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.

It’s tempting, if you’re broadly sympathetic to the notion of a united Europe like me, to feel a great deal of anger over this. Britain’s hardly overrun by EU migrants. The figure’s around 2.8m, which sounds like a lot, but is in fact only 1.8% of the population. But, say, the sceptics, too many are coming, 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, it 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 (6)  
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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 (8)  
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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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Dear Steven Moffat: Sleep No More

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Dear Steven,

Was it wise for the first line of Mark Gatiss’s script to read ‘you must not watch this. You can never unsee it’? Don’t make it too easy for us, for God’s sake. The warning was necessary though. “Sleep No More” was a found footage episode. The technique’s long been redundant in horror cinema – a once innovative way of telling a story that passed into obsolescence through mind numbing repetition and the difficulty all but the best filmmakers had in reconciling its imbecilic constraints with their movie’s nuts and bolts requirements. So before we got anywhere near Gatiss’s incomprehensible plot, there was already reason to fear that so-called format breaking episode; fifty minutes of TV that thought it was offering the audience something different, but was in fact just repackaging a tired monster-on-the-rampage-in-a-futuristic-space-station story using a style that double downed on the episode’s passé credentials. This was cliché on cliché; a terrifying glimpse into Doctor Who’s low budget future.

Those of us that hate found footage movies but have, for one reason or another, been obliged to watch a warehouse full, have our own list of related problems that inevitably rear their monstrous heads. Amongst them, the problems of ontology. Often we’re shown footage edited together that could not have logically have been assembled by anyone (see Josh Trank’s Chronicle) or couldn’t been recorded, so must be faked somehow (see End of Watch).

Gatiss, perhaps aware of this, but determined to make the conceit work despite the pleas of seasoned horror fans on staff, tried to use Doctor Who’s placenta-like ability to absorb conceptual bullshit, to use the limits of found footage to frame, then subvert audience expectations. So the footage we thought was being recorded by helmet cameras and space station terminals, was in fact…er, a feed from the ether, or people’s brains, facilitated by alien technology…or something. And the plot, downloaded from an internet template, with beats that, pun fucking intended – the audience could have pinned to a cork board in their sleep, was revealed to be a ruse: generic on purpose so we’d, er, enjoy it enough to keep watching and internalise an alien signal that would, er, induce perma-sleep and turn us into monsters made of mucus deposits and dead skin.

Gatiss, one imagines, thought he was being clever. Sure, he said, addressing himself in the mirror on the day the script was due, viewers would hate the episode while they watched it, lamenting the lack of conceptual clarity (what force could make a build up of sleep dust sentient, what was Reece Shearsmith’s ultimate goal?), but then he’d pull the rug, Inside No.9 style, just like his old pals Pemberton and Shearsmith did every week, and we’d crawl away with our brains pickled, content we’d been the victims of a master manipulator. What a time to be a Whovian, what a time to be alive.

But sadly the pull left us standing firm, like Peter Venkman’s flowers in Ghostbusters, because the final reveal made no more sense that the head scratching action that preceded it. Shearsmith’s mad scientist, or whatever he was, I’m not sure I got it, had been consumed by the Morpheus machine which he’d created – maybe – to make more efficient soldiers that didn’t need sleep – and he’d become a Sandman, except they look like humanoid stacks of eye waste whereas he had fully human form, including detail like glasses and clothing, though perhaps not, because these were just monsters the monster created to scare viewers so they’d have something compelling to watch, maybe –  and said monster, wanting to create many more like himself, just because – took the footage he’d somehow gathered, though it was never clear how it was generated, and edited it together with a digital signal doubling as a 1,700 year-old found footage movie cliché, so others would find it…somewhere…and watch it, despite his instruction not to, thereby becoming a creature made of human waste like himself.

Huh?

Does Mark Gatiss have a drinking problem we don’t know about? So the episode, nigh on incomprehensible and conceptually botched, turned out to be pure filler. Once again, in contrast with some of the meatier two part stories we’ve seen this year, this return to the disappointing single episode, showed the wisdom, albeit not yet fully realised, of junking this kind of instalment once and for all. There wasn’t time to get to know, or care about, any of the guest characters, the story had permanent and fatal errors which might have been avoided had there been additional screen time to develop the ideas and fill in the blanks, and it was derivative; confirming our suspicion that Who’s writers struggle to fill these forty-five minuters, and should be thinking bigger, adopting the serial mentality of old.

The next episode better be powerful, Steven. I think you’re going to have to kill a regular or something.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: Part of me likes the idea of the Doctor and Clara being caught unawares, but wouldn’t it be nice to see something that genuinely wouldn’t go out in a normal episode? Clara in the shower for example.

P.P.S: I’m going to call it and say this was the worst episode of Peep Show ever.

P.P.P.S: ‘Sleep claims us all in the end.’ Whatever, eyeing Clara, could that mean?

P.P.P.P.S:  Brute force, low intelligence – it was reassuring to know that soldiering will be the same 1,700 years from now.

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 15, 2015 at 13:10  Leave a Comment  
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Dear Steven Moffat: The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion

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Dear Steven,

When I saw this Zygon two parter coming down the road, I admit I was nonplussed. These shapeshifters of yesteryear, for me at least, belong in the past. To modern eyes these lumbering, impractical aliens, devoid of personality, are more likely to engender a craving for seafood than fear in today’s impressionable, porn loving kids. So naturally the only way to give them a personality is to invest those traits in the human copies they inhabit, but even there, and credit to Jenna Coleman for doing her best with cold bitch Bonnie, there’s nothing much to see. Perhaps this story could have been the one to realise the horrific potential of the Zygons – sick ones that could only partially transform – a gift for makeup and CG artists, but once again the spendthrift policies of the BBC were in evidence; a small FX budget half spent.

This was one of those stories that made you pine for Who monsters with individual personalities – a race in the Star Trek mould, rather than a Who’s default variety – the uniform monsters with the self same lone characteristic. Counterintuitively, aliens are more menacing when they have relatable human personalities. You’re then free to tell stories featuring those that break from or are exiled by their parent culture, with all the dramatic goodies therein. And whereas Invasion/Inversion, had some red meat – it being a neat allegory about Islamic extremism and the fact that stable nationalism and cultural identity is inherently an interdependent project that relies on all parties recognising their mutual interests – I couldn’t really care about the Zygons. They’re paper tigers, and their lack of guile and intelligence hurt the story.

All that said, this was a story with a gutsy premise; unashamedly political, that made some salient points about war and the character of peace, in the best traditions of the series. It was ballsy to show the Zygon extremists effectively “recruiting” on council estates, in deprived areas – copied parents killing their child in one extraordinary moment; a blissful reminder of what you can get away with in prime time when the terrorists are men in silly costumes and, er… Yet later the story got more explicit: a downed plane, destroyed by an illegal alien’s missile no less, transmitted in the week IS allegedly bombed a passenger aircraft out of Sharm El-Sheik. Kudos Steven, it was mature of the powers that be not to give into the idiotic imperative to censor anything that uncomfortably chimes with the dark parts of the news agenda and let that go out unmolested.

But I thought Part II was braver still – particularly the gag about the Union Jack parachute and the Doctor’s assertion that it provided “perfect camouflage”. I read that a veiled critique of the myth of a uniform identity, an aside that pointed to the many cultures that exist under the same flag. It was a point the Doctor underlined in a blistering anti-war speech at the climax. This scene chewing from Capaldi, utilising anger and sarcasm to great effect – the very qualities that make this Doctor – intelligently summed up the futility and lack of cognition that characterise radicalism and the cycle of violence that follows. Perhaps there aren’t many Jihadis who double, pun intended, as Whovians, and perhaps they’re so offensively stupid that they’d read Capaldi’s assault on their bloodlust and grievance mentality as BBC propaganda, but for anyone with half a human brain it was as good a denunciation of terrorist violence as I’ve heard this year…perhaps even better than Keith Lemon’s unexpected and barnstorming anti-war oratory on Celebrity Juice‘s Middle East special.

But story meat aside, though there were more ideas in evidence than actual plot – because Arcadia isn’t rebuilt in a day – this was really a tale about supporting characters. One, Clara, had her impending demise teased throughout, making the nods to her ultimate fate about a subtle as a Zygon with its suckers on your crotch, while the other, Osgood, was someone we wished would stay dead but insisted on sticking around.

I have to say I vehemently dislike the Osgood character, and not because her peak flow’s better than mine. She’s a sop to the show’s many fan girls – she looks like them and talks like them, in that kind of robotic, geeky way you hear at convention Q&As, and that’s the problem: no fucker wants to be reminded they share the Whoniverse with people like these. The thought of her in the TARDIS each week is truly chilling. It would be like being trapped in a lift with a professional bore. Who wants a show obsessed webhead, parroting Moffatisms and pouring over the show’s history…er…I mean….so yeah.

No, Osgood should have stayed dead, instead of being invested with an importance unbecoming of her slight and irritating character. As we’ve discussed many times, Who works best when it doesn’t acknowledge its audience; when it has the balls to say, “we’re doing this – now get on board or get fucked”. Osgood’s existence feels a lot like the real world intruding on my telly screen, and I’d rather that didn’t happen. I want to convince myself that the show’s the province of the great and the good, not cosplayers and masturbators. I suppose what I’m saying is, let’s not see her again; I don’t want to spend another hour getting hoarse, shouting “fuck off” at the screen.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: Osgood 2 went undercover in America, apparently aware that DW’s popular there.

P.P.S: There was an odd instance of actors with generic American accents sounding distinctively faux American in part I. Were they fakes, or do all American actors sound bad when guesting on UK TV, much as our cockneys sound uncanny when appearing in US TV and Film? (see Craig Fairbrass in Cliffhanger)

P.P.P.S: “I’ve got question mark underpants.”
“Makes one wonder what the question is.”

Probably the best knob gag ever written.

P.P.P.P.S: Does the copying of Clara give Jenna Coleman an out should she ever wish to return to the series, or at least a way for you to cheat so the Doctor can have Osgood as a companion, impregnated with Clara’s memories and experience – a de facto companion regeneration? I hope not, else I’ll be buying a rocket launcher myself.

The Old Man and the C: 

The Clara Oswald Show:

Smith – The Dark Suit Jacket Years: 

Smith in his Pomp:

Deep Time:

On the Return of Star Trek

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Today’s pop culture bombshell was the news that CBS, the network that owns Star Trek’s small screen interests, has stumped up for a new series that will debut in January 2017. The show’s pilot will go out in the wake of a new movie and all the related hype around the franchise’s gold anniversary. Assuming Star Trek Beyond is a critical as well as commercial hit (we’ll come to the hack alienating part shortly) then this new-on-old, sequelising nostalgia strategy should guarantee a huge launch for the, er, next generation. It worked before. In 1986, when Trek was a mere 20 years young and still unable to drink in the US, The Voyage Home generated warmth and goodwill throughout the universe and was quickly followed on TV by Star Trek: The Next Generation, a blockbuster show by late ‘80s standards, that eventually carved out its own iconic status. Its spinoffs kept Trek on the air until 2005.

But history is no guarantee of success this time around. The new Trek will be born into a very different, more competitive and fragmentary TV landscape, while those in creative control of its sister movie franchise, the latest instalment of which will act as a launchpad for the anniversary celebrations it will hope to trade on, are the weakest helmsmen yet, and this in a series once produced by Rick Berman.

First that movie. Star Trek Beyond will the third in the rebooted, alt-timeline movie franchise that’s hitherto been characterised by lavish production values, inventive direction and imbecilic writing. Aimed at a general audience, for whom Star Trek is just the distraction of the week, J.J Abrams’ flicks have reinvented Gene Roddenberry’s odyssey as a broad, action-packed blockbuster series, replete with modern genre movie clichés and illogical plotting. They’ve been made to be popular and disposable and have achieved both. Beyond is directed by the man behind the Fast and the Furious movies and will feature jokes by Simon Pegg. It’s likely to offend real Trekkies (that’s the people who like Star Trek as originally formulated) and that matters, because Alex Kurtzman, who co-wrote the first two instalments in crayon, or tried to, is to produce the new TV series. His name, proudly displayed in the press release that announced the new show, stifled cheers and killed erections. It’s a little like finding out your old girlfriend’s newly single and missing you, but she’s pregnant with another man’s child.

So Trekkies absorbed the news with a mixture of joy and trepidation. Fandom, however, is agreed on three things, though it remains to be seen if these thoughts are as obvious to those who’ll now be developing the new TV series as they are to anyone who knows anything about the old.

1) The show should not be set in the same alternative universe as the new movies. This timeline was created purely to give the so-called writers of those flicks the opportunity to use the original series’ characters without the straitjacket of established continuity. That’s fine for the occasional big screen blow out (though not really) but laying a new TV series over existing episodes of the old, would be obnoxious and unnecessary. Fans didn’t invest in those old stories only to see them retrospectively annulled.

2) The new series should be set further into the future – beyond the timeframe of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager. Please fuck, no more prequels. George Lucas started this terrible trend and it’s produced a slew of ill-conceived movies and television series that have often undermined (or ruined) their parents.

A new Trek TV series should build on the long and illustrious legacy of Trek’s past, while being set further on enough, as The Next Generation was, that it can introduce new technology, political dynamics, antagonists, and characters in tune with modern sensibilities (for each Trek’s always, on some fundamental level, reflective of the period in which it’s made, whatever century’s on the calendar). The Next Generation had a certain wow factor on its debut – a magnificent, advanced new ship – eye bulging technological advancements, new races – yet it successfully (eventually) combined new and familiar elements and ultimately forged its own identity. The 2017 series should adopt the same philosophy, while forging its own path.

3) The new show should take its creative cues from its predecessors – in other words, it should be a show driven by ideas – high concepts, moral quandaries, and not the thin gruel served in expensive packaging, offered at the movies: a show true to Gene Rodenberry’s philosophy. A show that people who hate modern life and the people they’re forced to share it with, may want to escape into.

The talk on social media today has centred on CBS’s decision to offer the show exclusively on its online subscription service; a signal of how much the delivery of TV has changed since The Next Generation debuted 30 years ago. Many bark that they won’t pay for it – that it’s a scam to get people to use a streaming service that’s currently behind successful rivals who’ve already thought to produce original content, like Netflix and Amazon. Well of course it is, but this needn’t be a bad thing.

Making your show the centrepiece of an online offer means two things that might work in the new Star Trek’s favour. When Netflix launched House of Cards, another repackaging of an old property, they realised that no one would pay for it unless it was a blockbuster. In other words, it had to be big: big production values and top talent, both behind and in front of the camera. Nothing less would generate the kind of buzz and must-see anticipation that sells subscriptions. Star Trek has huge brand recognition and a gazillion loyal fans, but the TV marketplace is crowded, sci-fi and fantasy shows are ten a penny. To stand out, to generate the same excitement and blockbuster feel as The Next Generation did, the new show must be just as ambitious as other subscription tentpoles, and you can double down on that ambition if the show’s a linchpin for a whole service. CBS will have to spend money and make the show distinct.

But the benefit doesn’t end there. A series that lives on a subscription service, rather than a network or first-run syndication, has additional protection: creative freedom. The bar for ratings will be far lower, the latitude given to writers, perhaps greater. What will success look like in terms of raw numbers? House of Cards’ audience must be tiny compared to a prime time network series, yet the brain trust responsible have been allowed to make it their way; the moneymen conscious that critical acclaim in the online marketplace is just as important, and ultimately lucrative, as weekly ratings. Insulated from traditional market pressures, the makers of the new Trek have an opportunity to experiment with ideas and narrative structures that mark the show out from its contemporaries. The new Star Trek has a chance to be part of TV’s so-called golden age. If CBS have the sense to pick the right people and give them their head, Trek might wow us again in a seen-it-all-before era. Those assembled to make it should be at least that ambitious. Voyager was a time to play it safe. Now’s the time, following what will be a 12-year gap, to push the boundaries while remembering what fundamentally makes Trek special – oddball characters, an optimistic view of the future, intellectual curiosity, a progressive set of values and of course, technobabb- no, wait.

So boldly go, CBS – do. But don’t make a stupid show for indifferent people. The bar for television is different. TV and the internet is where real Trekkies live. Fire a phaser directly into our brains. Stun us. Then get out of the way. And if there’s an original concept involved? So much the better. I look forward to illegally downloading your efforts in just over a year’s time.

  • Dear Steven Moffat returns at the weekend, with a Zygon double. Sorry. 
Published in: on November 3, 2015 at 16:47  Comments (1)  
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Dear Steven Moffat: The Woman Who Lived

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Dear Steven,

Last week on everyone’s favourite not-entirely-satisfactory viewing experience, we ended with Maisie Williams’ Ashildr bracing the centuries en route to an uncertain future. She’d been made functionally immortal, thanks to some idiotic sentimentality on the Doctor’s part; an action taken by a considerate and thoughtful 2000-year-old alien who’s seen everything, done everything and had time to ponder every philosophical quandary in depth, apparently on a whim. Though difficult to accept, and frustrating, for surely the right way to seed the second episode would have been to have the Doctor’s hand forced – saving Ashildr being the only way to save the day (and adding a tragic element to her resentment) – the cliffhanger presented us with the foundations for a potential fascinating part 2, in which we’d catch up with Williams further down the time road and see how eternal life and loneliness had changed her.

Well, “The Woman Who Lived” mostly delivered on that promise, when it wasn’t wasting our time with Rufus Hound or scenes of comically broad home invasion filler. Catherine Tregenna, a woman no less, so the right man for the job, brought some much needed thought and crackle to the Doctor’s exchanges with the now 800-year-old, who understandably was somewhat bitter at being lumbered with more free time than any of us could bear. An intelligent script explored the consequences of such a long life; half-remembering your formative years, having a blasé attitude toward death and the mayfly character of people’s innings, and substantially, from a psychological point of view, the actions Ashildr had taken to protect herself. We learned she’d lost three children, that she ripped painful memories from the pages of the diaries she kept to document a life too long to keep in a normal brain (though one wondered why the nano-doctor inside her hadn’t kept that part healthy), and that a long spell alone had given her a certain moral flexibility. To put it another way, she’d seen the law for the transient set of values it represents. Lucky, lucky she.

But what we were really interested in was Ashildr’s attitude to the Doctor, and this is where the episode came alive. As expected, she was pretty angry – both wanting his help to escape the dreary 17th century and a lifetime of watching the world go by, while secretly conspiring with the cowardly lion’s evil older brother – a grounded alien – to put the matter beyond doubt and escape through a portal into deep space, where presumably she’d continue to be bored, just on other planets.

If anything this was the flaw in Ashildr’s logic. It would have made sense for her to feel trapped had she known a more advanced life and been, say, stuck in the past. But what is there, but Earth for most of us? She, at least, could travel around it and live many different lives. Is that really the definition of trapped? Geographic and material freedom? I suppose the knowledge of other planets might skewer your perspective, but still. She sounded like a spoilt child to me. Little wonder the Doctor politely told her she wouldn’t be getting Amy’s bedroom any time soon. Only one person gets to go in there and sometimes fall asleep hugging the pillows, tears streaming down his cheeks.

Yet the real aim of “The Woman Who Lived” was, ironically, to portend disaster, the forthcoming Danny Pinking of Clara – just at the point we’d started to like the fucker. In a disturbing coda, the companion, notably absent for most of the episode (foreshadowing things to come), held up a selfie from Coal Hill, only for the Doctor to note the now 1,164-year-old Ashildr hanging by the school gates. The implication was clear; the woman who’d agreed to an uneasy truce with Capaldi in a 17th century tavern (it was likely the ale talking), had become a full-on Time Lord obsessive, and with the benefit of another 350 years of slow-building resentment, was still craving her spot in the TARDIS. As veiled threats go, we took her presence to mean that Clara was now in her crosshairs….and they were pretty cross. I have to say, Steven, the idea of a companion-denied, ready to avenge herself on the real thing due to a combination of jealously and century-spanning grievance, is a great one, and the hairs on my balls stood on end as Clara signed off with the fate-tempting “I’m not going anywhere” as the director went in close on the Doctor’s pensive puss.

This, Steven, is what we want to see more of on Doctor Who, the Doctor’s actions coming back to bite him on the dick. All too often on this rollercoaster of a show, we’re passengers on a consequence free voyage. Characters die, only to be miraculously revived (see Osgood next week) and threats dissipate before our very eyes. But here was a different kind of enemy – the kind with psychological ballast, whose anger was directly tied to our hero’s choices. That an innocent should pay the price, a woman who, let’s face it, has never done much but die in various incarnations, seems to me exactly the kind of weighty plot development that we’ve been denied for too long. Will you (I assume it will be you) have the guts to go through with it? Or will Clara have a close brush with mortality and decide to simply call it a day? I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume, because Jenna Coleman won’t be appearing in Coal Hill, that you’ll actually send the mistress of Period 2 and 3 to the grave plot next to Adric’s, and that the spin-off will primarily take place in the new commemorative wing of the school – you know the bit that used to be the English Department Office and Smoking Room.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: Kudos to Capaldi for not staring at the carriage woman’s heaving cleavage on camera. I can only imagine how difficult that must have been.

P.P.S: “It takes a day to get to Kent.” Ah, the good ol’ days.

P.P.P.S: Clara’s absence worked wonderfully well as a tension heightener. She now has no idea what’s coming or indeed that the Doctor’s made a new frenemy. Smart thinking. Perhaps Tregenna should take over when you retire?

P.P.P.P.S: “I’m against banter.” Well, you could have fooled me.

P.P.P.P.P.S: I counted two knob gags. Three if you count Rufus Hound.

P.P.P.P.P.P.S: John Barrowman’s Captain Jack was name checked. For some reason I found this more disturbing than Ashildr’s sinister transformation or the Doctor’s “it gave a whole new meaning to dying on stage” gag.

The Old Man and the C: 

The Clara Oswald Show:

Smith – The Dark Suit Jacket Years: 

Smith in his Pomp:

Deep Time:

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