succumbed to her death drive. The result? Brown bread, deadsville, game over, the big goodbye, the end.

I have to say old fruit, if you’d told me a couple of years ago I’d miss Clara I wouldn’t have believed you, but she grew on me, and I suspect most of the audience, thanks in part to Jenna Coleman’s impish enthusiasm and you (and your retinue of scribes) getting your act together and turning her into a fully dimensional human being. The characterisation was rebalanced so instead of being an irritant with some likeable tendencies, she became a likable sidekick who bordered on annoying. You get points for time served on this show, and the truth is that Clara’s been around so fucking long she’s become a part of the TARDIS furniture. It’s hard to imagine the show without her, and like I said, that was about as likely in the beginning as Christopher Eccleston signing on for a guest appearance.

“Face the Raven” was a good exit for Clara – far superior to the tearful goodbye to her elderly self that might have been last Christmas, and cleverer than the Ashildr revenge kill teased in “The Woman Who Lived”. Maisie Williams’ character was instrumental in Oswald’s demise as it turned out, but it was ultimately Clara’s own cavalier nature – her impetuousness, and false sense of security from being too long at the Doctor’s side, that did for her in the end. What writer Sarah Dollard got so very right, was making Clara’s demise a consequence of her character, so in character, and tying those traits to her TARDIS history. That’s far more tragic and therefore emotionally devastating for the audience than indiscriminate murder or death by misadventure. Clara died because she didn’t listen, misread the situation, was blind to the danger, and imagined her and the Doctor pulling a rabbit out of a hat as they’d done so often. The scene in which she wilfully, even enthusiastically took the death sentence from Rigsy, certain that Ashildr’s promise of protection would force the Mayoress of Murder Street to save her, was an imitative gambit from the Doctor’s school of too-clever-by-half eleventh hour reversals. But the Doctor’s a genius and institutes these brazen twists in full possession and careful consideration of the facts. Clara’s a secondary school English teacher who’s none too cautious since her boring boyfriend died, and ultimately that difference proved to be the gap between life and death.

Clara took on the blight unaware that in doing so she’d inadvertently broken the terms of Ashildr’s agreement with the Quantum Shade alien. “You cut me out of the deal,” as Williams’ put it, meaning the former Viking no longer had the power to remove the death sentence as it was Rigsy she’d promised to the bastard in the bird. This was consistent with Clara this season – taking risks and throwing herself into life as a fully fledged Doctor impersonator once her dreams of domestic bliss had ended. The Doctor chastised himself for not reigning her in, and quite rightly, but death for Clara was the only route out of the TARDIS – it had become her life, in contrast to Amy who’d started to struggle in her final episodes, and it was clear she’d never leave voluntarily. The companion who once threatened to eclipse the Time Lord on his own show, thanks to preferential treatment from you, her creator, got the ultimate corrective in her final story. She died because she wasn’t the Doctor – she didn’t have his intellect or perspective, and critically, she wasn’t built from the same material. We may all want to be the Doctor, but like Highlander‘s immortals there can be only one.

Add to that the Doctor’s dependence on Clara, and her increasing importance as both a check on his excesses and focaliser for his conscience, and it was clear that only a permanent exit would work in-show. Dollard, understanding this very well, gave Clara some important last lines – a plea to the Doctor not to take revenge for her demise, not to be consumed by hate – to be more Matt Smith, less John Hurt. It worked because it was exactly what we’d expect Clara to say under the circumstances, and it made the Doctor’s final veiled threat to Ashildr, before he was transported off to face the real enemy, in effect the sponsor of Clara’s death, that much more powerful. From now on Ashildr’s existence will depend on the Doctor’s self-restraint, the ability to regulate his own behaviour, sans his friend, and a conflicted Doctor, combustible beneath the surface, is a very tasty prospect indeed.

“Face the Raven” was a vintage episode then, the first of a three-parter as it turned out. Sarah Dollard crafted an intriguing mystery, wrote out a major character with pathos and understanding, and set up an absolute barnstormer of a finale – a pair of episodes that only you can now ruin. Please don’t Steven, after last year’s run and the odd mis-step this season, I’m finally, having looked to the past year and peered into the future, beginning to enjoy myself.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: Kudos to Dollard for contriving to get the Doctor straight out of this week’s Harry Potter attraction and straight into next week’s finale via a teleporter. Clara left dead on the cobbles was powerful…but I hope the Doctor returns to give her a proper burial and inform next of kin. It’s the least he can do.

P.P.S: Rigsy’s tribute to Clara on the TARDIS, though it’s technically vandalism, was a nice touch. I did wonder for a second if the old girl had done this to herself but then remembered there was no Adric art following “Earthshock”.

P.P.P.S: Perhaps the most interesting part of the episode was Clara’s final suggestion that she’d invited death – a prolonged hangover from Danny Beige’s demise. That was a nice psychological touch. It’s just a pity we’ll never know.

P.P.P.P.S: The prospect of a bitter and lonely Doctor fighting an unseen but historic foe is one built for Peter Capaldi. Having ruined Davros this year, please try not to fuck another classic villain up, else you’ll be facing the raven sooner than you think.

The Old Man and the C: 

The Clara Oswald Show:

Smith – The Dark Suit Jacket Years: 

Smith in his Pomp:

Deep Time:

Published in: on November 22, 2015 at 01:25  Comments (1)  
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