Dear Steven Moffat: The Eaters of Light

Dear Steven,

There was much anticipation in Doctor Who land when it was announced that Rona Munro, the woman who became the ultimate hostage to fortune by writing a classic series serial called “Survival” at a time when BBC mandarins were plotting to axe the show, had been brought out of storage to pen a fresh chunk. Well, as we now know Steven, those bastards did it. Munro’s story, featuring a lesbian Cheetah woman and the horror of Hale and Pace, turned out to be the very last of the 1963-89 run. That misfortune made her an immortal part of Who lore. Perhaps that’s why you thought of her when it came to finally bringing back a member of the old guard – a historic bridge between two epochs of time travel chicanery.

With 28 years to think of a new story, which many would call plenty, Munro might have produced something a little more substantial than “The Eaters of Light” – an episode that played like dips from the Time Lord tombola – interdimensional locusts, Pict warriors, the lost Roman ninth legion – and as ever the limited single episode running time didn’t give the new characters much time to develop beyond their core motivation. Yet, a tonal shift was evident, which combined with old school BBC standbys like remote native locations and smoke machines, gave the story a classic era buzz.

Perhaps it was psychological projection, maybe just fantasy, but I’m sure I detected a hint of the McCoy/Aldred era in the deadpan witticisms and line delivery. It’s almost certainly insanity, but when Capaldi said he was “very very cross indeed”, I heard the 7th Doctor. But truthfully, I hear him every day – in the supermarket, at the massage parlour, on Pornhub, watching The Hobbit. I don’t know why.

And maybe it’s a good job there was more dry comic patter than usual, because Munro’s plot was a real snooze fest. No fucks were given – indeed they remained sealed in their boxes – about Romans and tribal Scots coming together to defeat a luminescent alien. The Doctor’s willingness to sacrifice his future to guard the portal that separated the monster realm from ours meant little because there was no possibility of him following through. I’m not sure how the united enemies entering the gate helped – apparently they were stuck there in perpetuity or something, and I didn’t care.

That’s the problem with single episodes, Steven – either the scribe hired can work out how to inject a little psychological intrigue and character-building detail into the fleeting scenario or they can’t, but if they can’t, we’re left with a truncated serial that has no depth, just a concept.

Much as I dread Chris Chibnall’s arrival as show runner, one thing that came out of his recent interview in Television, other than the shocking, depressing titbit that the BBC begged him to take the job, proving the powers that be don’t watch the drool box, was a hint that in order to meet the Beeb’s revamp remit – be bold and take risks – he may innovatively go back to the ‘60s and revive the serial format; possibly even extending a story over an entire year. Groundbreaking, if it’s 1986 and the story is “Trial of a Time Lord”.

If you want my opinion, and you don’t, I think that’s a good idea. As I’ve said many times, I wouldn’t go that far – I’d just commission four great screenplays a year and divide them up, but as Munro’s re-emergence has us looking backwards, let’s remember a time when Doctor Who stories had time to breathe and supporting characters a chance to make a fleeting impression. Wouldn’t that be nice? But Chibnall, if you’re watching – no return to Hale and Pace cameos please. Do take it seriously, there’s a lucky geek.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: “I’m against charm.” Me too, Doctor. Me too.

P.P.S: The words “wi-fi password” should never again feature in a Doctor Who story. I know you insisted on this so Rona’s off the hook.

P.P.P.S: Fuck, John Simm’s Master returns next week for the grand finale, just as we’d got over him. Rest assured I’ll be watching through the haze of a damn good bottle of wine. No, not the shit you drink. Decent stuff. Decanted.

The Old Man’s Last Stand

Christmas 2016:

Christmas 2015:

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: Empress of Mars

Dear Steven,

We don’t have many episodes left together, so it was a matter of some regret that with just four episodes remaining, you followed the recent trilogy with yet another disposable three quarters of an hour. “Empress of Mars” has Mark Gatiss’s slapped on it, and assuming this was his final contribution to the show, nothing became his legacy like this fun but frivolous slice of genre mashing Victoriana.

The concept of Flashman versus the Ice Warriors was fine, but like other brundle-episodes, Gatiss’s “Robot of Sherwood” claws at the mind, there was nothing more to the story than its one sentence pitch. I enjoyed the setup; an imperial garrison, imagining they’ve conquered Mars for the Empire and enslaved its only remaining native, unwittingly help said colonial free his combative dormant species. But what I suppose I missed was the moral dimension that might have made this thing about something. You can say that’s Star Trek’s domain and you’d be right, but morality plays induce reflection and therefore tend to live longer in the memory that episodes that don’t test the character’s assumptions and sunny optimism.

Sure, you could argue the Doctor got to extol the virtues of peaceful co-existence and all that shit, but honestly, who cared? The Colonel got his honour restored, not that it mattered in the grand scheme of things, and the Ice Warriors took their place in the Galactic League, or whatever, having been reconciled to leaving their now barren homeworld. Super. But you’re aware that Peter Capaldi doesn’t have much screen time left, right? Shouldn’t this precious chunk of temporal real estate have been used for the start of his run in – I mean, more than the last 30 seconds? Perhaps others were too busy enjoying their nostalgia to feel cheated but I did, Steven. I did.

The only real point of interest offered by “Empress of Mars” was further insight into the Doctor’s pop cultural knowledge. Initially I was cheered by the news that this 2,000 year-old alien genius, invested with knowledge of countless planets and civilisations, hadn’t seen The Terminator. It’s a great movie, but I just couldn’t picture our hero sitting down to watch a fictionalised story of time travel, killer robots and apocalypse. The constituent elements constituted a child-like view of the day job. And having barely survived the Time War, one imagines the last fucking thing he’d want to enjoy as entertainment was a story about a scorched planet overrun by machines. So, a big thumbs up there, but then I remembered this was the same man who had seen Ghostbusters and knew the theme. A fact he reminded us of in one of the series’ worst ever moments.

No, the Doctor hadn’t seen James Cameron’s movie or John Carpenter’s The Thing – again, one imagines for obvious reasons. But he had seen Disney’s Frozen and once again, for the benefit of a throwaway gag, we were left wondering when our favourite Time Lord found the time to watch a fairy tale aimed at Earth children and what compelled him to watch it in the first place.

During your time as showrunner you’ve never managed this problem, despite the damage it does to the unreality of the show. The Doctor should be divorced from all the transient crap that preoccupies us, because he’s an alien and that being the case, there should be some distance between him and the audience. Let us aspire to be him, rather than relate to him on a personal level. We got through the entire classic run, 26 seasons, without the Doctor referring to his movie collection, favourite pop hits or top 3 computer games. I’d like to believe Chris Chibnall will reinstate the Doctor’s dignified silence on this front…but he won’t, obviously.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: Missy’s out then. So I suppose the meat of the series, Capaldi’s goodbye, begins next week. I’ll be sure to set my crotch watch.

The Old Man’s Last Stand

Christmas 2016:

Christmas 2015:

The Old Man and the C: 

The Clara Oswald Show:

Smith – The Dark Suit Jacket Years: 

Smith in his Pomp:

Deep Time:

Late Election Special: Jeremy Corbyn

How the fuck did he do it, eh? How did Jeremy Corbyn lose the election so well? Labour went to war a listless, dejected outfit, pitied by the media (and Alan Sugar). The debate will rage on about whether the contempt of the commentariat shaped public distrust of the party or vice versa, the political equivalent of the nature/nurture argument, but everyone who saw the polling data and examined the recent local election results agreed – Jeremy Corbyn was going to be butchered at the ballot box. It would be like Murder on the Orient Express with each member of the public taking their turn to plunge in the knife.

Yet, with a final tally of 262 seats (that’s 30 gains), Jeremy Corbyn looks like a rock solid loser, the new Neil Kinnock. Accept, whereas the Welsh colossus had to compromise everything he believed in to end up further behind the Tories than Corbyn is today, Jeremy, leader for less than two years, wiped out the government’s majority on his general election debut, estranged from the party’s so-called modernisers.

The assumptions of the last 30 years were hit hard – perhaps harder than Clint Eastwood’s right hook to Jessica Walter’s face in Play Misty for Me. 13 million people turned out for Labour, motivated by noble causes like improving society and giving the Tories a good kicking. And the bedrock of this new support? Hitherto indifferent youngsters – fresh faced victims of government policy who’d grown up knowing nothing but Thatcherite continuity. Not old enough to have internalised propaganda about the insanity of the alternative, and largely ignorant of the 1980s, the kids liked the cut of his jib and intuited he had a slim chance of winning. Sure, he was an ideological Brexiteer who’d barely engaged in the referendum campaign, consigning Remain to defeat, but a helpful Theresa May neutralised the issue by triggering the Article 50 process. What a useful ally she was.

It was oft noted that Jeremy, by every measurable yardstick, was the opposite of Theresa May – ideologically, educationally, sartorially. He only had one pair of shoes. There was also a gulf in confidence, though Corbyn felt more comfortable sparring with May than Cameron, her lack of patrician self-belief and plastic charm going a long way to diffusing his inferiority complex. But who knew, as the Tories geared up for suicide, that Jezza, as he was known in the pubs around Belfast, was also the psychological antithesis of the Conservative leader and this factor, above all else, would prove decisive?

May went into the election expecting to win but, I suggest, daring herself to lose in the dark nook of the brain that knows the unspun self; the “me” plagued by doubt and an honest appraisal of one’s own limitations. Corbyn, by contrast, expected to lose but dared himself to win. His impetus? Not a belief in himself but in the message he carried; an unapologetically left wing programme based on the wholesale repudiation of Thatcherism and its attendant assumptions about markets, public services and the role of the state.

It wasn’t a hard sell for the Labour leader, he’d never wavered on the fundamentals, so already knew his lines backwards. His manifesto, only slightly watered down by the party machine, had existed in his head for 30 years, a copy and paste of Tony Benn’s speeches. Transposing it to paper was a mere formality. There’s an advantage to being the enemy of a tired consensus – everything you say reads as radical and fresh.

The problem with being the Tories is that a stupid amount of electoral success means the country runs and works according to your design; you’ve achieved everything you wanted, for the people you care about, and have disadvantaged the rest as planned. Consequently, all that’s left to do is undo any socially progressive measure that slipped onto the statute book during freak periods of Labour government. Corbyn’s switchbacks were plenty, but after 30 years of reversals there was more than enough to fill a manifesto – one no Labour leader had dared propose in modern times from fear of alienating the beneficiaries of Tory policies.

So-called moderate Labour MPs, “moderate” really being a euphemism for conditioned by Thatcherism, withdrew from the campaign completely, intent that Corbyn should own the disaster to come. The leader’s strategy was entirely predicated on galvanising millions of people to embrace an alternative to the politics of the past 30 years. As there was no proof enough sympathetic voters existed, this was a leap of faith – a mark of how socialism, at its most pure, functions like religion. Corbyn’s millions didn’t register in local elections, didn’t answer the phone to pollsters, and never appeared on television. They were, quite understandably, thought by political scientists to be fictitious. But Jeremy’s brain, covered in a thick membrane constituted from utopian (but most definitely not terrorist) cells, didn’t worry.

In parliament, in opposition, Corbyn had been mostly dreadful – a dispirited and miserable beta male flanked by two hundred bitter colleagues. By the time it came to fight the election, abysmal opinion polls reflected accurate reports of disunity and intellectual incoherence. Labour’s talent pool was so dry that only loyal lieutenants like Diane Abbot and Emily Thornberry could be ultilised in the campaign, spokespeople who despite John McDonnell’s post-election label of a constituting “a winning team”, were box office disasters – charmless, badly prepared, sanctimonious in the extreme and dogged by a long record of bare-faced hypocrisy. In short, they were the kind of social democrats Conservatives studied to feel good about themselves.

Corbyn, with extensive media training to smooth down any rough edges, had better human credentials and could simulate speaking from the heart. He single-handedly won over those who couldn’t cope with the spectre of a landslide Tory victory, giving them a positive reason to vote for something else. May lost the election but Corbyn lost it better. Climbing 12 points to cut a Tory poll lead of 20 to just 2 on the final count, was exclusively the achievement of him and his cabal. May launched the election hoping to build a nationwide personality cult. It was her only success.

So what next for Jeremy Corbyn? Is he really modest and unassuming as his spin doctors tell us, or, like most intellectually insecure men held together by an idealised sense of self, likely to be monstered by adulation? Assuming they’re amenable, will he now invite Labour’s old guard to professionalise the operation on the strict understanding that the core tenants of the programme aren’t up for negotiation? And can he win an election without first finding a way to convert soft Tories whose self-interest makes winning the 65 seats that separate him from the winning post a potential bridge too far?

There, Corbyn may finally have found an answer to a hitherto unanswerable question: what are moderate Labour voices for? But the 2017 campaign was based on the idea of no compromise and courting new voters. Doubling down next time against a better Tory leader, disinclined to repeat the party’s mistakes, will make the fight that much tougher. Voters, taking the prospect of a Corbyn government seriously, will expect a much stronger front bench. Jeremy knows how to galvanise the public but he’s never reached out to a single Labour MP. If he can do it and acknowledge there’s only so far you can travel without your parliamentary party, then the 2017 result may yet be a staging post rather than a peak.

Late Election Special: Theresa May

Between you and I, I’m very worried about Theresa May. The Prime Minister’s election campaign, that resulted in the legacy annulling, reputation destroying constitutional calamity of a hung parliament, might be the greatest act of political self-harm in decades. Not since Ted Heath dared the nation to match his sense of self-importance and gift him more seats, despite already having a working majority, has an incumbent Premier murdered their party’s prospects with such abandon. Wasteful? Disgraceful? John Rentoul? You better believe it. The 2017 election was worse than a defeat for the Tories; they now face the prospect of having to navigate the most turbulent political waters since the Second World War with no majority, no authority and no idea what to do next.

The conscious part of May’s mind might have hoped for a landslide but it’s now clear that her unconscious badly wanted to lose the election. One can imagine her having dreams in which Tory bodies were loaded onto carts and dumped on kindling, the ashen faced PM watching quietly as the thick plume from consumed futures billowed toward Brussels. This was a death drive election; the kind of campaign someone fronts when they’ve lost all connection with the human race and hope for deliverance. Desolate Tories will ask why their copper, verdigris-tinged talisman didn’t just go on a stabbing spree and wait for armed police.

May spent the campaign aloof and miserable, vexed by its absurd demands, namely that she interact with samples of those she presumed to represent, and sell them some sort of coherent vision for the future, consisting of more than long pauses, sharp intakes of breath and stolid phrase making. Brexit, she thought, would absent her from those outmoded expectations. What did the people need to know, other than she’d be fighting the good fight, the proxy for formally disenfranchised working class voters with whom she had nothing in common? She’d pre-fought the campaign she believed, circumventing its tricky complications. And a good job too – she hated people. Can you imagine having to justify yourself to such an ignorant bunch of bastards for seven weeks? Seven weeks?! That’s nearly a gutful.

Calls for the PM to explain herself to the man and the woman in the street (“cunts”, lest me forget, according to Sid Vicious), must have fed Theresa’s sub-conscious realisation that she was the wrong person, in the wrong party, vying for the wrong job. A prisoner of childhood indoctrination and social background – the Vicar’s daughter, a provincial non-entity, she naturally gravitated toward the Conservatives, a party that vouchsafed her aspic frozen, closed worldview. But interaction with its grass roots and election to its parliamentary ranks, lead to the accruing of doubt. This was mind sediment. And as it built, layer on layer, May started to feel its weight in her skull. One could see the tension in her face and neck muscles.

When she famously warned the Conservative conference they were thought of as “the nasty party”, something that had never seriously occurred to any ideological Tory, she inadvertently gifted a soundbite to the party’s enemies, the stock of which rose year on year. Many Tories never forgave the slight, nor the imposition of reality, but this bold observation was the first sign of May’s self-loathing and closet desire to have that hatred validated and reinforced by her colleagues.

Despite this, May’s burning ambition, tethered to fragile self-worth, the thread no more than a hair’s width, compelled her to rise in the ranks and in the early months of the year, seek a personal mandate. Her majority belonged to David Cameron after all, and she owed her crown to his mistakes. The public would have to be involved, worst luck, because without them she’d be an accidental Prime Minister in the eyes of her elected European counterparts, and a fraud when pitted against insufferable opposition like the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Salmond or something – a sanctimonious browbeater with nation leading pretensions.

As ever in politics, it’s not the cynicism that kills you, it’s your inability to hide it. Opposition parties dutifully, strategically, pointed out that May had timed the triggering of Article 50 to lock in Leave voters and boost her personal standing. Had May called the election in the national interest as she claimed, she’d surely have done it before we were tied to Brexit, thereby gifting us the chance to get out of it. But to do that would throw away the opportunity to consolidate the Tory vote – realigning the right, as well as the chance to command a reluctant consensus. No party with ambitions to govern dared run on a remain ticket, and Tory commitment to seeing separation through to the bitter end, staying in the car until it filled with carbon monoxide, seemed the most robust.

If May had been a consummate media performer, exuding a warmth and wit that cut across all groups, she might easily have convinced people that conferring greater power on her was a strong and stable idea. Unfortunately, when charged with wasting voters’ time and attempting to gerrymander the House of Commons in her favour, striking while Labour doddered and stuttered under a bewildered looking Jeremy Corbyn, she chose to hide from her accusers, instead opting to talk to handfuls of handpicked ballot botherers, rather than directly to unfiltered millions on television and radio.

When her manifesto was published, highly anticipated by hopeful right-wing hacks who dared to dream of its riches, the suspicions of many voters, that she’d gone to the country with no fucking idea what to do when re-elected, perhaps because part of her dared not contemplate victory, was confirmed. The wretched document, rather than reading like a great work of economics and philosophy, proved empty, bar a bold commitment to force the grieving families of recently deceased parents to sell the family home to pay the old man or woman’s social care bill.

Forcing asset rich clans to stump up, challenging the inviolability of inherited wealth – the idea that you should get a free house because a relative worked and paid for it, was a work of agitation worthy of an original thinker. Naturally, the public hated it. There aren’t many legitimate get rich quick schemes out there.

So May’s calculations were scrawled on a giant white board and displayed for all the nation to see. And let’s be clear – a part of her, the dominant part, wanted us to see them. Unable to communicate and incapable of selling herself as a visionary, Theresa fulfilled her destiny, a path she’d forged in dreams, off-the-cuff asides and rhetoric belying actions. She went to the country asking for its verdict and sure enough it came, as clear and brutal as feared. Self-harmers know they’ll be pain. You can’t cut into your own flesh and not suffer. But what they’re really doing is asking for delivery from torment – help from their better adjusted, happier peers. The public have told Theresa want to do. Leave politics and be happy. The only question that remains is whether she has the strength to take their advice.

Yes, I’m worried about Theresa May and I hope she finds peace very soon.

Tomorrow: Jeremy Corbyn

Published in: on June 10, 2017 at 13:33  Leave a Comment  
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Dear Steven Moffat: Extremis/The Pyramid at the End of the World/The Lie of the Land

Dear Steven,

As someone who’s campaigned for more long form Who, a return to the storytelling ethos of old, a time when stories had room to breathe, I thought I’d wait until this three-parter concluded before giving you the benefit of my esteemed judgement. And when I say that, I’m relying on a Monk-like retconning of history to furnish the statement with credibility.

I know these stories are planned and filmed half a year before transmission, so you, Peter Harness and Toby Whithouse would have known nothing of the snap election, but it seemed to me this strange, enjoyable blend of Dan Brown, The Mummy and Nineteen Eighty-Four, had a timely quality if you will (and frankly, even if you won’t) that significantly improved its potentially yawn inducing alien invasion of Earth premise.

In the Monks we had a pious enemy that made a fuss of free will, the notion of consent, while clandestinely doing everything they could to crush independent thought. The dry husks, humanoid in appearance, but lacking communicative dexterity, vitality, colour or warmth, used advanced computer simulations to wargame their strategy for taking over. In “Extremis” we learned they’d anticipated every rear guard action, every counter argument, using, as Nardole helpfully put it so others didn’t have to, something like the holodeck in Star Trek. Then, in “The Pyramid at the End of the World”, they used this information to prey on a vulnerable, frightened, ill-informed populace to effect dominion over the population. Bill – a naïve youth – was groomed to give the world away, the aliens requiring our consent to establish their global protection racket. Her love of the Doctor, the closest thing she had to an elderly relative, was used against her as the Monks promised to save the old duffer and restore his faculties for a sky-high fee. Her vote duly acquired, “The Lie of the Land” saw the Monks established as our conquerors, initiating a ruthless programme of mass indoctrination, designed to naturalise their reign – propaganda that retooled all humanity’s achievements as their own. The order was recast as our traditional rulers and the guardians of social order.

Watching this, just days out from an election, I and millions of others, dropped our four chocolate desserts,  cupped the breasts of our high class escorts, and screamed the same question at our televisions. Were the Monks a thumping great metaphor for the Tories?

“You are corpses to us”, “In darkness we are revealed” – shit, Steven, these could have been Tory slogans. In fact, they felt so familiar I had the check the Conservatives’ website.

It surely wasn’t incidental that they were ultimately defeated by a black woman’s idealised view of humanity – an image plucked from the halcyon days of the 1980s – when Labour’s opposition was underpinned by absolute moral certainty (as well as ideological confusion, but let’s not get into that).  The imaginary version of Bill’s Mum, whom she’s inexplicably chosen not to supplant with the real thing, despite knowing a man with a time machine, represented love, youth, empathy and, being a psychic construct, the immaterial. She was, essentially, a spiritual manifestation. The antithesis, in other words, of Thatcherite materialism.

Once the world remembered the era Bill’s dead teat merchant represented, a time before the odious assumptions that bedevil today’s unequal society became embedded, and therefore problematic to reverse, they rallied to change their society and the Monks, realising the game was up, moved on, rightly fearing a backlash that would see more than a few members of the order forcibly brought down hard on those pyramid tips.

In a story where blindness was a structuring theme – the literal being joined by classics like false consciousness, ignorance, short memories and deference to authority, it was reassuring to enjoy this positive propaganda that tried to have it both ways by first telling us to think for ourselves, then suggesting that maybe the Doctor had the opportunity to fix a few problems with human thinking – namely racism and, the big one, people talking in the cinema. Hard to argue with that, except of course if one believes in free will, one has to accept that some people will always make bad choices. Though if they choose to talk at the flicks while I’m there they’re risking their lives.

Yes, Steven, this was the right story at the right time. What a pity the average viewer would be too young to vote, even if they managed to see past the sci-fi camouflage and internalise its message.

Of course that could all be bollocks.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: The Veritas surely represented Dan Brown’s novels, no? A book that once read makes people commit suicide? I was in hospital once and the only book nearby was the Da Vinci Code. They had to move me to intensive care.

P.P.S: Missy has a 1,000 years to kill in the vault and all she’s been given is a piano? And why is there a containment area within the vault. Isn’t the vault its own containment area? I mean, she could wait by the doors, then run out, but it seemed cruel to further limit her space for a millennium. Couldn’t you just put your ear to the door and if you heard snoring, go in?

P.P.P.S: Why do all computer monitors in this show has to have a conspicuous computer-like font? Are you concerned that if you show something that doesn’t look like a TV computer display, we won’t understand it’s an image generated by a computer? The audience have their own, you know.

P.P.P.P.S: “It would be easy to believe their lies.” Too easy, kids. Think on. Election day’s this Thursday.

P.P.P.P.P.S: Would killing Bill have been so bad?

The Old Man’s Last Stand

Christmas 2016:

Christmas 2015:

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: Oxygen

Dear Steven,

Often in this one-sided meaningless dialogue we’ve talked about – well, I say we, your contribution is more implicit, the spectre of inconsequentiality that stalks many Doctor Who episodes. Yes, it looms the way the imagined expectations of the audience bedevil your writers room.

But Jamie Mathieson’s “Oxygen”, though familiar in design and conception, came dangerously close to providing stakes we could believe in and, hold the TARDIS phone, consequences. By the time the closing credits rolled, Peter Capaldi was blind, his vault protecting mission compromised, and worse he realised he’d ruined his faculties, hitherto successfully maintained for two thousand years, to save Bill. No wonder he was ashen faced and the usually glib Nardole angry and exasperated. The Doctor fucked up (and a half) and there was no handy reset for next week.

It was also nice to see a Doctor Who episode about something, in the best traditions of the series. Not for nothing did “Oxygen” open with a variant on Star Trek’s “space the final frontier” monologue, though with the Whoniverse addition that it was a foreboding place that more often than not would kill you. Trek, at its best, is a morality play, and in that spirit Mathieson’s story blended an off-the-shelf horror premise, killer space suits, with social comment.

The company that ran the station on which space miners were attacked by their own kit, rendered lifeless occupants of artificially intelligent overalls, had done the deed remotely, having decided that the suit fillers were inefficient, wasteful consumers of oxygen. The titular element was a valued commodity in the void, charged by the breath – too valuable to expend on the work shy, docile labourers that failed to hit all those all-important productivity targets.

The Doctor lamented capitalism gone wrong, a message that would have delighted all the Corbynistas at home, inventing a solution that cleverly boosted the surviving workers net worth, making them too valuable to kill. I liked that, even I didn’t care about any of the people in question (Mathieson’s good but he couldn’t quite achieve the holy trinity of great premise, core cast development AND memorable guest characters – but two of three ain’t bad). But it was the Doctor’s decision to put himself at risk, trying to save Bill from the harsh vacuum of space, that added human interest to the story’s stunt complications. The Doctor’s disabled, and a nation rubbed their own bloodshot peepers in disbelief.

I must say, I’m fully on board when it comes to making the Doctor more vulnerable in the run up to his regeneration. It seems to me that if you’ve got that ultimate get-out clause in your pocket, and it’s on the horizon, why not experiment with chipping away at the old man’s ability to do his thing – make him suffer a bit. It adds intrigue to the character and a new dynamic to the stories, the Doctor no longer the quasi-invincible, super-confident supreme being who can always stay one step ahead of the opposition.

Next week is much more tantalising because he can’t see, and with just a half-dozen stories for this Doctor left, why not go further and see how tough it can get for him before his body gives up and becomes someone we can’t yet imagine but will almost certainly despise? Capaldi, the audience knows, is the right man to play the Time Lord in a state of crisis – he has the acting chops to make great work of it – so this is a development that promises much. Let’s hope your gang don’t fuck it up and restore him to perfect health by the end of next week’s episode.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: “I thought I sent you to Birmingham for a packet of crisps.” Sadly, Nardole saw through that ruse.

P.P.S: “Relax or die.” I have a self-help tape with that title.

P.P.P.S: I hope we get to hear the Doctor’s crop rotation lecture in full at some point.

P.P.P.P.S: Bill thought of her dead mother in what she imagined to be her dying moments, though weirdly she still hasn’t asked the Doctor if they can visit her in life. Perhaps she needs more oxygen to the brain.

The Old Man’s Last Stand

Christmas 2016:

Christmas 2015:

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: Knock Knock

Dear Steven,

As a man brought up by his Mother, a single parent, nursing a lifelong close identification with his old dear, I can imagine I’d do almost anything to keep her going. All mother’s boys feel this of course, and they dread their infant teat merchant becoming decrepit. No one wants to be the responsible one and nobody, and I mean, nobody, wants to wake up one dreary morning, likely a Sunday, and realise that unconditional love is a thing of the past, along with the all the good stuff that comes with it; comforts of childhood like your walking womb’s homemade cheesecake (actually bought from Tesco Express), and idiot advice like, ‘a walk a day cleanses the mind’.

Consequently, millions of manchildren watched Mike Bartlett’s “Knock Knock” and empathised with creepy Hercule Suchet, who’d accidentally gifted his materfamilias a parasitic alien woodlouse that cured her terminal 1930’s aliment (fascism?) by turning her into a humanoid tree. Poirot, grateful to the extra-terrestrial bugs for saving him from the orphanage, intuited that the invigorating isopods would need sustenance to keep them and Mumsy healthy.

He also learned, though it wasn’t clear how, that every 20 years they required a glutinous blowout. His solution was to rent out the eerie family house to students who, in a wry comment on exploitative landlords, found problems with the place coming out of the woodwork.

Sure, this seemed like a risk, as one would think that disappearing students, with concerned parents lurking in the background, would have their absence noticed quickly, and the fact that each and every one of them were last seen at the same address, and that cohorts of missing kids kept registering it just prior to vanishing without trace, might arouse suspicion. But fortunately, David Marple’s character must have chosen young men and women nobody gave a fuck about, as he’d been getting away with it for 80 years.

This apparent plothole was somewhat mitigated by having Bill and her feckless, one dimensional University friends (has she enrolled now, I thought she worked in the canteen) be the latest batch of victims. One had to suspend one’s disbelief that the Landlord from hell, who like a mother lovin’ Fred West, liked his tenants in the walls, would be unlucky enough to dole out a tenancy agreement to the Doctor’s companion. But with stock characters this boorish, (one actually says, ‘I’m a celebrity get me out of here’), there was no doubting their expendability.

A lesser man would make jokes about wooden performances but I’m not going there. I only say once again that with an episodic rather than serial format, where supporting casts change by the week, it takes writing of wit and economy to get characters in quick and make us care about them. Frequently, your team fail to do this. I can’t even be sure they’ve thought about it.

There was something sad, perhaps touching, about Poirot’s devotion to his Ma – an obsession that had left him alone and housebound, and her senile, unable to remember who he was. But watching the denouement, with Eliza convincing her pensionable boy that they’d had their woodchips and should do the decent thing and be eaten, I couldn’t help but think that your writers have been briefed not to worry about internal plot logic provided they can deliver strong emotional beats.

Like last week’s “Thin Ice”, “Knock Knock” – thought to be so good by you it was named twice, made little sense once end credits had rolled. Why was Pavel’s absence ignored for so long? Because Bartlett read the part of the series bible that demands you foreshadow the threat by engineering a kill, pre-titles. It was odd that no one looked for him, given they were still moving in, but what can you do? You can’t unkill him. Except you can, and Bartlett did – inexplicably wussing out on loading the story with consequences by pressing the reset button and having the lice mysteriously restore the lost characters. If they could do that, why was it necessary for them to be absorbed in the first place? And couldn’t Eliza have had them restore her, ending her wooden torment? Why was she special?

But as Mike Bartlett didn’t give a shit about any of this, why should we? Still, having scribes that actually thought through plot complications and made the horrors of the Whoniverse matter by producing real corpses, would really tickle my balls. What do you think, Steven – maybe have a word? Oh yes, the series is in the can. Nevermind.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: When Bill, in her latest annoying Q&A session, prompted the Doctor to talk about regeneration, there was a moment of uncomfortable silence. We know the old man’s time is nearly up but here was the first suggestion that maybe he too has access to the Internet.

P.P.S: Bill dared to mock the Time Lords. For me this is conclusive evidence that she should not be in the TARDIS.

P.P.P.S: Another week, another nod to Bill’s dead Mother (here represented by a wall mounted picture). Given the overarching theme of the episode, this made sense, but why in fuck’s name has this so-called inquisitive character, who apparently never misses a trick, not yet asked the Doctor to use his time machine and reunite them? Is she afraid to ask or just worried about coming out to her ‘80s parent? Could Bill’s mother be a Tory?

P.P.P.P.S: Bill’s a fan of Little Mix, huh? Well colour me surprised.

P.P.P.P.P.S: I liked the Doctor’s Quincy Jones anecdote. More anecdotes from Peter Capaldi please. Yes, I know it’s too late to ask this now.

The Old Man’s Last Stand

Christmas 2016:

Christmas 2015:

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: Thin Ice

Dear Steven,

Since Doctor Who returned in 2005 – an occasion I celebrated with vigorous intercourse with my then inamorata, Bilie Piper looking on appalled, a recurring issue has been the change in format from serial to episodic storytelling. The latter, adopted presumably to make the show friendly for foreign markets, i.e. the Americans, has been both a gift and a curse.

A gift, because if a story’s derivative, clichéd, boring, tonally ill-conceived, or plot rather than character driven, and I insert an unrelated clause referring to the first two episodes of the series here, then knowing it will be over in 45 minutes is a relief. But if the story has potential, say an interesting backdrop, an enjoyable villain, and is character-centred, then single episodes seem too short, necessitating the scribe set it up, move in on and tie it off before we’ve had the chance to savour the ideas. It’s like decanting a fine wine, then knocking it back like a vodka shot. You know, the way you drink it. That characterful lacquer doesn’t touch the sides.

On balance, “Thin Ice” which doubles as a description of where the show stands with its audience right now, belonged in the latter category. We could have more of it; extra time for the story to breathe.

Sarah Dollard, who last year forced Clara to face the raven, something we’d wanted, euphemistically, for some time, is clearly interested in character dynamics and what makes the Doctor tick. So in this high-concept stopover in 1814 London, she used a throwaway monster of the week premise; a giant fish eating poor people below the frozen Thames; to explore the Doctor’s perspective on death and egalitarianism.

He first shocked and disgusted Bill, with his apparent indifference to a boy-thief who was sucked under by the big fish’s legion of finned acolytes. But later had her (irritatingly) bursting with pride with a speech to Lord Bastard, Nathan Barley, who’d planned a frost fair to give the fish sustenance, as it defecated super-fuel or something, that attacked the toff’s social and, gasp, racial preconceptions.

It was a speech unlikely to overturn a lifetime of social conditioning for an aristocrat raised in the late 18th century, but taken together, these two moments were there to give us the measure of the Doctor’s enlightened but pragmatic approach to humankind. He didn’t have time to mourn, he said, and sometimes appalling circumstances meant hard pragmatism. But he had a bottom-up view of society and saw helping the little man and woman as essential to the greater good. Yes, the Doctor was a liberal despite his social advantages. An easy position to take when you have a TARDIS and unlimited resources of course, but perhaps more admirable for all that.

So if the episode’s primary purpose was to tease out, or perhaps reaffirm this aspect of the Doctor’s psyche, what was Bill’s role in this madness? Well, Dollard rightly intuited that because she didn’t know much about the Time Lord’s new friend; the previous two scripts providing no help, as they passed on the opportunity to add depth to said companion; the most effective way to build Bill was to establish her role as the Doctor’s new conscience and moral barometer, the same role fulfilled by every companion since 2005. In pushing for a more considered reaction to the boy lost on the Thames and by having an identity that when attacked by Lord Bastard, roused the Doctor’s fury, we both learned a little about the gap between our hero’s rhetoric and deep feelings, and Bill’s constitution and outlook.

Look Steven, Bill is too earnest for my taste, at least in this stage of her development, and I don’t think everyone on your team should be so allergic to subtlety, but I appreciated the attempt to add both a psychological dimension to the duo’s relationship and provide us with some sense as to what kind of person Bill is. I also suspect you named the character – Bill Potts, B.P, as a tribute to the aforementioned Billie Piper, whose wide-eyed optimism and lack of nuance you’re rehashing. Still, it would nice to take a risk and find a chink her armour, as right now she appears to be the personification of every virtue signalling bore on Twitter, and perhaps we’ll get to that in time, but this was a small turn on the depth dial in the right direction (clockwise).

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: This could have been a serial, Steven, and maybe a good one. We could have revelled in the period atmosphere, explored the social mores of the time, and given Lord Bastard more than a couple of scenes. Any human villain in league with an alien fish, whose industrial strategy is “grinding up children for profit” deserved more than two scenes.

P.P.S: “I care Bill, but I move on.” I hope I don’t end saying this about the show one day.

P.P.P.S: The Doctor gave his hat to some girl then mysteriously, a few scenes later, without revisiting the TARDIS, had a replacement – and not just any replacement, but one full of pies. What the fuck happened there?

P.P.P.P.S: On behalf of the whole world, can I beg you to finally, permanently, rein in Murray Gold? Sometimes, listening to his overwrought scores, is like trying to watch the show while some other bastard plays their music in the background. Less is more. After scoring nine full series, he really should understand that by now. Perhaps hire a second composter to score alternate episodes, thus giving an up-and-comer a much needed chance to provide a contrast and show him how it should be done? I’ll leave that with you.

The Old Man’s Last Stand

Christmas 2016:

Christmas 2015:

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: Smile

Dear Steven,

You’d like me to smile, would you? Well, fuck you. Why don’t you tell your writers to focus on great storytelling rather than the uncanny appropriation of everyday things the youth recognise? The bastard youth – who ruin everything by convincing the people who make television that futureproofing their work, ensuring it will still be enjoyed decades hence, isn’t worth the effort. I mean, an emoji episode, Steven? Were you demob happy when you waved that one through? Is there an emoticon for desolation?

You see in TV, momentum matters; the converse of Labour politics. If a series starts strong, it can afford a few duff mid-run fillers because the audience have been captivated early and are now in the habit of tuning in. This run of Who opened weakly with “The Pilot” – a light introduction for Bill. I’d have preferred Bill to have earned her TARDIS wings as a character in a larger, more complicated story – an opening three-parter perhaps, but you can just about get away with froth under the guise of getting to know the newbie. What you can’t do is follow that up with another passive, inconsequential instalment.

Surely the opportunity here, was to devise a second episode that would add depth to Bill’s character and cake on a bit of intrigue regarding the Vault? Instead, we got a show that, the new companion’s stupid questions aside, could have dropped anytime during the series; a cookie cutter story, taken from the episode 2 chapter of Russell T. Davis’s browning series bible, where the Doctor takes his new pal to an alien setting in the future, and low and behold there’s some kind of hidden threat to the human population (see, “The End of the World”, “New Earth”). Episode 3 of the same bible says you follow that up with an episode set in Victorian times, so it was good to see something like that promised next week.

When Bill was asked whether she’d prefer to travel to the past or future, what we knew of her already suggested she’d choose the past, as she’d surely immediately seize on the opportunity to meet the dead mother whose absence she’s felt her whole life. A character-based story could have been built around that meeting, perhaps the gap between expectation and reality the B-Story to a meaty A-Story for the Doctor, but Bill’s a prisoner of a tired formula, so instead had to opt for the future and the thin gruel that is killer emoji robots.

I wouldn’t have lasted long on that colony, Steven, as I experienced my own grief tsunami, watching Frank Cottrell-Boyce’s tale go through its predictable paces. A nice set and sense of scale couldn’t compensate for the shoulder shrugging concept, sigh inducing barely human supporting characters, or indeed, the short-sightedness of developing an antagonist based on a contemporary fad. What else have you got lined up for us, Steven? A cat video planet? Whatsapp world? An antagonist who corrupts Snap Chat as a form of mind control? Is the turgid nature of these ideas and fleeting recognition from excitable kids, really worth the time and expense these episodes take to produce, or would it better just to hire some real writers?

My God, this is what it’s going to be like every week under Chris Chibnall, isn’t it?

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: Might it be a measure of how thin the script was for this story that our understanding of the situation was entirely contingent on the Doctor’s intuition and analytical mind? Yes, I know that’s how every episode works, but usually we’re fed a few clues, or some straw man or other says something that lodges in the Doctor’s mind, so solves the puzzle. In “Smile”, our hero just walked around and put it all together through observation alone. Fine, but there was nothing for the viewer to do but sit back and let him get on with it. Did we even need to be there?

P.P.S: The TARDIS has broadband does it? If we’re demystifying the thing completely, why don’t we say there’s a branch of Costa in there too? You see, it’s easy to type this shit but it does damage.

P.P.P.S: On which note, “don’t look at my browser history”? So, for the sake of a cheap gag, the Doctor surfs porn now? Are your team actively trying to shed viewers, Steven?

P.P.P.P.S: Let’s hear more about the Doctor’s oath and the Vault soon, for God’s sake, because it’s the only thing of interest happening in the series thus far.

P.P.P.P.P.S: “All traps are beautiful.” Tell that to someone who’s looking at the bloody teeth of a bear trap and what used to be their leg.

The Old Man’s Last Stand

Christmas 2016:

Christmas 2015:

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 April 23, 2017 at 09:47  Leave a Comment  
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A Snap Election? Thank God.

Fit me up for a giggle jacket if you like, but I’m delighted they’ll be a General Election on June 8th. No, really, and not just because This Week will be bumped in the schedules. There’s more at stake than that.

British Politics has been listless and dysfunctional these past two years. Both main parties are in limbo, beholden to, perhaps held hostage by, predatory vested interests. They’re begging to be liberated and a march to the ballot box can do just that.

Theresa May, lumbered with David Cameron’s rizla paper majority, also inherited her predecessor’s nightmare. She heads a Conservative Party dominated by hardline Eurosceptics, monstering her premiership, wielding great influence on the back of last June’s referendum. If she deviates one degree from the course they’ve laid out, she faces mutiny, perhaps even the indignity of a backbench seat next to Michael Gove.

With two-years of negotiations set to begin in June, little wonder she’s opted to dare to believe the polls and open the door to tens of newly elected loyalists who’ll dilute that dangerous group and give her space to make a deal both she and liberal Britain are more comfortable with. A personal mandate, a desirable prerequisite for constitutional change of this magnitude, will put her authority beyond doubt at home and in Brussels, settle the matter as far as the electorate’s concerned, and may, pun intended, complicate separatist calculations in Edinburgh and Belfast.

May also has the chance to liberate her domestic agenda and junk Cameron’s cynical, never-to-be-implemented 2015 manifesto – bad fiction that’s made even modest reforms, like Phillip Hammond’s attempt at changing National Insurance contributions for the self-employed, impossible. If the government’s serious it needs a serious blueprint.

Meanwhile, for the remnants of the Labour Party, the election provides the unexpected, but surely welcome prospect of early release from the Corbynite death pact. There’s been no functional opposition these past two years; an inevitable consequence of having an opposition leader whom 81% of the PLP didn’t vote for and don’t support. The so-called moderates may not have an alternative of course, or any bold or radical vision for what the party should do going forward, but they can’t begin rebuilding (or rebranding) until Jeremy, the man who leapfrogged all meritocratic stages to take the top job, is put in his political grave. Defeat does not guarantee his resignation of course; Jeremy doesn’t respond to the same hints as past leaders, but a massacre for Labour would surely provide the impetus and excuse they need to focus and initiate change, even if that means a split. It may even lead to a realignment of the left with newly emboldened Liberal Democrats as partners.

Speaking of the Liberal Democrats, Election 2017 is the best thing to happen to Tim Farron since God appeared to him in a dream and told him to run for party leader. Much sooner than expected, and before a single hour of Brexit talks have taken place, the Yellow Peril have been gifted the chance to revive on the back of the very Pro-European sentiment they’ve always espoused. At long last they’re fashionable amongst a significantly large and angry portion of the electorate.

Brexit is the new Iraq for the Liberals, and it’s just possible that disillusioned Labour voters who’ve awoken to Jeremy Corbyn’s referendum betrayal, and even Europhile Tories, for they must still congregate somewhere, perhaps in the pubs they used to meet in to weep over IDS, will be tempted to boost Tim’s numbers and send a signal to Mrs May, the PM-presumptive, that a Hard Brexit is not the settled will of the people.

Finally, in Scotland, there’s now the faint hope that Unionists will seize their chance to pour cold Irn Bru on Nicola Sturgeon’s IndyRef 2 dream. Unlikely though it is, any significant erosion of the SNP’s strength at Westminster, especially to the Tories, emboldens the UK and signals the First Minister has misjudged the mood. Scottish voters have the opportunity, if not the will, to give Ruth Davidson a boost and undermine Nationalist sentiment. Coupled with a UK-wide mandate for Brexit (it really must be reflected in all parts of the country to have legitimacy), that just might be enough to forestall a break up, at least until politics recovers.

And that’s why this election can’t come soon enough. British politics needs a reset; the prospect of a parliament where the government can govern, the opposition can oppose, and something other than Brexit can be factored into the agenda and direction of both. It’s also vital the Tories have popular rather than implicit support going into a deal. The binary choice of the referendum was the first stage. We’ve now had a year of debate on the substance of Brexit and its impact. Granted, we haven’t got very far but at least the reality of Brexit and what it could mean has begun to be understood. It’s time we had our say on that, not to mention a chance to give our beleaguered and struggling opposition parties help to help themselves.

See you at the polls (assuming you live in the right part of my constituency).

Published in: on April 18, 2017 at 13:56  Leave a Comment  
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