I want my BBC


Last Thursday John Whittingdale proved his title of Culture Secretary was ironic with the publication of a Green Paper on the future of the BBC. The document carefully vouchsafed the corporation’s role at the heart of British life while floating ideas for how this enemy of the government’s friends, principally champion of the incurious, News UK, and disappointed middle age mirror, the Daily Mail, could be shrunk, marginalised and ultimately privatised; a set of objectives one can group under vandalism. If you were moved by the destruction of Nimrud by the fascists of ISIS, wait: the government’s about to make that look like graffiti on a post box. The medievalists only wanted to corrupt history after all. Whittingdale, backed by the hereditary privileged stupidity of George Osborne, targets our future.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Tories are out to eviscerate the only UK broadcaster that’s consistently held them to account, bettering the scrutiny offered by institutionalised and vacillating opposition parties; they’ve been intent on undermining the BBC’s universal service for 70 years.

Churchill, outraged by the corporation’s critical coverage of his 1945 election campaign, later had ITV spitefully created to undermine Lord Reith’s benefaction to the nation. The Thatcher government went further, first deregulating television so the country’s creative economy was spread as thin as possible, then wrenching ITV franchises from experienced broadcasters with fine production pedigrees and handing them to consortia who knew as much about making quality programming as you do. The idea was to create an ecosystem where public service broadcasting was the exception not the rule. In such an environment the licence fee would look as archaic as the ration card.

With the proliferation of pay TV, niche channels and online media, you’d have to be a brainmulched not to realise that the BBC looks increasingly conspicuous. Its enemies cite this as a reason to destroy it. Why have this flat tax funded behemoth when there’s so much other media available at thrice the price? Sure, the newspapers and Murdoch networks struggle to do anything other than entertain – inform and educate being areas they’d rather not touch as there’s no money in it, for the incurious get so very bored with that shit, but the existence of an organisation that has a broader, more sober view of what media can and should do, is an outrage to them.

Of course the real reason the Beeb’s enemies hate it, and here I refer to people who think about such things not fans of MacGyver repeats on CBS Action who resent paying for networks they never use, is because its reach and prominence frustrates their attempt to inculcate their junk values into the population. In the world the Mail and Sky dream about, the bulk of the public would be made up of Orwellian proles, kept docile with simple entertainment and assured in their conservative beliefs by a helpful, nakedly manipulative press.

Having the BBC around must be like living with a scrupulously even-handed liberal, who dares to question everything they’re told and open the subject up to discussion. The annoying bastard is minded to consider everyone in the house, not just themselves, sometimes daring to suggest they try new things that may conceivably broaden their horizons. The audacity of this housemate! The paternal arrogance! One can see why it would better to live in an environment where you’re never challenged or subjected to new home grown experiences.

So those that would kill Aunty and bury her in a plot with once great ITV companies like Granada and Thames; companies that challenged the government of the day and were rewarded with annihilation; pretend the debate’s about tax and media plurality, when in truth it’s an underhanded attempt at terminating thought, punishing an orthodoxy that (on paper at least) privileges universality over demography, and closing off alternatives that impede their attempt at establishing cultural hegemony.

It would be disingenuous to pretend that some aspects of the government’s BBC critique aren’t reasonable. But both those who support the corporation and privately will its destruction can point to similar themes with very different solutions in mind. The BBC’s universal service requires it provides something for everyone. The Tories look at the corporation’s output and say, “why the Voice? Why Strictly? Why chase ratings?” but that’s the wrong question and the programme examples are facile. The BBC must maintain a high audience share to justify its universal funding but there’s no reason why popular programming should be safe programming.

Forget imperial expansion, if the BBC’s been guilty of anything these past twenty years it’s timidity. The corporation could and should be trying to develop new formats, redefining popular tastes. Instead it’s pandered to them, leading to schedule stagnation and a loyal but apathetic audience. There’s more staples in the BBC’s TV schedule than a stationary warehouse. Few of its biggest hits, either on TV or Radio, were commissioned this century.

Worse, the Beeb has fallen into the trap of trying to stake a multi-channel presence in the world of digital TV – an unnecessary move given its privileged position at the head of the electronic programme guide. The result has been fragmentation, niche broadcasting, and with it the disastrous decision to create channels aimed at largely imaginary strata of the British population.

Once BBC TV would make a show for either of its two main channels, within a broad remit, and take a punt on finding an audience. Now it imagines the audience and makes the programmes it thinks this unknowable group wants. The result? Patronising, Reith-reversing channels like BBC3; uneducating its audience in what television can be for younger audiences.

So the government claims the BBC’s risk averse, and that’s true – the role both it and New Labour played in fostering that timidity brushed aside. But the idea that you dismantle a cultural asset because it’s frightened to innovate is palpably absurd. The Beeb, contrary to the rhetoric of crisis engineered by its enemies, is in pretty good shape. One Savile doesn’t make a summer, or indeed a case for abolition. Most of the BBC’s services are excellent and welcomed by those licence fee payers who had the nous to seek them out. The Tories say the BBC’s trying to do too much, but why shouldn’t it develop new online tools, for example, if it has the resources to do so? Isn’t looking for better ways to deliver local news or weather reports serving the people who pay their fee? Isn’t the benefit of the licence fee that there’s a pot of money to try these things?

There are many people in the country who resent stumping up for Aunty. In some respects this is understandable. Perhaps the fee should be variable in some cases, based on ability to pay. The sense of unfairness to those who’ve never been enticed by BBC TV or Radio, the idiots, must be palpable. But such people only speak for themselves. I pay for services and infrastructure I don’t use, I pay for people and spaces I’ll never see. But I believe in universal health care, maintained communities and welfare for those who need it. Oh, and free education. By the same token I believe that broadcasting shorn of the commercial imperative should exist for everyone in the country, whether they opt to consume it or not. If public service broadcasting becomes the province of a small, paying elite, it will be diminished and inevitably limited in its ambitions.

If we had a government that supported the BBC, guaranteed its independence and told it to think the unthinkable, promising that audience share wouldn’t prejudice charter renewal, we could have HBO, or whatever byword for innovative TV you want to use, on a scale unseen anywhere in the world. As things stand we must hope there’s a few people in the Culture Department and Treasury who know the value as well as the price of the licence fee, so are minded to preserve what we’ve got, until their successors set it free to make good on its promise.

Published in: on July 22, 2015 at 14:29  Leave a Comment  
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The Corbynite Manoeuvre

Jeremy Corbyn MP

There’s been an awakening in the Labour Party. Have you felt it? Jeremy Corbyn, the Bennite leadership candidate who only made the ballot thanks to condescension from modernists in the PLP, convinced a token showing for what used to be an intellectually vibrant wing of the party would placate the dinosaurs who still believe in guff like social mobility, distribution and peace, is now the surprise frontrunner.

What does this mean? For the Blairite commentariat, pretend centrists like John Rentoul, it shows Labour have lost their minds. If the Wilderness years of the ‘80s and ‘90s taught politicos anything, which is debatable, then surely it was that Thatcherite monetarism, economic self-interest and the free market was as natural as your mother’s teat. It’s remained the consensus, surviving 13 years of New Labour, because everyone agrees that Thatcher won the argument on everything. Sure, the country’s divided, social mobility’s in reverse, social justice – however you care to measure it, whether it’s the availability of cheap housing, low rents, well-paid jobs or access to higher education – is a joke, but other than those fundamental aspects of British life, everything’s worked out rather well.

When seasoned so-called moderates on the backbenches were signing Corbyn’s nomination papers, wiping tears of laughter from their eyes, they were convinced this last gasp showing for the old orthodoxy would persuade its advocates that it was time to pawn their CND badges. It was just a bit of fun and a crushing defeat for the benign beard would send a clear signal to the electorate that Labour had shed its ideological baggage. No sir, no one in the Labour Party believed in social equality anymore and you could can take that to the deregulated bank.

It didn’t occur to the Blarites, or indeed those admirers of Ed Miliband’s ultra-soft socialism, the kind you could taste, if not see, that Labour members who joined the party because they didn’t accept the Thatcherite consensus (and whisper it quietly, found it an affront to society), may be bored of the politics of triangulation. Hell, they may even hate that proxy for the status quo – the hallowed centre ground.

Spoon fed vapidity and platitudinous bullshit for twenty years while the durable unegalitarian infrastructure erected throughout the ‘80s remained largely untouched, these anarchists – we’ll call them ideologues – actually expected a real debate about whether the party should change direction. That’s right, not a token version like 2010, when the old firm was represented by alienator-in-chief Diane Abbot (whose redistributed votes cost David Miliband the leadership; a warning from history), but a journey into Labour’s tattered soul. What does being a member of the Labour Party mean in 2015? Who do you speak for? Does it matter if most of the population see themselves as middle class these days? Post-Thatcher, is self-interest and God the same thing and if so, how do you sell killing God?

Granted the last question can be worded a number of ways.

Tony Blair understood that triangulation wins elections but only because you start from the position that the status-quo is natural. You create a little political space by erecting a roomy big tent; large enough for soft Tories and social democrats to share cocktails and canapés. Everyone else is pushed outside and labelled an extremist or hard liner. It’s a formula for continuity. Sadly, it’s also a recipe for political stagnation.

Jeremy Corbyn’s excited Labour’s grassroots because he refuses to position himself to reassure Middle England voters. He doesn’t care for their beliefs and he’s not inclined to pretend otherwise. His positions on some issues, Irish reunification for example, lack nuance (it’s a policy born of anti-imperialism that ignores realpolitik), but Labour members are listening to him. Why? Because as a backbencher who’s refused to take the New Labour shilling he’s been free to speak his mind for the last thirty years; he’s a man in touch with his principles.

His opponents, by contrast, are machine ministers who’ve been media managed in clinical white rooms. They’re victims of the professional politician career trajectory they’ve openly embraced. If they sound weak, like three middle managers who have no strong views on anything, bar the necessity of their own candidacy, then that reflects a truth about Labour’s mainstream in the post-Blair era. Corbyn’s an unlikely prime minister-in-waiting, but by virtue of having something to talk about – anything – and having clarity of purpose, conducive to the kind of passion you can’t fake, he’s left his straw opponents looking very fragile indeed.

The tragedy for the electorate, whatever the outcome (which may include a Corbyn victory and a prompt coup to remove him) is that we’re left with a disunited opposition with no clear path to power. The Conservatives have a tiny majority, a bastard’s dozen, but until Labour rediscover their courage and radicalism, and find a leader who can galvanise and inspire the millions who aren’t satisfied with the status quo – those who know the centre ground is shaped like a lemon, it may as well be 120.

Grey by E.L James (Exclusive Extract)


From a thief’s hard drive to Opinionoid in one easy click.

So this bird comes in, she’s fit as, tits like Christmas presents, and the little sort sits at my desk, eyeing my Jim and John Thomas, partners in cock and balls since 1989. I say to her, with my mouth, ‘what’s your angle, babe – I’ve got a meeting in ten so keep it trim.’

‘I’m Ana,’ she says, sucking off the words, ‘my friend Kate was supposed to be doing this interview but she got sick so I’m here instead. I hope that’s okay.’

‘What was wrong with her, growler trouble?’ I says, ‘cos I’m a funny bastard. She looks put out, like, but I’m rich and she ain’t, so it don’t really matter what she thinks. ‘You got a surname?’ I says. The ol’ Grey charm’s on the pitch, shirt off, swinging it about, working up the crowd.

‘Steele,’ she says.

‘What, like the fuckin’ metal?’ I laugh at my own zinger. If I hadn’t been a successful business man, like a gazillionaire or whatever, I’d have been a stand up comic for sure. Christian Grey at the ‘ammersmith Apollo, Christian Grey at the O2. Christian Grey, buy the DVD for Father’s Day.

‘I’ve got a few questions,’ says this Ana, but I’m not interested in ‘em. I’m thinking about her tassels and muffler, and what I’m going to do to her when, like every other bird, she follows me back to the ‘ouse. She’s asking about my company now, about what we do and that, but all I can see is that arse – the fat ripplin’ like the puddle in Jurassic Park, as I thwack it with a rolled up copy of TV Quick.

‘Ana,’ I says, ‘are you a dirty bird? Do you like a bit of slap and tickle?’

‘Mr Grey,’ she says, ‘I don’t know what you want to me to say.’

‘Say yes please,’ I says, and I get all excited – the old man coming up to say hello. But as he does I feel sad. I think about the old days, when I used to get locked in a room and told to sort myself out with a roll of sandpaper and a plastic band for m’ bollocks. I feel guilty and a bit embarrassed, like I’ve been caught moisturising. ‘Sorry bird, you’ll have to go,’ I says, ‘some other time, yeah?’

She gets up to leave, looks pissed off. I walk with her to the lift.

‘I’m sorry if I offended you in some way,’ she says, ‘I can send you a transcript if you need to approve anything?’

‘Nah, you’re alright darlin’,’ I says, ‘I was just thinking about the time this older bird I was shacked up with put her fist up me and worked me like Orville, but I don’t think you want to know about all that.’ The lift comes and I push her in. ‘Later peaches,’ I says, and the doors close.

What a fuckin’ day.

Grey is published later this month.

Published in: on June 10, 2015 at 17:10  Leave a Comment  
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Election 2015: What You Should Think


I’ve been compelled to write this piece by a friend who said, though admittedly only in my imagination, ‘I’m avoiding election talk like the William Hague because I don’t know what to think. Ed, can you tell me what to think?’ Well I’m a good pal to my friends, especially the idealised ones I’ve invented, so here’s a commentary on the choice that faces us all on May 7th, designed to rummage around your brain so thoughts may break free. You may not have two political opinions to rub together but now you don’t need them, you can use mine instead.

The election-scape’s a minefield, so to allow us to navigate it like a fleet footed and counterfactually breathing Princess Di, I’ve divided this one sided discussion, which you’re not invited to be a part of, into two, representing the likely blocks of parties that may form the next government. A postscript imagines the worst of all worlds, a shy Tory vote breaking free of its cocoon on Election Day and delivering a majority Conservative government – a phenomenon known to psychologists as 1992 syndrome. But first…

Prologue: The Electoral System

This is a difficult election for those, like me, who believe that the electoral system should be informed by principle, rather than being tailored to reflect current voting patterns. First Past the Post, the system that’s fingering the grenade pin now smaller parties are fragmenting the vote in much the same way satellite television broke the old broadcasting duopoly and diluted quality back in the ‘90s, is predicated on the simple but, I think seductive idea, that you earn the right to represent a constituency if you win more support than your opponents.

The plural’s important. If you and your friends conduct a vote on where to eat you’d have a problem if the minority who made their arm erect for the Clapham Grill had to be accommodated. You just accept the reasonable principle that a simple majority vote is fair. To those that say, “but if we add the hands for Ciao Bella to those for the Clapham Grill we get more votes than the winning option”, that’s true, but those hands, though forming an anti-Chicken Cottage block, weren’t united around one option. The Chicken Cottage Principle works well in all life’s snap elections yet weirdly, champions of democracy like Nicola Sturgeon still think a loser’s coalition should be given first refusal on governance. The SNP have never been ones to take the will of the people lying down.

It could be that this election, if it results in a hung parliament with a government composed of three of more parties, or a minority dependent on small pockets of MPs to get votes through the commons, could spell the end for FPTP. It’s ironic there’s a political consensus supporting localism, yet its proponents vie to abolish its purest manifestation: the simple constituency election in which the national debate is tempered by local concerns. Green leader Natalie Bennett leads the Doublethink tank on this point, telling voters to look at their local candidates and vote for what they believe while simultaneously declaring FPTP to be a failed system and advocating proportional representation.

In the brave new world that may exist post-2015, with smaller parties hoping to gerrymander the system to up their representation without increasing support, the general election could become a simple show of hands on the national issues for the first time. All votes count of course, because they inform the result – if you vote, you’re enfranchised, but soon they’ll “count” in the sense oft used, i.e. they’ll directly determine the stripe of the government. Hang on, you say, that sounds like direct democracy – yes, but it will forever change the character of governments. It won’t be necessary for parties to field a comprehensive manifesto anymore. Lobby groups will be able to inform policy making, instead of issues being considered in the round, as now. The result, surely, would be a government vulnerable to narrow sectional interests. What’s that, they already are? Well okay, but let’s not formalise it, eh.

The point is that under the current system, political parties must offer a broad and inclusive programme, in tune with different swathes of the electorate, to coax a majority. This is healthy and sensible. If the Tories and Labour are languishing in the mid-30s, that’s because they’ve forgotten the necessity of inclusivity; they’re stuck in a rut because they’re courting their core vote. They’ve become minority parties. Contrast their fate with that of the SNP who have been so successful in deluding enough Scots into thinking they represent “one nation” politics (having peddled the lie that Scotland is a culturally autonomous part of the UK) that they’re set to win a majority of the vote there, turning our Tartan neighbour into a one party state.

First Past the Post may look archaic to those who’ve been conditioned to think that vote share and representation should be aligned, regional concerns be damned, yet once again it looks set to reflect the national mood with uncanny precision. Scotland’s in thrall to the cult of nationalism, assuming, fallaciously, that you can cherry pick the parts you like, post-referendum, without it necessarily leading to separation, while the rest of the UK’s unconvinced by any one party, content to register their support for fringe interests such as climate change and disillusion with the EU, keeping these high on the agenda, without indicating they’d return parliamentary candidates who’d champion those causes. Deterministic, you say? Well maybe, but consider that in 2010 the country had had enough of Labour but weren’t convinced by the Tory modernisation project and dealt the parties a hand that made a Conservative/Liberal coalition the most durable outcome. In fact, pick a post war election, nail it up and the only election that would stand out as incongruous would be 1992; a campaign where many voters, Toryshamed, lied to pollsters.

With that in mind let’s look at the post-election clusterfucks on offer.

Block A: Tories! Liberals! UKIPers! DUP!

With less than a fortnight until voting opens it’s probably just dawning on David Cameron that his para-fascist election guru, Lynton Crosby, may have misread the mood of the nation. It turns out that managerialism and monetarism aren’t inspiring to an electorate, hungry for the vision thing and new ideas to solve old problems, like social inequality.

Cameron, conceived by the Tories as a sequel to Tony Blair when the brand was long bust, has never transcended his knock off status to emerge as a leader and statesman that a substantial chunk of the country could get behind. There are superficial reasons to suspect he’s politically hollow – the way he’s debased PMQs with his sneering, personality fronted politics and cardboard rhetoric, an example, but observers know it goes deeper than that. Cameron’s sop to his hardliners on Europe, his blatant short termism – never worse than the hurried and divisive reaction to the Scottish referendum result; a response that undermined the unionist principle central to Conservatism; his regurgitation of Thatcherite policy, with socially binding ideas dropped once the votes had been counted, has shown the Tory folly of choosing a leader who cannot lead, locked in an ideological timewarp, whose programme for the future is shapeless and measured in employment figures not social advancements.

His only hope of retaining power (probably – see Postscript) is a new alliance with the equally vapid Liberal Democrats; a cabal of Orange Book liberals who’ve tried to disguise their innate conservatism with so-called progressive tax measures, not any of which are remotely redistributive. On the evidence of 2010-15, more from these partners would mean social and political stagnation. Nick Clegg’s grand lie, that he shackled himself to the old enemy in the national interest, could only be peddled by a man who shared the PM’s contempt for Joe and Jolene Public. How else to explain the policies he didn’t fight: the Health and Social Act, rushed and punitive changes to benefits – including the bedroom tax (or Spare Room Subsidy), tuition fees trebling, cuts to humanities funding, the Help to Buy scheme (or House Price Inflation Engine), Free Schools (or Abdication from Remodelling Education Initiative), abolition of compulsory pension annuities (or the maintain the orthodoxy of courting the old while fucking over the young doctrine), and of course wide ranging cuts to public expenditure that depressed the economy for 3 long years. Next to that, raising the personal tax allowance seems like painting the front door to a burning building.

But current polling suggests the old friends won’t be able to govern alone. The Tories can count on their DUP cousins to provide 10 seats but where to find the rest? The only cabal that remains, though mercifully it should, thanks to FPTP, be very small indeed, is UKIP; that blob of reactionary bile, Daily Mail movie giveaways and human mediocrity, whose presence on the bill guarantees a government push for a no vote in a European referendum and a hardening of Conservative policy across the board.

Block A, though they may lack the numbers to form an absolute majority, would represent the part of the electorate that’s wedded to self-interest and social division. It would also, assuming it could govern, accelerate our exit from Europe and kill the Union stone dead. The latter may be inevitable of course, thanks to the mistakes made in the last parliament, which brings us on to…

Block B: Labour! The SNP! Greens! Plaid Cymru!

Sensing that anti-conservative forces are about to overwhelm the British body politic like a particularly pernicious virus, David Cameron’s doubled down on his strategy of scaring the shit out of English voters – the only ones he can hope to reach – with the spectre of the SNP becoming parliamentary kingmakers. Cameron’s right to flag the danger but he’s the worst man alive to deliver the message. The SNP, like the Thatcher government they helped into office, are lucky in their enemies.

Nicola Sturgeon’s constitutional saboteurs, to be lead in the commons unofficially but most emphatically by Machiavellian bullshit factory and one note provincialoid Alex Salmond, will not be coming to Westminster to build bridges with their ostensibly left-of-centre brethren. The nationalists, naturally, are separatists and their interests, Scotland’s be fucked, are not furthered one jot in demonstrating that the mother of all parliaments can open its blouse and offer a dug to a Scottish electorate hungry for change.

Returning 50 MPs to the old place puts them, to their delight, in an invidious position. Their entire narrative is based on the idea that the Palace, with its arcane traditions and debate society dynamic – you know, the stuff that gives it life, atmosphere and vitality in an increasingly homogenised world – cannot serve Scotland in any meaningful way, that it’s a relic from Britain’s imperial past. Yet, if Nicola’s wreckers prompt a race between the SNP and Labour to see who can offer Scotland the most goodies, Ed Miliband’s party eying a 2020 revival north of the border, this impression may dissipate and the separatist cause could lose momentum. Consequently the only option open to the SNP is to strong arm Labour into making concessions it knows will foster resentment in English seats. That’s right, if you can’t win independence democratically, be wilfully divisive, play the martyr, though your social liberal credentials be suspect (the SNP are the party who’ve resisted high income tax changes and courted Murdoch), claim the system doesn’t work, then invite voters on both sides of the border to conclude that separation is the only way to break the deadlock.

Ed Miliband, for his part, has been trapped in this parliament by the necessity of having to appeal to a far bigger and more politically diverse electorate than the one enjoyed by Sturgeon. He’s watched as his Scottish enemy has spun his defence of the union as an ideological alliance with the Tories. The success of that brazen lie, halving the Labour vote in Scotland, has demonstrated how well the SNP have conditioned Scottish voters into accepting their “them and us” mantra, the psychological precondition for independence.

Miliband, forced to be timid and supress any radical rhetoric, lest he scare Middle England and hand victory to Cameron’s custodians of village idiot politics, would therefore, if elected as head of a minority government, be faced with the least propitious circumstances of any Prime Minister for decades.

He faces the appalling prospect of not having the numbers to make lasting changes without the SNP, who’ll claim credit for the radical polices that serve their sectional interest, the message being – “see, now imagine what we’d do in an independent Scotland!”, while vilifying Labour for every moderate UK policy position they’re forced to make to shore up their English vote.

If the challenge for a Cameron-led government (or whoever picks up the broken baton) would be resisting change and rolling back those he’s never quite cared for, Miliband’s will be making them in a way that brings the whole country together and convinces enough wayward voters to empower him to go further in 2020, preferably with a majority. Alex Salmond showed it could be done (and that other parties could be airbrushed out of the picture in summing up) but his was a polity that fought on the same side of the fence. Miliband will start life with half the electorate and every vested interest in the country against him (the only leader who can make that claim), plus a ten percent chunk of voters mulling over breaking away altogether if they’re not satisfied (2020 will see a Scottish Parliamentary Election as well as the next General Election under the idiotic Fixed Term Parliaments Act).

Deep down Miliband must know that the only way to win outright is to change how people think politically, à la Margaret Thatcher. Half the country not only accepts but prays to the Thatcherite consensus. That block must be broken, like the proverbial trade union. The way through is to be bold and make changes that foster social cohesion and make the majority of the nation feel good about itself, positioning the losers, for there are always losers, as an irrelevance – yesterday’s yahoos. In other words he must be seen to lead any progressive alliance, shaping it so that voters both north and south of the border want to stay on board and back him in 5 years’ time. If he can’t, the country as we know it will be finished and the Labour Party finally, definitively, irrelevant. Block B’s therefore a massive punt – the kind of place-all-your-chips-on-red gamble the electorate weren’t prepared to make in 1992. Oh, speaking of 1992…

Postscript: 1992 and all that

Despite all the polling evidence we have there are still many, some of them at Tory Party HQ, who expect the Conservatives to defy the odds, as John Major did, and win outright on May 7th. Whether they can do this or not hinges on the big question: is there an army of shy Tories out there ready to tow Cameron over the line? Major won because enough people, who knew deep down it was a vote for self over national interest, so were ashamed to register it, came to his rescue at the 11th hour – frightened that Kinnock and Company (a rejected Disney concept) would roll back the changes they’d done well from, thank you very bloody much.

Well, under Cameron there are fewer winners and fewer ideologues, which means this Tory party can’t rely on the same swell of covert support come Election Day. Ultimately the contest will be decided by how fearful a people we are. If, as Cameron hopes, we succumb to his apocalyptic rhetoric and look no further than our front door, his party have a chance of retaining power. My hope is that the voters take that punt on the opposition. It may usher in five years of political insanity, just as they claim, or it could signal a sea change in the nation’s politics. I for one would like to find out which.

Published in: on April 24, 2015 at 12:58  Leave a Comment  
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EastEnders at 30: A Lifer Writes…


It began with a phone call. My earliest memory of EastEnders is convicted murderer Leslie Grantham answering tha blowa in the Vic’s boxy kitchen diner. Not very dramatic you may think, but the moment was tense, for Den was talking to Jan, his mistress, and each call she made to his abode turned the atmosphere. It turned it over. The setup resonated with me because a year earlier my Father had left my mother for another woman and like poor Angie, she was trying to hold on to my progenitor anyway she could.

Dad was a similar age to Den, much the same build, and had been elusive enough during my first seven years to retain the same air of mystery as his televisual counterpart. He was, and is, working class, in contrast to my Mum, which gave Den’s aspirant affair some additional weight. In 2015 it’s easy to sneer at EastEnders and label it absurd, so we’ll do that shortly, as it’s long since drank the black blood of the clockwork universe God in order to keep fickle square-eyed attention deficit dunces interested, but in its first years reality was still its patron, and paying well. One could identify with it. Lucky you if you couldn’t, but then you probably had a very dull life.

I must consider the possibility that watching the show for 30 years, enjoying the highs, enduring the lows, and weary of popular characters that the BBC liked, the public liked, but I despised, like Barbara Windsor’s mystifyingly enduring screeching bigot, Peggy Mitchell, has shaped me in some way. It’s a horrifying idea but there’s no shying away from it. I’m talking about what’s innate here. You can’t watch something for two hours a week, every week, without it impressing itself on you in some way. You inhale the particulates. So whereas I’ve never clad my skaz with “will ya”, “do me a favour” or “sling yer ‘ook”, hitherto known as Minder’s building blocks, I’m sure I once channelled Grant Mitchell in a standoff outside a pub, facing down an aggressive soak with wide eyes and a bit of affected psychotic brio, and I know I have a taste for excess (restraint too because we’re all a mass of contradictions, innit) and it’s likely the relentless will to cliffhanging of this miserablist juggernaut put that there.

The typical EastEnders critique paints the show as prolefeed; a lurid penny dreadful that dreadful people enjoy. Much of this is class based and odious. I’m a generous old soul so I never tire of people who try and spend the cultural currency printed on so-called low rent stuff; cult TV, bad movies, terrible books; that they imagine lends them a bit of kook, a certain earthiness. Yet these same people despise EastEnders. For why? Because there’s no currency in tethering your identity to a bunch of love-a-duckers, balls deep in life’s business end. The show doesn’t advertise the viewer’s sense of humour in neon, it doesn’t print a full page ad in What Niche drawing attention to their taste for the absurd. Instead, EastEnders’ people are imagined to be drawn from the same wholly fictitious mass as the show’s characters. We’re low, semi-literate and base, just middle class folk devils. No one wants to join that group. The only thing that makes this prejudice rather wonderful is how useful it is in marking out people your brain’s allergic to. I think it’s always nice of them to warn you.

As a lifer I can lend informed criticism to some of the show’s least palatable elements. Not everything in the series bible should be there. Veterans will share my dislike of proxy conversations, doubling for another character’s vacillating conscience, the show’s perverse inverted snobbery, ensuring middle class characters are nearly always dull, deviant or duplicitous, the fallacy that flamboyant and loud are the same thing, characters forced to hold expressions for abnormal periods (in close up) to facilitate the iconic duff duff moments, ambitious directors who break with the house style to feed their thirst for cinematic stylisation (not on this schedule, not with these cameras, would-be Spielbergs), and the tendency for characters to be capricious when the plot demands it, tantamount to insulting the audience’s intelligence. The latter brings us bang up to date with the revelation that sweet, benign Beale child Bobby, son of Ian, smashed his sister’s skull with a music box. Long term viewers cried “fuck you”, content that we’d been told it was so without being shown the necessary build of character and situation to make sense of it.

One can hate all of these things yet still enjoy the satisfaction that comes from watching characters you’ve invested in over long periods go through the emotional wringer, tested against whatever indignity, trauma and moral dilemma the sadistic backroom hacks can devise. This is the pleasure of EastEnders, not pin-sharp dialogue, not characters that inspire us to broaden our minds (you’ll starve before you see a resident of Albert Square take on a great novel, learn a new skill or do anything creative), and not subtlety, which was outlawed sometime in the early-mid ‘90s, but a show that rewards long term viewing with big pay offs and callbacks to the miscellanea established over its monstrous run. You get involved, like you do with the people you’ve known all your life, and God help you, you care.

All of which leads us, finally, inevitably, to this week’s run of 30th anniversary episodes, centred on the Lucy Beale whodunit. Annoyingly elements were live, an unnecessary and potentially ruinous gimmick that ignored the wishes of long term viewers who simply wanted to see the tightest written, best produced episodes possible, in favour of courting pop culture tourists and idiots who cared more about the experience of watching the show than the content. Current series overlord Dominic Treadwell-Collins noted that people would tune in to see the actors make mistakes, neglecting to say why this was in anyway desirable. Perhaps the wholly imaginary justification was that live broadcasts helped maintain secrecy, but here DTC was a hostage to his own success, having managed to keep things back from the audience for an entire year, including the surprise reintroduction of old characters and unpublicised plot twists.

In the end the anniversary shows highlighted the best and worst of the beast. They reminded us that EastEnders can be gripping, disturbing and as dark as an Elizabethan winter, while being simultaneously broad, implausible and ridden with Ben Mitchell. That written, the dedicated, who know that magic is never too far away, will be poised to find out if Dot goes to chokey for extinguishing panto villain Nick, how in Satan’s colon Kathy can be alive, what unhinged Ronnie will do when she’s strong enough to take revenge on her cheating sister and husband, and if this show can do the impossible and find a home for Richard Blackwood. I wouldn’t bet against it because I don’t bet, but I’ll be there when and if it happens.

Happy birthday EastEnders, you’re a bastard like Dirty Den but like Angie I love you and I’m going to take the maltreatment and wash down the pills with booze because after all these years it’s all I know.

Published in: on February 20, 2015 at 17:12  Leave a Comment  
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Arts Review: Kim Noble – You’re Not Alone

Kim Noble

In the run up to Valentine’s Day singletons (or ordinary people as we like to think of ourselves) were invited to reflect on their shame. As a recent BBC article pointed out; a piece that had the temerity to ask why smug bastards who’d chosen to have their identity subsumed into that of their dominant genital dock dared to criticise the still independent of thought and action; our culture’s coercive on such matters, which is a polite way of saying it’s a sneering bully. Intimacy between humans takes many forms, close relations many more, but coupledom’s the only standard vouchsafed by your family, peers and, God help you if this applies, church. It’s a kind of tyranny that makes otherwise healthy individuals piss-miserable. Relationships, more often than not, are theatres of control, disappointment, boredom and soul corroding self-compromise, but you wouldn’t know it from all the talk of love and fulfillment that’s poured into you like a society sponsored waterboarding session.

All of which urgently scratches behind the eyes, nigh on tormenting you, during Kim Noble’s latest show, a treatise on loneliness and the horrific games we’re prepared to play to quell it. Noble’s conflation of comedy and performance art collapses the barrier between biography and situationism. His life is the show and the show is his life. During an hour in which your deepest anxieties and self-loathing are reflected back at you, a sombre Noble relentlessly polishing the mirror, you’re invited to observe one man’s wry attempts at reaching out to fellow disgusting humans; perverse gambits from the contented person’s point of view, which frequently encroach on stalking, stroke turpitude’s balls and beat off degeneracy.

Noble’s subjects, including Keith the Morrison’s employee and Jon, a sexual retard who leaves his mobile number on the door of a service station toilet, arguably have his contempt, but a man without vanity or pride, prepared to perform in front of an audience that’s watched him masturbate on camera and take a dump in a church, isn’t elevating himself. The pathos and terrible beauty in his work comes from a strong sense of authenticity; the idea that the finely crafted long form setups (working in B&Q for a year using a homemade uniform, slow grooming a young buck online with the assumed persona of his ideal wife), come from a place that’s innate and verifiable.

Noble could only perform …Will Die, his 2009 show, because he knew what it meant to be depressed. You’re Not Alone also has a fist up truth, the awful twist, in an evening of shocks, being the discovery that the reassuring title is a fraud – a fragment of a reminder that you are indeed alone, and that the man or woman on your arm, the friend’s wife you’ve been fucking for years, is a transient and perhaps unsustainable attempt at negating that one, basic, fundamental fact.

None of which may sound very funny but Noble finds humour in all the grubby nooks you’ve worked so hard to get a brush to. With great control and lowly understatement, affecting to be oblivious to the scale of his self-inflicted depravity in pursuit of tragedy, he guides you through a series of vignettes, from botched taxidermy to his interrogation by IKEA security staff. You’re either delighted at the audacity, appalled or quietly sympathetic, depending on how life’s currently treating you, but never indifferent. Noble’s comedy is brave, astute and dissecting. There’s little out there like it because there are few performers prepared to retool the least palatable parts of their lives for public consumption. For those who can relate, in fantasy if not in deed, there’s comfort. You’re not alone, and best of all, there’s a funny side. Of course Kim’s art clads meaning to his sadness, lending it purpose. The question the show neither asks nor answers is, what are the rest of us to do?

Kim Noble: You’re Not Alone is inside the Soho Theatre (with their consent) until March 7th.

Published in: on February 16, 2015 at 16:15  Comments (2)  
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Dear Steven Moffat: Last Christmas

Doctor Who Last Christmas

Dear Steven,

On Christmas Eve I went to bed and dreamt of the perfect Doctor Who Christmas Special. Perhaps, like the Doctor and Clara, my subconscious was networked, because I encountered other Whovians in my fully nude adventure – simple people like me who’d put their heads together and imagined 65 minutes of densely plotted storytelling.

Our episode – I call it the ‘The Bell Slayers’, was constructed like a mini-movie. It had everything; a great hook – “our clothes are gone!”, an establishing first act that set up the principle characters, piquing the interest of the dreaming observers who were anxious to know what was going to happen to them, a jaw dropping incident that propelled us, groin first, into act two – complications galore, twists, left turns, pirouettes, a scene in which Wham’s Last Christmas is cut short by a madman cleaving a TV with a bloody axe, then another shock, and finally the heart stopping finale – that’s roughly 15 minutes of scrotum twisting jeopardy and moral dilemmas.

Yes, there were jokes, but they were mordant, and everything made sense; in short the story didn’t use whimsicality or abstract concepts as a crutch. Oh yes, and everyone whose brain was powering this episode, once they came to terms with everyone being naked, agreed there should be no camp. I know you’d approve of this old fruit, which is why you fought the BBC suits that insisted on Nick Frost riding a reindeer like a horse and having it fitted with a car lock for the key fob gag that wasn’t funny when you did it with the TARDIS that time.

Watching Last Christmas it struck me how fortunate it was that these disparate characters, despite being relatively humourless in the real world, all shared your sense of humour – which was odd as their brain trust created Santa and wrote his lines. So they, like you, had a weakness for self-reflexive humour, such as Claus’s observation that his sack was bigger on the inside – a joke that suggested his creators knew of the TARDIS and understood its transcendental dimensionality, despite having never encountered it. Ah, you say, but maybe the Doctor wrote that gag, but he was lying on an alien rock somewhere and Santa isn’t part of his cultural makeup – in fact, the Doc wouldn’t even know it was Christmas, so I, like the nation, assumed Nick Frost had to be an import from the rest of the group. Yes, you further reply, but didn’t I see the ending and that tangerine – the appalling suggestion that Claus really exists in the Whoniverse? Well yes I did, but – ah, fuck it.

Look Steven, your dream of a Christmas episode and ours don’t match. You like elves that take North Pole selfies on their iPhones and have the audacity to label them “comic” in-episode, and we don’t. You think dialogue sounds more natural and faintly comic when you include adverbs, e.g. “right now I have an alien life form wrapped around my face and apparently it’s digesting my brain”, and we don’t. You think that genre mincing and stealing from other sources – The Thing, Alien, Inception, Miracle on 34th Street, is fine if you acknowledge the fact and make the fiction “self-aware”, and we do not. I mean, Sweet Douglas Adams, you even had the balls to rip off Star Trek: Generations! Who does that? Clara’s Nexus scene with Danny Beige might have been the most schlock-free part of the episode and therefore the most interesting – not least the aside that she’d begun to idealise the paint-dry stiff in her memory, but it was dispiriting to learn this was Clara’s idyll. Seriously, curled up on the sofa with Mr Boring and the TV off? What the fuck was that?

So I think you’re sensing that I didn’t really care for this seasonal shithouse. As ever there were some nice moments in it – baubles on a dead tree. I liked the sleigh ride that closed the story and one of the hitherto anonymous characters waking up in a wheelchair. I thought that was a poignant touch. I liked the hint that Shona, the stock irritant of 60 minutes standing, might be a lonely character who didn’t want to return to her life. These were flashes of interiority in an otherwise anonymised story. But for the most part it was empty, incoherent gubbins.

You tried to cover this up by having the Doctor observe that dreams were “disjointed” and “silly”, but this was only ever going to fool those who’d lapsed into semi-consciousness following a hard day of Christmas drinking. The rest of us were all asking the same question: why wasn’t this episode written? Instead it played like a game of Doctor Who consequences; each scene scribbled on paper by a crew member who’d been obliged, with you watching, to fold it over, so didn’t know what gaffer Gary had written.

I suppose all that’s left to talk about is Clara. Before this aired there were rumours that Jenna Coleman was leaving the show. You teased her end in true waking up in the shower style, serving an initially moving final scene between the Doctor and his now elderly assistant. I have to say I was ready to go with this. I found the prospect of Clara being reacquainted with a missed man from her youth, a man she was dreaming about 62 years on, just the right side of mawkish. But then, perhaps conscious that you were in danger of writing a scene that mattered between two principle characters, you pulled out and pressed the reset button. I now wonder if you’ve blown your chance to part this pair in an affecting way. Still, I like Clara, I enjoy her miserable company – I can put up with more of her. One question though: what the fuck are you going to do with her now? Is she ready to leave her Danny-free life behind and finally get on board full time, and shouldn’t she really have been obliged to do the same from the beginning?

So, given that Last Christmas was probably the least anticipated Doctor Who episode in the show’s 51 years – I mean, I know people who were looking forward to the death of loved ones more than this, it wasn’t the insult Nick Frost’s participation promised. Sure, it will do nothing to dissuade your detractors of the notion that your best contributions are behind you and that at this late stage you’re reliant on steals from your DVD collection and tangential BS to get by, but at least there wasn’t an ill-advised reference to Facebook for the benefit of idiot millennials.

Oh. There was.

Best of the season,


P.S: If you’re going to include guest stars in the opening credits on an occasional basis, perhaps design a sequence that can incorporate them? Having Frost’s name appear after the “Doctor Who” title, because that was the only free real estate, made it look like the episode was titled “Nick Frost”. Sadly plausible given the time of year.

P.P.S: No Wham cameo. What, you had an elf called Ian but that was too camp?

P.P.P.S: Could you have found a better puppet workshop? The dream crabs were barely capable of movement. It’s hard to be scared of something that looks like its battery’s about to run out.

P.P.P.P.S: Remember when “it was all a dream” was generally considered bad form?

P.P.P.P.P.S: We learned the next episode would be titled “The Magician’s Apprentice”. Given the Doctor was referred to as a magician in this episode we can face the new year satisfied that the companion-centric approach of last season is a thing of the past.

The New Old Adventures: 

The Matt Smith Years: 

The Distant Past:

Deep Time:

Published in: on December 27, 2014 at 13:19  Leave a Comment  
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Dear Steven Moffat: Dark Water/Death in Heaven


Dear Steven,

Surprised to hear from me? You surely are. Your hack of opinionoid.com 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 boxset 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 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. 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 friends’ 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: opinionoid.com

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  

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